Psychological Abuse and Depression

There have been many times in the past when I’ve run into someone at work who could twist my words to suit his own purpose. If I’d challenged him in some way, he would launch a subtle verbal assault that built gradually to convince me he’d been the victim and I’d been the one who had caused the problem.

The turnaround could be so skillful and bizarre that I’d often be at a loss, feeling confused and frustrated as to how to respond. He’d have a keen sense of where I was vulnerable – the shame of being me that came with depression. Incapable of accepting any responsibility, he would stay on the attack until my inner doubt about my own worth and judgment left me completely unsure of myself. I’d probably end this by agreeing that the situation was more complicated than I’d thought.

Then I’d turn away feeling as twisted as his words, aware that everything I knew to be true had been reversed to put me on the defensive. In disgust, I’d berate myself for not having been able to dismantle his phony logic on the spot. How could I have been so readily disarmed? I’d wind up feeling bad while he’d walk off with another notch in his belt.

I had been dealing with a master manipulator who could never be wrong. Instinctively, I knew this person would never change, and rather than repeat this crazy-making experience, I’d usually decide to stay clear of him as much as possible.

That’s just a hint of the damage a psychological and emotional abuser can inflict. In most of my work settings, I’ve been independent enough to limit encounters like that one. But many people live through each day with an inescapable, dominating abuser, either on the job, in the family as a child or in an intimate relationship as an adult. For them, there’s no getting away, and the damage to their core identity can be permanent.

These are the stories presented in agonizing detail by Marie-France Hirigoyen in Stalking the Soul. I felt sick reading many of them because of the success of the abuser in reducing his victim to a state of helplessness. There are no happy endings for the abused women – and women form the vast majority of these victims – no plot reversal as a movie might demand that brings on the defeat of the bad guy.

At best, the woman might get away to face a long period of recovery from deep depression and loss of an independent identity. A small number of men finally recognize that the abusive life they’re leading is not only destructive but also conceals their own fear and shame. They seek treatment on their own. Others are forced into it by a court order or employer. The great majority, however, remain unreachable and move from one victim to another.

A second powerful book about abusive and controlling men is Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That?. It’s more comprehensive and thoroughly researched than Hirigoyen’s work, but I found it a bit less powerful than the narrative approach of Stalking the Soul. Both, however, are must-reads on psychological and emotional abuse.

Each book analyzes in detail the steps by which an abusive man builds power over a vulnerable woman and finally renders her so helpless she doesn’t know to resist. Her own identity is so compromised that she becomes dependent on the abuser. As Hirigoyen says, she becomes complicit in her own oppression. Both writers, however, are emphatic that the victim is not voluntarily complying – she’s lost a will of her own. There is no shared responsibility for the abuse.

Many employees, unable or afraid to change jobs, face wide-ranging forms of abuse from superiors who try to undermine them completely. They either have to quit in desperation or get fired when accused of causing problems they can’t defend against. Often the manager has been able to turn the rest of the office against her. There’s nowhere to turn for sympathy or help.

There’s also little or no way out of a marriage or life partnership with an emotional abuser. A women meets a charming, even dazzling partner, falls in love, enjoys a blissful time and feels emotionally complete through this intimate bond. But then everything starts to go bad. Minor insults delivered with a laugh, sarcastic comments about everything she says – just enough edge to make her wonder what he means and whether or not she’s meeting his needs.

Things build from there to such acts as withholding intimacy because of something she’s done, blaming her for causing a series of problems, complaining about unreasonable behavior to their children, her family and friends. She’s not sure what’s happening and doubts herself, becoming more dependent on her partner. By then she’s so confused that she loses the ability to act independently or to think clearly in his presence. In trying to resist, she gets angry and appears unreasonable to the people she looks to for help. The angrier she gets, the easier it is for her partner to point out coolly how impossibly demanding and irrational she’s become. He complains to everyone that he’s constantly victimized by her outbursts. The woman finds herself completely trapped.

Hirigoyen sees an urgent need for better understanding of this dynamic among therapists. By applying their customary techniques, they can worsen the situation. Family therapists, for example, tend to assume that problems are a shared creation of the members of the family system. One person may play out the role of trouble-maker, but the others depend on this to avoid looking at their own issues. It’s the interaction and behavior of them all that needs to change. For Hirigoyen, that approach only gives credence to the complaints of an abusive man and offers little relief from his aggression.

Therapists offering individual treatment may pay too little attention to the current dynamic of abuser and abused. They push the discussion entirely into the woman’s past to find the source of the problems she sees in her present life. Both types of therapy only add to the woman’s confusion, as these authority figures seem to support the abusive partner by assuming she’s partly responsible. It takes special awareness and training for therapists to respond helpfully in these cases.

This is one of the most painful problems to look at closely. But the more I understand the impact of abuse of all types – emotional, physical, sexual – and other forms of traumatic experience (whether or not they’re recognized by the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the more I learn about the relationship to depression and a multitude of other problems. A damaged sense of self and an inner belief that we’re fundamentally wrong or bad create a terrible vulnerability – often stemming from neglect and overt abuse as children. When someone else not only agrees with that belief but does everything they can to exploit it, we can feel our grip on reality slipping completely away.

