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shocked when they find out what emotional abuse you're going through

Emotional abuse victims have a very difficult time trying to explain what’s happening to them to their friends and family.

Often, loving, supportive people may side with the abuser simply because they can’t see or believe that the person being accused of abusing is a bad person. This leaves the victim of the abuse feeling alone with no one to turn to because their support system slowly disappears around them.

This episode of Love and Abuse is meant to be given to family, friends, your attorney, your therapist, or anyone else that doesn’t understand the depth of control and manipulation happening in your relationship.

Think of it as an emotional abuse and manipulation translation guide.

Transcript follows

This episode is not necessarily for the regular listener of Love and Abuse. It is for friends and family and even professionals that the victim of emotional abuse and manipulation have in their lives, maybe to give them this episode to listen to, so that they understand.

I did have an episode earlier that addressed what friends and family don’t see and how it’s hard to explain to friends and family what’s going on in your life if you’re in an emotionally abusive situation. For example, if you can’t seem to explain what’s happening, then it’s hard to convey the reality that you’re going through, which can be unreal.

This is for anyone that is in an emotionally abusive, coercive, manipulative, deceptive, toxic relationship, or any type of difficult relationship who just can’t seem to convey exactly what’s happening in the relationship because their friends and family just don’t see it. I hear this all the time.  

“I just don’t see that about him.”  
“I just don’t get it. What you’re saying about her is incorrect.”
“I just don’t see it.”

It can become incredibly frustrating for the victim of emotional abuse, manipulation, and narcissistic abuse to talk about it in a way that that could be helpful when they’re around supportive people because it’s hard to support someone when you don’t see what’s happening.

And you can’t even fathom that’s happening because it doesn’t make sense. In your perception, from an outsider’s perspective, what’s being told to you appears to be incorrect. This episode is good for you too if you’re in any type of difficult relationship or toxic situation. It’s good for you as well, so that you can understand a good way to explain it to others and also understand what you’re going through yourself.

It’s an episode that you can hand to someone else and say, “Listen, this is what’s happening. This is what I’m trying to explain, and this is why you can’t see what I see. You can’t even believe what I’m going through. It just doesn’t affect you the way it affects me. I get it on a micro level every single day. And you, my friend or my family member, only see bits and pieces of a bigger picture and never get to see the whole picture.

Usually, I have to tell you those bits and pieces because the person that’s being abusive or difficult, won’t show you the side that they show me.” Believe me, there are a lot of people that can be very tricky.

I’m going to go over a list. I wrote down about 13 items. I’m going to go through them and help paint the picture so well, that someone who has no idea or can’t see what you are experiencing and can’t even understand what you’re experiencing, will hopefully understand after this episode is done. If you’re ready, let’s do this.

  1. The emotionally abusive person is often charming, genuine, and honest.

To others, they appear to be very, very honest, and very caring and very giving and very supportive, and very charitable. I was talking to a friend yesterday who said her mom was evil at home but would knit things for others outside the home and show up as the most kind, caring, loving person to everyone else. If you’ve ever read celebrity autobiographies, they talk about how their dad was a very famous person, and my mom was a very famous person. She was so kind and caring and happy outside the home, but when she came home, she abused us. We hear these stories.

You’ll see that with famous people and non-famous people alike, but it’s interesting how many people show up in the world in a certain way. Then at home, not only are they different, even though we all show up a little bit differently at home, they are opposite of kind and caring and supportive and nice.

The emotionally abusive person is often all of these wonderful things outside the home, which is why it’s easy to make friends with them. It’s a lot easier to be friends with a narcissist than to be in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, that’s for sure. Friends are treated wonderfully, and their partners are treated awfully.

That’s Number 1. They’re often charming, genuine, and honest to people outside in the outside world, but manipulative and hurtful to the person they’re in the relationship with.

2. The emotionally abusive person will say things like, “This is what I have to put up with.” Or they’ll say, “You see what I mean? You see what I’m dealing with?” They will describe their victim’s behavior as irrational and overly reactive.

I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone like that, that talks about their partner or talks about a family member and says, “They always do this. They’re always oversensitive. They’re always irrational. They’re always losing it. They’re always getting mad at me.” The emotionally abusive person will say things like that.

When I say emotional abuse, that could be narcissistic abuse, or it could be someone that is verbally abusive, psychologically abusive, in many ways abusive, that makes the other person feel bad and makes the other person especially feel bad about themselves. Emotional abuse, again, is all-encompassing, but that’s why I’m making a list here.

