Monday, April 26, 2010

Steven Stosny - Are You Emotionally Abusive?
A lot of men have gotten the message that physical abuse is totally unacceptable, but what about emotional abuse? My guess is that most people (men or women) are not even aware of emotional abuse - and when they are engaged in it - and how destructive it can be both to the person on the receiving end and to the relationship itself.

There is a lot of info in this post - and I hope that both men and women can find some awareness in the material I have collected here.

Here are a few related articles:
The article refers to a quiz - here it is:

Emotional Abuse Quiz

Walking on Eggshells

Millions of relationships walk on eggshells, with the partners in constant dread that the other will set them off - push their buttons - or make them feel disregarded, rejected, unattractive, incompetent, inadequate, or afraid.

There is a proven way out of this painful pattern that eventually destroys relationships. Start the healing process by taking the Emotional Abuse Quiz.

Many of us - maybe most of us - project our own pain and shame and low self-esteem onto others through emotional abuse, but it occurs most often in our personal, intimate relationships. In fact, we generally (unconsciously) choose partners who are likely to push our buttons, those people who possess we traits we feel we lack, or who fill some need we have (for example, "codependent" people are fixers, and they tend to choose wounded partners they think they can fix).

There is no faster way to destroy trust and intimacy than through emotional abuse. The real issue is that most of us are unaware we are doing it - it's an unconscious act until we do the work to be mindful of our feelings and become aware of when we are "hijacked" by shame, anger, resentment, or some other emotion with which we are uncomfortable.

Are You Emotionally Abusive?

Are you emotionally abusive? It can happen to anyone.

It can happen to anyone. That's right; anyone can become emotionally abusive in an intimate relationship. The path to emotional abuse begins at the point where resentment starts to outweigh compassion.

Resentment is a predominant emotional state in our age of entitlement. Because we perceive ourselves to have more of a right to feel good than previous generations, it follows that those around us have an obligation to make us feel good.

Resentment is a misguided attempt to transfer pain to someone else, specifically the shame of failure to feel good, i.e., to create more value, meaning, and purpose in our lives. Blaming this core failure on someone else justifies a sense of self-righteousness, along with low-grade anger, which temporarily feel more powerful. But the temporary empowerment comes at the cost of making an enemy of the beloved.

One problem with resentment is that it builds under the radar - by the time you're aware that you're resentful it has reached an advanced stage. You don't realize how much it has taken over your life until, through therapy or some life-changing event, you become more compassionate and look back on the years you have wasted being resentful. Eventually, with deep regret, you realize the pain you have suffered and the harm you have inflicted due to resentment.

Because resentment makes you feel like a victim - it feels like someone else is controlling your thoughts, feelings, and behavior - it comes with a built-in retaliation impulse. If you're resentful, you are probably in some way emotionally abusive to the people you love. You have devalued, demeaned, sought to control or manipulate and deliberately hurt the feelings of loved ones. But you've been so focused on what you don't like about their behavior that you haven't noticed what you don't like about your own. You probably have not grasped that resentment has made you into someone you are not.

Here's how to tell if you are an emotionally abusive man or woman.


  • Does it feel like your wife or girlfriend pushes your buttons?
  • Does she have a way of putting you in a bad mood?
  • Are there times when you don't want to speak to her or be around her?
  • Do you feel like you overlook a lot or swallow a lot, until you can't stand it anymore?
  • Does she frequently "do things the wrong way?"
  • Can you be having a nice time and then out of nowhere she says or does something to set you off?
  • Are you sometimes on edge about having a bad or unpleasant evening?
  • Does it feel like you have to criticize her for not being more efficient, reliable, or a better person?
  • Does it feel like she makes you yell or shut down when you really don't want to raise your voice or be in a bad mood at all?
  • Do you treat her in ways you couldn't have imagined when you first started loving her?

If you answered yes to any of the above, here are some things that your wife or girlfriend probably says about you:

  • He's so moody.
  • He doesn't see or hear me.
  • I feel like I'm his possession.
  • I can't be myself; I have to think, feel, and behave the way he wants.
  • Nothing I do is good enough.
  • I feel like I'm walking on eggshells.


  • Do you sometimes make your man feel like a failure as a provider, partner, parent, or lover?
  • Do you feel like you have to tell him the same thing over and over and over?
  • Does he tell you that you sometimes yell and scream or lash out at him?
  • Do your girlfriends ever remark that you might treat him badly?
  • Do you automatically blame him when things go wrong?
  • Do you resort to name-calling, swearing at him, or putting him down?
  • Do you demean or belittle him in front of other people or your children?
  • Do you threaten to take his children away so he will never see them?
  • Are you often jealous and want to know where he is at all times?
  • Would your family and friends be surprised to know how you treat him behind closed doors?

If you answered yes to any of the above, here are some things that your husband or boyfriend probably says about you:

  • She's a nag.
  • She's so moody.
  • She's so unpleasant to be around.
  • I just want her to leave me alone.
  • Nothing I do is good enough.
  • I feel like I'm walking on eggshells.

