emotional abuser

What The Emotional Abuser Knows That We Don’t And How It Can Hurt Us

Part 2 of the Blog Series: Can We Stop Emotional Abuse?

In Part 1 of the Nicola Method Blog series Can We Stop Emotional Abuse we took a look at the mechanics of emotional abuse. We discovered that the pattern of behavior that abusers use to try to hurt others is actually the same pattern of behavior that we all use when we are not feeling psychologically strong.

This pattern is a coping mechanism that helps us feel better when we are not feeling brave enough to face our weaknesses or faults. When we don’t feel strong enough to face our faults, our brain takes over and without our conscious awareness begins to rearrange the facts so we can blame others for our deficiencies. As long as there is no one around, we can make ourselves feel better without harming anyone else. But when others are in the picture, this form of blame-shifting can become a destructive habit.

We looked at the reasons why we don’t recognize the abuser’s behavior as a common defense mechanism we all use occasionally. We found that it was because most of us engage in blame-shifting in small ways. With minor blame-shifting, we may irritate or annoy others when we try to act like it’s their fault instead of ours, but usually no real harm is done. An emotional abuser may chronically engage in blame-shifting. They also might take extreme measures in order to try to make us feel bad about ourselves so they can make themselves feel better in comparison.

With a clearer understanding of the mechanics behind blame-shifting, let’s now move on to another important aspect of emotional abuse. This perspective will provide you with your first clue to the process of disarming the defenses of the emotional abuser.

What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us

Although most people know that emotional abuse is a form of coping mechanism that insecure people use to manage their uncomfortable emotions, few of them understand how it actually works. You may have always thought emotional abuse was too psychologically complex for the average person to understand. You are about to find out that you know quite a bit more than you might think about this subject.

If we look back through our own life we will realize that almost every one of us has either experienced or witnessed emotional abuse at some point, usually beginning in our early childhood, not by adults but most commonly by other children on the schoolyard. Our familiarity from an early age with this particular behavior pattern gives us a unique vantage point from which we can easily understand the workings of these universal coping behaviors. Along with the ability to understand this behavior, we also each have the ability to use that understanding to stop emotional abuse.

In order to access the ability each of us has to stop an emotional abuser in their tracks, we must first take a look at a hidden vulnerability that lies in each of us that the emotional abuser knows about but we often don’t. It is our lack of awareness of this particular door that remains unlocked even after we think we have battened down all of our emotional hatches that lets the abuser get to us again and again. Let’s now take a look at the hidden fear that so many of us carry around but very few are aware of.

Fears of The Abuser And The Abused

Many people fail to recognize that each of us has a hidden fear. It is this fear that the abuser is trying to escape from when they attack us. This exact same fear also gets triggered in us when we are on the receiving end of the abuse. The fear you are going to be learning about could be labeled insecurity about what others think about us. It is a fear of negative judgment from others.

Most of us are aware that abusers are highly insecure around what others think about them. The truth is that we all share this fear to some extent. We all worry about what others will think about us and whether we will be socially accepted by our peers. When an emotional abuser wants to feel more socially powerful, they can easily prey on our unconscious fears about what others will think of us.

Although it may look from the outside as though the abuser is telling us what they don’t find acceptable, what they are really implying behind the insults and put-downs is that others will not find us acceptable. Our fear about what others will think about us is our true weak spot, not necessarily what the abuser thinks of us. Let’s take a quick look at how this dynamic plays out in real life.

An abuser may say that they don’t find us intelligent. What they really want us to believe is that no one will think we are intelligent enough to be part of the group. Our hidden fear of rejection over not being as smart as others will be triggered even though we believe we are adequately intelligent.

An abuser may say they find us unattractive. What they really want us to believe is that no one will find us attractive. Our hidden fear of rejection over not being attractive to others will be triggered even when we feel confident in our attractiveness.

An abuser may say that they don’t find us competent. What they really want us to believe is that no one will think we are competent enough to fit in with them. Our hidden fear of rejection over not being as competent as others will be triggered even when we feel we are as competent as the next person.

When an abuser tries to make us feel bad about ourselves, they are actually trying to make us feel socially unacceptable so they can boost themselves up by feeling socially superior to us. It is the emotional abuser’s deepest fears that drive the abuse. Their fears are that no one will accept them with their faults. To ward off these fears, they will try to find faults in us so they can feel like they are more acceptable in comparison. This is the way in which abusers can successfully shift their fears of social rejection onto others.

And because of our deep fears of social rejection, criticisms and accusations that should be easily dismissed as ridiculous somehow get to us. We find ourselves feeling unnerved and shaken after an attack that we should have been able to shrug off. Let’s now take a look at why an emotional abuser is able to make even the strongest among us feel as though we have been knocked off our foundation.

The Universal Fear Of Social Rejection

You may feel perfectly secure in your relationships with others. In fact, if someone told you that you had a problem with what others think about you, you might tell them that they are talking to the wrong person. But what you may not know is that almost all cultures have rules of social behavior that protect us from having to experience this hidden fear of social rejection.

