Isolation and domestic abuse cannot be separated. Whether physical or emotional or both, isolation is the first step to convincing a victim that their controller is the most important person in the world. How do abusers isolate victims? Why are isolation and domestic abuse inextricably intertwined?
Isolation in Domestic Abuse Has to Start Somewhere
Usually the isolation in domestic abuse begins with the controller inserting emotional wedges between the victim and his or her family and friends. At some point, the victim finds it too difficult to connect with friends and family due to
- the controller’s embarrassing or abusive behavior or
- the victim’s belief that the controller is telling the truth.
Either way, physical withdrawal and isolation follows. Oftentimes, the victim of isolation and domestic abuse believes they chose to stay away from those people and do not see the controller’s manipulations at all.
Isolation and Domestic Abuse Trapped Me: Here’s How
In the beginning of my abusive marriage, I became isolated quickly partly because it was what I thought I wanted. No, I did not tell myself, “Kellie Jo, it would be great and completely logical to withdraw from the people I love and rely only on my husband!”
The isolation and domestic abuse crept up on me silently. I did not make choices knowing my husband abused me. I thought I was making up my own mind. I see my controller’s manipulations only in hindsight.
1.) Abuser Saw My Weakness
In the two years before I met Will, my husband-to-be, my parents divorced, my grandfather passed away and my plans to attend UC Berkeley fell through. I joined the Army, and a soldier raped me. Those traumatic experiences left me reeling emotionally and mentally. I was weakened but didn’t understand it completely.
I felt that I needed someone to protect me because I obviously couldn’t protect myself (that was the lie I believed). Will, with his assertive swagger and deep loud voice, seemed to fit the bill. I didn’t expect to marry Will, but I think he saw a willing victim in me, so he wanted to get married soon after we met.
2.) Abuser Acted Jealous
At first, I found Will’s jealousy sweet. The idea that he loved me so much that it hurt him to see me speak to another man left me in awe. I didn’t think I was that special. I willingly agreed to stop touching people on their shoulder or hand when I spoke with them, something I did unconsciously to connect with people. Following through with the agreement made me feel disconnected from other people.
A short time later, his jealousy took on a more ominous tone. During a visit to Oktoberfest, a young German man was walking around handing out roses to women. He handed me a rose and Will stood up, grabbed him by the throat, and pushed him onto a neighboring table. Everyone was shocked.
Will sat down after the commotion and told me that I shouldn’t accept roses from another man. The statement was a threat. I suddenly realized that any kind of attention from the opposite sex was dangerous. Jealousy is not cute.
3.) Abuser Dictated Who I Could Trust
Will constantly told me who I could trust and who I could not. If he saw me speaking with someone he’d warned me about, there was hell to pay. The first instance of physical violence in our marriage came after I’d changed out of my diesel-soaked uniform into sweat pants and a shirt in Will’s best friend’s bathroom. Will said I could trust his best friend, so I thought nothing of it.
After Will picked me up and took me home, he grabbed my throat and held my face very near to the hot stove, yelling “See what I do for you? I make you dinner and you fuck another man!” That taught me that even if he said I could trust someone, I’d better not.
Isolating me from other men was the first step. Then, using the idea that he knew who I could trust and who I couldn’t, he isolated me from my co-workers who could have helped me, including the other females in my company and battalion.
After my sister came to visit us in Germany, Will told me I couldn’t trust her either. He said that she hooked up with one of his friends, and because she was a slut, I had no business being near her. I never once paid attention to what he said about my sister, and that is probably why he attempted to verbally and emotionally abuse her, too. He wouldn’t do that in front of anyone but my sister. He punished her hoping I would give up the relationship to save her from him.
4.) Abuser Physically Intimidated Others
My sister became the only person in my family who Will would physically intimidate and allow to hear him abuse me. I knew he could hurt her. She knew he had hurt me. He used his strength and size to intimidate both of us as a reminder that he could do worse. Will’s behavior toward my sister made me wary of bringing around other family members, but he never acted out in front of them.
The incident with the boy and the rose falls into this category as does Will’s aggressive behavior at bars. Some people may say he was showing off his strength to impress me, but after holding my face to a stove, the only thing his bar fights did was remind me I had to go home with him.
Twice in the last year and a half we were together, Will physically abused me in front of our children. In addition to controlling me, I believe those displays of power were meant to show our growing boys what could happen to them, too.
5.) Abuser Achieved a Type of Physical Isolation
When it was time to leave the Army, Will wanted to live near his family in Texas. He found a house for us out in the country about an hour from everyone else. I was a stay at home mama, and my duties revolved around our boys and home.
- He required my shopping excursions to be short, and I do not remember being away from the house for more than six hours alone.
- He did not support my efforts to run my own business because it brought strangers onto his property.
- He didn’t support my desire to go to school until most of my courses could be completed online.
All of those actions and demands isolated me from most human contact.
6.) Abuser Feigned Dislike
My sister also moved to Texas, but Will said he didn’t like her husband. He made it clear that my sister was a leech and a mooch. Her husband didn’t have a brain, couldn’t be trusted with the most simple man’s work.
Along those same lines, Will didn’t trust my mother. He said that she left my dad for her (current) husband who was also a leech and a mooch. He said she couldn’t be relied on for marital advice because she was a failure. He ominously told me, “You’re going to be just like her!” and I set out to prove to him that no, I would never leave him for any reason. I was not like my mom.
Needless to say, Will’s dislike for my family affected how I viewed them too.
What Can You Do About Isolation and Domestic Abuse?
You could refuse to be isolated, period. You could reach out to people you’ve banished from your life and reconnect. Your controller will have something to say about this, of course.
If you feel family and friends aren’t the way to go (sometimes we feel guilty for being mean and nasty to them in defense of your abuser), then reach out to a local domestic violence group or an online group if necessary. The National Domestic Violence Hotline will tell you where to find the groups and emotionally support you, too.
Additionally, reconnecting with your intuition and doing what it tells you to do will go a long way toward breaking your isolation. And, if you reconnect with your intuition, your abuser cannot see the threat until it’s too late.
Isolation is key if your abuser is going to be successful in their attempts to control you. Isolation and domestic abuse make you feel as if what goes on in your home is normal and that what you believed about the world is an illusion. The real illusion is the warped way your abuser wants you to live. Your abuser doesn’t care about you, only about his or her ability to control you.
If you’ve left your abuser but continue isolating yourself, read Isolation After Domestic Abuse: How To Overcome the Habit.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so please do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.