How Do I Heal From This Pain?

These are some principles that I have found to be helpful in healing the pain and suffering that occur in an abusive relationship. I speak to you, those that have been overcome by abuse – whether it be physical and or emotional. You deserve to live a life without fear. You deserve to be loved and to feel safe.

I also speak to you, the abuser. You may be harder to reach, but I say to you – you too have the right to be loved and safe – even with, or possibly, especially with yourself. You can find the pure and true self-hidden away deep inside of you if you wish to do so. I speak to you both.

The way out is difficult. The only way out is to take one step at a time. It is a winding and difficult path, but what can be harder than the prison of fear, domination and control? If you, as victim, feel you take your actual life in your hands as you become empowered the way out is fraught with much danger. But there still is a way.
I speak to you, the victim: easy to say, hard to do, but simply put you need to say no to abuse, disrespect and manipulation. I say to you, the abuser, you need to say yes to humility, honesty and integrity.

Man with conceptual spiritual body art

You, as victim need to re-activate and honor the alarm system, the intuitive capacity to feel what is safe and what is not.
Allow the light of truth to penetrate through the maze. Allow yourself to see the forest for the trees. You as victim need to protect your heart from people with whom you are not safe. You, the abuser needs to open your heart in love – to give and to receive.

Unless both of you work on yourselves, healing in the relationship cannot occur. Sometimes, separation or distancing is the only way to change the dynamic.

Both victim and abuser contribute to the dysfunctional relationship. If you know that, then you are empowered to make the changes necessary for safety and love. You have more power than you think.

For healing to occur in the relationship, both you as victim and you as abuser need to take appropriate responsibility for your role. For the victim your role in enabling the abusive behavior; for the abuser, taking responsibility for the suffering you cause in the victim.

Both the abuser and victim need to understand the point of pain that has caused this perversion of human relationship: “What part of you has been disabled causing you to undermine/be undermined in the present (abusive) relationship?” Therapy is often needed to delve into the deep-seated reasons for the dysfunctional behavior of each party.

For both the abuser and the abused, a deep internal assessment is needed: Why do I, as the abuser, act in such a cold and hurtful way? What happened to me that I treat “the other” so? Why do I, as the victim, set myself up to be mistreated, bamboozled and manipulated?

Freud called it the “repetition compulsion.” We are driven to repeat that which we do not understand. By “remembering” the original traumas, we have the chance to feel the pain, then release it – rather than acting out compulsively an essential repetition of the pain of our past.

Pain denied is not the absence of pain: pain has to go somewhere. The conscious feeling and acknowledgement of pain (as hard as that is) is necessary. Once felt and acknowledged it can be released. Otherwise pain tends to “embody” in the physical body and can end up in physical disease.

Both abuser and victim need to heal the split inside them instead of using the other to act out hidden/shadow aspects of them.

Stair to the future.

The abuser’s mantra is: “I am right. I have the power.” Healing occurs when the mantra becomes: “I know, love and accept myself.” “I accept responsibility for myself.”

The victim’s mantra is: “I get what I deserve.” Healing occurs when the mantra becomes: “I know, love and accept myself.” “I accept responsibility for myself.”

What does it take to change? Does it take bottoming out? Sometimes victims say No to abuse only when they are the equivalent of “on the ground.”

Healing occurs with the recognition that safety is prerequisite in relationship. Honor, acceptance and respect are the bedrock of a loving relationship.

Authentic Power (as outlined by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis in their books) is the goal of both the abuser and the victim. Zukav/Francis recognize that external power, whether it is from one individual to another or one nation to another, implies domination of one over another. This behavior is based on fear and insecurity on both sides.

Abuser and victim alike can heal by aligning their thoughts and behavior with their “Higher Self” or what some call the “Soul” and the values that lie deep within.

Humility in the abuser implies that the insecure ego can only feel true power by honoring the self and the other. The victim is coming from the other direction: with what might be considered “too much” humility, the victim needs to recognize their own worth, and stand up for the self, not validating the abuser; not in aggrandizing, but with empowered humility.

Power addiction acts in the brain like drugs or alcohol: the limbic system (the flight or fight center) is over stimulated by excessive firing causing a form of pleasure in the “winning.” Healing occurs when the “drug” of “Power” is pulled, allowing for the natural pleasure center to be re-activated.

An authentically empowered person does not need to compete to prove their worth (Victims point of view: “Look at me, I am such a good woman, wife, mother.” Abuser’s point of view: “I am better than you because I have power over you.”)

The ability to forgive is the hallmark of an empowered human being – forgiving the self and the other for the limitations inherent in each of us, in our personalities. This does not mean that the concept of forgiveness rationalizes continuation of the abuse.

An authentically empowered person can see with clarity, beyond the illusions of the power game. Seeing with wisdom and compassion removes judgment. For the abuser, this may mean removal of the focus on their victim and coming home to the self – taking stock of what is inside, taking responsibility for their own pain, needs, longings and desires.

For the victim it may mean taking the focus from their abuser, coming home to the Self that is wounded, acknowledging their pain and healing those wounds with Self Love (leading to self-worth).

Here is another dilemma that sometimes blocks movement forward: I call it the investment dilemma. The victim often stays “because I put so much into this relationship, I can’t leave now.” It is the equivalent of “throwing good money after bad.” Ego and pride prevent an honest evaluation of what is the truth now, is my life working for me now?

