the child before becoming an emotional abuser

The Emotional Abuser

We don’t start as little children wanting to be an emotional abuser. We often don’t even like how it feels to abuse. But somehow, somewhere, something happened. And now we are caught in a dynamic where we get abusive towards others, often towards those we are closest to, those with whom we are in an “attachment” relationship.

We are going to take a little journey here. Inside. How we may abuse a part of ourselves.

Let’s look at some outer dynamics first.

Susan is sometimes a big cry baby. No matter that she is in her thirties. When she gets upset, she cries. She doesn’t feel solid. She longs for someone to hold her and tell her it will be okay.

Susan’s husband Gerald HATES it when Susan cries. He will sometimes taunt her or tell her she is disgusting. This is because Gerald has big feelings that he has put away. And he doesn’t want any contact with those feelings. As a result, he falls into a category that we might call “toxic masculinity,” or what I call “fragile masculinity.”

This, you can see, is not what we would call a healthy relationship, at least not this part of Susan and Gerald’s relationship.

The Inner Child

A long, long time ago, Gerald got rid of his own inner baby. He had grown up in an environment where his needs were not seen, respected, or attended to. He lost hope that soothing would be available. So, he dug a big hole inside of himself and dumped his little self in it, and covered him over. He stepped away from those vulnerable feelings, from hopelessness and he got on with his life. Albeit, without a big part of himself.

When Susan reverts to the part of herself that can become a big baby, Gerald gets triggered. He becomes hateful. He becomes an emotional abuser.

Now, we would ask Gerald, what is he afraid of? What is that part of him afraid of – the part that emotionally abuses? 

If he were to let that part speak, he might answer, “I’m afraid I’ll be lost in hopelessness, that I will be needing what I can’t have forever. It is too painful.”

If he begins to look at this aspect of himself, he might find some empathy for the little Gerald who felt so hopeless that he got rid of part of himself and tries to kill this part in his wife Susan.

He can begin a relationship with what is known as a “disavowed” part. He can begin to integrate it and heal.

Our Structure

Trying to make our behaviors just go away won’t work. Parts don’t respond to our will. They have a life of their own and they won’t be controlled. They need to be recognized for the purpose they have in our psyches. Until that purpose is recognized and understood, until a new way of being emerges, they can’t go away. They are part of our structure, part of how we are formed.

Now let’s take a quick visit with Susan. Susan falls into helplessness because she still believes someone might save her. Someone might show up. And because she hasn’t fully developed another part that can help her find her feet. She is like the little baby bird waiting to be rescued. If we ask Susan about this part, what it wants, the crying baby might respond, “I just want to be reassured and held. I don’t know how to do this by myself.”

Her adult self could say to this part, “I’m here. You are not alone. You’ll be okay.” She can give some of her adult strength to this crying baby part.

Mending

Susan and Gerald can mend the outer relationship they have, as they do the inner work of learning to relate to the different parts of themselves. Susan needs to find more of her power and strength. Gerald needs to find the part of himself that is hopeless and give it hope. Instead of experiencing disgust and being an emotional abuser, he will eventually find that he can tolerate his own vulnerability. He will no longer drive his vulnerability away, abusing others in the process.

Note: An emotional abuser is not specific to any gender or sexual orientation.

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