Are You A Victim Of Verbal and Emotional Abuse From An Addict?

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Sad to say, but abuse is pretty common in relationships that include an addict. It can be because of their guilt and shame, unresolved childhood and family of origin issues, the effects of drugs and alcohol and many other factors, those who suffer from the verbal and emotional abuse of an addict can suffer greatly and feel powerless and trapped. The cycle can continue day after day until you feel so worthless and wore down, believing you have no choice but to endure and suffer through. Fear is also a huge factor when being abused and having the courage to walk through that fear can be overwhelming.

As a codependency coach to others involved with addicts and from my own personal experience, I know all too well what it’s like to be the recipient of this behavior and how it destroys and deteriorates the very soul and spirit of a person. Healing and recovery from this can take a long time as you begin your healing journey and gain your self worth back. However, there is hope and it is so worth it!!! There are ways to break the cycle and take your power back to start taking responsibility for yourself.

Emotional abuse can take on many forms such as blaming (a frequent tactic of addicts) belittling, name calling, ignoring, corrupting, acting cruel, isolating, sarcasm, ordering around, being critical, lying, interrogating, manipulation, rejecting and withholding love, control of what you wear, where you go and who you see, passive aggressive behavior, and scaring another person, which can lead to ultimately winning control over them. Emotional abuse is a form of brainwashing and can be very damaging to the victim. It may be so familiar to your addict, that it is normal for them to be abusive if they have been allowed to do so. I remember my ex husband holding me under a shower one time as a punishment. An example of abuse that subtly builds over time could be telling a spouse they are ugly, fat, no good, and useless repeatedly. Emotional abuse slowly eats away at a victim’s self-confidence until they feel they can no longer trust not only anyone else, but possibly even themselves, as they lose their sense of self-worth. It can sometimes be outwardly displayed in a person’s behavior or it can be something completely hidden, so emotional abuse is not always easy to spot by the eyes of an outsider. My addict husband was always a charming gentleman in public so no one ever knew what I was suffering at home.

With verbal abuse a person may be continually yelled at or humiliated when abused. They may be told they will be hurt or killed, thus they constantly live in fear for their life and learn to walk on eggshells and people please the addict to feel safe and gain some sense of control. They may be teased or have confusing inconsistencies in their life, like when an alcoholic parent or spouse comes home happy one night and angry the next. This is how my home was growing up. I never knew when the other shoe was going to drop. I never knew whom I would will be dealing with. Any and all of these events, among others, can create deep emotional scarring. Often, if help is not provided, a person who has been abused as a child may continue the cycle as an adult with his or her own family.

One thing I have found is that those involved with an addict with this kind of behavior don’t have healthy emotional boundaries themselves. If your feelings and needs were neglected growing up and were abused as a child, you may feel that this is normal and it’s just part of the addiction you have to put up with. You may have trouble knowing when your boundaries are being dis-respected. You also, because of your low self-worth, not feel you are entitled to assert your rights to be treated with respect. You may have the impulse to do something when your addict is upset and is being abusive in order to “take care of them emotionally”. You may allow their problems and responsibilities to become yours. You may also feel that you are totally powerless with how your addict treats you and speaks to you. A wonderful therapist told me many years ago…” Debbie, when it comes to abuse in any form, there are no victims, just volunteers” That statement was the beginning of me changing my life with my addict and how I was allowing myself to be treated.

One thing we must first realize is that hurting people hurt people. Your addict is very sick. He is acting out of his own pain and misery. However, you cannot keep using that as an excuse for their behavior and not hold them responsible for it. WE TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO TREAT US. If your addict is treating you in an abusive way, you have taught him along the way that it’s ok to do so. I know that can be a hard nut to swallow. It was for me. I wanted to blame the addicts in my life for being sick jerks! It wasn’t my fault that they were being abusive. Or so I thought. I too had to learn this valuable lesson of treating myself with self-respect and self-love FIRST before the addict would treat me that way in return. It had to begin with me taking responsibility for what I would allow and what I would not. I had to learn what was a deal breaker for me. I had to learn that me walking on eggshells and people pleasing the addict to not upset him was not working. I was powerless over the addict, but I was not powerless over me and my life.

If you are allowing this behavior of abuse your boundaries are weak. If you feel at fault when blamed and react instead of saying “I do not take responsibility for that”, or “I disagree and I won’t do that”. No is a complete sentence. There needs to be consequences that are followed through when someone is abusive in any way. Creating and implementing boundaries with your addict on what you will and won’t allow in your relationship is healthy and loving for you and the addict. Once you start showing respect for yourself and not allowing it anymore, it will give them guidelines of what they can and cannot get away with. Yes, they probably will give you backlash and test you on it. You can count on that. But the results in the long run are so very rewarding for both you and the abuser. Following through with your boundaries and having support to lean on is imperative. I cannot stress this enough.

I remember when I started setting boundaries with my addict and how scared to death I was. He used his anger and rage to control me. I could not have done it without the support of my coda therapist and support group. I started saying NO without defending and debating with my addict. I learned to walk away and take care of me. I learned to not take things personal and implement consequences if he crossed the line. I made it very clear of what I expected in terms of respect and behavior towards me and what I would not tolerate anymore. When I work with those who have addict children living at home, we draw up a contract that the parents and child must sign if they want to continue to live there. If the contract is broken, the consequences are outlined in the contract. It works wonders in the home as everyone is clear what the rules of NO ABUSE are. Zero tolerance.

Here is a testimony of a woman in one of my support groups:

“I recalled (in a whisper) all the harsh words: You’re so fat. You look like a cow. No one would ever want you. Especially with two kids. You are too f-ing fat. F-ing B. Ugly F-ing B. I had married my one and only boyfriend from the age of 12 (we would write notes to each other ). Had a son at 18 and a daughter at 21. The verbal abuse started after my son and got worse after my daughter. I told no one. No one what I was living. Being young, two kids, going to college – I felt so stuck so I just took it. Till one day I was tying my sneaker while sitting on the couch and he tapped my on the head with his foot. It wasn’t hard. It was the act itself of demeaning me that he “kicked” me in the head with his foot because I was “beneath” him. I quit pharmacology school and landed a job where I could support my kids on my own. I begged him to leave or I would and he did. The moment the door closed behind him I started cleaning and rearranging the house like crazy. I bought pizza that night for the kids and the negativity in the air had completely lifted. The kids and I had a beautiful evening together. My son was 5 and my daughter 3. My son may not remember a lot but he definitely was affected by it. Never went back to that. Ever. If someone even uses the word “stupid” towards me – it all comes back and I refuse, refuse, REFUSE to take that ever again.”

If you are suffering abuse at the hands of the addict, know you can stop the madness and break the silence of your abuse. There is help out there. You don’t have to suffer alone. You can learn to gain your self worth back and also help your addict learn responsible behavior. Learning to detach in love and set boundaries, getting your power back, letting the addict have their own consequences and your own personal healing ARE possible. I have seen it over and over again. You are not trapped. You deserve love and respect. Please reach out and start the healing process for yourself. You also, will not regret it. May your healing begin…….

Debbie Sherrick/Holistic Codependency Coach


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