I’m not the only one to suffer isolation from loved ones as a tool used to force me to accept abuse. As I wrote about in Emotional Blackmail, The Incident and The Fallout,
Emotional blackmail: That’s the term for Tracy’s demand that I accept her verbal abuse of me as my due, and sit and let her scream and yell at me in person about all my “faults” and all the “horrible” things I had done, or else I never am allowed to speak to or e-mail Richard again.
Basically, she was to change nothing about herself, while I was to change everything about myself and grovel at her feet, or else I lose what I thought was my best friend.
My ex Phil also tried various ways to isolate me from my friends, coming up with the excuse that they were dissing him for being Catholic, when in reality they hated the way he treated me.
When his constant complaints to me didn’t work, he got angry at me for not sticking up for him against them, when I never saw them dissing him.
He got angry at me for not supporting him, when they saw he was trying to passive-aggressively embarrass me, told him he was wrong–and I agreed.
He even got his best friend to help as his abuser-by-proxy, telling him that my friends were treating him badly.
The best friend then told me that not only was it the way to get Phil back, but a moral imperative, for me to distance myself from my friends! My best friends, people who are still my best friends, good people, people I lived with, who had helped, supported and stuck up for me all through college!
This is all in my College Memoirs, junior and senior year installments.
And it matches up with Tracy’s treatment of Richard, involving me or his family or friends.
All I know about one of Richard’s old friends and Tracy, is that they were “at war” and Tracy got angry when she discovered Richard had been talking to her. I know that this friend warned Richard before he married Tracy that Tracy was going to cause him trouble.
I know Richard felt he had to support Tracy when Tracy began abusing and smearing Richard’s close friend Todd. I know that there was another friend who fought with Tracy and finally broke off her friendship with Richard because of it.
I know that Tracy complained about Richard’s family, especially when one day she was mean to him over the phone, they told her to stop it, and she got mad at Richard for not sticking up for her against them.
I know, also, in the situation I referenced above, that Phil did the same to me when he tried to embarrass me, my friends stuck up for me, and he got furious with me–and broke up with me for the second and final time–for not supporting him.
It all fits together, all follows the same playbook which abusers and narcissists follow, yet Tracy’s response to my writings about this is to accuse me of “false facts” and accusing an “innocent” person. That, too, is part of the abuser’s playbook, as abusers refuse to see themselves and their actions for what they are. No, no, the victim is to blame!
Another unnamed blogger is in the same place. His father, like Tracy, refuses to accept that he has abused, refuses to repent and reconcile to his victims.
Instead, he has forced his wife, mother of this man and his brothers, to cut them out of her life. She is not allowed to contact them, just as I am not allowed to contact Richard (which, by the way, is precisely why I wrote these blogs instead of a letter to Richard).
Maybe if Tracy and this man’s abuser were to allow communication between their victims and abusers-by-proxy, this man’s blog and mine would never have happened.
This man’s mother and Richard are obviously both afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome. The abuser-by-proxy which Richard became of me over time, was so different from the sweet, caring, sensitive, kind, open man he was when he alone lived in our house, that I had to wonder if he was the same person.
The friend who used to share everything with me, called me the most awesome person he knew, loved to spend time with me, became closed, short, cutting, critical. And I am also afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome, because I still care about him after the things he’s done.
The other blogger’s mother is also a victim of all sorts of abuse from his abuser, according to the blogger. I have witnessed Richard being verbally abused and angrily smacked by Tracy, only to later hear from him those classic victim lines, “I deserved it.” I also know, straight from Richard, that Tracy punches him and verbally abuses him and the children.
Yet he defends her to me, pretends that even when she verbally abuses me and even desires to physically assault me, she is somehow in the right, even accepts the ban on communication between him and me, because that is what Tracy wants.
Just as the other blogger’s mother tells her children that she hates them and refuses to communicate with them or her grandchildren, because this is what the abuser wants her to do. And no, this is NOT okay.
