How To Defuse Emotionally Abusive People

23 Jun 2015

firefightingHow to defuse emotionally abusive people is one of the questions I get asked a lot. If you have an emotionally abusive partner, the likelihood is that you have been trained to take responsibility for his behavior.  Of course, this doesn’t just apply to an emotionally abusive partner, it is the pattern of all emotional abusive people to hold you accountable for their behavior.  Here’s how it works:

Something that you do, don’t do, or else something that they perceive you do, meets with their disapproval.  So far, so good.  People have a right to take offence if they choose.  In fact, they’re free to take anything any way they choose – including the wrong way.

However, this is where it becomes interesting: emotionally abusive people see that their rights extend rather beyond that.  They see that they have a sacred right to behave as badly as they like in response to something you said, or did- or didn’t say, and didn’t do.  Either way, they perceive you to be somehow at fault, which makes it their right to throw whatever kind of hissy fit they please.

Rule #7 in the Emotional Abusers’ Handbook

Rule #7 in the Emotional Abusers’ Handbook makes the point very clearly:

“There is no such thing as an overreaction, on your part, when someone in your life who should know better dares to step out of line.”

It’s as simple as that.

It’s simple.  However, if you’ve been with an emotionally abusive partner for any length of time, that means you hadn’t picked it up.  Instead, when your emotionally partner goes into Mr Nasty mode, you ask yourself what it could possibly mean.

And, of course, you ask yourself another question:

How do I defuse the situation?

Chances are, if you have, or have ever had, an emotionally abusive partner, you’ve already experienced the problem before – with other emotionally abusiive people.

Strategies that don’t work

The time-honoured way of trying to defuse emotionally abusive people is to appease them.  Commonly used strategies include trying to:

  • soothe them
  • reassure them
  • make them see reason
  • explain yourself
  • cry
  • express your irritation and frustration
  • laugh them out of it (that one really is the ‘light the blue touch -paper’ option)

All of these strategies may work briefly, because they put Mr Nasty in a position of power, and you in a position of inferiority.  But all you’ll ever buy is a little bit of time, and then the whole process will start all over again.

Now you see how the scenario actually works, do you see the problem around how to defuse emotionally abusive people?

The short answer is this: you cannot successfully defuse emotionally abusive people because throwing hissy fits serves them.

The bottom line, if you want to hear it is this, they love being Mr Nasty more than they love you.

Sure, there may be a part of them that wants to give and receive love but that part of them is far less of a driving force than the abusive part.

Whether or not that makes emotional sense to you, that is the way it is.  If you run a quick mental review of your life with your emotionally abusive husband in your mind’s eye, you’ll see the truth of what I’m saying.

So, now you know what doesn’t work.

That may well leave you wondering what does work.

How NOT to transform Mr Nasty

What’s going to get you the outcome you want? 

What can you do to turn Mr King-of-the-Domestic-Jungle into your very own Woman’s-Best-Friend-and-Prince? Especially when all the Usual Suspects, that’s

  • wishing and hoping
  • appealing to his mythical better nature
  • banging your head against the same old brick wall
  • infinite chances, and
  • furiously waving your magic wand

just don’t work.

There are no strategies for how to defuse emotionally abusive people that work.  Because emotionally abusive people don’t want to be appeased.  There is absolutely nothing in it for them.

Here’s what you need to do, instead:

  • Put yourself back on your own emotional map of the world – instead of making it all about someone else
  • Refuse to play He’s too old to be throwing his toys out of the pram. There’s no point in you bringing this to his attention.  The only way he might understand is when you stop playing, and leave him hanging red-faced and furious out of his pram, waiting for you to magic his toys back to him. I woudln’t put any money on that happening.
  • Let go of the fantasy This is who he is, and how he behaves. This is what you can look forward to for the life of your relationship.  Is this what you really want?
  • Hold emotionally abusive people accountable Let them know their interpretation of you, your behavior, and motives is false and intolerable.  But don’t ever bother to argue the toss with them, they can out-argue you in their sleep.

Here’s what you need to know: when you focus on how to defuse emotionally abusive people, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.  Instead, you need to focus on how you show up in the world as the strong, empowered loveable woman you know, at bottom, that you are.



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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