Have you ever been with a guy who’s turned on you and raged:
You did this! You did that! You’re such a you-know-what. I know who you really are, you [BLEEP].”
That’s a verbal attack.
It’s not just him being angry. It’s him trying to make you feel horrible.
Why do men do this? And why does it work on us?
If you’re like me, when you’re told that not only did you DO something wrong, but you ARE something wrong, you tend to take it on board.
You think, “Oh, gosh, really?”
You feel embarrassed of yourself. You may not understand what he’s on about, but you feel ashamed nonetheless.
That’s why those attacks are so successful.
What he’s hoping for is that you’ll feel shame…
Shame that will keep you from responding in an empowered way.
He can see his blows land. He wants you to feel bad about yourself.
Because then he can control you.
Shame as Control
When a guy goes off at you, telling you that you’re this and you’re that, what’s your first thought?
That’s completely unacceptable. That’s not how someone who loves me behaves.”
Or it it:
OMG, I’m such a bad person”?
It doesn’t matter how ridiculous his accusations are. You feel ashamed.
You feel horrified that he sees you this way. You feel sick that you’re fighting.
Everyone thinks you’re such a great couple. What if they knew about this?
You know you can’t tell ANYONE what is going on.
Because if you told someone, they’d ask you what he said, and you’d have to repeat those gross words out loud. It would make them real.
So you just try to forget about it, try to forget this ever happened, in hopes it will go away.
But, of course, it doesn’t go away.
He’s seen how well this works on you.
So he does it again.
Any time you’re getting a bit too confident, or you ask too much of him, he can bring you right down with a few well-placed accusations.
Shame is Poison
Shame is an effective form of manipulation.
Think back to your younger days. Remember how guys used to shame girls into doing something they didn’t want to do? If you didn’t … say… send him a sexy pic, you were a prude. But the moment you did send one, you were loose.
These guys learn from a very young age that shaming works on women.
It’s our nature as women to want to make people happy and do what’s expected of us. We’re susceptible to the message that “If you loved me, you’d do this for me.”
I don’t think any woman reaches adulthood without having been told some terrible things about who she is.
Things that are completely untrue. Things that were told to her as a way to control her.
We carry those secrets inside us like poison. We know we shouldn’t care what people say about us. We know we should just let it go and forget about it.
But you can’t take in poison and expect your body to metabolize it.
You’ve got to get it OUT of you.
You’ve got to take all of those things that were said about you and give them a good airing.
Talk about It
You can do this in a number of ways.
You can make art. (Remember that “Nasty Woman” meme?) You can tell a friend about what happened. You can talk to a counselor. You can share anonymously on a forum.
Once those words are out of your body and into the fresh clean air, they lose their power. They shrink.
You can see how completely ridiculous they are.
When a man says horrible things to you, he wants you to feel so ashamed that you’ll never tell a soul what’s going on.
Shame researcher Brené Brown writes that “shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story.”
When you share that shaming experience with someone you can trust to respond in a supportive and empathetic way, the shame evaporates.
Think about what you would say to a friend who told you that her guy was saying the same things to her as yours said to you.
Wouldn’t you be worried about her?
Wouldn’t you immediately want to support her?
That’s the kind of support available to you, if you find the courage to talk about it.
When He Triggers You
You can know in your head that a guy is trying to shame you, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling sick inside.
It is gross to listen to a man rage on about you.
That’s why I recommend that all women carry a shield. It’s something I call the Mirror Technique. Learn about it here.
Something that compounds the shame is when you get so triggered that you react badly. You shout back at him. You say things you know you shouldn’t have said.
So now you definitely don’t want to tell anyone, because you’re embarrassed of how you responded.
I want you to read a quote by Lundy Bancroft, the author of Why Does He Do That? which is a must-read for any woman who’s dealing with a man like this. He writes:
Your abusive partner doesn’t have a problem with his anger; he has a problem with your anger.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you—as will happen to any abused woman from time to time—he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are.”
When I read that quote, it was like Lundy Bancroft knew my life.
If someone rages at you and you try to fight back…
Are you at fault because you tried to defend yourself?
Drain His Power Away
Once you’ve dealt with your own shame, you stop feeling so reactive about it.
Everything nasty and mean that could be said about you has been said. You’ve talked through it with people you care about. It doesn’t trigger you in the same way anymore.
You can listen to his nastiness and not feel anything. You feel detached, like you’re watching a grown man make a fool of himself.
You realize what you’re seeing now.
You’re seeing behavior that isn’t okay. Behavior that isn’t loving. Behavior that’s actually quite cruel.
Do you want to be with someone like that?
Sure, maybe he has a temper. Maybe he gets carried away. But the real question is whether he feels entitled to treat you that way. If he does, there’s no hope.
But if he feels ashamed of how he behaves, if he feels remorse, then you can get help and work through this.
Take Care of Yourself
I really hope that you have the support you need to talk about these things.
Sometimes our friends can’t do it for us. Sometimes we need the help of someone professionally trained in the art of holding space for people and supporting them through their worst times.
If you can, find a counselor who specializes in abusive relationships. There are some low- or no-cost options in some areas.
And if you want to learn more about toxic relationships, these articles could help:
- What to Do When Your Boyfriend Yells at You
- My Boyfriend Yells at Me
- The Verbally Abusive Relationship – Interview with Patricia Evans
- 5 Warning Signs of a Toxic Relationship
- What’s the #1 Dating Red Flag?
- Why I’m Attracted to Narcissists
- Stop Being an Emotional Punching Bag
- How Do You Stop Loving a Toxic Person?
- How to Leave a Toxic Relationship
- How to Deal with Toxic People – Interview with Dr. Rhoberta Shaler