How Does Undermining Work?
Undermining kind of works as 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-versa.
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
The 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.
Why Should You Take Back Your Emotions?
Okay, now your emotions are yours alone. All there is left to do is 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 in 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 it 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: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003, and my experiences with verbal abuse.