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Concerning Abuse

Emotional abuse conditions the child to expect abuse in later life. Emotional abuse is a time bomb, but its effects are rarely visible, because the emotionally abused tend to implode, turning the anger against themselves. And when someone is outwardly successful in most areas of life, who looks within to see the hidden wounds?

Members of a therapy group may range widely in age, social class, ethnicity and occupation, but all display some form of self-destructive conduct: obesity, drug addiction, anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, attempted suicide, self-mutilation, depression and fits of rage. What brought them into treatment was their symptoms. But until they address the one thing they have in common, a childhood of emotional abuse, true recovery is impossible.

One of the goals of any child-protective effort is to "break the cycle" of abuse. We should not delude ourselves that we are winning this battle simply because so few victims of emotional abuse become abusers themselves. Some emotionally abused children are programmed to fail so effectively that a part of their own personality "self-parents" by belittling and humiliating themselves.

The pain does not stop with adulthood. Indeed, for some, it worsens. I remember a young woman, an accomplished professional, charming and friendly, well-liked by all who knew her. She told me she would never have children. "I'd always be afraid I would act like Them," she said.

Physical Abuse of Women

Signs of the Batterer:

He is jealous.                                                                                                            

He blames others for his faults.                                                                                             

He blames circumstances for his problems.                                                                            

He demonstrates unpredictable behaviour.                                                                               

He belittles his partner verbally.                                                                                             

He cannot control his anger.                                                                                                 

He always asks for a second chance.                                                                                    

He says he'll change - that he won't do it again.                                                                      

He may have been an abused child, or witnessed his father's abuse of his mother.                   

He plays on his partner's guilt. (If you loved me you'd ... )                                                      

His behaviour often becomes worse when he uses drugs or alcohol.                                        

He is closed-minded. His way is the only way.                                                                    

He may seem charming, gregarious, and gentle to non-family members.

He dislikes women (although often will not admit it - usually saying that he “loves” women), he believes that "a woman's place is in the home, and that men have the right to control women.   

He abuses his children.

What Does a Batterer Look Like?

There is no special look to a batterer. He can be a doctor, lawyer, judge, mechanic, teacher, or unemployed. He can come from any ethnic or religious group, have several years of college or none and he can be rich or poor. In other words, he can be just about anybody. Ninety-five percent of the time the batterers/abusers are men.

There are some behavioural traits that are common. He may have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality; charming and calm with strangers, friends and neighbours; and mean, abusive/violent with family members. Batterers are usually very jealous of everything in your life including friends and family. They make unfounded accusations about who you are going to meet and why. Chances are he has abused or hit other women. This is important to remember because he will tell you he is beating/abusing you for a reason, but he will always find a reason however small or imaginary.

You Are Not Alone

Battered women are rich, poor, married, divorced, single, from all ethnic groups, every economic level, able bodied or with a disability or in a lesbian relationship. Being a battered woman means that you have common issues with many other women. It is estimated that eight million women are battered each year. If you are a battered woman, you are not alone.

The Cycle of Battering

There is usually a pattern to the violence of batterers. The cycle usually has three parts. First, there is a period of time when the batterer gets edgy and tension builds up. Second, the batterer explodes and the abuse occurs. It can last a few minutes or several hours. Third, there's a period of relative clam and making up. The batterer may be sorry or act like nothing happened; but he's interested in making up and may even promise never to do it again. However, the tension almost always starts to build again. You don’t have to experience physical violence to be a battered woman. Often the psychological abuse can leave you fearful, helpless and powerless to act in your own behalf.

Methods of Control

These are the ways abusive partners control the victims of their abuse.

Isolation: Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, where she goes.

Intimidation: Putting her in fear by using looks, actions, gestures, loud voice, smashing things, destroying her property.

Using Male Privilege: Treating her like a servant. Making all the "big" decisions. Acting like the "master of the castle."

Threats: Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her emotionally. Threatening to take the children, commit suicide, report her to welfare.

Using Children: Making her feel guilty about the children, using the children to give messages, using visitation as a way to harass her.

Economic Abuse: Trying to keep her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money, giving her an allowance, taking her money.

Emotional Abuse: Putting her down or making her feel bad about herself, calling her names. Making her think she's crazy. Mind games.

Sexual Abuse: Making her do sexual things against her will, Physically attacking the sexual parts of her body. Treating her like a sex object.

Are You a Battered Woman?

You may be a battered woman if:

You are frightened by your partner's temper.

