There are many forms of abuse which we hear about often. Besides the most glaring forms, there are some forms of abuse that are more subtle, harder to notice and easier to rationalize. One of these that is very damaging, although it is rarely addressed, is punishment by disengagement.
This form of punishment is very harmful to adults and children, especially when it involves their primary attachment relationships. For example, if a child is controlled or punished using disengagement, they learn at an early age that they must conform and submit to the demands of those close to them, less they be left behind or abandoned. This is of course, very damaging to ones self-worth and confidence in their ability to make their own decisions. Such trauma leads to codependency, unhappiness, and abusive relationships.
In today’s world of personal development we talk a lot about disengagement in regards to self-love, ending toxic relationships, and not participating in that which does not serve your highest good. For this reason, it is very difficult to differentiate between detachment with love and punishment by disengagement. Because of the similarities between the two, it is important to ask yourself, are you or someone you love using disengagement as a form of punishment, abuse, or control?
Here are some signs of punishment by disengagement.
1. Any time a special event or occasion comes around, you find yourself thinking about how to behave in order to avoid this day being ruined by your loved ones displeasure.
It is very common for this type of abuse to occur during special occasions, holidays or special events. Because your loved one knows how important this time is to you, it is the perfect opportunity to exercise the form of control obtained through punishment by disengagement. Even if subconsciously, they know that you want more than anything for this to be a happy and successful day, and this makes it very likely that they will find something to disagree with in order to feel powerful. It is important to note that many people who use this form of control ultimately have no idea they are being abusive. They may not see the pattern at all, or they may rationalize their behavior by blaming it on a healthy form of detachment.
2. You find yourself frequently changing plans for yourself or your family based on the moods of your loved one.
If you consistently make, rearrange or cancel plans based on the mood of your loved one, you may want to do some serious reflecting on why that is and consider the rest of this article.
3. You notice that you are constantly re-evaluating your words and actions and are apprehensive about speaking your truth.
Punishment by disengagement can lead to fear of abandonment and extreme self-doubt. You might replay the same scenarios in your head over and over trying to figure out what you did wrong that caused your loved one to disengage. Eventually, you not only question your reality as it to relates to this individual, but you begin to doubt yourself all the time. Living under this constant self scrutiny leads to an inability to speak your truth, and sometimes an inability to speak at all.
We hear a lot about toxic people, but it is much more helpful to realize you have toxicity in your relationship, as opposed to labeling your loved one as a toxic person. When we view it this way, it is easier to gain awareness and find a solution. I have written this article to point out some key facts that I have learned about this subtle form of abuse, not as a weapon to be used to blame the other person in your relationship. We have all punished through disengagement at some time in our life, whether we realized it or not. The important thing is to identify any consistent patterns of this behavior and find a way to repair the issue. Allowing it to continue only hurts you and them.