An Abusive Family Member
Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2003

Dear Annette,

My male cousin physically attacked me.  I did not understand the signs and symptoms as they were occurring, I did become uncomfortable with the insults that he would say in private and public.  I let him know publicly one day that I knew of some of his indiscretions in which one of my other cousin's wife was there to overhear. He has been quite kind in helping with my adjustment to a new town but when he physically shoved me down, I believe that I should keep him at a distance and pray.  My question is if he verbally assaults me should I try to avenge myself or just let him talk for all to hear?  I feel that since it will be around family I should suggest that he get help.

Dear Abused,

Abuse unchecked only escalates. Observe how verbal abuse escalates into physical abuse.

Emotional & Psychological Abuse Continuum

This continuum includes behaviors, which are emotionally and psychologically abusive. These behaviors are arranged in order of increasing severity. Many of the least sever abuses are considered to be common ways to show anger for many people and are not thought to be especially abusive. However, like all abuse, these behaviors are attempts to control one's partner through harm and threat of harm. Like hitting, targeted and repeated emotional abuse can have devastating effects on someone's sense of self-esteem and reality. A pattern of psychological and emotional abuse almost always accompanies, and in many cases precedes incidents of physical abuse. Like all abuse, the use of emotional abuse will increase in severity and frequency over time. This continuum indicates that without change, the ultimate result of ongoing emotional and psychological abuse can be lethal.

  1. Jokes about habits, characteristics, or faults of family members
  2. Ignoring or denying family member's feelings or needs
  3. Withholding affection or approval as punishment
  4. Yelling, shouting, invading family member's personal space
  5. Name-calling, insults
  6. Insulting or ridiculing beliefs, religion. family, race, etc. . .
  7. Repeated insults, labeling, and/or name-calling (e.g. "Stupid" "Jerk" "Crazy" etc.)
  8. Repeated humiliation (private an/or public)
  9. Controlling (insisting s/he dresses a certain way, having him/her account or his/her actions, controlling with whom s/he associates,  not giving him/her a role in making decisions, etc. . .)
  10. Blaming family members for abuse or behavior
  11. Manipulating family members with lies and contradictions (playing "mind games")
  12. Slamming doors, hitting walls, breaking objects (displays of anger and violence)
  13. Threats of violence or retaliation (either direct or implicit)
  14. Threats of violence to his/her family, children, friends
  15. Puts downs about abilities as a parent, person, worker, partner
  16. Demanding all a family members attention and resenting others who do get attention
  17. Throwing objects at family members
  18. Jealousy (accusations, following him/her,  etc.. .)
  19. Isolation (scaring or driving away friends and family)
  20. Manipulating others against family members
  21. Destroying meaningful possessions
  22. Threats of abuse 
  23. Threats to hurt or kill 
  24. Suicide threats/attempts
  25. Hurting or killing pets
  26. Suicide/Homicide


Excerpt from Male Awareness Program (MAP) in Anchorage, AK, 1997


Most abusers think there is nothing wrong with them, so they never get help.  Even when confronted and it is suggested that they get help, often times they think you are joking.  On top of that most males never go for help like women do.  It has to do with their thinking that they are less of a man for doing so.  This is something that our society has taught our men.  Many men in therapy are only there because they are court ordered to be there.  So do not think that mentioning that he needs help will lead to anything.

Your thinking is right on track…

The best thing that you can do is to never have anything to do with him.  He is a threat to you!  If this is not possible, because he is part of the family, then never be alone with him, ever! 

If you have to be in the same room with him and you see him coming, remove yourself to another populated area.  You need not even speak with him. 

If you do get into a situation where he is verbally abusing you, you do not have to tolerate it.  Immediately name it for what it is.  In front of everybody, tell him that is being verbally abusing you and that you do not appreciate it and will not tolerate it.  You may even tell him that he needs to get help, because his problem will only get him into trouble sooner or later. 

These words will make him angry so immediately leave his presents and go be with other people.  If that doesn’t work, then you may have to have someone escort you to your car so you can safely leave.

There is one other tactic that might help.  It is called and intervention.  This is where family and friends call a meeting to lovingly tell the individual about the problem he has.  Have examples of the problem ready to prove the point. 

The group must have worked out a solution to the problem ahead of time.  In this case an appointment is made with a qualified professional, for that day, for the person.  A friend or family member escorts him to the appointment, which is usually just a few minutes after the intervention.  So the person doesn’t have a whole lot of time to wangle his way out of it. 

The intervention often works because it is done with love and because they care about the individual.  This must be very apparent for the intervention to work!  Do not let the person drag the group into a fight.  Voices must be kept low and quiet.  Emotions must remain calm.  The person must know that this is being done, because they care bout him.

If this guy is abusing you he is probably doing it to others too.  You will probably have no trouble getting a group together for an intervention. Make sure that this is not an all female group.  Invite the husbands to be there also, to keep it safe for everyone.  

Whether the intervention works or not, whenever you have to be in his company, because of family functions, do pray for guidance and help and never be alone.   Pre-assign someone to be with you before going to the event.  Tell them why they need to stay with you.

Be careful and be safe,

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage

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