This Got Me Thinking

by Annie Kaszina on September 3, 2013

womanthinkingsmallAn email landed in my Inbox this week that made me think. 

The writer was a man. He began, as male readers often do, by challenging the fact that I routinely speak of emotional abuse victims as ‘she’, and emotional abusers as ‘he’. He felt that his suffering – as a victim of emotional abuse – was unacknowledged. But he saw the point that my intention is to acknowledge, and support, the many, many women who are on the receiving end of emotional abuse. 

What he wrote about the physical side of his own emotionally abusive relationship really resonated with me. Here’s what he said: 

Physicality, like physical intimidation can be a very effective way of an abuser controlling their partner. The lack of physicality can, also, become a powerful controlling mechanism. When I first met my partner, I thought she had the same attitude to physicality as me. That changed after we married. I was utterly devoted to my wife. The physical side of things became one of the issues that had me walking on egg shells day after day.” 

Now, this is not something I normally write about for a couple of reasons: 

  1. I really don’t want to get involved in the ‘mechanics’ of physicality – as a general principle, the physicality simply mirrors other aspects of the relationship

  2. Using the brief, everyday 3 letter word for physicality could create unnecessary problems with spam filters; meaning that you don’t get to hear from me. 

Still, the dynamics of physicality are worth looking at. In the end, the physical side is, most commonly, another damaging aspect of an emotionally abusive relationship – the damaging aspect par excellence. It is an incredibly powerful tool for hurting and humiliating an ‘intimate’ partner. 

Physicality can be used in different ways. In the simplest possible terms, it can be used to express love, or power. 

As a naturally trusting soul, when you go into what you see as a lasting, loving relationship, you see physicality as a means of communicating love. 

You assume your partner is in the relationship for the same reasons, and that physicality will have the same meaning for him. 

The fact is that although you and your abusive partner entered into a relationship with each other, you did not both enter into the SAME relationship.  

Love was the important thing for you. 


Power is the most important thing for him. 

What’s more, an emotional abuser is a creature of tremendous focus. 

You probably missed that, because you though that focus would mean him feeling and behaving in the same way as you do.

His focus was on power and control. 

He could hardly walk up to you, when first you met, and say: “Hello, my name is Mr Emotionally Abusive, and I’m into power and control over women. That’s what makes me feel better about myself.” 

Provided you were actually listening, you probably wouldn’t have hung around very long, at all. 

He knew that. 

womanmagiciansmallFor all I know – and care – he may even have been laboring under the illusion that ‘the right woman’ would magically transform him, and save him the trouble of ever having to take personal responsibility for himself, (Who knows? In an ideal world, you might even be able to invest him with magic powers, and provided him with a billion dollar empire by teaching him to turn water into wine?…)

Whatever his hopes for your potential as a world-class magician, he knew he had to woo you by making the right noises about ‘love’ and ‘marriage’ and ‘happily ever after’. 

You weren’t to know that wielding a magic wand successfully was meant to be a part of your job description.  You weren’t to know that your failure to do the impossible meant that you would end up as an emotionally abused woman. 

The problem came when he realized that you couldn’t do the Impossible for him. Then, the Mr Nice Guy mask, and behaviors, went back into the closet. To be seen, only rarely, on crucial days in the Nasty calendar. 

Mr Nasty took to using his favorite tools of power and control, in every are of your ‘life’ together. Including the physicality. 

You can exercise power by demanding, and withholding. He did that. You can exercise power by steam-rollering, and being deaf to a person. He did that. You can exercise power by a very deliberate use of the carrot and stick technique. He doubtless did that, too. You can exercise power by abusing and crazy-making. He sure as hell did that. 

That physicality is a formidable weapon in the hands of an emotionally abusive partner. 

It needed to be said. 

That’s the way he ‘did’ Life, and related to the World. It’s not the way Life, and the World, are. It’s not the way worthwhile men are. Letting an emotionally abusive man’s behaviors and beliefs color and shape your world means he still has a powerful hold over you, whether or not you are still with him. 