This is related to what we could call “failure avoidance.” Victims may stay in the mistaken belief that they are a failure if this abusive relationship is ended.

What we are seeking is a spiritual evolution.

The transmutation of suffering to transcendence is a life-changing process. By releasing the abuser the victim, now survivor, allows the other to discover their true path (if they choose), and the survivor, learning from the pain, moves along their own enlightened path. Maya Angeleau speaks: “Stepping onto a brand new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation which is not nurturing to the whole woman (man).”

Beautiful sunset

I  find Julie Henderson’s book “The Lover Within”  inspirational.  She writes,” You are the One!”  You are present for yourself  from birth to death.  You are the one who needs love, understanding and forgiveness.  By loving yourself first everything else and everyone else is put in perspective.

Love, in essence, is the answer. How to manifest love to oneself and others is the answer. Love yourself more! It sounds simplistic but please ponder

Selfportrait-shadow on old citadel.

Awareness gives us the opportunity to change. It is my hope that this conversation will lead to true, internal, authentic empowerment for those of us who are identified as abusers and victims – leading us out of the darkness and into the loving light.

Cynthia

I thank the many clients that have assisted me in seeing the many faces of abuse, and ultimately through their courage and soul searching, to honor them in their flight toward freedom, back to themselves.

Copyright December 26, 2013

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The Stealth Hunters – In relation to CHILDREN

STEALTH HUNTERS

In relation to

CHILDREN

Over the years I’ve lived through and noticed a number of disturbing behaviors in the complicated and contentious area of child custody during divorce proceedings. It is almost as though a psychotic element of personality can emerge when two people, once lovers and friends, turn to enemies. Suspicion, paranoia, hatred and massive distortions of reality can emerge. When children are involved they can be used and therefore traumatized in the divorce war.

Judges, attorneys, and guardian ad litmus – in fact the litagatious process itself, polarizes the couple further. The system builds in the fact that there are two opposing forces, three when the children are represented by their own attorney. This ultimately promotes a warlike atmosphere which undermines collaboration and rational thinking.

If we look back in our recent history, with the advent of World War II, the men left for war (and a relatively small number of women too) while women took their places in factories and the workplace. That was a taste of freedom and power for women. It was followed by another women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s bringing the concept of equality a step further. Women went to work – they did not nor do they get equal pay – but as they left for work, the parents role moved more to the center. Now both male and female, father and mother go to work. Now they both tend to be part time parents and full time workers. Although there is still a tendency for women to be expected to do it all – working, parenting, cooking, cleaning and taxi – the new parent generation tends to be heading in the direction of fully sharing the parental role.

As is so often the case we see inadvertent consequences to events. A reactive movement followed in which men sought to regain perceived power lost and it played out within the polarized family. The courts went from the presumed natural right of the mother to be the primary parent to an equalization of custody and parenting rights. Unless proven as incompetent, the father was given 50 percent custody.

This then sets up the child as a ping-pong ball between the two parents. The child is honored by both parents in a split arrangement, but is always on the move. The suitcase and the calendar became preeminent in the child’s life. The mantra, “In the child’s best interest” has moved to a new level. What is actually in the child’s best interest? Society has moved to an understanding that, although it is hard for children to move around, they need both parents equally. We have recently moved to the concept of “nesting” in which the parents move in and out while the child stays in the family home. This is done with small children and for a limited time since each parent seeks to move forward in their lives, past this level of connection with their ex or soon-to-be ex.

However, complications do arise. When one parent uses the child against the other parent we have seen a tremendous increase in battles over custody. The fight for “full custody” leads to a denigration of one parent so that they are punished with less time with their child.

Another potential complication: What if one of the parents is abusive and manipulative? What if that is the very reason for the divorce? What if the manipulative tactics play out in the “parenting plan” and child custody arena?

With this as backdrop to our discussion, here are some ways in which parents hurt their children in their quest for control and power.

1.     Undermining the other parent

This is far more common than is publically known. The devastation to all involved is profound, especially to the child. During separation and divorce one parent may subtly or overtly deprecate or criticize the other parent. The alienating parent may undermine the authority of the other parent in front of the child, thereby actively giving permission for the child to do the same.

In the process of a separation and divorce, as outlined above, one parent actively undermines the other parent to the child, thereby using their influence to convince the child that the other parent is bad, inadequate, an abandoner. This all to the end of winning the child over “to their side.” It is like stealing the child’s own mind away from the “enemy” parent. I have seen this when one parent shamelessly cries to the child as a victim of the other parent, eliciting the child’s sympathy. If the child feels sorry for that parent it follows that the other parent is vilified.


Child stealing can occur by someone other than the parent. A subversive person who represents him or herself as a rescuer, friend/better parent to the child can undermine the relationship between parent and child. I have seen this in a “family friend’ who set herself up as a better parent figure – lenient, supportive, permissive. “Bad parent – good “rescuer.”

Dr. Richard A. Gardner, forensic psychiatrist, coined the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” in the 1980s. It has been largely discounted in the psychiatric field and is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – but the concept holds some truths, from my perspective, in some families of divorce. The destructive force unleashed by a vindictive parent against the other by using the child as weapon is truly a dark and destructive force. Working hidden behind a façade of normalcy the alienating parent sacrifices the child in order to attack and eviscerate the alienated parent.

