Abusers exploit, lie, insult, demean, ignore (the “silent treatment”), manipulate, and control.
There are many ways to abuse. To love too much is to abuse. It is tantamount to treating someone as an extension, an object, or an instrument of gratification. To be over-protective, not to respect privacy, to be brutally honest, with a sadistic sense of humour, or consistently tactless – is to abuse.
To expect too much, to denigrate, to ignore – are all modes of abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse. The list is long. Most abusers abuse surreptitiously. They are “stealth abusers”. You have to actually live with one in order to witness the abuse.
There are three important categories of abuse:
The open and explicit abuse of another person. Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring (“silent treatment”), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of overt abuse.
Covert or Controlling Abuse
Abuse is almost entirely about control. It is often a primitive and immature reaction to life circumstances in which the abuser (usually in his childhood) was rendered helpless. It is about re-exerting one’s identity, re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment – human and physical.
The bulk of abusive behaviors can be traced to this panicky reaction to the remote potential for loss of control. Many abusers are hypochondriacs (and difficult patients) because they are afraid to lose control over their body, its looks and its proper functioning. They are obsessive-compulsive in an effort to subdue their physical habitat and render it foreseeable. They stalk people and harass them as a means of “being in touch” – another form of control.
To the abuser, nothing exists outside himself. Meaningful others are extensions, internal, assimilated, objects – not external ones. Thus, losing control over a significant other – is equivalent to losing control of a limb, or of one’s brain. It is terrifying.
Independent or disobedient people evoke in the abuser the realization that something is wrong with his worldview, that he is not the center of the world or its cause and that he cannot control what, to him, are internal representations.
To the abuser, losing control means going insane. Because other people are mere elements in the abuser’s mind – being unable to manipulate them literally means losing it (his mind). Imagine, if you suddenly were to find out that you cannot manipulate your memories or control your thoughts… Nightmarish!
In his frantic efforts to maintain control or re-assert it, the abuser resorts to a myriad of fiendishly inventive stratagems and mechanisms. Here is a partial list:
Unpredictability and Uncertainty
The abuser acts unpredictably, capriciously, inconsistently and irrationally. This serves to render others dependent upon the next twist and turn of the abuser, his next inexplicable whim, upon his next outburst, denial, or smile.
The abuser makes sure that HE is the only reliable element in the lives of his nearest and dearest – by shattering the rest of their world through his seemingly insane behaviour. He perpetuates his stable presence in their lives – by destabilizing their own.
One of the favourite tools of manipulation in the abuser’s arsenal is the dis-proportionality of his reactions. He reacts with supreme rage to the slightest slight. Or, he would punish severely for what he perceives to be an offence against him, no matter how minor. Or, he would throw a temper tantrum over any discord or disagreement, however gently and considerately expressed. Or, he would act inordinately attentive, charming and tempting (even over-sexed, if need be).
This ever-shifting code of conduct and the unusually harsh and arbitrarily applied penalties are premeditated. The victims are kept in the dark. Neediness and dependence on the source of “justice” meted and judgment passed – on the abuser – are thus guaranteed.
If you are up to the inevitable confrontation, react in kind. Let him taste some of his own medicine.
Dehumanization and Objectification (Abuse)
People have a need to believe in the emphatic skills and basic good-heartedness of others. By dehumanizing and objectifying people – the abuser attacks the very foundations of human interaction. This is the “alien” aspect of abusers – they may be excellent imitations of fully formed adults but they are emotionally absent and immature.
Abuse is so horrid, so repulsive, so phantasmagorical – that people recoil in terror. It is then, with their defenses absolutely down, that they are the most susceptible and vulnerable to the abuser’s control. Physical, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of dehumanization and objectification.
If things get rough – disengage, involve law enforcement officers, friends and colleagues, or threaten him (legally).
Do not keep your abuse a secret. Secrecy is the abuser’s weapon.
Never give him a second chance. React with your full arsenal to the first transgression.