This is a complicated topic. It’s a topic I’ve tried to explain to many dissociative trauma survivors many many times. The concept of emotional abuse can be hard to grasp. This is because the trauma survivor often internalizes the perpetrator’s offensive verbage, believing it to be true. But it’s not true. Not at all.
In this article, I will describe one example of the dynamic of a verbally abusive offender inappropriately dumping his (or her) rage onto another person, with the survivor responding by taking her power back, and refusing to internalise the abuse that had been directed her way.
For the sake of this example, I will use a male offender with a female recipient. We all know this dynamic can also occur male-to-male, female-to-female, or female-to-male. For the sake of simplifying pronouns, I’m selecting the male-to-female option.
With emotional abuse, the offender could be an outside person, most typically someone well -known to the recipient. OR, for trauma survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the emotional abuse can come from an internal system part raging at other internal parts, where the offensive insider is often an internal introject of a outside abuser.
For impact, I’m choosing to write in the first person. I’ve thought about this, and it may be easier to understand my explanation of emotional abuse and how to separate yourself from that abuse if you read it as if you were the actual recipient and receiver of the emotional abuse.
Put yourself in those shoes. You’ve probably been there too many times already. You may very well identify with the feelings of internalizing emotional abuse.
What I’ve written below is an example of how to separate yourself from what the abuser said and did. It’s a way to keep boundaries around you as you and to recognize what the abuser was doing TO you, not because of you. For this scenario, let’s assume the verbal assault happened “the other day”.
** Read this when you know you are in a safe place, in case the first person perspective is triggering. **
Okay, so…. It’s after the explosive event, and you are sitting alone, thinking about what happened, and in response, building an emotional boundary between yourself and the abuser. You are rejecting the abuse. You might not yet be able to say these things to the perpetrator, or escape the abusive events in the first place, but if you can start thinking these kinds of ideas, that’s an excellent start.
Here it is, the day after an emotional abusive episode.
Your thoughts, as the survivor-recipient addressing the behavior of the offender could be:
“Recently, my therapist told me about people being the containers of emotions for others. It was a confusing idea for me at first. I understand the metaphor now because that’s exactly what you just did to me.
For me, all that verbal diarrhea you piled on me the other night felt like vile vomit. Literally. Like you were vomiting anger, rage, accusations, hatred, ugliness, darkness on to me. And you were. You wanted me to become the container for all that yuck you feel inside, so you could empty yourself of it, and feel clean, light, free the next day.
I knew, at the time, that your words were descriptions of how you behaved. They were words about your feelings, your actions, your darkness, your mistakes, your failings. I knew you were throwing your emotional self at me, as if I were you. I guess I was the mirror, as you say. A mirrored trash can. You couldn’t see me. You were looking at your own self, convinced I was you. And boy, you were letting me have it about how terrible I was.
Except those descriptions were about your darkness. And gosh, you certainly hate yourself.
I have a darkness too, of course. And a big long list of my own mistakes and failings. However, my list looks considerably different from your list. We’ve done different things wrong. We’ve had different darknesses. So spewing your dark vomit at me, on me, doesn’t fit. Because I don’t fit that list. That one belonged to you. That’s why I kept rejecting your spews, and kept refusing to accept them. You tried and tried to attach your emotional dark vomit to events in my life, you really worked hard at that, I saw that.
It still didn’t fit. My darkness is not the same as yours. So I continued to reject your spews.
Which of course, made you more angry because you really really needed to unload your darkness. It had become too much to carry, too heavy of a burden. So you dumped with more and more force. I wasn’t allowed to speak, because that creates resistance, and you needed to let the flow force get out of your emotional spirit space. Hence the term vile vomit.
Picture one person standing over top the other, with gallons and gallons of vile, stinky, chunky, putrid vomit rushing out of their giant wide-opened mouth on to the head of the other, the one sitting lower. With the force of Niagara Falls, the vomit falling from one, on to the other. Hollywood horror shows come to mind…. They’ve had plenty of scenes where the monster-alien pukes with force on to others.
