Dealing with Emotionally Abusive People

23 Oct 2013

If you’ve ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship, there’s one thing, above all, that you should have learned: you’re not naturally good at handling emotionally abusive people. You’re not good at dealing with an emotionally abusive husband. 

itsnotfairsmallNow, I quite understand if that seems a little hard to swallow: if anyone had said that to the Younger Me, that Younger Me would have hissed and snarled back:

“Why should I have to be good at dealing with an emotionally abusive partner? It’s not right that I – or anyone else – should have to deal with an emotionally abusive person in the first place.” 

Quite right, Younger Me. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t happen. Our niceness, and our big heart would meet, exclusively, with the love and appreciation we deserve. 

Life can be like that. 

But it’s not likely to be like that if you’re one of those lovely, generous souls who grew up without the tools to recognise, and walk away from, emotional abuse. 

You see, most women who end up in emotionally abusive relationships fall – or are pushed – into those relationships because it all feels very familiar. Most of us – there are rare exceptions, but we are talking rare, here – have been brought up in a family where emotional abuse was the norm. In some cases, it may be more a case of ‘benign’ neglect of their emotional needs – benign, in this case, being simply the opposite of malicious. 

One way or another, you’ve been brought up to know that your feelings aren’t really important, that you come a fairly convincing last.  Besides, Nice Girls have low expectations of how good their life could and should be. 

The net result is that you don’t learn how to deal effectively with emotionally abusive people, or even that you have the right to be intolerant of the behavior of emotionally abusive people. Their emotionally abusive behavior feels normal to them and, at some level, it feels normal to you, also. 

Behind every emotional abuser in your life, there’s normally another emotional abuser. That’s what I hear most commonly. 

That’s certainly the way it was in my life. My father learned emotional abuse at his parents’ knee. That’s what our lovely local reverend told me – albeit not in those precise words. 

When Father and the wasband met, needless to say, they didn’t like each other.  At all. (They were, probably, both quite right on that count.) Curiously, though, they did end up with a certain respect for each other. Father vented his fury in front of my emotionally abusive husband several times. On one occasion, the wasband retaliated in kind – he was quite a star at the abusive tirades. When he finished, there was a pause… dare I say, an admiring pause. And then Father said: Thank you for sharing that. It’s good to know how you feel.” 


And they never spoke about it again. 

It was as if it had not been said. 

Bullies and emotional abusers operate in their own way. The nuclear option works well for them. 

It just doesn’t suit those of us who are made of less toxic stuff. 

Now, for me, this stuff should all be ancient history. It happened a long time ago. My father’s been dead a fair few years – and we were blessed to have some kind of resolution before he died. The wasband has spent the last several years putting himself centre stage in some other – doubtless, nice – woman’s misery. 

But tradition doesn’t die that easily. 

Father passed on the mantle – either before, or when he died – to my siblings. 

To put it another way, when you grow up in an emotionally abusive home, you only see two choices: 

a) to join the ranks of the powerful, and learn the ways of abuse yourself

b) to join the ranks of the powerless, that is the victims of that abuse, because you’re not prepared to shed your core values of loving, and caring, and treating people with respect and consideration… 

(Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me.) 

The siblings, on the other hand, as I discovered recently, have no compunction about using the battering ram that is emotional abuse. 

Today, I know that I have good cause to walk into a situation where the battering rams will be out. 


I’m guessing it’s one of those “because they can” situations. It’s worked before. And it saves them the trouble of looking at a lot of complicated feelings – their own complicated feelings about our two difficult parents. 

So, I’ve lain awake quite a lot of the night – and several nights before this – working on my mind-set; working on my thoughts and my feelings. And as I lay awake, waiting for the dawn, when I would far rather have been asleep, I had certain insights that I believe may well be relevant to you, too. Here they are: 

  • It’s only reasonable to expect abusers to come out with their habitual garbage – they’ve got a script to work from, haven’t they?
  • It’s only right to remind them, and myself, that their opinion of me is not relevant to me
  • They are perfectly entitled to judge me, but not to visit their judgement on me – not that I imagine that will stop them. But I don’t have to buy into the judgement that they pass.
  • I understand that what they say feels real to them… It’s not my reality.
  • They may want/need to vent, but the situation is NOT about them. I am only meeting with them to discuss an issue we have in common: our mother
  • moronicgnatsmallThey have the psychological penetration of a pair of gnats… Okay, I’m not going to point that out to them. That would be downright rude. But it is my perception… when I’m feeling downright disgruntled. 

The siblings are coming from a very different place to me, and have very different psychological resources – and not always a lot of them, IMHO!  

And the bottom line is that I do have a right to laugh, and reassure myself. 

Besides, I – and you, too – have done an enormous amount of work on ourselves to make sure that we didn’t grow into full blown emotional abusers. We’ve clung to the path of emotional decency, as best we could, and it has been a hard, hard road. We deserve to honor and acknowledge that.



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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