Power and Control Wheel: Emotional Abuse


Putting her down. Making her
feel bad about herself.
Calling her names. Making her
think she’s crazy. Playing mind
games. Humiliating her.
Making her feel guilty.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading since I’ve been at my parents’ house.  I’ve started Co-Dependent No More and really didn’t get far in it.  Reading that felt weird because if I apply it to my situation, I was starting to feel like this is my fault.  Pinning abuse on the abused is just not going to work.  I probably do have co-dependency issues, but while I’m dealing with the fall-out of escaping an abusive marriage (even if only temporarily – God willing), I need to concentrate on getting back on an even keel.

I’ve also read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft.  Wow.  Simply wow.  It was like having huge, honkin’ blinders taken off.  Part of me was devastated at the realizations that that book gave me because I didn’t see so much of the abuse that was happening to me.  Part of me was ready to jump up and down and do cartwheels because I’M REALLY NOT CRAZY!!!  There were times that I would finish talking to him that I would sit in my room and wonder, “What just happened????  I know he said ‘x, y, z’ but he turned right around and denied it like it had never happened.  I know he said it.  Why would he deny it?  Am I really losing my mind?”  I just ordered that book from Amazon.  I’m going to get a highlighter and start highlighting everything that applies to my relationship with him and our marriage.  I know there seemed to be a lot but it isn’t like I could mark up a library book and I’m not in a place to take notes.

I’m also reading The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change by Patricia Evans.  Again, wow.  So much of what she is writing makes me think that she’s been bugging my house for years.  What shocks me most is how it seems that all these men have taken classes or something to learn the exact same stuff.  I think the single most important thing that I’ve taken away from that book so far is that I’m not too sensitive, it isn’t that I can’t take a joke or have no sense of humor.  He would often say something very cruel and mean and when it hurt my feelings he would say, “I was just joking.  Can’t you take a joke.  Fine!  I will never joke with you again!!!!!”  all while he played the martyr.  I would try to explain that it wasn’t that I couldn’t take a joke, I just found what he had just said mean and nasty and not funny in the least.  Oh, how I wish he would’ve kept his promise to never “joke” with me again.  But he would always forget that and “joke” with me again and again.  I can’t believe there are other men out there doing this exact thing and blaming their wives for not having a sense of humor.  I’m totally gobsmacked by so much of what I’m reading in these books.

I only have three more days to finish this book by Ms. Evans.  I can’t renew it.  I want to skip ahead and see but I’m riveted by each page.

That way my initial reaction to reading those two books for the first time.  Even with the massive realizations I was having, I was still minimizing and justifying a lot of what he’d done to me.  It was only after I got my own copy of WDHDT? and saw the sheer amount of yellow covering the pages that I began to truly appreciate the hell I’d lived in.  That is what allowed me to finally stop minimizing and justifying and accept that I was, in fact, an abused wife.  

Let’s go over the examples from the Power and Control Wheel one by one:

Putting her down.  Bubba put me down constantly, but in a very sneaky way.  He knew I was very self-conscious about my stomach.  I’d given birth to three children and I was carrying about 30 pounds of extra weight.  It was mainly centered in my tummy.  One night I remember sneaking in to relax in a bubble bath. About 10 minutes after I started relaxing and enjoying myself, Bubba picked the lock and came in to join me.  He didn’t ask.  He just came in the bathroom and got in the tub with me.  I didn’t have the ability to tell him no, because that would’ve caused a huge fight.  It was easier for me to just accept that my alone time to read was over.  He got in the tub behind me and pulled me back against him.  After a bit, he poked my tummy and giggled like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  I was horrified and told him so.  He acted all put off.  He said my tummy was nice and cute, just like the Dough Boy’s.  He just couldn’t understand why I was upset when he was just trying to give me a compliment.  He got very defensive and I ended up being the bad guy for “misunderstanding” that he was complimenting me.  

