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Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

Dysfunction Interrupted: Are You Building Healthy Boundaries or Emotional Walls?

SOURCE:  Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

I talk often about boundaries, the healthy need for them and how they define the ways you treat yourself as well as how you allow others to treat you. There are physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual boundaries that you develop in order to know where you stand in life in relation to yourself and others.

It has come to my attention that clients sometimes do not understand the difference between healthy boundaries and emotional walls.  Emotional walls are like boundaries on steroids. Your brain develops them in order to protect you. They are often seen as or referred to as defense mechanisms. Sometimes they are a good thing, but sometimes your brain goes overboard in its efforts to protect you. Emotional walls are not usually conscious efforts to define yourself but unconscious efforts to protect yourself. If you have these, there is nothing wrong with your brain, it is working just fine, but maybe a bit overtime.

Think reactive rather than proactive when you think of emotional walls.  An example of this would be:

You have been hurt in some way in past relationships so you begin doing things or involving yourself in activities that pretty much guarantee you will be solo. You may tell yourself you have too much to do, not enough time or some other excuse not to engage in things where you might meet someone.  You really want someone in your life but can’t see how to have that happen and not experience pain so you are essentially walling off the opportunities to meet someone.

If your basic thoughts about people are that they can’t be trusted, you may be guarded with how you share yourself. By these behaviors, you remain alone and lonely. A boundary around this topic would be allowing yourself to trust until someone has broken that trust. Your boundary would be ” I give people the benefit of the doubt but if they break my trust I am done.”  You maintain the power in that decision and allow yourself the freedom to be open to meeting others.

In an effort to protect yourself you may also come up with a definition of the perfect person for you that can never be attained. You may tell yourself this is the profile of the only person that could work out for you. You can see the problem with this as it becomes an order that can not be fulfilled. Although it is important to find a good match, it is not likely a person will be “perfect” in every way. You have built an insurmountable wall.  A healthy boundary setting for choosing a significant other would be to set guidelines pertaining to how they speak to you, how they treat you overall, spiritual, educational and political preferences and let the rest fall into place.

One of the main differences between setting boundaries and establishing emotional walls is that boundaries leave in place the opportunity for joy and for you to be in control of your life. Emotional walls, on the other hand, usually limit you in some way and reduce potential experiences and opportunities. Emotional walls make you feel like a victim of something while boundaries allow for control and freedom.

It is not to say that someone won’t break a boundary and hurt you in some way, that can always happen. The “perfect” person could also just die or be in an accident. Unfortunately, life can dole out some very nasty experiences. We really can’t protect ourselves against all of them and living in fear limits our life in many ways. It is better to develop the skill base you need to get you through those times than to live fearfully trying to protect against them.

Without the necessary skill base, you may experience emotionally painful things and not know how to come through. You may become depressed, anxious or angry and not be able to see your way clear of these negative emotions.  Not everyone learns the necessary skill bases to overcome negatives in life, many times parents don’t know how to teach these skills or the opportunity just doesn’t present itself in childhood. Sometimes there has been a very dysfunctional background that has taught dysfunctional thinking patterns that don’t allow for healing and moving on.

These can be learned. There is no need to wall yourself off from the joys of life.

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Two Traps to Avoid: “If Only” and “What If?”

SOURCE:  Susan Yates

When these issues dominate my thoughts, I succumb to selfishness and fear.

In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful. One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.

Here’s how “If only” might express itself:

  • “If only I had a husband.”
  • “If only I had more money.”
  • “If only my husband would act like…”
  • “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
  • “If only we had a different house.”
  • “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
  • “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
  • “If only I had a really close friend.”
  • “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
  • “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
  • “If only I was free of this disease.”
  • “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
  • “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
  • “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”

Can you identify? You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.

But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.

The other trap is “What if?”:

  • “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
  • “What if my husband leaves me?”
  • “What if I don’t get this raise?”
  • “What if I can’t complete this project?”
  • “What if we lose the election?”
  • “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
  • “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
  • “What if I fail?”

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.

The “What if” syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

What’s at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.

I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.

Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.

We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

Today, what is your “If only…”? What is your “What if”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”

This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.

You Need to Accept the Reality of Failure

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

”There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 GNT).

In America, failure is almost the unpardonable sin. We idolize success.

But that kind of pressure creates major stress on people. The fear of failure has many different faces. It can cause you to be indecisive, a workaholic, and a perfectionist who clings to safety. Because we’re afraid to fail, we shun all kinds of risks.

For many of us, that fear of failure has an iron grip on our hearts. Even some of the best and the brightest people in the world are the most impacted by a fear of failure.