These social rules help to restrain us from saying and doing things that might make those around us feel insecure during social interactions. The rules help us to step very lightly when it comes to our negative judgment of others. Because we all share this insecurity and we all participate in protecting each other by tiptoeing carefully around negative judgment, our high level of fear of what others think remains invisible to us.

Let’s take a closer look at the social rules that protect us from hidden insecurity around the negative judgment of others.

How We Protect Others From the Fear of Social Rejection

Most of us believe that we are free to socialize with others without having to watch ourselves too closely. This is for the most part true. However, there is an interesting observation that can be made about almost any social interaction.

You will find that when it comes to talking about anything that might put another person in a negative light, we find ourselves treading very carefully. In fact, we restrict ourselves greatly when it comes to showing anything that might be interpreted as social disapproval.

Not only do we find ourselves avoiding any comments that might lead others to suspect we disapprove of them, we also take extra steps to show exaggerated approval of their beliefs and behaviors when we are socially engaged. Just like the song, we work very hard to try to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in all of our social encounters.

Although we rarely talk about this self-restrictive behavior, most of us know the reason we walk on eggshells when it comes to making others feel judged in a negative light. We may not be aware of the reason for these social rules, but we are at least aware that our relationships with others are very fragile.

We all know that even the best of friends can have a falling out over the mere suspicion of rejection. Romantic unions are actually the most susceptible to these suspicions, even after we have made formal vows of lifelong loyalty. No matter how close the relationship, we still find ourselves needing to give that extra assurance. If people fail to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, insecurity can easily get the best of us.

So how do we assure others that we have no intention of rejecting them? We constantly pepper our social interactions with smiles and verbal assurances. When people admit their weakness to us we immediately play down the negative aspects of what they are saying and play up the positive. We compliment each other regularly and are careful to steer clear of speaking about subjects that might embarrass another person. We accentuate similarities with others and sidestep differences when we are socializing.

If we make an honest assessment of our social behavior, we find that human beings need to provide each other great assurances of loyalty in order to override our natural fear of social rejection. But because social insecurity is a universal trait, we perceive exaggerated demonstrations of loyalty as normal and neutral, not as the positive behavior it really is. Because we are so used to extra nice being the norm, when we are approached with a neutral attitude, we perceive it as negative or not nice.

This can easily be demonstrated by asking a friend to withhold positive assurances for a few minutes at some random point during normal conversation with you so you can see what it feels like. You will find that even though the person was instructed only to withhold positive assurance and did not act in a negative way towards you, because we are so used to being assured, not being assured will feel negative. Because we are accustomed to people using the over-friendly approach with us, when they don’t we will find ourselves under the mistaken impression that this person is acting in a negative way towards us.

Although most of us may we feel a little bit threatened when we don’t get continual assurance, the emotional abuser will feel extremely threatened. Because of heightened insecurity, they are usually unable to cope with their fear of rejection. The normal kinds of social assurance often are not enough to calm down their fears of ridicule and humiliation. Many emotional abusers only feel comfortable when they feel socially superior to those around them.

Their attempt to make others feel bad about themselves is a form of protection. They are attempting to disable us so we cannot reject them. The way they do this is by breaking the universal social rules that say we must accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in social interaction.

In order to demonstrate how easy it is for a person to break the unspoken social rules of niceness and shake our sense of social confidence, let’s take a look at a very common social set of rules that we all follow. You will soon see how unnerving it can be when a person breaks these unspoken guidelines.

Imagine you invite a person as a guest to your home. Our unspoken rules of social conduct say we must tell the person to treat our home as though it was theirs. We are then expected to offer them the best seat in the house, and give them our finest food and drink without any expectation of repayment.

What protects us from being taken advantage of is an equally strong set of unspoken social rules on the other side of hospitality. Each of us knows that we are never to take advantage of the gracious offerings of our host. We must remain humble, careful to take only what we need.

Let’s imagine our house guest decides to break the social rules and not reciprocate nicely. They make themselves at home by spreading out on our couch, turning on our television to their favorite show and raiding our refrigerator. When they get tired they head straight to our bedroom leaving us to make other arrangements.

Because these rules are unspoken we find we cannot blame our house guest for following our suggestion. Our commitment to following the rules allows an abuser to simply not follow their part of the bargain and take complete advantage of us without having to face any consequences. As long as we continue to play fair, they can always win.

emotional abuser

How the Emotional Abuser Takes Advantage Of Our Hidden Fears

Our social insecurity and need for constant assurance allows others to shake our sense of self-worth merely by withholding that positive assurance. In other words, if another person wants to hurt us, they can do it by simply not being nice. And if a person wants to take it one step further and hurt us badly, all they need to do is say mildly uncomplimentary things to us or about us.

Because of our natural insecurity, we will experience a mildly uncomplimentary statement as a very painful attack. Due to our lack of awareness of our vulnerability in this area, we cannot tell the abuser what they have done wrong. They are able to get away with this inappropriate behavior indefinitely.

We can use a simple demonstration to show our universal vulnerability around others’ negative judgment by taking a look at the language we use when people make uncomplimentary statements about us when out of our presence. We call it back-stabbing, which is quite violent imagery for something that, objectively speaking, is not a real attack.

