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S2 EP195 – There is no Excuse for Abuse

Episode Summary

If you are in a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship, awareness of it is the first step. Discover how you might be compliant in this relationship, what there is to learn, and how to know if it’s in your highest good to stay or leave.


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. Today I’m talking about verbal and emotional abuse in relationships. Most of us know that there is no excuse for physical abuse. If there is physical abuse in your relationship, then I encourage you to find a way to leave as soon as possible. You are in danger, and if you have children, they are also in danger if your partner is physically abusive.

But what about emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and spiritual abuse? What about the more subtle abuse of guilting and shaming?

So today, I want to speak to these other forms of abuse that are not as obvious as physical abuse yet can be very damaging to you and to a relationship.

Unfortunately, our society is filled with verbal and emotional abuse, from radio and TV commentators and presidential candidates, to parents, educators, employers, and managers. The old adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is not at all true. Just as physical abuse is wounding to the body, verbal abuse is deeply wounding to the soul.

If you grew up in a verbally and emotionally abusive family, you might not realize when you are being abusive or when you are being abused.

Verbal and emotional abuse comes from fear and a desire of the wounded self to control the other person – to have power over the other’s feelings and actions. Having power over a partner or others is what makes the wounded self feel safe.

Verbal abuse may include irritation, impatience, being argumentative, blaming anger, unpredictable anger or rage, hostility, explosiveness, jealousy, demanding, ordering, criticism and judgment, unjustified blame and blaming another for the abuser’s abusive behavior. All this comes from the triggered wounded self of the abuser.

Verbal abuse is also emotionally abusive, but emotional abuse may not look verbally abusive. Often emotional abuse is more subtle and covert than overt verbal abuse, such as a lack of empathy, withholding and withdrawing, judging another with seeming kindness, such as saying “Honey, you’re just a bad driver”, discounting another’s feelings and opinions, being kind to others but not to a partner or children, being competitive, acting as the victim, or joking put-downs.

It is vitally important for people at the other end of verbal or emotional abuse to understand that you do not cause an abuser to be abusive, and that there is no excuse or justification for any form of abuse. While an abusive person was likely abused growing up and may be easily triggered into being abusive, this is not an excuse for abuse. Each of us always has the option to do our inner work to heal our past and develop a loving adult capable of regulating our feelings so that we don’t act out on others.

Once you understand that you do not cause anyone to be abusive, perhaps you can also understand that there is nothing you can do to have control over getting an abuser to see or understand what he or she is doing, or how hurtful it is to you, or to understand your point of view. There is no way of having a rational discussion because, when someone is deeply attached to acting out their fears by having power and control over another, they don’t want to understand or work it out.

Abuse comes from feeling very powerless, from not being able to handle fear, loneliness, heartache, and helplessness over others. Abusers want to have control over getting others to do what they want so they don’t have to feel their painful feelings. Trying to talk things out is often the last thing they want to do. They just want to have their way so they don’t have to take responsibility for their pain. However, there are things you can do to not be a victim of verbally abusive behavior.

Sometimes, what an abusive person really wants is connection. Because when they are triggered into their wounded self, they are so disconnected from themselves – from their own feelings and from a spiritual source of comfort and guidance – they are desperate to connect with another person. But for them, when in their wounded self, connection is more like ownership, rather than authentic connection based on mutuality and caring. When you engage with an abuser through explaining, defending, trying to understand, or complying, you are giving the abuser what he or she wants – some level of connection. It’s important to recognize that while you are never causing an abuser to abuse, you might be feeding the abuse with your response.

If you are in a relationship with a verbal or emotional abuser and you are not ready to leave the relationship, you might want to try either practicing staying compassionate, being a steady rock for the person who may be deeply triggered into their terrified wounded self, or, if you can’t do this or it isn’t appropriate to do, not connecting at all with the abuser when there is any level of abuse. By completely disengaging from any abusive interaction, you might have a chance of stopping the cycle of abuse.

The challenge in taking this action on your own behalf is to learn to disengage both physically and energetically, which means not going into your own wounded self in reaction to the other’s wounded self. It means consciously staying in your spiritually connected loving adult and energetically stopping your engagement in the interaction. This isn’t at all easy and it takes a lot of practice. Many of us are quickly triggered into our own wounded self in reaction to another’s wounded self.

While staying and being compassionate, or lovingly disengaging doesn’t guarantee that your relationship will heal, it may be the only possibility you have other than leaving, so perhaps it’s worth a try.

