He is a multimillionaire client of mine. Handsome. Accomplished. Respected. Gentle. Reflective. Kind.
And I was examining every angle of why he was allowing a clearly destructive woman (borderline personality disorder) out of his life. He agreed over and over again that she was bad for him, that she felt no remorse, that suddenly abandoning partners was her longtime modus operandi, and yet, he couldn’t let go.
With enough digging, a story emerged.
“I was small as a kid. I was the last guy picked for all the teams. I guess I’m afraid nobody will pick me again if I can’t get her back.”
So he was telling himself, “You’re not good enough! Why would anybody ever pick you?” He was his own best emotional abuser.
Stories of emotional abuse fill magazines and newspapers (and Lifetime movies), but little is said about how we often do the job on ourselves first. It’s easy to see how partners abuse each other — we can hear the insults and witness the behaviors — but what happens when the denigrating talk, shaming, threatening and behavioral choices happen inside one’s own head?
What happens is that the behavior — unspotted by those who care — persists.
And because of fundamental human tendencies like seeking “confirmation bias” and what Dr. Robert Cialdini calls “consistency” in his book, Influence, we will often unconsciously create exterior behaviors in those around us which echo and “confirm” our inner abuse. In other words, if you emotionally abuse yourself, you will instigate and encourage abusive behaviors from others.
So let’s take a moment to examine some of the most common ways we self-emotionally-abuse. Here are messages you want to listen for inside your own head, and some redirection so that you can liberate yourself before more damage is done.
- “I’m not worthy of love. Nobody of any quality would want me.”
- “Why should I express my opinion? I’m an idiot. I don’t know anything.”
- “Why should I express my needs? I’m just being needy.”
- “Nice one! You opened your mouth and you made a fool out of yourself. Better just keep your mouth shut.”
- “I’m just being a baby. I’m too sensitive. Toughen up.”
- “I have no right to seek out new friends. They won’t like me anyway.”
- “If I spend money on myself, I’m going to anger my partner/mother/father, so I’d better not.”
- “My achievements? Yuck. They’re nothing. They are not impressive at all.”
- “I don’t have the right to dream. Who am I fooling? I’m not going to achieve it anyway.”
- “I’m wrong. I’m usually wrong. I’d better just keep my opinion to myself.”
- “My body is awful. I’m not sexy. Nobody would want me.”
- “I don’t know how it’s my fault but it’s my fault.”
- “I’d better not say anything because I don’t want to insult or offend anyone. Ever.”
- “It’s my fault (the other person) is unhappy.”
- “I’m an idiot. Fatty-McFatso. Dumbbell. Brainless Betty.”
- “I don’t deserve compassion. I brought it on myself. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”
- “My feelings don’t matter. Only babies are needy like that.”
- “I don’t have the right…”
- “So what if I say I’m stupid or worthless? I am. I’m just being honest.”
The first step for anyone being emotionally abused is to recognize the patterns and hear the words. Whether it’s coming from outside or inside, if you’ve been minimizing, denying, or hiding it, this can be a scary and difficult first step. In many ways it’s easier to spot an external emotional abuser. Everything is out in the open. But either way, the anxiety caused will emerge as illness, addiction, or depression.
Can you make the internal changes yourself? Yes. But only if you actually desire the change. You must be brave enough to recognize your internal abusive patterns and turn negative thoughts to positive ones. After that, you’ve also got to be willing to see the damage it’s caused both yourself and the people around you.
Sound easy? It’s not. Habits take concerted effort to change. When you emotionally abuse yourself, you feel a very real sense of power. Your abusive voice, in a sense, hovers above and distances itself by externalizing the perceived weaknesses.
Learning how to accept and deal with your challenges in a realistic way rather than an abusive one, therefore, not only heals, but integrates your scattered parts into one whole. This prize is worth all the effort you can muster.
Kid sitting alone photo available from Shutterstock