What may be most controversial about this “syndrome” is an understanding that the child, at some point, actively aligns him or herself, with the offending parent. While the child may feel that they have come independently upon the belief that the alienated parent is bad, weak, inferior – they may be unaware that the offending parent has hijacked their newly developing cognitive functioning.

The neophyte personality of the child is then formed around a belief system based on hate. The “splitting” phenomenon – seeing the world in black and white, good and bad terms jells, unless caught and treated early on. The child may then “identify with the aggressor,” aligning him or herself with the “winner” in the battle of warring parents.

In severe cases, the child is without conscience in brutally attacking the alienated parent. Another characteristic seen in the child of this form of abuse is the irrational and baseless criticism and the failure to recognize the loving or positive aspects of the rejected parent.

This can be done by either parent – mother or father. It was first identified as being done predominately by women, but I have seen it both ways. No matter, the result is devastating either way.

Another way in which one parent may undermine the other is through the financially bankrupting the other parent. The abuser, usually the male (not always!), undermines the ability of the mother to successfully parent the child by giving her as little money as possible, possibly hiding assets or underreporting of income to the court. 

2.     Parentification

Parentification is a word used to denote a pattern of exploiting the child to meet the parent’s needs. This then subverts the child’s ability to meet their own needs. This can be seen as a form of “taking away the child’s childhood.” Another variation is the parent treating the child as a “friend or confidante.” In some instances the father turns his daughter into the “little wife.” This occurs following divorce with or without sexualization where the father of a girl treats his daughter as he did his wife. Usually done to a female child, she is expected to do the housework, make meals and take care of younger children.

3.     Sexualization

In stealth abuse toward children, a parent may sleep with the child for his or her own needs. In some cases overt sexual behavior, molesting or rape can occur. Even if this is not the case, by sleeping with the child beyond infancy, there is a covert, indirect sexualization that can occur. If not overtly sexual toward the child undertones of incest reverberate. In some cases, known or unknown to the parent, the child is actually used to protect herself from an abuser husband.

4.     Covert neglect

Neglect can be a passive form of abuse, which has at its base failure to meet the needs of the child. During divorce cases sometimes neglect of the child is done to “get back at” the other parent.

For example, bringing the child back without a coat on a cold winter day sacrifices the child in order to force the other parent to buy an additional coat. Feeding the child a carb and sweet-filled diet in the face of a child’s obesity  is neglecting the real needs of the child for appropriate nutrition.

Here is another example: The mother calls her ex, the child’s father, in order to notify him that she is bringing the child to the clinic for diagnosis and treatment, since the child had a 102 fever. The father then speaks to the child urging her not to go to the clinic, undermining the mother’s authority to make an appropriate medical decision.

Emotional vacating is a passive form of emotional abandonment. Often this generates in the child a longing for contact and connection. This can have lifelong effects causing the child, later adult, to be drawn to emotionally unavailable people in the hopes that this time they will be valued and loved.

Workaholism is another avoidant behavior. In the name of making money to support the family, excess work can be an escape from intimacy. A form of emotional vacating, it leads to the same kind of longing for connection.

Alcoholism and drug addiction generate even more pain since the parent vacates emotionally when numb from substance abuse, but also dysfunctional behaviors, violence, blaming and a myriad of other disturbed behaviors are induced.

5.     Covert abuse

“Collateral damage” in a divorce can occur when a parent rejects a child because they look like or act like the rejected parent. Through no fault of their own the child is scapegoated; anger is displaced on that child from the other parent and the result can be devastating.

On the other hand, a pattern of preferential treatment of one child over the other can occur if that child is seen to look like, act like the offending parent. That child is not seen as him or herself, but rather as a function of the parent. At times the reverse is true: If the parent has unconscious self-hate the child that is most like them can be targeted. It is as though they can’t stand looking “in the mirror.”

Another convoluted form of covert abuse comes in the form of triangulation or favoritism. By pitting siblings against each other they are led to believe that there is only so much love to go around, so they need to fight in the bid for parental favor. I have seen this acted out decades later in families with feuds carried on even to the death of the parent! 

                          6.     Failed promises

Especially during separation and divorce one parent may make commitments to pick up the child or make some plan, and fail to show up, or be consistently late, leaving the child bereft. The child waits, looking out the window, ready and dressed to go. When the parent fails to appear, the tragic result is low self-esteem and self doubt. Inside, they may be saying, “If my own mother (father) doesn’t love me, who will?” The extreme failed promise is abandonment.

7.     Over-indulgence

On the opposite end of the spectrum of child usage/”slavery” is over-indulgence thereby creating false expectations in the child and engendering feelings of entitlement.

Permissive parenting in combination with over-indulgence generates a child who “has been given everything but the checkbook.” Since children are immature beings who are essentially self-focused (with rare exception), parents who give the power and control to the child end up with a narcissistic, angry and demanding child. What may be thought of as loving attention and care, if overdone without accountability can be just as damaging as many other forms of abuse.

 

The Stealth Hunters

THE STEALTH HUNTERS

I’d like to talk to you about common behaviors and characteristics of abusers that do their work in a hidden or covert way. I call them stealth hunters (based on natures model) and manipulators interchangeably for the purposes of this blog. They do the equivalent of hunt at night. They can eye prey with precision and before you know it, you are the meal!

