Category Archives: Emotional Abuse

Boundaries: If Your an Enabler, Don’t Cry When You Get Bit

Aesop’s Fables records a story called the, “The Farmer and the Snake” that illustrates why boundaries are important to understand how to live life without rescuing people who may no be capable of rescue.

ONE WINTER a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. “Oh,” cried the Farmer with his last breath, “I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.”

The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful [ self focused individuals].

A lesson to be learned here is that creating boundaries in life to regulate relationships and behaviors is a way to manage how much danger, pain, and dysfunction that you are going to experience in life.  We have boundaries at work, in business, on the highway, and even in the park, but somehow people believe that in relationships  everyone will always make the right decisions without clarifying the terms of relationship.

How Do We Get Into No-Win Situations Becoming an Enabler?

It may be hard to face, but enabling says something about the enabler that needs to be understood. People who are enablers think they are helping someone else when in reality they are creating a disability support system. It is magical thinking — a way of romanticizing life with the idealism that that denies the reality reality of  destructive patterns of behavior, irresponsibility, guilt, pain etc. The enabling parent, husband, wife-believes that somehow through these vicarious acts of rescuing and enabling that it will magically make it better.  It is like when a mother picks up her child and kisses the owee’ and magically all the pain disappears. It is a thinking problem that gets us into no-win situations.  In the core thought processes of the enabler there is a fundamental belief that this kind of thing happens to other people, but not to us– I am not like that–  believe the best about people, my family could not do anything like that. This attitude –thinking pattern– creates naivete’ about relationships that exposes your backside to the sharp teeth of the dog named fate –and when it happens, it is painful.

What Do Dogs Do in an Ideal World?

Like snakes ,when dogs are not kept on a leash and when there is not a understanding of how relationships will occur with individuals to regulate what can occur, it is an opportunity for disaster to happen naturally.  — and they do.  The problem with enablers is that they don’t believe ,snakes bite that dogs bark or pee on the corner of the sofa.  After all, they say, “my dog went to obedience school and knows better, he is a dog of high breeding.”  In an ideal world where people are perfectly balanced and have no dysfunction, family system problems, unresolved conflicts, or emotional baggage, people do not need to be on a leash, but we all know that snakes and dogs will always be true to their nature, no matter how pretty they are –too bad that life does not occur in a ideal world.

Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Aesop’s Fables (p. 19). Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Emotional Abuse–Invalidation, Scars Left Behind

I have heard it said that the greatest fear that a child has while growing up is the fear of abandonment and rejection—that they will be left alone.  Abandonment alone is a subject that there is a plethora of research written about and its association with mental health disorders, as well as, social and identity issues.  If it is true that a developing child has an identity crisis occurring already– questioning how he/she fits into a social construct or asking how and where he/she fits into family—the world; then how does emotional, psychological, and physical abuse effect a child developing social identity?

The impact of abandonment, isolation, invalidation, and rejection brings a feeling that surfaces unexplainable and perplexing behaviors and contributes to an attachment pattern that is secure or insecure—reactive or maladaptive.  Quite often, when we see children or adults that demonstrate perplexing behaviors — that we may not understand, there is something not seen. Unseen forces are at work creating a ricocheting pattern of emotional responses– events in life that bring a wave of peculiar behaviors that affect every area of life now and everything happening in the future. While some people may believe that their actions are independent and well thought out, the truth is that what is happening in life is inextricably connected to the experience of attachment and the concurrent developmental process.

Attachment and development are important to understand in how children develop, but when a child is subjected to factors that negatively affect normal progression, such as emotional abuse, healthy and normal development is altered.  The impact of the environment upon a child are well noted in studies, but when there are multiple themes of abandonment, rejection, and invalidation; it is an unnatural occurrence that changes the outcome of development.  A problem that many people are faced with is a lack of understanding about how episodes or solitary events are related to behaviors and events in life.  A simplistic way this can be illustrated is that life is an organic event where everything has an effect in a systemic way upon development.  As a result, the emotional quotient of all of the things that happen throughout life have an unrealized connection to how the lived experience of a child unfolds into adult life.

