As you can guess, threatening words and behaviors imply or involve emotional pain, physical pain or both. If your partner threatens to leave if you do or don’t do something, that is a threat and verbal/emotional abuse. Some things you could hear are, “If you go out dressed like that I will play wing-man for my friend” or “If you don’t have dinner on the table by 6 tonight, there will be hell to pay.” Any statement that says or implies “If you…then I’ll” is a threat.
Threatening behaviors include playing with or cleaning weapons while looking at you threateningly, blocking you in a room or corner (using their hands to block you is also considered domestic violence), “puffing up” or getting in your face while in conversation. Analyze anything your abuser does that makes your heart skip a beat (not in a good way, but in a bad way). What kind of threat did you just perceive?
Describing your abuser’s action may sound like nothing when repeating it to a friend, but abusers have certain menacing looks and actions known only to their victims. Just because someone else says “That doesn’t sound so bad!” does not mean you were not threatened.
How My Husband Uses Threatening Behavior and Words
My husband uses threatening behavior to let me know that he is in control and to tell me that I had better just shut up or do as he says OR ELSE he MAY hurt me physically.
Threatening behavior includes implying that he’s going to harm me physically with behavior such as backing me into a corner, getting right up in my face while yelling and red-faced, acting like he’s wringing my neck at a distance, or kicking a chair, punching cabinets, etc. while I am in his presence. He has also threatened my pets to coerce me to do what he wanted.
Many times when he’s in this state, he’ll say, “Is this what you want?! Do you want me to lose control like this?! You must want me pissed off – why else would you do this to me?!” He wants me to think he’s out of control and more threatening – but asking that question of me tells me that he is very much in control of himself. He knows what he’s doing. He’s acting like this ON PURPOSE.
The night I left for good, I was on the phone with the police dispatcher. She’d asked me to stay on the line until the officer arrived. My husband stormed about the house, replacing the dresser he’d pressed into the wall while shoving his way through the bedroom door to get me. He came out of the bedroom and picked up his knife – a sharp jack knife with a 4 inch blade. He glared at me and … opened a piece of nicorette gum.
I was calm, but his action scared me to death. I was giving the dispatcher an accurate account of what was happening as she’d asked. When the officer arrived, I realized he’d been listening in on the call. Will locked us out of the house, but my keys were in my pocket and the officer opened the door with his tazer drawn.
If cops take the presence of a weapon seriously, shouldn’t we?
How to React to Threatening Behavior & Words
First you have to analyze the threat. Did your partner threaten to kill you while holding a gun? You’d better get the hell out of there. Did they threaten to kill you if you leave them? This is also very serious and could be true! However, if you’re not walking out the door that moment, you don’t have to worry about imminent death.
However, it is very important to take threats like these very seriously. Most people would be heart-sick, depressed, sad, or even anxious if their lover left them. Most people would not go out and kill them, and regardless of how many times you’ve heard it said, most people would never say this to someone they love.
A similar version of that statement is “I will kill myself if you…” Abusive people may kill themselves if you leave, but chances are they will kill you first. I would take this threat as seriously as one upon my own life.
Threats that are not imminent require some thinking and feeling. You need a safety plan just in case your abuser turns homicidal. You also should confide in someone familiar with domestic violence (like a counselor at a local domestic violence center). They’ll help you sort things out.
Some threats are not life-threatening as you well know. If your abuser threatens to leave you, try calmly saying “Stop threatening me. I don’t like it” or just ignore them. Abusers strike at the heart of your fears. If they know you have abandonment issues, they’ll threaten to abandon you. If they know you’re afraid of your father, they’ll act like (they think) your father would. Feeling a wince of fear or sadness after hearing a threat is normal – that’s why threats work. But you have to ask yourself “Why would my partner want me to feel fear or pain when all I want for them is happiness?”
Remember that these statements are to help you feel better and detach from your abuser’s antics. They do not guarantee that your abuser will stop abusing you, nor do they protect you from further abuse. You should fill out a safety plan so you know what you will do if things get out of hand.
Based on the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003 and my experiences with verbal abuse.