Small Signs Turn Into Big Problems
I recently got an email from Clarissa (name changed to protect privacy), who told me she ended her relationship with a man when he became physically abusive. She said her new boyfriend is kind, caring and truly loves her.
She went on to say that his former girlfriend cheated on him, so she understands why he insists that she immediately answer his frequent daily phone calls and texts. She is concerned, however, that her lack of ability to respond promptly is a source of strain in their relationship.
Clarissa explained that when he overindulges in alcohol, he becomes sarcastic and critical of her and her friends. When sober, however, he apologizes and returns to his sweet self.
Several days ago, she caught him lying about seeing an old girlfriend. When she confronted him, he told Clarissa she is the most important person in his life and he wants to get married right away.
Clarissa said she loves him and believes he is a big improvement over her former boyfriend. She said he might drink too much, but he is not abusive.
Clarissa is caught up in a common myth that there is no abuse unless there is physical violence. Her boyfriend is giving her strong clues about his character, and his behavior will only get worse. He is hurting her by manipulating her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to get his way.
The best decision for Clarissa is to end her relationship. Her boyfriend likely needs long-term therapy to make true and lasting improvements in his behavior.
In part two of my continuing series providing a language of more than 100 terms to spot and describe emotional abuse tactics, effects, and contributors, I have listed four more behaviors to watch for:
Emotional Abuse Tactics
Emily & Richard
Emily gets goose bumps when she’s around Richard. He’s sexy, bright, and entertaining. They’ve been together for four months, and she believes they are exclusively with each other. Emily wants to cultivate their relationship, but she is disappointed when he doesn’t call her for days at a time and waits until Thursday to see if she has plans for the weekend.
One morning, Richard calls Emily and yells at her. “Where were you last night? You didn’t answer your phone. You said you were out with your girlfriends. Are you lying to me?”
Emily is speechless. She can’t imagine what she did to make him think she is interested in another man. When she objects to his accusations, he steps on her words with angry statements and averts reasonable dialogue.
After his jealous fit, Emily is careful to describe in detail where she has been so she won’t aggravate his suspicions. She tacitly agrees to submit to his irrational and controlling rants, which will increase in frequency if she continues to accept his behavior.
Indicators (Red Flags): Richard peeks out occasionally from behind his polished image to expose his undesirable character traits. He gives Emily warning signs that there’s trouble ahead in their relationship, but she responds by enabling him.
Annabelle & Rob
Rob tells Annabelle he can’t stand to be without her because he loves her so much. He insists they spend all their spare time together. He convinces her that he’s never been so in love and “goes crazy” when he thinks about her with another man.
In the first year of their relationship, Annabelle considers Rob her soul mate. She mistakes his intense pursuit as passion and his extreme attentiveness as love. Over time, his “love” constricts her. When she fails to meet his demands or carves out time for herself, he strikes back with frosty silence, punishment, passive-aggressive behavior, or reproachful tirades against her.
In truth, Rob’s possessiveness feeds his unhealthy need to deprive Annabelle of her autonomy, so that she will be at his beck and call. In Rob’s mind, his needs come first.
Crocodile Love: Rob has powerful sentiments for Annabelle, but his feeling is not love. Rather, it’s a sense of ownership, something more like a deep, longing sensation to have Annabelle satisfy his perverse needs and selfish desires. Crocodile lovers don’t respect their mates’ feelings, needs, self-esteem, and independence.
Emotional Abuse Effects & Contributors
Linda can’t understand why she keeps getting involved with difficult men. She never intends to fall for guys who mistreat her, but somehow she ends up in the same kind of relationship every time.
During her childhood, her parents buried thorny issues. They were uncomfortable with confrontation or displays of emotion, and they discouraged the expression of anger, sadness, frustration, or other “unpleasant” emotions. Linda never learned to honor and express her needs and feelings, draw and enforce personal boundaries, or face and resolve problems.
Until Linda gains deeper insight into why she is attracted to controlling men and works on changing her self-sabotaging thinking and behavior, she will continue to choose men who walk all over her.
CAD Magnet: Linda chooses lovers who are CADs (controlling, angry, and deceptive). CAD magnets want to be loved, and CADs want to be with partners they can control for their own ill-fated reasons. A CAD magnet may initially be fooled by the CADs’ superficial display of desirable qualities. When the CAD’s darker side emerges, a CAD magnet disregards his or her feelings and intuition, excuses the CAD’s objectionable behavior, or takes the blame.
Lydia & Clint
Lydia and Clint have been together for two months, and she has strong feelings for him. At a bar one night, Clint accuses Lydia of flirting with the man who sits on the bar stool next to her. Clint’s voice becomes louder and his complaint escalates into interrogation. He springs from his stool and slams down his glass on the bar. “If you like him so much, then you can be with him tonight,” Clint yells as he walks away.
Lydia is flummoxed by his behavior because she only spoke casually to the man at the bar. She hops off her stool and runs after Clint to the parking lot. He is already in the car. She jumps into the passenger seat and has barely closed the door when he turns on the ignition and punches the gas pedal, spinning the car into the street. Lydia hangs on while she tries to make sense out of Clint’s explosive reaction. She believes that he must care deeply for her, because he has been generous with his time and attention to her. She mistakenly concludes that he unintentionally drank too much, and his anger and irrational conduct show how much she means to him.
Ignoring Indicators: Clint is an angry and controlling man, and Lydia is ignoring crucial glimpses of what will become a troublesome relationship. She has created an ideal image of Clint in her mind, and his behavior doesn’t fit her pictures. As the adage goes, “Love is blind,” but there is always an opportunity to take off the blindfold and see the truth.
In part three of Emotional Abuse Exposed, I will provide more true stories to explain the tactics and effects of emotional abuse. I appreciate your comments and questions.