The Many Faces of an Emotional Abuser Part 2
Often things are as bad as they seem. Sheldon Kopp
Emotional abusers typically do not use physical force to trample their victims. They do not have to when they have so much more effective tools of destruction in hand. A good abuser can use words of humiliation, shame, and hatred coupled with the silent treatment and threats to far greater advantage. Bruises heal in a matter of days but devastation of the soul can take a lifetime to heal; the best abusers trample their victim's soul to the ground and then yell, "What is wrong with you? Get up and get a life. You are so pathetic!"
Emotional abuse is used to weaken the victim's resolve and to increase the abuser's power. If your partner attempts to publicly humiliate you, gives you the silent treatment, or intimidate you then s/he is an emotional abuser! His goal is to destroy your soul for his own benefit.
These are common forms of emotional abuse:
Do you often feel shame or like you are not good enough for your partner because of the public humiliation he heaps on you? Does he publicly insult you in such a way that if you did muster the courage to defend yourself then you would look petty or weak?
Artfully used ridicule is almost always public and makes fun of the inner soul; it cuts straight to the victim's soft spots. It is cutting and dehumanizing and is often followed by the words, "I was just kidding."
I remember my abusers favorite form of public humiliation. Imagine sitting in a formal restaurant with your abuser, his co-workers and their wives. He artfully leads the conversation to sex and then outlines his sexual woes. It begins with, "I never get any, " and goes downhill from there. How to defend? Should the victim respond sweetly? "Remember dear? We enjoyed one another every night this week?"
Should she respond with equal venom? "Why would I bother with the 2 minute wonder?"
His defense at the end of the evening? "I was only kidding. Lighten up."
Public humiliation is all about shame. With each incident of shame the victim feels less significant and more isolated from the people who do care about her.
The best abuser will set up situations in which there is no gracious recourse. Humiliation is best carried out in public, over time, and is tremendously damaging.
The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is another highly effective form of emotional abuse. It is a punishment used by abusers to make their victims feel unimportant and completely unloved. It is a means of avoiding discussing feelings, resolving conflicts or creating intimacy within the relationship. The silent treatment speaks as loudly as words and is one of the most effective forms of emotional abuse. It is used to keep the victim at bay so that no thoughts, feelings, or opinions are shared.
Sometimes the silent treatment is implemented to punish the victim. Instead of resolving conflict the abuser chooses to withhold all conversation from the victim. He might justify this act by saying that he needed some space, he was feeling depressed and did not want to drag you down with him, or that he did not want to fight.
The first significant silent treatment I endured was invoked in response to a haircut. It lasted 5 days and was absolutely impenetrable. It was not the only silent treatment I endured but it was the most painful. I keenly felt the humiliation of pleading for words and acceptance. When the abuser chooses to speak again he expects his victim to respond with warmth and to pretend that nothing happened.
The silent treatment is more often used as a long term pattern of withholding. Some words are spoken but the abuser is careful that the words remain at the "exchange of information" level of communication. He is careful to avoid connecting with his partner at a deeper level. This creates feelings of isolation and profound loneliness within the relationship.
Threats are also used by the emotional abuser to exert control over his victim. The goal of intimidation is to make the victim feel unsafe, vulnerable, and insecure. Some threats are overt while other threats are veiled.
I cringed at the words, "I ought to smack you," or "Shut up before I turn you over my knee." but my real terror was the result of more veiled threats. The menacing glances, the threats of taking my children from me, and flaunting of weapons.
The emotional abuser rarely needs to carry out his threats. The control he wields through his partner's terror is far stronger than a physical assault. My abuser's threats resulted in terrifying nightmares, anxieties, and fear of stepping outside of the bounds he set for me. He rarely lifted a hand against me. His threats were enough to keep me in line.
The emotional abuser has a whole arsenal of tools in his bag designed to tear your soul. More tools will be discussed in Emotional Abuse Part 3.