I received a question from a woman who wanted to know whether she should stay in her relationship or leave. She described a situation where her husband was always angry at her, and this had gone on for years. Her question to me was about how she can learn to be okay with this – how she could learn to stay connected with herself when her husband was yelling at her and verbally abusing her. She believed that her learning and growth was about staying in the relationship and learning to stay calm and centered in the face of ongoing abuse, even though she no longer felt any love or connection with her husband.

I told her that I thought her learning was about loving herself enough to not tolerate the abuse and perhaps think about leaving the relationship. While we can learn to be compassionate or lovingly disengage, this isn’t about learning to tolerate abuse. Why should we learn to tolerate abuse? Nelson Mandela had to learn to tolerate both intense physical and emotional abuse because he was in prison, but this woman was not in prison, other than the prison of her false beliefs that she should learn to be okay with abuse. I wondered how someone who is on a growth path and genuinely wants to learn, would want to stay in a relationship with an abusive person with whom she had no love or connection.

Relationships offer a wonderful opportunity for learning and growing when there is a safe arena between the partners to do the healing, learning, and growing, but this woman’s relationship had no safe arena. Her husband had no desire to learn to take responsibility for his feelings. Her responsibility was to get her inner child out of the unsafe and abusive relationship system. Her job was to accept that there was nothing she could do about her husband’s abusive behavior, and that no matter how centered and compassionate she could learn to stay, being abused was not okay. When it comes down to it, there is no excuse for abuse.

I work with many deeply traumatized people who were violently abused as children. Some make a decision to be consistently kind and caring, even when triggered into deep fear and pain, while others act out with anger or rage. Regardless of our past, we still have choices. Not only is practicing Inner Bonding very helpful in healing an abusive past and developing a loving adult, but so are trauma therapies, as well as neurofeedback and a fairly new process to reset the brain called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). There is help if someone is open to it.

If you are in a relationship with someone who had a very abusive childhood, you can learn to have compassion for the triggered, verbally abusive person while not taking it personally. This doesn’t mean that it’s your responsibility to take the abuse, but if you decide to stay in a relationship with a person who has deep trauma, you need to learn to deal with it in a way that isn’t hurting you.

One of the reasons that Inner Bonding works so well to heal from abuse, and to manage another’s abuse, is that the consistent practice of the six steps leads to a stronger and more consistent spiritual connection. A personal experience of Divine love is available to each of us, yet many people won’t do the inner work necessary to develop this connection, which is essential in healing past abuse and in managing current abuse.

It’s obvious that abuse gets handed down through generations. Regardless of how much abuse you might have experienced, there is absolutely no excuse for child abuse. Ultimately, all abuse is spiritual abuse, especially for children, because it undermines their belief that a higher power is here for them.

The immense suffering many people feel today is the result of the many generations of spiritual abuse in our culture. A direct, personal experience of Divine love is our birthright, so anything that disconnects you from experiencing the light of the love that is God, and from knowing that you are a part of that light and have that light within you, can be termed spiritual abuse.

From birth, many of us are treated in ways that disconnect us from a direct experience of Divine love. If you were taken away from your mother after you were born and put into a hospital nursery or left alone to cry, you likely became terrified. You were so little and helpless, unable to take care of any of your own needs. You instinctively knew that if someone did not come to take care of you, you would die. Children often unconsciously translate being left alone by their parents as being abandoned by God. While most parents dearly love their children and have no intention to abuse them in any way, they may not realize how frightening it is to babies to be left alone feeling so helpless. This is how spiritual abuse, however unintentional, may begin.

Other modern child-care practices continue it. I was raised in the days when parents were taught that babies should be allowed to cry. “It will spoil them if you pick them up,” the experts said. “Besides, it’s good for their lungs.” So my mother, wanting to be a good mother, gritted her teeth and allowed me to cry, denying the instincts that told her to pick me up. Not trusting herself because she had also suffered spiritual abuse, she trusted the so-called experts instead, like Dr. Spock. The result was that I inherited a substantial legacy of spiritual abuse and have had to spend years – and a great deal of money – recovering from the fear, helplessness, abandonment and ensuing feelings of shame that I experienced at being left alone when I needed to be held or fed.

Many of us felt so abandoned in infancy and childhood that, later in life, even if we do believe in God, we don’t believe that any source of guidance will be here for us. How can we rely on a spiritual source to be there for us when we could not experience our parents being there in the way we needed? Even very loving, well-intentioned parents may not know how to be there for their children in the way their children need. We may have ended up feeling alone even while knowing that our parents dearly loved us. My clients often say to me, “I know my parents really loved me, but I did not feel loved. They just didn’t see me or understand what I needed.”

