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 take turns getting it “their” way: Sometimes he has to listen and sometimes she has to cut to the chase. When power is unbalanced, there is emotional abuse going on. Either she is emotionally abusing him by forcing him to always listen, or he is emotionally abusing her by rudely making her cut short what she wanted to say.
So how do you convert the above scenario into a healthy relationship? Well, my first suggestion is going to blow your mind: The answer is “manners.” Yup, manners. Plain old fashioned good manners. When the kids are little we teach them to take turns, right? That’s a nice lesson in manners. He should have said, “I’m not up to a long version. Is that ok?” And provided he doesn’t make this request all the time, it’s fine.
Balance of Power Means Taking Turns Being In Charge
Furthermore, she could have been sensitive to his mood. She could have said, “I’d like to explain the whole thing to you, ok?” And provided she doesn’t do that all the time, that is good manners too. See?
From the victim/shushed-up person’s perspective, there is a need to take action when the one with the power won’t give it up. What the bully doesn’t realize is that by being overly controlling in this fashion, he is actually not getting his needs met. After all, when he gets his way all the time, he is in a very lonely place. He has no team nor cheering section. He is not “part of.” That is typical for abusers: They are not happy. This piece of information is empowering for the victim and he/she should use it to regain the balance.
Rather than argue, when conversations seem to go the way the other person wants, the victim must state something to the effect of: “When you have it your way all the time, it makes you alone. We have drifted apart because of this. Is that where you want to be?”
This suggestion is a companion to the frequently suggested method in assertiveness training in which the victim is taught to say, “When you do that, it makes me feel bad [or some other feeling].” Assertive responses declare the rights of the underdog–a very useful tool.
The Perpetrator Ends Up Lonely When He Is At The Top
The above suggestion is helping the perpetrator change by helping him (or her) recognize that his (her) needs aren’t getting met because it is lonely at the top. By reminding him (her) of the need for companionship and how he is depriving himself of it through stifling his companion’s voice, he may be motivated to back down. Over the long haul, a loss of voice–when restricted to just one person in the relationship–has some really, really bad results:
- – resentment of the one holding the power
- – lack of joy in the relationship
- – forgetting who you are — That’s a fascinating one. We know who we are by what we say. Think about it: If you never expressed your opinion, wouldn’t you lose touch with what it is after a while? Isn’t that amazing? — A person’s whole identity can be lost just because they have to “get to the point.” They can’t talk.
- – loneliness of the perpetrator.
Bottom line: When one person has all the answers, neither one is happy. It’s emotional abuse.