eradicating emotional abuse

He arrived a half hour late and offered no apology for the rudeness. He sat back from the table, alternately leaning back in the chair with his arms reaching behind his head or rubbing his eyes with his hands. His eyes wandered, expressing boredom and disinterest in the conversation. He said nothing during the whole meeting.

He was not there as an observer. He was there to discuss a partnership, a potential working agreement with the other attendees. His supervisor was also in the room.

No one confronted him. No one asked if he had a problem or if there was some reason he was not participating or if the meeting should be re-scheduled. The meeting continued with tension in the room and without resolution.

The others left with a sense of frustration, time wasted, questions unanswered… and just a hint, down deep, of self-doubt… wondering if somehow they were the cause of that strange behavior, or if somehow they had done something wrong, or if the other was normal behavior and they were the strange ones to expect something different…

From the outside, from a position of healthy relationships, I wanted to scream for them… THAT IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR! In emotionally healthy work environments, people do not act that way at meetings! And if they did, someone would say something to them… quickly!

That was clearly passive aggressive behavior designed to intimidate, discourage, and display lack of respect and value for the others attending the meeting. It was immature, inappropriate and rude behavior.

Sadly, in an isolated setting, without healthy examples around, it is easy to lose perspective and not recognize the harmful behavior. Or when someone has been through too many situations where they are not respected or valued or validated, a person can begin to perceive the negative behaviors as normal. Psychologists sometimes identify this as learned helplessness, and it is common in physical abusive situations also. Others react with anger in return.

How can we teach the ones we care about to recognize emotional abuse when they experience it? How can we help them respond with confidence and control, without allowing the passive aggressive offender to affect their minds or the meeting?

Have you faced situations like this? What would you suggest?

12 thoughts on “eradicating emotional abuse

  1. I always enjoy your transparency and boldness Terry. This is very timely as I deal with my past and why I take a victim’s view often. As a parent I believe it is so important in a home to teach kids to not be passive and to identify if a sibling using this behavior to manipulate. As well as working with the character of the child prone to this behavior! Thanks!


    • Thanks so much, sweet Wendy! I hear great empathy in your comment and wish I could somehow get you and the people of this post together for a deep, long talk someday! How wise that you recognize the need to build character into your children today to face and not facilitate this kind of behavior in the future! You are such a great mom! I miss seeing you more often! Thanks so much for reading and joining the conversation!


  2. People can be toxic. And that affects everyone. I find it challenging to even love these folks with the power of the Spirit. Mainly because I don’t want to. But it’s like everything we do in life that causes us to deal with prickly people. You do it by faith with prayer relying on grace that I can’t come up with on my own. Thanks for the thoughts, Ter. Insightful and necessary.


    • I sense a good post coming on… “Toxic or treasure? What kind of person are you?” 🙂 Yes, we do have to deal with prickly people in our world… faith, prayer, grace are important. And advocates, accountability, and wise advice – which I am receiving from you all that have responded! 🙂 Thanks so much!


  3. Interesting situation, Terry. So sad that no one spoke up. Did people talk about his behavior among themselves after he left? If so, they entered into the “gossip” realm, which will never lead to solutions or a healthy team. Hmm.


    • Yes, I think it is a sad situation, Jan. I don’t know why no one spoke up… that was part of my question? What is it about certain people or situations that seems to allow this kind of behavior? … and how to change or avoid that? Not sure about the after-talk either, but that is also a good point… couldn’t agree more. If I have a chance, I will ask about that and encourage them to have the face-to-face discussion. Thanks for always adding wisdom to the discussion.


  4. Why didn’t anyone ask him if anything was wrong? Was this consistent behavior on his part? I just have to wonder if he was in the midst of something difficult personally that caused him to react out of stress.


    • Good questions, Gina… not sure why no one pulled him aside to ask if there was something going on… maybe because this is, unfortunately, not unusual behavior on his part… I would prefer that there be a special stress reason for the behavior, but I am afraid it is more of a character issue. 😦


  5. Terry- I was trying to help a friend understand this and you have it described so clearly! I believe its an answer to prayer. Thanks! Beth



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