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The cycle of high ups and deep downs in a relationship is like being trapped in an emotional prison. There are moments of freedom and happiness, followed by a constant underlying fear or worry of being trapped again.

The emotional prison is created by the manipulative and controlling behavior of the person who wants to keep the person in a disempowered state. This cycle of ups and downs often forms a trauma bond, where the person seeks love and support from the same person who is causing them emotional harm.

You are valuable and should be treated with respect and kindness by everyone in your life. Even if they don’t like you, they should treat you with respect and kindness. If someone is with you and they don’t like what you’re doing or who you are, you might wonder why they are there. Are they just there to make you suffer? No one should be around you if they don’t like you.

If they don’t like how you’re showing up or want to change who you are, then maybe they should find someone else to be around. It’s a backward way to look at it, but if they don’t want you to be who you’ve been from the very beginning, then why are they there?

And if you’re around someone that you don’t like, and they make you feel bad or harm you, you have to wonder why you’re with them.

That’s unfair because you might have something invested in the relationship. I never tell anyone that they need to leave a relationship. It’s important to try to work on it together. The problem is, usually, only one person is trying to work on it. The other person doesn’t think they need to work on it, and that’s a telling sign. If they believe they can do no wrong, it’s going to be very difficult to work with them in solving the issues in your relationship.

There’s a chance when they finally realize that they might be doing behaviors that need to change. The big event might be you saying, “I can’t take this anymore. I don’t want to be around you anymore.”

That could shake their foundation enough to make them look inward. Most of the time, they’re looking outside of themselves at you. Someone who is being hurtful or controlling is looking at you, not their own stuff. They don’t want to deal with their own coping mechanisms or heal from their old traumas.

When you see someone wanting to change for another person, that person is usually trying. If they don’t want to change and you tell them that they are hurting you, and they still don’t want to change, believe them. That is who they are. 

If somebody knows they’re hurting you and they don’t want to change, you have to believe what they’re saying. Sometimes it just means you have to have a deeper, more serious talk. If you don’t talk about it, it’s just going to go downhill.

Sometimes it’s too late. You’ve been on one side of this for so long that you close your heart and can’t open it again. I understand that. I’ve seen emotionally abusive people do a complete 180, so it’s possible. But it has to be caught, and it has to be talked about. You have to be with someone that gets it. Otherwise, you reach your threshold and say, “That’s enough. I don’t want this anymore. It’s too harmful to me. It hurts.” 

If they say that’s your problem, you have to believe them. That is your problem. And you have to do something about it.

I’ve seen emotionally abusive people stop doing what they’re doing and finally get shaken up enough to realize that they are the common denominator for the problems in the relationship. 

Sometimes, two people are doing things to each other that need to be addressed. But when it’s one person that’s perpetrating and the other person that’s getting all this bad behavior, that’s when you have one person that wants to try to fix things and the other person that points the finger at them and says, “You fix things.”

I’m speaking from experience. This is exactly who I was. I believed I was healthy. I believed I knew best. It took relationships breaking up and a divorce for me to finally reflect and look inward and say, “Wow, I really am doing something to cause this because it keeps happening to me. People I care about are leaving me.” You have to work on these things. Reflect on them. 

I wanted to open the episode with my history and what I had to go through to change. Change is possible, but there are certain criteria that need to be in place for a person to stop being hurtful – to finally stop looking at the other person and look inward. They need to ask themselves, “Am I supporting that person’s happiness?” 

That is my main mantra: 

Am I supporting her decisions even if I disagree with them? 

I also ask myself, Am I allowing her to be who she is?” 

That has become one of the most important philosophies I live by.

I opened the episode with that as a possible foundation for what I’m going to talk about today. I’m going to read you lines from an email showing you emotionally abusive behavior, line by line. 

It’s like asking the question, “What does emotional abuse look like?” This person who wrote to me asked, “Am I the abuser? Am I the controlling, manipulative person?” Let’s start here.

“One week after my mom died, he told me I needed to get over it.” 

Do you hear someone supporting this person’s happiness? 

“Just get over it. It’s been a week.” 

I don’t see that as supporting that person’s happiness. 

Another one: “I’ve been led to believe that I’m too emotional, and he has told me that he needs to be the sole decider if my emotions are valid or not.” 

Wow. Talk about someone who wants to control you from the inside out. Your emotions are real to you; they’re authentic. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that your emotions are not valid or they don’t matter.

The next one floors me: “I told him that I wanted to feel valued by him, to which he responded, ‘Well, you have to have valuable assets I desire if you want me to desire you.'” 

Again, putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. This is not how you treat someone you love. 