If it’s possible for you to do so, I hope you can share some of your insights about emotional and psychological abuse. I know how hard that can be, but whatever you can offer will be helpful to other readers.

Some Rights Reserved by seier+seier at Flickr.

37 Responses to “Psychological Abuse and Depression”

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  1. Cece says:

    My husband and I have been together for about 15 years. We met in our early twenties and now have three young children together. He suffered from depression as a teenager before he met me and before we had children it would come and go in short stints. However in the past 5 years it’s pretty constant. He refuses treatment, medication or speaking to someone. His depesssion has turned to anger and he is extremely volatile. Sadly it took me a long time to realize this but in the past few years it’s been blaringly clear. He deflects his depression and blames me for anything that is hard for him….from his job to where we live to projects he tries to do but has difficulty. He is verbally abusive and gives ultimatums, makes threats, sends nasty emails, texts, tries to push me to divorce and once hit me. After that incident I agreed that divorce is best. Within a day he became suicidal and given the circumstances did not move forward with separating.

    There is too much damage and pain to see it only as triggered by his depression. At the end of the day a person needs to be a decent human being to another. And abuse is not ok. And it’s definitely not ok for the little eyes (children) watching it unfold. At first I tried staying for the kids or to get thru this hard time (stress triggers his depression) but I feel like I am losing myself. I used to be able to dissociate his mood from my own feelings. I’m still in here but I am not sure how much longer I can keep this up. I have called an abuse hotline and I have been seeing a therapist. I am worried about him becoming suicidal or violent if I decide to leave. I think that is what keeps me staying at this point and I am afraid.

    I appreciate seeing how I am not alone when I come to this site and read everyone’s stories.

  2. Gregg says:

    This “trick” of blaming the target for the abuse is used a lot by my Colleagues who are the attackers and by college administrators who support abusive behavior. I have prevailed filing numerous legitimate complaints with the appropriate offices at my college regarding bullying and harassment by my colleagues. Nevertheless, they insist that I am always attacking Colleagues. And it’s not true. So, I blog and blog and blog. Take pictures and videos. Record conversations. And sleep good at night. But I believe I’m going to have make my blogging bigger and more widely disseminated.

  3. Lucy says:

    I have been in a relationship with an emotionally abusive guy for 1.5 years. It may not seem like a long time but it ruined my life completely. It all started with an unfortunate incident which filled me with shame and guilt (although, looking back, it was more his fault than mine). He used that incident throughout the relationship to make me feel bad and I kept trying to make up for it, although I thought it was ridiculous that he was so upset about the incident. He kept telling me I was selfish and that I didn’t view things from his perspective, and after having heard that every day for many months, I started to believe him and stopped listening to my own voice. I felt insane and asked myself whether I had had a completely wrong self-perception. I doubted myself all the time and kept trying to prove to him that I wasn’t selfish and that he was my top priority. I stopped talking to friends and family, he was even jealous of my cousin when I talked to him. He was very controlling and I always had to tell him what I did each day (long distance relationship). After almost every discussion he’d give me the silent treatment. Towards the end it became unbearable. He would hardly talk to me for weeks and always say “I was busy”, even though I knew that he would have had time to message me if he had wanted to. I caught the flu and had a fever for days and I was so depressed that I didn’t care if I would die or not. During my last visit, I’d be home alone for hours while he visited his best friend, and when he was at home, he’d play games or watch videos and ignore me completely. He’d make fun of me and call me overly sensitive and even laugh at me if I told him why I was angry or sad. When we visited his friend one time, they didn’t include me in the convo at all and let me sit on the cold floor like a dog while they sat on chairs. I felt so shitty and couldn’t even go home since I was on another continent and was completely dependent on him. I bought him a random present just to make him happy one day before my birthday, and on my birthday he gave me nothing, not even a card, and he didn’t even let me choose a movie to watch. One time I had a urinary tract infection, he said there would be a doctor at the CVS but there wasn’t and he refused to drive me to a doctor. I was in pain and there was a lot of blood in my urine and I knew that UTIs can infect the kidneys if left untreated, but I had no choice. So we drove all the way from NC to Florida while I kept drinking liters of water because that was the only method I knew to get rid of a UTI. I hardly ever kissed him because I probably felt subconsciously that he was abusing me, and he always criticized me for not kissing him or initiating sex, and I didn’t know why I didn’t do that, so I felt like there was something wrong with me hormonally or mentally. He’d also make fun of my opinions in front of his dad. After the relationship, I read Lundy Bancroft’s book and realized that my bf was emotionally abusive (and physically too sometimes, like shoving or grabbing). I talked to my ex’s mom (during the relationship, he didn’t let me talk to her and neither did he) and she told me that she got a divorce because my bf’s dad abused her emotionally too. She described almost the exact same behaviors that my bf had. It was the darkest time of my life, and although I now know the symptoms and methods of abusers and how to avoid abusers, that experience will always haunt me. I wish I could erase the memory. It was my first relationship, so I never stopped to say “this isn’t normal for a relationship”, because I had no previous relationships to compare to. Now I realize how he always only thought about himself. For example, I overcame my flight phobia to visit him and it was very hard and took me about a year. He kept saying “I can only appreciate your efforts once you actually fly”. He wouldn’t appreciate the smaller steps. A few hours before the first flight I told him how nervous I was and all he said was “breathe”. I said “I am”, he said “good” and continued to complain about what bothered him – that his dad made him clean up his room for me. He almost completely dismissed my fears and changed the subject to his problems. There were many more incidents, I could talk about them for hours. I’m glad it’s over but I will never be able to forget these memories.

