Posts Tagged: destructive relationships

Responding to Abusive Language and Behavior

Controlling your reactivity in a relationship is a powerful communication tool for strong and healthy relationships. But, what about abusive language or behavior in relationships? How should you respond to that?

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The last two blog posts have discussed the difference between a Survival Reaction verses a Wise Response, and how to harness the power of your response to affect real relationship improvement. Today, we will talk about  what to do in response to emotionally or physically harmful behavior. But first, let’s explore the tactics abusers use to keep us baffled, degraded, and powerless.

Tactics Abusers Use

Shock and Awe: abusive, bullying or harassing behavior is shocking to an unsuspecting person. You may be asking a simple question, making a simple observation, or even  minding your own business when a cruel comment, a damaging putdown or physically aggressive action comes out of nowhere. It may catch you so off guard, that you don’t know how to respond.

One up One Down: at the heart of every abusive relationship is an imbalance of power. The abuser is threatened by egalitarian systems and seeks to control others to ensure he gets what he wants. From the simplest relationship dyad, to the most complex of corporate organizations, power imbalances are used in order to keep power in one localized place- namely with the abuser. The smaller you feel, the more powerful he becomes.

Projection: projection is often used during arguments by the bully to accuse someone of the exact thing he himself is guilty. For example, if Roger is guilty of having an affair, he may accuse his partner of flirting with the waiter saying, “You are such a tramp, always throwing yourself at guys.”

Incongruences: This is also called, “the proof is in the pudding.” when words don’t result in action, and when what he says is the opposite of what he does, then you know he is being incongruent. Two diverging messages come at you simultaneously, and you are unsure of which one is true. These incongruences are unsettling to the receiver because they “sound good” but “feel  bad.”

Power in Numbers: Abusive language and behavior is sometimes used in the midst of or with the help of other people as a means to over power you. Sometimes abusive people will make cruel remarks in front of other people to publically humiliate you knowing you will not retaliate in public.

Once you recognize these tactics in your relationship, you are able to make a choice about how to respond. It is extremely difficult to respond wisely in the moment to mean name calling, cruel cut downs, or physically abusive behavior. You may find that you need time to recover from the shock, talk with a friend or expert to validate your concern and then prepare to take action. Sometimes these steps take hours, and sometimes these steps take years. No matter the time frame, responding to abusive behavior in a healthy way is possible. It’s never too late to setting healthy boundaries in your relationship.

How to Respond to Abusive Behavior

Abusive behavior varies in degree, and I am aware that my readers in destructive relationships are not all the same. Some may feel relatively safe most of the time, and others feel constantly badgered and threatened. I tried to be general enough in these prescribed steps to apply to most situations.

  1. Talk about it with other people. You may be tempted to keep it to yourself, protect your abuser’s reputation, or blow it off, but don’t. It’s important to talk about what you experienced with other trusted people for validation and comfort. Even if you feel terrible admitting it, there are people who love you and want to be there for you.
  2. Seek support. Once you’ve recovered from the shock or damage, seek expert support. Counselors, human resource specialists, law enforcement, attorneys, doctors and advocates can help you determine your best interests and how to proceed. You simply can not handle abuse by yourself- asking for help is absolutely necessary.
  3. Set boundaries: As scary as this sounds, exploring and setting your boundaries is essential. Abusive, harmful language, manipulation, putdowns, harassment or assault is never ok. Putting up with it hoping it will get better never works in the long run. Even if you feel like you are partly to blame (a common feeling among victims of abuse), you must insist that the abuse stop or you will take further action (leave, report the abuse, etc.) Your support network can help you determine how to proceed. Abusive people do not stop abusing unless they are forced to.
  4. Follow through. Setting boundaries takes a good deal of energy. Congratulate yourself- you’ve already done some good work. However, your work is not finished. A person who uses abuse to gain power will most likely strike again if he/she is not held accountable. Make sure you employ stated consequences to broken or disrespected boundaries and hold to your demands. Working with advisors, advocates, and experts is essential to help you advocate for yourself.
  5. Refuse to be Hard on Yourself. People grappling with emotional, physical or psychological abuse in their relationship often feel a sense of shame. They question themselves continually, and even blame themselves for their partners’ destructive behavior. They doubt themselves and their ability to make good decisions. This is a symptom of abuse and trauma, but not the cause. Be careful to not do to yourself what has been done to you. Give yourself the encouragement you need to keep going, to stay strong, and to believe in yourself.

Next week I will explore specific examples of how to communicate boundaries and follow through when dealing with abusive behavior.

Setting Boundaries with an Angry Person: Part II

You know you need to say something. You know that what they’re doing isn’t right or respectful. But speaking up to an angry person can be intimidating. You don’t know how he/she may react. You don’t want to make things worse. But, you also know you can’t keep going on the same way. Last week, we talked about the important steps of preparation that should be made before you set a boundary with an angry person, including getting a third party to help. Click here if you missed it.

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Dealing with an angry person over long periods of time, can end up making you feel down, hopeless and even depressed. That’s why setting boundaries with angry people is absolutely necessary to your emotional health. If you’re tired of feeling bad, or scared, or second best, here are the next five steps on how to Set a Boundary with an Angry Person.

  1. Step One: Ask for What You Want. Many times, woman married to angry man will dance around their boundary. They hint and poke and laugh nervously, but they don’t ask directly for what they want or need. Their fear of getting barked at has made them timid. This passive asking frustrates the situation further and evokes more hostility from their partners. Be direct and state directly what you want and what you are willing to do to get it.
  2. Step Two: Push Repeat. An angry person will use any number of tactics to sway you away from your boundary. You may experience pouting, tantrums, the silence treatment, character attack, love bombs, promises, excuses, sob stories, bible lectures, and threats to leave. He may explode or be cruel or get you off track with one of his problems. This is not ok. Be aware of these tactics and expect them. Then repeat your boundary. There is no need to provide more explanation, just the repetition of your boundary is enough.
  3. Step Three: Walking away in Peace. There is a small chance that he will respect your boundary without much resistance or manipulation. If he is tired of his own anger, and wants a change, then he may be willing to join you in creating a healthier dynamic. However, more times than not, the angry person will not cooperate happily with this boundary. You may need to walk away from the conversation in peace. Remember, you don’t need him to understand or approve of your boundary, you just need him to comply with it.
  4. Step Four: Follow Through. Honestly, the follow through is harder than all the other steps put together. It takes a lot of emotional effort and ego strength to get to this point. Congratulate yourself. However, the process is not over. More than likely, the angry person will test your resolve and push back to see if you’re bluffing. It’s paramount to really stand your ground here. You may experience even more pouting, tantrums, threats, personal attacks, etc., but it is important to hold firm to your boundary. Giving in now will do more harm to you than had you never made the boundary in the first place. If he does not comply to your boundary, then it is time for increased distance and safety.
  5. Step Five: Ask for Help You may need additional resources like a counselor, your pastor, an attorney, or law enforcement.

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If you are with a person who recognizes the error of taking his anger out on you, then you will see that the more boundaries you set, the more willing he is to respect them. However, if he/she gets more hostile or manipulative, then you know he/she is not interested in respecting you or your boundaries and you will need serious intervention to be emotionally and physically safe.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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