When Love Hurts: The Emotionally Abused Man
Does your relationship with your girlfriend or wife leave you feeling bad about yourself? Do you frequently feel misunderstood, rejected, vilified and devalued in your relationship? Do you feel trapped or stuck? Do you believe it’s possible for men to be emotionally abused by women?
Believe it. It happens all the time. The stereotype of an abusive relationship is that of a man physically beating a woman. Society has yet to acknowledge the vast number of women who emotionally abuse men. In fact, the men who are being abused oftentimes don’t realize that their wife’s or girlfriend’s behavior is abusive.
They use different terms to describe this behavior like nagging, bossy, difficult, strong-willed, tough, harsh, argumentative, “passionate,” or aggressive, which they always follow up with some excuse such as, “She had a really tough childhood. She was abused.” Lots of people have had less than ideal beginnings, but they don’t take it out on others in their adult relationships.
Men have been brainwashed into believing that it’s normal for women to be irrational, moody, emotional, and demanding. Most men accept these behaviors under the guise that a woman is ‘just expressing her feelings’ and men are uncomfortable with because ‘men aren’t good at expressing their feelings.’ This is ridiculous. This behavior makes men uncomfortable, just as it would make most women on the receiving end of it uncomfortable because it’s abusive.
Men, you need to wake up and stop blinding yourself to the obvious. If you walk on eggshells around your partner because you’re afraid she’ll flip out on you for minor transgressions or simply because she’s in a bad mood, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If nothing you do, no matter how hard you try pleases her, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If she regularly puts you down, criticizes or demeans you through name-calling and humiliation, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If she shuts you out, gives you the cold shoulder or refuses to have sex with you in order to control your behavior, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. There’s no shame in admitting this. In fact, it’s your wife or girlfriend who ought to be ashamed.
Emotional abuse is like a cancer that eats away at your psyche until you’re left feeling powerless, worthless, anxious and/or depressed. Most of the time it happens so gradually that you don’t notice it. You explain away the first few tantrums, emotional outbursts and rage episodes. You take her criticisms to heart because you want to please her. You’d give anything for her to go back to the way she was during the honeymoon phase of your relationship when she was fun, sweet and loving and therein lies the problem.
She’s not abusive all the time. Sometimes she’s nice. Now and again, she’ll even make a grand loving gesture and you convince yourself that the relationship isn’t that bad. Abusive personality types frequently have a very charismatic and seductive side. If she was all bad all the time, you’d have never become involved with her, right? Their charming side is how they suck people in. Over time, the charm wears thin and their abusive traits dominate.
You can’t fix this. You can’t make her stop. You can’t make your relationship better. You can go to all the therapy sessions in the world and read all the How to Understand Women books on Amazon, but you won’t be able to change her behavior. Why?
First, it’s highly unlikely that your girlfriend or wife will see her behavior as abusive because “everything’s your fault” and, most importantly, her abusive behaviors are how she gets what she wants. It’s a learned and highly effective behavioral technique, which, even if she gains awareness about it, will be terribly difficult (if not impossible) for her to break. The goal of an abuser is control and the way they control you is through emotional abuse.
Don’t want to admit you’re being controlled or abused? Ok. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you spending more and more time at work because you don’t want to go home?
- Have you dropped out of touch with friends and family? When you communicate periodically, do you smile and tell them everything’s great as you feel the knot in your stomach tighten and the lump in your throat harden?
- Do you always feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop?
- Have you withdrawn from life while retreating into alternate realities, e.g., books, films or the Internet?
- Are you experiencing feelings of shame, worthlessness, low self-esteem or emotional numbness?
- Are you experiencing physical symptoms like chronic stomach pain, nausea, headaches, digestive problems, insomnia or fatigue that your doctor can’t diagnose beyond “may be stress-related?”
- Are you drinking more or using recreational drugs more than you used to? Are you using them to escape from or numb yourself to the unhappiness of your situation?
- Do you feel unlovable? Like something’s “wrong” with you or that you’re “bad” or “crazy?” Do you worry that if you left your partner that no one else would want you?
- Do you experience symptoms of depression, including thoughts of suicide?
- Do you engage in risky behaviors in which your death would be considered “accidental” like reckless driving, riding your bike alone through rough terrain, going into dangerous neighborhoods,or walking into traffic without looking?
If you answered “yes” to more than one of these questions it’s highly likely that you’re suffering the effects of emotional abuse. Most often women (and men) with these traits either have Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and/or Narcissistic Personality Disorder characteristics, if not full blown personality disorders. These psychiatric conditions are extremely difficult to treat. All three can be extremely emotionally abusive types who are incapable of feeling true empathy, which does not bode well for you.
You need to decide if you want to spend the rest of your life being treated like this or if you want a chance at real love and happiness. You should probably seek some form of formal support to:
- Help resurrect your feelings of self-esteem and worth.
- Understand why you were attracted to this woman in the first place so you don’t end up in another abusive relationship again.
- Learn some behavioral techniques to deal and cope with these behaviors.
- Help you decide if you want to end this relationship and, if so, support you through it.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
Private Consultation and Coaching
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Jekyll and Hyde by That Damned Redhead on flickr.