This is isolation. Not only does it isolate the blogger and his brothers from their mother, not only does it isolate me from Richard–it goes even further:
It isolates the closest abuse victim, the spouse, from those who see the abuser’s actions for what they are. And when the spouse agrees with it, the abuser has won, gets the spouse into complete control.
After all, if the spouse were to still communicate with the ostracized, estranged family member or friend, he/she could open his/her eyes and see what’s really going on–and leave! The abuser can’t have that, now, can she/he?
The combination of “Stockholm Syndrome” and “cognitive dissonance” produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended.
In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and placed “all their eggs in one basket”. The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.
For reasons described above, the victim feels family and friends are a threat to the relationship and eventually to their personal health and existence.
The more family/friends protest the controlling and abusive nature of the relationship, the more the victim develops cognitive dissonance and becomes defensive.
At this point, family and friends become victims of the abusive and controlling individual. –Joseph Carver, Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser
The above is exactly what happened in my situation with Richard and Tracy. First I recognized that what Richard had told me about Tracy, was true, as I witnessed it playing out in front of my eyes and ears in my own house for six weeks.
As soon as Tracy realized I recognized her for an abuser, I became her victim as well, as she tried desperately to control me–and Richard allowed it, even made excuses for her, became her abuser-by-proxy.
He seemed to forget everything he had told me as soon as she arrived, to begin making excuses for everything she did to him, the children and to me–except at isolated moments, when he admitted what she was doing was wrong.
I remembered those moments, remembered everything he told me, kept e-mails and made notes. I even have a draft of an e-mail I wrote to my mother months after they moved out, complaining about some things he had just said that condoned screaming at children and yelling at one’s spouse.
And this after he’d complained to me many times about Tracy screaming at and verbally abusing the kids and breaking their spirits and making them cry, and her mother doing the same thing to the kids and the two of them yelling at each other to stop it.
And this before I heard him scolding Tracy for screaming at the kids, in May or June 2010, while we were at their house. I felt gaslit every time he made me feel as if I’d imagined his words, but those isolated moments would remind me that I did not imagine a thing.
You see it also happening with that other blogger. Even though he has witnessed his mother’s own brutal abuses at the hands of his stepfather, she refuses to believe that he is an abuser.
She became the blogger’s abuser-by-proxy, cutting him off from her even when he begged for her to communicate with him, just as I was cut off from my dear friend and spiritual mentor Richard–as Tracy said, with his consent. The blogger’s mother is obviously consenting, as well. It doesn’t make it right.
The worst part is when the spouse makes this into some sort of perceived societal requirement.
For example, 1) If the wife tells you your friend is a horrible person and you must separate from her, you must do as she asks out of respect for her, even though your relationship with that friend is and has always been platonic.
She might spin in her head all sorts of reasons why that friend is trying to get her husband into bed, as justification. Or maybe it’s a male friend she claims was rude to her.
(Such as in the latest episode of Big Bang Theory, when Amy became Director-Zilla, Wil Wheaton snapped at her, and she got angry with her boyfriend Sheldon for not automatically taking her side.)
For another example, 2) The husband is appointed by God as the head of the household, so the wife must submit and obey without question, even if that means cutting herself off from her own children and grandchildren. To do otherwise would defy not only her husband, but God himself!
You see how easily such beliefs lead to isolation and abuse not only of the friend who was perceived as a threat, but of the spouse expected to follow these “rules.”
This is why I maintain that, while supporting your spouse is generally a good thing, if your spouse is abusing you or another person, you must refuse to support and participate in that abuse. Otherwise, you gang up on the victim, and become an abuser yourself.
This is also the belief of Anna Valerious, author of the blog Narcissists Suck:
The narcissist appeaser, the self-anointed and so-called peacemaker, is as immoral as his master. He is a pagan priest who will gladly slice your throat or rip your heart out of your chest if it will buy time, peace or prosperity for himself.
He is as demanding and capricious as his N god; he must in order to thrive in the narcissist environment. Know it and plan accordingly. —The Pagan Priesthood of Appeasement
As I write this, the example that I am reflecting on is my own father. He is a living representation of the ultimate cost of peace at any cost.
Don’t picture my father as a obsequious, weak man. He is nothing of the sort. He was a man of strength and forthrightness at one time…a long time ago. This was a man who would never stand by to watch some stranger get attacked and he not intervene. With fists if need be.
This was not true, though, with his own children. He seems to have had no perspective where it concerned how his wife was…and how she treated his own children.
He saved his pity for her. He made allowances for her bad behavior because he believed her childhood explained (and justified) her bad behavior as an adult.
Because he made these allowances for the perpetrator, he was not able to see his way clear to protect his children from the beast. Because he pitied the perp, he ended up consigning helpless children to her abuses.
He loved my mother above all else. His children were unwanted and annoying appendages to his idol, my mother. He tolerated us because he loved her.
This also made it easy for him to demand of us better behavior than he expected from a full-grown woman, his wife. He only ‘loved’ us when we were invisible or when we performed as he expected us to.
My father today is a bitter, angry, cynical man. His mind gradually poisoned by Worm Tongue against his children and extended family.
I have evidence in his own writing that he has surrendered his integrity in order to keep peace with the devil. His moral compass is so broken that he feels righteous and justified to demand of me, his grown daughter, that I too capitulate to the selfish demands of his infernal wife.
He sees me as the problem because I will not bend over and grab the ankles in order to ‘make peace’…like he has.
Yes, indeed. The price for peace with a villain is very high indeed. It has cost my father much. He has lost every one of his extended family members.
He has lost at least one daughter. All he has left is his evil wife. And, perhaps, the one daughter who greatly resembles his evil wife, my sister.
Was it really worth defending the indefensible all these years? I highly doubt it. I have seen clear indications that much of the time he can’t stand to be around my mother.
They live separate lives. He speaks impatiently and angrily with her much of the time.
There are times when he is tender and indulgent with my mother. These are rare times when she has managed to use enough of her feminine charms to soften him.
He is not a happy man. He has paid out too much of his soul, though, to cash in his chips. He will stay with her to the bitter, ugly end.
Count carefully the ultimate cost of ‘peace at any and all costs’. It is very steep. In the end, all you will be left with is the cold comfort of your pretended integrity and righteousness minus your soul. —The High Price of Peace at Any Cost
Richard informed me once that Tracy insisted on being friends with his friends, that she had to put the friend through an approval process, that it wasn’t just me. Most people, he said, she approved right away.
(Oh, it makes me feel special that I had to jump through all sorts of impossibly high hoops! Especially when I was the one providing her with food and shelter while she was homeless.)
She got furious with him for contacting an old friend whom she hated. To her, as she wrote, this was all perfectly normal, all part of “respecting” a spouse, and me submitting to it was expected and normal because “everybody knows” you have to befriend the wife as well.
Um…..I had never encountered such a rule, and in fact, when I twice tried to friend my pastor friend Mike‘s wife on Facebook (they live far away), she rejected me! As Mike explained, she does not want to be friends with his friends just because they’re his friends, does not want to read his chats with me, and trusts him completely.
It’s the same thing between my husband and me. I have also never forbidden my husband from being friends with someone just because I don’t like that person. (There was a time, many years ago, when I felt justified in forbidding him from being friends with former lovers, but after dealing with Tracy, I realized how controlling that was, repented, and rescinded that rule.)
There’s also a huge difference between someone being deliberately rude to your spouse, and someone being naturally shy and quiet, and/or reacting to your spouse’s abuses.
No, feeling entitled to “approve” your spouse’s friends, or even family members, is just another element of control in the abuser’s toolbox. It treats the spouse like a child, not a full-grown, fully-functioning adult capable of making his own decisions. It shows a lack of trust in the spouse’s judgment.
Meanwhile, Richard only asked that he meet a guy friend of his wife once, did not require being friends with him as well, did not have to “approve” him.
