Is there someone in your life who treats you as if you aren’t a valuable person, who often ignores what you say and doesn’t engage with you in what seems like a normal manner? Or maybe someone close to you has given you the silent treatment or held back any emotional reaction or connection?
Keep reading; oftentimes, learning the words and labels that define our emotional abuse experiences is the empowerment we need to move forward and make a change.
If you have ever felt these things, you might be experiencing withholding, which is the most toxic emotional abuse tactic of all.
Traditionally, many think of withholding as denying sex or affection. This is one form of it, and a spouse or partner who refuses to show affection without offering an explanation is certainly withholding a valuable and needed aspect of a healthy union. (However, refraining from sex or affection because you do not feel comfortable with the act or do not trust the other person is actually a healthy form of boundary-setting, and it should not be confused with withholding, which is never done for a healthy reason).
But even more common and perhaps more damaging than refusing to engage in affection is when an individual tries to control or domineer over another person by refusing to authentically communicate.
There are myriad ways in which withholding can manifest. A few examples are:
- A co-worker who is collaborating with you on a project and refuses to share pertinent information from the client so that you appear incompetent to your boss.
- A spouse who doesn’t allow you to talk on the phone with your family or denies access to basic needs like driving privileges.
- A spouse who doesn’t acknowledge your words in a conversation. Maybe it’s at the dinner table with others present or in a group.
- A “friend” who minimizes your successes and gets angry and bullies if you do not tend to their every need and whim.
Similar to gaslighting, withholding makes the victim feel as if they are isolated, ignored or do not have control over their own lives. One of the reasons it’s so damaging is because the victim cannot do anything to stop it; their only hope for relief is to leave the situation or rid themselves of the abuser.
You cannot force authenticity out of someone; that’s a personal choice. To a victim who feels trapped in a circumstance or relationship with someone who withholds, every instance of abuse sends the message, “You don’t deserve to be treated well.”
This is false. You don’t deserve days of silent treatment. You don’t deserve to be yelled at for exercising freedom. You don’t deserve to have your schedule and privileges regimented like a parent does for a child.
If any of these behaviors sound familiar to you, we encourage you to remove yourself from the person or relationship inflicting withholding sooner rather than later. It’s not important if other people say you’re overreacting, because they don’t understand what you’re enduring unless they’ve been in your position. It’s not important if your abuser says that you aren’t allowed to leave or don’t deserve happiness, because you do deserve it and can have it.
What’s important is that you seek healing from emotional abuse. Talk to a counselor or trusted friend if you aren’t sure where to start. If you are still not sure if you should stay or go, remember that sometimes separation can help you gain clarity.
Also, if you are a friend, counselor or trusted advisor who knows someone experiencing withholding, know that you need to be careful how you respond to the victim. Make sure you are giving them a safe space to share and offer support. If you need help knowing what to say or do, we can help. We are rooting for you.
Thanks, Ernie Fizelle for themendproject.com
Thank you, Ernie for visiting our site.
How do you as the person who feels this way deal with it. I have 2 children with my wife and I don’t want to leave I am feeling like it’s coming down to that it’s not that I don’t love my wife I am feeling more and more hopeless every day. I have tried to communicate how I feel to her and she just accuses me of trying to gaslight her. I don’t know what else to do it’s gotten as bad as she won’t even go out to dinner with me. Any attempt at having a romantic life together is met with a problem and or excuse. I have already had two of the worst years of our life’s and now this too I need help
I am so sorry you are experiencing this. Thank you for sharing. Not knowing all that you have tried, we recommend you find a therapist trained in abuse and see him or her individually to help you in your own understanding of these dynamics and with communications to your partner. Couples therapy is not usually recommended where there is ongoing abuse. Also, domestic violence agencies and shelters offer so much more than shelter, often providing classes, counseling and legal services that could help you significantly. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
I have dated this man for two years. He began early on to deny remembering things I would bring up (so that we could discuss them as we had agreed upon). I thought at first that he had a very bad memory. We have a relationship such that we have about a 50/50% things in common with things not in common. He hunts – I am an animal rights advocate – that is our big one. I said ‘no’ to dating him several times and then caved because we felt there were good things between us. It has been a rock/roll ride. He is a self-professed pouter. If he is mad he walks away, and several times has started to leave and go home (we live 2 hours apart). He comes back but not because I ask him to. At the time I do want him to leave. It feels to me that he has NO sense of empathy and I am an Empath, so this i hard. I try hard not to judge and I am very forgiving and flexible. He used ‘love words’ at first but as time has marched on, he seems to be intentionally withholding them. We have typically texted a good morning and then talked at night. We had a six week break-up recently. I felt conflicted yet happy – a two-edged sword. I looked forward to meeting someone I am more compatible with, yet I missed him terribly. I even cried at times. He decided to text me Happy Easter in the morning of Easter Sunday. I invited him over and we talked. We did not seem to set forth resolve. I wanted to but he is evasive. He had a very abusive Father and I hear the Mother had a ‘sharp’ mouth as they referred to her. He idolizes his abusive Father. I do not verbally counter that to him. I feel that would be wrong. But I feel like asking him HOW he could idolize an abuser. I feel he gets some of his behaviour from wanting to be like the good features of his father that he looks up to (not the abuse). One would be complete lack of empathy when it suits him. An example: It was right before the WI wolf hunt was to begin. I am an advocate and in a group to stop abuse. Some wolf hunters are severe abusers of animals, torturing them, burning them, running over them, and more. At this period of time I was at the height of a dental implant severe infection, with many deadly pathogens in my body (as a biopsy/pathology report confirmed) so I was physically unwell with severe fatigue, weakness, and dizziness at times. So pair the infection with the emotional distraught of reading of the wolf torturers and feeling so helpless other than persistent advocating for their welfare with politicians and the public. We were both sitting at my dining room table, I put my face in my hands, with my head downward, and had tears rolling down my eyes. I was at wits end. I was NOT a drama queen, just venting and crying a bit, and of course, looking for consolation of my feelings and affirmation of the efforts of all advocates, and lastly empathy/sympathy that it was seemingly not going to work and the wolf hunt would go on. He stared at me and stared at me with a blank, unemotional face. I pulled myself together and I asked why he did not console me, like put his arms around me (which would have really helped me emotionally. He said, and I quote: “YOU BROUGHT IT UPON YOURSELF”. These words ring in my head every time I try to excuse them, find reason for them (like his cold cold upbringing), or I try to set them aside because we are all different people with varying degrees of emotion for others. But I cannot forget these words. I am going to start therapy in a few weeks. But I am struggling with the fact that therapy will be so time consuming, yet certainly fruitful. I am such a busy person, being a widow, with backlogged jobs/duties/desire for some smell the roses time. I sometimes think I can sort this out myself, just leave him, and go on. Any advice on his comment of bringing it upon myself would be so appreciated. I told two health practitioners, and a few friends, and they all had very negative comments about his words. My favorite practitioner, functional medicine female said, “Jan, that is a big red flag! You deserve to be treated well”. Thank you for listening. This has caused a lot of pain for me.
