Emotional Abuse & Power in Relationships

Have you ever thought about who in your family is in charge and how they got that way? When that person speaks, others listen. You might say that this item is political. Who has the power? Who gets to decide what happens? Who decides what is said, to whom, and when? And how did that happen? Did everyone agree that the one with the voice was better, smarter, more capable? Or was he/she just more intimidating? Or was there some very subtle stuff going on that somehow gave one person the power while robbing everyone else? If there was, that’s emotional abuse. Let’s take an example that just came up with someone I know. The wife, lets’ call her Betty, started to explain in some detail why she was able to get free to go out on an errand her husband wanted. She wanted to give him the message that her being able to go out was something of a sacrifice of her time. But, as she was talking, he cut her off: “Ok,” he said, “Get to the point.” So lets’ analyze this. Why should she get to the point? Because he decided? But she decided that she wanted him to hear the whole thing. Who is right? Who decides? Does he have the right to dictate how much she should speak? Just to play Devil’s Advocate, it is also a question whether she has the right to force him to listen when he feels imposed upon by sitting and hearing that whole story. So who is right??? The answer really is that in a healthy relationship they...

Don’t Play Victim in Your Marriage

Don’t rush to get hurt feelings–Stay away from playing the victim in your relationship. Ask yourself one, two, three, four, even five times: Did she really mean to hurt me? Because if your spouse, lover, friend did not really mean it, you can choose not to have hurt feelings. You can calmly tell her that what she said didn’t come out right. You can explain what went wrong without absorbing all that hurt and pain. Why take poison into yourself? You don’t have to! How do we get into victim-playing? Abused children grow up to be adults who know all about abuse. They hate it but they can wear it like an old shoe. When Abuse Feels Normal This presents two problems. One is that when someone is abusive, they might not realize it because they are so used to it, it feels normal. For those people, they might take it and take it when they should either get out of the relationship, or, if there is hope of reform, go to counseling with a sharp therapist who can help the abuser to change. The second problem is a mirror image of the first. When Normal Feels Like Abuse The victim is so used to being abused that everything feels like abuse. So with that person, the partner may be doing or saying something perfectly innocent and the victim “takes” it wrong. That’s what I meant by playing the victim. That’s no good, but being a punching bag is no good either. That is, being a victim when you really aren’t is not good and being a victim when...

Techniques for Fighting Anger Addiction

REPRINTED FROM The Jewish Star Times, p. 16 [edited] What do alcohol and drug abuse, bulimia [gorging on food and then vomiting], and anger have in common? They all discharge tension, bringing short-term relief and long-term agony. They’re all addictions. And they are abuse. And anger is the most common one of all. Who doesn’t get angry? But, like the others, when it comes to solving interpersonal relationships, it accomplishes absolutely nothing. Not for the angry person, not for the listener. The Discharge Of Tension Is Calming It dissipates tension in one mad, powerful burst of energy that –leaves the anger bearer momentarily winded and calm, –the recipient bleeding (either outside or inside; it doesn’t matter which–the pain is the same), alienated and frightened, –and the relationship in tatters. For the moment, the angry person is relieved of stress. For the moment, that person feels much better. That is the seductive pull of anger. That Is Its Addictive Nature That is the seductive pull of chemical addictions too. They all do the same thing. They discharge nervous energy and produce artificial calm. And that calm feeling is so wonderful, so delightful that the addict, the angry soul and the bulimic keep returning to it when stress builds. Returning and fighting, like caged tigers, to keep doing what doesn’t work. Of course we all know that these are merely Siren songs. They don’t achieve calm, peace, and serenity. They don’t resolve the situations that caused the stress. They don’t communicate real feelings. They don’t deal with old wounds. And after the outburst, the anxiety is back. Obviously, because the blowup...

Two Examples Of Emotional Abuse

REPRINTED FROM NATURAL AWAKENINGS MAGAZINE, pp. 30-31 Abuse doesn’t have to be obvious. It isn’t that simple. There are some kinds of abuse that call for a really careful look to detect. But they hurt nevertheless. Example: Never praising. People Cannot Tolerate More Than One Negative Comment If Only Five Comments Are Positive Scientists have actually discovered the ratio of negative comments that a human being can tolerate before his heart breaks and something inside dies with it: 5 good: 1 bad. That’s right. People can not tolerate more than 1 negative comment or criticism in 5 positive ones or praises. So what about that kid who gets nothing but put-downs? What about that family where it isn’t obvious, where there is no foul language and no put-downs? Well, the ratio applies to any negative, any criticism, even well-meant, constructive criticism. If that’s all you hear, whether it’s from your parents or your spouse, you begin to feel like that’s all you are. And you begin to think that that’s all life is. Life is rotten. Because, for those people, it is. Let’s look at some of the ways this manifests itself in emotional abuse: 1. the Blame Game. So let me ask you something: Why do things always have to be someone’s fault? I mean, the dish broke, the car is smashed, the whatever is whatever. Can it be mended again if we just find out whose fault it is? Blame is the surest way to kill any feelings of self-worth in a child. Children who grow up always made to feel at fault suffer intolerably. When everything...

How To Respond To Put-Downs

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from Natural Awakenings, March, 2001, pp. 32-33 “Sticks and stones” are not all that hurts. Knowing what put-downs really are, the damage they do to the soul, how they escalate and how to respond to them will erase the notion that “words can never harm me.” What put-downs really are Let me begin by saying what they are not. Put-downs are not “harmless jokes.” The test of the difference between a put-down and a joke is this: Would the jokester be happy if someone he respected used that very same so-called joke on him? Put-downs are not “constructive criticism.” At a construction site, people are building something. To construct is to build. To give the kind of criticism that is constructive, you must see evidence of it helping the receiver to grow. For instance, when my children were little, they took music lessons. When they hit a wrong note after having practiced long and hard, the teacher would say, “I can tell you have been practicing well.” She would then recite, very specifically, five or so things they did well. Then-and only then-she would say, “Now play that [name of note] again for me.” If it was right this time, she would say, “Do you hear the difference from before?” This helped the child feel good about what was done right and turned the mistake into an opportunity to train the ear. In contrast, “You played the wrong note!” is just plain criticism, not constructive and, “You played the wrong note again. I don’t know what’s the matter with you” is a put-down guaranteed for the...
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