Not the normal type of abuse…

25 May 2011

Hi Annie,

My husband was not verbally or physically abusive, but negligent.  He withheld affection, we didn’t go anywhere, do anything, communicate.  If I didn’t agree with him it was always his way and ‘not negotiable’. He would walk away from me rather than discuss anything and just tell me to leave him alone. Or he would have a hissy fit.

When I finally said I would have to leave he said ‘you won’t leave me because you love me’.

So this is not the ‘normal’ type of abuse I’m seeing in the e-mails from other women, but I thought my whole reason for being was to make him happy.  Is this still abuse?


Dear Pam,

You say, “this is not the ‘normal’ type of abuse.  I say… well, before I say what I think let’s look at a few definitions of abuse.  These include:

  • To hurt or injure by maltreatment
  • To deceive or trick
  • To change the inherent purpose or function of something

Was your husband guilty of those things?

Withholding affection, undoubtedly, hurt you by maltreatmentHe changed the purpose of your relationship – at least, I’m guessing he did; because   relationships are meant to be about giving love, respect, and mutual support.  Which means he deceived and tricked you, does it not?

Admittedly, your partner is more passive-aggressive than quite a lot of emotional abusers.  So his way of exercising control over you was relatively low key.  Or, at least, he was more passive-aggressive than a lot of abusers until you found out about his other woman.

At that point, you say, he started using “mind games” in earnest.  Again, I would disagree with you.  I’d say he simply started using mind games in a more open way.

Still, even before that happened, he could hold his head up, and take his rightful place in the gallery of emotionally abusive men.

For what it’s worth, my abusive ex-husband was a star at the Emotional Abuse Two-Step.  He managed a dazzling fusion of active and passive-aggressive abuse techniques.  He was a master of assailing with contemptuous, coarse, or insulting words, and reviling (another dictionary definition of abuse), as well as The Silent Treatment.

He’d often start with a few days Silent Treatment. This stage was when he’d fill his very own internal pressure cooker with resentments, seal the lid, put over high heat and cook until done.  When he was tired of hissing, he would release the pressure with an explosive outburst of contempt and insults.

(It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “cooking on gas”! <g>)

Your partner didn’t always do the Emotional Abuse Two-Step. But let’s look a little more closely at what he did do.

  • He withheld affection.
  • He withheld communication.
  • He withheld companionship.
  • He kept his hands on the reins of power at all times.  There was only one way – and it was never yours.
  • He excluded you from his life; but he used you to bankroll his business.

In short, he took and took from you.

He gave nothing in return.  Except hissy fits, and the occasional ticket to a football match.

So, how abusive was he?

Let’s say he was never going to win the Good Husband of the Year award, or even the Mediocre Husband of the Year award, that’s for sure.  Not even in Ivanov Bay, Alaska, with its population of 7.:-)

He might not win the Outstanding Jerk of the Year award either.  (That’s a field with an enormous number of contenders.)  And I think this is where you’re feeling you might be on shaky ground.

If you know for a fact that he is abusive that justifies all the hurt, difficult feelings you are experiencing.

But suppose he isn’t actually abusive?  Where does that leave you?

Does that mean you’re:

  • too sensitive?
  • making a fuss about nothing (or next to nothing)?
  • at least as much at fault as he is – since, after all, your reason for being was to make him happy?

Of course not.

There are no excuses for the way your husband treated you, throughout the relationship.

My Shih Tsu, Basil K, is a delightful little lap dog. He thrives on love, and human company.  If I were to keep him chained up in an outdoor kennel 24 hours a day that would be unbelievably cruel.

Now, why am I suddenly talking about my beloved pooch, when I don’t even know if you are a dog lover?

Because there are parallels.

Your husband, essentially, took someone who was built to give and receive affection and companionship, among other things and – since his emotional world is really no more than an outhouse – he tethered her to it.

He has been consistently cruel in his treatment of you.

Emotional abuse is, certainly, the correct label for his behaviour.   But here’s the thing: because – like so many abused women – you have the wound of not believing in yourself, you need that label.  You feel you need external confirmation that your feelings are justified.

Like all abused women you worry that “it’s just you”;  “just you” making a mountain out of a molehill.

Two things I will say.  First, if – to you – if it feels like a mountain, it’s a mountain.  It’s a mountain.  Period.  Second, there is no such person as “just you”.

“Just you” suggests that, in the human value stakes, your value is only a fraction of other people’s.

That’s not true.

When you’re hurting, your feelings are trying, very hard, to tell you something important.  The “just you” stuff gets in the way of you hearing the important message your feelings are trying to give you.

You write: “I feel I don’t know who I am, or what I am supposed to do with life on my own.”

Pam, you’ve shown amazing  courage in leaving your husband.  But you’ve been so good at making other people your reason for being, it’s no wonder you don’t know who you are, or what to do with your life.

I know how you feel because I’ve been there.

My programs are designed to help women just like you discover who they are, what they want to do with their life, and how to make themselves happy – because you really are allowed to be happy, too.

You probably amazed yourself by finding the courage to leave.  That was just the start.  Let’s see how much more you can amaze yourself in the future.

Warm wishes,



Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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