You feel intimidated by your partner.

You often give in because you are afraid of your partner's reaction.

You apologize to yourself or others for his behaviour when you are treated badly.

You find yourself being criticized for daily things, such as your cooking, clothes, appearance.

You are humiliated or degraded by name-calling, put downs, accusations.

Your partner makes frequent threats to withhold money, resources, take away the children or have an affair.

You have been forced or pressured into having sex.

You have been kicked, hit, shoved, restrained or had things thrown at you by your partner.

You have been stopped from seeing family or friends.

You feel isolated and alone.

You experience a pattern of violence in your relationship.


There are several myths associated with violence in relationships. It is important to realize that these are false, and that it is not your fault.

I'M THE ONLY ONE. Three to four million women are battered each year. Every 16 seconds a woman is beaten in her home. Every 6 minutes a rape occurs in the United States. Many women don't talk about it because they feel afraid or ashamed. Others simply don't want to admit a problem exists.

I ASKED FOR IT. No one asks to be hurt! It doesn't matter what you do, if your partner abuses you, it's wrong.

RAPISTS AND BATTERERS ARE STRANGE PERVERTED MEN. Batterers come from every race, class, and educational level. They may be doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, ministers, and teachers.

THIS IS NORMAL. It does not matter if he grew up this way or you grew up this way or if this is the way it's always been. These are not excuses. There are no excuses for abusive behaviour.

NO ONE CAN HELP ME. Wrong! You have to take the first steps of deciding there is a problem and calling someone. There are people out there who understand and can help.

LOVE AND VIOLENCE CANNOT EXIST TOGETHER IN THE SAME RELATIONSHIP. Most abusers and victims love each other. Many abusers act in loving, caring ways some of the time. Most survivors love the abuser and want the abuse to stop. However, over time, the loving periods, lessen, change or fade as the abuse takes its toll.

Why Do Women Stay?

People often do not understand why a woman stays in an abusive relationship. They may think or say it could never be them, but statistics show that domestic violence is by no means rare. The truth is that if you do find yourself in an abusive relationship, it is usually very difficult to leave even if you aren't married. Some of the reasons most often given are listed below.

She fears the unknown or is afraid of being alone.

She has low self-esteem and little self confidence.

She hopes he will change.

She might come from an abusive family and think violence is normal.

She wants to make her marriage work or her religion or friends believe she should stay in her marriage, no matter what.

She believes the children need a father or that he will take the children away.

She is financially dependent on him.

She feels guilty and ashamed.

She has no emotional support from others.

She believes there is no way out.

She is afraid of retaliation and/or worse beatings or that he will find her no matter where she goes.

She believes he will harm himself.

Signs of an Abused Woman

It can be very difficult to spot an abused woman because they are ashamed and may make concerted efforts to hide any signs of abuse. They may make up stories about injuries. The following list may or may not be helpful in identifying an abused woman.

She will act ambivalent, guilty and seem fearful of her living conditions.

Feels isolated and distrusts others.

Has few friends and limited contact with others.

Is emotionally and economically dependent upon her batterer.

Has poor self-image and low self-esteem.

May have been abused as a child or witnessed others in her birth family being abused.

May express anger, embarrassment or shame.

Feels powerless to escape her situation.

Believes she might be insane.

Has unexplained injuries that may go untreated.


Treatment for the Abused

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self-help until you learn to “self-reference”. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what "goodness" really is. Adopting the abuser's calculated labels, "You're crazy. You're ungrateful. It didn't happen the way you say", only continues the cycle.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it, you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"- forgiving yourself.

How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is half the battle. Much more.

And it is never too soon, or too late, to start.

Treatment for the Abuser

Effective treatment of emotional abusers depends on the motivation for the original conduct, insight into the roots of such conduct and the genuine desire to alter that conduct. For some abusers, seeing what they are doing to their child or, better yet, FEELING what they forced their child to feel, is enough to make them halt. Other abusers need help with strategies to deal with their own stress so that it doesn't overload onto their children.

But for some emotional abusers, rehabilitation is not possible. For such people, manipulation is a way of life. They coldly and deliberately set up a "family" system in which the child can never manage to "earn" the parent's love. In such situations, any emphasis on "healing the whole family" is doomed to failure.

