When I say quilt, I don’t mean to imply that there is anything warm, comforting, or snuggly about emotional abuse. I mean that emotional abuse has patterns like a quilt, there are patterns in abuse. In emotional abuse there are several patterns, emotional abusers may use one, some or all of these patterns but what they do they do clearly and consistently, not once in awhile. If you’ve been emotionally abused you may recognize some of these and if not pay attention so if you ever see them used against you in a consistent manner you can take back control and remove yourself from the toxic relationship.
One of the patterns of abuse is domination, which is the attempt to control another person’s actions. The person who tries to dominate another person has a tremendous need to have their own way and will resort to threats in order to get it. Domineering behavior includes order a partner around; monitoring time and activities; restricting resources (finances, telephone); restricting social activities; isolating a partner from their family or friends, interfering with opportunities (job, education, medical care); excessive jealousy or possessiveness; throwing objects; threatening to harm a partner or a partner’s children, family, friends, pets, or property; abusing a partner’s children, parents, or pets in front of them; and forcing or coercing a partner into illegal activity.
Verbal assaults are another pattern of abuse, which includes berating, belittling, criticizing, humiliating, name-calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, shaming, using sarcasm in cutting ways, or expressing disgust toward a person. This kind of abuse is damaging to a person’s self-esteem and self-image. It assaults the mind and spirit, causing wounds that can be difficult to heal. Yelling and screaming is not only demeaning but frightening as well, when people do this we may become afraid that they will resort to physical violence. Verbal abuse may also include withholding, countering, discounting, verbal abuse disguised as jokes, blocking and diverting, accusing, judging, trivializing, forgetting, ordering, denial, and abusive anger.
Constant criticism/continual blaming is another pattern of abuse, this can be characterized on it’s own because it may happen without any other form of abuse taking place and describe an entire relationship. When someone is unrelentingly critical of you, always find fault, can never be pleased, and blames you for everything that goes wrong, it is the insidious nature and cumulative effects of the abuse that do the damage. Over time, this type of abuse eats away at your self-confidence. Over time, this type of abuse eats away at your self confidence and sense of self-worth, undermining any good feelings you have about your accomplishments. When a partner overtly criticizes and screams and yells, it’s easy to come the conclusion that your being emotionally abused, but when your partner puts you down under the guise of humor, it can be extremely difficult to come to this realization.
Abusive expectations is another pattern of abuse where your partner places unreasonable demands upon you. These can include expecting a partner to put aside everything in order to satisfy your needs, demanding a partner’s undivided attention, demanding constant sex, or requiring a partner to spend all of his or her time with you. A partner like this will never be pleased because there is always something more you could have done. You’re likely to be subjected to constant criticism and to be berated because you don’t fulfill their needs.
Emotional blackmail is another pattern of abuse and one of the most powerful forms of manipulation. It occurs when one partner either conciously or unconciously coerces the other into doing what they want by playing on their partner’s fear, guilt, or compassion. Examples of this are one partner threatening to end a relationship if they don’t get what they want and one partner distancing or rejecting a partner until they give in to their demands. If your partner withholds sex or affection or give you the silent treatment or the cold shoulder whenever they are displeased with you, threatens to find someone else, or uses other fear tactics to get you under control, they are using emotional blackmail.
The following are signs you may be getting emotionally blackmailed:
- Your partner asks you to choose between something you want to do and them.
- Your partner tries to make you feel like you are selfish or a bad person if you do something they don’t want you do to do.
- Your partner asks you to give up something or someone as a way of proving your love for them.
- Your partner threatens to leave you if you don’t change.