That’s why I urge you to internalize this one simple message: We’ve all made mistakes. It’s not just a “you problem”; it’s a human problem. The Bible says, “There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 GNT).

Not only have you made mistakes in the past, but you’ll also make more in the future. I guarantee it. Even playing it safe and refusing to take risks is a mistake. As a pastor, I hear people ask all the time, “What if I fail?” I want to ask them, “What do you mean ‘if?'”

You’ve already failed many, many times in life. So have I. You’re a failure in some area of your life right now. And you’ll fail a lot more in the future.

Even superstars stumble. The greatest professional basketball players only sink half their shots. The best professional baseball players will get out two out of every three at-bats. Failure is normal.

You’ll never overcome your fear of failure until you fully accept the reality that you’re not perfect.

The Bible says there is only one failure you need to fear: “Be careful that no one fails to receive God’s grace” (Hebrews 12:15 NCV).

You need grace. We all do!

Only when we let go of the fear of failure will it let go of its maddening grip on our lives. Once that happens, we can fully accept the grace of God

Addressing the Fear of Confronting a Toxic Person

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

The following was written to address general unsafe behavior and may not be applicable for situations where abuse is/was present. If you have been in a relationship where abuse was present, please seek the help of a counselor and/or law enforcement.

As any psychologist will tell you, fear is stronger when we fear becoming afraid. This is called fear of fear. Suppose you need to confront a toxic person about their attitude, but you’re afraid they might retaliate. So you stay happy and positive on the outside but remain dissatisfied on the inside.

The longer you ignore the fear, the more you will activate it. And since the fear is associated with an uncomfortable outcome, having it burrow around in your mind naturally gives you an uncomfortable feeling. Eventually, you learn to avoid thinking about the fearful situation so you won’t have to keep feeling the fear. And the more you avoid feeling that fear, the more afraid of it you become. It’s a vicious cycle, and it doesn’t help you reach freedom and fulfillment you desire for your life.

If you’re experiencing this downward spiral, begin allowing yourself to tolerate fear. Let yourself feel the anxiety and scared feelings you have about the wrath of this toxic person. The more you do this, the more you will realize that things might get unpleasant, but you can make it through their anger.

Another aspect of fear is that the less control and power you feel, the greater the fear. Fear is a danger signal. It says, “Protect yourself! Run!” And if you don’t feel any sense of control or power over your life and choices, you experience yourself as powerless, unsafe and vulnerable. You are at the mercy of the danger, and you can’t protect yourself. It’s a horrible feeling, and it gives fear a strength it shouldn’t have.

The antidotes are to see the reality that you are not helpless. You have choices, all the choices that a mature adult has. You’re not someone’s slave, victim or little child. You can relate to them, talk to them as an adult, and if you have to, protect yourself from any toxicity that might be thrown at you. Remind yourself that you have choices. This will give you access to all the control and power that you need.

Not Even Cancer Can Separate You From God’s Love

SOURCE:  What Cancer Cannot Do, published by Zondervan

 

Leave it in God's hands, for He is in control.
Down to Our Hair

Two weeks from the day I had my first infusion of chemo, my hair fell out. I had been warned, of course. But secretly I cherished the hope that my thick locks would defy the statistics, clinging to my scalp despite the red stuff dripping into my veins.

A volunteer barber at the hospital had suggested that if I shampooed less often and used a wide-toothed comb, I would keep my hair. I tried both. But when I began shedding like an unkempt dog all over my pajamas, pillows, and bathroom floor, I recognized the inevitable. I called a friend from work who suggested clipping my hair back to two inches so that going bald would be less traumatic. She came to my hospital room and began buzzing.

The snappy do lasted about two days. One morning in the shower, I watched in horror as water washed off shampoo, and clumps of hair that gathered around my feet. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were stray wisps and a shiny scalp. I was undeniably, irrefutably bald. And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

Samson woke up one morning minus his hair and his strength and all sense of control. Perhaps we feel a bit like that as well when we first confront our naked scalps. We can’t trust our bodies anymore, we can’t trust our strength. We can’t even trust hair to grow on our head.

But we can trust God.

Because no matter what happens to us, God, the creator and ruler of the universe, the one who made the great creatures of the deep and flung stars all over the heavens, is in control. He controls the tides of the oceans and the wind in the trees. He controls the tiny little birds that ride the colors of dawn.

We need not be afraid of what is happening to us because God is in control.

He is so in control that, as Luke 12:7 tells us, He counts the very hairs of our head. Imagine that!

Every hair that washes down the drain the morning you go bald has God’s number on it. Every wisp that straggles upward from your scalp after treatment ends has God’s number on it.

If God cares that much about the hair on your head, you can trust that He cares for you. And nothing — not even cancer — can separate you from His loving control.

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Doubt not His grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that He loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in of happiness. ~ Charles Spurgeon

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever. — Isaiah 40:6, Isaiah 40:8

He watches us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under His control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father. ~ The Belgic Confession, Article 13

The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them. ~ Bernard M. Baruch

I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.  ~ Martin Luther

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Excerpted with permission from What Cancer Cannot Do: Stories of Hope and Encouragement, copyright Zondervan.

Embracing Anxiety to Exterminate Anxiety

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge It’s estimated that 40 million people experience anxiety, and when our minds go into fight-flight response, the body is protecting itself from perceived danger.

Solution We don’t have to let our overeager fight-or-flight instinct rule our every response, and by forcing it to take the back-seat, we regain a little more control over our lives.

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The chills are eating me from the inside-out. I can barely feel my hands, gripped tight to the steering wheel as they are, and what I can feel is coated with clammy perspiration. My heart is racing in a flurry of shuddering beats. Instead of being warmed by the heat blasting from the vents in my car, cold blankets my skin, and I might as well have been exposed to the elements in the thick of winter. Blinking twice, I remind myself that I’m not dying — yet.

Driving somewhere new. Going to an interview. Calling a business on the phone. Meeting new people. They can all make my hands shake and my skin crawl. The anxiety wells up like blood in a fresh cut and spills over into my whole body, paralyzing my senses and making it difficult to talk, and even walk.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health[1], anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Myself, and an estimated 40 million other people, live a not insignificant amount of our lives in a state of mortal panic.

Anxiety is the “fight-or-flight” reflex[2] built into our physiological systems. This means that, when we’re anxious, our fight-or-flight response charges our metabolism and prepares us for what has been deemed the inevitable: an all-out battle, or a mad dash. This is one of those adaptations that seems beneficial to other mammals, but humans? Personally, I don’t have to literally fight for my life with any regularity.

Anxiety may be our fight-or-flight response, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it be our only response, nor must we be defeated by its chilly grip. In fact, engaging that chilly grip is one method of — believe it or not — extinguishing it. I may not be able to escape my anxiety, but by embracing it I have a chance to let it exist without owning my existence. As my hands begin to shake and my palms sweat, rather than turn a blind eye to my body’s reaction and let it run its wild course, I take the chance to step back and observe its approach.

As the cold takes over I allow myself to mentally take flight, observing my physical reactions to insignificant stimuli with interest and curiosity. When anxiety sets your heart racing, don’t simply ignore that absurd cadence. Instead, stare it down, consider it, mull over why your body is responding in such a way, and understand that its response is out of proportion to the situation. The physical feelings of anxiety tend to ebb and flow differently for every person. Figuring out the when, how, and why of your overwhelming anxiety is the first step to embracing it — and then, ultimately, to exterminating it.

By understanding your body, you give your mind the chance to take back control, and when your mind comprehends the situation, your emotions inevitably will follow suit. You may not be facing a literal lion when your anxiety kicks in, but that anxiety itself may be the real lion. By acknowledging its existence and giving the physiology behind it a nod, you can conquer one side of your anxiety disorder. Anxiety often plays off of uncertainty, and by being certain that you don’t need to be anxious you can help to lessen its damaging- and deeply uncomfortable- physical effects.

The next time your body thinks it needs to fight or fly, embrace that instinct. When I do that, my mind stays in control, my emotional state doesn’t waver, and eventually, my anxiety subsides.

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

SOURCE:  Justin and Lindsey Holcomb/familylife.com

Editor’s note: Although this excerpt is addressed to women, we know domestic abuse happens to both men and women. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek godly counsel from your pastor or a counselor. Depending on your particular situation, you may also need to seek legal protection and make a safety plan. For a more complete exploration of what Scripture has to say about abuse, please read the Holcombs’ entire book, Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you.

When the abuse first begins, many women in abusive relationships aren’t sure if what they are experiencing is abusive. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to addressing domestic violence is that very few victims self-identify as experiencing abuse. Many think abuse happens to “those women” and don’t want to have the stigma of being one of “those women.”

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is living in fear of your spouse. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells around him—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blowup—your relationship is unhealthy and likely abusive. Other signs include your spouse’s belittling of you, his attempts to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you. He may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial, blame, and more. What’s more, he is often creative and strategic in when—and how—to put these to their most effective use.

None of this is your fault. Your abuser is the only one to blame.

And because he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing.

If this is where you find yourself right now, here are some ways to discern if your relationship is abusive.

