Need to Know Why An Emotionally Abusive Partner Can Behave So Badly?

by Annie Kaszina on March 18, 2014

“How can he be so cold, and cruel, and heartless? I just don’t understand why he’s behaving like this…” Tina, my client, said tearfully.

When you step back and think – which is something emotionally abused women are usually too emotionally enmeshed to do – you’ll see that the most amazing thing about an emotionally abusive partner’s behavior is actually… your amazement.

Think about it, you’re in a relationship with someone who is – habitually – cold, rejecting and hurtful. Yet whenever he behaves in that cold, rejecting, hurtful way of his, you are amazed and appalled, all over again.

You ask: “How could he?” when the evidence is staring you in the face. He can do it very, very easily.  For him, that’s second nature…

I explained to my client that emotionally abusive partners play “Kick The Cat” – with you as the cat. As I went through my explanation – which was  more detailed and interactive than it can be here – she said: “You know, my therapist has been telling me that kind of thing for years; although not in those terms… And it made a kind of intellectual sense, but I didn’t really get it until now… Now I can feel it.  It’s not enough to know something with your head. That won’t change your feelings.”

She’s absolutely right, of course. Things only change when you experience emotional shift. There’s no way I am ever prepared to leave a client of mine without that emotional shift.  That’s leaving the job half done.  That has happened to plenty of my clients in the past, and it only makes it harder for them to heal.  When a client has not been enabled to make that emotional shift, she carries on struggling, hopelessly, and – worse still – blames herself, for what is NOT her fault.

That’s just not good enough.

“You know, Tina” I said: “You made a fundamental life choice many, many years ago. Maybe you made it so long ago that aren’t even aware that you made it. But you did.”

Silence.

“You and your emotionally abusive partner share a common experience. When you were both children, you didn’t get the love you needed. You both had a tough time as kids – and that doesn’t mean you should feel sorry for him, or try to make it up to him. You’ve done that for long enough, and you know that doesn’t work.

“But there you were, two kids hungry to get your emotional needs yet and – for whatever reason – your parents or carers couldn’t do it. But you saw something going on in your home that didn’t feel right to you. You could have been very young indeed, but you knew that you were staring in the face of an important decision: you could either repeat the behavior that didn’t sit well with you, or else you could say:

“I will not do it that way. I will stick with the path of loving and giving. Because my humanity matters to me. Connecting with other people through love matters to me. I will not give up on what I believe in. Even if that means I get hurt, and suffer. 

“You chose the path of love and connection as best you could, at that tender age.

“And your emotionally abusive husband, at some point, was faced with the same kind of decision in his own young life.

“But here’s the thing:

“He responded quite differently.

“He, doubtless, also experienced emotional deprivation keenly. But he made a different choice. He recognised that the person who loves conditionally – that is, badly – or else withholds love, yields an awful lot of power. And he chose the side of power, over love.

“Maybe he felt safer for choosing the path of power, while you entrusted your safety to love…

“The point is, that choice was a fork in the road for both of you. You have been travelling down two divergent roads your whole life long. That’s why you don’t see what he sees, or operate in the way that he does. You are on completely different journeys. You can’t direct him onto your road. He can only ever change roads, by exiting his road and resetting his GPS.  The chances of that happening are miniscule to non-existent. All you can do is to stay on your chosen road, and reset your course for long-term happiness. And that is the work we are starting to do together.”

Tina was silent for a while. Then she said; “That’s so true. I’d never thought of it that way. He’s on a different road.”

You’re not equipped to understand your emotionally abusive partner because of that life choice you made all those years ago. Ultimately, that choice will be life-affirming.

You chose love.

Keep choosing it, and you’ll do just fine.

But you will need to start including yourself in the number of the people you love.

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