- Your partner threatens to withhold money or access to money unless you do something they have requested.
is another pattern of abuse which includes drastic mood swings, sudden emotional outburst for no apparent reason and inconsistent responses such as, reacting very differently at various times to the same behavior, saying one thing one day and the opposite the next, or frequently changing one’s mind. It’s disconcerting and abusive because the partner is constantly on edge. They are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and they never feel like they know what is expected of them. Living with someone who is like this extremely demanding and anxiety provoking–you feel constantly frightened, unsettled, and off balance and that you must remain hypervigilant, waiting for your partner’s next outburst or change of mood. This behavior is common with alcohol and drug abusers who can exhibit one personality when sober and a totally different one when intoxicated or high. It can also be an indication of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, or certain personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder
(i.e. Narcissistic Personality Disorder) which cause a person to have drastic shifts in mood, to have emotional outbursts (sudden anger, overwhelming fear, or anxiety attacks), or to react unpredictably. Finally, it can be characteristic of those who suffer from PTSD
or a disassociative disorder
Constant chaos/creating crisis is similar to unpredictable responses because it makes you feel unsettled and off balance, it is specifically characterized by continual upheavals and discord. If your partner deliberately starts arguments with you or others or seems to be in a constant conflict with others, he or she may be ‘addicted to drama.’ Creating chaos provides excitement for some people, especially those who are uneasy with silence, those who distract themselves from their own problems by focusing outward, those who feel empty inside and need to fill themselves up with activity, and those who were raised in an environment in which harmony and peace were unknown quantities. This can also indicate a Borderline Personality Disorder.
Character assassination involves constantly blowing someone’s mistakes out of proportion, humiliating, criticizing, or making fun of someone in front of others, or discounting another person’s achievements. It can also include lying about someone in order to negatively affect others’ opinion of them and gossiping about a person’s failures and mistakes with others. In addition to the pain this behavior can cause a person on a personal level, it can ruin someone’s personal and professional reputation, causing them to lose friends, jobs, or even their family.
, which I’m sure a couple of you are familiar with, comes from the movie Gaslight
, in which a husband uses a variety of insidious ways to make his wife doubt her perceptions, her memory and her very sanity. A partner who does this may continually deny that certain events took place or that they said something you both know they said, they may suggest you are exaggerating or lying. In this way, the abusive person may be trying to gain control over you or to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. This is done very consciously and deliberately. It is sometimes used by those who need to discredit their partner in order to get access to their money, in order to turn others against them, or a way to justify the abuser’s own inappropriate, cruel or abusive behavior.
Sexual harassment, usually refers to sexual coercion in the workplace but you can be sexually harassed by a partner. It consists of unwelcome sexual advances or any physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature that is uninvited and unwelcome. Whenever a partner is pressured into becoming sexual against their will, whether it’s because they don’t feel like being sexual at the time or don’t choose that person as a sexual partner, it is a form of emotional abuse called sexual harassment. It is also considered sexual harassment to try to force a partner into engaging in sexual acts that they have no interest in or that upset or repulse them. This usually goes hand in hand with unreasonable expectations, constant criticism, name-calling, and emotional blackmail.
Now we’ve all been guilty of some of these on occasion that’s just a part of being human but emotional abuse has a clear and consistent pattern. It’s not considered abusive unless:
- It is constant, as opposed to occasional.
- The intent is to devalue or deingrate rather than simply to state a complaint.
- The intent is dominate and control rather than to provide constructive criticism.
- The person has an overall attitude of disrespect toward you, rather than just not liking something specific that you are doing.
Now I must say of the list that I’ve put above in my ex-marriage I suffered domination, verbal assaults, constant criticism/continual blaming, unpredictable responses, constant chaos/creating crisis, character assassination (particularly after I told him I wanted a divorce), and gaslighting at the hands of my ex-husband and he did them all sometimes overtly (openly demeaning) and sometimes covertly (more subtle). Actually he was a master of the gaslight. When I read these I started to realize that I had been a victim of malevolent abuse, where one partner is bent on undermining or even destroying the other, when one partner is so angry or envious or so full of hate that they deliberately and maliciously set out to sabotage a partner’s success, health, or happiness. It’s sad to think of now but I’m glad I understand what it is and how it works. But as sad as it is to think that this was probably going on in my marriage, I’m so thankful that I realized something was wrong and got the hell out of Dodge. I wasn’t positive what it was at the time but I always had a sinking feeling it was something horrible and what I’m discovering now was what I suspected then, it was horrible and he’s bad person.
Information and excerpts taken from: Engel, Beverly, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002
I’ll be back next week with continuing my series with a blog on narcissistic personality disorder (NPDs) in love relationships, it ties in very closely with this blog post. Please come back and read it.