What To Do if You Are A Victim

If you are a victim of domestic violence, there is help available in the form of emergency shelter, counselling, advocacy and related services. If you need to talk with a counsellor, every county and most towns have a domestic or family violence hotline that you can call. There are also local victim services hotlines. Counsellors can provide crisis counselling, but they can also talk to you about ways to protect yourself and your family from further abuse or help you find a safe place to move with your children. Even if you do not want to leave, you can still get help devising a safety/escape plan, assistance with day care, or information about support groups you could join.

If you are ever in immediate danger, try to get out of the situation and call 999. Many forms of domestic violence are crimes punishable under the law. If you are ever injured, go to an emergency room or contact your Doctor. Even injuries that do not seem very bad may be more serious than you think. Remember, police and medical reports provide documentation of these acts and your resulting injuries, in the event you decide to seek legal assistance.

If someone you know is being abused, call your local domestic violence hotline for advice on how you can offer support.

Physical Abuse of Men

This is a section for men who are in abusive relationships. However, most of the preceding information for women holds true for men.

 What can you do? Talk about it. Too often, men feel a "double shame," the shame that a battered woman feels, and the "man's shame" of being beaten up by a woman and being mocked or laughed at for it. Don't wait until she cuts you open with a kitchen knife. If she's unreasonably jealous or controlling, if she's a "control freak," if she slaps you around or throws things, if she starts to destroy things that are personally important to you, don't ignore the signs! It's not going to get any better! Watch out for your own safety!

The one defining characteristic of most abused men is that they are extremely embarrassed by their predicament. Most men who have reached out for help have been laughed at or scorned. They are often portrayed as weak and cowardly. This is simply not true.

All types of men are subject to the same types of abuse as women, including physical abuse. These abuses range from a slap in the face to a kitchen knife being plunged into a husband's stomach while sleeping to being run down by his wife who was driving the family vehicle.

Men also report emotional and sexual abuse, including threats and insults, withholding money, controlling personal activities, attempts to change him, unwanted sexual touching, forced sexual activity and sexual degradation.

Ultra-Sensitive Men and Abusive Relationships

Ultra-sensitive men don't have different reactions to an abusive relationship, often, they have more intense reactions. They're magnified, and we can see them more clearly. If you recognise any of the patterns you see in this section, whether or not you're ultra-sensitive, it's time to look at whether your relationship is abusive. Some clues:

Do you dread "talks" with her?

Does your pulse rise and your mind become foggy at the mere thought of a disagreement or conflict with her?

Will you do anything to avoid the conflict and keep the peace?

Do you have inexplicable aches and pains, or tenseness?

Are these worse when you're around her?

Do you have panic attacks at the mere thought of conflict, or mere thought of being with her?

Do you find yourself looking for a lot more "alone time"?

Does being alone seem a lot more calming and appealing than spending time with her?

Why Men Don't Do Anything About It

Taking on a macho “I can handle it”, attitude. Even if you have been hurt much worse on an athletic playing field, that is not the same thing as being physically attacked by your intimate partner, which hurts emotionally as well as physically. Allowing this pattern to continue can result in depression, substance abuse, loss of confidence, even suicide. (At its worst, It has resulted in death at the hands or a partner or someone induced to kill you by the partner.)

“Men Don’t Tell.” Keeping silent, (not confiding to a friend, relative or professional) is a common reaction of both male and female victims of domestic abuse; it’s embarrassing. Men typically face a greater degree of disbelief and ridicule than do most women in this situation, which helps enforce the silence. Domestic violence victims make excuses for injuries that show (“It was an accident” or “it happened while playing sports”) when friends or doctors etc. ask about them.

Hiding From it. Men often escape a bad home life that they are afraid of by spending extra time at work, staying in “their” space (garage, den) at home, or even sleeping in the car or at a friends place.

There seems to be five major, interrelated categories why a man, or a woman, might stay in an abusive relationship:


What will my friends, family, colleagues and neighbours think?

What will people think if they knew I let a woman beat me up?

It's a private matter it belongs in the family

If I say anything, she'll tell everyone I'm the abusive one, and shame me in public

I'm ashamed I'm not strong enough to defend myself.

Everyone knows it's men that are the violent ones (shame of male for being male)


I probably deserved it.

This is the best I deserve.

With my looks, or age, or personality, or income, this is as good a relationship as I'll ever be able to get.


It's not that bad.

All I have to do is leave the house until she cools down. (That's what TV star Phil Hartman said , before his wife murdered him and killed herself.)

I can weather this one, just like I did the others.

Reluctance to Give Up the Good

If people got to know her, they'd see what a creative, or loving, or wonderful person she is.