The list is for anyone who is a friend or family member or professional in the victim’s life that needs to understand what the victim is going through. I’m using the term “victim” for lack of a better term right now, just the recipient of emotional abuse. Not that I just want to label everyone a victim and everyone an emotional abuser. It’s not about that. I’m just trying to make it easier to talk about this.

Number 2 on this list, in which the emotionally abusive person will say things like, “This is what I have to put up with. You see what I mean, you see what I’m dealing with.”

3. The emotionally abusive person’s bad behavior is often not seen as bad in the moment, but only seen as bad in the context of the frequency of that bad behavior.

That’s a mouthful, I know. In other words, you will hear the victim of emotional abuse tell you something that the emotionally abusive person did, and you’re likely to say, “Well, all of us might do that every now and then what’s the big deal about that?” I’ve said that before. And people have said that about me before when I was emotionally abusive, a long, long ago.

The problem is, it’s nearly impossible for the victim to convey that the behavior they described is one instance of probably hundreds or thousands of times that person did the same or similar behavior. Somebody might do something emotionally abusive. And we might look at it and say, “That’s forgivable, that’s okay, we can get past that.”

But if that was repeated at a micro level, every single day, or in different ways, all this type of emotional abuse that I’m talking about, what ends up happening is a slow, systematic breakdown of the other person, a breakdown of their self-esteem, their self-worth, their self-trust, their self-love, and their self-compassion.

Everything associated with who they are gets broken down, which is why you’ll often hear the victim of emotional abuse, say, “I feel like a shell of my former self. I came into this relationship being and feeling a certain way. And now I’m not the same person. I don’t even feel like a whole person, I feel so much weaker, I feel so much less confident. I just don’t know what’s real anymore.” You’ll hear things like this from the victim of emotional abuse.

So, Number 3, is just to remember that emotional abuse is rarely seen in the moment. It’s almost always a larger machine, systematically breaking down the other person. Emotional abuse is that big umbrella that encompasses many, many components of breaking down someone else, of hurting them, making them feel bad, and making them feel guilty. We’re going to get into that, too.

4. The victim will appear to be losing their mind, going crazy, or have trouble conveying what’s happening to them.

You need to watch this if you knew someone for a long time, then they got into a relationship, and it seemed like they were slowly losing their mind. It may seem that they’re going crazy, they’re pulling their hair out, or they’re confused. Especially if they can’t figure out how to tell you what’s happening to them and especially if they’re pointing out certain behaviors in their partner, a family member, or a friend that you can’t see yourself, they might be the victim of emotional abuse.

It’s good for you to be aware of this from an outside perspective, and what to look for. Again, this episode is specifically for those that need this outside perspective and need a heads up on what this abuse looks like from the outside when they don’t see it happening, and the effects of it.

You just want to look for those who don’t appear to be themselves anymore. If they’re in a relationship, there’s a huge cause of concern there because the other person may be doing bad behavior. So, look for that, if your friend or family member appears to be losing their mind, going crazy, or have trouble conveying what’s happening to them. It may not be a chemical imbalance in them; it could be what their relationship is doing to them.

5. Emotional abuse is often a slow process of continuous emotional jabbing.

It’s not quick, it’s not specific, and it’s not measurable. It’s like watching the leaves change in the winter. You’ll never perceive the changing color of a leaf, but in a few days or weeks, you’ll notice how it’s deteriorating. I want you to look at the emotional abuse victim like that.

I asked this earlier: Is the person you know still the same person in front of you that you’ve always known? Or, have they been slowly deteriorating and getting more irritable, more sensitive, and more desperate to express something, but can’t figure out how? When you see these changes in people, it may not be something that they’re aware is going on.

As an outside observer, if there is someone in their life, especially if it’s someone fairly new, and you haven’t seen this victim-type behavior before that I’m describing in this person, then you might be seeing the onset of the symptoms. That helps you determine what might be going on.

6. The emotional abuser is capable of getting therapists, counselors, and other professionals to side with them.

This isolates the victim even further. I can attest to this from the emotionally abusive side. When I was married and I was engaging in emotionally abusive behavior, I actually did want to change. I talked about this in other episodes. If the emotional abuser has access to empathy, and actually feels bad when the other person feels bad, they are capable of healing and changing. It takes a lot of steps. It takes a lot of healing. It’s a lot to get through, but it is definitely possible and probable, they just have to do the work.

When I was married, we were going to therapy, mainly because of my emotional abuse, the therapist didn’t know that, and my wife didn’t know that. I didn’t even know that term back then. I was causing my wife to feel guilty a lot. During the therapy session, I noticed the therapist starting to take my side on things and I realized how convincing I was.

