Why You’re Frightened of Emotionally Abusive People

by Annie Kaszina on September 29, 2015

angrywomanI grew up with a lot of fear in my life.  Perhaps you did, too.  My parents both came across as very powerful people. They expected unquestioning obedience; especially from me, their only daughterThey also regarded my fearfulness as a weakness – another weakness.

 Did that set me up beautifully to be the ‘mark’ of an emotionally abusive husband?

You bet it did.

(That wasn’t exactly their intention.  But nobody in their right mind would ever have suggested my parents were far-sighted people.  They couldn’t foresee that what they were actually doing was paving the way for their successor.)

 If this was just my experience and I didn’t think it would relate to you, too, I wouldn’t be sharing it. Occasionally, I speak with emotionally abused clients who were NOT brought up in a home where being intimidated was the norm; but that’s relatively uncommon.  Most of us have experienced at least one parent who could be hugely intimidating.  Not uncommonly, when we talk about childhood experiences, clients say: “Were you brought up in my family?”

For a very long time I felt ashamed that my upbringing had been as it was. Above all, I felt  ashamed of my own craven cowardice – I spent as much time as I could below my parents’ radar.  I failed to see the obvious: that, one way or another, despite being scared witless, I showed the courage to walk (or limp) away from their world, to create my own life.

When my mother died, someone who wasn’t even related to her wrote: “Your mother was unique.  I was more terrified of her than I was of my commanding officer in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces)!”

My mother could be quite terrifying.  My father was a past-master of intimidation, too; when he put his mind to it.  Although in between times, he’d do an almost convincing, harmless routine.

Last week, a client was telling me about her terrifying, emotionally abusive mother.  She had experienced – and still did experience – her mother as incredibly powerful.

When you continue to experience your parent(s) as incredibly powerful people that doesn’t leave much space for you to experience your own power.

Those of us who were brought up with powerful parents were taught that the reins of power can only ever be in one person’s hands.  That person is never going to be you.

No wonder you end up accepting that an emotionally abusive partner naturally holds the reins of power in the relationship.

My client was still experiencing that powerlessness where her mother was concerned and, inevitably, it percolated through to other areas of her life.

Fear and powerlessness do that.  They’re extraordinarily hard to compartmentalize into just one area of life – which is why it is so important to address them.

I said to my client that my scary mother was, in reality, one of the most fearful people I had ever come across; in my entire life.  She could have been the model for the Wizard of Oz.  I’m assuming you remember that scene from the film where Dorothy finally sees what lies behind the Wizard of Oz facade.

It was one of those light-bulb moments that aren’t really a moment.  It’s as if time stops, and then with a whirring of cogs, the machinery goes into a different gear.

For the first time in her whole life, my client started to see her own mother as she truly was: a woman so terrified that she masked her terror with ferocity.

Satisfying as it is to furnish clients with powerful realizations that they never got before from the counsellors and therapists they’ve worked with, that’s only a small part of the therapeutic process.

The next powerful piece of work that needs to be done is to free clients from their past fears and beliefs about what they are NOT and can never be, so they can start to see who they truly are.

My scary mother lived in an emotional Fort Knox.  My choices, as she saw it, were to ‘hole up’ there with her (seriously SCARY and S-U-F-F-O-C-A-T-I-N-G), or else go it alone, outside the defenses, under constant attack from bogeymen, monsters, wildebeest, sex maniacs, psychopaths, and every conceivable nightmare she ever read about in the papers.

How well can you live with that kind of fear?

Not very well, at all.

Fear is millstone around your neck.

It won’t keep you safe.  Scary people may tell you that it will, but the reality is that your fear only plays into their hands.

 The solution?

 You have to learn to ditch the fear.

On the other side of that fear lie fun, happiness, love, and connection – as my client is already starting to realize.

Nobody is so broken they can’t do it.

Don’t let an old fear steal your present and future happiness.

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