I can now see clearly that a normal response to this would’ve been for him to apologize for inadvertently hurting my feelings.  The appropriate response would’ve been to feel bad that he’d made me feel bad.  Instead, it was my fault that he’d hurt my feelings.  Not normal!

Making her feel bad about herself.  This was a normal state for me.  He would put me down and I’d feel bad about myself.  The goal of making the victim feel bad about herself is so that she doesn’t believe she deserves to be treated better than she is.  If you put her down enough and she feels bad enough about herself, she won’t be strong enough to leave.

Calling her names.  Bubba didn’t come right out and call me names often – or at least not directly.  He never said, “You’re a bitch.”  What he would say was, “You’re acting like a bitch.”  He was very careful and deliberate with his words so that I could never accurately accuse him of calling me names.  

Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games.  I’m actually going to devote an entire post to this because this was Bubba’s main tactic.  I think this deserves its own dedicated post.  

Humiliating her.  Bubba was really good at this.  By the time I left I was afraid to go to any work functions or be around his co-workers because I knew I’d say something wrong.  I knew we’d get in the car and he’d tell me how embarrassed he was that I’d said something or that I told his co-workers something that he didn’t want them to know.  He would berate me like I was a small child.  One time we were at a co-workers house and I’d mentioned that we were getting ready for a move.  We thought it was a done deal and we’d started preparing for the move.  When we got to the car, he said something about no one knowing yet that we were moving.  Immediately I could feel a speech coming on because he hated when I talked about things like this.  I immediately apologized and told him that I thought everyone would know by now.  He looked at me like I was a simpleton and told me that it was ok that I’d told them because I couldn’t possibly have known better.  Even when he didn’t get mad at me he was able to treat me like a child and humiliate me.  

Making her feel guilty.  Guilt was something I was well acquainted with by the time that I got married.  My mother, Celia, was like the Cruise Director of Guilt Trips.  The really sad part is that she didn’t know she was doing it.  To this day, she would deny that she parented me with guilt and fear.  I was parented very differently than my siblings were.  That, however, is a topic reserved for later posts.  By the time I married Bubba, I was very easily manipulated with guilt.  I was a people pleaser of the highest order.  I’d learned at my mother’s knee how to make everyone else happy, even to the detriment of myself.  Bubba, on some level, recognized this and used it to his advantage for nearly two decades.  

The biggest one was about money.  I watched carefully every penny I spent.  There never seemed to be enough money, no matter how much Bubba earned.  Bubba also felt very entitled to buy whatever he pleased, whenever he pleased.  The guilt around the money was indirect.  He would spend, spend, spend and when I needed something, I felt like I had to call him for permission.  He told me that I could just buy things but the fact was, I never knew how much money we had.  What if I splurged and spent $20 on something and he’d just bought something for himself and that $20 would send our account into a negative balance.  Bubba told me constantly to buy what I wanted, when I wanted.  It was just never safe to do that because I never knew when a check would bounce.  He had the best of both worlds.  He had absolute control over the money while acting like a benevolent husband, telling me to buy things whenever I chose.  He knew that I wouldn’t do that.  I felt guilty over every penny I spent.  It was only after I left and managed to go to the bank and get two years’ worth of statements printed out that I realized that while I was “splurging” on taking the kids out to eat each Friday and letting them order from the dollar menu at fast food places, he was spending hundreds of dollars eating out all the time.  

Sadly, the things I described above were just my normal life until I read WDHDT? and saw Bubba and myself in the pages.  I’d been so conditioned to not question anything and to just take everything at face value that I couldn’t see that I was living in some kind of Bizarro Land.  I also started realizing that I hadn’t had many role models in my life to show me what a healthy marriage looked like.  I was surrounded by dysfunction growing up and the majority of the friends I’d made along the way were also in dysfunctional marriages.  What I needed was a few friends to model healthy marriages to me.  Once I found those, the fabric of my marriage started unraveling as I started seeing that our marriages were vastly different and that I was the one who was miserable.  



