Podcast: Understanding Emotional Abuse

Visit us for an in-depth discussion of the many forms of emotional abuse and how to recognize it.

Guest information for the podcast episode "Beverly Engel – Emotional Abuse"

Beverly angel is an internationally recognized psychotherapist and a recognized advocate for victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The author of 22 self-help books, her latest book is entitled It wasn't your fault: get rid of the shame of child abuse with the power of self-compassion. Engel is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has been practicing psychotherapy for 35 years.

Beverly's books have won numerous awards, including being a finalist in the Books for a Better Life award. Many of her books have been selected for various book clubs, including A ghost Book club, Psychology today Book club and Behavioral science Book club. Her books have been translated into many languages ​​including Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Greek, Turkish, and Lithuanian.

In addition to her professional work, Beverly often brings her expertise to bear on national television talk shows. She appeared on Oprah, CNN, and Start againand many other television programs. She has a blog on the Psychology today Website as well as regular contributions to Psychology today Magazine and has been featured in a number of newspapers and magazines including: Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Marie Claire, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Denver Post.

She regularly conducts educational workshops in the United States and the United Kingdom for professional and lay audiences.

Via the Psych Central Podcast Host

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and public speaker living with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Insanity is an asshole and other observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website gabehoward.com.

Computer generated transcript for "Beverly Engel – Emotional Abuse" episode

Editor's note: Please note that this transcript was computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors. Many thanks.

Announcer: they listen The Psych Central Podcast, where visiting experts in the fields of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information in simple everyday language. Here is your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week's episode of The Psych Central Podcast. I'm your hostess, Gabe Howard, and I'm calling the show today, we have Beverly Engel. Beverly is an internationally recognized psychotherapist and a recognized advocate for victims of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Beverly is a marriage and family therapist and the author of 22 self-help books. She often brings her expertise to bear on national television programs such as Oprah, CNN and Starting Over. But today she is here with us. Beverly, welcome to the show.

Beverly Angel: Thank you, I'm glad to be here.

Gabe Howard: Today we are going to discuss emotional abuse. This is one of those phrases that everyone has heard, but most people don't really understand it. It is often ridiculed when victims of abuse seek help. And of course that offers protection for the perpetrator. Beverly, from a technical perspective, would you please define emotional abuse and maybe give us some examples?

Beverly Angel: Sure, technically it is any nonphysical behavior that is designed to control, intimidate, punish, or isolate another person, and it can take the form of humiliation, humiliation, and fear. Good examples are verbal attacks, dominance, isolation, ridicule. An interesting one is the use of intimate knowledge for deterioration. It's like getting to know someone better. When we first get involved, we tell each other our stories, and an emotional abuser will often throw our past in our faces. They will use intimate knowledge that we have shared with them to humiliate us, and the general purpose of emotional abuse is to control their victims.

Gabe Howard: It sounds a bit like emotional blackmail or, frankly, it sounds like actual blackmail, like they're taking what you have and threatening to maybe expose it or use it against you in some way to get you to do that to do what they want. Is that a reasonable analogy?

Beverly Angel: Not really, it's another form of emotional abuse. The intimate knowledge is just daily to put you down and doesn't necessarily threaten them to tell anyone else. It's just a way to remind you of your past or do something about you on a daily basis.

Gabe Howard: Caught. So a good example would be, can I drive a car today? No, because you were in a car accident five years ago and you killed almost everyone in the car. Is that. I

Beverly Angel: Yes,

Gabe Howard: Know that it is.

Beverly Angel: In fact, it would be, and that would be a very direct way of saying it:

Gabe Howard: Caught.

Beverly Angel: An emotional abuser will say something like: Are you sure you really want to get on with your story? With your driving history? It's more subtle. It's a little less obvious.

Gabe Howard: Ok, I'm starting to understand now, and that actually makes a little more sense of something you explained to me while preparing for this show. This means that people who are emotionally abused often fail to realize that it is them who are emotionally abused.

Beverly Angel: In fact, I'd say they almost always don't notice. This is one of the main barriers to a person's ability to actually end an emotionally abusive relationship that they don't know what is wrong with them. One of the most damaging aspects of emotional abuse is that it confuses the victim. The person ends up feeling confused. You end up feeling out of whack. Not exactly sure what is going on. They tend to blame themselves because the emotional abuser naturally blames them either subtly or openly all the time. And yet, confusion is a major obstacle for people who are emotionally abused.

