undermining as a form of verbal abuseUndermining kind of works like it sounds. Let’s say you’re digging a mine. It is a super-great mine! Your abusive partner begins digging a mine deeper than yours, directly under yours, without you knowing it. You come home from digging your mine one day and excitedly tell your partner about how great your mine is progressing and mention that you should be done tomorrow.

That night, your partner digs up until nothing but a thin layer of earth separates the roof of his mine from the floor of yours. The next morning when you inspect the mine, you fall right through the floor! Suddenly you’re hurt, confused, and lost a lot of confidence in your ability to dig a mine.

When your partner undermines you, you may not recognize exactly how it happened. All you know is things were going along great, and then the floor collapsed and your enthusiasm, motivation, and confidence fell down with it.

How My Husband Undermines Me

Will magically deflates my enthusiasm over almost anything. He can take away my most hopeful moments in a heartbeat. He can dash my self-confidence while sounding like he really truly cares. I honestly haven’t figured out exactly how he does this, but when I feel the crushing blow next time, I will recognize it for what it is – another attempt to make me feel smaller than I am.

Undermining includes the incidents in which he says things to our boys like, “Go to your room so you don’t have to see your mother act like a child.” He also undermines me as a mother when he says “Yes” after I’ve said “No” or vice-verse.

He’ll say, “Who put a quarter in your squawk-box?” when I give my opinion. Usually he says it with a laugh, but after so many years of hearing how unimportant I am, I don’t think it’s a very funny joke.

How to React to Undermining

how to react to underminingThe problem with undermining is that you don’t always know when it is happening. The side-effects of abuse, such as placing more importance on your abuser’s opinions than on your own, can make it impossible to even realize what’s being done to you.

But, now that you’re reading about verbal abuse and domestic violence, your blinders are OFF. You cannot “unknow” you’re in an abusive relationship once you know it. So it is time to take back one thing that you’re probably missing: get back in touch with YOUR emotions. Snatch them back from your abuser – your partner no longer gets to decide how you feel.

Did you do that? Snatch them back? Imagine snatching them back – right now.

Okay, now your emotions are yours alone. All there is left to do is to pay attention to your emotions. They will call out to you and say stuff like, “Hey! That stung!” or “Hold up a minute – I just told my child something and now my partner is undoing it. That feels really horrible!” When you hear and feel those feelings, stop what you’re doing. Really think about the feeling. Is it something you want to address now or later? How do you want to address it? Who should overhear the conversation if anyone? Think about your emotion before acting on it, but FEEL it all the way through.

Getting into touch with your emotions will help you react appropriately to undermining. Sometimes you’ll decide to say nothing, but remind yourself, “Well, that’s what my partner does…tries to make me feel bad at every opportunity,” and then blow if off and get on with your bad self. Or you could talk to them later (i.e. not in front of your child). Or you could say something right then: “Hey! It would be great if you could show some enthusiasm for my projects/hobbies/ideas! I feel like a popped balloon when I hear you say stuff that undermines my excitement!”

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.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The safety plan-a brilliant idea!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    My wife not so much undermines me as totally ignores my opinions on how to bring up the children she totally will not let me say anything and if Ido she then won’t speak to me until I just leave the situation.

    • Anonymous says:

      The replies only seem to appear for females suffering emotional abuse from males… shame.
      I too suffer the same issue as a male too from a female partner and can only offer my sympathies. I hope you find support somewhere

      • When Kellie Jo writes her blogs she bases them on her own experience which was a man abusing her. We are aware that women also abuse men and just ask our readers to change the he to she in their mind if that is what they need. Thank you for your comment.

      • Anonymous says:

        You seem to have misunderstood Janet. There seems to be a pattern of people relating to the subject matter, reaching out and getting support via replies, which I’m pleased to see. Unfortunately, as a male doing this he seemed to go unsupported. I was merely trying to help him go without being ignored and offer hopes for support. I believe we both managed to translate the literature to apply to a male perspective. I hope this has helped you to better understand where I was coming from.