She's like this only some of the time.

The sex is great, and I can put up with being knocked around a little.

I'd be lost without a relationship with her.

I'd be lost without a relationship.


It's too hard to do anything.

I'm not ready for that much change in my life.

I'll do it tomorrow, or later, when I'm not so busy.

Sounds like a lot of work, more to take care of than I can handle right now.

Force of habit. I'm used to life the way it is now.

Another reason for staying is to protect the kids. The research shows that people, women as well as men, who assault their partners are likely to assault their children, too. If he leaves, chances are he'll never be able to come back. In today's climate, there's a good chance she'll be able to allege that he has assaulted her or assaulted or even sexually abused the kids, and get a protection order on her say-so, barring him from seeing the kids. This is a common theme in many of the battered men's personal stories I have heard. Sorry, guys, but if you need to come up with a safety plan and plan out a way for you and the kids to leave the abusive relationship, you also need a "dose of reality" about what some of the risks and problems are. They aren't insurmountable problems, and many guys have overcome them, but they are difficult ones.

But there's another factor, too. Men are also less likely to call the police, even when there is injury, because, like women, they feel shame about disclosing family violence. But for many men, the shame is compounded by the shame of not being able to keep their wives under control. Among this group, a "real man" would be able to keep her under control. Moreover, the police tend to share these same traditional gender role expectations. This adds to the legal and regulatory presumption that the offender is a man. As a result, the police are reluctant to arrest women for domestic assault. Women know this. That is, they know they are likely to be able to get away with it. As in the case of other crimes, the probability of a woman assaulting her partner is strongly influenced by what she thinks she can get away with.

What You Can Do

What if you’ve been battered? Don’t brush it off or ignore it. Talk about it. Tell someone. Realise that you’re not the only one, a lot of other men are in the same boat!

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Are You Abused?


"Track" all of your time?

Constantly accuse you of being unfaithful?

Discourage your relationships with family and friends?

Prevent you from working or attending school?

Criticise you for little things?

Anger easily when drinking or on drugs?

Control all finances and force you to account in detail for what you spend?

Humiliate you in front of others?

Destroy personal property or sentimental items?

Hit, punch, slap, kick, or bite you or the children?

Use or threaten to use a weapon against you?

Threaten to hurt you or the children?

Force you to have sex against your will?

If you find yourself saying yes to some or all of the above, it's time to get help.

Links to other pages on this site:  Ritual Abuse  Sexual Abuse  

On this page:  

Emotional Abuse   Physical Abuse (women)   Signs of the Batterer

Cycles of Battering  Methods of Control   Are you a Battered Woman?

Why do Women Stay?   Myths   Signs of the Abused Women   

Treatment of the Abused

Treatment of the Abuser   What to do if you are a Victim?   

Physical Abuse (Men)

Sensitive Men and Abuse   Why do Men Stay?   What can you do?

Emotional Abuse

How the Emotional Abuse of Children leads to Problems in Adult Relationships

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child's self-concept to the point where the victim considers themselves unworthy, unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children which is love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: "You're fat. You're stupid. You're ugly." Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling: "You'll never be the success your brother was." Deliberate humiliation: "You're so stupid, I'm ashamed you're my son."

It can also be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect, a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive. And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioural, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent's love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a "failure to thrive" condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.

But whether as a deliberate target or an innocent bystander, the emotionally abused child inevitably struggles to "explain" the conduct of his abusers, and ends up struggling for survival in a quicksand of self-blame. When it comes to damage, there is no real difference between physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All that distinguishes one from the other is the abuser's choice of weapons. I remember a woman, a grandmother whose abusers had long since died, telling me that time had not conquered her pain. "It wasn't just the incest," she said quietly. "It was that he didn't love me. If he loved me, he couldn't have done that to me."

But emotional abuse is unique because it is designed to make the victim feel guilty. Emotional abuse is repetitive and eventually cumulative behavior, very easy to imitate, and some victims later perpetuate the cycle with their own children. Although most victims courageously reject that response, their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self- concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others.

The emotionally abused child can be heard inside every battered woman who insists: "It was my fault, really. I just seem to provoke him somehow."

And the almost-inevitable failure of adult relationships reinforces that sense of  unworthiness, compounding the felony, reverberating throughout the victim's life.

1996 Mindscape Limited

Designed By David Lloyd-Hoare Bsc(Hons) MBACP(Accred) INLPTA

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