Tag Archives: emotional abuse

Benefits of Group

Some of these are general benefits of being in a group, some are specific to the design of the Circle of Healing groups, and some are benefits various members have experienced. Counseling cannot promise any specific benefit as there are so many variables involved and each person is different.

Get Witnessed: Getting heard without condemnation is healing.

Hear the ideas of others and witness their stories.

Gain self-acceptance from appreciating the struggles and challenges of others in somewhat similar situations.

Decrease negative self-talk and increase self-compassion. Learn specific skills to reduce self-talk. And as you learn to appreciate and admire other group members, you can no longer be as harsh with yourself (as you would not be harsh with them).

Reduce or heal depression. Reduce anxiety.

Begin to Separate your identity from the abuser and the abuse.

Put some of your memories to rest through trauma/stress resolution.

Get support for healing from emotional or other abuse, get support during a difficult divorce, or recovery from a difficult break-up/divorce.

Learn ways to calm the mindbody. Think of it as a reset for setting your internal clock back to a state of greater relaxation, readiness, ease, and increased reserves of energy.

Learn skills for dealing with emotional abuse. The Group setting is an efficient way of teaching skills.

Learn how to select potential mates that are not abusive.

Make “moving forward decisions,” like leaving an abusive relationship, going back to school, taking a better job, etc.

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Dr. Sue Johnson and her colleagues pioneered Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a therapy that is successful with as high as 70% of couples. Note that Dr. Johnson states that EFT does not work with “abusive relationships.” She describes 3 common “demon dialogues” that create problems that require counseling: http://www.ocfi.ca/index.php/select-articles-by-dr-sue-johnson/12-where-does-love-go-wrong-or-the-three-demon-dialogues-that-can-wreck-your-relationship. The point of this blog is to help differentiate some of the types of relationships are not suited for couples counseling, even with a therapy as successful as EFT.

Note that these “demon dialogues” include emotional abuse. For example, the demon dialogue that she describes as “Find the Bad Guy” is the shame and blame game, which is emotionally abusive. In the Protest Polka, there is critism and withdrawal, and in Freeze and Flee, both partners have emotionally withdrawn. So when does the emotional abuse in a relationship require a different approach? The dividing line that I have found useful is that there is a pervasive pattern of psychological abuse. In other words, there are a number of different types of emotional abuse used by at least one partner in a frequent or relentless way. (See types of Emotional Abuse: http://mindbodyintegrativecounseling.com/types-of-verbal-and-emotional-abuse/.)

If one partner is addicted, there is often a pattern of Gaslighting in an attempt to hide the addiction. In order to heal the relationship, the addiction must be addressed. Sometimes the pervasive pattern of abuse dissipates once the addiction is in remission, and sometimes it escalates. Sometimes a pattern of emotional abuse in an addicted family system persists because at least one party never learned how to fight fair or the addicted family system needs to heal. These two scenarios are dynamics that couples and family counseling can often improve.

However, if a pervasive pattern of emotional abuse persists, a couple is better served by each party getting their own counseling, at least until there is significant progress by the abusing partner(s).  Abusers tend to manipulate the counseling session to scapegoat their partner in couples counseling and the abuse may escalate (often after counseling sessions when the counselor is not present to observe). In this aspect, these emotionally abusive relationships are very similar to other forms of domestic violence.

In fact, if there is a pattern of coercive control, there is a risk of physical violence when the abused partner leaves, even when there has been no previous physical abuse. Couples counseling may feed an emotional abuser’s internal and external dialogue that his/her partner is the cause of the abuser’s distress. The abusive party needs to deal with his or her own internal defenses that are abusive – it is not just a communication problem or a case of normal attachment needs going unmet.  And it is important to have a feedback loop with the primary counselor of the abusive partner with the abused partner to insure that the changes the primary counselor sees in his/her client are being carried over into the couple’s relationship.

Unfortunately, too many abusers refuse to go to counseling or drop out prematurely. Recovery is a slow, gradual process when it does occur. While all of the above mentioned patterns can lead to relationship dissolution, couples counseling is dangerous when there is physical abuse or a pervasive pattern of emotional abuse.

It is important to address the needs of the abused partner. Often, there is so much focus on the abusive partner and his/her intensive needs, that the very real needs and welfare of the abused party are neglected. Long-term emotionally abusive relationships can impair psychological health, resulting in depression and/or an anxiety disorder, as well as have health consequences to the rest of the body, creating illness and reducing vitality and longevity.  While the good news is that there is a couples therapy, EFT, that is wildly successful with a majority of couples, couples therapy in general is unsafe with some emotionally abusive couples.

Abusive Political Tactics resemble the Tactics of Emotional Abusers


A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation. – James Freeman Clarke

It is an apt time to discuss the tactics of abusers, including political abusers. With climate change and ocean acidification looming in our future with an ever narrowing time frame in which to react, it is urgent that we be able to identify abusers in the public arena and cease electing them to public office. Knowledge of the dynamics of abuse is a start:

Abusers wear their opponents down by being unfairly Relentless, Rigid and Repetitive. The goal of emotional abusers is to confuse people, even members of their own party or household. They intuitively know that all they have to do is to create doubt to immobilize resistance.