  3. I think my husband and now 3 teenage sons have now learned to treat me the same way. They all have such great personalities and I have become a completely different person according to my friends and family. I hate who I have become. I am not the mother I have wanted my boys to grow up with. And my husband I believe brings out the worst in me. I don’t know about this but I swear he is a master manipulator. He has worn me down and loves it when I am laying in my room but yet yells at me or ignores me for not pulling my weight. He has worn me down. I don’t know what to do. I am sorry it was a horrible night. HELP

    • That’s tough. I am sorry for you Stacey. I know something about how you feel and I was in a similar situation 3 years ago. I made the choice to get out of a 19 year marriage with 4 kids and the abuse pattern continues. It wouldn’t have gotten better if I stayed in it and I had already gotten my first cancer at 42. He had my teenager telling me my cancer was “no big deal”. Was this healthy for anyone? You are important! You are in a family dynamic that dishonors you and gives you the message that you are not important. I am learning to love myself now. Peace is returning…

  4. My husband is harsh, emotionally cold and even though he has some few sweet moments, he is still mostly rough. His ways, his tone of voice, his speech, his way of interrupting me in public. How he tells me to be tougher with our 6 month old babies, that they don’t need to be held so much and so on. He seems to think he is doing things for me and he always provides, but it is always the coldness behind his behavior. It is always me asking him to love me and to make me love him… It is wanting to take the babies in the cold because it makes them strong and he has done it with his other kids… but these are mine. How can he compare the kids from before with my babies? It is saying I panic if one of them cries, but is rushing to my child panicking? He had a lovely upbringing, so I can’t figure out what happens. I have a temper, so, some times when I reach my boiling point, when my babies cry and he thinks it is going to go away and can’t lift them up, I get mad and he gets even madder. He acts like he knows best. He is never wrong. But even though I make mistakes emotionally, he seems to be undermining me and I don’t want to think it is abuse… Can someone advise me?

    • It is abuse. It is classic undermining, manipulation, emotional abuse, and control. It doesn’t matter his upbringing – he’s decided to be abusive. Please make a clean break while the kids are young. It’ll be easier in the long run, and you and your babies, all of them, deserve better. Visit http://thehotline.org

    • Anonymous says:

      Read information on the spirit of Jezebel. Please. He has that spirit; it can send anyone into depression.

      • My partner is just that. Had affair on me last year and has been very controlling and manipulate since it. She always has been that way inclined but it’s gotten worse. I feel like I can’t breathe in my house. I clean every day and cook and exhaust myself all to be put down for my efforts. I want to leave but we own the house together and I don’t think I am ready for the stress of it all.

  5. I’m married 19 years in May. I can’t believe how alone my marriage has become… AGAIN. The man I’m doing life with is a 1 man show. It’s ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’. As the wife I feel like a 2nd class citizen. His family sends him on vacations along. It’s very frustrating. My husband is warm, friendly & generous with ‘everyone else’ in the world. He does things that look loving from the outside. Toward me- he’s cold, chronically forgetful(which feels purposeful) and undermines my opinions/ instructions/ wisdom to my children. I feel like he is working against me. I need a masters in psychology to make this relationship work. I’m exhausted! I have 3 teenagers who need my resources.

    Help. I know I’m in a verbal abuse cycle. I want out. I can’t imagine how I would EAT. I gave up my career for this family. Now I’m fairly trapped.

  6. Anonymous from February 16, 2017 — It takes energy to leave and when you’re depressed it zaps your energy. It took me years to finally get to the point where my anger fueled me to leave my miserable situation. I pray for you. I pray for you all. These passive aggressive controlling abusers get away with it for so long because it’s inconceivable to people like us that anyone could hurt someone else on purpose. It takes one to know one, so to speak. You, the emotionally abused, you don’t deserve this. If only we could all go back knowing what we do and create those boundaries from the beginning. That’s not possible but it IS possible to get a fresh start. Know what you want and what you don’t and don’t let anybody get away with crossing your boundaries ever again.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I feel this section is sexist from the outset. The only example given in the description is a ‘husband’ undermining a ‘mother’.
    I am a male emotionally abused by my female partner.
    Wake up. We are all as likely to suffer emotional abuse regardless of our gender.

    • I understand that many people read information on domestic abuse sites and feel underrepresented. I (a woman) wrote these pages from my perspective of living with an abusive male. The examples I give only explain my circumstances and are not intended to diminish or ignore a man in the reverse situation.

      Emotional abuse is not sexist. It affects men and women.

  8. Anonymous says:

    My husband critisize me, he left me and came home when he was sick, I take care of him even organising his pension as he to retire early, after recovering he said its his money, He brings his lovers in our house when I am at work. Gabble with money, now I feel that I have no shelter..

What do you think? Tell us!