Opening the Eyes of Counselors to the Emotional Abuse of Men: An Overlooked Dynamic in Dysfunctional Families

By Gold, Joshua M.; Pitariu, Gabriela V. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Opening the Eyes of Counselors to the Emotional Abuse of Men: An Overlooked Dynamic in Dysfunctional Families


Gold, Joshua M., Pitariu, Gabriela V., Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


The authors suggest that counselors should expand their awareness of emotional abuse within heterosexual relationships, offering definitions of emotional abuse and statistics that confirm the victimization of men. The implications of this knowledge for counselors" personal growth and therapeutic practice are discussed.

I have been married for 6 years. Constant demanding, badgering, name-calling, put-downs, hitting, punching, scratching, humiliation. She is constantly threatening me if I don't do what she wants and when she wants it. It got to a point where she was never happy and constantly complained about everything. It got to the point where I would cry when alone because the pain was so great.

--32-year-old man seeking individual counseling

It started with removing all other female contacts. Finishing that, she started to select my other friends, leaving me practically without any social contacts but her friends. I was a fair cook, I cleaned, I did dishes, washed clothes. Good-bye pride! The restaurants and jewels were never expensive enough. Good-bye money! I was waking her up 3 minutes too late, and "she was late for work." I took too much room in the bed. I did not eat "correctly" I could not drive her car. I stayed too long in the shower and watched too much television. If she wanted to open a bottle of wine, she enjoyed [it]. If I wanted a beer, I was an alcoholic. If she was careful with money, she was wise. If I asked about money, I was a rat and gay, bastard, asshole, stupid, violent, lousy lover, and without manners, you just name it! She was never sorry for anything.

--33-year-old man seeking postdivorce counseling

The married couple worked together as partners in their store, but their partnership definitely was not equal. She called him "stupid" in front of employees, blew up when he made mistakes, and kept him in the dark about their finances.

--50-year-old member of a support group

These three quotations illustrate the relational experiences of men who are emotionally abused in heterosexual relationships. Although more easily and perhaps more readily recognized when the stories originate with women, these examples nevertheless challenge counselors to extend their notions of emotional abuse to encompass men as victims as well as perpetrators.

Part of the challenge in understanding emotional abuse is the confusion generated by the diversity of definitions that are applied to this dynamic. For the purposes of this discussion, existing definitions of emotional abuse (Gladding, 2004; O'Hagan, 1995; Semple, 2001) have been synthesized in the following manner. When one's emotions are manipulated by game playing, verbal abuse, physical abuse, outbursts of anger, or other methods of power and control, the result is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be categorized as negation, minimization, or both. Negation refers to an interaction in which a dominant member refutes the legitimacy of the other member's emotional experience of an event. For example, one member says, "I feel hurt when you.... "The second member responds with "No, you don't feel that way. You are being overly sensitive." In a similar situation, minimization would occur if the second member's possible response was "You're exaggerating again. You always blow things out of proportion."

Burge (1998) categorized emotional abuse as either overt or covert behaviors. Overt emotionally abusive behaviors include yelling, put-downs, insults, insensitivity, criticism, name-calling, and swearing. Covert behaviors include threats or actual emotional or physical abandonment or withdrawal, negation, denial, and projection. Jory and Anderson (1999) listed nine types of emotional abuse: creation of fear, isolation, monopolization, economic, degradation, rigid sex role expectations, psychological destabilization, withholding of emotional support, and contingent expression of love. …

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