And Tracy did not require of herself the same things she required from others, allowing herself all sorts of freedoms with my husband–going to a concert alone with, playing footsie with, flirting with–even though she had not befriended me first. I did not mind or object, but did see the double standard.
Many abusers try to cut you off from your family and your friends. And by doing this, they gain more control over you and how you think.
Because they are well aware that your family and friends would not approve of how they are treating you.
And they also know that those closest to you would begin to see a huge difference in your personality, which is becoming more and more unsure of yourself on a daily basis.
You realize that you are slowly becoming a “non-person” like a frog that is slowing boiling to death in hot water because the temperature is being turned up little by little so that they hardly notice it.
The abuser may contrive to move the target to another city or state, to limit contact. Once out of sight, it is much easier to control the amount of contact the target has with friends and family. These “outsiders” are often blamed for any problems the couple have.
Before you know it, you are cutting ties with your family and with your closest friends. You are afraid to have them and the abuser in the same room together for fear of what he might say to them and vice versa.
He will use any number of excuses to keep you from seeing them. And if distance is involved he will use the lack of money for why you cannot visit your own family or even call them….
Everything in a relationship with an abuser is one-way- the abuser’s way. What an abuser requires of you, he does not expect of himself. The rules that he applies to you do not apply to him.
When you do something to break the rules it is a “cardinal sin.” However, when he breaks the same rule he finds justification for it. Or so he thinks.
6.) A Deep Internal Rage
The abuser often has a very violent temper that will flare up over the most minor of things. You will be surprised at the intensity of their anger over something that you hardly even saw as a problem..
Many targets of abuse describe arguments with their abuser as being about “stupid” things. This usually happens when you dare to disagree with or challenge something they have said. Or when you dare to voice your own opinion about something. You find out that your opinions and suggestions don’t count, only theirs do….
Many times, an early indication of abuse is the use of verbal language designed to make you feel small, ugly, worthless or stupid. Cutting remarks are used whenever the abuser feels down and out.
By making the target feel lousy, too, the abuser feels better. Even so-called pet names are often thinly disguised abuse. Another name for this is verbal abuse.
9.) A tendency to blame others.
Abusers have a talent for twisting things around so it appears someone else is to blame for whatever goes wrong. If they get mad – it’s someone else’s fault. If they hit someone, it’s their fault. If the car breaks down, it’s someone else’s fault.
Usually, the person an abuser blames is YOU, the victim — the spouse or lover. Abusers are so good at this that the victim often comes to believe it is true. Then the victim feels guilty. This is called “crazy making.” —Recognizing the Abusive Personality
A frequent condition of abuse is seeking to socially isolate the partner. The abuser cuts off their partner from contact with other people, such as family, friends and children, by creating a social deprivation that leads the partner to be more reliant, or dependent, on the abuser.
Social isolation also prevents the partner from seeking support from others or successfully leaving the relationship. Behaviors commonly used to impose social isolation include:
- Blaming the partner’s friends or family for the couple’s “relationship” problems
- Monitoring phone calls, mail or visits
- Demanding an account of the partner’s daily activities
- Insulting, threatening or assaulting the partner’s friends or family; driving them away
- Forcing the partner to choose between the relationship and loved ones
- Creating public scenes or disturbances when the partner is out with others
- Stalking the partner and other forms of surveillance —Types of Domestic Abuse
Often the abuser will isolate his spouse from friends or family members in an attempt to keep her focused solely on him, and to maintain control. It is much easier to keep someone feeling worthless or crazy, if her contact with outside sources of reassurance or reality are limited.
The abuser may accomplish this by monitoring her actions, making her account for her time, checking up on her, and expecting that she go out only with people, or to do things, that he approves of. He may accomplish this by creating strife between her [and] people he does not want her to be around.
Or, he might make it so unpleasant for her if she attempts to have a social life, that she cuts off contact with people on her own. This may happen because he calls incessantly when she is out, embarrassing her, or because he picks fights with her friends or family members, or he picks fights with her anytime she wants to go out.
