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Emotional abuse- how can i immunise myself?

(35 Posts)
popgoestheweezel Sun 26-Aug-12 09:10:27

Four months ago it dawned on me that dh has been emotionally abusing me for a very long time. I confronted him about it and he has accepted the truth.
He is now on a 26 wk Respect course and our relationship is far healthier.
Reading Beverly Engels book and looking at my previous relationships and friendships I have seen a pattern of emotional abuse and wondered why.
Engels discusses identifying your 'original abuser' but try as I might I couldn't see where my parents had abused me. However, over the last few days i have identified my older sister who has always been and continues to abuse me.
What I need now is advice on how to immunise myself against this kind of relationship for the future. I want to permenantly adjust my relationships with both sis and dh so they are healthy and equitable. The problem is, I am so well trained in being manipulated it can easily happen without my realising it (especially with my sister) how do I avoid this?

Lystra Sun 26-Aug-12 11:48:16

To undo training you need to recognise the commands 'SIT' , ;STAND',etc given by the abusers or bossy ones so that you can disobey them and then learn to ignore them.

Engels uses the word 'abuser' when in English the word 'controller' is often more appropriate and helpful. Some people need to control others to make themselves feel powerful and strong. You just need to undo your training from the past, and learn a new way of reacting.

This is hard work but not difficult to understand

It requires effort and discipline but it really works

Review your recent 'attacks' and try to see where the moment came when you were 'sucked in' to the abusive moment/conversation/whatever. This is your cue, just like an actor.
This moment could be a certain look, or a phrase-'really?' spoken in a certain way, 'you remember when' or 'yes, but you always..' etc etc followed by a manipulative moment that makes you feels second-rate or unhappy.The moment when you felt 'unfair-I must disagree' or 'oi! that's not right!!'

The action of writing is important, it gives you a feeling of control which you have never previously had in this relationship.
A phone note will do as well.
You may have to leave the room (go to the loo) to do this.
Leaving is excellent,it lowers the temperature for your return.

keep on doing this for 20 cues.
As you review the cues, certain patterns will become obvious to you

CogitoErgoSometimes Sun 26-Aug-12 12:01:10

My suggestions are linked
1. Don't be so eager to please. Default to 'no' rather than 'yes'.
2. Be more demanding and more difficult in general
3. Don't care so much what others think of you. Harden your heart.

You're going to think that's a pretty selfish approach, but that's rather the point. People who put themselves rather than others at the centre of their world may be more selfish but they are far less easily exploited.

popgoestheweezel Sun 26-Aug-12 13:12:36

I want to be 'selfish' I want to put myself first but it's very hard when there has been a constant voice (my sister's) all my life telling me I should be quiet, be a good girl, don't make a fuss, don't ask for anything.
I am truly sick of it but now comes the difficult part- being assertive and demanding respect without turning into an ogre.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sun 26-Aug-12 13:29:26

Release your inner diva. smile If you've spent a lifetime being a placid doormat, if you aim for 'ogre' you'll simply end up 'normal'.

Lots of people - women especially - grow up with that stupid nursery rhyme as their motto. 'What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice.' You said you couldn't identify the abuser from your past and there's really no surprise because there probably isn't one individual. Sisters aside we're all subjected to continual social pressure that 'nice girls' behave in a particular way together with the negative messages that assertive women are 'ball breakers' and demanding women are 'high maintenance'. It's all a pile of crap.

It's not all that difficult to be assertive, it just takes application and repetition to find your voice and use it. My favourite opener is 'let me tell you what I'm not happy about'.... works with boyfriends, shop assistants, colleagues, restaurant staff etc. Feel free to borrow it.

ladyWordy Sun 26-Aug-12 14:03:33

In general, ask yourself if YOU would speak or behave in whatever way you've just experienced. If you wouldn't, you know a boundary has just been crossed. 

Don't hold yourself to higher standards of behaviour than other people ....treat people as equals, as no better or worse than you, and don't make excuses for poor behaviour if it slips too easily into contempt and rudeness ('she's just stressed', 'it was his awful childhood', 'well work is hard at the moment', that's just tough luck! No excuses anymore  smile .. )

The only problem is that your psychological weaponry has to be to hand at all times. I find that exhausting... which is why I pick distance as much as possible.

