Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Question About Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is one of those things that seem vague to describe, but very real when you are experiencing it. I don't believe that there is any form of abuse that manifests itself which is not accompanied by emotional abuse. But how do we define what abuse is? If everything is abuse, then nothing is abuse. According to abuse is defined as:

# 1) to use wrongly or improperly, misuse, 2) to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: 3) to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about;

Abuse turns into trauma when an emotional wound or shock creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person.

To define emotional abuse, it would include speaking harmfully, insultingly and in a way that the person is harmed emotionally. Emotional abuse is a punch to the inner man, and often takes time to manifest in signs of insecurity, uncertainty, heartache, low self esteem and withdrawal. It is a slow, wearing down of healthy boundaries, emotional resources, trust in personal perceptions and self concept. Abuse originates within the motive of the abuser which is often very hard to prove or detect, so victims resort to blaming themselves, judging themselves as weak or unable to cope. This type of wounding is deep and takes far longer to heal.

A simple definition of a common type of emotional abuse is: “Emotionally wounding another person and then demeaning them for feeling that pain.” Often the abuser will speak out things in fits of rage or anger that strike at the very core of the victim's self esteem and their identity. When the identity is challenged, there is little a person can do to change because identity is not behavior. Identity is who the person is and if another arduously criticizes or condemns it, there is little to be changed. This is why if an individual is forced to fundamentally change who they are in order to try to please another, those two people are not a good fit for each other.

Here is a question from someone who is dealing with emotional and verbal abuse:

"I finally confronted my husband again about his angry tirades. He recently had 2 episodes: one that involved me and one that involved my son (who is a college student living at home). My son left last week to stay with his biological father and is afraid to come back. This has been going on for some time now and approximately a year ago, I told him that his angry outbursts/tirades scared me. Nothing changed. He would never admit that he'd done anything wrong and immediately talked about divorce after I had suggested separation. He absolutely would not discuss separation and continued talking about divorce and settlement. He said that he saw no other option. So, finally, I agreed and then things changed a bit. He asked me if I thought it was worth saving. After some discussion, I finally gave in and agreed to try to make it work, though he really didn't offer a viable solution to control his anger. He told me that he will take a valium (prescribed by a local doctor to him) when he feels stressed out.

I talked to my son on the phone and he sounds very disappointed that I didn't go through with divorcing his step-dad. Did I make a mistake? I'm so confused. I love him, but hate being afraid and walking on eggshells. I know that I've allowed this to happen, but I just don't know what to do. I suspect that his solution will not work since he got this prescription a year ago and hasn't used it before now - when I was going to go ahead and leave.

Help, I think I made a mistake. Is he just saying what he needs to in order to keep me there? Thanks for any advice."

When people describe these relationships, they find themselves being very confused. That confusion may be attributed to what is known as the Stockholm syndrome which was discovered when as a result of a bank robbery in Stockholm, hostages were found to have become compassionate and defensive about their captors. The reason being that The captive or abuse victim sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor or abuse victim exhibits it in some form toward the hostage or abuse victim. However, victims often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence. If the perpetrator is purely evil and abusive, the abuse victim will respond with hatred. But, if perpetrators show some kindness, victims will submerge the anger they feel in response to the terror and concentrate on the abuser's “good side” to protect themselves.

When abuse victims go into denial, they verbalize the "good side" of their abusers character. This is the part of the relationship they focus on in order to stay. In truth it more often than not, instead of being a "good side" it is an absence of the abuse, interpreted as love or kindness rather than true nurture, love and honor that would go towards restoring the relationship. This then becomes confusing to the victim.

My answer to this individual is as follows:

"Abusive relationships can be very complicated, can't they? I'm sorry to hear of the struggles you are having and can understand your confusion. However, the one thing that you need to see, as with any negotiation, there has to be a viable plan that action is taken on.

Many times, when our loved one promises to change, we accept that because that is really what we want to hear. However promises without action are useless. Especially when there are anger issues, steps need to be taken and followed through on in order to effect change. Your husband is not getting angry because he doesn't have enough valium in his system. He is getting angry because there is a wound or a hurt inside that gets poked when something feels like the original event. Unless he deals with the issues that are creating the emotions, little change will happen. Valium can only numb out the emotion, it doesn't resolve the underlying issues.

The cycle of violence looks like this: There is an event, then an explosion, then the abuser apologizes and says it won't happen again, then there is a honeymoon period from which the tension begins to build again and there is another explosion. This cycle continues to repeat, getting more intense with shorter honeymoon periods. If professional help is not introduced, little will change. You asked if he is just saying what he needs to in order to keep you there - probably yes. That is what happens most often...especially when no steps are taken to correct the problem. This is his problem, not yours or your son's and unless he takes responsibility, unless he really wants to change (doesn't do it because you asked him to) you will continue to repeat the pattern.

I wish I had better news for you. Love doesn't hurt and you should never be afraid of someone who is supposed to love you. If you need help, I would advise you to contact your local women's center or domestic violence organization. They usually provide abuse counseling and have advocates who can walk with you through any legal process you need to encounter."

Anyone who finds themselves in an emotionally abusive situation will more than likely have a hard time articulating as well as proving what is actually happening. However, whether you can articulate what is happening or not, in order to bring about change, there are action steps that need to be taken in order to make that happen. If there is no action being demonstrated, there is no change happening whether promises to change are being made or not; People must understand that in order for change to happen, action must happen first. Don't settle for less.

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