Gabe Howard: Well, that kind of sounds a bit like another concept that we hear a lot about and that is gas light. Is Emotional Abuse A Form Of Gas Lighting? Is gas light a form of emotional abuse?

Beverly Angel: Yes, gas light is a form of emotional abuse. Gaslighting deliberately tries to confuse the victim and deliberately tries to make the victim doubt themselves. And it's based on the movie Gaslight. It's an old movie from 1938. And in the movie, the husband is intentionally trying to make his wife feel like she is going crazy. And in those days the houses were lit by gas lights and he would lower the lights. He would decrease the amount of gas coming in and she would tell what just happened? The lights are dimmed? And he would deny it. And so, Gaslight does something on purpose, to drive the victim crazy, to deny that something happened, to deny that he said something, to say that she did something when she didn't. This is gas lighting.

Gabe Howard: And all of this is really supposed to control your victim. That is the perpetrator's motivation. So emotional abuse is about control. Is that a fair statement?

Beverly Angel: Absolutely yes.

Gabe Howard: I understand that emotional abuse is one of those concepts that is a bit nebulous or difficult to understand, but is not controlled by something that people naturally understand? And the reason I am asking this question is because I know that a lot of people who are emotionally abused stay in the relationship. Don't you realize that you have a very controlling relationship?

Beverly Angel: No, no, it can be very subtle, it can be as subtle as ever when your opinions are rejected. So you are in a conversation with friends and your husband or wife and everyone is speaking freely. And so you give your opinion and your man says, oh no, that's ridiculous. That's that. What a stupid idea. If your partner is constantly being laid off, he may roll his eyes every time you say something or make fun of you, make fun of your clothes, make fun of your speeches, make fun of what you cooked to have. It's very subtle. It's not obvious at all. And the more it happens, the less the victim trusts their perceptions and feelings. That is yet another intention, if I can get you to guess yourself and really have no sense of security in what you say and do, then I will be in control of you. It's a lot more subtle. It is very difficult for many people to find out that they are being emotionally abused.

Gabe Howard: How do you feel when you find out? It sounds like it's something that's happening slowly. You are not aware of this, but it also seems to be something that is reaching this critical mass. And then suddenly you think back and find that this has been happening to you for months or even years. How's that for the victim of abuse?

Beverly Angel: Some get angry and realize it and get angry and want to do something. But what happens with emotional abuse that happens so subtly over such a long period of time and the victim has grown to distrust their feelings and perceptions is that she can get it in a minute and in the next, keeping herself from it and in the next minute feels maybe I'm exaggerating. Maybe that doesn't really happen. That's that confusion again. So the confusion and disorientation and not trusting your feelings and perceptions that can last for a long time if the person responds and says, OK, yes, I got it. And then they will distrust themselves and continually blame themselves. They are constantly being accused by their partner. And so they say this is happening. It must be my fault. I must have done something.

Gabe Howard: If I understand correctly, shame seems to be the main motivator of the offender.

Beverly Angel: Absolutely absolutely. I am generalizing here, but most of the perpetrators are very insecure people and feel very inadequate. But what they did with it is that they covered all of that with that authority or that permission. They kind of pushed themselves to look better than they are. And so they are very fragile themselves. So, they are trying to shame and control their partner so that they can gain control because they have no other way to feel confident about themselves. The only way to feel safe is to put someone else down. And thinking goes like this even though it is not conscious. If I can put you down before you put me down, I'll be ahead of the game. Many perpetrators have been deeply ashamed themselves and are desperately afraid of being embarrassed again. So if you keep embarrassing someone, you will feel more secure.

Gabe Howard: Originally, I felt that emotional abusers did this on purpose. However, is it possible that because of your explanations, is it possible that some people do not know that they are emotionally abusing their loved ones and that they are not aware of the harm it is causing?

Beverly Angel: I work with many and say man is an abuser, but women can be abusers too. But I work with a lot of women and men who didn't realize that they were offending their partner emotionally. And very often they only notice it when their partner has arrived at the place where she says: OK, I am emotionally abused. I will get out of this relationship. And then all of a sudden the perpetrator will say, whoa, what's wrong? And the reason for this is that some perpetrators do it unconsciously.

