Do you think you were abused as a child or know someone who was? If you had to identify the behaviors that would be categorized as abusive could you identify them? For most people, identifying abusive behaviors or words is easy to do. Many of my clients identify abuse as stemming from a cruel hatred for someone else. Other clients have discussed abuse as being anything that is done to degree, belittle, or severely injure a person. While these things are true, abuse can come in many forms and also be displayed in a subliminal, sneaky way toward the victim.
This article will highlight a few common behaviors of the abuser. Next week I will discuss ways to get away from the abuser and cope.
Abuse can come in multiple forms such a verbal, physical, sexual, and emotional/psychological. Like bullying, abuse can be insidious (or hidden) and may not be noticeable or recognizable by others. In many cases, the only person who is aware that the abuse is occurring is the victim. Some studies suggest that abuse victims tend to cope with the abuse by either denying it, bonding to the abuser in hopes of the abuser changing, or avoids reporting the abuse for fear of retaliation or making things worse. According to SafeVoices, a domestic abuse and intimate partner violence advocacy group, reports that more than 1 in 4 adolescent girls in a relationship report enduring repeated verbal abuse. Only half of all youths between the ages of 11 and 14 claim to know the warning signs of a bad or hurtful relationship. Even more, 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Abuse can span across multiple domains, not just romantic relationships. In fact, workplace abuse or bullying is also a major problem. The Workplace Bullying Institute reports that threatening, humiliating, or intimidating behaviors are categorized as bullying. Even more, sabotage or outright verbal abuse are also categorized as workplace bullying.
As you can see, abuse is a major problem in our nation. Sadly, a lot of people refuse to talk about it for fear of retaliation by the abuser, fear of losing one’s job, fear of being ousted or mistreated for saying anything, etc. There are multiple reasons for why some people would rather keep the abuse to themselves.
When I meet with clients (young and adult) who are being abused (or who have been abused) by someone, the first thing I ask is how long did the abuse last. I then ask them if they are willing to push back or escape. I often receive a variety of responses. Most of the responses are filled with fear and uncertainty, while other responses seem to express a fear of getting on “the bad side” of the abuser (even though they already are on their bad side). Facing the abuser is difficult for a variety of reasons. But some common reasons for why victims avoid confrontation with the abuser is because:
- They turn things around: Abusers are good at turning things around or making things fit the way they want things to be or appear to others. Abusers can be very sneaky, subliminal, and vicious. Their viciousness does not always have to be expressed behind an angry face. Viciousness can be displayed through a smile and, if you look closely at the abuser, through their eyes. An abuser can sometimes do very well cloaking themselves and covering their true intent, attitudes, and behaviors. Sadly, this is how they “capture” their victims.
- They oust you when you oust them: The moment you decide that the abuser is not a positive force in your life, they can turn on you. Why should they continue to be nice to you if you are “calling them out” or pinpointing who the real problem is. The abuser will often retreat into an attitude of arrogance and denial. Some abusers refuse to acknowledge their pathological and unhealthy behaviors toward others. The best way to deny they are the problem is to get rid of you.
- They play “mind games:” Mind-games are some of the most evil things a person can use against you. Why? Because playing mind-games includes some degree of psychological and emotional control. When you are bonded to a person who come to trust them, you will most likely give the abuser the benefit of the doubt, forgive them, or sometimes even take their abuse. The victim will experience emotional and psychological confusion which includes second guessing, questioning, ruminating (i.e., thinking of something repeatedly until it begins to affect your mood), and obsessing. Once this pattern of behavior begins to affect your daily life, the abuser has won. Why? Because they are not in control of you and how you see the world and yourself. Mind-games may also come in the form of outright denial or a “my work against your word” attitude.
- They suffocate you with lies: As stated above, the abuser will often deny they are abusive because for the most part, the abuser cannot own up to his or her behavior nor can they acknowledge who they really are. It’s too painful to admit you are an evil person with little to no compassion or empathy. An abuser, from my perspective, is one step away from becoming a sociopath. Many abuser’s tend to lie and, as stated above, turn things around. Blatant lies are common. Circular reasoning or circular questioning is also common (i.e., taking a person around and around until the encounter begins to cause confusion). The truth is often not in the abuser.
- They create cliques to go against you: Abusers sometimes lack social confidence, a healthy self-esteem, and “power” within their relationships. As a result, the abuser will often form an “alliance” with other people (sometimes with others similar to them), who can go against the victim or at least validate their incorrect view of the victim. An abuser may, for example, tell a close family friend that his wife doesn’t show affection and avoid any kind of intimacy with him. The abuser’s friend may say something like “wow, why would she ruin the marriage like that? I’m on your side, don’t worry.” The victim, not knowing this, may sense that the family friend is against her or doesn’t accept her anymore. The silent ostracism can be too much to handle sometimes. The victim or the abused may begin to feel uncomfortable around this family friend and even judged. “Silent abuse” causes second guessing, obsessing, and rumination in the abused or victim.
- They create scenes: Scenes are often created by the abuser who likes to have control. Have you ever seen an abuser yell, scream, curse, or have some kind of temper tantrum in an attempt to control you, gain attention, and even an audience to feel sorry for them? I have. This can be 10 times worse if the abuser, who is creating a scene, is doing it in front of others they have created a clique with. This kind of scenario may be more likely to occur in families with strange dynamics or in workplaces where workplace bullying is occurring.
- They use their “power” against you: A boss or mentor, landlord, parent, spouse, etc. who has some degree of power over you may use their title to hold you hostage in some fashion. For example, the landlord may “forget” to mail your light bill to you ending up in your lights being turned off. Your boss may tell coworkers something you discussed with him or her in an attempt to create an “us against you” mentality. Or an immature parent may use their favorite child against you by talking about you and against you to the favorite child. The abuser may try any kind of way to control you with the leverage (or power) they believe they have.
- They are manipulative, controlling, and demeaning: Have you ever been questioned by someone who is trying to drill you on something? Have you ever experienced, at the hands of the abuser, constant questioning that makes you feel as if you are being blamed for something? If so, perhaps you should look at the situation again and again and again. Why? Because if you feel you are being “belittled,” manipulated, controlled, or humiliated, you probably are. Sometimes these feelings can come up in us when we are struggling with how someone is talking to us or expecting us to perform. This is normal. But if you are feeling these things for no apparent reason and cannot identify anything that could have triggered this response in the abuser, you are most likely being forced to take the abuse of the abuser. An abuser cannot function appropriately in relationships and will often show their “true colors” at some point.
- They one-up you in a subliminal fashion: Most people know someone who one-ups them. I know about 20 of them. That’s who they are and they are most likely suffering from low self-esteem. Or…I am misunderstanding that they are not trying to one-up me. But there are some people, most often abusers, who will attempt to overshadow you, minimize you, or belittle you in a subliminal fashion. You may not recognize the “slight” right away, but you’ll eventually begin to question what the abuser could have meant by a comment. Some abusers have learned to give compliments that are also belittling. For example, a mother-in-law who doesn’t not get along with her daughter-in-law may tell her daughter-in-law that she looks beautiful only because she went to bed early last night and would look better with her hair were shorter. A colleague may say something like “Congratulations on earning your degree. I wish I had a degree. Some people can’t afford it, while others go broke trying to get one for show. You should be happy!” There is always some kind of negativity in the attitude, responses, or comments of the abuser. You may even begin to notice that the person is being very condescending and abusive but with a sweet or innocent tone of voice.
- They leave you feeling drained, used, manipulated, and mistreated: If you feel abused, mistreated, manipulated, disrespected, envied, or treated poorly, don’t overlook these feels because you are probably correct. There are times when we, as humans, can misread anything and can make a ton of mistakes in relationships. But I encourage you to focus on the constant and “chronic” feeling of being manipulated, mistreated, or even envied. I believe that humans are more sensitive and more spiritual than they believe they are. We know. We know when we are being mistreated and we certainly know when someone is against us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out when someone else is mistreating us, no matter how kind they may appear on the outside.
What has been your experience with an abuser? Were you able to recognize the abusive behavior right away or did it take you some time? Once you recognized it, what did you do?
As always, I’m looking forward to your stories, comments, and questions.
All the best
Note: please see references embedded in the article.