Jan, thank you for sharing so vulnerably. I understand the pain this has caused you and continues to cause you and am so sorry that you are navigating these stormy waters. We hope you will go through our website more, read more blogs and consider joining our cohort in August that is for survivors. Visit the Training and Curriculum page on our website to learn more. In the meantime, if there’s anything we can help you with or even to just encourage you with, please reach out to us at email@example.com. Take care, Stephanie (M3ND Executive Director)
He is not the man for you. There is someone out there who is much better for you. I understand the happiness when you break up with him yet still missing him. I totally relate. Just break up because in the long run. I still sometimes have bad dreams about the someone in my life like you have and it has been over 30 years. I am happily married now for 30 years. Not always easy but never that drama. Life is too short for the wrong boyfriend. Don’t blame it in his past. His past should not be yours to deal with. You will miss out on what is meant to be your future.
Thank you for your sweet comments.
I have been experiencing this for a few years, only recently it has been worse. My girlfriend lives with me and has never paid any bills and frequently stays home from work for one reason or another. Between her last job and this one she was off for a couple months and most recently off from work at her present job for @15 weeks. She did buy groceries weekly aside from a few weeks in 4 1/2 years and more recently months. I paid off her child support that she had been behind on for 7 years and have taken care of her needs out of love. During this time her affection towards me has all but disappeared. I have tried to talk to her about it and have been told a few demeaning answers (when I get one) but most generally she stares off to the side, changes the subject, gets up and leaves the room or gets really angry and tells me the only reason she continues to behave like this is because I keep asking her why. Then she will avoid wherever I am on the property for hours and days. She sits in the bathroom on her phone forever. She has “projects” she says she is behind on but I just find messes here and there with nothing finished or of tangible significance. I try to be supportive of her labors even though she doesn’t seem to care about how she has a negative impact on my entire life. She doesn’t say she is sorry -ever- or argue to fix the problem. In public she treats me like she can’t keep her hands off but at home she never initiates or follows through on any “wait and see promises” she has made. I have offered up romantic weekends to get a response of “romantic, no?!!!” She has told me (e.g.-the biggest lie ever told by women) that she has never had anything like this before and how satisfied she is with what we do together, but we don’t do it together anymore hardly at all. it was every day at least if not more then she decided once a week is good and rejected my advances, now it might be a month or more and most of the time due to the lack of effort on her part and the weeks of put downs and pot shots at me for wanting to be with someone who wants to be with me, I will call it off due to her silent treatment when I ask how we got to this point. She says it’s not intentional and she doesn’t see herself doing it. Then she will tell me it is unattractive when I talk about it and I should shut up about it because she doesn’t want to hear about it. I think im going crazy trying to reason this out for either closure and a breakup or a path to resolve but I get neither. Only a man in love would do something as stupid as the things I have done to win hers and still I am ignored as I develop anxiety and an inferiority complex to go along with my one sided relationship I never asked for and was not how she projected herself to be to get me to let her move in. Now she will neither be a decent and loving person in my life nor will she leave my house so someone who values me as a person and vice/versa could possibly find me before I call it quits on finding happiness. Im not out of shape, I have never been unemployed, I work hard and have a great sense of humor twisted as it may seem at times. I miss laughing. I miss my old self and she seems to be just fine with putting me on a shelf unless she needs something from me.
We’re so grateful you decided to share your journey with us and are sorry you are having these issues in your relationship. We agree you deserve to be in a loving, mutually respectful and caring relationship. Intimacy is key to this, and there may be many reasons (due to or unrelated to your relationship) that someone may be withholding affection. But it’s so important to address it and it seems that counseling of some sort might be helpful for her and for you. Often, you can find great insight by talking through all of this in individual or, possibly, couples therapy. Discovering how best to set healthy boundaries and expectations in the relationship are not always obvious or easy to do, and a therapist can help significantly with this. There are also some good books on this, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, for example. We hope this helps and that you find healing from the wounds this is causing. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.