Gabe Howard: You made a really good point there: when we think of victims of emotional abuse, we think of women. But you mentioned that men can be victims too. Can men be victims of other men? May, I think what I'm really asking is, I really think that emotional abuse is something that a husband does to a wife. I imagine it to be very archaic.

Beverly Angel: Yes, I have a lot of male clients who are emotionally abused by their partner, be it their wife or in a gay relationship. It's actually pretty common and we don't talk about it much. But it is actually a serious problem. And I generalize here again. But men in general really want to help. They want to protect their partner. They want to help their partner. And when they find their partner has a serious problem, what common female emotional abusers do. They usually started in childhood and have been deeply abused or neglected. And so they play out their childhood problems in their marriage. And the husband or male partner will often feel compassionate towards her, knowing that she was badly harmed in her childhood, and he will be especially patient and endure much more than he should. And then he can really be trapped in a situation where he is constantly being emotionally abused. But he apologizes because of her childhood.

Gabe Howard: It almost sounds like they are accepting the abuse to make up for something bad that happened to someone they love. Is this an ecosystem of emotional abuse? I feel bad for you so I'll tolerate it.

Beverly Angel: Yes, absolutely, especially in the case of men who are molested, many of us enter into marriages and relationships with the idea that I didn't get this or that in my childhood. And now it's your job to give it to me. OK, we often do this unconsciously, but in relationships with men who are emotionally abused, very often that's the idea. He feels bad about what she didn't get. He's trying to make it up to you. But what he finds is that he can never please her no matter what he does. She will never like it. And he keeps trying because he believes that is his job. As you said, it is his obligation to make up for what she did not get. And he feels bad for her. He sees how much she is suffering because she is suffering, but she takes her suffering on her partner, which is wrong.

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Gabe Howard: We're back with author Beverly Engel to discuss emotional abuse. In your research, you have now identified three main strategies that abusers use to confuse and control their partners. They lie, project and set fire. Can you please give an example of each?

Beverly Angel: Yes, lying goes without saying, but there are some ideas behind lying, there are some concepts behind lying, some concepts like I am smarter than you, so I have to advise or teach you. This is a big lie that emotional abusers use. You don't necessarily say these words, but it's a constant. It's that idea again that I'm smarter than you. I have to put up with you when I roll my eyes and refuse what you're saying and you don't know what you're doing. And so I have to advise or teach you. And that's one of the reasons why people who are being abused don't even know because their partner is apparently helpful and always advising them. You know, honey, you don't look that good in that outfit. Why aren't you wearing this outfit? I like your hair much better with it. Or when we went to that party the other night, I noticed that you were flirting with people. I know you probably didn't want it, but you've been flirting and you really need to stop. So this is some kind of constant advice and teaching that goes on. And that's based on the lie that I'm smarter than you, that I should have the right to teach you or advise you because I'm better than you. That's a big lie. OK, another lie I was referring to just now. I had a terrible childhood. So you have to make up for what I didn't get. And women and men will come into relationship with the idea that I was poor and had this terrible childhood.

Beverly Angel: So now you have to be the good mother, a good father that I didn't get. And that's a lie. Your partner shouldn't feel obliged to make up for what you didn't get. Another lie is that you cannot be trusted. I have found that you cannot be trusted. So I have the right to watch you. I have the right to follow you when I want. I have the right to check your phone. I have the right to go into your personal belongings. I have the right to do anything I want because you cannot be trusted. And how did the partner find out? Probably from my own head, probably. You have a problem with feeling insecure. You have a problem with jealousy. And that's how they found out that they can't trust you. And it can't be true at all. It is probably not true. You are likely to be trustworthy. So this is a big lie. Another lie is that you have to satisfy my every sexual need. This is a really big problem in some relationships. When the partner insists that you are my partner and you have to do what I want sexually, whether you want to or not. By the way, if you don't, I'll go somewhere else. And again, whether they say that or not, that is the threat. So these are some common lies that permeate the relationship.