Having said that - I like the other ideas posted here and have noted them for myself wink

popgoestheweezel Sun 26-Aug-12 16:33:52

The way dsis tries to control me is through emotional blackmail. She tells me how difficult her life is I respond by giving her attention and saying 'oh dear, how can I help you?'
I looked through the texts we have exchanged recently and every one of them is either her bemoaning her life or making arrangements for me to look after her kids. My life doesnt get a mention.
I have a fear that if we stop this dialogue then there will be nothing left and I'll hardly see her or my niece and nephew.

popgoestheweezel Sun 26-Aug-12 16:39:57

Another problem I'm having is actually knowing what I want. I am so used to supressing my wants and desires that I don't even know what they are anymore. If someone asks me what do I want to do/eat/whatever, it's truly hard to work it out!
It's bizarre really, I just don't seem to know myself.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sun 26-Aug-12 16:40:13

You can't choose your relatives but you can choose how to respond to them. The only thing wrong with your current response is the last five words. In future, 'oh dear' is as far as you need to go. If you keep it to lipservice and stop feeling you have to help, fair enough, she may drop you and move onto someone more gullible. And if that means you don't see her children very much, isn't that really her call?

CogitoErgoSometimes Sun 26-Aug-12 16:43:52

Regarding not knowing what you want, I'm guessing there will be a list in your head of things you automatically don't do/wear/eat/say because 'DH wouldn't like it'. Start with those.

akaemmafrost Sun 26-Aug-12 16:55:57

This is a good thread. With some great advice.

Can I also ask how to deal with having default position of believing I am at fault. I have been emotionally and verbally abused so often by my ex (and my parents for years before) that I don't even know he is doing it. I automatically believe I did something and what he is saying is my own fault and go immediately on the defence. I can't seem to tell the difference. It's only after the event I can see the "cues" mentioned up thread and he is long gone and I am very distressed. Hope you don't mind me asking this on your thread OP smile.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sun 26-Aug-12 17:04:07

Guilt is a state of mind. What you say and how you present yourself is what people respond to. If someone questions you, your response is 'I am right', 'what I did was right', 'my opinion is the right opinion'.... which you repeat ad nauseam. You may not confidently believe it at first but, if you stick to your guns, you will be convincing enough for it to work.

BTW Very important to go with 'I am right' (self-affirming, strong) rather than 'you are wrong' (accusatory, weak) .... subtle difference.

bertiebassett Sun 26-Aug-12 17:50:34

This is a really interesting thread. I have been in the same situation with my STBXH...

Indeed I have been trying to follow cogito's three step plan! It's REALLY hard though... I feel like I'm being an AWFUL person because I was taught NOT to be demanding and difficult.

It does seem to be working though...STBXH realises that he can't walk all over me. I'm also starting to do things for myself... I've bought a car that suits MY needs (not his)...I've booked a holiday to somewhere I always wanted to go (and he refused).

So go for it's hard but it's empowering... smile

akaemmafrost Sun 26-Aug-12 19:52:05

I think I might be getting there then cogito because I do quite often say to him very firmly "you are wrong about me" when he is making his wild accusations regarding my "awful, spiteful, manipulative, MAD behaviour!" He loves telling me I have Mental Health issues and he is worried about how the kids are going to end up if I don't get these issues sorted out soon blah blah blah. I do find myself saying "you are WRONG about me and you always have been", which he doesn't have much to say to.

I will try to change it to "I am right" but I don't always feel like I can say that because I am not usually actually doing anything to be right about iyswim, its all his accusations, I am defending myself against and come from nowhere which are wrong, iyswim?

boogiewoogie Sun 26-Aug-12 21:13:40

What if the abuser says "what's right what's wrong?" I had this every time I said, "this is wrong" or "I've made the right decision". It did my head in every time he did that.

I am not in touch with my abuser at all so I'm not sure what to add but once I'd sussed why I was getting sucked in, I just cut my losses and cut that person out of my life. I know it's harder for you op. Good luck.

BertieBotts Sun 26-Aug-12 21:33:42

The biggest thing I think is realising that other people's lives, happiness etc is not your responsibility. So when your sister (or whoever) is doing the emotional blackmail thing try to step back and think "But is this my problem? No, it isn't. It's totally theirs."

Some people are what's known as "emotional vampires" and will often have a lot of drama going on in their life. You have to be careful because they will suck you in, especially if you're a kind and empathetic person, really they're actually creating that drama for themselves and kind of feed off it, almost. It's kindest actually to disgengage, make excuses, or just be dead to it. When they start off on the emotional vampire/emotional blackmail spiel you have to just make a nonommital comment like "That sounds really tough." and change the subject. DON'T offer help and DON'T run around finding out ways for them to help themselves, even, because they won't take it, and if they really wanted to help themselves then they could find that information out for themselves.

porridgelover Sun 26-Aug-12 22:46:41

OP I would add another one to cogito's excellent advice. Start listening to yourself about what you really want... and then ask for it or go get it.