In addition to the above, you can take this useful emotional abuse quiz.

The Way Out: Self-Compassion

Self-compassion begins with greater sensitivity to the resentment that causes emotional abuse. It is sympathy for the perceived hurt or loss of self-value that causes resentment. Most important, it includes motivation to heal and improve.

Since the experience of resentment rarely improves and never heals, most resentment - and all acts of abuse - are failures of self-compassion.

As we develop more self-compassion, we are motivated less by temporary feelings and more by our deepest values. As a result, we automatically become more compassionate to the people we love.

The key to a successful relationship is maintaining a sometimes delicate balance between self-compassion and compassion for loved ones.


I think this is a serious issue, so I want to add some more information from Dr. Stosny's website that further elucidates some of the material posted above.

One of the types he mentions below is extremely common in men - the Stonewaller. These are men - and I have been this guy more often than is comfortable - who are uncomfortable with emotions of almost all types. Rather than deal with things, they go silent. The combination of biology and, more importantly, social conditioning and cultural training, we find it hard to feel things, and we are often unwilling to hear or accept the feelings or needs of our partners.

So we shut down, we become dismissive, and we end up with a partner who feels invisible, unappreciated, unloved. I have been working to heal this pattern in myself for years, and I still have work to do.

You Are Not the Cause of Your Partner’s Anger or Abuse

Anger and abuse in relationships are about blame: "I feel bad, and it's your fault." Even when resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive people recognize their behavior, they are likely to blame it on their partners: "You push my buttons," or, "I might have overreacted, but I'm human, and look what you did!"

Angry and abusive partners tend to be anxious by temperament. From the time they were young children, they've had a consistent sense of dread that things will go badly and they will fail to cope. They try to control their environment to avoid terrible feelings of failure and inadequacy.

The strategy of trying to control others fails even if they are powerful, for the simple reason that the primary cause of their anxiety is within them, not in their environment. It springs from one of two sources: a heavy dread of failure or fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation.

The Silent Abuser
Not all emotional abuse involves shouting or criticism. More common forms are “disengaging” – the distracted or preoccupied spouse - or "stonewalling" – the spouse who refuses to accept anyone else’s perspective.

While verbal abuse and other forms of emotional abuse can be roughly equal between men and women, stonewallers are almost exclusively male. Biology and social conditioning make it is easier for men to turn off emotions. The corpus callosum – the part of the brain that connects its two hemispheres is smaller in men, making it easier for them to shut out information from the emotionally-oriented right hemisphere. On top of that slight biological difference, social conditioning promotes the analytical, unemotional male on the one hand or the strong silent type on the other.

The partner who stonewalls may not overtly put you down. Nevertheless, he punishes you for disagreeing with him by refusing even to think about your perspective. If he listens at all, he does so dismissively or impatiently.

The disengaging husband says, "Do whatever you want, just leave me alone." He is often a workaholic, couch potato, womanizer, or obsessive about sports or some other activity. He tries to deal with his inadequacy about relationships by simply by not trying – no attempt means no failure.

Both stonewalling and disengaging tactics can make you feel:

  • Unseen and unheard
  • Unattractive
  • Like you don't count
  • Like a single parent

What All Forms of Abuse Have in Common
Whether overt or silent, all forms of abuse result from failures of compassion; he/she stops caring about how you feel. Compassion is the lifeblood of marriage; failure of compassion is its heart disease.

It would be less hurtful if your partner never cared about how you felt. But when you were falling in love, he/she cared a great deal. So now it feels like betrayal when he or she doesn't care or try to understand. That’s not the person you married. Failure of compassion can feel like abuse.

Harmful Adaptations to Anger and Abuse: Walking on Eggshells
The most insidious aspect of abuse is not the obvious nervous reactions to shouting, name-calling, criticism or other demeaning behavior. It's the adaptations you make to try to prevent those painful episodes. You walk on eggshells to keep the peace or a semblance of connection.

Women are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of walking on eggshells due to their greater vulnerability to anxiety. Many brave women engage in constant self-editing and self-criticism to keep from "pushing his buttons." Emotionally abused women can second guess themselves so much that they feel as though they have lost themselves in a deep hole.

Recovery from walking on eggshells requires removing focus from repair of your relationship and your partner and placing it squarely on your personal healing. The good news is that the most powerful form of healing comes from within you. You can draw on your great inner resources by reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. This will make you feel more valuable, confident, and powerful, regardless of what your partner does.

No One Escapes the Effects of Abuse

Families do not communicate primarily by language. That might surprise you, until you consider that humans bonded in families for millennia before we even had language. Even today, the most sensitive communications that have the most far-reaching consequences to our lives occur between parents and infants through tone of voice, facial expressions, touch, smell, and body posture, not language.

