Thursday, March 26, 2015

Coping with Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse, also called verbal or psychological abuse, is when a person uses a specific set of tactics- words and/or behaviors- to provoke fear and sadness in someone else in order to gain power and control over them. Experiencing this type of behavior can be just as overwhelming as physical abuse and cause lasting damage to your wellbeing. These mental and emotional scars include chronic anxiety, depression, and post traumatic conditions.

Is it emotional abuse? Have you been close with someone who has...
  • Called you names or put you down?
  • Denied your perspective, truth, or reality?
  • Kept changing up the script/story, keeping you guessing?
  • Behaved nicely with you in public but became someone else in private?
  • Conversely, was intentionally humiliating towards you in front of others?
  • Demanded you beg, plead, or otherwise ask for forgiveness- or else?
  • Given you the silent treatment, refusing to resolve an issue?
  • Refused to apologize, insisted they're always right?
  • Resented/refused to acknowledge/meet your needs (as a child)?
  • Projected their fears/insecurities onto you?
  • Didn't give you a chance to succeed, sabotaged your efforts?
  • Disrespected your requests for space or time from them?
  • Played the victim, attributing negative motives to your actions?
Emotional abuse stays with us longer than physical abuse because it gets in our head, affecting our view of ourselves. It can cause us to feel as if we somehow deserve it (it's not your fault!). Sometimes we have to interact with someone who is emotionally abusive, whether they are a colleague, boss, parent, or other family member. In these situations, the goal is protect your wellbeing by staying in control of how much you choose to share. There will be another chance to say what you're really thinking and feeling with someone who is able and willing to communicate openly and nonviolently.

The next time you recognize that you are on the receiving end of emotional abuse, try these effective strategies to stay in control by detaching, deflecting, de-escalating, and leaving the situation with your wellbeing intact...
  1. Detach. This is the hardest but most important part, do not engage. Do whatever you need to do to avoid stooping to their level. It may seem like the perfect time to give this person a piece of your mind- and you would be justified in doing so! But, the person who is emotionally abusive and out to manipulate your feelings will simply feed off of an emotional reaction.
  2. De-flect. Change the subject. If someone is telling you something that you can't agree with or abide, deflect by doing a little script switching of your own. Nothing puts a fire out like refusing to add fuel to it! Throw on a bucket of water on it by changing the subject. Anything will do. For example, "Hey, have you noticed... (insert random rid bit here), lately?"
  3. De-escalate. Keep it neutral- or even compassionate (if you feel so inspired). The idea here is to be short and simple. Neutral in tone. "Yes," "no," "I understand" (even if you don't), and "okay" are all great responses that keep your involvement/encouragement of the conversation to a minimum. If you feel up to it, you can even offer an apology or well wishes, such as "I'm sorry it's been difficult" or "I hope that you feel better." 
  4. Leave. Set limits on the interaction. It takes energy to respond skillfully to emotional abuse. If you can't keep your cool, get out of the situation. Meeting heightened emotion with heightened emotion just doesn't work. Don't worry about what they'll think (talk about an exercise in futility!). Just make up an excuse to walk away with your sanity in tact.
You might be thinking, but they're the one with the problem! Why is it up to me to keep my shit together? In truth, you can react however you want. But, with someone who is emotionally abusive, getting into a battle of wills gives them what they want (attention). Why not rise above it and find people you can be open with to give the gift of your authentic presence instead? You deserve it!

People can change if they want to- but it's not up to you to change them, especially if you're being victimized! When a personality disorder or other behavioral health condition is at play, it is unlikely that a person will be able to change. So, many people have found it helpful not to be open with someone who has shown themselves to be emotionally abusive over time. This begs the question, do you want to be in a relationship with someone who you can't be yourself around? 

Check back for a full blog post on how to heal from emotional abuse, soon. Stay safe, happy, and healthy out there until then! Wishing you only good things! 

No comments:

Post a Comment