Fort Refuge - Abuse Survivors Support Group

Emotional Abuse Support Links


You need power only when you want to do something harmful,
otherwise love is enough to get everything done...
~ Charlie Chaplin

All people argue sometimes. In the heat of the moment we all might say things we'll regret later. Emotional abuse, however, is a pattern of deliberate disregard for your feelings, verbal aggression, control, jealousy, intimidation, threatening harm to self or others (partner, children, family, friends), destruction of pets and property, forcing isolation from family, friends, school or work, rejecting, degrading, terrorizing, corrupting/exploiting, or denying emotional responsiveness (read about top 20 emotional abuse tactics). It's a climate, an atmosphere rather than an isolated incident of verbal aggression. Andrew Vachss defined emotional abuse as "the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event." Emotional abuse can occur between romantic partners of any gender, between a parent and a child, between coworkers, friends, classmates, or strangers online (cyberbullying).

Four tips on escaping emotional abuse:

Emotional abuse is very hard to identify and to prove, so in many cases (especially if no children are involved) police won't interfere. However, it is still not OK, and there are things you can do to help yourself, even if nobody is helping you and leaving the relationship is not an option at the moment:

  • Remember that the abuser is human. If you pay attention, you'll notice that they are constantly either angry or depressed, unlike the rest of us who experience occasional joy too. They blame you for everything, deny that they are unhappy, because they are afraid it would make them vulnerable, which is their biggest fear. To prove that it's you who's the problem, they often come up with most ridiculous complaints that perpetually eat away your self-esteem, making you feel like you're a failure and can never do anything right. This allows the abuser to feel powerful and feared. Because fear and control is the only relationship they know. They are afraid to lose you, afraid you'd walk away from them if given a choice, so they scare you into staying with them by constantly beating you down emotionally. They misunderstand what relationships are all about, mistaking love for fear and bonding for control. Emotional abusers are deeply unhappy people. Keeping this in mind helps you fear them less, and take what they say with a grain of salt.
  • Reframe the story. This is one of the most helpful tricks. Emotional abuses have a twisted perspective on things, and force it on you. If you don't want to lose your mind, you need to resist this by setting the record straight, for yourself. Write in your journal, post on forums, talk to your therapist - tell your version of what happened. For example, if he says, "so what, I took $100 from your wallet, I thought you loved me, but now I see all you want is money, that's really shallow of you, I feel betrayed in my best feelings towards you!" - don't accept his viewpoint as the sole truth, reframe the story - "no, it's not me who wants money here; I didn't steal from him, he stole from me." Keep your sanity intact.
  • Don't hold yourself responsible for their problems and feelings. The most common emotional abuse tactic is blaming you for things that aren't your problem to start with. Don't fall for this trap. If your abuser is feeling angry, they can find a therapist to talk to about it; alleviating their anger isn't your responsibility. If they got fired from work, if they are feeling annoyed by a TV show, if they need someone to yell at, etc - it's not your job to fix things for them. They might feel it is, but don't adopt this approach, it's a setup for failure, because the only person who can make one happy is themselves.
  • Practice non-argumentative responses. Some examples are - "oh", "I see", "interesting viewpoint", "you're entitled to your opinion", "I hear you", "it's OK with me if you feel this way", "I understand", "gotcha". Emotional abuser doesn't really want to resolve a problem, they just want to argue with you, that you should be constantly defending yourself, they should keep on blaming you for things, and that eventually you should apologize for something that's not your fault in the first place. Don't give them the satisfaction, just respond "oh" to an accusation, it really works, try it.

Basic Rights in a Relationship:
  • The right to good will from the other.
  • The right to emotional support.
  • The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
  • The right to have your own view, even if your partner has a different view.
  • The right to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real.
  • The right to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you may find offensive.
  • The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your business.
  • The right to live free from accusation and blame.
  • The right to live free from criticism and judgment.
  • The right to have your work and your interests spoken of with respect.
  • The right to encouragement.
  • The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
  • The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage.
  • The right to be called by no name that devalues you.
  • The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.

(from the book by Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond)

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Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.
~ Michel de Montaigne
Page last updated on March 28th, 2015
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