1. Selecting the victim

Selecting the victim for some can be a conscious process like a criminal prowling for an easy victim to rob. Choosing the right victim is key! People who are caring and have a tendency for sympathy and gullibility are a juicy target.  Those who are openhearted idealists and have a desire to rescue send out signals that the abusers are magnetically drawn to.  Con artists make it a profession but manipulators and abusers can be found in all walks of life. The hunt can start with charm, charisma and be full of promise. Sly as a fox, the abuser can be very convincing but once the prize is won, the victim is conquered and the cat and mouse games begin.

I recall one of my patients saying that she found much later in their relationship that her boyfriend walked around the party they were attending looking to “pick up” someone. He dropped something near her, on purpose. She very nicely picked it up for him and by her behavior, her openness and sympathy he knew he had a catch.

The Seduction can begin innocently enough. Initially the manipulator can be charming, even ingratiating. Like a chameleon the colors can look beautiful and bright in the beginning, then turn dark and menacing as time goes on. The seduction can be a long courtship, or short but sooner or later cracks in the illusion appear. Another patient described a long courtship that was wonderful with such closeness and with an active sex life. On the marital night, he rejected her and outright said that since he had conquered her he didn’t need her any more.

2. Power and Control


It’s all about power and control. This is the central hub of the wheel. It’s not about love or tenderness. It’s not about caring and trust. It’s not about family. What is so insidious is that it is not always clear to the prey what the manipulator is doing and by the time they find out they may be in the grip of a very powerful force, like a fly in the mouth of the Venus Fly Trap. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing aggressive intent is masked.  The methods are often hidden from view, like a snake in the grass.

The abuser’s overarching drive is the need to overpower and control the victim. Feeling the need to be bigger and more powerful than they themselves are, they prey on those they consider weaker – those who are caring, vulnerable, and needy and with a powerful drive to please others. Remember: the correlate here is that the abuser feels powerless and small inside, otherwise he or she wouldn’t need to sacrifice or use another to appear powerful.

Techniques of the Manipulator

How do they do what they do? What are the techniques used to try to gain advantage over another? Let’s dissect the methods so we can be less vulnerable to their tactics.

One of the most important capacities of the abuser is in the creation of fear. The manipulator is adept at the creation of feelings in their prey that they are “walking on eggshells.” Because of repeated outbursts, critical attacks and ambushing, the victim comes to fear interaction with the abuser. They may feel, “You never know what you will get when they walk through the door.”

It’s like walking through a minefield. You never know when you will get blown up! The long-term effects on physical, mental and emotional functioning is devastating.

In this way the abuser generates a pattern of connecting, then undermining the relationship in an endless cycle leading to intense fear and debilitation.

The passive aggressive connection is a running theme with covert manipulators. Aggression is hidden just below the surface in words and actions. Once stung, the victim can feel the hit, sometimes not even knowing where it came from. And the strikes keep on coming.

The abuser may attempt to manipulate through intense emotion like temper tantrums or moodiness. This is often done to generate fear in the victim. Once the victim is fearful, the manipulator seeks capitulation and submission. The abuser may repeatedly traumatize the victim in order to “train” them not to challenge. Public humiliation and threats of violence “educate” the victim not to challenge. This is part of the “learned helplessness” that Walker identified. This is the secret key that turns the latch on understanding why the victim stays – even though it “makes no sense.”

If challenged, defensiveness is often used at the service of power and control. The abuser may turn on the victim in order to avoid being held accountable. As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.

Here is another way in which the cat can keep the mouse in place: In the creation of a no-win situation the abuser gives a false set of choices in which neither choice given is advantageous to the victim (but is advantageous to the abuser). It is a no-win set up!

The creative misuse of intelligence is staggering.  In some scenarios perfectionism is used as a tool for controlling and demeaning the victim. With increasingly intense demands, the bar is raised and the expectations keep changing so that no matter how hard the victim tries to please, it is impossible to win favor. Preying on the need to please, the abuser keeps the mouse running on the proverbial treadmill. With a desperate desire to please, placate and win the approval of the abuser he or she will stop at nothing to gain praise and acceptance– all to no avail.

As the abuse intensifies, the victim may have a surge of power and stand up to the abuser and even threaten to leave the abusive relationship. As in the FOG description the victim may move into a position of relative power. Without the victim, how or who will the abuser control? The abuser may intensify the manipulative tactics to include ultimatums. The threat of suicide is the ultimate threat in some cases, forcing the victim to remain in the unhealthy relationship since they do not want to be “responsible” for the death of the manipulator. Guilt is the motivating force in the victim, and the abuser knows very well how to use it. Threats of abandonment, physical violence or the treat of using the children against the other parent are other means of increasing the hold.


Once the groundwork is laid and fear has been established one of the most insidious systems is set in place. Fear will then rule the victim even if the abuser is not there. We might call this the Snake Effect. The manipulator lies in wait then strikes with venom using words as weapons, reducing the victim to self-hate and revulsion. This way, the abuser starts the process and leaves the rest for the victim to complete. Poison spreads after the bite, attacking the body from the inside out.

Long distance control is in place. No longer is the fulcrum of power in the abuser. It is actually in the mind of the victim – the ultimate mind control. The external bars of the jail are no longer needed. The mind of the victim itself has been hijacked at the service of the jailer! The abuse has been internalized. If resistance has led to intensified methods of control and the victim is captured and vanquished, the abuser becomes even more “victorious.” The victim may reach a point where they surrender and even embrace that which they can no longer fight.


Once internalized this is the most recalcitrant of situations. The allies may have rescued the prisoners at Auschwitz, but some never experience true liberation in their minds.

Identification with the Aggressor

This reminds me of a most fascinating and disturbing situation:

This is a story of a couple in which the husband was the son of holocaust survivors. His grandparents and many of his relatives were killed in concentration camps. Escaping from Austria his mother migrated safely to South America then went on to New York. She recreated her identity by Americanizing her name and focused on nurturing her son – the doctor (her husband died when their son was a child). While superficially creating an American persona, internally she acted like a Nazi (at whose hands her family was murdered) in her vicious and brutal verbal attacks when her son didn’t meet her “needs”. She alternately praised her son, the Doctor, and then sadistically wounded him with her words. She held him close but peppered him with him with bullets of guilt inducement, verbal battering, humiliating and demeaning behavior. He would be reduced into an almost comatose state, broken by her repeated betrayals.

The Doctor married a woman with a strong need to please. Even though she saw he could be argumentative, difficult and arrogant she was desperate to get married and have a family. She denied the warning signs and thought she could change him through her love. Unable and unwilling to face his own dark (family) past of horrific torture and murder he never faced the emotions associated with that history nor the painful and devastating treatment by his mother.

As the relationship progressed he became more controlling, arrogant and demanding. He was cold, unfeeling and lacked empathy for her. He cordoned off his wife from friends and family by insulting them, leaving her with just him. By failing to face and process his family and ethnic legacy he became his mother; he became the Nazi torturer (soft form) just as his mother was to him. He “identified with the aggressor.” His mother bit him and the “poison” eventually spread. No longer at the mercy of his mother, he became the one on top: demeaning, controlling and mind-twisting to such a powerful effect that she nearly succumbed to suicide. This is the power of the unconscious!

The abuser is often adept at the creation of what I call an alternative or fictional reality.  Call it lying, call it selective memory or memory manipulation the abuser is incredibly creative at twisting things around so that whatever it is, it is your fault.  The selective remembering or forgetting of information for the purposes of undermining is astounding. The very basis of reality is challenged:  “I never said that,” or “You told me this, don’t you remember?”   Lies, or lies of omission are meant to make it look like the abuser is innocent.

In the long term this is one of the most difficult areas of recovery in both victim and abuser: the challenge is the recovery of “what really happened.” The maze of guilt, misinterpretations, projections and distortions are very difficult to disentangle.

3. Blaming

Blaming is the bedrock of a manipulators technique. Vilifying or blaming the victim repeatedly creates a pattern of unwarranted, exaggerated or false criticism and accusations leaving the victim feeling devastated and undermined. The victim often takes in the negative projections even though rationally they may know they are not true.

By constantly blaming the abuser becomes adept at a creating fear and guilt in the victim. For example, “I know you. You are a cheating “expletive.” You can’t hide from me. I will track you and prove what a deceiving low-life you are.” This, in spite of the fact that she did not cheat on her husband!

Vindictive Flipping of Blame is an insidious twisting technique. While actively undermining the relationship with constant blame the abuser’s mantra may be: “You are the one who is destroying this relationship. You just try to leave me and I will call up your boss and let them know what a cheater you are. I will destroy your reputation.”

The abuser may demean the competence, intelligence or character of the victim: “You can’t do anything right. I ask you to do one simple thing and you can’t even do it. How many times do I have to tell you something before you get it?” This puts the victim on the defensive: the victim may feel under siege, never safe, never accepted.

I treated a client who was married to such a character – she was easy for him to manipulate since she wanted to save him.  She was sure that if she gave him enough love to make up for his brutal, overpowering mother, he would soften and change into a loving husband. She wanted to rescue him. We could call this pair the
rescuer and the blamer.

The more she gave, the more she forgave the more he took, the more demanding and brutal he became.  He was most adept at blaming.  He was creative in twisting the truth into a reason for a brutal tirade.  For example, the couple decided to go on a trip for the weekend and on the way back they were exposed to a violent thunderstorm with heavy rain, driving back from the trip on a dark country road.  She was driving under the worst of circumstances.  He at full volume exploded in a constant barrage that it was all her fault that they were in this situation – because she voiced the desire to travel that weekend.  He yelled that she should have chosen a different route home in order to avoid the storm.  This after both had agreed to the trip and the route home!

Did you notice?  He was outraged at being victimized by “her” choice to take the weekend trip and by “her” choice to take that route home.  He was acting as though she was victimizing him while in fact he was yelling at her, accusing and blaming her for choices they had both made – while nature gave them a rough ride.  He was victimizing while claiming that she victimized him.

4. Use of Covert Intimidation

Covert manipulators are masters at using veiled, subtle and implied threats. Here is an example of veiled intimidation – The victim may say, “Lets discuss what happened (Why did you hurt and humiliate me?) The abuser’s response: “I don’t want to talk about it and if you force me to talk about it I’m going to be very angry with you. Don’t push me or you’ll be sorry.” When you hear the words, “You’re on thin ice” you know the threat is in place.