  1. Ingrid T

    Reading this takes me back to the life I lived from 1963 to 1977. There are things that make my heart race and my breathing get rapid. I have worked with Codependency, untold counselors and thought it was just me thinking he was trying to make me crazy! Thank you for telling my story! Oh, some of the small details are different but for the most part, you are telling my story!!!! After all these years……..

    • I’m so sorry you had to live that for so long. And I’m happy to see that you’ve been in freedom for many years!!!! Being a survivor is amazing, isn’t it?

      It never ceases to amaze me how similar our stories are. It is almost like there is an Abuser’s Handbook that is required reading for these men. They are terribly predictable in their cruelty. Yes, the details are different but the tactics are so similar.

      I’m not writing this blog for me. I’m praying it helps others, especially women who are still living in it. I want to show them the hope there is to get out, get safe, and get healthy. In telling my story, I tell the stories of other survivors. In telling our stories, I pray that today’s victims become tomorrow’s survivors!

      • Ingrid T

        Today I am in a very happy marriage to a good man who treats me with respect. As I do him! But I do remember those years. If ever I can be of assistance in getting this out to more women, let me know! I know we are not the only ones to have lived through this…and many are in the midst of it yet! I work with Codependency and with Al-Anon. Husband #2 was a raging alcoholic! LOL, I swear, some of us hope to learn ALL the lessons at one time 😉

      • I’m so happy to hear that you have found a good, respectful marriage!

        Please feel free to share this blog with your friends and family. Share it on Facebook and find us there at http://www.facebook.com/hopewearsheels I’d be honored if you would share and ask your friends to share it also. Who knows when this blog will be shared with a woman who needs it just when she needs it.

      • Ingrid T

        I have already shared this link with a friend in Canada. Her abuser went to jail for beating on her. When he got out he broke into and hid in her home for hours. He finally came out of a closet with a hammer in his hand and started attacking her. Her mom rushed to her rescue and was killed by this monster. My friend lost an eye and had other awful wounds. And this happened with her young daughter witnessing it all. The abuser is in jail for life, which is good news. My friend has had so much surgery, psychological help etc that she is in a decent place now. Not healed spiritually yet but doing better. One never knows when the abuser will fall over the edge into being a total monster. And that is what makes it all so horrific!

      • Please let your friend know that I am praying for her and her daughter. I’m so very sorry that she lost her mother. I must say that it touched me to read of this mother’s love for her daughter – that she would give her life to save her child and grandchild. As my story comes out, you’ll understand why this touches me so deeply.

  2. Wonderful blog. This is something I wish more women knew. It may be difficult for some people to understand, but sometimes it is hard to recognize you are in an abusive relationship. I didn’t really realize it till last year and am still learning a lot. I just kind of kept thinking things would get better and things that happened were ok since I was married. I’m glad you got out. I did for a while, but for complicated reasons am back. Wishing I wasn’t, but it is what it is I guess and I hang onto hope for the future. It will not be in this relationship, but I still have hope. My daughter just got out of an abusive relationship and has finally realized she deserves to be treated with respect.

    • Are you safe? Do you have a safety plan? Do you have cash and legal documents in a safe place in case you need to run? I do so understand that there are complicated reasons women stay in abusive relationships but your safety is so very important. If you don’t have a safety plan in place, please contact your local domestic violence agency and let them help you create one. I can’t stress enough how important it is.

      You daughter is very blessed that she realizes she deserves to be treated with respect. She does. You do too. You are beautiful. You are special and precious and deserve so much more than living with someone who hurts you.

      I also understand that you won’t make any changes until you are ready. Until that time I encourage you to seek counseling, to learn about boundaries, and to get healthy. There is hope and healing out there. I am proof of that. You are smart and have the ability to make your own decisions about staying or leaving. I just want you to know that you are worth so much more than to be abused.

