Regarding “blaming the victim” for getting or staying in an abusive relationship:
First off, I need to point out that I’m not talking below about physically abusive relationships. Those are easy to recognize and define once the physical part of the abuse starts. HOWEVER, 100% of the time, verbal abuse PRECEDES physical abuse in a relationship. There are no exceptions.
What I write below is about recognizing the signs that you’re in (or may be getting into) a VERBALLY abusive relationship.
In verbally abusive relationships, there are SOMETIMES signs in the beginning that the person you’re embarking on a relationship might be abusive later. Sometimes there are no signs.
If abusive people are GREAT at one thing, it’s being on their very best behavior when they need to be, in order to make themselves look good and to cover their “Mr. Hyde” face in front of someone they’re trying to impress, get what they want, or in public (because that’s their cover). They are VERY charming people. When they WANT to be.
It’s not always that victims just ignore the signs. Many times they’re just not THERE.
Other times there are some indicators, but we don’t SEE them because, unless we *know* what we were looking for (and many people don’t) – we don’t recognize them. Only later after doing some research or talking to a counsellor or reading a self-help book (hindsight is 20/20) they think “uh-huh, oh yea…I see that now”.
But they didn’t see it then. And there may be a lot of reasons for that, but weakness, stupidity, inferiority to anyone else, “just making bad choices”, or lack of personal responsibility are none of them.
So, I think some education is key. Self-education or whatever. Many victims of abuse know “something” isn’t right with their relationships AFTER the stuff starts and escalates for a while. “Something” doesn’t feel good anymore. It’s getting dark and toxic and nasty and they can’t seem to get out of that cycle.
And when they’re IN the midst of that, the view is NOT very clear.
Only after they go looking for answers – like reading Patricia Evans’ Verbal Abuse book, for instance – do they get a clear picture of it. And a NAME for it and a definition. Then it’s often a blazing revelation:
“Oh! I see now! Oh my God! This it IT! All spelled out right here – it’s exactly like that! That’s exactly what (s)he said! This is exactly what happened and how it feels! I’m not alone. Others have been where I am too! No wonder I feel so awful! And finally:
OMG! I have to DO something about this!”
That’s the way it was for me. I’m NOT the only one, either. Many people who’ve found themselves in verbally/emotionally abusive situations have had this experience. It’s at once horrifying – and a relief. And it gives lie to the claim that victims of abuse are shunning personal responsibility for themselves. If they were doing that, they wouldn’t feel so strongly that they need to DO something about their circumstance, once they KNOW what THE ISSUE is.
It’s like a car. If the car is making an awful noise, and you don’t know what it is. How do you fix it? Maybe it still runs ok in general, but has been making this noise for a while – a few months, or a year. You took it to a mechanic but that didn’t help for long – they weren’t sure what it is either. It still SEEMs to generally run OK. But the noise is getting continually worse. Still, you’re not sure where it’s coming from or what it is. How do you fix it if you don’t know what it is?
>>>***How do you fix it if you don’t know what it is?***<<<
Only when you can NAME it, identify it, and are able to clearly define it – can you fix it. Or, get rid of the car – if it can’t be fixed or isn’t worth fixing. FIRST, you have to find the part that’s broken – before you can endeavor to fix it.
And most people – particularly if they’ve been with someone a while will want to try to fix it, before abandoning things altogether. And that takes time – beyond identifying THE issue.
So armchair observers can talk about how “victims of abuse certainly DO know what they’re into and ought to just get out!”. WRONG. Many times, they DON’T know exactly what they’re into – until it’s too LATE. And they didn’t SEE the warning signs early on because they didn’t know what to look for. Or, those indicators simply weren’t THERE.
Also, abuse in relationships most often starts gradually and escalates. The “Mr./Ms. Hyde” transformation doesn’t happen overnight or all at once. And often, once a victim realizes what they’re “into”, maybe they’d like to try to work things out – give the thing a chance – before abandoning it.
I’m sure I don’t need to say, that the hope we might be able to work things out is really tough to let go of sometimes. Who hasn’t been there? Most people have at one time or another.
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Regarding the “subjectivity of emotional abuse”:
Because emotional energy cannot be seen or measured or weighed (“The x-ray shows you’ve got 5 pounds of grief in there.”) emotions are often discounted and devalued.
Some people will say that someone was “only” emotionally abused. Â¿
“O N L Y”?
Saying this is minimizing (or denying) the trauma people experience from ALL kinds of abuse. Because emotional abuse is the basis of all other types of abuse. It is the MOST damaging aspect of verbal, physical, sexual, and mental abuse.
Emotional abuse is the trauma to our hearts and souls from being betrayed by the people that we love and trust. It tears directly at the heart of our ability to feel secure within ourselves, and within the World. It can most easily be defined by whether OTHER types of abuse are present. If there are other types of abuse present, then there IS emotional abuse.
There isn’t much that is “subjective” about that!
We can’t be healthy without having an emotionally honest relationship with ourselves. We can’t know who we truly are if our relationship with our own emotional processes are twisted, distorted, and repressed. And people who are emotionally abused as kids (whether that included physical, sexual, or other types of abuse or not) are much more likely to BE abusers, or victims of abusers. It’s a vicious cycle. That does NOT mean that people who had “normal” childhoods are never abused or abusers. They sometimes are. But those who grew up with abuse are more likely to be abused or abusive.
