Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Emotional abuse is everywhere and is something that we are all capable of doing, just like we can all gaslight. The difference is motive. And consistency.
Typically one who abuses, in any form, desires control. Actually I think a sense of control is something we all want, but it doesn’t really exist. We just think we have control over something. But abuse enters in when we want to control another person.
Here’s what I mean….
You don’t like what someone else is doing so you ‘threaten’ to take something away (validation, communication, dessert, money, yourself, etc) until they do what you want
You don’t like where a conversation is going so you divert to another topic, usually something about the other person, in order to take the attention off of you
You don’t want to risk rejection so you don’t share how you really feel
You avoid any conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable
You lie in order to be liked or accepted
You keep secrets in hopes of avoiding conflict
You get the idea. These are all covert ways of being abusive.
Denial. Stonewalling. Gaslighting. Avoiding. Diverting blame.
We can all do them, but again, what is the motive? Is it done consistently or on occasion? Do you notice a cycle?
There are many other forms of emotional abuse that is more overt….being told you aren’t sexually attractive, being yelled at and demeaned, ridiculed, bullied, etc.
To know if you are being emotionally abused, take note of how you feel when you are around that person. If you feel trapped, like you have no way out, or have a visceral response to being around that person or even the thought of being around that person, you are most likely a victim of emotional abuse.
There’s help out there…many times professionals can miss emotional abuse. If this happens, seek another one, call the hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or go to thehotline.org.
So what does emotional abuse have to do with sex addiction?
I’m glad you asked. I never would have thought that the two were connected.
But again, it’s about control.
It’s about controlling what the other person thinks of you or feels about you. Because ultimately if they knew the ‘real’ you, you might not be accepted. So you control the narrative through lies and any other means of self preservation.
Looking at addiction of any sort, but here we talk about sex addiction, there is likely a wound from childhood that has never been healed. Never feeling you had any control over outcomes, you take it upon yourself to find a place you can control. Sadly it’s often something, such as porn use, alcohol or drugs, that damages yourself and others.
In the case of sex addiction, if he is looking at pornography, he can think that it doesn’t affect anyone else. It is something he is doing in secret. No one knows. It doesn’t hurt his wife or family. He can compartmentalize his actions and thoughts.
What he doesn’t realize is that it is actually changing his brain chemistry. His neurological pathways have changed to only be soothed by porn….and more of it. As a result, he could desire porn over an intimate relationship with his wife. He will probably not know how to communicate with her fully or express his needs well. He is only able to relate to himself and fulfill his own needs. The ‘women’ he watches will always be happy to see him, will never say they’re too tired or ‘not tonight’, they will always satisfy him without him having to put forth any extra effort relationally.
What is being controlled?
Intimacy and connection
Your ability to know truth
This is abuse. How? He’s keeping a part of himself secret. He’s lying about his actions and intentions. He’s not only controlling your sex life because he either wants more or isn’t initiating at all and is turning you away (intimacy anorexia), but every other part of your relationship as well.
As a partner you will feel this. You may not know what is going on, but your body holds on to your unspoken trauma. I can remember having very irrational thoughts about wanting to jump out of our moving vehicle on the way to church or being incapable of driving close to other cars. All I could surmise was the feeling that I was trapped and had no way out. It was scary, but now I understand that it was trauma from being betrayed.
Addicts are very good at keeping secrets, which also means that when you make decisions, you don’t have all the facts. As a partner you may feel as though you are both 'all in' in the relationship, but he is actually motivated by protecting himself. By that I mean that when making decisions, whether they are relational or financial, you don't have all the facts. You are coming at the decision from a different perspective. He knows the 'truth' and you only know what he has allowed you to know.
Addiction distorts every area of the relationship. You will know in your gut that something is off but you often can’t pinpoint what it is. I have talked with partners whose sex life is great and others whose is non existent; some who feel their spouse is very forthcoming in communication and those who's spouse is closed off. Every addict is different and has different wounds that brought them to this place. And every addict needs to do the hard work of healing those wounds if a relationship with anyone-spouse, kids, family, friends-can be healthy.
Now that we know a little bit about how emotional abuse and sex addiction are linked, what can we do about it?
I’ll say it again….seek help. Healing happens in community so find a great support group that addresses the fact that being a partner of a sex addict is traumatizing. Also find a counselor or coach that understands betrayal trauma, preferably certified through APSATS (Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) who are skilled at using their Multi-dimensional Trauma Model to work with their clients. Anyone trained through APSATS also understands the component of emotional abuse in sex addiction.
Along with seeking help, you also need to seek safety. I can’t tell you what that looks like for you. For some it may mean counseling or coaching. Others may need to learn how to set better boundaries. Often partners need a time out from their spouse, and that’s okay. You can ask them to leave for a time, from the house or the bedroom, so that you can heal, regain safety and seek the help that you need. Any spouse that recognizes that his actions have been damaging will gladly accommodate his partners request, especially if he voices that he desires to work on the marriage.
There are men who not only say they don’t want to live this way anymore but who actually put their words into action by seeking real recovery. Remember to watch actions, not words.
Addiction and abuse aren’t a normal way of life. There’s healing for you both if you want it. Your husbands addiction isn't your fault. And neither is the abuse.
How have you been effected by emotional abuse?
What have you done to facilitate healing for yourself?