No one likes to think of themselves as an emotional punching bag. Sadly, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, there is always a chance that you will end up in an emotionally abusive relationship. There are certain characteristics that might increase your chances of becoming an emotional punching bag. I am going to outline the characteristics that may predispose you to being in an abusive relationship.
The first step is to identify that you are an emotional punching bag for someone else. Once you acknowledge this toxic dynamic, you will have the awareness and the ability to decide what you want to do about it. Awareness is the first step to positive change.
It is not true that weak people become emotional punching bags. It is more accurate to say that people who tolerate abusive behaviour from others tend to be empaths. Empaths find it easy to put themselves in the shoes of another. They are able to understand the pain that someone else might be feeling. Due to this emotional skill, they are more likely to tolerate unhealthy behavior.
When someone has suffered from a difficult childhood, it is common for them to be hypervigilant when it comes to identifying the emotions of others. Hypervigilance is a survival mechanism that keeps a child safe from an angry and unpredictable parent. Hypervigilance remains throughout an individual’s life and is related to increased empathy. Childhood trauma affects the limbic nervous system and leaves a permanent imprint in your brain that remains forever. This permanent imprint can lead to an unhealthy dynamic when it comes to choosing a partner.
Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma sometimes gravitate towards that familiar feeling they had as a child. A feeling of being unloved and having to work hard to be accepted. This is when the abusive partner steps in and takes over from the abusive parent.
When a child has been conditioned to be an emotional punching bag for one or both of their parents/primary caregivers, this dynamic feels more natural and is unwittingly sought after as an adult.
Earlier trauma often leads to dysfunctional attachment styles that increase the likelihood of domestic abuse.
Empaths are easy-going people. They tend to go with the flow and like to keep everybody happy. Unfortunately, it can lead to unhealthy boundaries in relationships that promote unhealthy dynamics, such as being an emotional punching bag. At times it can be easier to be passive and let your partner be dominant over you as a means to keep the peace.
When you start on the ‘wrong foot’ it tends to remain that way and worsen over time. Starting a relationship means beginning as you would like to continue. When we start a relationship without healthy boundaries, it tends to lead to further destruction down the line.
Signs that you are an emotional punching bag
Consider the following questions:
Does your partner take their frustrations out on you?
Do you feel that you need to tiptoe around your partner?
Does your partner gaslight you? (Do they twist the truth or deny something they have done in the past?)
Are you afraid to speak up for yourself or disagree with your partner?
Does your partner criticize you in any way? (for example, the way you cook, dress, stand, eat, the friends you keep etc)
Do you spend a lot of time in your head wondering whether you were right or wrong regarding a recent incident with your partner?
Do you often feel full of self-doubt?
When your partner isn’t around, do you feel relieved and more able to relax?
Have you lost your ‘sparkle’ and become a quieter version of yourself?
Has your confidence decreased?
Do you wonder if you are going crazy?
Do you question your version of reality because your partner blows hot and cold?
Are your partner’s words not consistent with their actions?
Does your partner provoke you and then blame you when you react to their shouting, raging, criticism etc?
Does your partner never take responsibility for their own behaviour?
If you have answered yes to most of the questions above (or at least more than half of the questions above), it is highly likely that you are acting as an emotional punching bag or someone. They are either trying to control or manipulate you and they can seem so loving and trusting at first. Abusers gain trust before the cruel behaviour begins. Once you are emotionally hooked you are far easier to manipulate and less likely to leave the relationship.
Consequences of emotional abuse
Ongoing emotional abuse can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder involves frequent nightmares and flashbacks. Trauma from emotional abuse can fundamentally alter who you become. I have seen many individuals, myself included, who has become watered-down versions of themselves.
They no longer trust other people, they sometimes avoid relationships and they tend to feel bad about themselves. When you hear repetitive negative messages about yourself it sinks in and affects your mental health. Self-doubt reigns and self-confidence diminishes. Anxiety and depression can become your closest friends and they are not the greatest company to keep.
If you feel that you are in an abusive relationship, there are many agencies that can help. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is rising and partners in relationships can be easy targets. No one is all bad and you will hang on to the kind caring person you first met but often this version isn’t the real person. Their true self will emerge between 3-6 months after a relationship begins or after moving in together or after marriage.
How to avoid being an emotional punching bag
Maintain health boundaries
The most important way to avoid becoming an emotional punching bag is to maintain healthy boundaries. Know yourself well and stick to what you will and will not accept when it comes to how somebody treats you in a relationship. The odd indiscretion can be forgiven because nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes. What you absolutely must look out for is a pattern of behaviour.
If you have discussed with your partner that you don’t like them shouting at you, yet they continue to shout – they are sending you a clear message that they do not care about your happiness in the relationship. The longer you accept this kind of treatment the more you let yourself down. You teach people how to treat you – what you accept will continue.
Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and of being treated kindly. When someone ignores your healthy boundaries, they are sending you a message they do not value you. Narcissistic partners often fit this description and it is a well-known fact that narcissists and empaths are drawn together. The predatory nature of abusers means that they can ‘sniff’ out those people who are vulnerable – perhaps they have low self-esteem or are unsure of themselves. Abusers seem to have a sixth sense and know which individuals they will be more like to be able to control.
If you suspect that you might be in a relationship with a narcissist please read this article: Signs you are dating a narcissist
You can also subscribe to my blog as I write regularly about emotional abuse, childhood trauma and narcissistic personality disorder. I also offer online therapy for relationship issues and will be happy to help you make sense of what is going on.
Speak up for yourself and show your partner that you are willing to protect yourself because you are worthy and valuable. When you like yourself and you have healthy self-esteem you are far less likely to accept destructive behaviour from a partner.
Avoid people-pleasing behaviour
Instead of doing whatever you can to make the other person like you and desire you, turn the spotlight on to them and decide whether they are good for you. Are they caring and do they ask you about your day? Are they willing to sacrifice for your happiness or are they selfish? Do they tell you they love you yet threaten to break up with you if you don’t behave in certain ways?
Do they genuinely have time for you and do they make time for you on a consistent basis? Are they able to compromise and acknowledge the impact their behaviour is having on you?
At the end of the day listen to your instincts. They have been yelling at me at times and I have ignored them and I wish I had paid more attention. Don’t believe they will change, run don’t walk from people who seem to ignore your feelings, blame-shift (somehow everything they do ends up being your fault), or make you feel they are hiding something/secretive or talk to you disrespectfully. You deserve so much more.