  4. Barb says:

    I have been married 13 years and we have 5 children close together in age. My oldest is 12years old. Over the years I have had the silent treatment, tempers that are pretty volatile, children had his arms around their neck, things been broken, his dad’s pet bird shot because he didn’t like the sound, lots of swear words when I haven’t approved of that around kids, slowly my family have been cut out of our life because of him saying their “behaviours” are wrong etc. When I married I was 35 years old, healthy, independent, fully qualified accountant with my own practice. Since being married I have had 3 experiences of physcosis, recently severe depression and now suicide attempts. I finally see that it is emotional abuse but do still waver all the time thinking I must be the dysfunctional one (as he tells me). How do people get out when they get THIS low. I now can’t work, can barely think, only just managing kids but not engaging with them……they just see mum has “mental health problems”. Anyone got ANY tips at all. I am not able to be independent and safe with kids at the moment!! My family live in a different state so I can’t even go and live there with the children. Any tips please!!??

    • rebecca says:

      get out as fast as you can whatever it takes

    • Lucy says:

      Never defend your husband’s behaviors. Explain to your children why his actions are wrong and unacceptable and explain how it makes you feel. Hopefully they will understand why it makes you feel bad. But if you explain nothing to them or even defend your husband’s behavior, they will begin to think that it’s normal and acceptable behavior. If you can, read Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why does he do that?”. It helped me a lot and explains everything very well. You should definitely try to get out of that situation as fast as possible. Talk to your parents about it, talk to friends or relatives (even if they have become distant because of the abuse). They will understand. Save up money for plane tickets to move to your parents’ house. Just anything. But most importantly, explain to your children why their dad is abusive (even if it’s hard to do) and read that book. Stop listening to what your husband tells you about yourself and people in general (like your friends or parents). He WANTS you to believe that they are mean/bad/selfish/whatever, because he wants you to stop talking to them. He want you to be isolated because then he has more power over you. Listen to your instincts and never rationalize his behavior. Don’t make excuses for his behavior. There are many people out there who deal with life’s ups and downs non-abusively, remember that. There are no excuses!

  5. Carrie says:

    2/28/17 My husband of 7+ years left 5 days ago. He has a diagnosed history of depression. Took medication briefly prior to us meeting. Stopped. After 4 years together, he fell into a situational depression secondary to the loss of his parents 5 months apart. Began seeing a counselor. I began having sessions with the counselor as well; both together with my husband and separately. After 2 years of counseling, the therapist felt he should see a physician for medication again due to thoughts of suicide. He did. He began an anti-depressant and Hallelujah, the man I married had returned after 3 weeks of the medication. For 3 months things were wonderful. Then 1 week before our summer vacation, he abruptly stopped the medicine, stating he would never be on medication again and don’t I dare even suggest it. The vacation was awful. It was about 7 months ago and since then his mood has continued to decline. He seems so hostile towards me including bursts of anger, with inappropriate words and threats. I am not a girl to “take that”, and so I fight back which only makes it worse I realize. It’s my defense, right or wrong. So three days before Christmas he takes his wedding ring off and says “I’m not sure I want to be married anymore. I can’t take the fighting anymore and I’ve warned you for years I couldn’t take it”. We saw our counselor who gave us an assignment and he never started it. Instead 1 month later on my birthday he said he wanted a divorce. He didn’t leave until 1 week after Valentines Day. My Valentine card read, “I don’t want our story to end, I want a restart”. So I understand the whole ‘I cant make him better, can’t make him want to be better, need to focus on my own well-being’, I get it. I found this blog today and I wish more than anything he would read it and discover on his own what I did today-that while I have a big part in our difficulties, I feel ultimately his depression is the driving force. I would love to send him the link to this blog; however I was recently told to quit trying to diagnose him. Maybe it’s best to just let him go?

  6. 9 years in hell says:

    At least every 3 days I expect a verbal assault, and the holidays are the worst. Christmas is 2 days away… And he has ripped into me every night this week. 2 nights ago he included the children in his tirade. I am ready to leave.. It was listening to him do it to the kids and that I felt so emotionless that night. I usually cry or try to take responsibility for his issues. But I didn’t feel anything. Last night he wanted to make up, but the minute I hesitated to one of his demands, he started in again. I say nothing, do nothing… Always hoping it won’t escalate. If it does it means broken belongings, holes in walls, him taking it out on the children. So, this relates to depression… As I am depressed now, crying on and off, but hiding my feelings from everyone. I still try to get stuff done, presents for the kids and even him. I try to lose myself in tv.. I stay to myself but check in with my kids. I feel like a failure as a mom and a wife. My youngest son handed me a little card he made where he told me He loves me and I rock. My oldest never mention it… It is as though his yelling and cursing never happened… But they steer clear of him. I have to get myself together and leave not just for me but for them. The depression just makes it harder. How do others get it together to get out?