Even then, even in my unhealed state, my emotionally abusive state, I realized that this was wrong. That was probably one of the first steps I took into taking bigger steps into my healing, to wanting to learn more about what I was doing that was causing my wife to feel so bad all the time.

When the therapist said something to my wife that made it sound like we were both ganging up on her, I actually came to my wife’s defense and said, “Wait, wait, wait. It doesn’t necessarily mean that, or I don’t necessarily want to convey that myself.” I forget what I said, but it felt bad. I could see my wife feeling defeated and I didn’t like that.

Fortunately, I caught that, and we decided not to go to that therapist anymore. I realized there was a ganging up even though he was a nice guy and he was doing his best, but I was able to get him to side with me. I was able to get him to see the logic of my arguments, and that’s dangerous.

I didn’t like that at all. I actually wanted to heal, I actually wanted to get into a better space in my own mind and get out of the emotional abuse cycle. Again, I didn’t call it that back then, but it helped me understand that even the people that have been educated, learning how to communicate, looking for manipulative language, looking for unhealthy ways that people talk back and forth and how people convey information, even they couldn’t catch this.

Even now, there are so many professionals that are not skilled in this area. Looking for this type of abusive behavior or seeing the symptoms, which is one of the reasons for this show, and which is one of the major reasons for this particular episode, is to hopefully convey information that sticks with you.

You can tell what might be happening and what the other person is going through so that you can make decisions based on better information instead of making assumptions. Instead of just thinking, I don’t see that in that person. I don’t know what you see, but apparently, you’re going crazy. Hopefully, it doesn’t ever lead to that outcome. It’s really good to know these symptoms and the signs so that you don’t get sucked into the entire manipulative game. 

Number 6, again, the emotional abuser is capable of getting therapists, counselors, and other professionals to side with them, which isolates the victim even further. They’re also capable of getting the victim’s friends to side with them. In other words, the victim’s own friends will tend to believe the emotional abuser over their own friend, which is a very scary thing. 

I went through this in my very first relationship. My girlfriend had a best friend and her best friend liked me and believed me over her own friend. I could only see that now. I just thought that because I was a great guy and I thought I was charming. I thought it was all those things until I started learning about myself. I lost a lot of relationships because of who I was and how I showed up.

I look back at who I was and think, ‘oh, I was being emotionally abusive. I was being Mr. Nice Guy outside of the relationship, but not so nice inside the relationship.’ I didn’t show up as evil or sinister or anything like that. But I had the behaviors of an emotional abuser, and especially the behavior of making her feel guilty a lot. That kept her in a certain place in my life.

I kept several women in my life in a certain place by making them feel guilty and used their empathy against them. We’re going to get into that as well. But that’s Number Six. Friends and family and professionals that are connected to both the emotional abuser and the victim will start seeing what the emotionally abusive person wants them to see.

The emotional abuser wants them to see bad things in the victim; to point the finger at the victim and to make them think that the victim is causing the problems. So just watch for that.

7. The emotionally abusive person often comes up with reasonable solutions that have very selfish outcomes.

This is often seen in divorces where the emotional abuser comes up with what looks like a win-win solution, but it’s really just the start of a more selfish plan to crush the victim and benefit themselves.

My favorite example of this is when my girlfriend and her ex-husband were getting divorced. I didn’t know her then, but she told me the story. He was very emotionally abusive and sexually abusive and other abusive ways in their relationship. He said when they were getting divorced, “Let’s not get lawyers, it will cost us both way too much. Let’s just work this out for ourselves.”  He sounded genuine; he sounded caring. He sounded like he had her best interest in mind, and she went along with it.

She said, “Okay, that sounds great. Maybe this will be amicable. Maybe this will go along just fine. Maybe he’s finally settling into the fact that we’re not going to be able to save this marriage. Great. Let’s just work this out in a friendly way. And part our ways.” And she fell for it.

The first thing he did after she agreed to that was got the most cutthroat, aggressive lawyer he could find to bury her. And then she had to come up with a whole ton of money. She ended up having to sell her house and move out of her house within two days. It nearly destroyed her because he went after her with everything, after sounding so nice and kind and supportive.

She told me that after that, and many other examples of being what appeared to be kind or supportive, she said, “Every time he was nice to me, I knew he was ready to throw a brick at me.” That really highlighted her life. From that point on until everything settled down, which is now.

Everything’s settled down now and everything’s fine between them, at least they get along, they share a son together. They’ve worked things out and they get along as well as two people can get along that have to share a son, but she takes no crap from him. That’s how empowered she became after she was a shell of her former. She was a wreck, a complete wreck. Her life was a disaster. She found good supportive people that helped to empower her and helped her get back on her feet.