Abusers play head games. They engage in and promote all or nothing thinking. A particularly nefarious head game is entrapping others in Catch-22 situations, often utilizing cultural mores for destructive means.

Abusers insinuate that you have major character flaws or have violated ethical principles without giving specific examples or by giving examples that are relatively insignificant. Their communication tends to remain in the abstract, but the inference is that you are bad or have done something really bad. Abusers harp on a minor complaint as if it were a big deal. Abusers traffic in innuendo.

Abusers make it difficult or impossible for you to do something, and then complain when it doesn’t get done or raise the bar when you succeed against the odds. An abuser is never satisfied – that is not the goal. The goal is to keep you off balance and playing by their rules by continually discrediting you.

Abusers adamantly protest that something isn’t true if the truth doesn’t serve their goals. The truth rarely supports their goals. An abuser will swear up and down that they haven’t done something when they have.

Abusers Lie as a tool of manipulation and control. Lies can take several forms:

  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
  • Bluff and Bluster
  • Obfuscate with word salad
  • Double Speak: Use lofty sounding principles using code that has a different and specialized meaning relative to their own psychological make-up, or in the case of politicians, their own political group. In other words, what is spoken is not what is meant in normal parlance. It has a secondary meaning or purpose.
  • Say one thing, do another. Politicians make use of the fact that Americans rarely follow any issue consistently.
  • Lie Blatantly.
  • Use the exception to prove the rule.
  • Make arrogant comments.
  • Debates facts, like Climate Change, as if they were opinions
  • Rapid fire, sentences or short phrases (incomplete ideas).
  • Braggadocio

Abusers are often Economically abusive. One glaring political example is the shaming of poor people after the Great Recession. Abusive politicians worked in concert with economic power brokers to set up an economic system like a row of dominoes, and then blamed the dominoes when they fell.  Abusers blame the victim for the mess that the abusers themselves orchestrated. Economic abusers hide resources, lie about finances, steal, cheat, and mishandle resources.

Abusers violate their agreements and the basis for the relationship. ALEC, an alternative legislative process has been established by corporations, acting outside of the constitution. This is the political equivalent of leading a double life.

Abusers have no tolerance for mistakes by you, but claim laxity for themselves. For them the Double Standard is the Golden Rule. They don’t play fair and live by their own set of Rules.

Abusers equate the inequitable. You do It too! This common tactic ignores that fact that the abuser does it to a much greater extent. Since everyone makes mistakes, there is often a smidgeon of truth to what they say, but it is a truth stretched to the max.

Abusers refuse reasonable compromises and insist on unreasonable compromises. Then they complain that you won’t compromise. Abusers will accuse you of the thing that they are doing. If you hold them accountable for their bullying ways, they will complain that they are being bullied.

Note that failing in an earnest attempt at improving the common good is not abusive. Also note that occasional abuses do not an abuser make. Abusers engage in a pervasive pattern of multiple abuses.

Abusers have no intentions of fixing problems because problems serve their dysfunctional goals. Abusers obstruct if they don’t get their way. In families and the culture at large, abusers create conditions that promote physical, emotional, and environmental illness. It is time to learn to recognize bullies, rather than elect them.

©Noreen Wedman 2014

Noreen Wedman is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, WA. Ms. Wedman has been registered or licensed to practice counseling in Washington state for 24 years. She is author of a Toolkit for Healing from Verbally Abusive Relationships and author of the forthcoming Journal for Healing from Emotionally Abusive Relationships.

Changing the Focus

A big part of healing is Changing the Focus. One of the challenges of responding to Emotional Abuse and recovering from Emotional Abuse is that Verbal abuse and other forms of emotional abuse focus the mind on the negative. In psychological terms, the emotional abuse orients the brain toward negativity. Some of the goals of emotional abuse are to throw you off balance, stun or shame you, or transfer blame. The solution involves reorienting, whether it’s responding differently to an emotional attack or recovering from a history of emotional abuse.

In this blog, I’d like to focus recovery by giving a few tips for Creating Shift from a history of emotional abuse. (A ToolKit for Healing covers responding to Verbal Abuse in detail.) Yes, the brain Is wired to respond to dangerous signals. It is also wired toward advantage and, in social creatures, toward sharing with others to benefit the whole, although the later habit usually also involves socialization. These brain habits can be diminished through lack of recovery from emotional abuse and repetitive emotional abuse. gratitude is the hearts memory

Reorientlng from emotional abuse involves recovering the habit of wellbeing, of being at ease in one’s skin. When one is able to reorient, one recovers at sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Here are some activities to practice on a regular basis:

Cultivate the habit of breathing deeply and evenly.