Then she says, “I’m back to wondering if I am the problem.” 

Are you the problem if somebody puts you down all the time? No! They’re trying to put you into an emotional prison and they want you to stay there so you continue doing exactly what they want you to do.

He doesn’t have your best interest in mind. He wants to keep you in that “lower” state, locked up, emotionally speaking. It’s the love and abuse cycle; that trauma bond that forms because of the highs and lows. 

You feel like you’re in this lowered state, and then you get some loving treatment later on, but then it’s taken away again. You’re being let out of that emotional prison every now and then, and it feels so good to be free. But there’s always that background worry and fear that you’ll be trapped again.

She says, “I’m hoping you have some guidance on how to distinguish if I truly am a drain on my husband or if that’s something abusive he says to control me.” 

When the abusive person is the closest person in your life, they set this up so that you feel disempowered so that you can get your power back from them. It’s the love and abuse cycle. It’s how trauma bonds are formed. You are bonded to somebody because they take something away and then give you something back, then take it away again. It’s a high and a low. And you don’t want to feel low, you want to feel good.

The next one is, “I look for reasons for it being my fault, and I acknowledge that.” 

The people who look for those reasons are compassionate, kind, caring, generous, and supportive. They’re willing to change. That is the distinction I usually make when it becomes a question of who is abusing who. 

Are you willing to reflect? 
Are you willing to look inward? 
Are you willing to stop behaviors that maybe you don’t even believe are bad or hurtful or wrong? 

That is self-reflection. That is what the emotionally abusive person needs to do to stop doing the behaviors they do.

She says, “He accuses me that I drain him because he has no choice but to parent me.” 

Some of these are mind-blowing! Do they even hear themselves? Talk about making someone feel bad, invalid, unimportant, and unworthy.

Here’s an interesting point: You might feel like a drain on your husband because you’re not doing everything he wants. Even when you try to do exactly what he wants, it’s still not good enough, and that drains him. When you attempt to fix a problem or yourself, it’s still not good enough because you’re not meeting his impossible standards. You’ll never meet them.

Are you a drain on him? Probably, because he’ll never be happy with you. He’ll always find something wrong. You’ll never meet the sky-high and sometimes impossible standards he sets. Some people just want to keep you in a lowered state. Unfortunately, yes, you’ll be a drain on him, but that’s not your fault. There’s nothing you can do to change that. If he doesn’t work on himself, you will always be a drain for him.

It might sound like you can lower that drain by doing certain things, but it’s not possible. You cannot fix his inability to cope or his emotional triggers. He has to work on that himself. His struggle is his own doing. It’s like putting your hand in a fire and getting upset at the fire. Emotionally abusive people can walk around with these triggers. For example, I used to be triggered when I saw my wife eating junk food. I had to work on that and heal from it, reflecting on why I was so judgmental and critical.

Once I healed, I realized that I kept putting my hand in the fire by choosing not to accept who my wife was. Every time I chose not to accept her, it was like putting my hand back in the fire. I had to get used to the idea that people are who they are, and if I don’t like who they are, I should look inward. If I have a problem with that person, that’s my problem, and I need to deal with it.

Why am I trying to change them, causing resentment, when all I have to do is reflect on who I am and why I get triggered? I need to work on that, even with therapy if necessary. If I don’t address it, it won’t go away. The fire in this case is my non-acceptance of who she is, and I continue to burn myself, draining myself. That’s what this person’s husband or partner is doing. He’s draining himself but blaming you for it.

He’s looking for happiness outside of himself, expecting everyone else to change for him. When you do that, you’ll usually become disappointed, and if you have the capacity to be controlling and abusive, it makes it worse. It brings things to a whole new level. We all want people to change, but there’s a difference between thinking that and trying to control and change someone.

Believing who someone is and accepting them can work for anyone in your life. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, it’s not there. Gauge what’s happening by how someone shows up today, yesterday, and the day before. Once you say, “I don’t expect it to change,” your life gets a little easier.

I believe the key determinant in figuring out if you really are the abusive one or not is this powerful comment: “I didn’t used to have fear of who I was.”

That’s like saying, “I used to be proud to be confident in who I am, but now I fear being myself.”

You should never fear being yourself.

If you do, you’re around people that make you fear, and there’s no love in that equation.

My definition of love is supporting the other person’s path to happiness, even if you disagree with their choices. If someone did that for you, it would feel pretty good.

If, however, you’re walking around fearing being yourself, it’s time to question things and have deeper conversations, and maybe heal the wounds in your relationship and yourself.

Confidence in being yourself is vital.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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