Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder, bullying, divorce, Marriage, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Parental Alienation, Psychology, relationships > How Emotionally Abusive Women Control You: The Fear of Loss and the Need for Approval

How Emotionally Abusive Women Control You: The Fear of Loss and the Need for Approval


Why is it so difficult for men who are being controlled by narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and other abusive women to end the relationship? What keeps them tethered to these abusive personalities sometimes even after the relationship has ended?

There are two basic hooks this kind of woman uses to keep men on a readily yank-able chain: the fear of loss and the need for approval. These are the two most powerful control devices in their arsenal. The worst part is that, in many cases, men unwittingly play right into their hands.

The Fear of Loss

The fear of loss is an especially powerful mechanism. It could be the fear of losing the relationship, fear of losing your children, your reputation or your money and other assets. Inducing fear, guilt, shame and a sense of obligation are how abusive women control you. If you’re afraid of loss and your wife/girlfriend/ex knows it, you’re basically at her mercy.

Abusive women will:

  • Threaten you with abandonment. “If you don’t ‘shape up,’ I’m leaving.”
  • Threaten to alienate your children from you or deny you access to them. “If you don’t do as I say, I’m going to tell your son what a bastard you are” or “If you leave you’ll never see your kids again.”
  • Threaten to destroy your career. “I’m going to tell everyone at your office what a sick pervert you are.”
  • Threaten to take all your money. “You owe me. I’m entitled.”

Many of these women will implicitly or explicitly communicate that you’ll never meet anyone else like them. Let’s hope not. The resulting fear is that no other women will want you or find you attractive, which is nonsense. The reality is that emotionally abusive women are a dime a dozen. There’s nothing special about them—except for their highly dysfunctional and toxic characterological traits. You need to change your mindset. Perhaps by “losing” the relationship, you will, ultimately, “win.”

There are far better woman in the world who will treat you with kindness, respect, generosity and mutual consideration. You’re not lucky this woman “puts up with you;” she’s lucky that you put up with her. Being alone is better than being in an abusive relationship. If being on your own is too difficult at first; get a dog or a goldfish.

As for losing your assets, your children and your reputation, these are very real losses. However, if you’re persistent, you can regain and rebuild anything you lose. It won’t be exactly the same, but the longer you stay with this woman, the more you’ll lose—financially and emotionally. It’s confounding. Men are punished by the courts (i.e., spousal support) for staying in the marriage longer in an effort to work things out. You think you’re doing the right thing by hanging in there, but you’re actually giving your wife more power to hurt you when you finally divorce. Therefore, it’s better to get out sooner than later when you notice how lopsided, hurtful and inequitable your relationship is.

Kids are a tough one. You may well lose time with and access to your child(ren). On the other hand, consider what you’re modeling by staying in an abusive relationship. It’s better for a child to have one healthy and strong parent than two dysfunctional ones.

Exactly what are you afraid of losing? The abuse? The emotional withdrawal and rejection? Being made to feel less than? If this were anyone other than your wife/girlfriend/ex, would you want to even know this person? Have you challenged these fears with your intellect or are you being led by your “gut?”

When you fear loss, you need to stop “listening to your gut” and use your mind to reality test your fears. Abusive women are master manipulators who employ emotional reasoning that has very little to do with the facts of a situation. The emotionally based attacks also serve to confuse you and cloud your judgment. Therefore, when you’re afraid, stop listening to your gut and start reasoning with your brain.

Don’t just succumb to your fears; CHALLENGE THEM with your intellect, not the emotional reasoning that only reinforces them. More often than not, your fears are just distorted, self-limiting beliefs sown by your wife/gf/ex. By giving into your fear, you’re voluntarily walking into a cage and handing her the key. The truth is you have the power to release yourself. You will love again. You will find happiness. But you will only do so without this woman.

The Need for Approval

Another highly effective device abusive women use to control you is denying approval and acceptance. It’s natural to want to be liked and admired—especially by the person you love. Being criticized, demeaned, rejected and told repeatedly, “not good enough,” “you don’t measure up,” or that you’ve “failed again” is demoralizing. It also spurs you on to try even harder to please her and herein lies the problem: These women are never satisfied. Nothing you do will ever be good enough. She will never bestow upon you the kind of love and acceptance you seek.

Why does your wife’s/girlfriend’s/ex’s approval mean so much to you? Do you actually respect her and the way she conducts herself? A woman like this is an abusive, entitled and incredibly self-serving bully, so why do you care what she thinks?  Seeking approval from someone who takes pleasure in cutting you down is a recipe for disappointment and pain.

You’re perpetuating a sick dynamic by seeking approval from someone who’ll never give it to you. Why? Because these women experience giving approval to others as a psychological and visceral loss. To tell you, “nice job” or “I appreciate you” somehow makes her feel less than and, as you well know, these women won’t tolerate that for a second.

The Way Out

Don’t let her solicited and unsolicited opinions get to you anymore. Recognize them for what they are: Abusive control tactics. Your overall goal is emotional detachment, which means you’re not invested in the outcome of this relationship. Once you’re no longer afraid of “losing” or care about receiving her approval, you’ll see the balance of power in the relationship shift.

She will be less able to “get to you,” which is a good thing. You’ll begin to care less, which is psychologically freeing. You’ll become more immune to the traps she sets and she won’t be able to figure out what the hell is happening. As you step out of this dysfunctional emotional dynamic, she’ll escalate her nasty behaviors as she frantically tries to maintain control and bully you back into place. She’ll be uncharacteristically speechless when her tried and true control devices no longer work.

Just remember, the more you commit to taking care of yourself, the more embittered she’ll grow. She’ll accuse you of being “selfish,” “inconsiderate” and “uncaring.” This is a good sign—for you. Abusive women view any attempt you make at self-care and growth as a grave betrayal. How dare you do something positive for yourself? How dare you not let her make you feel bad?

The more you put your needs first, the stronger and healthier you’ll become and your attraction to this supremely unhealthy woman should diminish. Abusive women remain in control by keeping you disoriented, hurting and in a psychologically weakened state. This is why she becomes alarmed when she sees you taking care of yourself.

Even if you don’t initially believe it, the freedom from abuse you’ll gain by ending this relationship will eventually outweigh any material losses you incur. You need to realize that you don’t have an actual relationship with this woman; it’s an autocracy in which she’s the petty tyrant and you live to serve. Furthermore, a woman like this isn’t capable of true intimacy and empathy, which are prerequisites for a healthy relationship.Your happiness lies in the future with someone else; not her.

Sadly, you may well see your children less or suffer through watching your ex turn them into her human shields, protectors and weapons to hurt you. However, by staying in an abusive relationship you’re exposing your children to a very unhealthy model of adult relationships. Nevertheless, this is a heartbreaking choice for many fathers. It may cost you money and potentially damage your relationship with your children, but what’s the cost of happiness, sanity and freedom from abuse?

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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Please keep your man on a leash by rick on flickr.

  1. Nabil
    May 13, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Please contact me. I’m a 25 year old male and I believe I’m in a toxic relationship with a very toxic woman and it’s destroying my life. Thank you.

    • shrink4men
      May 15, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Just sent you an email from shrink4men@gmail.com. Please contact me at that address if you’d like to schedule a session.

  2. someguy
    January 13, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    I am glad I found this website, I really just want to take my balls out of my wife’s purse. They say the first step fixing a problem is getting out of denial, and I need to admit I have been betanized and my wife is the Alpha. I used to be a really confident and successful guy, now I have no friends and no one to talk too, and it has been this way for over a year. I have her to talk to, but I’ve realized I am not really talking to a real person. She is EXTREMELY intelligent, which is something I underestimated. I think she has cheated on me several times as well, but I would never be able to know for sure, let’s be honest she owns me. Her tactics are well thought out, and she has made it clear to me several times that she is very good with getting what she wants and getting away with things. I fucked up and gave my heart to this woman, she is extremely charming and everyone thinks she is amazing. She does not talk to me like she talks to other people, people do not see what I see. I am sure she has got her whole family to think I am some loser, and at this point in my life I honestly am. She fits the bill for all points of emotionally abusive, she made me feel like I was such a loser and would always compare me to her man friends, who are always way more successful than her or me. I am such a jealous, angry, unconfident, and miserable person now, she actually made me believe that her man friends were better than me, and I really do think she slept with a few of them, I don’t have proof, but I cannot deny these strong feelings. All I wanted to do was be a good man, I was just trying to give her what she wanted and now she literally owns me. I tried to argue this out, I tried to say my points, I tried to hold my ground, but I keep losing, and now I know it’s because she has my emotions and she can pull on them like strings. I see now that the only way for me to become financially and emotionally healthy enough to make it out of this hell hole is to stop caring about her, I see now the real problem is me, and I am the only one that pull myself out. Anyways thank you for having the ability to post comments, I read venting to sites like this are a good way to help make yourself better.

