Emotional abuse can be hard to see and hard to talk about. Emotional abuse does not leave bruises on your face, but it is damaging to your self. That’s the part that can be hard to talk about — how someone’s words can be so destructive to your being. Because they are just words, right? WRONG. They are words that have been expertly chosen to break down even the strongest of defenses. They are words that challenge your understanding of reality, erode your self-worth, and lead you to believe you will never be worth anything better — that somehow you deserve the abuse.
Abusers are good at what they do, masters of their craft. So good in fact, they leave you scrabbling for some sort of sane ground. Abusive people carefully create and control other’s perspectives. Seeing the world through their eyes can be disorienting — it becomes difficult to tell what is yours and what is theirs. And, that is the name of their game — avoid accountability and make everyone else think you are the problem.
You do not cause, create, or deserve abuse from another person. However, you are the only one with the power to change it. Not them — you won’t change them, but you do have the power to change YOU in the relationship. When you begin to see things for what they are and set boundaries that support your wellbeing the abusive person begins to lose their power to abuse you. Here are a few ways to make that happen:
#1 Avoid Emotional Land Mines
Emotional land mines are baited questions or statements that purposefully poke at sore spots in such a way that no matter how you react, you lose and the abuser looks like the rational one, or worse, the victim. They set them at every turn and know just what will lure you in and set you off, furthering their control over the situation. If you sniff out a potentional land mine DO NOT ENGAGE. You can’t dismantle it.
#2 What You Say Won’t Make A Difference
There is a popular saying around my house, and that is, “Don’t try to make sense of crazy”. What that means is, try as you might, you won’t be able to find a rational reason or response to an irrational behavior — and that’s what abuse is, irrational behavior. Instead of trying to find the right words (because you won’t) disengage from the person.
#3 Their Abusive Behavior is Their Problem, Not Yours
The inability to find the right words, or to successfully defuse an emotional land mine is not a failure on your part. There IS no right words or way. Their abusive behavior is all theirs to own — despite what they may try to tell you — you are not the cause of their behavior. You are not responsible for the abuse they dole out. You are responsible for setting consistent boundaries and disengaging from them.
#4 Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
You have no power to change them, nor is it your job to do so. Your power lies in the act of setting boundaries and then disengaging from the abuser. This is important. Set boundaries, disengage, repeat. Boundaries are usually not well received by abusive people because it directly confronts their behavior and lessens their control. Do not fall down the rabbit hole of trying to justify your boundaries to them — you don’t need to justify your boundaries, and nothing you say will make a difference to them anyway (remember #2). Set boundaries, disengage, repeat.
#5 Don’t Fall for the Entitlement Trap
Boundaries are like kryptonite to an abuser. Their power in the situation relies on your engagement with them. They cannot abuse you if you do not engage with them — and they know it. Your engagement allows them to maintain control. When you set boundaries and disengage from a family member, spouse, or close companion they will try to shame you. They act as though they are entitled to disregard your boundaries because they are a spouse, loved one, or family member. That is bullshit. No bloodline, length of relationship, or legal document entitles anyone to disregard your boundaries.
They will act as though you are being mean by setting boundaries. That your boundaries are somehow hurting them. Hear this: That is false — it’s an emotional land mine and they are using that emotional manipulation to try to stop you from setting boundaries with them. Because if you no longer engage in their dysfunction, the gig is up — and they know that too.
When you are new to disentangling yourself from an abusive situation and finally validating your own self-worth through boundaries, it can feel really uncomfortable and lonely. It will help to connect with others that support the boundaries you are setting and encourage your growth. Keep at it and don’t give up! You are so worth it. And, I believe in you.