Emotional Abuse As A Quilt

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. 

Unpredictable responses 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.
Gaslighting, 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.


13 thoughts on “Emotional Abuse As A Quilt

  1. Pingback: …And How the Hell Do I Get Out of It « Married Girl in a Weird World

  2. Thank you for the support and advice.
    It is complicated and messy and I am going to need ever bit of strength to get out of this.

    It’s a blessing to have such a network of women and resources.
    Please pray for me.

    Thank you.

  3. I have actually said to him once- why don’t you just walk away from me if I am such a crap person. You are indifferent to my needs and act as if you are doing me a favour by staying. well don’t do me any favours.
    He said nothing and of course is still here.
    I think I know one of the reasons now.
    We had to attend a large function two months ago, a birthday party for the brother of an old friend of his. There were so many people there, I don’t do very well in crowds and feel out of my depth (though now I am looking back at my younger more carefree self I am starting to think this is a new trait too) anyway I assumed he would circulate, enjoy himself and speak to loads of people there. Well he stayed at my side most of the night clearly feeling out of his depth and uncomfortable. He did not have the social skillls to negotiate the evening and I could see he was embarrassed I saw him like this. (We rarely go anywhere socially)
    Once he got up to make a call and left me alone for nearly 40 minutes. You could see his relief when he got talking with another man sat at our table. His so-called old friend did not hang around much, he was on host duty. Even so I do not think this old friend rates him that highly.
    I then realised he had no real confidence and feels less than. Which is one reason he kept me ‘destabilized’ and unsure. It suits him to see my self-esteem go, to see me cooped up at home. It suits him to see I am isolated. I made the mistake ( I know this now) of marrying him though he was socially not on my level. I think he has always felt inferior to me. Whether I unconciously contributed to this I do not know. By reading through so many BWE blogs I realised a woman should never do that as it will not bode well for the marriage.

    He is probably terrified I will leave him. The facade would be gone then.

    • They won’t walk away from you, they need you for supply, they need you to glom onto so they can feel special by making you feel badly and know that you haven’t done anything to bring this on yourself. This is who he is and will be always, believe me it don’t get better.

    • Didi:

      If you decide to walk away from this, be very careful because your situation could become a dangerous one. It would take careful planning, and you would have to ask yourself a lot of “what if…” questions especially if you depend on him financially.

      Eugenia, girl, your blog is on fire! Keep it up.

      • thank you and you’re right TeeVee.
        To Didi: I’m going to have a blog on how to extract yourself from these situations but if you can’t wait and Didi is coming to the end of your rope. Please find the book I referenced at the end of my blog, buy it, check out of the library whatever. It will give you clues on how to get out of this there’s another book

          Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

        because if he’s not physically abusive and many times NPDs and emotional abusers aren’t, he may become abusive and he also will probably try to use your kids against you and taint your name. I’m sorry to say it but I have to be honest, that does not mean you can’t get away from him and get on with your life. I’m witness that you can. You just have to know how to do it, so if you can’t wait, try to find these books, they’ll help you.

  4. I recognize some of these patterns in my current marriage especially emotional blackmail and gas lighting.
    I have only recognised how he undermines my confidence and subtly implies I am a bad person. He denies statements he made and walks away from every discussion/argument refusing to engage and making me appear a troublemaker. He is mostly silent and says ‘thats just how I have always been’ yet can talk for hours with his male friends on the phone. When I withdraw and ignore him he suddenly becomes apologetic and thoughtful. Until I soften then it’s back to square one.
    When upset with me he will withhold affection, sex, even conversation but the worst of it is that he can even show hostility or indifference to his kids just because he is unhappy with me.
    I have gone from a confident person with a good circle of friends to a neurotic, deeply angry person with no self-esteem and no friends.
    I have 2 children so I need to figure out how to do this.
    My mum says thats just the way marriage is and I should accept it. This is the same mum who believes all men will cheat, it’s nothing to get worked up about and you may want to look into your own actions in case you are to blame.
    Thanks for the post.

    • As I said everyone has to make their own decisions, but know these things don’t usually get better especially if he’s an NPD. And no this not how marriage is supposed to be, you don’t have to just put up with it. Just something to think about, your children watch their father with you what is that telling them about marriage? If you have a daughter, what is that telling her about being a wife? Just something to think about.

  5. Wow. Hit the nail on the head, bullseye, you ain’t never lied…..you get the point. As I read through this list I could see my ex husband. After getting out of this no wonder so many women just go it alone, myself included.

    • It can be tough to get your trust of others and of yourself back. It was easy for me to forgive my ex, it was harder for me to forgive myself. I had to get some help also b/c I suffered PTSD after this, abuse does that to ppl whether physical, sexual, verbal or emotional. I’m glad I did, I figured I didn’t want him to win. I mean his goal was that I be miserable and after some time I wanted love in my life again and if I let him and what he did to me prevent me from finding it, he’d win and I didn’t want that to happen. What he did was not my now husband’s fault and I did what I needed to get me together, so I could find and facilitate a functional, happy, giving and loving relationship with another man but that can take time and really ppl need to take all the time they need to try to heal from it but you can. I’m going to talk about that too later on in the series.

  6. Thx for another great post! My ex was a narcissist ***shudders*** and even though my world felt upside down during that time, I didn’t know that I was being emotionally abused. After that crazy ish I can spot abuse a mile away. I’m having fun with the new man in my life and we laugh and talk a lot. The past was crazy but my present/future is turning out to be really sweet. I’d like to keep in touch, send me an email.

    • YW! Boy when I write about narcissist you’re gonna get bowled over. NPDs have many or all of these traits plus some extra crispy craziness on top. Yes after you’ve been with one and you know what it is, you can spot it a mile away. The book I’m reading is telling the readers that after they read it, they’ll be able to spot NPD. I knew some of this stuff but a lot of it has me with my wow face. I’m glad you’re having a good time, it’s nice to know and allow yourself to be interested in someone else. I wasn’t sure if I could do that but I took the risk and it was worth it. I’ll send you an email soon.

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