Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I have been researching about the effects of emotional abuse. It is becoming clearer to me that emotional abuse is an attempt on a person's part to control their environment. Usually fear is at it's base. Fear of further hurt, fear of abandonment, fear of trusting too much, fear of real intimacy. In general, I think inflicting emotional abuse is an indicator that someone is living out the abuse they have shouldered in the past.
Their reactions can include abuse through words: overbearing opinions, always needing to be right, judging others, putting people down, humor at the expense of others, guilt giving, preaching, dredging up history (not letting go of past"sins"), and the silent treatment. Or, abuse can come through actions: regimented routines-militaristic expectations, venting- screaming or complaining- verbally unloading anger on others, intimidation -"if you don't do this, then.....", extreme expression of mood swings, favortism, role reversal (child needing to parent the parent), and the use of religion for control and judgement. (Categories and concepts came from a book I am reading: Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse).
Actually these are the effects of emotional abuse. We become anxious, have difficulty making decisions, are hypervigilant, hypersensitive, insecure, veiw love as a risk, experience body break down, second guess ourselves, experience energy loss, become apathathetic, feel rage, and have a sense of disconnectedness. Emotional abuse is damaging to our sense of self. Sometimes we perpetuate the abuse by becoming muted, skittish, put ourselves down, acquiesce to others rather than having our own opinion.
Emotional abuse is messy business.

The interesting thing I am coming to is that most folks that are emotionally abusive to others are stuck. They may not even want to continue the abuse cycle- yet they are fearful enough that reaching for help is too risky. Doing that may mean that they would need to face the fact that in their own pain, they have hurt others.

Healing comes from acknowledging the truth, having compassion for oneself and choosing a different path- ultimately taking a risk to do something about it. This requires faith and often times trust. Tall orders for folks that have been and are currently feeling hurt.
I think of the metaphor of a dog that has been beaten. The dog may not be able to recognize a loving touch and may vicously bite a kind hand in anticipation of continued pain (this can happen even if the approach is slow and tender). In this process the one who is trying to love, gets bitten. The dog is clearly the victim here, yet in his/her victimized state, she/he has victimized a loved one.

Pain does not justify hurting others.

I think there are times when we don't see the pain we are inflicting. We scratch our heads and wonder why folks avoid us or why conversations turn sour. Feeling misunderstood ensues. We don't realize we are biting people in response to some past hurt (the reaction comes out of the past- even if the person is hurting us in the present). We have been triggered.

Now that is not to say that every approach is innocent, or that good intentions always exist- but in general, if we are in a healthy place, we can make our needs known, set limits and express our pain without hurting the other person. The tricky part is that if the other person is or has been emotionally abused as well, they may react inappropriately too, causing a triggerfest. The once kind hand that was going to love the dog, gets bitten and then in that pain, hits the dog- rebuking the the dog for the pain inflicted. All the while, trust and contentment go out the window. The cycle continues.

I recognize that the key to the ultimate health for me is to express love for myself and stop reacting out of my wounded self. I found a good resource online that talks about loving the wounded you.

"As long as we keep reacting out of black and white polarized thinking, we are powerless to change our patterns. Recognizing we were powerless out of ego self to do anything but react, creates the space to allow us to start changing our relationship with ourselves and stop being our own worst enemy. Recognizing our powerlessness to control life out of ego, helps us to begin to take power away from the feeling of toxic shame and start forgiving ourselves.

Awakening to the futility, the inherent dysfunction, of allowing our early childhood ego programming to define us and run our lives - and our powerlessness to change that until we became conscious that it needed to, and could, be changed - begins the process of learning to

Love ourselves, and creates the space to start being open to relaxing and enjoying life. By learning to stop empowering polarized reaction to the toxic shame, we can start being honest enough with ourselves to own our responsibility in how our lives have unfolded so that we can make amends to our self and others - and that allows us to start changing our behavior and relationship patterns substantially and significantly."
-Robert Burney
Attack on America - A Call for Higher Consciousness Chapter 5

Emotional abuse is probably at the root of most of the unrealized dreams of those whom I have had the pleasure to work with. And as I write this, I realize that emotional abuse is also at the root of much of the dysfunctional interactions I have with those I love. Given this, it seems to be worth a good study.


Katy said...

Nice post, lots to digest and think about. :)

Frank said...

In general, I think inflicting emotional abuse is an indicator that someone is living out the abuse they have shouldered in the past.

All pain and violence is one long unbroken chain. Everyone who hurts someone else intentionally is doing it as a way to address hurt that they have inside of themselves from something that happened to them.

The person who is the victim becomes the agressor to another person. And so it goes.

The key is to figure out how to deal with one's pain without lashing out at someone else, and decide that the chain of violence is going to stop with you, not continue.

Of course, it can be healthy to vent and to address issues in a healthy way. It is not good to stuff in your feelings. The choice is to figure out how to heal your pain without hurting someone else in the process.