One Example of Emotional Abuse in a Family

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2014 Nancy Virden

She runs her comb through her curls one more time. It has to be perfect. She’ll stay in front of the mirror until she gets it right.

“Mom, hurry up! Daddy’s waiting!” her preteen daughter screams. They can hear the horn blaring from outside.

“Just a minute,” says the mother forcing a quiet tone. She checks her make-up and gives her lipstick a redo. Smoothing down her dress, she turns and looks in the mirror again. She is satisfied. Methodically, she puts on her coat, grabs her purse, and steps slowly across the lawn toward the obnoxious noises.

Once inside the car, it lurches in reverse. “We’re late again” grumbles her husband.

“I have more to do than you do. It takes me longer.”

“Then start earlier!”

“I make breakfast and get everyone ready. Then I can think about myself.”  Her voice is still quiet.

“There is no excuse for lateness. None!” He is hollering.

From the backseat, the daughter speaks up loudly. “Would you two stop it? Mom, you always make us late.”

“Shush” says the mother.

“Be quiet!” This time, the man is roaring at his wife. “She can speak if she wants to” he says referring to the girl.

It’s not long before the mother is losing control of her volume. The daughter continues to scream her opinion. The father grunts and tersely responds to his wife.

Meanwhile, staring out the back window in silence is a teenage boy.

In a few minutes the four reach their destination. Church.  All is quiet and serene as they step out to greet their fellow worshipers.

This is a sad but true story of a family steeped in emotional abuse. In only a few minutes of a typical day, we see anger management issues, defense, evasion, controlling, manipulation, hostility, and avoidance. If only it were just the one time. Described by a psychologist as an “extraordinarily dysfunctional family,” this was a breeding ground for trauma and confusion.

Let’s look into some of the applicable background and results.

  • The husband has been cheating, and physically abusive to his wife since before they were married. He undermines her with the children and ignores her opinions.
  • The wife’s response is insecurity. She tries to “be enough” for him by looking perfect. One of her passive- aggressive power moves is to frustrate him by moving slowly.
  • Their daughter has been taught outright by her dad to blame discord on her mother. She only knows how to be heard by hollering. By the time of this car ride, the girl’s base understanding of femininity is that women are to use and ignore. She hates herself.
  • The silent son never learned how to express his needs. He too has been taught to despise his mother. By avoiding confrontation, he hopes to have peace. His seething anger disturbs him, and he retreats further from interaction.
  • Everyone involved learns hypocricy as a way of life.

Emotional abuse can be pervasive in families and hurtful to each member. Clearly, in the above example there are other extremes as well. Just like humans, families are complex. When we are in relationships that create turmoil inside us, it is time to tell our stories.

There are supportive people who will validate our experience, offer perspective, and  affirm our value. They can help to retrain our negative belief systems. An abuser may have deceived us in the past by denying the truth, blaming us, and refusing to change old behaviors.  We can ask, is this the relationship I want? Do I want to feel this pain and believe the same-old messages? Professional behavioral health specialists can help to walk us through the process of choosing who to trust and how we want to be.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*picture by WAX115 on

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