Skip to content

A serious post, brought to you by Patrick Stewart

28 November, 2009

A serious post, brought to you by Patrick Stewart (NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 27)

A friend pointed me to this essay by Patrick Stewart on domestic violence. It’s a hard read, but a good one. Some of you know that I was raised by a woman with a violent temper. I never had to witness the sort of thing Stewart mentions, but the rest, barring the alcohol, sounds eerily familiar.

But come Friday night, after the pubs closed, we awaited his return with trepidation. I would be in bed but not asleep. I could never sleep until he did; while he was awake we were all at risk. Instead, I would listen for his voice, singing, as he walked home. Certain songs were reassuring: I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen; I’ll Walk Beside You . . . But army songs were not a good sign. And worst of all was silence. When I could only hear footsteps it was the signal to be super-alert.

Fortunately, my mother was not a drinker. She was just chronically depressed, possibly bipolar. She was never a particularly strong woman, and she seldom made a fist. Remember, I’m a boomer; when I was growing up, it was still considered normal to smack one’s kids. The big difference to me was that, where some of my friends had parents who would take a belt to them (something that scared the hell out of me>, it was part of a very formalized system of rules. They knew when they broke them, and expected to be punished if caught. Not that that makes it much better (if at all), but there’s not that constant wondering about what the rules are, and whether you might set things off. Anyway, I thought I would mention once again that the victims of domestic violence are also almost always the victims of emotional abuse. And that emotional abuse is so much easier to hide.

It’s also much easier to ignore, or to miss, especially if you’re caught in an abusive relationship. And if you grew up being used to emotional abuse, as a victim, or even as a witness, it’s likely to feel familiar enough that it’s sort of comforting. Me, I try to be vigilant in my own relationships, and I try not to ignore warning bells that go off in my head. It’s harder if you see this happening to people you love — and I have to admit, there are times that friends have had to point out red flags to me. More often, though, they’ve been there for the sort of reality checks that you need, because two of the most effective tactics of the emotional abuser are that they can make a person question reality and they tend to make the person being abused feel responsible for the abusive situation. To the outside world, the abuser often represents hirself as the victim. Usually, that’s a true representation, as far as the abuser is concerned. That’s the really fucked up part of emotional abuse: the abuser often thinks that zie is the most reasonable person around, if only hir spouse/child/partner/employee would just do things the right way. I’m posting some signs below, and I’ve tried to make them gender-neutral, because although abusive men are still by far more likely to beat the crap out of, and even kill, their partners, it’s been my experience that women are right up there in the ranks of emotional abuse, which can bee far more subtle.

So I thought maybe I would post a few of the classic telltale signs of an abusive relationship, just because it never hurts to remind people (and even myself):

Zie was verbally abused as a child, witnessed it in hir own family, or was verbally abused by a previous partner.

* Zie has low self-esteem.

* Zie has an intense temper, triggered by minor frustrations and arguments.

* Hir sense of power or control depends on hir partner’s acquiescence and performance per hir demands. Zie feels “in control” only if hir partner is totally passive and giving in to all of hir preferences and decisions.

* Zie has rigid expectations or fantasies of marriage, partnership, and what the partner should be/ how they should behave, and will not compromise. Zie expects a partner to behave according to hir expectations of what hir partner should be like; perhaps the way hir parents’ marriage was, or its opposite. Zie demands that the partner change to accommodate hir expectations.

* Zie projects the blame for all relationship difficulties onto hir partner. Zie wouldn’t get angry if only the partner would be who zie wants hir to be… Zie wouldn’t drink if the partner didn’t make hir unhappy… Zie denies the need for counseling because there’s “nothing wrong with hir, only with the partner.” Zie might not want the partner to get counseling because zie’s threatened by the possibility of an outsider “taking sides” with him — they just wouldn’t understand the true dynamics of the relationship.

* Abusers are extremely possessive and jealous. They experience an intense desire to control their mates.

* Abusers often have superficial relationships with other people. Their primary, if not exclusive, relationship is with a spouse/longtime partner.

* Zie may be described as having a dual personality — Zie is either sweet or exceptionally cruel and sharp. Zie is selfish or generous depending on her mood.

* A major characteristic of abusers is their capacity to deceive others. They can be sweet, calm, charming and convincing.

* The mate is usually a symbol. The abuser doesn’t relate to hir partner as a person in hir own right, but as a symbol of a significant other. This is especially true when zie’s angry. Zie assumes that the partner is thinking, feeling, or acting like that significant other — often modeled on family member or authority figure).

(Adapted from a list at


Emotional abuse is characterized by the abuser’s manipulation and invalidation of his or her partner. Here is a list of warning signs to be aware of.

Abusive Expectations

* Makes unreasonable demands.
* Requires constant attention, or that you spend all your free time with him/her.
* Constantly criticizes.
* No matter how much you give, it never seems to be enough.


* Calls you names, accuses, blames, threatens, or gives orders.
* Can be disguised as “helping” or “teaching.”
* Judgmental “I know best” attitude.

