Emotional abuse and spousal relationships
Too often, the sad truth is that the emotional abuse you have been subjected to was from a member of your own family. Gone was the ideal family with a loving set of parents and close-knit siblings. Instead, something else – something far less ideal – was substituted.
Did you know that the emotional abuse you endured in childhood can be influencing your relationships as an adult? Are you under the influence of past relationship patterns when choosing a partner? We invite you to continue reading to learn more about your attachment style. At the end, we welcome your questions about coping with emotional abuse and provide personal and prompt responses.
Childhood emotional abuse and adult relationships
You may have thought that when you grew up, you were over it, that you had escaped from your situation and left it behind you. Often this is not the case, for there are very specific ways that emotional abuse in the past can affect present or future relationships within your adult family.
One of the manifestations of your abuse may be your desire to find a person just like that one who abused you. While this may not seem to make much sense logically, it certainly holds true emotionally.
Relationships can be scary. How the other person will feel and react is an unknown. Often, to cut down on the amount of surprise, people look for personality traits with which they are most familiar. If the person who emotionally abused you was a parent, the chances are you will be drawn to a mate who portrays similar characteristics.
Emotional trauma affects your choice in partners
If you had a controlling father, you may seek out a man who is opinionated and overbearing. If you had a loud, outspoken mother, you may look for a woman who exhibits the same characteristics. While it is said that opposites attract, there are complex reasons why one person falls in love with another. Subconsciously you may have chosen a mate who mirrors behavior within your new relationship that you are familiar with from a past one.
Unfortunately, this could mean entering into another abusive relationship, with an abusive spouse taking the place of an abusive parent. The emotional abuse in your past may cause you to make inappropriate choices in relationships in the present or future. This is one part of repeating cycle of abuse, going from one abusive relationship to another.
On the other hand, you may have been able to avoid this pattern by intentionally choosing someone who was nothing like your past abuser. Making this choice, you may have though you were off the hook. This is not necessarily the case. Even if your current mate is free from abusive behavior, your abusive past can adversely affect your relationship.
Hypersensitivity: A sign of past abuse
Even if you have married a so-called healthy person and avoided the trap of continuing in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your own past will have no repercussions in your new relationship.
Emotional abuse triggers intense feelings of fear, guilt, and anger. Those emotions can be denied and repressed for years. But eventually they have a way of expressing themselves, often in inappropriate and confusing ways, to both the abused person and those in a relationship with him or her.
One of the most common responses is hypersensitivity. Some examples of how hypersensitivity manifests in your current life include:
- You may have developed a radar system tuned to picking up any comment or action from those around you that could be interpreted as negative.
- If you grew up in a negative environment, that is what you have come to expect. You look for the negative and can usually find it.
- When you then react to the negative things you perceive in the actions and comments of others, it is often with an increased response.
- Your anger is all-consuming. You aren’t just angry about what was said yesterday; you are angry at all the hurtful thing that were said in all the past yesterdays.
The emotional responses you feel in the present are very real even though they may be based in large part on past events. Those you are in a relationship with may have no frame of reference for your strong reactions. They simply won’t understand why what they said or did caused you to react the way you did, and often you won’t either. This can add tension and confusion to your relationships.
Emotional abuse and relationship questions
Do you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions in the article? Do not despair, because there is a way out of the haunting of early emotional abuse and out of unhealthy relationship patterns.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below. We try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries. If you are in need of more professional assistance, we will gladly refer you to someone who can help.
Abut the Author: Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
Photo credit: Ivan