Emotional abuse is not to be blown off or minimized – just because we can’t X-ray it, weigh it, take pictures of it, or count the bruises on it. However, it’s the base of all the other types of abuse. If other types of abuse are present, then emotional abuse is present!
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Anger is a normal human emotion. Anything or any person anywhere that tells you that you must avoid expressing anger is living in fantasyland. Anger should and must be expressed in healthy relationships. It can be expressed directly or indirectly, and in healthy and unhealthy ways. Indirect expressions of anger are most always unhealthy.
In abusive relationships, anger is always expressed in unhealthy ways. Blame, projection, and verbal hostility that doesn’t directly address or express the feelings behind them but rather punishes someone else for them, projects them onto someone else and ‘acts out’ about them at someone else, are unhealthy expressions of anger. Residual anger from unresolved issues in a relationship or from insecurity and a desire to control another person is particularly insidious, toxic, hurtful and bitter.
Making someone the butt of a derogatory joke or making a very snide, sarcastic, hurtful remark to someone are examples of anger expressed in indirect and damaging ways. The person who expresses their anger this way is unable or unwilling to recognize, directly express or take responsibility for their feelings. They lash out, and seek to blame and then punish someone else for them instead of owning them for themselves.
One major thing that defines an abusive relationship is that ONLY the abusive person is allowed to express any anger at all! NO MATTER WHAT, anger is a privilege reserved ONLY for the abuser. ONLY the abusive person’s feelings matter. NO MATTER WHAT HE does or says to his/her partner, the partner is NOT ALLOWED to ever express any anger or hurt about it. If she does, she is told she’s being “oversensitive” and that her anger is unjustified. Her feelings are invalidated.
Every. Single. Time.
Also, IF the partner of an abuser does express anger over an issue, he will tell her that whatever the issue is, it is ALL HER FAULT.
One of the FIRST words out of an abuser’s mouth when confronted with his/her abusive behavior will often be “YOU”. He will justify. He will project. He will blame. He will invalidate. He will try to detract attention from the core issue of his abusive behavior by arguing minutiae and details of the scenario. This is detraction and distraction and it is another noteable trait of abusive persons when they’re confronted with their behavior. Sometimes, they will deny that it happened, “forget” that it happened or tell the victim she’s imagining things and that she’s crazy. Or, he will accuse HER of attacking HIM. “I don’t remember saying that!” “I never said that!” “I didn’t yell at you!” “You’re imagining things!” “You’re crazy!” “YOU need psychiatric help!” “WHERE do you come up with this crap?” “You’re attacking me!”
The word for these tactics is crazymaking. The objective is to make the abuser’s partner question her own perception of herself and of reality. To cause her to question what she actually feels, sees, hears, thinks, and who she is – and even her sanity. It’s a house built for abuse to live in.
When no one else except one person in a relationship is allowed to express anger, no matter WHAT is done or said to them by the other person, this is a control issue. An abusive person is NOT the arbiter or the “decider” of whether his partner’s feelings are right or wrong or justified or not justified. If he is attempting to take that authority, he is attempting to take away his partner’s personal power. This is controlling behavior.
FEELINGS JUST ARE. They are not right or wrong. And NO ONE has any right to judge another person’s feelings.
In an abusive relationship there is no communication. No issue or hurt ever gets resolved. They pile up and pile up. And an abusive person will pile blame and projection and crazymaking on top of hurt until that relationship is a toxic dump of anger, resentment, unresolved issues, and pain. If the partner brings up an unresolved issue from the past, (s)he’ll be told “why are you dredging up stuff from the past?!”; “You need to just get over it! That was TWO years ago!”.
But it’s still there and will remain there because it is UNRESOLVED. And the pain, anger, and resentment is still there, too.
Often, an abusive person will claim that his partner is the angry one – NOT him. Well, of course she’s angry!
In an abusive relationship, the abuse IS THE ISSUE. Everything else stems from that. Everything.
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A person DOES have a right to protect themselves against others who “express” their feelings AT them in hostile, indirect and abusive ways by setting boundaries. Once that is done, the abusive person still has a CHOICE about how he will behave in the future. But, he now knows there will be consequences for his behavior once that boundary is set. That puts the responsibility for abusive behavior squarely on the abuser’s shoulders, where it belongs.
A victim is only responsible for protecting herself from abuse. She is NOT responsible for her partner’s behavior. She is responsible for protecting herself from her partner’s inability to express his/her OWN feelings in a direct way — without projection, hostility, punishment, and blame.
Victims of abuse are usually not very good at setting boundaries. From my own experience, that arises out of codependence and fear (it did for me).Setting a boundary is not making a threat – it is communicating clearly what the consequences will be if the other person continues to treat you badly. And, the necessity to set a boundary is a consequence of the other person’s behavior.
Setting a boundary is not an attempt to manipulate or control the other person either, although some of the people who you set boundaries with will certainly accuse you of that. Some of them will will also interpret it as a threat. But it is a part of the process of defining ourselves and what is acceptable to us. It is a major step in taking control of how we allow others to treat us.
The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating or controlling is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome.