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Dealing With Your Abuser: When Words Won't Work

Dealing With Your Abuser: When Words Won't Work

The learned fool writes his nonsense in better language than 
the unlearned, but it is still nonsense. -Benjamin Franklin

by Dr. Irene

Updated May 7, 2ooo

"How To Deal With An Abuser Without Getting Defensive" teaches victims to stop defending themselves verbally, a variation of approval-seeking - and begin to take responsibility for themselves. For example, in response to "You're too sensitive," the victim might answer, "Yes. Respect it." instead of "No I'm not...explanation, explanation." 

Not defending yourself verbally is about disengaging. You take responsibility for yourself when you don't allow the other person to push your buttons and "make you" react. No one "makes you" do anything! You react because you haven't yet cultivated more effective, verbal and cognitive skills. 

When someone "pushes your buttons," they have simply extended you an invitation to participate in an interaction. Plainly, they've baited you! But you don't have to buy into it. Disengage! Ellis and Lange's How To Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons, is a wonderful book that systematically teaches you how to disengage.

There are times words won't work/are not appropriate: 

bulletwhen your situation is dangerous
bulletwhen you haven't yet developed the right underlying attitude and skills to pull it off
bulletwhen your situation is too far gone. 

Clearly, if you are in any kind of physical danger, do not incite your abuser by standing up to him or her verbally. Have a safety plan prepared ahead of time if you have fear or there is any history of violence. (Better safe than sorry!)

Words won't work when you don't have the right attitude. If you haven't yet reached the point where you recognize that it is OK to be sensitive, for example, your abuser's next statement will make you fold. Monday morning quarterback these situations and play back what you said. Experiment with what you could have said. Doing these exercises will help you develop the appropriate cognitive (thinking) and verbal skills you will need to verbally disengage and/or stand up to your abuser. Suzette Haden Elgin's You Can't Say That To Me!  will give you ideas regarding what kinds of comments another may make that are inappropriate and how to handle them.

Words also won't work when your situation has gone too far. You have already lost all your negotiating power when your abuser is telling you to leave, or is overly disrespectful. You will see some examples of situations I feel have gone too far in my replies to the posts in standing up to your abuser. 

What do I do when words won't work?

Well, there are few choices left. The most effective method I know for regaining your power, let alone your self-esteem - is to back off. Backing off can mean anything from walking out and filing for divorce to seriously thinking about leaving and making your plans, to going to mom's for a week, to taking a walk around the block to chill, to caring less because you recognize your powerlessness over your partner.

Backing off is what relatively healthy people - who take care of themselves emotionally - instinctively do when confronted with others who hurt them. Think: Would you hold your hand over an open fire? Of course not. You would remove your hand immediately! Unfortunately, the codependent mind-set too often operates along the lines of keeping your hand in the fire because you need the warmth and hope the fire will recognize how much you care and stop burning you. Fat chance! 

Learning to disengage and exhibit assertive verbal behavior will not fix your marriage, though some marriages may improve. These skills will increase your personal power: you will feel better about yourself and your increased sense of control over your life. 

Take a look at this email advice on codependence, human nature, and the effects of backing off. 

What do you think?

I'd like to read the posts.

Also, take a look at how Doc handled manipulation and intimidation attempts here.