For many adults, being left alone is still terrifying; it may feel as if our very survival is at stake. The buried memory of our infant aloneness, when we would have died if someone did not come to care for us, is deeply etched into our psyches. My clients have described it as feeling like they are lost in outer space with the tether to their spaceship cut, consigned to drifting in the infinite blackness until death claims them.

The intensity of this feeling of aloneness can be so overwhelming, it often triggers a host of dysfunctional behaviors – drinking, drug use, compulsive eating, compulsive shopping, gambling, as well as blaming anger, demands, criticism, and rage – which we turn to in unconscious desperation to distract ourselves or trying to ease the fear and pain.

This does not imply that leaving a child alone for a few minutes or leaving a child to cry for a short period of time is abusive. Nor does it imply that children left in loving day care will suffer the effects of spiritual abuse. Not only does each child respond differently to being left alone, but the intention to be loving to a child goes a long way to soften the effects of less than perfect situations.

Having suffered from spiritual abuse does not mean that our parents were abusers. Spiritual abuse is more often the consequence of our society’s child-rearing practices than of our parents’ intended abusiveness. Thus many of us ended up suffering from unintentional spiritual abuse. It is important not to blame our parents for our difficulties in maintaining a spiritual connection. Most of our parents did the very best they could, as we do with our children. It is just important to understand how your false beliefs, tolerating abuse or being abusive, and the disconnection from your higher power, may have come about.

Spiritual abuse is more than just not holding children when they need it. It is also holding or touching them with an intent other than to love them, such as:

* To get love from them
* To control them
* To physically abuse them
* To sexually abuse them

As I said, all abuse is ultimately spiritual abuse, because it undermines your sense of self and your relationship with a spiritual source of love and comfort. Giving children anything other than love and compassion is spiritual abuse because all unloving behavior toward children creates an ongoing problem in their relationship with their source of guidance. Any behavior that teaches children that they must be different, such as smarter, more polite, more obedient, or get better grades or be better in sports, in order be loved by God or by their parents, is spiritual abuse. Any behavior by an adult that disconnects a child from their trust in a higher power is spiritual abuse. And any behavior that undermines a child’s belief in spirit as an infinite source of love, compassion and wisdom that is always available to that child is spiritual abuse.

Parents are supposed to be instruments of love, bringing the love that is God to their children. Unless you felt safe in the arms of your parents, you may not know that you can safely rest in Divine love. Unless you felt unconditionally loved as a child, you may not be able to experience being unconditionally loved by Divine love – at least, not until you heal from your spiritual abuse.

When parents are needy and use their children to get something from them – love, security, attention, energy, a sense of power over them – children learn that they are unworthy of receiving love, that they are just objects to be used by others. They may come to believe that their worth is either in giving to others and sacrificing themselves, or in accomplishing something. If the only time they receive attention or approval is when they are “good”, or they look right, or they accomplish something, they come to believe their worth is in how they look or in what they do rather than in who they are. And when they feel unworthy of receiving love for who they are from their parents, they may feel unworthy of receiving the love that is God.

Many of my clients have told me that they hated being held by their mother or father. It felt to them as if the very life was being sucked out of them. Many were shamed for crying when they didn’t want to be held or touched, derided with words like, “What’s the matter with you? You’re such a cold person.” Often, they have carried the mistaken belief that there was something wrong with them for not wanting to be held. As they heal, they are relieved to recognize that they had good reasons for detesting their mother’s or father’s touch. It was a touch that took love, not gave it.

Parents are supposed to make sure their children are safe and healthy by setting loving boundaries, such as preventing a child from running into the street or burning a hand on a hot stove. Parents are also supposed to help their children learn to trust themselves. They do this by showing their own trust of their children’s ability to know what they want and don’t want, as well as what feels good and doesn’t feel good – when safety and health are not at issue, of course.

When parents control their children through verbal abuse, such as shaming, judging, criticizing, discounting, threatening, or physical abuse, such as hitting, beating, any violence to the body, instead of setting loving boundaries and trusting the child, children learn to feel inadequate and to distrust themselves. When children feel inadequate, they feel unworthy of Divine love. When they learn to distrust themselves, they learn to distrust others and their spiritual guidance. Trying to control a child through verbal or physical abuse is spiritual abuse.

