How to Confront an Abusive Person
By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
It is hard to confront an abusive person, especially when it is a spouse, parent, employer, or child and the relationship is not easily banished. Sometimes the abuse is so intense, that the relationship must be dissolved for the safety of the victim. Other times, the abuse may be mild but nonetheless is hurtful and harmful in several ways. Here are some suggestions for handling abusive people:
1. See it. There are seven main ways a person can be abused: physically, mentally, verbally, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and sexually. Begin to see the different types of abuse for what they are. At the beginning, this is done long after the abuse has occurred. Eventually, awareness can happen while it is occurring. Here are a few examples from each category.
a. Physical abuse includes: intimidating body language, isolating person from others, restraining to keep from leaving, being aggressive and endangering another life.
b. Mental abuse includes: gaslighting (changing the story to make someone think they are crazy), threatening stare, silent treatment, twisting the truth, manipulating, and playing the victim card.
c. Verbal abuse includes: raging, screaming, swearing, talking over, sarcasm, interrogating, making personal attacks, browbeating, and playing the blame game.
d. Emotional abuse includes: nitpicking, embarrassing someone to cause shame, guilt tripping, alienation from friends and family, and excessive use of anxiety, anger, fear or rejection.
e. Financial abuse includes: stealing, forbidding access to funds, canceling policies without warning, falsifying tax records, restricting the other person’s career progress and interfering with work environments.
f. Spiritual abuse includes: dichotomous thinking, elitist beliefs, forcing submission, legalistic standards, segregation from others, blind obedience and abuse of authority.
g. Sexual abuse includes: jealous rages, coercion tactics to insist on sex, threatening infidelity, inciting fear before or during sex, sexual withdraw, degrading acts, ultimatums on the other person’s body, and rape.
2. Speak it. This step requires quite a bit of courage and strength. It first begins by having the victim speak the type of abuse tactic being used in their mind. Repeat this exercise over and over to gain the necessary bravery before addressing an abuser. This is not a harsh speak (there is no benefit to be gaining by being just as abusive as an abuser), rather it is a soft approach. The intent is to bring awareness to the abuser that they are being abusive and allow them to back off or save face. If this method does not work, move on to the next step. Here are a few examples of how to address the abuse.
a. Physical. “You are physically restraining me by blocking the door.”
b. Mental. “That stare is not going to intimidate me.”
c. Verbal. “It is not ok for you to call me that name.”
d. Emotional. “I am not embarrassed by that story.”
e. Financial. “When the taxes aren’t paid, that is stealing.”
f. Spiritual. “I don’t agree with those legalistic standards.”
g. Sexual. “I won’t be coerced into doing a sexual act that I’m not comfortable with.”
3. Stress it. The soft approach did not work and the abuse is continuing. As the abuser shatters boundaries, the victim needs to begin by saying, “I’m not going to take this anymore.” Now is the time to add more weight to the statements by letting the abuser know there are consequences for violating personal boundaries. Of course, this means the victim must be aware of their own boundaries first. Here are a couple of examples:
a. Physical boundary: “No one is going to touch me in a threatening manner.”
i. Consequence: “This relationship is over if you physically try to harm me.”
b. Mental boundary: “I’m not going to tolerate an implication that I’m crazy.”
i. Consequence: “I’m not listening to this revisionism and I’m walking away.”
c. Verbal boundary: “I’m not going to shout just because someone else is.”
i. Consequence: “Either you speak to me in a normal tone or we will not speak at all.”
d. Emotional boundary: “I won’t be guilt tripped into doing something.”
i. Consequence: “You cannot make me feel guilty and I will not do something out of fear.”
e. Financial boundary: “No one is going to harm my ability to work.”
i. Consequence: “My work environment is off limits to you.”
f. Spiritual boundary: “No one is going to tell me what to believe.”
i. Consequence: “I will not engage in discussions about this subject with you.”
g. Sexual boundary: “I won’t be forced into performing sexual acts.”
i. Consequence: “I am not having sex when I’m uncomfortable.”
4. Stand by it. Once a consequence has been stated, it must be carried out if the abuse continues. Otherwise, the abuser will just intensify the abuse next time. It is important to have someone hold the victim accountable for their boundary setting and enforcement. This gives the much needed support when the victim is again being attacked by the abuser.
The only way abuse stops is for people to stand up to it. While this is difficult, it is not impossible. It is possible to have a relationship that is free from abusive behavior.
To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, or for more helpful resources, please visit us at www.lifeworksgroup.org.