Abusive relationship help has to begin with education. Until the victim is able to understand and make sense of what was done to them, they will continue to have problems and their recovery will be greatly slowed. For example, someone who left an abusive situation four years ago who believes that they allowed the abuse to happen and who is still trying to figure out why their abuser did some of the nonsensical things and is working on themselves so as to not be so emotional has obviously not recovered. And with such beliefs in place I suggest that they can never fully recover.
Much of the abusive relationship help available is about working with the victim to build up their self esteem again, figure out how they got caught and what made them vulnerable and often times to examine their childhood to see what ideas and behaviors from that time need to be changed. The attention is on getting the victim to change.
The difficulty here, though, is that in situations of psychological abuse the victim has been changed tremendously by the abuser, often beyond recognition. You know those comments that friends and family make about the person caught in an abusive relationship? I hardly recognize her any more. He is a shadow of his former self. She is his lap dog now. He is hen pecked. She has lost her spark. He is totally withdrawn. She is not the person she once was. He is not the same guy we grew up with. What's actually going on here?
From the victim's perspective, they say things such as: I lost myself in the relationship, I don't know who I am, I am not sure of anything anymore, I gave everything of myself to the relationship, he broke me, she bent me to her will, he tried to destroy me.
Let's have a closer look at what actually happens in abusive and controlling relationships.
Much of the criticism and humiliation in situations of psychological abuse is directed at the person themselves. You are stupid. You are worthless. You are the problem.
Even when a victim is criticized for doing something, they are made to feel bad as a person for having done that. The criticism is not typically directed at the behavior, as in 'you did that badly' or 'that was a horrible job'. Rather the comments take the form of 'You are useless, you mess up everything, you can't do anything right.' These forms are aimed at the level of identity, not at the level of behavior, or abilities, or belief.
This constant criticism of who a person is takes a toll and it often affects someone fairly quickly. The repetition of these ideas over and over for weeks, months and even years will destroy someone's identity, their sense of themselves. They are forced to doubt themselves and to accept personal responsibility when things go wrong. When a person in such a situation fails, they take it as a personal failure, that they themselves are the problem, rather than, for example, not having the skills or having bad luck on a particular day.
The victim's self esteem takes a hammering, they are stripped of their dignity and they lose all confidence in themselves.
Read about the signs of a controlling person
Remember that, in abusive relationships, the aim of the abuser is control. So destroying the partner's personality is not enough. The abuser wants to dominate. He or she wants a submissive partner who will basically listen and follow instructions.
In George Orwell's 1984, one of the hero's torturers says "… the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation."
So the abusers set about changing the victim to be subservient, obedient, loyal and dependent.
The victim's ideas and beliefs are ridiculed and belittled. The victim is told how and what they should think. The victim's emotions are manipulated and the range of emotions that are allowed is narrowed. The victim can be make to feel extremely good or extremely bad. The victim often describes being on an emotional roller-coaster. On top of this the abuser can be very unpredictable which puts the victim into a hyper-vigilant state, never knowing what mood the abuser is going to be in when they show up next.
The victim's behaviors are adjusted, often with a simple reward and punishment system. Do something that the abuser does not approve of and there is a punishment. Do what the abuser wants and there is a reward. Oftentimes there may be no reward, simply a lack of punishment.
The victim ends up with a different perception of the world and his or her place in it. They have a different way of thinking, a different internal process for managing information and making decisions. They act differently, typically organizing their activities around making the abuser's life more comfortable and avoiding conflict with the abuser.
As well as the constant criticism, humiliation, rewards and punishments mentioned already, there are other particular things that the abusers do to maintain control. Let's run quickly through a few of them.
The first one is fear. Fear is a marvelous way to control people. Governments have been using this forever. Create fear of an invading enemy and people will give up freedoms in return for supposed safety. Make people afraid of you and it stops them challenging you. Abusers create fear in all sorts of ways: threats of physical harm, threats of withholding affection and the most powerful, threats of withdrawing from the relationship (remember that dependency thing?) A popular 'trick' is to be physically violent once, early in the relationship. This leads the victim to be afraid thereafter of a repeat of physical violence because they know the abuser is actually capable of it. And remember, the threat of something is often a stronger motivator than the thing itself.
The second thing to recognize is the use of guilt. The abusers make the victims feel guilty about anything and everything, especially about themselves. They even make the victim feel guilty for bringing the punishments upon themselves. They will destroy the victim's ability to make independent decisions and then make the victim feel guilty for not being able to make a decision.
In a normal, healthy situation, if a person fails at something, they will come up with a reason for it. If they think they are personally to blame, they feel guilty and they accept the punishment. Their self esteem takes a hit. If they think the failure was not their fault, for example, another person was obviously to blame or the weather was bad, they do not feel guilty, their self esteem remains intact and they consider that they do not deserve to be disciplined.
In abusive situations, situations where mind control techniques are being used against the victim, this latter situation is never allowed. Whenever anything 'bad' happens (and the abuser decides what is good or bad - another aspect of the control imbalance in the relationship) the victim is made to feel guilty for it. The victim themselves are blamed for it, not the fact that they had an accident or didn’t have time or didn't understand something. Who they are is considered to be the culpable entity. The victim then feels that they themselves are totally responsible and they thus deserve the punishment or mistreatment. This further confirms for the victim that there is actually something wrong with them.
A third important factor is the alternation of compliments and criticism. On top of all the things we have discussed already, this technique further ramps up the dependency of the victim on the abuser. The victim basically needs the abuser to be in a good mood and treating them well to be ok themselves. When there is criticism, it actually motivates the victim to try harder to please the abuser in order to elicit compliments. I know it sounds odd, but this is what happens in mind control environments.
