You’re pissed? Fine. As far as I’m concerned, you can cry, gripe, bitch, scream, moan, or break your own shit (as long as you do it when I’m not around). But you don’t get to:

  • Call me names
  • Scream in my face
  • Slam doors
  • Physically try to stop me
  • Threaten me
  • Hold me down
  • Hit me
  • Push me
  • Alter facts to make me question my own experience
  • Make sarcastic comments intended to cut deep
  • Mock or belittle me
  • Touch me against my will
  • Bully, pressure, or guilt me into doing things I don’t want to do
  • Neglect me
  • Give me the Silent Treatment
  • Punish me every time I don’t do things your way
  • Talk to–or about–me in a disrespectful way
  • Blame me for being “too sensitive” when you hurt me
  • Do any of these things in front of, or to our children

One word describes each of these behaviors. Abusive. Ouch.

You’re not an ogre. So why do you do these things? Think back to childhood when someone bigger than you did one of the things on this list. You hated it. We all hate being abused–especially if the person doing the abusing is someone who loves us.

It’s a paradox. Why would the very people who love us the most, treat us the worst? Because when people are scared, angry, frustrated, or out of control, they don’t think rationally. They react with whatever behaviors are most accessible. And what’s most accessible are behaviors already in their repertoire.

For example, in my family, there was no physical abuse, so those behaviors never occurred to me.  I’ve never been punched or slapped, or restrained, so I can’t imagine doing those things to someone else. I did however, experience many of the other behaviors on the list. I witnessed them; I was a victim of them; and as a young teenager, I learned to use them to defend myself. I only stopped using them when I got into a relationship with someone who was kind, and fair, and safe to be vulnerable with.

The point is, if you want your partner, your friends, your kids to feel safe around you, you need to be honest with yourself. If you’re doing any of the behaviors on the list above, you are perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

If you want to learn a healthier way to express difficult feelings, I recommend using Express Yourself Ecards, a free communication app I created for couples in my therapy practice. It’s a set of cards designed to help you make sense of what you’re feeling, name those feelings, and express them more effectively–and respectfully–to the person you’re upset with. Download it at the App Store and start with either an “Ouch” card or a “Can I Be Honest?” card. All of the cards help you figure out what you’re feeling, and give you the perfect words to express it.

In case the live link is broken, here’s the URL: http://apple.co/2t0u0iT (for IOS only)

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