That’s what it feels like. And if I don’t just take it, accept it, and be the open, willing vomit bag, (the newly assigned container of the vomit), then the violence starts. You’ll pound it into me if the emotional approach meets resistance or if the flow isn’t draining out fast enough for your relief. Or you’ll physically beat me or terrorize me into submission for taking on the vile vomit bag role. “Take the vomit, girly, take it! Take it and like it!!” Ugh.
The point becomes your need to dump out all that rage, and put it on me to carry for you. You need release from it, and I’m the new container. I’m meant to feel it, not you. I’m meant to hold the negativity and darkness for you. You need me to blame. It has to be me that is the holder and container of the vile vomit.
You need to feel free and cleanse yourself of it. You need space from it.
So the day after, you get relief. I feel shitty. Container mission completed. The yucky emotional baton was passed over to me, from you.
Maybe you don’t know any other way to find a release for yourself except to dump it onto / into someone else.
This way works for you, for a short time. Maybe for a few hours, maybe for a few days. Not for long, because that darkness comes back inside you, and starts filling up your internal space again. Dammit! I hate it when that happens. Because sooner or later, you’ll feel an overflow inside yourself, and the whole dumping out the vile vomit into a new container-person cycle will happen again.
While it’s gone though…. In those precious few hours you have truly let loose of the darkness within you, in that space, maybe you can feel good. Maybe you can enjoy life for a bit. It’s like a little holiday away from your problems. You can be your better self, the you who is not weighed down by the vomit. It feels good. Freeing. You truly put all that emotional baggage into the other person-container. It doesn’t feel like it belongs to you anymore. It now belongs to somebody else. Ahh, not carrying all that vile vomit feels good. Like how good it feels to puke after a strong hit of heroine.
Except you haven’t actually solved the problem. You took a hit of morphine. Emotional morphine. The darkness creeps back up again. It truly belonged to you in the first place.
It’s not unlike the serial killers you see on tv, in the way that they get their emotional release after violating another person with such intense violence. With a nice chianti. And a beautiful cigar. Until they need to release again.
Except you’re not a serial killer and somewhere in there, you know that violating others is wrong. Even if you need someone to become your barf bag, you know it goes too far, and that you’re gonna have bad karma for doing that to others.
It saddens my heart. Because you really can be a wonderful person. I know that. I’ve seen the good side of you in there and I’ve cared for you for a long time. I don’t really want to have to wall myself away from you.
I don’t know where all your hatred and rage comes from. If I could build a wall around you to stop the flow of vile vomit from entering your spirit, I would. I can see how uncomfortable it is to be filled with such darkness and destruction.
I know you’re miserable when that happens, and I want to help. I only know what works for me. Maybe it can help you too. I don’t know what will work for you. I know what worked for me. If you’re interested, I’ll tell you more about that another time.
I really don’t like being your barf bag. IF I thought it would help in the long run, I’d think differently about it. I know it won’t help in the end — coz there is no end with that approach. I know the pressure will build up in you again, and one more drop of water will set it off again.
It’s a cycle, not an end. It’s a cycle, not a solution. And I’m not interested in being a barf bag for life.
So please find a different way to release that darkness. Find a relief that is genuine, not temporary. I’m meant to be a person you treasure…. Not the one who gets vomited on.
Get it straight.”
Can you see how the trauma survivor is rejecting the vicious words said by the abuser person?
Do you see how she recognizes what is hers, versus what belongs to the other person?
She doesn’t accept his behavior as okay. She recognizes the abuse as abuse and calls it such.
Obviously, getting literal safety and physical distance from any kind of abuse would be an important topic to discuss as well. The point of this blog is to show an example of how survivors can battle back and refuse to accept and inhale or internalise abusive words.