Then there are all the lies, distortions and deception. The victim is living in a world that is created in the mind of the abuser, especially if they are anyway isolated from friends and family. The abuser becomes the main source of information and the victim has to rely on the abuser to know what is going on.
A person in such a situation becomes helpless and hopeless and the chronic stress wears them out. In order to cope, they have to go along with the abuser as much as they can. They end up acting and thinking very much the way the abuser wants them to. They have had a new personality imposed on them. But this new personality is a false personality, a pseudopersonality.
The pseudopersonality never completely destroys the real personality, rather it dominates or suppresses it. This is not the same as multiple personality disorder or dissociative personality disorder. In this case the 2 personalities exist together, with one being dominant at any one time.
This helps to explain the internal battle that victims experience. One part of them wants to leave, the real personality, but the programming of the pseudopersonality makes the person stay. The real personality resents the abuser for the treatment but the pseudopersonality loves them. The real personality may be angry but the pseudopersonality feels a stronger desire to take care of the abuser.
The pseudopersonality is basically programmed to put the wants and needs of the abuser first, second and third. It is programmed to believe what the manipulator does and it is programmed even to defend the abuser if anyone outside criticizes them.
The pseudopersonality is imposed with powerful influence techniques used repeatedly over a long period of time. The victim is basically changed at their core, their very center. The bad news is that it does not disappear on it's own simply because a person leaves the abusive situation. The good news is that it can be undone.
But before we go there, there is another vital piece of information that has to be considered in any abusive relationship help article.
Who does all this to another human being? What kind of person can coldly and cruelly treat another in this fashion?
There is much written about why abusers abuse. Loneliness, lack of self esteem, fear of abandonment, abuse as a child, etc etc.
What I want to talk about here are another group who abuse and control for the sake of it. These are psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
Don’t panic if you haven't considered this idea already!
What you need to know is that there are people who don't have emotions like normal, healthy feeling people. They do not experience guilt, remorse, empathy, love, compassion, fear or shame. This is a difficult thing for most people to get their head around. This is what makes someone a psychopath, not the fact that they are serial killer. Most psychopaths are not serial killers, but they prefer to hide themselves in society, taking advantage of others and causing chaos and destruction in the lives of those around them.
Having no emotions is very significant. Why? Because it means that they can do anything they like and they do not feel bad about it. This does explain how serial killers and rapists can do what they do. It also explains how an abusive husband or controlling girlfriend or mother can do what they do, too.
I am not going to go into much detail here about these people. You can read more here about psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
However, there are some important points that I do want to cover.
First and foremost is the idea that if you are in a relationship with a sociopath or a psychopath, you should under no circumstances ignore this fact. It's imperative you deal with it because being in a relationship with a psychopath is not the same thing at all as being in a relationship with a jealous boyfriend or an insecure girlfriend. Literally, the rules are different if you are dealing with someone who is a psychopath or a narcissist. If you try and play by the usual rules with them, you will lose. Period.
The second thing is that is difficult to recognize that the person you fell in love with, and may indeed still be in love with, is a psychopath or a sociopath. It can be incredibly hard to, first of all, see the signs, and secondly, to come to terms with what it means. But that makes it all the more important that you do so. Failure to do so simply makes you very vulnerable to being caught by the next psychopath you meet.
Here are some of the reasons you need to understand what you are dealing with.
They deliberately abuse and manipulate others. Yes, they do know what they are doing.
There is no treatment for these people. For you, that means they are never going to change, no matter how convincingly they promise you that they will or how much you try to help them.
They are professional liars. No shame or embarrassment means they can be great actors.
You cannot negotiate with them. They just keep changing the rules and the goalposts. Remember, you have been trying for years and it just doesn't work.
They have this huge ego, a massive sense of entitlement. They believe they should have whatever they want. And they are always right. You are simply not going to have a relationship of equals, a fair and healthy relationship, with them.
They are doing all sorts of things to you that you are not aware of. They are tricking and deceiving you. As long as you have contact with them, they will abuse you and take advantage of you. More importantly than that, if you have not been aware of what was going on, your decisions were not well informed ones. If you were making decisions that were not fully informed, then you are not responsible for what happened.
Read more about narcissistic personality disorder symptoms here.
There are two significant things about this idea of it not being your fault.
First of all, it takes time and study of mind control and psychopathy to fully assimilate this idea. You are going to feel that many things were actually your fault, because you believed you were making your own decisions and because you were programmed to feel guilty about many things that seemingly went 'wrong'.
Secondly, trying to fix yourself is not the right approach to healing. You are not the problem. The abuser is. Trying to repair yourself while the pseudopersonality is in place is basically trying to repair something that is beyond repair. You are trying to fix something that was not designed to be good for you in the first place. It is never going to work.
You have to undo the pseudopersonality, the programming and the changes that were done to you. And this is done first. It is done by learning about what was done to you and how the manipulator wheedled themselves into your life. When the pseudopersonality starts to disappear, then your own personality is allowed to surface and to take over.
For all intents and purposes it is not possible to undo a pseudopersonality alone. And if you have a pseudopersonality, you are an easy target for the next psychopath or narcissist that you meet because they recognize that you have been traumatized and that you will be relatively easy to manipulate again.
Working with a someone who is an expert in mind control will save you time, effort, money and heartache.
You can read more here about psychopaths, mind control, why it's hard to spot the signs of a controlling relationship, how to leave an abusive relationship, how to recover from a narcissistic relationship, and how to divorce a sociopath.
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