Sins of Omission

Survivors of abusive relationships are often accused of choosing to be in that relationship. Yet, I have never met anyone who became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship on purpose or felt they had even an inkling of the abusive nature of their relationship until they were well and truly involved.

Abuse generally doesn’t occur on the first date or even during the first weeks or months of a relationship. People put up with control tactics in the workplace to keep their jobs. When control tactics sneak into a relationship, it is almost always after a commitment is made, and some of these tactics are very subtle.

The accurate hindsight of survivors of verbal abuse can be used as intelligent foresight.  There are some important social behaviors which seem to be lacking or inconsistent in people who are emotionally abusive and controlling.

Covert emotional abuse is very hard to detect by anyone who hasn’t already experienced it! The most insidious emotional abuse involves sins of omission rather than overtly controlling behavior. The abusive behavior is often interspersed with loving behavior, which confuses the situation. The inconsistent loving behavior provides aperiodic conditioning, which is the most powerful kind of conditioning.

Here are some sins of omission that are emotionally abusive and are often precursors to more overt behavior. When you encounter these behaviors in a relationship on a consistent basis, I suggest you stop giving the benefit of the doubt and run like hell in the opposite direction.

Failure to Respond. In the absence of a severe hearing impairment, anyone who does not respond to your greetings, comments or questions is controlling the communication in an anti social way. Relationships in which power is shared involve two way communication. Refusing to respond could be hostile or it could be an indication of a personality problem. You cannot have an equal relationship with anyone who gives you the silent treatment.

Withholding. Whether it is information, affection, approval or resources, withholding is the sign of a competitive relationship. A competitive relationship is not an equal relationship. When you meet someone who fails to make eye contact or say “hello,” I’d recommend you leave skid marks rather than stick around and invite more of this behavior.

Countering.  It may be disguised as a simple difference of opinion, but whenever someone immediately dismisses your point of view without consideration, you are not being treated as an equal.  Argument and discussion involve listening to each others opinions and this should go both ways. 

Forgetting. Some forgetting is simply a failure to remember, and is really a form of withholding if it happens all the time. There simply is not any good excuse for not remembering a spouse’s or partner’s birthday. Subtle forgetting is forgiven more often than it should be. A person who has been a close friend or partner for many months or years, should know who you are, remember important details about you and your life and remember the details of plans you have made together.

In a potentially romantic relationship, forgetting can include forgetting earlier encounters and this can get very confusing. The man (or woman) who looked deeply into your eyes last week and told you that you were significant, but barely remembers who you are when you next meet, is either severely impaired or abusive. This on again off again behavior also has a lot of power to condition you to hang in for the next reward.  In the long run, it won’t be worth it.

When you detect any of these sins of omission repeatedly, stop hanging around. Get out of Dodge! If sins of omission are interspersed with attentive or loving behavior, this is an even worse sign! This is not the behavior pattern exhibited by anyone who can engage in an equal relationship.
These sins of omission don’t just occur in romantic relationships, they are quite common in business and voluntary organizations. If you always volunteer but don’t get recognition, your boss takes credit for your work, or your team leader fails to greet you, you are experiencing control tactics. Start looking for a new organization to join.

Stick with people who give you positive and consistent social cues that they recognize your existence and respect it. Anything less is not good enough.

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1 Response to “Sins of Omission”


  1. 1 Kathy T. March 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Another timely and awesome article Ruth! I am going to share it with some friends in the hope that they find the courage to leave the abusive relationships they are currently in. Have a great day!


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