How Abusers Gain Control By Appearing to Lose It
Sunday, July 22 2012 Kellie Jo Holly
You, the target of verbal abuse, have one mission in your efforts to end verbal abuse: keep your emotions in check. Your verbal abuser subscribes to the opposite mission. Your abuser wants you to lose emotional control because when that happens, you've lost control of you. When you lose control of you, your abuser snatches control of the conversation and you.
Think of a few times you've lost control of you. Did you ever match your abuser's extreme emotional level only to see them step back, shut up, and smirk? Or maybe they upped the ante and banged on things with their fist to make a bigger noise and drive your emotions to higher limits. You've got to know that although you may feel out of control, your abuser is very much in control of what they're doing.
Your Abuser's Out-of-Control Emotions Are For Show
That spit at the corner of his mouth, foaming in anger? Yep. He knows it's there. In the back of his mind, he's thinking, "This will show her!" He's not really mad. He's only pretending to be angry.
Or what about those tears rolling down her cheek as she turns the tables on you, blaming you for making her feel so rotten? Yep. She's pretending to be hurt; she wants you to think you're the monster. She's thinking, "Okay, he's almost to the breaking point...a few more sobs, reach for the Kleenex, bow my head so the tears fall dramatically to my lap..."
And if they're so out of control that they must break stuff, why do they break only your stuff? They could grab their own stuff to break, but why would someone who knows exactly what they're doing break their own stuff? They wouldn't. They'll break their own stuff only if its relatively unimportant to them and they can get mileage out of blaming you for "making" them upset.
The difference between your abuser's emotional reactions and yours is that yours are real. Your abuser's emotions look real, but to gain control of you, they must be in control of themselves. Because they're in control of themselves, they can put on any emotional performance they think will bring you under their control, too.
Your Out-of-Control -- But Very Real Emotions
You've probably experienced verbal abuse and reacted in a way that doesn't make you proud. Perhaps you switched into a screaming meme, flopped down like a sobbing doormat, or placated and agreed with everything your abuser said about you. There are as many responses to verbal abuse as there are emotions (Domestic Abuse Victims Think They Are The Abuser).
The key that we're looking for here is extreme emotion that makes you feel shame or guilt in hindsight. When you exhibit extreme emotion, then you've lost control. Unfortunately, losing control like this makes us want to apologize for our behavior. Being empathetic and responsible people, we victims go to our abuser and apologize for our reaction to their abuse.
And bing. The abuser gains control because they see you subjugating yourself, and they will take advantage of your shame. If they don't manipulate you immediately, you can bet they'll call up this apology at some time in the future. They'll act like you "owe them one" and ignore the fact that they were the catalyst to begin with.
Feel Angry Yet?
The emotional roller-coaster of life with an abuser takes its toll. It makes sense that over time, your apologies, emotional outbreaks, and outrageous, stupid arguments lead to you feeling bottled up. Confined. Frustrated! You're ashamed of behaving the way you do, but your partner never truly apologizes and always lets you take the blame.
All of that (and more) creates a deep-rooted anger. You push your anger down further. You feel your anger, but you may not be sure what causes the inner hostility. Maybe you can't put into words why you're so mad, and perhaps you believe you have no right to be angry.
Let's put all that aside for a minute. If you're angry, so be it. You don't need a reason why right now, all you need to do is address the feeling. Fortunately for you, your anger is real and justified. That means that anger management techniques will work for you. Your abuser doesn't have an anger management problem - they're putting on a show.
Healthy Emotions Help You Stay in Control of You
There is no unhealthy emotion, only unhealthy reactions to emotions. Anger serves a purpose just as happiness does! Your emotions are signals to what is happening in the world around you, and we could live better if we paid attention to every emotion instead of trying to exorcise the "bad" ones.
We'll discuss keeping our emotions in check in the next post. There are ways to bring yourself down to earth and respect your emotions without losing respect for yourself. Living with abuse emotionally challenges you, but it doesn't have to overcome you.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.