What the abuser does: eight common profiles

Some abuse victims may be so confused by the relational dynamics in their relationship—understandably so—that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers—and recognizing their partner among them.

Since abuse is defined by an abuser’s behavior—not yours—we’ll start with identifying just that. Here are eight categories or personas abusers commonly exhibit:

  1. Bully
    • Glares
    • Shouts
    • Smashes things
    • Sulks
  2. Jailer
    • Stops you from working and seeing friends
    • Tells you what to wear
    • Keeps you in the house
    • Charms your friends and family
  3. Head worker
    • Puts you down
    • Tells you you’re too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless, etc.
  4. Persuader
    • Threatens to hurt or kill you or the children
    • Cries
    • Says he loves you
    • Threatens to kill himself
    • Threatens to report you to social services
  5. Liar
    • Denies any abuse
    • Says it was “only” a slap
    • Blames drinking, drugs, stress, overwork, you, unemployment, etc.
  6. Bad father
    • Says you are a bad mother
    • Turns the children against you
    • Uses access to harass you
    • Threatens to take the children away
    • Persuades you to have “his” baby then refuses to help you care for it
  7. King of the castle
    • Treats you as a servant/slave
    • Says women are for sex, cooking, and housework
    • Expects sex on demand
    • Controls all the money
  8. Sexual controller
    • Sexually assaults you
    • Won’t accept no for an answer
    • Keeps you pregnant
    • Rejects your advances and allows sex only when he wants it rather than when you initiate

Belittling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Yell at you?
  • Embarrass, insult, criticize you, call you names, or put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your family or friends to see?
  • Put you down, but then tells you that he loves you?
  • Ignore or belittle your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for his abusive behavior?
  • Use any mistakes you made in the past against you?
  • Not allow you to disagree?
  • Ignore your feelings and ideas?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, tell you it is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Controlling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Act excessively jealous or possessive?
  • Withhold affection as a way to punish you?
  • Control where you go, what you do, and demand your whereabouts?
  • Keep you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)?
  • Make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Restrict you to an allowance?
  • Prevent you from working or sabotage your job?
  • Steal from you or take your money?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Control your plans and friends?
  • Stop you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Force you to drop charges?

Violent behavior or threats

Does your spouse:

  • Hit, kick, slap, choke, burn, shove, shake, drag, bite, push, punch, or physically harm you in any other way?
  • Throw things at you?
  • Have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Destroy your property or belongings?
  • Threaten to kill your pet?
  • Force, threaten, or coerce you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?

Three kinds of abuse

There are different kinds of abuse but all of them are wrong. To help you take inventory of your unique situation, let’s consider three different kinds of abuse:

Physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. This means using physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. And you have the right to protect yourself and your children, if you have them.

Sexual
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual assault includes rape, but it also includes coercion, intimidation, or manipulation to force unwanted sex. We define sexual assault as any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Sexual assault is a display of power by the perpetrator against the victim. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. In fact, it is not actually about sex at all; it is about violence and control. Perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons to dominate, control, and belittle another person.

If you feel as though you are being pressured into sex or that you are doing something that you do not want in order to placate your spouse, then let us tell you now that your feelings are valid and that it is abuse.

Emotional
Most people can identify physical abuse—pushing, hitting, kicking—if it is happening in their relationship. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is not always so easily spotted.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and easier to minimize what’s really going on. It doesn’t leave you bleeding or bruised. The neighbors can’t hear it (not always) through the walls. But emotional abuse is no less destructive than physical abuse, and it is no less wrong.

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—a violent process, in that it degrades you and your sense of God-given worth. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you will have nothing.

So how can you identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse? There are several ways. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes, abusers throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

Emotional abuse also includes economic abuse such as withholding money and basic necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money.

These are just some examples. But if you don’t see your particular experience listed here, use this as a general guide: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Your thoughts and feelings

The descriptions above are focused on your spouse’s behavior, which are all the telltale signs of abuse. These next questions are for you—to determine how you feel regarding this behavior. The more “yes” answers here, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your spouse most of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel afraid of your spouse’s temper?
  • Feel afraid to disagree?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your spouse?
  • Believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Have to justify everything you do, every place you go, every person you talk to in order to avoid your spouse’s anger?
  • Feel afraid to leave or break up because your spouse has threatened to hurt you, himself, or someone else?
  • Avoid seeing family or friends because of your spouse’s jealousy?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Reflect on your spouse’s abusive behavior. Do you see him in these descriptions? Can you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently toward you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect?

Take a look at your own experience to get clarity on your situation. Our hope is that as we spell out the nuances of what you may be experiencing, you will be able to call it what it is, plain and simple—abuse.

 

 

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