My expertise in handling emotionally and physically toxic, manipulative people started as a psychotherapist evaluating, testifying, and treating sex offenders and their victims. The most extreme case was when I was asked by the FBI to testify as an expert witness in federal court on behalf of a child victim of sexual abuse by a high profile government official. I had to convince the grand jury and educate them about patterns of abuse and the impact of trauma on victims. I find it helpful to explain the stages of abuse because most people don’t recognize the subtleties of abusive behavior – like a frog in slow boiling water – by the time they realize it, it’s too late. You can read hundreds of books, but nothing beats gut instinct and experience. Here are the three pronged stages of the abuse cycle:
The set up:
The abuser typically presents as a normal person with a lot of shine: charming, helpful and flattering. You immediately feel “special”- ask yourself, how does this person who doesn’t know you make you feel this good about yourself? If it doesn’t make logical sense, its a red flag. The set up stage is when abusers “test” your boundaries to see how vulnerable you are to their tactics. They will do things intentionally to hurt you then ask for your forgiveness. If you buy into it, they’ll keep doing more and raising the ante.
Once they have you hooked, a set of patterns are introduced to condition you into a repetitive cycle. Their over reactions and under reactions are set up to condition your behaviors. You have become their narcissistic supply. They will make sure your routines and schedules line up with their agenda. The temper tantrums and cold shoulder is a calculated attempt to control your routines. The nonsensical over reactions and fights have the intention of always keeping you destabilized so they have the upper hand.
This is a strategy to make sure you don’t have friends or family who will raise concerns. At this stage, you’ll begin to wonder why you feel so depressed and unhappy. The abuser has isolated you to the point you don’t have friends who you can confide in to discuss your fears. Additionally, they will have brainwashed you into thinking everything is your fault and guilted you into staying in the relationship. Here are 3 examples of guilt shaming:
1. I’m a victim. Why are you doing this to me?
2. You are a bad person and I will tell everyone the truth (this is when they will start a public shaming campaign-calling friends and family with lies)
3. You have the potential to be so perfect and wonderful.
You need a support network. Even though it feels scary and shameful, it’s important to tell close trusted friends and professionals what’s been going on. The only way to protect yourself is to disengage from the toxic person and to have the network of support to keep your boundaries firm. Remember, you give up your power when you keep silent. This is especially an issue for men who are emotionally abused by women. Men may feel they’re being weak by admitting they are being abused by a female. Abusers are equal opportunity predators and do not discriminate against gender or age, so don’t be afraid of speaking up!
Helpful books on this topic:
-In sheep’s clothing by George Simon Jr
-The emotional vampire survival guide by Albert Bernstein
* Disclaimer: This blog is written for the general public. If you need more information or feel you are in danger, please contact your nearest law enforcement or contact a professional.