What happens to children when adults do not take time to think about how their behavior affects children?  One week in the life of a child can have an effect for the rest of life.   I listened to the story about a father who goes out of town and a family friend coming to visit and  taking the unattended mother and the kids for a ride, it seemed innocent enough at the time.  However, what seemed like an innocent event from child’s perspective, quickly turned into adults behaving badly. In addition to children being caught in the middle of an event beyond their capacity to understand clearly.  It seemed an innocent event until the father came back after being away and the child shares the latest news. However, what happened afterward the conversation was not innocent.  What followed was a anger, a mother being abused in an angry and violent dispute over what happened.  Unfortunately, there are many times like this when the bad behavior of adults places children in a situation that they are not capable of understanding.  The result is a child whose innocence is scarred by witnessing abusive behavior and a feeling of responsibility that arrests and inhibits normal development and social identity that can echo down through life experience.  When a child is forced to take responsibility for the bad behavior of adults, the child does not know what to do or how to rationalize the experience, which results in fear.  What adults do not understand is that when children are exposed to experiences like this, they are faced with another adult crisis: the child feels guilt, has to live in secrecy, and is forced to cover up for the parents acting out their problems. Obviously,  events have an effect upon everyone involved, but what message is conveyed to the child and how does this affect relationships and the child’s development of future behaviors?

The answer is very complicated, but what happens throughout life and connects to everything else in life.  Individuals always have a reason for acting as they do, behaving as they do and while it may not be clear to us at the movement, all behaviors are a product of systems at work..  One of the problems with behavioral issues is that a casual examination of what a person does—just seeing behavior– does not provide clear answers to why something is happening.  For most people, unless they are in a crisis or unless it serves a personal need,  time will not be taken to ask why,  the behavior is judged on the merit of what is seen and branded with a label like “good ‘or “bad” behavior.

What seemed like a fun day for a child turned into a lifetime of problems in relationships?  After, telling what happened and  seeing the mother’s pain, the father’s anger, and trying to avoid and manawillge conflict—the interpretation of the child is that somehow this is his fault.  For a child who is not mature enough to make sense of what happened, the result is emotionally damaging be cause the event is internalized with guilt, fear, and a feeling of responsibility for things that adults are doing without considering what effect is being placed upon the child.  The child sees this a a personal failure and interprets the event and interprets this from “if should” reasoning.  If I had done this, it would not have happened—I should have kept this a secret.  Children think in terms of “black and white” concrete operational thinking (Jean Piaget).  In simple terms, it means the child felt responsibility for what happened in the family on that day and accepted ownership for the emotional consequences of what happened.  What a horrible thing for a child to have to own—responsibility, guilt, inferiority, shame, and rejection because adults did not think beyond their immediate needs and chose not to act responsibly.  For a child, events like this are emotionally damaging and leave scars of the developing child which lead to a reflection of self and others that continues throughout life until they are understood.

While adults may not understand the effect of what they do or why act in certain ways, everything that happens in life is related to perception in the lived-experience of a developing child.  Adult issues with depression, self-esteem, identity issues, relationships, perfectionism, as well as numerous other issues are related to attachment, socialization, and development as a child.  A problem is that many people do not figure these things out until life is turned upside down and life falls apart.  The importance of this cannot be understated for the developing child.  A child is faced with enormous pressures upon life and when something goes wrong and development is scarred by emotional abuse, the child gets a life sentence.   Erick Erickson said that developing children faces a social identity crisis in every period of growth that will have an impact upon how a child feels about self, acceptance in social settings, and the ways the child will interact with his world.  Consequently, the developing child needs a clear sense of who they are and how they fit in the world, where they belong, as well as, being equipped to develop the necessary skills to engaged with life in a healthy way.

When children witness traumatic events, how will abnormal events affect development and impact the child’s ability to manage a complex adult issue of sex, marital fidelity, and emotional or physical abuse?  The answer is clear, there is nothing that could prepare a child to understand or r manage these conditions: because it is an unnatural development.  The scars created by intentional or unintentional emotional abuse predicts what will come in the future —a lifetime of guilt, perfectionism, feeling rejected, and emotionally abandoned.

What Can Be Learned From The Aftermath?

This story calls attention to the importance of what happens in childhood development, the cognitive map that is formed, and behavioral cues that indicate that something has happened that needs to be understood.  In addition, when some people look at life diagnostically, they are looking for someone to blame for their pain, behaviors, or life experience.  Blame, unforgiveness, and anger are not an effective approach, they only deepen the effect of abuse and does not bring solutions contribute to an effective life.  For those desiring an healthy life, what will be of importance is not someone to blame, but understanding why behaviors occur as they do.

Obviously, many individuals cannot find the destination to healthy living, i.e., taking the appropriate steps toward changing life without an understanding of the core problems of childhood experiences.  Thinking about the past is painful at times and you may not want to air all of your dirty laundry in public, but the fact remains that connecting events from childhood events, pain rejection, or abandonment, draws a picture that puts events, feelings, and behavior in a context to be understood.

Be Careful About Casting Your Pearls Before The Swine.