And emmafrost, I have an ex who had similar worries about me and my mental health. I used to defend myself until I realised that he got something out of the argument. So the answer for me was to detach. He still tries it on but its boring when his victim doesnt react grin.

BertieBotts Sun 26-Aug-12 22:59:09

Ooh yes I like the advice about going for things you know he specifically would have hated!

And don't worry if it takes a long time after ending the relationship to find "you" again. It took me months and months to realise I "could" do certain things. The first thing I did when I left was to buy some wellies with jellybeans on them, because I knew he'd have thought they were stupid. But that was a few weeks after leaving. Then I started, slowly, to do other things. I listened to music again, and started buying old CDs I used to own from second hand shops (CEX is great as they're all about £1!) Then I was having trouble getting DS to sleep at night and I used to walk him in the buggy to Blockbusters once it was getting dark, choose a couple of DVDs and walk home again. He'd be asleep when I got in and I'd settle down with a film. I hadn't been able to choose what I wanted to watch for a long time. smile

Then after about 6, 7 months I realised I could smoke if I wanted to and nobody would complain! (Probably a bad one, but it's ME. MY life. MY choices.) A year after I left, I enquired about university courses, and got onto one. It took me another few months to realise that I was allowed to cut my hair short. Then about 18 months after I'd left I was feeling sad that my cousin wasn't able to come and see me (she lives in another city) and then suddenly realisation dawned that I could go and visit her, and I did - I sent her a facebook message, arranged a date, booked a train and went, and it was fabulous, I had so much fun.

It will be three years this December since I left and I'm still not sure I totally know who "me" is or totally trust that it's okay to be that person, but I'm getting there and I'm so much more confident and it's just - amazing when I think back and it's a long journey but it's so much fun, discovering who you are. Baby steps. But you'll get there.

porridgelover Sun 26-Aug-12 23:09:35

Bertie thats marvellous grin
I hadnt even thought yet about doing things that he specifically will hate. Am still trying to be Supermum at times, to 'prove' him wrong.
Will have to have a long, good think about what hair colour and style I next want wink

BertieBotts Sun 26-Aug-12 23:15:45

It's just kind of a useful test for yourself, you know? Even if it's not actually something you specifically want to do (although it's better if it is grin) it just proves that you can do things he would have disapproved of, and that nothing bad will happen.

popgoestheweezel Mon 27-Aug-12 00:07:26

Thanks for such good advice so far.
Emmafrost I also default to believeing I am at fault so advice on that would be good for me too.

popgoestheweezel Mon 27-Aug-12 00:27:04

I am at the stage now where dh understands and has made so many changes to his behaviour I feel at the moment my 'battle' should be with dsis. The rationale being that if I can defeat the manipulation here I can defeat it anywhere. This relationship is the precursor of all other manipulation in my life.
I know that boundaries are key to defence. I need to fix them clearly in my mind and stick to them. The 'oh dear, how can I help you' response needs to be changed to an 'oh dear' full stop. I guess that like with young children there will be an initial escalation in her behaviour where she will try to provoke the reaction she is accustomed to get. If I can see it through we should reach a new equilibrium.

popgoestheweezel Mon 27-Aug-12 00:30:55

Also, how do I deal with the more minor relationships? For instance, we are at a family gathering now. Me and one of my sis in laws have made a good contribution to the meal prepping and clearing workload the other two sis inlaws have not done a thing. How do I tackle that?

porridgelover Mon 27-Aug-12 08:52:18

first, start 'bigging' yourself up in your own head. It felt really weird to me at first.
I agree re standing up to dsis as a start...I went to counselling where I was asked where I had first learned to be a pleaser and a 'good girl'. You dont have to say anything, just look at and gradually change your reaction in the privacy of your head.
As for making the meal and tidying up....not your job to tackle them. You cant change them. But you can sit down and grab a glass of wine when you have done your fair share smile

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 27-Aug-12 13:54:46

@akaemmafrost... the way to address the "awful, spiteful, manipulative, MAD behaviour!" accusations you describe in a positive way is with 'my behaviour is reasonable and normal'... 'I am a sane, rational person'... 'others find me kind and generous'... or whatever... calmly and with a smile. Abusive people are deliberately 'wrong' so that they get that hurt reaction out of others. Responding with self-affirming statements means they are not having an impact.

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