My husband yells at me when he’s angry. He calls me names and says derogatory things about me. He almost always apologizes later. The problem is, I can’t get his words out of my head. They echo in my mind and I’m beginning to see myself the way he sees me when he’s angry. What can I do to only see myself the way he says he sees me when he’s not angry?

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Perhaps your situation is one reason why Scripture is so forthright in telling us, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Proverbs 15:18). Your hot-tempered husband certainly stirs up strife, but that’s not all he does. He plants seeds of doubt and worthlessness in your mind so you struggle — as anyone would — with your sense of self-worth.

Consider this: Negative, abusive words, spoken again and again, become affixed in your mind. Your husband is fooling himself if he thinks he can expunge them by telling you later he didn’t really mean them or by being superficially apologetic. (If he were truly sorry, he would repent and turn from those actions.)

The apostle James said it best: “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5). Actually, your husband’s hurtful words are no small spark but a flame that’s now set a forest ablaze. That forest, sadly, is your mind and your marriage. Your husband needs to take responsibility for the damage he is doing.

Your story brings to light another issue. Many victims of emotional abuse —  such as you — talk themselves out of feeling abused because they care for the perpetrator and believe his rationalizations for bad behavior. Perpetrators of emotional abuse often blame their victim for their abusive behavior and deny remembering what happened, rewrite history, or offer a myriad other excuses and tactics of denial.

Because of the silence surrounding this issue, most perpetrators of emotional abuse fail to receive effective help. They often resist counseling and even justify their behavior. “I didn’t mean it. I was just mad at the time,” they say. Thus it becomes difficult to hold them accountable for change. Because they fail to get in-depth help for their ingrained, troubled behavior, women like you are left to try to overcome the negative messages on their own. A false sense of shame further creates a conspiracy of silence.

If you are tired of seeing yourself through his angry eyes, consider the following action plan:

End your silence. For many reasons, the spouse of an angry, abusive man often remains silent about the problem — partly because they fear exposing their mate, partly because they are unsure there is anything wrong. Most still love their husbands and want to believe the best about them. Don’t maintain silence. Neither you nor he will get necessary help if you remain silent. Find someone to talk to about what is happening.

Become informed about emotional abuse. Scripture repeatedly talks about the dangers of anger. Anger stirs up even more hostility and often abusive language and behavior. Fortunately, lots of resources exist about covert and overt emotional abuse. Seek understanding about this critical topic.

Get ongoing support. Online and in-person support groups exist all across the nation and within our churches. We are becoming more aware of this epidemic and are beginning to take a stand against it. Look for programs that will offer you support. Look to your local women’s support shelter if you believe you may be experiencing emotional abuse.

Have a no-tolerance policy on abuse. Abuse cannot continue if it is not tolerated. After learning about emotional abuse and getting support, prepare to draw clear boundaries and refuse to be in fellowship with an angry, abusive man. Insist that he gets help for this specific problem from a specialist in emotional abuse.

Maintain healthy boundaries. Don’t be talked out of your position on this critical issue. Refuse to participate in “crazymaking” behaviors that let him off the hook. Take note of his actions and continue to set boundaries against them. Maintain support as you strive to become stronger and stronger.

Remain committed to healing. Growth will not happen for you or him in one fell swoop. Learn all you can about this topic. Commit to growth and clear, healthy boundaries. Continue getting support and pursue healing.

In summary, anger has long been known to be a destructive secondary emotion that hides more vulnerable emotions. Anger is often coupled with hurtful words and other forms of emotional abuse. Be committed to ending abuse and seeking healing.

If you would like more information on emotional abuse, please see my book, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life. Furthermore, 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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