    • Bobthecat
      January 16, 2017 at 6:50 am

      You must escape my friend I was in in exactly the same place as you. Six months ago I packed my bag and ran away I had no option or I would have had a nervous breakdown. I never contact her and I really miss her but I am also scared of her she turned my life into hell. Constant criticism horrible remarks bullying silent treatment and cheating she did it all. I have no money she got me in debt big time but that doesn’t matter I am free. I don’t have to walk on egg shells or get abused any more. Get away my friend get away.
      Bob.

  3. bruce
    December 13, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Good Afternoon : Thank You – for putting up such a good read. So much (almost every word in your article (s) describe what I have been going thru with my wife. I see a therapist on my own at present and was seeing one jointly with my wife until the therapist wouldn’t agree to label me an abuser as my wife wanted her too. That was our last session and my wife said that all therapist are fucking lunatics. My wife is in so much denial about her issues and will not even listen to the possibility that our arguments and her abuse starts with her. Not only is it with me but she always find fault in “everyone” around me including my daughter’s. To the point where I felt if I even saw my daughter’s she would get angry. Most times when my daughter’s come by to see US she tells me to tell them she is in the shower or doesn’t feel well. That for me is heart wrenching. She is constantly I call it pushing my buttons or I guess gas lightning. When she does this it starts off calmly with my response and she will just keep on her issue until yes I get angry. Then she says I am abusive. She has said some very and I mean very Mean things and I have always tried to defuse the conversation in a reasonable manner and calm tone. I ask her to rewind to how it started so she can see how she initiated the argument but she has no apology enough self awareness to say I’m sorry or at least admit that her actions and comments were not appropriate. I know the person that I am and my morals and values. I am very family orientated and was brought up to respect others. The thought of losing her kills me and is the last thing I would ever want. However, at this point as as I type this my insides are turning and I feel sick to my stomach. What do you do when the abusive person will not acknowledge that they are the one needing help? Have a good day ……

    • Bob
      December 15, 2016 at 2:14 am

      Bruce I feel your pain. You have to get out if you can. I feined a serious illness to escape my narcissist I felt terrible doing it but she was destroying me emotionally with the lies the gas lighting and the constant put downs. I miss her everyday she never rang or cared since. It hurts but I am free and that feels good as narcissistic people ruin kind people you have to escape my friend.

  4. Rob
    November 19, 2016 at 1:46 am

    THIS IS A LIGHT TURNED ON!!! Thank you so much for this posting. I’m dealing with 90% of this. I’m not working right now, but I have a promising business bidding (about to bid on a 5-year, $7M contract). She has gained friends and has attacked my character in front of them. I don’t have the financial resources to leave right now and no place else to go….she knows this and treats me like shit. I pray every night and morning that God gets me out of this hellhole. I’m desperate for the day that I’m financially blessed enough to leave.

  5. Mohammad
    August 1, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I’ve been emotionally abused by my girlfriend for ever. it’s been just like a leash on my neck but after reading this article I realized the science behind it and I’ve completely changed ever since reading this and I want to thank you so much for this… I’m moving on without her and thats the way to win it. I’m free now! thank you by the way I wish you guys would conduct more studies on this type of abuse because I know there are tons of guys out there that are on their knees all their life because they are afraid to lose the bitch in their life.