Gabe Howard: I want to take a moment to say that if you have any of these problems in your relationship, we say that you and your partner are arguing, we are going to argue about sex. That doesn't mean you are emotionally abused or step on the gas, does it? You might be having an intense discussion right now where the two of you are working together to resolve something. I think people hear emotional abuse sometimes and that every argument is an example of emotional abuse. Can you clear that up for us?

Beverly Angel: If you argue, then why should you argue about sexuality? If you are willing to listen to me when I tell you I am not interested in doing this sexual act with you, this should be the end. There should be no argument. I should be able to say what I want and you should be able to listen. If I say now that I don't want to have sex at all, or that sex has to be very limited, that could be a problem. But our partners have to listen to us when we say we don't want to do anything. We shouldn't feel compelled to engage in any sexual act that we are not comfortable with. And too often the partners put pressure on each other or make each other feel like something is wrong with them when they don't want to engage in these sexual acts. So there really shouldn't be an argument. Unfortunately, there is often an argument about it, and often there is a partner who requests it or threatens to go elsewhere, and this is where it crosses the line into emotional abuse.

Gabe Howard: Thank you for explaining that, and I agree, if you pressured someone or get angry for them to say no, I realized that in the middle this was probably a bad example. Let's say we just slightly change the example and say it's an intense discussion about where to go on vacation. My wife wants to go to Disney World and I want to go to Las Vegas and we can only afford one vacation this year. So there is a lot of back and forth. When would this scenario lead to a difference in vacation opinion versus a partner who is emotionally abusing the other?

Beverly Angel: Ok if we, I want to go to Disneyland and I don't care if you want to go elsewhere because I want to go to Disneyland and if you don't go to Disneyland I'll go ahead and go where you want to go. And I'll sulk all the time and I'll be critical and I'll make your life miserable or I'll go to Disneyland. And if you don't want to, we'll go anyway because I'm the head of the household and the one who makes the money. And by god we're going to go where I want to go. These are examples of emotional abuse.

Gabe Howard: Caught. That makes a lot more sense.

Beverly Angel: A more subtle one could be, you know honey, I know you want to go to Disneyland, but don't you remember the last time we were there? You know, you have a stomach ache on the rides and you haven't felt well and you're not as strong as you used to be and I just can't see you on these rides. And it's hot there. And you have a problem with the sun. It is probably better if we go to a cooler place but say everything we can to manipulate the partner. OK, I'm not really saying it out of concern for the partner.

Gabe Howard: That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the clarification. Once you discover that you have been a victim of emotional abuse, you have that shame. And if I understand correctly, you have a five step shame reduction program. Can you go through these steps for us?

Beverly Angel: Yes, what I'm talking about in the book is that people who are emotionally abused are actually being brainwashed like someone in a cult, and therefore they need to be deprogrammed. And much of the first part of the book really defines emotional abuse and defines how people feel, but also goes through how they are lied to, what kinds of lies they have and really advises people not to their partner as much To give power. Don't always believe everything your partner says. Number one, maybe you need to work with friends and family to see if you are actually doing the things your partner is accusing you of. As we know, people who are emotionally abused tend to become very isolated from physical abuse. Your partner may be jealous and dislike when they are with their friends. Your partner may decide they don't like their family. And slowly they get more and more isolated and don't have that many people around. But if they have people around, I encourage them to ask their friends and family, is that me? Is this the way I get external feedback that can become the beginning of the deprogramming process to get external feedback? So I go different ways to deprogram myself.

Gabe Howard: Beverly, thank you very much. Now your book is called Escaping Emotional Abuse. Can you tell our listeners where to find it?

Beverly Angel: You can find it on Amazon.com or any other bookstore if bookstores are open, or in online bookstores, in a bookstore.

Gabe Howard: Wonderful and Beverly, do you have a website?

Beverly Angel: www.BeverlyEngel.com.

Gabe Howard: Wonderful. We hope all of our listeners watch and listen, listeners, if you loved the show wherever you downloaded it please subscribe. And if you can do me a really big favor, I'd appreciate it. Please take a moment to rate it. Just use your words, tell people why you like it and that will help us gain following. Thank you very much for your help. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole, which is also available on Amazon. Or you can get signed copies for less and I'll throw in podcast loot. Just go to gabehoward.com and remember that you can get free, convenient, affordable and private advice online anytime, anywhere for a week BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We'll see everyone next week.

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