You define who you are.
And yes, you can refuse to accept the abuse from another person.
Build your backbone.
Be strong within yourself, and don’t accept every yucky thing that gets said to you.
Push it back, and be tough!
You can do it. I know you can!
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Copyright © 2008-2018 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation
Rpeeps (Robin Gaile) says
Everything I’ve read so far has been emensely helpful. Thank you for your time and effort.i
As a Did. Survivor I sincerely with every fiber of my being appreciate what you have provided here. I would love to look into forums if we can handle the fee. I going to peruse that further. Again thank you❣️
Hi, I think from the age of nine until I was 16, I had my abuser at school. I wasn’t just an emotional container, but still other too: for example, he defined my self-esteem and – in this relations system – others defined my skills (for example, I writing good.), but they wasn’t abusers, because they said that what is in which i am good. My abuser defined me the good behaviour, and concept of the goodness too, despite, that he was the one I got the most bad things from; and to rely on him, and that he confirmed that belief that I am dependent from him (for example, in IT things).
Nahm, and my problems is that, that my mind seek (and always find) a person whose opinions I can internalize within myself as my opinions, because I can’t define my self-esteem or my skills from myself.
So, if you see the world as black, and I internalize this, then I’ll think that the world is black and so I will think that as you because your opinion will be my own.
I feel as I am a container which: I accepts all opinions from anyone who defeats my own will and thereby forces over-identification.
As I described this, I am terrified -, can i ever be healed?
So, how can I to improve on not looking for someone who can define me?
So far, I have found a solution to this, by forcing others to accept my own opinion, but I didn’t this because I know that it’s catastroficaly.
Best regards, Mary
My issue is that that one of my parts can flip ons super easy and she is like a tornado of destruction. She is emotionally abusive to everyone in her path. She is mean, and abusive, and has no conscience in the moment. She doesn’t care who she hurts, she is hurt. She only comes out when the host feels threatened, but she will do anything and everything to stop any perceived abuse towards her system That means the rage can come out of nowhere. It affects my marriage and relationships with others. She is constantly mad at her therapist, for being late out to appt. for ignoring emails, for anything really. I am worried I will lose my therapist b/c of all the rage issues. I have cursed her out on several occasions and I email her all the time. I feel so lost in my new diagnoses most of the time.
Thank you for this! My therapist and I are at diff places over my DBT training. I am on board with most except not responding to the abuse as wrong. I correct my narcissist mother, and yes its seen as resistance by Mudder, but I somehow (now emotionally and phys abused for 60 years) cannot allow her vomit to go…unanswered. Therapist suggests ‘half smiles’ on the outside and ignoring, i guess on inside. Radical Acceptance is another, I’m still in trauma after living w/mudder for financial reasons and mental breakdown. Another therapist loves is, do you want to be Happy or Right? Meaning I’d be happier if I didn’t correct mudder so much. When in the h*** can one be HAPPY with a narcissist, I ask? This Therapist, while most helpful in most respects cannot take my anger, intensity of pain and has directed we stop our individual appts. I’m about to agree with her….Neither of us is right, I suppose. Not seeking that, but where do I GO to help work through this intense pain and anger at an asshole who could never. EVER offer a kind word?
Kathy Broady says
The comment included below was sent to me, to post anonymously.
Thank you, Reader, for this comment. Your words are appreciated!
I wish you the best in your healing journey.
“This is the most helpful article (for me anyway) that you have ever written! I find I want to master this art and can think of zillions I would like to teach it to & discuss it with. For now, I’ll work on me. 😉
It is so helpful Kathy to see it as their illness; their disease. I can almost empathize with them in this miserable place. And I find it much easier to forgive them – in order to FREE MYSELF. Not because they deserve forgiveness. And seeing it this way shows me just how wounded & sick they are. This really helps Kathy. People should be paying to read your Blogs because the info here alone is priceless when you start soaking it in.”