Constant Chaos

* Deliberately starts arguments and may be in constant conflict with you or with others
* Treats you well in front of others, but changes into a different person when you’re alone together, or vice versa.
* May enjoy “drama,” because it creates excitement and brings the focus back onto him/herself.


* Denies your personal needs, especially when that need is greatest, and does so with the intent of hurting, punishing, or humiliating you.
* Denies that certain events occurred or that certain things were said.
* Refuses to listen or communicate (silent treatment), and withdraws emotionally.
* Denies your perceptions, memory, and sanity.
* Disallows or overrules any viewpoints, perceptions, or feelings that differ from his/her own.
* Causes you to lose confidence in and question your own perceptions and feelings.
* Causes you to doubt your most powerful survival tool: your own mind.


* Manipulates the relationship so that the only feelings and opinions that count are his/her own.
* Must have his/her own way, and will hurt your feelings if necessary in order to get it.
* Holds you personally responsible for his/her own happiness.
* Disregards your personal standards or beliefs, and may try to persuade you to do things that you don’t want to do.

Emotional Blackmail

* Plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, religious values, or other “hot buttons” to get what he/she wants.
* May threaten to end the relationship, totally reject or abandon you, give you the “cold shoulder,” or use other tactics to control you.


* Seeks to distort your perceptions of your own world.
* Refuses to or fails to acknowledge reality in order to create his/her own false reality.
* If you tell your partner that you felt hurt by something he/she did or said, he/she might say, “You’re too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.”
* Or, the abuser might turn it around by saying, “You hurt me too sometimes. I just don’t say anything because I’m understanding.”
* Suggests that your emotions and perceptions are faulty and can’t be trusted.
* Any time your own feelings are disregarded or denied, invalidation has occurred.


* Less extreme form of denial.
* Says things like “You’re exaggerating” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
* Trivializes by suggesting that something you have communicated is inconsequential or unimportant.

Unpredictable Responses

* Acts angry or upset in a situation that normally would not warrant such a response, or gets angry certain times but not others.
* Blows up or gets angry at you over innocent comments you made.
* You feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” around him/her.
* Has drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts.
* Likes something you do one day, but hates it the next.

Verbal Assaults

* Berates, belittles, criticizes, threatens, or calls you names.
* Subtle to blatant use of sarcasm and humiliation.
* Constantly finds flaws with you.
* Makes fun of you in front of others, or in private.

Emotional abuse often starts out very subtly, and progresses gradually over a period of time. Abusers are master manipulators, and can deceive even your friends and family – as well as their own. Trust your own feelings and perceptions. (taken from

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 November, 2009 4:27 am

    Holy shit.Okay, if and when I'm ever ready to start dating again, I'm gonna post that whole "emotional abuse" list somewhere I check it often. My last two relationships were mild versions of this. And although I can honestly say that the Other's behavior came from their own issues, it doesn't mean that I should have to put up with the consequences.Thanks, ADM.

  2. 28 November, 2009 4:56 am

    You're welcome. Just trying to do my part… 🙂

  3. 28 November, 2009 7:16 am

    -prints–studies-Thank you!

  4. 28 November, 2009 3:41 pm

    Argh. And yet these people's strength of personality means that they will rarely if ever struggle to draw in another victim. The trouble is that certainty and fervency are attractive…

  5. 28 November, 2009 5:00 pm

    Next time we get together over drinks … Which will be in May!

  6. 29 November, 2009 1:48 pm

    Yeah, by which time I suppose I'd better have a paper for you…

  7. 29 November, 2009 2:05 pm

    it was part of a very formalized system of rules. They knew when they broke them, and expected to be punished if caught. Not that that makes it much better (if at all), but there's not that constant wondering about what the rules are, and whether you might set things off.Yes. Yes, exactly. I used to be so jealous of kids whose families had clear rules and punishments for breaking those rules, whereas my brother and I just had to rely on quick reflexes to try to duck the hand that lashed out with no warning. I'm afraid my brother is now repeating the pattern to a lesser extent with his daughters; he's not a hitter but is a grabber and a yeller, and my nerves are always shot after a visit with him; who knows what it's doing to the girls? I hope and pray that his wife can keep it in check (and I think he would never strike her; abuse is for kids in my family, the opposite of Stewart's story), but she's walking the fine line of trying to protect her kids while keeping her husband happy.Anyway, what I really chimed in to say was "thank you" for posting the list of signs of emotional abuse, which I'd never seen and which is frighteningly familiar.

  8. 29 November, 2009 3:05 pm

    WN, just remember that one of the best things you can do is to help them all remember that your brother's reality is not everybody else's. It won't keep the damage from happening, but it will help give them the tools for dealing and help them develop the alarm buttons I was talking about.

  9. 1 December, 2009 3:12 pm

    Wow. That describes with frightening accuracy an ex-boyfriend of mine, with whom I lived for two years. (He was never physically abusive, but very jealous, moody, and prone to give me the silent treatment.) I've thought that considering him to have been emotionally abusive was a bit much, but reading this list…. Well, that changes things.

your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: