John Crippen has just posted on Unholy Charade about abuse victims who help their abuser abuse others:
What he writes of is just what I went through with Richard and Tracy. I could never be entirely sure if Richard was just as abusive of Tracy as he told me she was of him. There were indications that he could be just as nasty with her, that he himself was a narcissist. But I can be sure of the abuse I witnessed from Tracy to other people, not just Richard, not just the kids, but other people they knew as well–even friends!
And one of those victims of Tracy’s abuse, “Todd,” experienced the same phenomenon I did: Even though Tracy was the one abusing Todd, Richard stood beside his wife’s abuse and then began abusing Todd as well. Same thing happened when anyone–me, Todd, some other friend–complained about being abused by Tracy: Richard would stand by Tracy and help her abuse the person.
Pastor Crippen describes this exact same phenomenon, an abuse victim helping the abuser so much that it’s no longer clear who the real abuser is. He explains that he is NOT talking about abuse victims who keep quiet out of fear of crossing the abuser, or victims who don’t understand what’s going on, but about abuse victims who are themselves mean and nasty to other people. He describes, for example, a case in which the husband is patriarchal and abusive, but the wife herself targets and reviles the same people her husband does. If anyone calls out her husband for his abuse, she speaks up and defends him and then holds a grudge against that person.
It was very hurtful to Todd when Richard did this to him; Richard then acted like Todd was the abusive one and that he was overreacting when he cut off relations with Richard over it. He then went to Todd’s web forum and screwed it up, letting Todd blame it on a resident troll.
It was also very hurtful to me when Richard kept defending his wife’s abuses of me over and over again. It was hurtful when she burst out at me in narcissistic rage one day, and he–instead of being apologetic and privately letting me know that she was wrong and misunderstood the situation and that he didn’t agree with her–participated actively in her abuse of me. He also raged at my husband for sticking up for me, because my husband could see that I didn’t deserve what was happening. When this happened, I felt so betrayed by Richard–yet when we cut off relations with them over it, they acted like we were overreacting. Just like they did with Todd.
It felt like being on the playground with bullies making fun of me and raging at me, while I’m all alone, because there were two of them and this usually happened when they had me by myself. With Todd, they made the disagreement public, and pulled in as many people as they could to help them abuse him. With me, I know of at least one person they pulled in to their side, telling her lies to make her think that *I* was the abuser. So instead of recognizing that I was legitimately complaining about how I’d been abused, she participated in the abuse, and became part of society’s problem of victim-blaming.
It’s triangulation, a tactic which abusers use on their victims, whether bullying, or domestic abuse, or spousal/romantic partner abuse, or whatever type of abuse. It’s meant to convince the victim that she deserves what she’s getting, that the abuser is acting normally, that he’s the martyr dealing with her toxicity.
And when an abuse victim helps his or her spouse bully someone else, this is active participation in triangulation. It’s frightening and confusing for the victim, who oftentimes is not equipped to speak up in his or her own defense.
I couldn’t understand it because Richard knew Tracy was abusive–he told me about it often–and told me even with her standing right there that friends would break off relations with HIM because they couldn’t handle HER. Yet when she started raging at someone, he would step right in there and help HER.
Pastor Crippen writes:
These kind, sadly, are beyond help. I don’t presume to know completely what makes them tick, but in some way they have made the decision that the benefits of “standing by their man” outweigh the costs of exposing his abuse and leaving him.
This is a helpful post if you’ve been exposed to such behavior. It helps me because I see that the baffling behavior I witnessed in Richard, does happen now and then. It’s not unique to that situation, so it may have some psychological explanation (Crippen has a few ideas). It validates me for statements I’ve made here before, that it’s wrong to stick up for and “support” your spouse when they’re abusing someone else.
Crippen both warns against getting close to an abuse victim who helps their own abuser–they’ll be “one of the angriest and harshest people you ever get sideways of”– and warns against becoming one yourself.