Understanding What Drives Emotional Abuse

Making Others Walk on Eggshells

Emotional abuse is by far the most widespread form of abuse in the world. Sadly, it’s also the most accepted one.

Far too many people are familiar with situations where they had or still have to walk on eggshells. Situations where others—at home, at work/school—manipulated them or others into submission or compliance. Holding those under their control captive by making them feel unheard, unseen, unattractive, and unworthy.

To understand what drives emotional abuse, consider some of the tactics the abuser will often resort to in order to gain and hold on to this power.

Verbal Emotional Abuse

Minimizing – Rather than denying what they have done, the abuser downplays incidents, making it seem like their victim is exaggerating or their perception of the situation is faulty. “Oh, stop blowing things out of proportion,” or “You’re way too sensitive,” are often reactions to minimize the offense.

Aggressing – Name-calling, criticizing, blaming, or accusing are all forms of this judgmental tactic. More subtle forms may be dictating by seemingly offering advice or showing that they are better at analyzing a situation intellectually and are the one who will be making the decisions. It aims to invalidate the other person’s thoughts and ideas.

Terrorizing – The abuser creates stress and fear by intimidating or threatening the victim. They may never go through with their threats, but through terrorizing they maintain control. Children, in particular, can also easily be terrorized by witnessing violence, such as against one of their parents.

Rejecting  Making a person feel like they have no worth by denying them their needs. An abuser often does this verbally, such as saying to their partner, “I have no idea why I’m even with someone as stupid as you,” or to a child, “I don’t know how you could be my child.” But rejection can also happen silently (as do other tactics, noted next) by simply showing contempt.

Silent Emotional Abuse

Ignoring – Not all emotional abuse involves verbal aggression. Some abusers just disengage, dismissing the other person with, “Just do what you want and leave me alone.” Frequently using this tactic as a form of punishment, they may give their partner the cold shoulder, refusing to speak or acting as if they’re not in the room.

Stonewalling – Another tactic is to refuse to accept the perspective of anyone else. The abuser may not openly put their victims down, but they usually stonewall them by refusing to listen or take their point of view into consideration. Similar to the previous tactic, this is often used as a means to punish.

Isolating – Either through threats, manipulation or acting as if they suddenly can’t live without the other person’s presence, the abuser keeps them from engaging with family or friends. For children, this can have especially devastating and long-lasting consequences, since it generally leads to big problems in their social development.

Blaming Others for Feeling Bad

As mentioned at the outset, an emotional abuser’s goal is to gain control over others. Are they psychopathic, or why do they have this need?

Typically, what drives emotional abuse begins with a person feeling inadequate, angry, or worried about failure. Instead of addressing, or even admitting, their inner turmoil and fears, they turn to blaming someone else. “You’ve pushed my buttons,” or “I’m just human, I overreact… but look what you did, too!”

In essence, they’re saying, “I’m feeling bad, and it’s all your fault!”

And since they’re feeling like the victim, they justify their abuse of others as just protecting themselves.

However, their strategy of trying to control their surroundings to avoid feelings of inadequacy and failure doesn’t work. It’s because the problem lies within them. And as long as they blame others, their deep-seated anxiety never gets resolved.

To truly address what drives emotional abuse in their case, they must be honest with themselves. Only facing the real issues will bring relief—for them and those who suffer from their abuse. Seeking out professional support is a step in the right direction.