One of the problems with adult behavior is that when we share with others, not capable of understanding, a common experience is that invalidation, criticism, and more misunderstanding occurs.  As a result, because we do not like that feeling, then we hide, deny, and cover up what is felt and deepen the pain in the act of denial. Unfortunately, you cannot hide from yourself for long and when you shove your feelings down for so long, they come out in health, relationship, and life problems.  The problem creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that will predict how relationships will occur.  Many times the problems of the past will perpetuate the very thing that is hated the most and we desire to change.  When you are willing to accept responsibility for yourself and understand where the negative programming from abuse originates, change is possible.  When the days of awakening comes the abused can realize that today is good day to start acting instead of reacting to life.  Life will never be perfect, but life will be what you make it today, so enjoy the opportunity that you have in your hand today. “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning” (Albert Einstein).

Enhanced by Zemanta

Invalidation, Control, and Bullying: Who Wins?

Nacicisstic InvalidationDo you recognize the picture? Better yet, can you identify with the feeling of repeatedly experiencing the sting of emotional abuse coming from invalidating words, attitudes, and actions?

Invalidation is the tool that abusers, bullies, and manipulators use to attack the emotional self-confidence of the object of their destructive actions. The recipient of invalidation unwittingly is marked by the abuse as a victim who can be emotionally controlled by taking away their virility, or power to create a meaningful life apart from the abuser.

What is invalidation and how does it affect what happens in life? Some ways that invalidation is expressed comes through rejection, being ignored, mocked, teased, judged, or having your feelings diminished. It is an attempt for one person to control how another person feels, thinks and behaves. As a result, invalidation is an attempt to gain control of the emotions, what is felt, to tell you what you should think, but most of all to control what you do. The goal of invalidation is to gain an advantage over you resulting in control over what you do, think, and feel, so as to benefit the abuser personally, i.e., meet their emotional need and validate a feeling of control.

How does invalidation affect emotional development?

The effect of constant invalidation in families and relationships unfolds systemic patterns of interaction that inhibit a secure sense of self in the world. Invalidation may be one of the most significant reasons a person with high innate emotional intelligence suffers from the effects of unmet emotional needs later in life. The crisis point for many people who have been invalidated or feeling dis-empowered comes in the middle years, or at times characterized by significant developmental changes. While growing up, a sensitive child, repeatedly invalidated becomes emotionally confused and begins to distrust his feeling and intuition. The impact of invalidating emotional abuse is that the developing child fails to develop confidence– a sense of the self and healthy use of the emotional brain. What occurs is that the child adapts to adapt to life an unhealthy and dysfunctional environment that creates an image of the social world characterized by the experience of invalidation. The child adapts to a way of understanding life resulting in a working relationship between thoughts and feelings built upon faulty beliefs about self, others, and life. As a result, emotional responses, emotional management, and emotional development will likely be seriously, as well as, permanently affected by the results of abusive relationships. The results understood by a victim of invalidation reveal that the emotional processes, which worked for the person as a child; begin to work in opposition to an effective adult life. Indeed, invalidation links, in effect, too many of the mental health challenges and disabling relationship problems that adults face in the family system.

How does invalidation occur?

Do people set out to be invalidated or are people just born to be abusive, making it their life’s mission to invalidate and control? The answer may be yes, and it may be no. People are the product of their parents, are born in a certain order and are predisposed to a certain genetic makeup, but what happens in the process of life is largely because of experiences through life. Abusive people may have certain characteristics of behavior, but they learn very early in life that they can get results through abusing someone else. Abusers learn to control by abusing and victims learn victimization through abuse. An older child tells a younger child that they are going to be held back in school because they are stupid or not smart enough by an older child. What impact does that have on self-esteem? When a mother who tells a child that they are mentally ill, they are stupid or retarded. What impact does it have on a developing child? The answer is that it depends on the child and the way that particular child will emotionally process what is being said to them. Attach those remarks to an emotionally sensitive child or place it in the family system characterized by insecurity and self-esteem problems and invalidation takes on meaning not felt to someone who has a different life experience.

What does yesterday have to do with today?

People may not set out to be an abuser, but what happens is that the pattern of relating so ingrained in behavior is automatic. Invalidators and abusers have difficulty stopping the behavior because responses are from a learned pattern in a system of behaviors, which have worked throughout the life experience and reinforced by getting by with abusive behavior. What can be observed is that abusive people have patterns of relating that are evident, which like a scarlet thread run through working relationships, professional and business affairs, family interaction, and marriage, and children.

