Previously I talked about what emotional abuse is, but I’m going to go into more detail here. Basically, how to spot it before it happens, or to catch it early on. Now, I should mention that not every fight or argument in a relationship is abuse, it’s just abuse when it gets to be way to common and there seems to be no resolution or understanding in your relationship. Everybody fights dirty to some point, but how do you know if its going to go down a road that is not healthy?
Emotional manipulators get extra marks for subtlety. A patronizing, mind-screwer can bend and twist and warp but somehow after a period of time they set off the ol’ bullshit meter. An emotional manipulator is smoother. You’ll have adjust the sensitivity of your bullshit meter to escape unscathed. What is emotional manipulation? Well, its a method of using words, body language and behavior for the purposes of provoking a particular reaction, getting a desired response or to just plain ol’ screw you over. If the emotional blackmailer is any good, he (or she) will have you offering to bend over and be screwed one more time, “anything you want dear.” So now lets talk about how the work and how to recognize the game (because it is very much just a game) so you can safeguard yourself.
1.) There is no use in trying to be honest with an emotional abuser. You make a statement and it will be turned around. Example: “I am really angry you forgot my birthday.” Response: “It makes me feel sad that you would think I would forget your birthday, I should have told you the great personal stress I am facing at the moment- but I didn’t want to trouble you. (don’t be surprised to see real tears at this point). You are right, I should of put all this pain aside and focused on your birthday. Sorry.” Even as you are hearing the words you get the creeped out feeling that they really do NOT mean they are sorry at all- but since they’ve said the word ‘Sorry’ you’re pretty much left with nothing more to say. Either that or you find yourself babysitting their angst. If you feel this is happening, do not care take- do not accept an apology that feels like bullshit. If it feels like bullshit, it probably is. Trust your gut.
2.) An emotional abuser is the picture of a willing helper. If you ask them to do something they will almost always agree. That is IF they didn’t volunteer to do it first. Then when you say “ok thanks” they make a bunch of heavy sighs or other non verbal signs that they really DON’T want to help. When you tell them that it seem they don’t want to do whatever they said they would help with, they will turn it around and try to make it seem like OF COURSE they wanted to and how unreasonable you are. This is a form of crazy- making- which is something that the are VERY good at. So what do you do? If they said YES, make them accountable for it. Don’t buy into the sighs. If they don’t want to do it, make them tell you up front or put on your headphones, run a bath and leave them to their theater.
3.) Crazy making- saying one thing and later assuring you they did not say it. If you find yourself in a relationship where you figure you should start keeping a log of whats been said because you are starting to question your own sanity– then you are being emotionally manipulated. They are experts in turning things around, rationalizing, justifying and explaining things away. They can lie so smoothly that you can sit looking at black and they’ll call it white and argue with you so good that you begin to doubt your own senses. Over a period of time, this is so unhealthy that it can literally alter your sense of reality.
4.) Guilt. Emotional abusers are excellent guilt mongers. They can make you feel guilty for speaking up or not speaking up, for being emotional or not being emotional enough, for giving and caring, or for not giving or caring enough. Anything is fair game and open to guilt with an emotional manipulator. They rarely express their needs or desires openly– they get what they want through manipulation. Guilt is not the only form of this but its a strong one. Another one they use is sympathy. They are great victims. They need to feel supported, cared for and nurtured. A good thing to say to them when they do this is something like ” I have every confidence in your ability to work this out on your own.”
5.) They fight dirty ALL THE TIME. They don’t deal with things directly. They will talk around behind your back and eventually put others in the position of telling you what they would not say themselves. They are passive aggressive, meaning they find subtle ways that they are not happy little campers. They’ll tell you what you want to hear and then do a bunch of jerk stuff to undermine it. Example: “Of course I want you to go back to school honey and you know I’ll support you.” Then exam night you are sitting at the table and their friends show up, the kids are crying, the t.v. blasting and the dog needs walking- all the while they are sitting on their butt looking at you blankly. Dare you call them out on it, you are likely to hear “well you can’t expect life just to stop because you have an exam can you honey?”
6.) If you have a headache an emotional abuser will have a brain tumor. No matter what your situation, the emotional manipulator has probably been there or is there now- but ten times worse. It’s hard after a period of time to feel emotionally connected to them because they have a way of twisting conversations and putting the spotlight back on themselves. If you call them on it, they will become deeply wounded and call you selfish- or claim that it is YOU who are always in the spotlight. The thing is that even though you know this is not the case you are left with the impossible task of proving it. Don’t bother. TRUST your gut and walk away.
7.) Emotional abusers somehow have the ability to impact the emotional climate of those around them. When an emotional manipulator is sad or angry the room goes with it. It brings a deep instinctual response to find someway to minimize it and the quickest route is to make them feel better. Fixing whatever is broken with them. Stick with this type of person for too long and you will become so co-dependent you will forget you even have needs- let alone that you have just as much right to have your needs met.
8.) Emotional abusers have no sense of accountability. They take no responsibility for themselves or their behavior. It is always about what everyone else has “done to them.” One of the easiest ways to spot someone who is most likely to become an emotional abuser is that they often attempt to establish intimacy through early sharing of personal information, such as, “hook you in and make you sorry for me.” Believe me when I say that an emotional manipulator is about as vulnerable as a rabid pit bull, and there will always be a crisis to overcome.
Some would say it is possible with time, a great deal of communication to work through emotional abuse. Personally, I think life is short and precious– the only worthwhile thing to do when confronted with emotionally manipulative person is to KICK THEIR BUTT TO THE CURB! A relationship with someone like that is similar to to re-exposing yourself over and over to a highly toxic and possibly fatal virus. Each brush with it reduces your immunity and weakens your defenses. It can take more time for someone for someone that has been in an emotionally abusive relationship to recover than it does for someone that leaves a physically abusive one. At least you can name that punch that hit you. Emotional abuse is subtle. It is dangerous. I can’t force someone to leave it, but if you do, walk away and never look back. Make it a rule!