My husband says and does things that drive me crazy. The problem is, he’s the nicest guy in town, has tons of friends, and no one but me can see the crazy things he does. He tells me I’m imagining things and that he is absolutely doing nothing wrong. Sometimes I can’t even figure out what he’s doing, but I know he’s doing something because my head is always spinning. What can I do?

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It may help to know you’re not imagining things. There are actions others take and behaviors they engage in of which even they are not aware, but cause us no end of distress. These behaviors fall under the label of covert emotional abuse.

Covert emotional abuse comprises actions such as rewriting history, blame-shifting, truth-twisting, deception, minimization, entitlement, justification, and the host of other “thinking errors” that I refer to as crazymaking. Any one of these tactics to avoid accepting responsibility for one’s actions is incredibly harmful to the victim. More than one used against the victim can be extremely debilitating emotionally and even physically.

Is it really possible that someone isn’t aware of the harmful actions he is taking against you? Absolutely. The answer to that question lies in one word—DENIAL.

DENIAL—Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying to myself—runs rampant in us all. We have an incredible desire to see ourselves as normal. We may also have a desire to see others, and our relationships, as normal. Consider that even you — and I — have an idealized viewpoint of ourselves. How we perceive ourselves undoubtedly runs counter to an accurate perception of who we are. Someone has said that if we truly saw ourselves for the sinners we are, we would not be able to stand it.

So, your husband does things that drive you crazy and then denies doing them. You try to tell him what he is doing, to the best of your ability, and he is unable and perhaps unwilling to hear the criticism. Hence, the destructive patterns of behavior continue and you end up feeling crazy, again and again. But, back to covert emotional abuse.

Because of the power of denial, your husband is not able to effectively take responsibility for his actions. While it may seem that his actions are premeditated, that is not likely to be the case. Make no mistake, however — he remains responsible for his hurtful actions. How, under these circumstances, can he be challenged to take responsibility for his hurtful actions? How can he own something he denies and cannot see? These are critical questions. Here are some beginning steps to take.

Become informed about covert emotional abuse. Much has now been written about emotional abuse and covert emotional abuse. The professional community is finally becoming more informed about the incredible impact emotional abuse has on its victims. Professionals are becoming aware of the power of the abuser, including the collusion that takes place within families, communities, and even churches to avoid talking about this problem. Become informed.

Become convicted about this problem. Once you have learned about this problem, cultivate a sense of indignation about it. Allow yourself to feel a sense of indignation about how wrong these crazymaking tactics are and how detrimental they are to the victims, including yourself.

Become convinced of a need for change. You must move from feeling a sense of indignation to a sense of conviction that change is needed. Without a sense that these crazymaking behaviors are WRONG, you will not have the strength or courage to sustain the change process. You will need this conviction to reach out for help and to insist on change from your mate.

Begin a plan of intervention. Change cannot take place without ownership of the problems. There can be no ownership without intervention. This requires that you recognize all  you are doing to enable these destructive patterns to continue and develop a plan for change. There must also be a professional who can “call out” the destructive, crazymaking patterns of behavior. Your plan must be specific and should include professional involvement and personal support.

Be consistent in following through with the intervention. Because crazymaking behaviors are entrenched and likely part of your husband’s character, your intervention plan must take into account the likelihood of resistance. Very few men (or women) face the prospect of significant change eagerly. Therefore you must be ready for intervention that must be sustained over time.

In summary, covert emotional abuse CAN be changed, but requires all these steps for success. If you fail to arm yourself with significant conviction, courage, and preparation, you will likely lose heart and succumb to your husband’s resistance. If, however, you hang in there, receiving good care, change is possible.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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