  • Make a list of all the positive things that anyone has ever said about you. Update it regularly. “Take it out and review it whenever you feel stuck or down. Ask yourself, “Which one of these attributes would be most beneficial for me to embody now?” “What is the best way for me to embody this attribute(s) now?” “What essence(s) are revealed in these comments?” (Essences are qualities like Love, Peace, Wholeness, Joy, Serenity, Value, Truth, Power, Wisdom, Intelligence, Clarity, Creativity, Awe, Courage, Freedom and Presence.)
  • Every night before you go to sleep, list 10 things that you enjoyed and appreciated about the day (or about your life). This practice helps with low grade anxiety that is interfering with sleep. If your mind tends to gravitate toward the problems in your life without finding solutions that trigger a sense of ease, this exercise is especially important for you.
  • Learn to appreciate and accept complements. Breathe in the complement, smile, and say, “Thanks!” If there is a detail about whatever was complemented, say it. For instance, if an article of clothing is complemented, you might add, “It’s my favorite color.” Accepting complements is part of getting the good of life. And it’s also about connecting with others. People get stuck on whether they agree with the complement (especially if they are feeling out of sorts), and neglect the fact that receiving a complement means someone is trying to connect with you.
  • A way to physical reorient from trauma in general is to look around and focus on physical objects that you find attractive or soothing. Focus on the details of one and then another, and then another, until you feel calm and centered. Your heart has stopped racing, your mind has stopped racing, the butterflies have stopped fluttering, your breathing is easy and relaxed, and your muscles are loose or have at least released their tight grip.

These are just a few ways of Changing the Focus and Creating Shift. What are yours?


Questioning Your Relationship? Red Flags

(Note: Published originally on http://toolkitforhealing.com/11.html by Noreen Wedman 2008, published now with updates)

Do you find yourself questioning your relationship? Counseling can help resolve relationship issues or help you sort out whether it is better for you to leave the relationship. Although the list is written using the word partner, many of the problems signal serious problems in any significant relationship.
1. There is a pattern of sexual, emotional, physical, or financial abuse. Any sexual or physical abuse in a relationship is a signal that counseling is urgently needed.
2. Your self-esteem has deteriorated as a result of being in this relationship.
3. Your relationship feels like a contest, battlefield, or some other interminable game.
4. Nothing you do seems to please your partner.
5. You don’t have fun together.
6. You don’t feel respected or don’t respect your partner.
7. Issues don’t get resolved in a way that brings you closer together.
8. S/he maintains that the problems in the relationship are mainly your fault, yet you are usually the one on the receiving end of the abuse or both of you are abusive.
9. Your partner refuses go to counseling or work on his/her issues.
10. You don’t enjoy talking with your partner.
11. Your children are traumatized by your relationship.
12. Infidelity is not a deathblow to a relationship, but it is important to resolve it. It may indicate some problem with the relationship, a sexual addiction, or a childhood trauma/abandonment issue.
13. Sexless relationship. Physical intimacy is important to a healthy partner relationship.
14. Major problems like addiction and personality disorders will destroy a relationship without major intervention. If you have spent years with a person who is chemically dependent or very difficult, and s/he still hasn’t changed, it may be time to consider how much more you are willing to invest.
15. Your child is being abused by your partner.
16. You fantasize about injuring or murdering your partner or wish your partner were dead. You fantasize about Divorce or your spouse threatens you with divorce (whether they seem serious or not).
17. Some life events often require counseling for successful negotiation of the life passage in a way that keeps the relationship intact. Examples include death of a child, serious illness, or loss of a job.Sometimes these issues get resolved. Sometimes, the issues become destroy the relationship. If your relationship has even one of the above issues, you have probably done some serious procrastination. It is time to resolve the issues or move on in as honorable a way as possible (or, in the case of leaving some abusers, with as little damage as possible).
You may wish to see an Individual Counselor to sort out if it is even safe for you to try couples counseling if there is significant abuse in the relationship. Either Individual or Couples Counseling can help you sort out whether the relationship is salvageable, although resolving Couples Issues best benefit by a combination of Couples and Individual Counseling. Resolving problems of interrelating requires couples counseling. Sometimes the problem is that one or both parties have a significant mental health issue, which requires Individual counseling to manage. Couples or Family counseling can help relatives manage and cope with the process of healing to increase the likelihood of success. If there is physical or sexual violence, or a pattern of emotional abuse in the relationship, it is safer and sometimes more effective for both parties to get Individual Counseling until a pattern of safety has been established in the relationship. One big cue that Individual Counseling is warranted is if you answer, “Yes,” to the question, “Are you afraid of your partner or spouse?”

What is it about Verbal Abuse?

There is something key about words to the human psyche. Educational researchers have found that the number of words that a child hears or sees before the age of three is the single biggest predictor of future success. Early on, word exposure affects brain development. Word usage is fundamental to human development and interaction. Continue reading