Your future happiness hinges on you finding the self-belief to do your life and your world, your way.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

anon. September 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm

This really resonated with me and stirred so much sadness. The power and control played out in the bedroom in ways I don’t like to think of anymore. While I thought we were just playing, having fun and building a loving relationship, I believe for him it was ALL about sexual control, access and yes, some humiliation. After several years of intense encounters I believe he grew a bit tired if it, esp. when real life and my illness became a bother to him. And of course if I ever initiated, he refused. I have not been able to be physical with a new partner since and no longer trust men or their motives.


Annie September 6, 2013 at 1:59 am

Dear Anon,

We need to make an important distinction here: there is a difference between “Men” – that is decent men – and Abusers.

Sex is one of the most powerful tools abusers have for controlling you. So, it’s not very likely they are going to entrust that tool – as they see it – into your hands.

At least, by getting this ghastly ‘intimate’ aspect of abusive relationships out there, we expose the hurt to the light of day where it can finally heal; and we help other women who’ve suffered that way to understand what truly happened.

Warm wishes,



Ruby Gatling September 5, 2013 at 6:43 am

I know that men as well as women can be abused physically as well as mentally. We absolutely DO NOT talk that much about men being abused as we do women, but we need to start doing that. Men are secretive about their relationship with an abuser and they feel that if they talked about the abuse being done to them, that others will see them as being weak and not masculine, because they have a woman controlling their life and treating them badly and being physically and mentally abusive. This is what we as women teach our little boys to be a man….not a sissy. So, if they cry…some see it as weakness, when it is not. It is having human feelings and compassion to cry and it makes you not less then a masuline man. We need to start teaching our little boys that its okay to cry and have compassion and its okay to express your feelings in a good way and hitting and being controlling is NOT one of those ways. We need to teach our little ones the best way to settle an argument WITHOUT the hitting, demanding, or temper tandrums, that sometimes leads to becoming physical or mentally abusive. I know many women are battered, but I think now in this day and time, we need to start talking about both of the sexes now, both men and women being abused and also being batterers. Once we start doing that…we will see more men come out and express how they feel when they are with a partner that is not meant for them because of the abuse and also get help for those who abuse. Mental illness plays a big part in the abusive cycle and we need to stop the silence that surrounds this epidemic and start talking about it more in our churches, in our communities, in our homes and especially in our schools.


Annie September 6, 2013 at 2:29 am

Dear Ruby,

My experience has been that abused women do do their very best to show their children a better way than they, themselves, have experienced.

You make some good points. But let’s break them down a little further:

First, women need to get out there and talk, in a constructive way, about what’s happened to them – and they need support to heal.

Second, men need to do the same thing, too. Yes, they can be secretive, and that is one of the issues they need to address. And, for all that, there are still far more abused women than abused men

Third, perhaps we need to be very careful of the context in which we place domestic violence. We still live in a society that largely condones destructive attitudes. Jackson Katz puts it far more eloquently than I could here:

(This link goes to his amazing TED talk.)

Fourth, I totally disagree that mental illness plays a big part in the abusive cycle. There are two self-evident truths here: abuse causes massive, and generally lasting, distress to its victims. It can cost them a LOT of their quality of life. And abuse is enacted by people who carry scars from the past. However, not all people who carry dreadful scars from the past become abusive. Whether or not they do is all about the choices they make about the meaning they ascribe to that abuse. Further, a lot of abusers are high functioning: they command social respect, and know exactly who and where they can get away with abusing. If we choose to give them the ‘mental illness-get out of jail free’ card we do society, and ourselves no favors. If they choose to say: “The world is an abusive place, and I’ll do what it takes to make sure I’m not at the bottom of the heap”, that’s a choice. And if they opt instead to say: “Because I’ve been through these awful things, I’m committed to doing my part to spare my loved ones, and anyone else I can help, that kind of experience”, that also is a choice. Finally, as regards Mental Illness – a perception that plays an ever bigger part in our lives, you might like to read James Davies “Cracked: The Unhappy Truth about Psychiatry”, if you haven’t yet done so.

Warm wishes,



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