Like the tiny destructive termite in “No One Knew” (post 1 of 6 in this Series 1 of 4 “How to Spot an Abuser”), a marriage can be destroyed by “a thousand little razor-cuts of perpetual contempt, put-downs, sarcasm, lies, rudeness, rages, insults and silent treatments, even though a physical mark is never left.”1
As with physical violence, emotional and mental abuse has as its goal control – control of thoughts, feelings and actions.
Making his wife feel like she has to constantly “walk on eggshells” to avoid a blow-up is not God’s idea of what a groom promises at the marriage altar – to “nourish and cherish.”2 A wife should be free to be herself without fear of punishment or retribution.
No one should live in fear of the person they love.
Common tactics used to control
Dominance Needing to feel in charge, the abuser will make decisions for his wife and children, tell them what to do and expect unquestioning and instant obedience. His wife may be treated like a servant, child or possession. 3
Humiliation An abuser will define who his victim is, what she thinks and what her motives are. He uses name-calling, insults, criticism, personal attacks, shaming and public put-downs designed to erode her confidence and make her feel worthless, undesirable and powerless, so she is less likely to leave him. Toys on the floor or a dinner he doesn’t like can set him off.4 He habitually invalidates her feelings, opinions and needs.
Isolation To increase her dependence on him, the abuser will progressively cut his wife off from the outside world, insisting she ask his permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone (extremely jealous). The normal give-and-take between women that would open her eyes to the abuse, the emotional support to resist or the formation of an escape plan is thus thwarted.
Threats Abusers commonly use threats to keep their victim from leaving or to force her to drop charges. He may threaten to hurt/kill her or family or pets. Threatening to suicide, to file false charges against her, to divorce her or turn her in to child services are other tools he may pull out of his sleeve.
Intimidation Used to scare his wife into submission, an abuser may make threatening gestures/eye contact, slam doors, sulk, destroy things, hurt pets or brandish a weapon. The clear message is that if she does not cooperate, there will be serious consequences.
Blaming Abusers are masters at excusing the inexcusable. Drowning her in blame, he often misquotes her or assigns bad motives to her words and actions. “You’re trying to start a fight.” “You always ____!” “You blow everything way out of proportion.” “You never ___.” Relentlessly pursuing her verbally (and sometimes physically from room to room), he wears her down. It’s common to claim that she did/said exactly what he just finished doing/saying. The wife often literally questions her sanity.
Real-life current example from a blogger
“He won’t let me bring my kids to church (he physically will pull them away from me) . . . He accuses me of having an affair with the pastor, tells my children the pastor is a sexual pervert and a child abuser, and that I love him (the pastor) more than them. . . . He also will say … I’ve never been a good wife. … . I have to be better at everything when I can’t possibly meet his expectations because they always change. I have tried to look at my part, but it’s difficult when I know half of what he says is not true or twisted. … He antagonizes and badgers us until we snap.” 5
Religious cults are well-recognized for the way they use manipulation, intimidation, guilt-trips, rejection and shunning to keep control.6 More shocking, however, is the correlation between an abuser’s patterns and the techniques used on prisoners of war to obtain complete control. Realizing physical force is never sufficient, they use mind games, create confusing about what’s real, isolate, threaten, humiliate, accuse, and use periodic kindness (to keep the victim compliant, as seen in last post’s Cycle of Abuse).7 Scary.
My next post will cover financial and spiritual abuse, then we’ll get to the specific signposts you can follow to spot an abuser before you marry.
1 hurting blogger on Leslie Vernick’s website leslievernick.com
3 Ephesians 5:29
6 A Matter of Basic Principles by Vernoit, Vernoit and Henzel, Pub. Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., Lombard, IL, chapter 6
7 The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick, Pub. WaterBrook Press 12265 Oracle Boulevard, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921, obtained on Amazon.com. In footnote: Albert Biderman’s Chart of Coercion in Amnesty International Report on Torture (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975), 53, or Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, @Military Training Materials at http://humanrights.ucdavis.edu/projects/the-guantanamo-testimonials-project/testimonies/testimonies-of-the-defense-department/military-training-materials