Sexual abuse is also spiritual abuse. When parents or other adults abuse children sexually, they teach children that they are objects to be used. Sexual abuse deeply violates not only the body but the soul, instilling shame, fear and powerlessness, and robbing children of any feeling that they are worthy of love. When adults, who are supposed to make sure children are safe, betray them by hurting and using them, children may decide that God either doesn’t exist or has betrayed them.

I have heard about a few advanced souls who come into this life remembering that the spark of God exists within them, but the rest of us had no way of knowing we were worthy of being loved by our guidance if our parents did not bring the love that is God through to us. If, as we grew up, we had been able to remember who we really are – that we each have the light of the love that is God within – we would not have traded our true selves for the controlling and abusive behavior of our wounded self.

But we were taught that the adults around us knew better than we did about who we are. We thought that if we were lovable and worthy, we would receive love from our caregivers. We believed that if we were good enough, they would not use us or shame us or leave us alone. We had no way of knowing that our parents were also wounded, that they may not have known how to love themselves any better than they knew how to love us.

This deep level of spiritual abuse in many of our child-raising practices results in the current physical, verbal, and emotional abuse in many current relationships, as well as tolerating abuse in relationships. But even with all this, there is no excuse for abuse.

One of the ways that many of my clients excuse and tolerate abuse in a relationship is by convincing themselves that if they are loving enough and give themselves up enough, they can heal their partner. This is a major false belief of the wounded self – it’s one of the survival strategies they learned growing up. But giving yourself up can have disastrous results on both physical and mental health.  

Years ago, when on a book tour for one of my books, my ex-husband and I had dinner with a couple on the East Coast with whom he had become friends. I connected immediately with Allison. Warm and open, I could see that she was a deeply caring woman. On the other hand, her husband Ken, while overtly charming, had a huge black hole inside that felt like a vacuum cleaner sucking the energy out of everyone. His need for attention was overwhelming to me. His energy felt abusive to me – just wanting to use everyone to fill himself up.

A few months after that dinner, I heard that she had committed suicide. Sadly, I understood why.

It was evident to me in that dinner that Allison had completely given herself up to Ken, giving him all her attention and constantly trying to fill his empty hole. She had lost herself by completely abandoning herself in her attempts to take responsibility for his feelings. The result was that, instead of Ken healing, he had become more and more dependent on her over the years, and Allison felt more and more trapped and drained. I don’t know why she felt she could not leave rather than kill herself, but apparently, she did not see leaving as an option.

I understood because I was in the same situation – with my husband, my parents, and my children. I was the caretaker for everyone, and I was slowly dying from having completely abandoned myself and given myself up to others.

I chose, after 30 years of marriage and many attempts to break the taker-caretaker system, to leave rather than die. I wish Allison had made the same choice.

Today I work with people all over the world, both men and women, who feel so trapped by the neediness and demands of their spouse that they are in deep depression, often wanting to die. They feel guilty if they take care of themselves rather than care-take their partner. They believe they are selfish if they take responsibility for their own feelings and needs instead of giving themselves up for others, and their partners reinforce this by abusively telling them how selfish they are if they attempt to change the caretaking-taking system.

What they don’t realize is that continuing to lose themselves by taking responsibility for others’ feelings and needs – others who are fully capable of taking care of their own feelings and needs, excluding babies and the ill, is enabling their partner’s abusive behavior, rather than being loving to themselves and others. When we do for others what they can and need to do for themselves, we disable them, causing them to feel even more empty and insecure, which often leads to even more abusive behavior. While love heals, caretaking does not. Love means supporting ourselves and others in our highest good, which never means losing ourselves to care-take others who are capable of taking care of themselves.

If you feel trapped and depressed, and you think about dying or you wish your spouse would die, then you are giving yourself up and losing yourself rather than taking responsibility for your own feelings and needs. If the pull on you to care-take those around you is too great for you to find your way through to taking loving care of yourself, or if your guilt prevents you from taking care of yourself, then the loving action may be to leave until you can break the codependent system between you and your spouse or you and others.

It is your right to have life, liberty and happiness. It is your right to take responsibility for doing what brings you joy, while supporting others in doing what brings them joy. You are not on the planet to fill up another’s inner emptiness or tolerate abuse, and trying to do so is not loving to yourself or to them. If you feel trapped, consider beginning to free yourself.

If you enjoyed this podcast, I would really appreciate it if you tell your friends about it, and if you give it a review wherever you heard it.

And, I invite you to join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have so much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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