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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?

berksbabe Thu 03-Jan-13 15:56:35

Dont let anyone turn you into the bad person. Dont let them turn you into the person who has to say "no, we can nt do this because you have nt thought of a,b or c." Then they'll start saying you are the killjoy and stunting their lives and holding them back - when they are just urresponsible and selfish and should be well able to think of a,b and c for themselves.

popgoestheweezel Fri 31-Aug-12 14:22:03

I went to see the women's support counsellor as part of the respect course dh is on last night.

I talked a lot about the origins of my unassertiveness and how strange it is that most people who know me would think that I am very assertive and confident, and they are right. For instance, if a political issue crops up I contribute, respond to others and confidently voice my opinion. If the issue is 'intellectual' then no problem, however, where emotions are concerned I behave like the little girl I used to be and think to myself 'no-one wants/needs/should have to hear about my feelings so don't bother anyone with it.' Intellectually I act my age, emotionally I act about 4 yrs old.

We also talked about my mum and how although she doesn't generally act disapprovingly of me, she has always had very high standards of home-making and hospitality. There has always been an attitude that some people let themselves down by not being able to run their homes to the expected (very) high standard IYSWIM.

My mum also worked full time when we were kids. She gave 100% to her job yet still managed to keep on top of all things domestic. I guess that's why I am so driven to be the super-woman/mum, I have had it modelled and the alternative has been tacitly disapproved of.

My mum also was the model daughter and her brother was the one that demanded, and got, all the attention. Now, my mum looks after their elderly mum and sees her most days whereas her brother only visits about twice a year. Although (or because) my mum has turned the other cheek to her brother's bad behaviour many, many times they now have no relationship at all and rarely speak. On top of this and despite all the time and effort put into her care my grandma is still cantankerous and miserable with my mum. The 'be a good girl, don't make a fuss, think of others, work hard, never complain' model has been there all my life.

motn Tue 28-Aug-12 22:46:30

cogito is right,

if you understand that it is possible to live a fulfulling life where NOT everybody thinks you're perfect.
that's where your freedom lies.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 28-Aug-12 07:43:43

"what is the assertive way to deal with this kind of thing?"

If you can't do the favour give them a straight 'sorry I can't help you', 'that's not possible for me', 'I'm unavailable'. Has to be unequivocal and direct because any hint of hedging will be spotted. There is no need to go to any lengths explaining why you can't help so resist the temptation to justify yourself. If you're asked repeatedly just repeat the reply. If you're subjected to arm-twisting have some snappy retorts up your sleeve. My friend's favourite is 'which part of the word 'no' are you struggling with?' smile

If you are able to do the favour but simply don't want to, the exact same thing applies. Say no with a clear conscience. If you want to buy yourself some time you can try stalling tactics like 'let me check my diary', 'I'll get back to you' and so on. If you're put under any pressure to supply an answer there and then you default to 'not possible'

Finally, if you are happy to do the favour still buy yourself some time. They have the problem, not you. If they automatically assume popgoestheweezel will drop everything, give them time to try other arrangements and fail. This means that when you finally say yes, others will be a little more grateful and not take you so much for granted.

IMPORTANT. If not doing the favour means people you actually care about suffer e.g. nephews and neices, you have to harden your heart and still say no. Unscrupulous types will use the 'it's not for me, it's for the kids' line quite ruthlessly. Be as ruthless back.

If this is not your normal way of working it'll feel a little fake at first... but it will gradually become second nature.

popgoestheweezel Mon 27-Aug-12 20:45:15

motn, we all have the right to get it wrong, don't we?
The thing is, I've been getting it really wrong by letting myself be manipulated all this time and I don't want to make that mistake ever, ever again! I know I can't fix my faulty programming overnight though and my aversion to making mistakes is actually part of the problem. Grrrr!

It's a little bit scary, realising you've been duped so, so many times before especially by people you've really trusted. I am feeling a bit paranoid so i'm not sure how to react when someone asks me a favour for instance, my old 'natural' (programmed) impulse is to say 'yes, of course!' without asking for anything in return and protesting that whatever the request 'it's absolutely no trouble, no problem at all'. Now I know that's not a 'safe' way to behave- it just sets me up to be manipulated. However, what is the assertive way to deal with this kind of thing? For myself, I never ask anyone to do anything for me, I struggle to ask my parents or our teenage babysitter to babysit- often I think I'd rather not bother going out than ask. That's something I need to get used to as well.

I love the idea of releasing my inner diva though. I think I could be pretty good at it if I let myself grin.

motn Mon 27-Aug-12 15:42:10

Been lurking. Interesting thread.

"I also default to believeing I am at fault so advice on that would be good for me too"

Pop, and Emma, I think it might be useful remember is that
you are ALLOWED not to be perfect,
you have the right to make mistakes,
you have the right to cock something up,
you have the right to believe differently,
....WITHOUT BEING judged, blamed, criticised, insulted, abused.

So get rid of the guilt, you don't have to justify yourself to anyone. Don't get drawn into that kind of conversation.

So, you can make all the mistake humans make,
you can burn the dinner,
forget to collect the kids (hopefully not!)
drop and break something
buy a hideous dress,
lose your housekeys,
crash the car,
change your mind about something,
misunderstand a message,

- without feeling guilty and without being shouted at, or insulted.

Even if you burnt the house down, and you are all standing outside in your pj's...he still doesn't have the right to call you a f-ing bitch. Do you get it?

Read Patricia Evans "Emotional Abuse - how to recognise it and how to respond"

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 27-Aug-12 14:35:59

Men are easier to manipulate smile

popgoestheweezel Mon 27-Aug-12 14:16:32

Very true about the men contributing too, for some reason I find it easy enough to ask b in laws to do things but far harder with s in laws.
I have found this at work too. It's easier for me to ask men to do things than it is to ask women... Weird, I wonder why?

HissyByName Mon 27-Aug-12 14:14:51

"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?"

I agree with Cogito, TELL them to get on the end of a bin bag....

I only found out that my family were dysfunctional when I'd already got rid of my abusive Ex. Getting rid of him was a great warm up for dealing with them.

It's all about boundaries. You need to start defining your boundaries at home, and your H needs to adhere to them, (or he's GONE!) then you do the same with your Sis.

You have a RIGHT to your own preferences, you have a voice and a right for it to be heard.

If people aren't willing to support you in this, they need to step aside so you can make room in your life for those that WILL. It's that black and white. Don't let ANYONE tell you any different.

I've recently told my DM that I CHOOSE who is and is not in my life, no piece of paper, birth certificate, or family tree will make a bit of difference. Access to me and my life, my love and my friendship is BY INVITATION only.

You have to be THAT ruthless. Once everyone has got the hang of your new rules, you can adjust/relax if you see fit, but it's your life, your choice, your rules.

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 27-Aug-12 14:02:24

"How do I tackle that?"

First, pick your battles. Many people are selfish or thoughtless but sometimes it's not appropriate to tackle it e.g. at a family gathering. smile Personally, I find a brisk manner and plenty of humour goes a long way... handing out the bin-bags, rubber-gloves, sweeping brushes or whatever and a bunch of cheery instructions works. "You get started on the washing up, you collect glasses in the dining room and I'll make us all a nice cup of tea." Don't give them time to answer.

And, unless this is some peculiar female-only family gathering, no reason why the men shouldn't be pulling their weight as well, of course.

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.

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

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?

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 00:07:26

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.

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.

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 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 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 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.

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.

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?

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

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.

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.

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