Though less obvious than interactions with young children, most of your communications with your older children and with your husband also occur through an unconscious process of emotional attunement. You psychologically and even physically tune in your emotions to the people you love. That’s how you can come home in one mood, find your husband or children in a different mood and, bam! – all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you’re in their mood. Quite unconsciously, you automatically react to one another.

Emotional attunement, not verbal skills, determines how we communicate, from our choice of words to our tone of voice. If attuned to a positive mood, you are likely to communicate pleasantly. If you’re in a negative mood, your words will be less than pleasant.

Now here’s the really bad news. Due to this unconscious, automatic process of emotional attunement, your children are painfully reactive to the walking-on-eggshells atmosphere between your husband and you, even if they never hear you say a harsh word to one another.

Everyone in a walking-on-eggshells family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy. You become unable to decide your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior, because you are living in a defensive-reactive pattern that runs largely on automatic pilot. No fewer than half the members of these unfortunate families, including the children, suffer from clinical anxiety and/or depression. (“Clinical” doesn’t mean feeling down or blue or worried, it means that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning. You can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t work as efficiently, and can’t enjoy yourself without drinking.) Most of the adults lack genuine self-esteem (based on realistic self-appraisals), and the children rarely feel as good as other kids.

When it comes to the more severe forms of destructiveness, purely emotional abuse is usually more psychologically harmful than physical abuse. There are a couple of reasons for this. Even in the most violent families, the incidents tend to be cyclical. Early in the abuse cycle, a violent outburst is followed by a honeymoon period of remorse, attention, affection, and generosity, but not genuine compassion. (The honeymoon stage eventually ends, as the victim begins to say, “Never mind the damn flowers, just stop hitting me!”) Emotional abuse, on the other hand, tends to happen every day. So the effects are more harmful because they’re so frequent.

The other factor that makes emotional abuse so devastating is the greater likelihood that victims will blame themselves. If someone hits you, it’s easier to see that he or she is the problem, but if the abuse is subtle – saying or implying that you’re ugly, a bad parent, stupid, incompetent, not worth attention, or that no one could love you – you are more likely to think it’s your problem.

Important questions to ask of yourself:

  • Do I like myself?
  • Am I able to realize my potential?
  • Does everyone I care about feel safe?
  • Do my children like themselves?
  • Are they able to realize their fullest potential?
  • Do they feel safe?
What Can Help

This chart presents the wheel of abuse - all the various forms that abuse can take in relationships. It's often about power and control - on the outside - but that need for power and control stems from inner shame, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, fear of vulnerability. It gets acted out through control - if we can control the situation, or the person, then we don't have to face our pain and fear.


Anonymous said...

what if this exact behavior is how a dad treats his 13 year old daughter (and has for many years).

how do you work with THAT guy?

he admits he's a bully, but says that probably won't change. he talks a good talk until he's with the kid and then he is condescending, belittling, scary and intimidating. she shrinks up and becomes mute and then starts to cry.
it's classic emotional abuse. how does dad stop being a bully (abuser)?

william harryman said...

This is only my opinion and I am not a counselor or psychologist.

But in my opinion, Dad gets therapy - and mom forces the issue - if he does not get therapy, nothing will change. He has to look at what in his past causes him to use emotional abuse as a way to shame his daughter - he has some wounding from something in his past and this abuse is how he keeps it out of his consciousness.

At this point, it sounds like the daughter will need some therapy too - it's horribly traumatic to have the person you look to for love and support continually belittling you and making you cower in tears. That is NOT how parents should treat their children.

In reality, the whole family is going to need therapy - these things are never isolated to one person. But clearly, dad has a serious issue in this case and needs to be removed from the home if he does not get help.

Good luck - I hope everyone involved finds some healing.

Anonymous said...

These same questions are pertinent to the father/daughter relationship. The daughter needs help getting in touch with her self-value - and, yes she has it; it has just been buried in her

Anonymous said...

I really like this read, and the examples it gives. My "Man" that I just recently broke up with, would have answered "yes" to every statement about me, and I answered yes to every answer that he would say about me nagging and what not. It took my Mother to stand me up, look me in the eyes and tell me I was lost and not the daughter she once knew, for me to see I was knocking myself down and almost about to go crazy.

I read through the comments about a women being the abuser, and many of the statements I could answer with a bold NEVER for how I treat him. After our 2 year relationship, my anger may have outbursted after 1 too many vodkas because of how I was being treated, but he'll never see it that way.
I am happy to read this doc and happy to say I have a strong support of friends and family and I am excited to value my beautiful self again and not commit to marrying this guy nor having his children whom he would most likely be to rough and hard on and treat the same.

fitmotif said...

I filed for a divorce because of 18 years of emotional abuse. But, my husband over the past 4 tears tried to get me arrested for DV accusations. He used my oldest to attack me 2 tines abs lied to the police.
I was exonerated but now for the divorce he can still bring uo evidence that was proven not true uo to say I gave a history of violence. One judge decided to take my kids, kick me out of my home, and take my service dog. I'm black and he's white. This us beyond fair and just.