There’s a problem, but what – or who – is it?
You know something’s wrong. Your spouse/relative/co-worker/boss/friend is “difficult.” Maybe he randomly explodes in anger. Maybe she constantly accuses you of cheating. Maybe your boss puts you down in front of the entire sales floor. In the beginning, you had a great relationship, but now, not so much – and you can’t figure out what you’ve done wrong, or how to avoid setting him/her off in the future.
Let’s call this individual “Person X.”
You wonder if it’s just you – everyone else might think Person X is wonderful. “What a great person,” they gush. “So sensitive and generous. You are so lucky to have a (fill in the blank) like him/her!”
You’ve cruised the internet and the self-help section of your local bookstore, perusing titles like, Getting Along with the Boss from Hell, Saving the Toxic Marriage, and Women Who Love Men Who Behave like Rabid Weasels. You’ve read advice blogs, attended workshops, and tried every suggestion, yet a normal relationship with Person X has completely eluded you and you’re left with a strong desire to hide on a beach in Cancun. Person X may tell you that you are the problem.
It’s Not You
Someone in your life may have used the word “abuse” to describe your interactions with Person X. You, of course, thought, “That’s crazy! Person X doesn’t hit me/hit me all that often/hit me with a closed fist/send me to the ER regularly. He/she can’t possibly be an abuser!”
We’re reluctant to apply the label “abuse” to whatever it is Person X does. There are good reasons for this:
- We’ve heard the term used often on The Jerry Springer Show, usually in reference to people clad in wife-beater tees and gold chains.
- We don’t want to think badly about Person X. Abuse is a serious word.
- Person X has often told us that we are responsible for the behavior or that we abused him.
- We’re used to Person X’s behavior, so it seems “normal” (kind of like tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis are normal).
Recognizing the Red Flags
Follow the ABC’s – especially if Person X is unleashing several of these behaviors on you. Abusers:
- Accuse you
- Blame you
- Control youby ordering, decreeing, manipulating, threatening and raging
- Have Double Standards that benefit them (but not you)
- Have an Entitlement mentality
- Use Fear to control you (and then blame you for being afraid).
Abusers want power and control over the relationship and over you. Think back to the last time you interacted with Person X in an unpleasant way. What did Person X get out of it? If Person X walks away from the encounter with a clear victory and you lie on the floor emotionally bleeding, wondering, “What just happened here?” it’s a pretty good bet there’s abuse going on.
Trust Your Gut
Finally, pay attention to your reactions. Do you wince every time Person X enters the room? Do you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what sets him off so you can avoid it next time? Do you mentally relax when she leaves town for a few days? If thinking about Person X leaves your stomach tied in knots, your mind in a fog, and your hands sweating, you can be sure there’s something wrong – and that it’s not you. It’s verbal and emotional abuse.