    • clive Len says:

      They go through the recovery process for codependency, one of the hardest and most painful things I have done. There is no other way, it’s literally a mind heart and soul repair job.

    • Lucy says:

      I can only recommend reading Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why does he do that?”. I think every victim of abuse should read it because it explains a lot and debunks many myths that made me tolerate my ex-boyfriend’s behavior. If/once your children are old enough, let them read the book too, otherwise they might end up abusive too. It’s pretty common and my ex’s dad was abusive too (and his dad maybe too). Explain to your children why their dad’s behavior is not okay. And leave the relationship even if it seems hard. I didn’t have to gl through this because my boyfriend broke up with me. Fortunately! Of course I was devastated for about a month, but since then, I’ve been feeling better every day (especially after having read the book) and now I’m happier than ever! Keep in mind that there are many non-abusive people out there. You can also write a list of incidents where he made you feel sad or angry or just general things that bother you about your husband. Once you watch it grow, it might make it easier for you to leave him. It also helps you not get back with him again afterwards. It’s a reminder and a warning for you to not get back with him even if you feel ready to give him another chance. I did that after the break-up and it helped me a lot. It made me realize how cruel my ex was and I’m so glad that he broke up with me (which, by the way, is not a common thing for abusers to do), and I definitely would have broken up with him if he hadn’t ended it. The book helped me a lot. It also explains how to break up with an abuser. I recommend not letting your children visit him – your husband might manipulate them and turn them against you and they might adapt his value system and become abusive too. Good luck! And leave immediately, it’s never too late!

  7. Lyndsey says:

    Thank you for posting. I have been looking and researching for months to understand what is wrong with ME. He is not happy because I must be such a bore. I nag to much, I spend to much money ( but never on myself) I don’t fulfill him emotionally, sexually or in any other manner. He works so he should not be asked to do anything. I should be ready to make love ( and with passion or else I make him mad) because I should be into it! I should have the house clean and the dinner ready. The clothes should always be done and I shouldn’t complain. Because I only work part time and I do t do anything all day. He should be able to go out and drink whenever he wants. It’s my fault that he berates me and belittles me when he’s drunk because I must be a slut that cheats on him with all my free time during the day. Who are you texting, talking too, looking at is what I constantly have to answer. It’s my fault I’m upset that he verbally attacks me when he’s hungover or drunk. Everything I say is a lie. He doesn’t do anything I say he does. I love attention. Without him I will have nothing. The list goes on and on. I walk on eggshells everyday wondering what I’m going to do or say to make him so upset. I would rather he be at work or sleeping so then I know I won’t get in trouble. Should I feel thankful that he puts a roof over our head and pays the bills why I am getting my degree? But at what cost? Is this happy? Can it be better? Can it be worse? I live in a world of anxiety. Never knowing if I’m doing the right or wrong thing. I don’t know who I am or what my purpose on earth is. I wake up just to get excited to go back to sleep.

    • Ms. VC says:

      I understand. And it makesnit even more difficult when you have children. Pray and get to know youself again. I am embarking on the exact same realization and it takes time and courage to do what you and I both are going to have to do…..

    • Michelle says:

      Your reply resonated with me…and I was shocked to see that it was recent so thought I should respond! I am in a similar situation and feel so lost. I take care of my two children entirely by myself, I feel like a single mother and I work 2 part time jobs from the house. My husband is “working” 24/7 and I have no clue what is going on b/c he feels no need to communicate with me any sort of schedule or whereabouts and then I get accused of nagging, etc. on top of it after a blow out he and I had over Christmas (which btw he didn’t come home for b/c he didn’t “want to be around me”) he has now decided that I need to cut my parents and my sister out of my and my children’s lives b/c I gave them too much info about what had happened, at a time when I was extremely upset. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the abuse goes. The name calling, the yelling, the mind games (which I get accused of playing). It’s exhausting and I too feel like a shell of myself. With two kids what are we suppose to do?? I should’ve left years ago. But what now?? I’m in it with you!

      • Carole says:

        Michelle I pray you find the strength to leave this man. Under no circumstance should you cut off contact with your family. You need them now more than ever. This is a tact by a desperate man to isolate you and diminish you. He will have more of a hold on you. Grab those children and run as if your life depended on it. Because it does. Wishing you joy and much deserved happiness.

      • Janie says:

        Hi Michelle – I was in the same boat as you. I was emotionally and verbally abused for 19 years and voluntarily put myself in a mental hospital (I had suicidal thoughts) because I just wanted to get away from the belittling, yelling, name calling, and blaming anyway that I could. I was always the crazy one and he was never wrong. I got blamed for the dumb things that he did and he blamed me for never having any money, even though he strictly controlled the finances. He even turned his and my family against me. They said that I needed him to survive and that it “takes two to fight”. I started to work on my self-esteem not only for me but for my daughter and she and I both found the strength through therapy to stand up to him. We will be in therapy for several years, but I know that we will be just fine. Our faith and hope in the Lord will keep us going. I will be praying for you and your family to find the peace and love of God in your hearts. Good luck sweetie, you are stronger than you know!

    • Emily says:

      I am so glad I found this. This is exactly what I am going through. You don’t love me enough..maybe I’ll find someone who does, my needs are not being met, you should get a boob job/tummy lift/work out more, I can tell you have a crush on xxx on social media, why did you say it that way?, why were you even thinking about that?, I never said that, you think I’m an a**hole…. He’s gone through my personal belongings while I’m asleep to try to catch me cheating (I’m not). He’s thrown me out on the street at 3 am when a friend texted. He’s walked out on me so many times I can’t count – and then comes back saying he’s grown and now we’ll be stronger than ever.

      I literally will do anything to keep from getting yelled at, in trouble, or accused – even if I have to confess to something I never did. I’ve started to have the feeling that I am crazy and have trouble thinking straight anymore. My thoughts are confused and I stress about consequences of anything I do (good or bad) before I act – it’s made me feel paralyzed in my life. I don’t want attention in real life or on social media because of the fallout at home so I’ve withdrawn from everything. I have panic attacks and don’t like to leave the house anymore. I recognize that I am deeply anxious and depressed and am in the process of getting medical help.

      I was happyy, healthy, and confident before I met him. Now I feel lost, weak, and so very, very confused about who I am

    • SDN says:

      You are a mirror image of me. My story is the same and we have a teen son. He has reduced me to a shell with no identity. I’ve had multiple nervous breakdowns and can’t function to try to work. He took me off accts and life insurance 4 years ago and I have no money at all. He’s cheated our whole marriage and I always forgave him but in 2012 I left him for two weeks and had affair also. I had so much guilt and shame. That guy wanted to help me but I couldn’t keep going thru with it. My husband wanted me home. He even said if I had an affair he would forgive me because he deserved it cuz he done it too me so much. But when I came home there was no mercy. His mask came off and there was Hell to pay. He’s been a monster to live with. He’s turned his family against me and they think he is the victim. He has pushed me down, grabbed my arms, shook me till my neck hurt, held me down, hit me a couple times, called me the most vile names, told me he hates my f***ing guts and wants a divorce so many times and to get out that I can’t even count them. I have no money and no where to go. No one to help. I try to work but I’m so emotionally unstable it’s hard to hold down a job. I’m forgetful, confused, I’m upset. I have to ask him for a dollar. I’m codependent on him. I wish I did not love him. What the hell is wrong with me?? Why can’t I break free? He is like a freaking drug I can’t quit!

  8. Chris says:


    I have been reading this blog …

    … and all of it makes sense and puts things into perpective. Thank you all.

    I have meet a man – who was my “soulmate” in every way… but after 3 month things started to change – he became more and more indirect abusive (verbally), blamed me more and more for at lot of things -while i was “running” faster and faster in order to “live up” to his expectations and demands.

    I felt more and more… like a thing. An object he could push around when he pleased.

    I broke it off, heart-broken (we had been dating for 8 month at the time)… after a period of time (where i healed from the negative effect of it) i realized that there was something really wrong with him. It wasnt me. It was him.

    For 3 month i tried in every way to get him to seek treatment, but he turned more and more cold and aggressive. Nasty.

    The problem is – that he is a single dad with a severely handicapped daughter. She is unable to communicate on a more complex level (she is like a 7-year old mentally eventhough she is 15).

    I slowly realized that she was in a very serious situation with her dad. I tried everything; contacted his family, friends and the authorities. No one has reacted at all.

    Right now he has isolated him self and the daugther compleatly. Mocking me on social media – he has been drinking.

    This child is in serious peril and i really dont know what to do? I am thing about calling the police and the media. Something has to be done. He has to be stopped and get treatment – or his daughter has to be removed from his care.

  9. nameless says:

    Hi I wonder can a person ever behave as one might had they not been tortured and beaten for years.I mean can we act right and shed the baggage of shame? I’m trying to make it through college I have one semester left yet I m struggling to find a way to be abused physically and emotionally and then just go to class. I cover the bruiuses best as I can.But I’m having a hard time making the grades I’m an A student easy but last semesters have suffered.In 2012 I had 4.0 today 3.24 and I’m blessed to have it. I’M taking Info Tech aka computers and my live in darkness-sons dad destroys any computer I have, monitors, screens, well seven in 2 years time.Kind of makes life hard but I do it. Will I make it out of this ok ? Sanity and self intact? He beats me with belts across my legs where standing is hard, Had glasses thrown at my face, un mounted head board thrown on my head literally.This is only past 6 mos I’m scared I’ll be worthless after I graduate. I am worried I ll loose ability to function . Can I withstand it ? He steals money locks keys in car, hides my keys, lies to my face and complains I’m suck a [email protected]&$h and tells people he fighting with the [email protected]#h when it’s peaceful .I don’t know where to go what’s next .Any push would be helpful.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Nobody makes it out of a situation like that unless they leave. Battered women’s shelters are there for you. Please act now for yourself and your son. Get any kind of support you can!

  10. Sue says:

    Thank you for your words.
    Recovery is a funny thing. You remember bits and pieces of the past, and are shocked that you didn’t recognize the abuse at the time…
    My husband changed as soon as we were married. I used too much toilet paper. Tissues were for blowing your nose, not toilet paper. I spent too much money on groceries. I should be drinking more water. These comments all in the first week…
    I had waited 2 years to be able to take a Health Care Aide course. I was accepted shortly after our marriage, but he was not pleased and planned a trip out of town for my start date, basically ensuring I would be behind from the start. He told me “the only diapers I want my wife to be changing will be my kid’s”.
    But I was pregnant within a month of our marriage, and he was kind and supportive once he knew, worrying when I tired and when I didn’t feel well.
    When the pregnancy resulted in a premature birth and then death, I began a new course of study, one that he supported and encouraged. I took a job that he approved of, things seemed to be better.
    When he lost his job, things took another turn as we were fully immersed in a renovation and I was pregnant again. We moved across the country for work. He insisted we couldn’t move my car, so I was without transportation in a new city with a new baby. I had no friends except for church women, and even then when I was late coming home from a night out with them he locked me out of the house, and turned off the lights inside and out, knowing I was afraid of the dark, and then ignored me when I did get in. The next day he brushed his behaviour aside and insisted I was foolish and too sensitive.
    Isolated with only church friends (some of whom he still didn’t approve of) I felt I had lost the support of my family across the country. I bought him a (very used) car for his birthday, and he was angry with me. Now of course I see it was because I would have freedom to move without having to request his vehicle for the day.
    With 4 children and a move to a bigger home, he was offered his dream job back home. And for the first time I stood up to him and said since our oldest was in school and we had just purchased this wreck of a house to fix up and wouldn’t be able to sell it again, I was not going to move again. Period.
    And then things went off the rails.
    I spoke to church leaders about his behaviour.
    I spoke to our family doctor.
    He and I had a long talk about our future, and we agreed to work on things.
    But nothing changed. 4 more years went by. There were times that I would burst into tears when someone said hello to me. There were times when he would be sweet and thoughtful. And there were times when he would single out one misbehaving child with words like “we were having a marvelous time and you went and ruined it. Thanks so much for ruining our day”.
    He would spit out angry words, and then when I spoke about the way he talked to me he would say “I merely said…” in the tones one would use with a stubborn child.
    He made me question my parenting ability, my spirituality, my family’s support. He would threaten me, and then deny it while suggesting I was crazy and making things up. He actually insisted I wasn’t angry with him, I suffered from repressed anger towards my mother!!
    As I heal, windows of memory open, and I see bits of hateful behaviour that I had hidden away in my mind. A forum to talk about this abuse can sometimes sound like a bitch session, but it is a safe place to speak about the memories as they surface, and to unload them.
    Blogs such as this are affirming. Other people experience the same things… literally the same behaviours. Even now, there are days I wonder if I’m not crazy. Blogs such as yours show the gas lighting for what it was.

  11. saumya says:


    First off I would like to say you stole my words! I have put up your content in my blogspot. I have also shared my experiences as well in my posts there. What i have to tell you is that the anger, hurt and frustration is so high in such a case that you cannot sit and take blows of other people around who sit and justify the wrongs of such a person. It causes immense hatred and resentment. Thankfully i was made aware by my counselor that it is just a minority and they don’t matter much!
    I was blamed for my depression, he had sex during my depression and in the end blamed me that i wanted to sleep with him that’s why i gave in.. I have seen my mother going through depression because of of a similar situation at her office, and the way my father dealt with it was so very different than what i was treated like… And sometimes i believe that such people have a family and friends that are enablers in such behaviors.

  12. saumya says:


    excellent article, you stole my words! I have put up your content on my blogspace and it does give out my experiences of an abusive relationship… I am headed for a divorce. Like you said there is immense frustration in being told you are crazy when you are going insane and ballistic with anger and frustration. As far as I can say it is something that needs specialized help…

  13. B Thompson says:

    I’m in the midst of this right now. My wife is bipolar and is prone to mixed states where she will take out all her frustration and anger on me. It is relentless when it happens. Everything I say gets twisted and turned back on me, if I defend myself it just gets worse. She tells me how I am feeling and calls my own feelings crap and lies. Everything about me gets discredited and broken down. Many times I have tried to simply remove myself by walking away but she will chase me down and accuse me of not listening to her, of trying to avoid talking to her because I want to punish her somehow. These bouts can last for days or even weeks and leave me severely depressed and confused which when she come out of that state she will try to help me get over my depression by telling me I need therapy and should be heavily medicated while she herself, having been involuntarily committed twice, refuses both. I can clearly see the projection she employs but dare not try to tell her about it anymore. If I challenge her too much it brings out violent destruction of inanimate objects. Last thing to suffer her wrath was her jewelry, most of which got completely destroyed.

    I have no friends anymore. Last time I tried to go out I had a panic attack. There is this persistent fear that I’ll do something wrong in the presence of someone and be judged as she judges me. I’m constantly confused about everything, my thoughts are a jumbled mess of contradiction. I don’t even know which ones are genuinely mine anymore.

    I have thought many times about not coming home after work. Just sleeping in some dark parking lot in the car. It would be better than being woken up at 2am so she can initiate one of her talks.

    • Tim says:


      Thank you for this. I’m in the middle of a similar situation with a depressed wife at the moment. The more I try to support her the more she takes any opportunity to blame everything she doesnt like in the world (including her depression) on me. I want to be supportive but its having a serious impact on my own mental health now. Trawling the net suggests that this just doesnt happen and depression in women is always the result of an abusive man. There seems to be nowhere to turn for a man in this position. I cant even talk to my friends/family as I dont want to risk a reduction in their support to help her overcome her depression or in our (hopefully long, happy) life after it. Thank you for your comments and, given its a year since you wrote this, is there anything you can add about how things turned out?

      • Adeline says:

        Hi, it took me years to realize that the loving, wonderful man I once met was the same person who was more and more abusing me psychologically. The truth is that we had an affair which ended up destroying his family and although he wanted to live with me before he was found out for some reason once we were living together he started to pull away from me and things only got worse. He would talk to me as little as he could get away with (I moved abroad to live with him so I knew no one and through the years we moved house quite a bit so most of the time I didn’t really have friends I could trust, I was a housewife so no work colleagues either!). He would turn away when I was talking, be very kind and talkative to everybody, even strangers, but not with me and it got worse and worse, so much so that we are in the process of getting divorced and I am going through a terrible depression, also because he organized his financial affairs so well that although I am at an age that I won’t find a job again I will probably be left without enough to live from (we lived a very luxury life). By law I do have rights but who is willing to go after his money? I do have a very good lawyer but he knows that he won’t be paid much so he does very little!

        The abuse got so bad that from a few good weeks it eventually turned into just a few good hours or days. Anything I said, did, didn’t say or didn’t do was enough to make him mad. Anything I said could be twisted and used against me, he would adopt a second personality which was very cruel, calculated and manipulative, one I could never fight against and win! We did try couple therapy, even came to live to his home country to do it but it didn’t work because he never talked about the abuse (we were having separate sessions first). He would do everything in his power to destroy our life together. From a very nice, cheerful, youngish person, very good looking too, I am now a broken loner who has neglected herself so badly that it is a miracle I am still around! I look old and sad now! I just live day by day helped by medication, waiting for the verdict of the court. He came back over and over again, determined to win me back and every time he managed to wreck all my hopes of a better life, leaving me hopeless and terribly frightened of the future, once again in a country where I know no one. He threated to throw me out of the house where we were staying so I had to decide not to go out for over two weeks in order to be sure he wouldn’t lock me out but I hardly had anything to eat and I knew no one here who could help me (no organizations helped either!), eventually he left. A few months earlier he left our country home abroad during the night, taking all his stuff with him and disappeared leaving a goodbye letter leaving me completely stranded as I don’t drive, bewildered, unable to go anywhere, depending on people I hardly knew but… came back with all kinds of promises, brought me here for therapy and went on abusing me! When he drinks things get worse. Still… he is a highly educated and respected man! He always told me that if I told this story to anybody no one would believe me. In the end it is my word against his……

        This is just a short version! I have no doubt he will try to convince people that he was married to this lunatic, depressed woman who had been married twice, a home wrecker…. but believe me… I was a nice, worthy person who had a difficult life but worthy and loving! He says now that he never saw me as his wife and not even as his lover…. I loved him dearly and even now I don’t hate him! I just wish he would seek treatment. For me an abuser is a person who is very sick so I don’t even seek to forgive him, I just wish I could help him in his way to recovery but I can’t! For the time being I just try to survive and I hope there will be a good financial outcome for my old age because without that I will be lost!

        Thanks for listening and for sharing!

    • Chris says:


      I have had the same… serious problem.

      I have tried everything to find information on who men react and can be helped… and there is almost nothing.

      My x-boyfriend started showing all signs of a servere depression but denied treatment – wouldnt even acknowledged that there was something wrong even though it is very clear. His family and friends seem… “nume” – and dont react to anything. They ignore it.

      How can there not be any more information for men and about men?

      Not only men with depression (and how to help them) but also for men with partners who have mental illness.

      But thank you for sharing.

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for your post.
      I have lived for the past 30 years with a wife who suffers from clinical depression & acute anxiety & have been able to support her emotionally but have now reached the stage of ‘support burn out’.
      I have had enough of being accused of bullying if I do not agree with her unreasonable demands to do things to ease her anxiety.
      Most of the support sites are female oriented & as men & women are wired differently, it is not always possible to reasonably transpose.
      Once close friends & family are now & have been for some years, at a distance through here retreats into what I call her ‘rabbit burrow’.
      I really am at somewhat of a loss at how to deal effectively with the situation, but I do plod on.

  14. Maronne says:

    OMG – THANK YOU for your blog and this article. It was immensely comforting to read about your encounter with a co-worker who twisted what you said into something completely different that made you appear like a bad guy/trouble maker. I experienced the same thing with my BOSS. That was a good six or seven years ago and I am still paralyzed by it. What I mean is that I’ve been in weekly therapy for the past 4+ years and I still panic at the thought of returning to the workplace.

    I know that events prior to working for that particular person made me easy prey . . . and like you described – you’re left looking like an incompetent, irrational and severely emotionally, mentally, and psychologically disturbed person after the already overwhelmingly painful ordeal is over.

    As you can probably tell, I’m really having a hard time with it all. But your blog is so comforting to my soul. Thank you for sharing it.

    • john says:

      Thanks, Maronne – I’m glad some of these posts are helpful to you. I haven’t encountered anything like that level of abuse in a work setting, but I’ve heard far too many stories like yours. That’s such a shattering experience, you wonder how people like your boss can maintain their positions. I suppose when people get to a certain level, they can drop the usual constraints and prey on anyone they please. Even more insidious, they can often get the rest of the staff to add to the abuse.

      My very best to you in your hard work to restore yourself after such trauma.


  15. Will C says:

    I grew up with manipulative abuse and though I’m past forty, it still hasn’t completely gelled in my mind. With my parents, my mother especially, the manipulation wasn’t malicious; it just came from such a deep well of denial that they had world views which were often completely at odds with reality. My father was somewhat more aware of his ‘bubble’, though his multiple degrees in psychology and neurophysiology did more to insulate him from reality and gave him much more concrete tools to manipulate those around him. When I was about thirteen, my mother had finally had enough of my ‘back talk’ and started beating me. I ran to the protection of my father, who had by then divorced my mother.
    Her biggest, most immediate problem was that she was so far removed from reality that she needed a child around to ground her, using the child’s perceptions as an anchor to society. That gets complicated really fast, but after I left, she replaced me with my sister, a child by my step-father. They never divorced, and when my sister reached twelve, she couldn’t take it any longer either, and shot herself. Death by denial.
    So I get into this chronic funk, now, where I force myself to see reality, to see myself, to see the behaviors of others, so as not to deny difficult truths, because I know that it can kill.
    But I haven’t figured out how to be happy about it. And still, no one ever thanks me for pointing out their BS.

    • john says:

      Hi, Will C –

      That’s such a terrifying story, and I can well see how it can take decades to grasp all its dimensions. That a mother could use children in that way, not to just to ground her but to grind them, is so unthinkable – or at least something I can’t bear to think about. Yet I’ve seen it over and over again. After a while, I give up on trying to explain abuse – it’s got to stop. It’s a great thing you could get away from her, but it sounds like it must have cost you a lot to live with your father too.

      You’re a real survivor – resilience is one of the greatest gifts.


  16. Louise says:

    I grew up with an emotionally abusive father who carried his fractured childhood into his own family, particularly with me and my mother. It becomes a cycle with each generation until someone breaks it. I believe my son and I have done that. My father’s family were emigrants and life for them during their era was very difficult at times. Today my father has Alzheimer’s disease and I am his guardian and primary caregiver. Because his needs are constant, he resides in a Alzheimer’s dementia home where I visit him frequently and see to it that he is well cared for. He looks forward to my visits and I am his only visitor. I believe everything that comes to us in life brings with it profound lessons. He is the sole survivor of many brothers and sisters on both sides of the family. I do not think it a coincidence he now depends on me and we are here at this time together. It is a lesson in love. There has been a silver lining of much to overcome, forgiveness, and healing with lots of growth thrown in.

    • john says:

      Hi, Louise –

      That’s so moving to hear! Forgiveness is so hard for me, though a kind of acceptance has finally settled in. It’s a wonderful achievement of yours to have broken that cycle – heartfelt congratulations to you! That’s true in my family as well, especially my wife and our grown sons – I’ve been a bit shaky on that since depression has come right down the line.

      Thanks for writing this.


  17. Evan says:

    Well, here I am being contrarian. I’m not sure I agree with the critique of therapy culture. (Though as you know I’m not exactly an uncritical admirer.)

    • john says:

      Hi, Evan –

      I can see what she means. Getting out of the trap of abuse is an emergency and has to take precedence over any other need for therapy. Once a person can regain some independence and trust in their own needs and reactions – and feels a sense of safety – then therapy can deal with other issues.. Ending the vulnerability to an abuser would likely take a long time – but if you start with that, it seems that the abused person shares blame for the emotional and often physical violence. That’s not true, and getting away from the abuser is priority 1.


      • Molly says:

        A friend led me to all of you and I am so grateful to not feel so alone anymore. You are all saving my life just reading your stories. I feel same. You are all giving me strength to get out – this is an emergency. I am breaking this cycle for my four young children.

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