She also decided that she wasn’t going to take that kind of behavior anymore. Now that she knew what he does, she said, “I’m not taking his crap anymore.” She used more explicit words, but she said, “I’m not going to take it anymore.” Now she stands up for herself and she won’t take it and she has no problem hanging up on him if he becomes a jerk, and she has no problem being in control of her life, and not letting him control her life.

That’s a whole separate episode altogether, but I convey that story because it’s important to know that the emotional abuse will often be very kind, very supportive, but it’s usually to benefit themselves, and probably, for lack of a better term, crush their victim.

8. The victim will often feel guilty for what they are doing in the relationship when in reality, they’re probably doing nothing wrong.

They’re made to feel guilty through empathy manipulation. In other words, EAs will take advantage of their victim’s empathy and utilize their easy ability to feel guilty to keep that victim under control. They’ll say things like, “Why would you do this to our children?” or, “why would you hurt me like that? How could you say I cheated on you, when you go out with your friends once a week? And you tell me all these guys or girls” (or whoever they’re attracted to) “that you’re talking to, I never once asked if you cheated on me”.

Do you see what they did there? They redirected; they put the focus back on the victim.

9. Emotional abusers will often accuse the victim of doing the bad behavior that they themselves are doing just to redirect the focus back onto the victim.

The victim will want to defend themselves and the abuser will do all they can to keep the focus on the victim. Number 8, the victim often feels guilty for things that the emotional abuser is telling them that they’re doing or convincing them that they’re doing. What the abuser is doing is taking advantage of their empathy and manipulating it. As long as they’re feeling guilty, then the focus is on them.

If you feel guilty for something that I said that you did, you’re going to want to defend yourself most likely and you’re going to want to convince the other person that you didn’t mean it or you didn’t do it, or you want to fix it, and all the focus will be on you. When that happens, then the attention is taken away from the emotional abuser’s bad behavior. That’s what will often happen.

The emotional abuser will make the person feel guilty and they’ll keep the focus on that person just to redirect so that the focus won’t be on themselves. Of course, as a victim, they’ll want to defend themselves and the emotional abuser will do all they can to keep that focus on them, keep them defending themselves.

If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you probably find that you defend yourself a whole lot. That’s exactly where they want you to be. We have four more.

10. The emotional abuser will always do their best to convince you that it’s all the other person’s fault.

They don’t take responsibility. They don’t accept fault. They only point out whose fault it is, but never their own. The victim will almost always take some blame or responsibility. This is a really huge sign when you see this. It’s when you see one person taking some responsibility, some blame or all of it, and the other person taking no blame, no responsibility.

A person taking the responsibility will say something like, “I had something to do with this, too, is partly my fault.” They may also say, “Yes, I play a role in this as well. So, I feel bad, and I definitely want to fix things. I want to help my partner fix things or, I know I could have shown up better or been more supportive.”

You typically don’t hear the abuser do that. The abuser is too busy convincing you that the other person is at fault, whereas the other person, the victim of emotional abuse, will take some responsibility, almost always, because they’re empathetic. Because they take some responsibility, they will probably feel guilty.

The emotional abuser isn’t accessing their empathy if they even have empathy. They definitely don’t feel guilty because they’re redirecting, because all they want you to do is be convinced that the other person is at fault. They are very convincing, unfortunately. Just remember that the emotional abuser almost never takes blame or responsibility.

In fact, I’ve never heard my girlfriend’s ex-husband, say, “I’m sorry. Oh, that was my fault. I did that.” I never heard him say that when things were clearly his fault. I’ve never even heard him say, “Are you okay?” When someone got hurt around him.

I’m not trying to paint a bad picture of him. They’re not married anymore, and I’m not here to bad mouth anyone. I’m just giving you my own personal experience with him that I have not seen behavior that a typical empathetic person would show.

That’s important when you don’t hear these very normal comments that somebody might make. If you hurt yourself or they did something and they don’t take responsibility for it, they don’t take the blame or even say, “Oh, yeah, that was my bad.” I never hear anything like that. That is very common in an emotionally abusive person.

Again, emotional abusers can consist of narcissistic people, sociopathic people, people with antisocial personality disorder, psychologically abusive people, verbally abusive people, and psychological and verbal and narcissistic abuse. They mostly mean the same thing. It’s just good to remember that there are a lot of terms under the umbrella term, “emotional abuse.” That’s why I use the term emotional abuse as it covers all those labels.