  6. July 17, 2016 at 5:01 am

    I found this article very helpful as I feel I’ve been in such a relationship for many years and it’s ruining my life. My belly churns every day and I feel as if I’m in an emotional prison that I can’t escape – it feels that I’m in this relationship through a mixture of fear and addiction and I don’t know how much genuine love is there. I met this woman 8 years ago and we fell in love and began an affair which broke up my marriage – I felt in my heart that I desperately wanted to go back to my wife and son but felt trapped in my relationship – for some reason I just couldn’t leave this woman – I would wake up in panic and tears just wanting to be with my family but it felt like fear of her dissaproval and addiction was keeping me with her rather than love. She knew I couldn’t take anger and that I had a terrible fear of rejection and she played on those weaknesses and still does. I’m not blaming her – I blame myself for being weak enough to allow myself to have been controlled and manipulated to go against my heart. I now feel broken and have very little self respect, which makes me even easier to control – a cycle that I worry will go on for the rest of my life. I would dearly like some consultations.

  7. COLIN
    May 23, 2016 at 4:15 am

    Hello All

    I would like to thank Dr Tara for making me aware of what has been going on in my life. I have been put down every day for some years and has got worse since menopause.

    Constant verbal abuse just from me saying one word. I have to do exactly as she says or else.

    I have one uni student son left in the house so I stay. He needs me a little bit longer.

    I am still in the relationship but have said to my wife I don’t care about the threats and/ or anything she says to me anymore. This has made her go quiet as I don’t think she knows what to do next. No doubt she is trying to find something else.

    There has been no intimacy for 2 years and despite me building her own shed to store her hoard, paying off the house, expensive renovations and other things she is still not happy.

    She spends money on things we just don’t need and cant help it. She said she wants to be rich and I cant give that to her. The spare money is almost gone then what ?

    So thank you Dr Tara it has filled in all the gaps and now I understand what is going on and why I have suffered so, so, so much for years.

  8. neil summers
    April 29, 2016 at 2:39 am

    im a proud and loving father of my 2 beautiful children , we broke up a few yrs ago , then i met an old girlfriend and the spark was like the first time we met .
    When my ex found out she stopped me seeing my kids telling them daddy was away and there was no telephones there , now i had my own place and had my kids more than her , so after trying to reason with her and wanting to spk with my children she had the police serve me with a none violent or threatening PIN notice , i was devastated as she always said she would never use the kids against me , now a PIN means no contact at all , so after a few drinks i left a voicemail pleading to see the kids , then the nxt day i was arrested locked up for 12 hrs and charged with breaching the PIN .
    So court date set and this was whilst i had a v good solicitor acting for me to see the kids ,
    well social services and caffcas where involved now as she had made that many accusations against me which they done all there checks and found that they had no proof that i was a unfit father , now inbetween all of this she had rang the police saying i was selling drugs and then said i had firearms in the house , well the firearms squad decided to visit me and what a suprise they found nothing .
    Itold them what was going on and credit to them they had there views on vindictive ex partners lol , so court day and i was found not guilty of all charges that she had accused me of , then family court next and i won , i spent over 2000 pounds on fees and they tore her apart .
    Got to see my kids and cried my eyes out and they did too , now i have them every weekend , and my new partner is expecting .
    Never give up its hard but worth it , she used my children against me and lost , women like this dnt dserve to have children , there sick in my eyes .

  9. Cory
    April 14, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for the info. I usually don’t bother to reply on sites because it is more of the same. However, I do think you do good work and would like you to know that. I’m not going to go into detail as I am actually bored of telling counselors, psychiatrists, social workers etc the kind of tactics my estranged wife has used over the years. 23 years to be precise. We have just recently separated and this time the tactics haven’t stopped. I really think she has totally lost it this time. I really think she is ill and needs help. I have tried several times over the years to tactfully mention getting help but she is convinced it is all my issue. Not to say I’m perfect, but just as it takes two to make a marriage work, it takes two to make it NOT work. I’m really not sure exactly where my wife falls in the BPD, HPD, NPD spectrum but at this point I can’t care. My son and I are finally getting free of her influence. Again, thanks so much.

  10. bobthecat
    March 23, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    So I go no contact after being hit and told I am about to be discarded
    Today the crazy text me saying her family are all missing me and I am her best friend.
    I know for a fact she cheated on me twice last week but I no longer care.I reached breaking point.
    I now know she’s playing some twisted mind game maybe using guilt to suck me back into hell.
    I am close to a nervous breakdown god please free me from this evil woman.

