Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Do You Talk To Me Like That?

Emotional abuse can be more difficult to detect and more damaging to our sense of self than physical abuse.

When we are being struck we can react to the immediacy of the threat. We are acutely aware of the risk to our safety. There is little doubt as to the violation we are experiencing. Physical violence generally occurs in relationships sporadically. There are episodes, followed by periods of calm which may extend for days, weeks or longer.

Emotional abuse is much more subtle. It generally involves denigrating comments, sarcastic or caustic remarks, or emotional absence. Since it may occur on a daily basis it is more insidious. It may involve a continuous stream of verbal degradation that erodes our self esteem like sand on a beach. Living in this environment of constant tension, the abused partner feels as though they are constantly walking on egg shells. Try as they may, the abuser finds reasons to continue the verbal onslaught.

The critical piece of the puzzle is the realization that abusers don't abuse because they are unhappy with their partner or any other part of their life, they abuse because they have lost touch with the part of themselves that recognizes and values others. This may be called self involvement, selfishness, lack of compassion, narcissism or immaturity. The truth is that the label is unimportant. The effect that the behavior has on the abused partner is traumatic.

One of the reasons that the effect is so marked is that abusers often appear emotionally available and empathetic during the courting phase of a relationship. When that phase ends and the abuse begins, partners often wish to believe that the real person, the one they loved during the courtship phase, is within. The partner may believe that the abuser will return to their former loving self when their conditions are met and demands satisfied.

This could not be further from the truth. The only way for an abuser to change their behavior is to recognize their lack of empathy for others and begin to see themselves as others do. Generally, abusers see themselves as victims and lash out in response. The efforts of their partner in telling them how their behavior affects the relationship feeds into the victim role and adds to the response of abuse.

The abused partner may eventually tire of continuously being berated and become angry or bitter. At this point stiff emotional penalties will become apparent within the relationship. The abused partner may announce a no tolerance policy and begin to avoid interactions. The abuser now faces a choice: change or lose the relationship.

Emotional abuse is one of the most difficult areas to clearly identify within relationships. There is never an acceptable reason or excuse for abuse. Each of us has a choice about how we interact with others. We may become angry or upset with those with whom we are in relationships, but we must choose not to allow ourselves to abuse or be abused. When we behave in concert with our inner values we will be at peace with ourselves and feel comfortable in our own skin. We use our tools to increase our self esteem, find our values and make quality decisions about how we want our relationships to function. In this way we give ourselves the gift of inner peace.

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