11. The victim will always be questioning the right course of action to take.

They become less sure of themselves and less trusting in their own decisions. That’s really good to know. If you know someone really well and they start changing in front of you, and they’re starting to question their own course of action, they become less secure in themselves, less trusting of their own decisions, they can’t trust their instincts, they’re highly doubtful of their own thoughts. They’re highly doubtful of what is real even, then you have to look at their relationships. You have to see the people they’re surrounding themselves with.

Is it their new partner, or their partner of five years? You notice your friend or your family member slowly degrade, and you think that it’s all inside them. But really, they’re in an environment that’s very toxic. You want to look for that kind of stuff. The idea that a person that you know well who was probably more confident, more secure, felt more worthy, felt like they can take on the world suddenly shifts, and they’re feeling the opposite. Look at their relationships.

12. The emotional abuser will say there is nothing wrong in the relationship while the victim will be so busy trying to make the relationship better or right.

I see this over and over again. The emotional abuser, the narcissist will say something like, “It’s not me, it’s her”, or “it’s not me, it’s him.  I don’t see anything wrong in the relationship. They’re the one with the problem.” This leads right into the next one in our list.

13. The relationship seems one-sided.

When one person has no problem and the other person has lots of issues, there’s almost always emotional abuse going on. That’s a huge, huge sign. If you see that kind of behavior – if you hear someone saying: “It’s not me, it’s them. It’s all them. I think the relationship is perfect, they’re the one with the issue, ” – you’re probably dealing with an emotionally abusive situation there. Because there’s a partnership there, there should be some equality there.

There should be responsibility for each role in the relationship, and we’re both working to make things better. If there’s someone that says, “Well, I have no problem with the relationship,” then what they’re doing is pushing everything onto the other person for them to deal with, for them to fix, which they can’t, at least not alone, and for them to take the brunt of the responsibility.

Again, the emotional abuser is not going to take responsibility. If they say, “Oh, yes, there’s a problem in the relationship,” that actually implies there’s a sense of responsibility, that they are part of the solution, whereas they don’t see themselves as part of the problem, therefore, they’re not part of the solution. They don’t want to involve themselves in fixing the relationship, so they don’t. There’s often emotional abuse associated with that kind of attitude.

That is the list. That is a very, very small number of items, when I could expand this to over hundreds. I can expand this to include many more signs and symptoms, from an outsider’s perspective on what to look for, but these are some major ones.

One of the reasons I created this episode today is because my girlfriend and I were talking with a friend last night who went to a narcissistic abuse support group. One of the things they talked about is when the victim of narcissistic or emotional abuse goes to an attorney to get a divorce, many attorneys don’t understand the nature of emotional abuse, and they won’t know what they’re dealing with. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with, who the other person is.

If you’re going through a divorce or you have an attorney and you’re dealing with an ex or someone that you’re trying to distance yourself from, then it’s important for them to know what emotional abuse is from an outsider’s perspective. If they understand what it is from that outsider’s perspective, then they are better equipped when they have to deal with this clever, manipulative person. If you’re a therapist, if you’re an attorney, if you’re a plumber, if you’re any professional that was asked to listen to this episode, and you have any questions about emotional abuse, feel free to reach out to me and I will answer those questions to the best of my ability to help you understand what you might be dealing with.

If you’re on the receiving end of emotional abuse, you may want to give this episode to someone so that they can understand what you’re going through. I wish you a lot of strength, a lot of determination, a lot of courage, and a lot of self-love, self-compassion, and know that you are worthy and that you are worth fighting for. You are worth standing up for, and yes, you have a battle ahead of you if you have to deal with somebody that’s emotionally abusing you.

Everyone I’ve talked to who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship and decided to move on, that decided to divorce, had a hard time. I should say almost everyone had a hard time, but they all got through it. Whether you stay in your relationship or not, there is a way through it and there is a way out of it. There is a finality to it all and there is closure. There’s a lot of negative emotional residue because of what you went through, but there is eventual closure, the darkness will become light again, the fog will lift.

No matter what, keep listening to this show and/or reading these articles. Keep learning all you can if you decide to stay in the relationship. If you want to save the relationship, make sure the person that you’re in a relationship with wants the same. If they don’t want the same, then don’t try too hard because they’re not trying at all. And you’re worth more than that.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Paul Colaianni is a Behavior and Relationship Coach, and the host of The Overwhelmed Brain and Love and Abuse podcasts.

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Paul Colaianni

You are amazing Angel. Thank you for sharing this.

Tammy Sofianos

I have just sat and cried through this .. Thankyou .❤️ For this insight!
As least once I’ve found my voice.
I can communicate clearer now .

Paul Colaianni

Sorry you can relate to this, but I’m glad you can use it as a resource. I wish you much strength and healing for whatever you’re going through.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x