  11. bobthecat
    March 23, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    God bless us all the victims of the socialpath.
    May we find peace and happiness away from these cruel evil monsters.
    I hope you all find peace

  12. Eye-opener
    March 22, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Holy crap I thought I was reading about me and my relationship!!!! In my relationship it’s the same cycle over and over again I get accused of looking at women my wife says it is cheating on her. I don’t look at women I don’t believe in that when you’re with somebody she is the only one you should look at, but if I look in the direction and there’s a lady standing there she will say that I was checking her out even if I glanced for just a second and then look the way. She won’t say nothing at the time but as we’re getting ready for bed she will start an argument and say I am cheating on her by looking at other women then she’ll say I can’t even look at you you’re nothing butt a horny male and no different than any other man. Then my wife tells me she can’t be with somebody like me that she is going to find somebody who will treat her better. Also she says what goes around comes around and she knows that there are men at her work that like her and she said if I cheat on her by looking at women it’s ok for her to sleep with other men. At this point in my life tried everything to make her happy but nothing seems to work. It’ll go good for a little bit then the fight start and all her problems it’s because of me. I know I’m not perfect but I am not the monster she describes me to be. I am sorry that this was a little winded but I believe that the story has opened my eyes.

    • bobthecat
      March 22, 2016 at 4:59 pm

      Your story buddy could be mine frightening really these crazies are all the same

    • bobthecat
      March 22, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      I am going no contact which is really painful.I had five years of hell.Her best torture is her use of silent treatment she can go for weeks. I know it’s then she’s found a new mark to tip off but they never last.
      If you cheat she discards you but it’s ok for her she says it’s just sex as if it means nothing.
      She was so toxic when I left she said I could come and watch her with another guy to learn how to make love properly
      She has cost me thousands and I became a dog on a leash in a prison.
      She looks so beautiful she is so charismatic you just wouldn’t believe what lies beneath pure cruelty and shameless. Her favourite quote all men are dogs.
      I am hiding from her she is scary.I kissed her on the cheek one night to say goodnight
      her response I got a karate blow.
      I left next morning.

      • bobthecat
        March 22, 2016 at 5:41 pm

        Given they are so cruel it is surprising how hard it is to leave them.They sort of suck you in to emotional hell

  13. bobthecat
    March 6, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    I have been through hell this site is a life saver

  14. John Cooper
    February 9, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Wish l could have read this 40 years ago,you nailed it,thank you ,John Cooper

  15. November 6, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Hi im a 43 man and after reading this article i realized that I have been suffering from for 24 years it came to light when she left me and I found out that she had a affair with a younger guy at her gym when I confirmed this she denied it and told me to move forward and be happy after a week she came out with all of these traits after a few weeks i looked back over my marriage she had been like this allowed along i was just blinded by love but since I got back into chuck the Lord has given me strength and wow you see the real devil come out then she is desperately trying to regain control and can’t im never looking back even though I will always love her deeply in my heart and she is the mother of our 7 children so glad I found this site

  16. Lino
    August 31, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    DR T thanks for an excellent article. It was mind blowing to see all the same experiences I lived when I was married to a BDP (divorced 3 years ago), and latter on, dated a Narcissit woman that really mess me up. Thanks to you and to all the brave individuals that are sharing their stories in this website, its is amazing the way that reading your struggles help me to understand my owns. Thank you.

  17. Anon
    August 21, 2015 at 5:53 am

    Same thing been happening to me for 2 years iv been pushed to my limit time to sack up im going for it i want to be free.

  18. Gary
    August 11, 2015 at 2:48 am

    After three years of peace and slowly rebuilding our lives over. My ex bpd has started up again. Threaten me with police, attorneys etc…. I am trying to date again and she found me!! On a dating website. She had her friend and a domestic violence advocate contact me. When does the targeting ever end? I ran from the website!!! I’m a combat veteran and tried of being in her crazy world of made up lies!!! There has to be an end to this madness?

  19. Good Dad
    July 14, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Keep strong!

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