Does The Inner Cringe At Emotional Abuse Block You, Too?

26 Jan 2016

The inner cringe at emotional abuse is something that anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship has done a thousand times.  The word “cringe” itself – defined as to: “bend one’s head and body in fear or apprehension or in a servile manner” describes perfectly how an emotional abuser teaches you to respond.

It doesn’t take long for the inner cringe at emotional abuse to become a Pavlovian reflex.

The problem with Pavlovian reflexes – like the cringe at emotional abuse – is, of course, that you have long since ceased to be conscious of all in the ways in which it affects you.

I see it all the time in clients.  It manifests, commonly, in their fear of what an emotionally abusive partner (or ex) will say to them. That anxiety gradually spills over into other areas of your life, also.

But here’s the key point: the cringe at emotional abuse comes to feel so normal that you simply accept that it is the way things are. 

On the one hand, you can do a lot of personal development and be quite self-aware. On the other, you still automatically experience that inner cringe at emotional abuse.

Psychological ‘sticks and stones’

Psychological sticks and stones (and, quite possibly, physical ones as well) have already caused you massive damage many times.

Psychological sticks and stones will, one day, break your relationship – if they have not done so, already.

But the inner cringe at emotional abuse can remain intact.  Long after Mr Nasty has been consigned to the scrap-heap of… well, (s)crap partners.

Your emotional abuser has worked so hard to create that exquisitely sensitive cringe reflex so that, it won’t just fade away – if and when the relationship ends.  Especially, if you have to co-parent, he wants you to worry about what he’ll do next to destabilize you.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you– or anyone, really – could just wave a magic wand and transform him into a ‘decent’, that is to say non-abrasive, human being?

Of course, if that were to happen, there could be a serious potential downside: you could end up asking yourself, a thousand times over: “So, what was wrong with me, that he didn’t change for me?”

Mrs pottsHappily, the chance of it happening are about as likely as seeing your teapot – if you have one – magically transform into the all-singing, all-dancing Mrs Potts from Beauty and the Beast.

Please bear in mind that an emotional abuser is just about as useful, and necessary, in your life as the proverbial ‘chocolate teapot’.

Still, that leaves you with the Pavlovian cringe at emotional abuse reflex.  That’s clearly something that you need to deal with.

A toxic partner works hard to install the Pavlovian inner cringe at emotional abuse reflex in you because it serves his purpose so well. It creates the win-lose relationship he loves to have with you: that’s the one – just in case it needs spelling out – in which he always wins and you always lose.

How the inner cringe at emotional abuse works

The reflex ensures that:

  • You are very afraid to step out of line
  • You most likely do whatever you can to appease him – whether or not that is in your   (personal and financial) interest
  • You find yourself on a hamster wheel of hurt and humiliation
  • You feel he is all-powerful – as he is in the context of the relationship
  • You feel powerless to effect change
  • You live in a constant state of anxiety and depression
  • You have no peace of mind
  • You feel totally un-free
  • You can’t see a worthwhile future for yourself
  • You spend a lot of time playing ‘Nightmare Scenarios’ in your head
  • You end up believing that almost everyone  is the same as he is
  • You live in fear.

So, how do you overcome the Pavlovian inner cringe at emotional abuse reflex?

How you can overcome it

The first step has to be awareness: noticing how easily you can become agitated just  thinking about the Nightmare Scenarios that could come to pass. 

(How many times did he say you couldn’t possibly cope without him?)

Second, notice how quick you are to ‘settle’ for what you neither want nor like.

Third, don’t give up on yourself. Ever. Instead…

Fourth, trust in your ability to change, and

Fifth, discover the resources that will help you make all the changes you need.

The Inner Cringe at Emotional Abuse can cast a very long shadow – especially, if you hold on to Mr Nasty’s self-serving belief in your powerlessness.   So, here’s a new motto for you: “Spoil that man’s day!” Not by actively challenging him – that would not serve you well, at all. But by challenging that Pavlovian response that he loves so much.

There’s no doubt, at all, that you can rid yourself of the Inner Cringe at Emotional Abuse.  The only question is, how long are you prepared to wait before you do just that?

PS If this article resonates with you, please click the share buttons, and share it on social media.  Chances are, it will resonate with a lot of other women who need to hear it, until they finally understand that what’s happened to them is not their fault, and they won’t be able to transform the relationship into something their emotionally abusive partner doesn’t want it to be. Social media gives you the opportunity of helping not just the women who you know – who you know have this problem – but the women they know, too.  Sharing could help saving other women unnecessary misery.


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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