Spotting Emotionally Abusive Behaviors Part I

18 Oct 2013

When you’re on the receiving end of an emotionally abusive relationship, it can feel impossible to get your head around what’s happening. Because your emotionally abusive partner behaves in ways that defy logic, and common sense, you constantly feel hurt and amazed. You take it all personally. And because you’re so busy taking it personally, you’re too close to see what is really going on. You miss the patterns, and the endless reprises of emotional abuse. 

Living with an emotionally abusive husband is, actually, one long Groundhog Day. But emotionally abused women just don’t see that because they are so caught up in thinking; “How could do he this to me?”

I was going to say: 

“It’s in his nature, honey”, but it’s not NOT.

Emotionally abusive men are not, as a general rule, insane.  They are just immature, out of control, vindictive, and full of… themselves. If they have a – significant – mental health problem on top of that, then you may well experience other ‘challenging’ behaviors, also. But the fact remains, there are no viable justifications – or excuses – for their behavior. It’s just something they do because they can, and they know it works.  They know how effective it is in keep their emotionally abused woman in a constant state of fear.

One behavior I failed to recognise – for two decades!– was the sulking. The wasband was a champion sulker.  He could sulk for Britain.  I believe the reason why I failed to recognise that behaviour is because I’d grown up around sulkers, that is parents withdrawing their affection. 

When well executed, sulking can be quite an elegant, controlling behavior. 

The wasband was curiously polite when he sulked.  At that point in his cycle of temper tantrums, he wouldn’t waste his words. This was the time when he was building up a head of steam – the torrents of emotional abuse would come later. Whenever I asked him what was wrong, he’d limit himself to saying: “Nothing”, or, at best, “It’s nothing”.

You may well have heard your own emotionally abusive husband deliver those words – in a tone that is pregnant with meaning. You sense that, as and when he gets round to citing chapter and verse, there’ll be an awful lot to that “nothing” that you really won’t want to hear. 

His ‘politeness’ kicked in, in other ways, too. I’d prepare a gourmet meal for him, as normal; and he’d eat it in stony silence. However, when pressured to reply, as in: “Did you like that?” I’d get a formulaic: “It was fine, thank you”. In the normal way, he wasn’t much of a person for the thank yous. It was as if, by using an accepted formula for polite conversation, he was proving to himself and me that he was without fault. 

During his sulking periods, he would only ever speak when spoken to, using as few superficially polite words as he could manage, and wearing his Reproachful Face. 

The message he was giving with his words was reinforced by his actions. Beneath this superficial politeness, he was being deeply rejecting. 

Clearly, he was withholding emotional connection. 

And by stating that “Nothing” was wrong, he was also doing more than a little bit of crazy-making. Since he was a man who LOVED the sound of his own voice, and kept a wife to talk at, there clearly was something profoundly wrong if he wasn’t holding forth. 

He signposted the gravity of the problem by withholding all physical connection, also. He would very pointedly avoid all physical connection, from touching my hand, to even sharing a bed.  When in sulky mode, he acted as if I had an exclusion zone around me.  He was not above sleeping on a floor – fuelled by quite a lot of the contents of our alcohol cabinet – when he severed all physical contact. 

Now, even at the time, I was dimly aware (dimly being the operative word) that this was crazy behavior. Sleeping on a hard floor doesn’t float most people’s boat – it is, I believe, quite uncomfortable. And in case you’re wondering, he didn’t sleep on the floor because he was drunk; he drank because he was in a very dark mood and had made the decision to sleep on the floor. 

A couple of nights on a floor did little to improve his mood. So, when he had a full head of steam, he would choose his moment and then blow.  (Even when he took himself to the spare room, and slept in a bed, a couple of nights’ sulking still enabled him to build up a quality head of steam.)  

Usually, he would start to let off that head of steam by telling me what a terrible mistake he’d made in marrying me – although, sometimes, he’d start right in by announcing that he was divorcing me. 

He’d tell me how lucky I was to have him. Well, I was, wasn’t I? Not everyone can find a man who’s so full of rage that he’d be willing to go off and nurse that rage on a hard floor, rather than talk about things like a rational adult. 

He’d work through all of my faults, going right back to the beginning of our history together. I’m not sure how the words ‘fatally flawed’ escaped his attention, but that was more or less how he saw me. 

And he’d watch the fun: the fun of me breaking my heart, and begging him not to leave, begging him to love me, again. 

The sulk, aka The Silent Treatment is a very powerful technique. It works so beautifully with emotionally abused women, because we have a poor sense of self-worth, and rely on our partner to feed us that sense of self-worth. Each time he withholds that, he exerts his power over us – even increases his power over us.

The problem with undergoing that kind of programming is that it makes you think the whole world behaves the way an emotionally abusive man does.  That’s why it is so important to learn how to stop thinking like an emotionally abused woman


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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