A personal experience reinforced the lengths that abusive people will go to in when someone resists their control. I remember one night after a business meeting that one of the persons who had always been in control exploded after things did not go his way. Anger led to accusing words, words to physical aggression until physical restraint had to be used to calm him down. In the exchange, there was heated verbal abuse, invalidation, physical aggression, and an effort to control through intimidation. What I knew about this person was that there was a history riddled with abusive behavior against others over a period of 25 years. The same efforts had been exhibited in a life-long pattern abusive behavior used to demoralize and exert control over people perceived to be weak. The outcome was not what the bully hoped for, and he was introduced to someone who would not be bullied. Something learned from the story is that when people who are constantly being invalidated make an effort to assert independence, the abuser feels threatened and will mostlikely trigger a drama. Unfortunately, in this case, the bully became verbally and physically abusive found himself in a position where he became the victim of his own destructive behavior. The connection between childhood patterns and the lived-experience of an adult is the systematic ways of relating formed in the early years affects the way relationships are acted out through life. For the abused person, until there is enough strength of character discovered to stop the bullying, invalidating, and abuse, the pattern continues in relationships.

Boundaries and outcome

Some people rationalize the behaviors of bullies and abusers by saying, “It is what it is”, but, in reality, it is what you allow it to be.

The unfortunate result for people feel trapped inside a social or family-system characterized by invalidation, abuse, and dependence is a loss of essential hope felt. It is a loss of a fundamental belief that life cannot be any different. One of the reasons for hopelessness is that every person in the system is intertwined in a maze of assumptions behaviors, rules, mores’, and perceptions that are connected to self-esteem and value in the social construct. The pressure of social acceptance felt in family, groups, systems, or sub-systems have a direct impact upon efficacy in life. When life is characterized by emotional abuse, physical abuse, invalidation, and self-esteem problems, it will normally go on until a crisis occurs that requires-forces a change to take place.

An important matter that every person needs to understand is that, even while life is lived in a community, the potential quality of life comes through an individual choice –a personal journey toward wholeness. Every person must individually take responsibility for what they will do and what life will become. The hard truth is that people who have invalidated you will continue to do so until you take responsibility for life, draw a line in the sand, and not allow others to determine your happiness nor outcome in life. A popular saying states, “When you choose a behavior, you choose a response.” How people live can be a personal choice when it is empowered by clear boundaries.

Creating healthy boundaries for relationships is a way of choosing what will happen in life through relationships. Unfortunately, constant invalidation eats away the energy of life that enables creativity, well-being, security and healthy boundariesthe ability to live in an effective manner. The truth is that the only person that can change your life is you. So, what are waiting for?

Related Articles


A Journey Toward Understanding Abusive Behavior

How Can Abuse Be Described


Abuse is any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation etc. Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever be pleased.

Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones. In fact there is research to this effect. With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until she is incapable of judging the situation realistically. She has become so beaten down emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to the abuser.

Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.

Types of Emotional Abuse

Abusive Expectations

  • The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside to tend to their needs.
  • It could be a demand for constant attention, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
  • But no matter how much you give, it’s never enough.
  • You are subjected to constant criticism, and you are constantly berated because you don’t fulfill all this person’s needs.


  • Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. The one-up position the abuser assumes by attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that are essential to healthy adult relationships. This parent-child pattern of communication (which is common to all forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the abuser takes an aggressive stance.
  • Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised and “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships. This and other types of emotional abuse can lead to what is known as learned helplessness.

Constant Chaos

  • The other person may deliberately start arguments and be in constant conflict with others.
  • The person may be “addicted to drama” since it creates excitement.


  • Denying a person’s emotional needs, especially when they feel that need the most, and done with the intent of hurting, punishing or humiliating.
  • The other person may deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. confronts the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc. You know differently.
  • The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity.
  • Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.”
  • When the abuser disallows and overrules any viewpoints, perceptions or feelings which differ from their own.
  • Denying can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.
  • Denying and other forms of emotional abuse can cause you to lose confidence in your most valuable survival tool: your own mind.


  • Someone wants to control your every action. They have to have their own way, and will resort to threats to get it.
  • When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

Emotional Blackmail

  • The other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want.
  • This could include threats to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, giving you the the “cold shoulder,” or using other fear tactics to control you.


  • The abuser seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient tells the person they felt hurt by something the abuser did or said, the abuser might say “You are too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.” Here is a much more complete description of invalidation


  • Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not be trusted.
  • Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.

Unpredictable Responses

  • Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the next, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused with unpredictable responses.
  • This behavior is damaging because it puts you always on edge. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and you can never know what’s expected of you. You must remain hyper vigilant, waiting for the other person’s next outburst or change of mood.
  • An alcoholic or drug abuser is likely to act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.

Verbal Assaults

  • Berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening
  • Excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation.
  • Blowing your flaws out of proportion and making fun of you in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self confidence and self-worth.