Being so vulnerable that even a mildly uncomplimentary comment can hurt us, at least metaphorically, almost as much as a knife wound leaves us very emotionally vulnerable. Let’s now take a look at how easy it is for the emotional abuser to prey on our natural insecurity.

When Emotional Abuse Is Invisible

Although there are many emotional abusers who openly express their disapproval at others in order to make them feel bad, there are many more who have perfected the ability to make another person feel just as bad as they would in an outright attack by barely saying a word. Because all it takes to shake our sense of social approval is the withdrawal of social niceties, the emotional abuser can inflict a great deal of pain without ever having to be held accountable.

Without the awareness of what part of us is being hurt and why we feel this pain so acutely, we find ourselves unable to describe why we are hurt, even to ourselves. Once we become aware of the unspoken social rules, we find ourselves free to make a decision on how to respond to the abuser. And once we learn the specific tactics abusers use, we come to understand how easy it is to take this weapon out of the abuser’s hands.

Bully Behavior: From The Schoolyard Into Adulthood

The reason it is easy to disarm an emotional abuser is because the tactics every abuser uses, from the schoolyard bully to the high school mean girl to abusive parents, in-laws, co-workers and spouses are all exactly the same. They are tactics that we all know very well. No matter how old or how esteemed an abuser may seem to be, you can be certain that their tactics are the very same ones you witnessed taking place in your childhood schoolyard. The words may be more sophisticated, but the tactics always remain the same.

Because emotional abusers have used the same tactics throughout recorded history and across every culture, we have a unique opportunity to closely examine this dynamic. You will find you do not need the help of experts or scientific studies in order for you to decipher this behavior pattern. Each one of us has more than enough life experience to crack the code of emotional abuse and to use that code in order to defeat it.

The Games Abusers Play

The emotional abuser, once aware of how to take advantage of our hidden social insecurities, is free to play endless power games with us. They can choose to shake our feeling of self-confidence any time they want by simply withholding positive assurances. But to make us feel really uncomfortable they can break the social rules that tell us to stay in the positive zone and hurt us deeply simply by saying uncomplimentary things about us.

Because of our lack of awareness concerning our fear of what others think of us, we often feel just as helpless as we did in our youth when we witnessed or were the object of this kind of attack from other children, when the best we could hope for was to not end up on the receiving end. And because we remain helpless, the emotional abuser is free to hurt us again and again.

Once we become aware of the rules the abuser is breaking, we find we no longer need to strictly adhere to them ourselves. Although it is not recommended that we match the abuser by turning into a fellow social outlaw, it is important, in order to stop emotional abuse, to learn how to break free of our social reflex to always back down when we experience confrontation from someone.

In order to learn how to break free of the social rules that may confine us so we can respond appropriately to an emotional attack, it is first necessary to take a closer look at our behavior pattern.

Why People Who Give Become Targets For People Who Take

When we follow the rules of social etiquette in everyday social interactions, we are expected to play a slightly submissive role with each other. Most cultures have their own form of bowing down to show we mean no harm. Whether we literally bow to each other or use other demonstrations of respect, this symbolic action or words of assurance doesn’t actually mean we think others are superior and deserve more than us. It simply demonstrates that we are not going to hurt them. This translates in the social realm to mean we will not socially reject them.

This reassurance in words or actions is a way to show we mean no harm when we engage socially. We are, in a sense, putting our hands up to demonstrate that we have no weapons to hurt others. Social etiquette in return always demands that the other person reassure us they are not going to take advantage of our lack of emotional defenses.

The emotional abuser has a unique response to our symbolic demonstration of submission. Instead of following the social rules and responding back in a submissive way, they take advantage of our hands in the air to stage what could be called an emotional hold-up. They use words and actions that show us that they agree that we are inferior, weak and defenseless. This allows them to feel superior and wards off their fears around rejection. Their response takes advantage of our show of good will, hitting us below the belt in order to claim superiority over us.

When we extend a friendly gesture and in return experience a dominant takeover, most of us are so stuck in the habit of playing nice that we don’t even consider defending ourselves. Although the abuser has no intention of playing by the rules, we continue to play by them. Every abuser knows that just like in a game of cards, when a cheater sits down with those who play fair, the cheater will always win.

In Part 3 of Can We Stop Emotional Abuse, we will be exploring the specific manner in which an emotional abuser tries to make others around them feel bad about themselves. You will learn that every insult, insinuation or outright accusation from the emotional abuser will be centered around one of seven human qualities. These qualities are what many people believe will make or break their level of social acceptance.

Once you learn how to identify these seven qualities and, more importantly, the crucial flaw in the abuser’s ability to use these qualities to try to hurt you, you will see how easy it is use that flaw to disable the emotional abuser and put an end to their destructive behavior.

If you would like to skip to the techniques that stop emotional abuse, you can move directly to that link, which will take you to Part 4 of this blog series.

If you would like to learn the Nicola Method so you can put an end to the high conflict situations you may be experiencing, click on this link to the welcome page of this website where you will find the resources you need.

If you want to try out some of the basic techniques of this method for free to see if this method is right for your situation, you can learn them from an intro guide flip-book here or a PDF version of the intro guide here.

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