If you found yourself a prisoner of war, would you lie dreamily about in your holding cell and consider yourself lucky? If you found the gate open one day and no guard on duty, would you stay inside?
Of course not.
Yet, we often allow ourselves to be imprisoned by an abusive partner.
Emotional abuse in a relationship is a covert form of abuse. In fact, it’s the same psychological warfare that’s used in military prison camps. Guards at POW camps know that physical compliance is difficult. It requires physical exertion and, besides, it’s messy. So, they often choose the easier path…one in which the prisoner not only accepts, but complies with every demand.
How do they do this? Through emotional manipulation and abuse, which is used to control, degrade, humiliate and punish. It’s meant to cause the victim to question their every thought and behavior. It includes using acts, threats of acts or coercive tactics to cause emotional distress. This is the same method the Narcissist uses. What does this look like to the unsuspecting victim? Here are some common tactics used, along with what they look like in real-life application (this is by no means comprehensive):
Isolation from friends and family
This tactic is used to deprive the victim of social support, weaken their defenses, and cause the victim to depend on their abuser. At first, this may seem innocent. Some common comments by the Narcissist include: “I get lonely when you’re not here”; “I wish you would spend more time with me”. “I don’t have a good feeling about your friend, _____.”; “Your friend, ____, doesn’t seem to like me.”
These comments later turn into: “Your friends are bi**hes and whor*s”; “You’re a prostitute, just like your friend, ____”; ‘Everyone knows that you and your friends are trash”; “Are you having a lesbian relationship with your friend, ____?”
These aggressive statements usually result in your withdrawing from your circle of friends, or worse, you might begin to believe there is some truth to them.
Humiliation is when a person uses words, silence, or actions to threaten or belittle another person. The purpose is to instill fear or to intimidate; the goal is to control. It can happen when you are alone or in the face of company. Common phrases used by the Narcissist include: “I think we need to go on a diet”; “How come you don’t take care of yourself like you used to?”; “Why don’t you fix your hair like your friend, ____?”; “Have you ever thought about plastic surgery?”
Later, more hurtful comments will be used, such as: “You’re fat and I can’t stand to look at you”; “I’m not attracted to you anymore”; “You can’t do anything right”; “I knew you weren’t intelligent”; “You’ll always be a loser”; “Even your own family doesn’t want you”; “People tried to warn me about you”
The purpose of these harsh comments is to destroy your confidence and self-esteem. It’s a form of conditioning that usually results in the victim believing themselves to be worthless.
Random crumbs given out by the narcissist give the false appearance that they are pleased with you and also give the illusion of a normal relationship.
This tactic is used to provide positive motivation for continued compliance. This may come in the form of praise: “You look great today”; “That dinner was really nice because I was sitting across from you”; “You’re the only person I want to spend my life with”; “I know I hurt you and I’m sorry”; “Let’s go to that new restaurant downtown”
Later: “You’re lucky I put up with your crap”; “No one would tolerate you as I do”; “It’s no wonder none of your relationships have been successful”; “The only reason anyone would want you is for sex”; “You owe me because I ____”; “You have no dignity”; “You deserve what happens to you”
Victims of narcissistic and emotional abuse don’t realize it, but their abuser throws in small moments of kindness and affection in between the chaos for a reason. In the victim, it creates an unhealthy attachment to the abuser. It’s called trauma-bonding, and narcissists are masters at it.
Failing to Meet Emotional or Other Needs (especially if the victim is in a dependent position)
Are you a stay-at-home mom? Does your partner or spouse try to convince you that you don’t need to work and insist on your staying home?
This maneuver is used to make you fully reliant on your abuser and allows him/her to withhold important resources such as a cell phone, gas money and access to transportation, internet/computer access, and other common conveniences.
The silent treatment is used as a form of punishment when the victim has attempted to establish a boundary. The intended result of the silent treatment is to manage down your expectations so that you expect less and less and the narcissist gets away with more and more. Its message is, “Compliance, or else”. This can last from a few days to several weeks with the narcissist often leaving the communal home.
During this time, they are typically grooming the new supply.
When to Consider Leaving
Emotional abuse robs a person of their self-esteem, the ability to think logically, confidence in themselves and their identity. If your partner’s actions or words have caused any of the following feelings it is time to consider leaving:
- Isolation from others, you rarely see friends and family.
- Excessive dependence on him/her.
- You constantly think about saying or doing the right thing so that your spouse does not become upset.
- You simply survive day-to-day, unable to plan an escape from the sheer mental exhaustion. Any action you take is criticized unless it is one of compliance with his/her desires.
- You’re depressed and anxious most of the time.
- You tolerate behaviors that you never imagined you would.
- You hide your partner’s abuse from friends and family.
- Anything you do or say is met with anger or indifference. Your feelings and desires just don’t seem to matter to your spouse.
- You’ve become suicidal.
If you’ve tried therapy and setting boundaries and are still being abused, it’s time to leave the relationship. At this point, the prison you see is based on the delusion that you need your abuser in your life. Break all ties with the Narcissist, hire an attorney, contact a Domestic Abuse shelter, and start making plans for your new life without abuse.
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