      • I’m relatively safe and know not to put up with so much anymore. If he makes me feel in danger again I will leave. I’m fortunate I do have a couple of friends I can go to and stay if need be, where he can’t find me. The main complicating factors are he is older and has a lot of health problems. He’s burned a lot of bridges with family and there is really no one to help. I’m blessed in I have a really good therapist I haven’t let my husband bully me into stopping. I’m working on healing. It’s hard. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for the book suggestions. I’m going to read them.

    • If you are still living with your partner, please be careful reading where he can find them. I’ll also have more book suggestions as I go along so keep reading!

  4. tryingtodogood

    I have read WDHDT by Lundy Bancroft too in the last month. What finally made me see what this was (abuse) was Leslie Vernick’s blog post on “9 Common Tactics of Manipulators.” I only found it after searching on manipulation because a dear friend said my husband’s actions sounded manipulative a few months ago. That started my awakening to what I’ve suffered for 31 years!
    It’s so sad that these men make us feel inferior for our sensitivity. And only because they have no thought or feeling for others beside themselves so they set out to make us believe this is a “weakness” or flaw in us. A couple of years I tearfully asked my pastor if this was true and if I should try and “toughen up.” He said NO and that God made sensitive people like me to love and minister to the hurting. I only half believed him because my husband had done such a good job of making me feel like a fragile, weak person who couldn’t function, or even survive, in the world without him.
    Since two years ago when the s**t hit the fan and I threatened to leave, he’s been on good behavior and I’ve even been thanking him every day for changing, and for taking care of “poor me!” He did it again! Well I’m not fooled anymore. I know exactly what he’s done to me-stripped of any self-worth, made me doubt every decision, thought or idea I’ve ever had, made me try to “prove” everything I say….the list is too long to continue. Even though I am a child of God, I couldn’t believe even God could love me because my husband was so effective in his getting me to believe I was crap compared to him.
    Biding my time

    • I looked up that article. So many of those quotes she uses are exact words I heard from Bubba and FOO. It is amazing to me how similar abusers are.

      Are you in counseling? I mean abuse specific counseling with someone who knows what he/she is talking about. Most counselors don’t know a hill of beans about abuse. Having counselor through the domestic violence agency made all the difference in the world to me. They “got” it. They understood where I was coming from and helped me change how I view myself, my worth, and they helped me recognize the tactics my abusers used.

      You are an amazing child of God, worthy of love, care, and respect. Bide your time, make your escape plans, learn how to be healthy. It is hard work to get free of abuse but so very worth it!

      • tryingtodogood

        I found an advocate with a local domestic abuse org. and have seen her for three weeks now. She has been so helpful. You’re so right-she’s targeting the abuse specifically rather than trying to “fix me.” I entered my marriage just wanting to be loved-to be wanted. And my husband changed almost instantly after the wedding. All his talk about equality during the dating phase was B/S! Overnight I became a slave and the thing that really hurts about male privilege is that they don’t care how much you suffer (I’ve had arthritis all my life) or how horrible your life is, as long as they get to do what they want. There’s nothing loving about that. I’m sad to think I’ve never had real love, only food, shelter and clothing on my back, and what HE calls love.
        I have had my faith since I was 18 though but even with that I have struggled with thoughts of ending things many times over the years. Even now it crosses my mind because no matter what I choose to do there will be (and there always has been) so much pain to endure. I have been sick with stomach problems, migraines, angina, all because of the psychological turmoil. At least now I know why. I am basically a happy person-I wake up with a smile every morning. I hate him for squashing that girl that I used to be. I am getting to know her again now, and the fight is coming back! I won’t let him take any more from me, with God ‘s help.

      • I’m so glad you have a counselor who gets it. That will help you so much! I lived in constant physical pain and it is nearly magically disappeared once I left Bubba. It only flares up now when I have an issue to work through and try to put it off. The pain now seems almost unbearable because I’m not longer used to it. Living pain-free has been such a blessing.

        I’m encouraged to see you getting to know you! Find your strength and your power. You are precious and worthy of love, care, and respect!


  1. The Beginning « Hope Wears Heels
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