Here is another twisted intimidation tactic: change the subject then emotionally attack. If the victim challenges the abuser on a hurtful behavior, the abuser may sardonically say, “Oh, it’s all my fault. Everything I do is wrong.” By positing hyperbole the victim can be derailed from their point and be left with the abuser’s defensive tactic turned offensive.

5. Drama

The creation of drama and crisis can be used as a source of external power (as opposed to authentic internal power.) By fomenting chaos, gossip, lies, twisting of truth and focusing on negativity, the abuser is at the center of the storm. Drama is embellishing a situation through emotion and it is used to aggrandize the manipulator’s role and status.

Here is another creative way to be at the center of drama: talk very loudly on the phone so that a vocal barrage invades those around him or her. An important secondary gain for the manipulator is to appear to be very important and at the center of power. This is a clear use of the phone as a weapon.

An example of a charismatic and dramatic character follows: in childhood, she was ridiculed and rejected by other children since she was obese. Even more importantly, she was undermined by her father (he wanted a son to pass his estate onto) and by her weak mother as well. Resources were squandered while she and her two sisters were left uneducated and without leadership. The family business that he had created failed to generate an uplifting of education and consciousness that was the potential.

She later generated a group of friends that she was able to control. In compensation for the powerlessness that she grew up with, she became the central figure in the drama and actually demanded that these friends avoid outside relationships with each other. She would virtually ban anyone who broke her rule. Why would these friends allow such controlling behavior? Through the creation of the “myth” of her power and wealth, she projected her persona as “Queen.” She was able to draw on her friends desire to be close to the seat of power. She held court and courtiers rushed to sit by her side.

Alcoholism and addiction ultimately destroyed her and her children. True empowerment eluded her and she was brought down from the inside out, tragically. All the many talents and capacity for warmth and caring were undermined by unresolved trauma and neglect.

6. Minimizing

The abuser becomes adept at minimizing the significance of their own hurtful behavior or words and also minimizes the feelings and thoughts of the victim. When the victim protests, the abuser may say, “What’s the big deal?” or “You do the same to me,” or “You deserve it” or “You’re overreacting.”

By words or actions the abuser lets it be known that only his/her feelings and choices are valid. It is as though their behavior says “I’m more important than you.” The husband may get his Porsche while he has his wife under scrutiny for every penny she spends at the grocery store.

The abuser husband may minimize the work and sacrifice it takes for his wife to care for the children and keep up the home while he works on a job out of the home.

The entitled child may take for granted the sacrifice of parental support for college tuition and expenses, minimizing the significance of the support, without gratitude.

The entitled child may accept the used car, only to later attack the parent/s saying they should have been given a new car.

7. Grandiosity

The manipulator, in the quest for power and control may be obviously grandiose – they believe or at least project a mask of superiority.

Feelings of entitlement go hand in hand with grandiosity.  In this and the last generation there has been a sweeping change in child rearing.  The culture in general (fueled by rampant commercialism) and parents themselves have swung toward a child-focused family.  The child has become part of the decision-making committee.  The family is now based on democratic principles of equality.  Sounds good?  Think again.  With permissiveness and over-indulgence – the inadvertent side effects of this type of parenting can be selfish, demanding children who feel entitled to everything they want.  Ingratitude is rampant and their prospective employers are bracing themselves for this spoiled lot.

The projection of the belief that the abuser is superior can lead to pompous staging, bragging and overpowering. Grandiosity is revealed by the belief that the abuser’s feelings and beliefs are more important than the victims.

When pride, inflexibility and grandiosity combine, the outcome is insufferable. Without humility there can be no admission of wrongdoing, no apology (unless it serves a manipulative purpose). The abuser can be arrogant, self-centered and selfish. This leaves the adjunct victim feeling small as compared with the “bigger than life” manipulator.

Here is an example of this behavior: My client, ironically, on her honeymoon suddenly fell desperately ill with a fever over 103 degrees. Unable to walk, in a collapsed state, she needed to return immediately to their room. Her husband, an avid traveller, was extremely annoyed that she was interrupting his tour of the European country where she fell ill. A doctor was brought in and he diagnosed that she either had spinal meningitis or was bit by a spider or tick. A rash was discovered on her spine. Her husband set her up in bed and continued on with his tour. Clearly, this was a poor prognosis for the marriage. Diagnosis for him: grandiosity, narcissism and selfishness. Diagnosis for her: blindness to his abuse based on low self-esteem.

8. Rationalization for Harmful Behavior

The abuser may attempt to convince the victim that there is a good reason for what they are doing, like “I am hitting you for your own good” or “I had to yell at you because that is the only way you listen.”

The abuser may try to justify abusive treatment by insisting that it is the victims fault: “If you didn’t behave like that it wouldn’t have been necessary for me to hit you, or cheat on you, or make a scene in the restaurant, etc.”

9. Lies, or lies of omission

The abuser, manipulator may engage in outright lying or lie by withholding information in order to make it seem they are innocent. For example, the abuser denies going out with a friend, saying he was attending a work meeting. Later it comes out that he was at a party with that friend where they met up with girls of interest. Or, a husband purposely hides financial issues that put both at risk, or where assets are hidden from the wife’s view.


10. More Brainwashing Techniques

Brainwashing is a form of thought control. We could define it as a systematic manipulative process to persuade the other to conform to the beliefs of the Abuser – always to the detriment of the one manipulated. One of my “favorite” examples is a divorced father crying to his child: “I am not the one who wanted the divorce – your mother did” not comprehending that his own abusive behavior towards his wife undercut her relationship with him or the harm he is exacting on his daughter.

Guilt-tripping is a special manipulative tactic where the manipulator finds a way to generate in the victim feelings of guilt for thinking, feeling or doing something so that the victim does what the manipulator wants. For example, the manipulator/abuser claims that if the victim cared enough they would follow the directive of the manipulator.

Loose Boundaries The abuser tends to invade personal boundaries in the other, acting as though they had a right to penetrate what should be sacred space. This step then allows brainwashing to occur. This is truly insidious since the abuse then occurs inside the mind of the victim – it is as though the penetration is so deep that even when the manipulator is not present, it remains in the victim’s mind to continue its poisonous work. This shows the inner workings of the process I have called The Snake Effect.

Shaming is a favorite technique of the abuser. You know when this happens when the abuser treats the victim as though they were a bad person. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” “How could you do such a thing?” “What were you thinking?” “How many times do I have to tell you?” This is opposed to a respectful challenge to a particular behavior.

Name Calling is a brainwashing technique designed to minimize the other into a negative epithet, inviting both outrage and self-hate in the victim.

Triangulation is the process of encouraging others to gang up against the victim, creating the illusion that they are right, and the victim is wrong. A particularly disturbing scenario is a couple embroiled in divorce proceedings in which the husband coopts their daughter against the mother. The father and daughter actually trap the mother in a small room while the two of them verbally attacked her, the daughter threatening to physically attack her, all with the blessing of her father.

Humor used to hide insult is a sneaky and cowardly way to attack behind a shield. This is humor at the service of aggression. It is about the use of contempt, sarcasm or mean-spirited “humor” to put down the other without having to take responsibility for it. If the victim protests insult is then compounded by rounding on him or her by saying, “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you take a joke?” Sound familiar?

Relentless Testing for proof of love and fidelity can set the backdrop for soft torture. One variation here is to seek proof of the negative, which is impossible (for example, “Prove to me that you didn’t cheat on me”). The paranoid, jealous lover or the child with entitlement demands often uses this technique.

Objectification can be used as a means of diminishing the fullness of the victim’s humanity. It is done by treating a person as though they were an object, not a whole person; one example of this form of abuse is the “trophy-wife syndrome.” Another is a situation where the husband controls all family decisions and treat his wife as “just a woman.”

11. Ruthless Exploitation: Cold-blooded Predator

The predator can be ruthless. Why? What happened to the abuser’s heart? It acts like a cold-blooded reptile. Lacking in empathy, words and behavior reveal that only they matter: you as victim are being used and manipulated for hidden purposes that advance the goals and needs of the abuser.


The predator is exploitative. Without regard to the victim’s welfare he or she takes advantage of others in order to achieve his or her own ends (even if their words say the opposite.) The predator can bankrupt the victim financially and or emotionally. The manipulator can be expensive and no matter how much you give, it is never enough. Energetically the abuser is a drain, a bloodsucker that takes mercilessly regardless of what is left for the victim.

The abuser uses a “hook” to hold onto its prey, squirm though they might. Think of the analogy to fishing: the line is thrown, the bait is on the hook, and once the hook is taken the line is set. Now you’re hooked!

12. Mind twisting and Reversal

I have a client whose husband had an affair.  She found out about it, but rather than admit his infidelity and ask for her forgiveness he blamed her for having an affair and hounded her for admission of her guilt.  The only problem was that she didn’t have an affair, he did.  He relentlessly name-called, emotionally and verbally attacked her for this affair, which mysteriously grew into multiple affairs.  Public humiliation and attacks on her in front of their children rounded out the picture.  He threatened to call her boss at work, invaded her phone and computer history seeking proof of her sins.  Her life became a living Hell.

He projected his guilt onto her and then persecuted her for it.  He was so overwhelming and aggressive that there were times she actually thought about admitting that which did not take place in order to get a respite from his rapid-fire word bullets.  She wouldn’t be the first to do so.

Another client did just that, surrender, but to no avail.  Her partner had an affair and then was obsessed that she had an affair to get him back.  She admitted to an imaginary affair, which he pounced on. He caught her in inconsistencies because it was made up – she wasn’t a good liar.  He had all the ammunition to berate and cross-examine her for years on end.

The clinical term for this is called projection. The abuser attributes thoughts, feelings or behaviors of their own on to the other. Once the abuser reacts to the person as though they were the projection they may then feel justified in the mistreatment. This part of the process is called projective identification.

Failure to take responsibility for oneself is another hallmark of the manipulator. One variation of this is an ingenious tactic I call “twisting and reversal.” First comes the failure to take responsibility for him or herself and second, pin it on the prey. Here is an example:

In the French film “Girl on the Train” the protagonist Jeanne meets a thuggish man and soon moves in with him. The love affair begins with passion but soon that changes.   Unbeknownst to her he is involved with drugs and is attacked and nearly killed in a robbery of the drugs in his possession.  Jeanne visits him in the hospital and he turns on Jeanne:  “I did this for you and now my life is ruined.”

Here is another variation. We could name it “The Flip.” By calling the other what in fact the abuser is, turns truth upside down and inside out. “You are the one that is selfish, arrogant. You never take responsibility for yourself. You are mean-spirited.”

Word Twisting and a downward misinterpretation of the victim’s words lend an air of unreality. An innocent comment can somehow be proof of an unforgivable defect in the victim and proof of guilt. The misinterpretation is always to the detriment of the victim. The victim can actually come to question their sanity in favor of the “reality” generated by the manipulator.

Misinterpretation of facts and events in the creation of “fictional/alternate reality” supports the abuser’s behavior. In short, this is called lying in order to undermine the victim’s hold on reality.

Memory Manipulation is another devious undermining tactic. The selective remembering or forgetting of information for the purposes of undermining the other aids in the creation of a fictional reality. The creative misuse of intelligence is a tragedy. “I’ve never said that” is the mantra of a mind twister. Or it may be that the memory problems of the victim are used against him or her in the “restructuring” of reality as it serves the abuser. In this way the abuser systematically identifies a weakness and then exploits it.

Sexual Manipulation is another power game. There may be promises of ideal love, whereas the goal is actually sexual conquering. In essence, sex is used as power, not as a means of expressing love. Another variation is the withholding of sex as a means of punishing the partner. Overpowering (using the tool of sex) can also be directly used as a means of showing the victim who is in charge. Rape is the ultimate violent attack.

Sometimes emotional baiting is done to set up the victim. By committing provocative acts the manipulator seeks to solicit angry or emotional responses in the victim. Once reactive the victim is then blamed for having an emotional response to the abuse, which, indeed, has been induced by the manipulator.

Another particularly twisted act is to feign to be the victim while actually victimizing. It can go so far as the abuser seeking sympathy from the victim.

In a seemingly endless list of power games we can see Gas Lighting as one way that the manipulator tries to destabilize the victim, making them think they are “crazy.” It is a concept based on the 1944 movie “Gas lighting” and is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making the victim doubt his or how own memory, perception and sanity. It is amazingly effective when used against one who wants to please.

13. Ownership Tactics

The abuser may exhibit behavior that reveals the underlying belief that they have ownership rights over the other by stalking, harassing and penetrating his/her sacred field of self. The end game is the ability to control and intimidate. I refer, for example, to a woman who was “stalked” by another student in college and the finally “gave in” to seeing him. He followed and pursued relentlessly.

She allowed this suffocation to continue. She agreed to marry him (knowing inside it was wrong) and had a son by him. The dynamic within the relationship followed its initial course: he acted like he “owned” her and if she did anything which he perceived as contrary to his wishes, it came to be that he hit her. Given the tacit permission which she initially gave him (since she didn’t say no) it increased in time to beating her – even as she carried their child in her arms. He ultimately cheated on her and left her in devastation.

This abuser initially became obsessed with her, focusing single-mindedly on ownership rights and control. Listen again to the song by Sting: “Every move you make, I am watching you.” Yes, this happened here.

Believing that they have a right to control, threaten and intimidate under any and all circumstances, the abuser many interrupt the victim’s sleep cycle in a sleep deprivation syndrome. This can include waking up the sleeping partner with rage, verbal or physical attacks, leading the other to feel profoundly unsafe and unable to rest and sleep. An abuser can purposely make noise to wake up the person to engage in argumentative and rageful behavior. This is extremely destabilizing and can generate intense feelings of anxiety and lack of safety – as though they were living in a war. When the victim is disoriented and debilitated they are more vulnerable to further attack.

Driving away friends and family of the victim to isolate them is a tactic often used by the manipulator. This would then leave the abuser alone with their prey. There are many creative ways in which this can be done. For example, my client’s husband would generate embarrassing behavior so that friends and family would feel so uncomfortable with him that they tended not to return. He would wear “rags”, not shave and look like a “bum.” No amount of begging would have him change his mind to improve his appearance (this, in spite of the fact that he could “clean up nice” when he wanted to.)

Another tactic he employed was not showing up for their own dinner party until the middle of the dinner. Insulting and demeaning his wife in front of others was commonplace, and he actually competed with the attention shown to their guest’s infant. By engaging in behavior that is insulting and outrageous is clear that he meant to drive away her family and friends.

The abuser may have feelings of entitlement. He or she may feel that the victim “owes” the Abuser. The righteous belief that the demands should be met without questioning – like a Private being given orders by an Officer in the Military – are often built into the relationship. The Victim has no “right” to expect reciprocity; they must just “follow orders” or live with the consequences.

Extraordinary vindictiveness and a forever holding of grudges are common among abusers. Withdrawal of “affection” as in the “silent treatment” or even “abandonment” can act as long arm tools of punishment for perceived wrongs. The kid equivalent is banning someone from Facebook, making up lies or insinuating lies, or banning all those associated with the person under attack as a means of punishing in absencia.

I have also seen vicious return of any item associated with the victim, or a demand for any items, which the victim has as a means of metaphorically “slapping” the victim across the face.

14. Guerilla Warfare

Like a terrorist, hidden from view, but very near, the manipulator strikes, stunning the victim. The strike can be a buckshot approach or with the equivalent of a single bullet using insults, taunting, sarcasm, demeaning words and behaviors.

The pain generated by these many techniques is difficult to underestimate. Profound and deep suffering in the victims is compounded by self-blame. By understanding ourselves, as victims, as well as understanding how the abuser works, we open up new pathways for true empowerment.

Next we will take a look at the victims. We will see what makes them vulnerable to the manipulators.

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