At that point, some women just give up trying to do certain things that would help her feel less isolated because it takes so much out of her.
There is also another kind of isolation that occurs when a woman who is allowed to be social, is still so quiet about her situation, out of fear or embarrassment, that she keeps it all to herself.
This woman will feel just as alone and doubtful of herself and her situation as the woman who finds its to scary to try and have relationships with friends or family if the abuser does not approve. —Domestic Abuse is Hitting Home
Tracy even picked fights with Richard for coming to my house for ten minutes to pick up bags of their stuff which I found while cleaning my house, after they moved out! “Tooth and nail,” he called it. I also heard her accuse him of not wanting to spend time with the family, when he’d be late coming home from work.
For those whose question really means, ‘why don’t you stand up to him?’ they obviously don’t understand what a woman who is being abused faces.
The abusers absolute conviction that he is entitled to control, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get it, means that standing up to him is dangerous. When the abuser is violent, that could mean being assaulted.
However, even in the absence of physical violence, a woman has to fear the consequences of standing up to him.
Perhaps it’s the woman who insisted that it was okay for her to speak with her sister every now and then, who got her phone taken away.
Perhaps it’s the woman who did push for them to go to her parents for Shabbat, only to have her husband purposely leave the clothing for the children at home, explaining to her parents when they arrive, that she had forgotten the children’s things, and that he is very worried because there has been something not right lately.
For those whose question really means ‘why don’t you get out?’, they aren’t understanding what a complex and difficult situation a woman in this marriage is facing.
She often worries about her children, what a divorce will do to them; what hell do during a divorce process, whether they’ll be better or worse off if she divorces and isn’t around to see what happens when the abuser has visitation with them.
She is often ashamed because she has learned that shalom bayis is her responsibility and she feels a failure, even though there is no pleasing an abuser. She worries about her family’s and the community’s reaction.
Thinking about leaving can be scary. Although living with an abuser can be dangerous, most women sense that the danger can increase in trying to get out, something statistics have borne out. The abuser has usually done scary things and made threats, specifically about what he’ll do if she tries to leave him.
But probably the most compelling reason women don’t leave is that they keep hoping things will get better. They got married to stay married. There are often children. There are good times, and the hope is that there is something they can do to keep the good times and get rid of the bad times.
The issue is that this is a very complex situation, one in which professional intervention, along with Rabbinic/community /parental support is needed.
However, that support needs to be well informed and trained in understanding the different problems that can exist in marriage, and there needs to be an expertise in handling domestic abuse so that the help thats given is what is safe and appropriate to the situation. —Domestic Abuse is Hitting Home
Richard, you know I’m telling the truth. You know you and the kids have been abused. You know the things you’ve told me. I know you’ve abused your kids, too, because the state convicted you of it. But you can get out of this abusive situation. You can change this. We would help you. There are resources here in town.
Taking the abuser’s perspective as a survival technique can become so intense that the victim actually develops anger toward those trying to help them.
The abuser is already angry and resentful toward anyone who would provide the victim support, typically using multiple methods and manipulations to isolate the victim from others. Any contact the victim has with supportive people in the community is met with accusations, threats, and/or violent outbursts.
Victims then turn on their family – fearing family contact will cause additional violence and abuse in the home. At this point, victims curse their parents and friends, tell them not to call and stop interfering, and break off communication with others.
Agreeing with the abuser/controller, supportive others are now viewed as “causing trouble” and must be avoided. Many victims threaten their family and friends with restraining orders if they continue to “interfere” or try to help the victim in their situation.
On the surface it would appear that they have sided with the abuser/controller. In truth, they are trying to minimize contact situation that might make them a target of additional verbal abuse or intimidation.
If a casual phone call from Mom prompts a two-hour temper outburst with threats and accusations – the victim quickly realizes it’s safer if Mom stops calling.
If simply telling Mom to stop calling doesn’t work, for his or her own safety the victim may accuse Mom of attempting to ruin the relationship and demand that she stop calling. —Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser