Mercy: How to break out of an abusive relationship

chain is broken


My heart aches for you. Here are some thoughts:


  • Breaking out of an abusive relationship may be even harder than being in one. What you have gone through so far is unbearable. Getting out of it will even be more difficult.


  • If you are really seeing that your relationship is abusive and toxic, if you have tried your ways and it hasn’t worked, the only way is to make the break.


  • Build the courage. It will take all you’ve got.


  • Prepare to end your relationship.


  • Acknowledge that you are being controlled and manipulated. Denial is your enemy.


  • Notice: how many aspects of your life are being controlled. Are you controlled by the emotions of your abuser? Have you lost yourself?


  • Think about the reasons why you need to leave. Look carefully at what you will gain: the capacity to enjoy life. Remember, you have a right to live.


  • Plan your exit. Know that no matter how much you will seem to lose, you will gain yourself.


  • Even if you lose your house you can find a way. Nothing is worth the loss of your true self. Your authentic self.

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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A. Introduction: Power Politics or True Empowerment


Power Politics or True Empowerment

by Cynthia M Chase

     With awareness, we have choice. Knowing the “truth” can set us free. This blog is based on personal and 30 plus years of clinical experience. It is my hope that by sharing the intricacies and inner workings of abusive relationships, both abuser and the victims of their abuse can be set free from their suffering and pain.

     The depth of pain felt by those dis-empowered is extraordinary.  Sometimes people say, “It’s only emotional pain, not physical.”  No scars or black and blue marks are left, but the psychological wounding is profound.  Just because the effects are not physically evident doesn’t mean that it hurts any less.  The hidden twistings and turnings that make up an emotionally abusive relationship can be hard to describe.  The Police won’t arrest the abuser since their ways are hidden behind closed doors and sometimes even the victim doesn’t understand what is happening.

     Accommodations are made, subtle adjustments are put in place to placate the abuser and to try to keep safe.  Over time the victim doesn’t often notice the ground lost or the confidence diminished.  Denial is the constant companion of the victim.  I was there, I know.  It is because of my own pain, years of denial and devastated self-esteem that I had to fight to empower my own life.  “What is wrong with me?” “What is wrong with him/her that makes me hurt so?”  These are the questions that plagued me.  This is my contribution to those of you who are suffering victims.  If you know what makes you vulnerable to these manipulations and if you begin to track the motivations, techniques and behaviors of the Abuser, you have a chance to change your life.

     The Abusers are in pain as well but are more difficult to help:  often they fight awareness of what they do, how much pain they cause, and sometimes don’t even care.  Certain Abusers act as though their feelings are the only ones that matter.  I offer compassion to you – you may not even know the loss of humanity that has robbed you of a heart.  Look carefully at yourself.  Understand that this loss deprives you of true empowerment.  The power that you seek over your Victim is a hollow victory.  Where is the happiness and contentment that you deserve?  You can never find it by using, manipulating or overpowering the other.

     As a psychotherapist of over 30 years I have seen hundreds of people caught in the web of an emotionally abusive relationship.  I have shared many of the ideas with my patients which I will now present to you.  They have been helped and have urged me to spread the word so that others may also seek their own salvation.  I honor them as I share my insights with you now.

I will be introducing ongoing chapters on this blog, Power Politics or True Empowerment on a regular basis.  I welcome your feedback and the sharing of your experience.

     Abusive relationships are based on the belief that external power over another leads to “winning.” What I have seen is that, on the contrary, abuser and victim become “locked in a death embrace” and both lose, unless detachment is achieved. Detachment facilitates the ability to “come home” to the self, to grow, and move towards self love.

     I have separated the abusers into two categories: The stealth hunters and the raptors. Based on nature’s model the first group hunts in the dark, keeping somewhat hidden in their search for prey and tending to camouflage their aggression. My focus here will be on stealth hunters. The second group, the raptors, is the equivalent of birds of prey: they attack, maim, and kill their prey. This may be the focus of a later blog.  Just know that in reality, there may be a fuzzy line between the stealth hunters and the raptors.

     First I want to talk to you about the abuse cycle. Then I will identify the characteristics of the stealth hunters and the victims or prey. We will approach this dysfunctional relationship in terms of how the abuser and victim connect with their energies so you can see why it is so difficult to “untangle the web”.  Then we will take a look at what a healthy relationship looks like and what kind of healing is needed to be free and empowered.

     We will delve into the Bill of Rights for both the Abuser and the Victim and end with thoughts on how to heal both the hunters and the prey.

     The journey is one from darkness and despair to freedom and light.  It’s not an easy journey but one worth traveling. There is hope!  Let’s begin.