In a previous post I shared my story of an bad relationship, titled “Stages of Change”. It has been over twenty years since I managed to leave. I often refer to this period as “the IT years” after my mother jokingly one day to “please stop saying that name!!” It was the most trying time of my life. In the 20+ years since leaving, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds. I’m grateful for the lessons learned and the loving marriage I enjoy today. In this post I share some of my 20/20 hindsight. What follows is an overview of his “modus operandi”. If you’re dating a guy who thinks like this – RUN!!!
STEP 1: spotting your victim
Psychologically abusive men are masters at spotting the perfect victim. On reflection, “IT” and I were a perfect match at the outset. There’s definitely a grain of truth to the notion that “like attracts like”. I was an insecure and naive girl who desperate for love and acceptance – even if all I found were empty promises. “IT” had insecurities as well, but a bloated and narcissistic ego that fucked up his perspective of things. He could do no wrong and everybody else was the problem. Others’ thoughts and feelings were only important insofar as this information could be used to get what he wanted through a process of covert manipulation (think wolf in sheep’s clothing). The perfect victim for this type of guy is a naive, trusting, & inexperienced girl who doesn’t know any better. Other key ingredients include: insecurity and desperation. So what can you do to avoid a relationship like this?
NUMBER ONE: Know your true worth and never attribute it to externalities such as others’ opinions or the quality of your meat-suit.
NUMBER TWO: Take your time to let him show his true colors. People can only pull the wool over your eyes for so long…and please remember when he shows you his true colors – believe him the FIRST time
NUMBER THREE: Have your priorities straight. Make sure you know what love is. Ask yourself this: “If I let him love me, would it measure up?” This should be a bottom line. You get what you ask for.
STEP 2: the honeymoon
This phase is critical in establishing the “rules of engagement” for an abusive relationship. It provides victims a small taste of what they desperately desire. Many describe this as a honeymoon phase. I don’t like this term since connotes something loving or sweet is underway. The reality is, a “relationship addiction” is being established: (i.e. a strong and harmful need that, despite your best intentions, you can neither control nor explain). Keep in mind, becoming addicted requires the following: (1) an urgent uncontrollable need, (2) an addictive agent and (3) the addict. Bringing these three ingredients together takes time and carefully choreographed efforts. In this phase the goal is simply to establish the first ingredient: an urgent need (think carrot on stick).
So did how “IT” do this?
Everything that happened in this stage, was designed to reinforce my insecurities. “IT” held promises of love & commitment just out of reach while simultaneously making it clear he didn’t need me. I wanted to be his “girlfriend”, but had to prove myself worthy. His goal was to reinforce my low self-esteem through a continual barrage of criticism. He kept testing the limits of what I would put up with in order to establish control. In time, I put up with his constant cheating and my sole purpose became to do his bidding. Before I knew it, I was under his complete control and there wasn’t anything I could do without his approval. Keep in mind, these changes took place over time, like a slippery slope.
What is 20-20 hindsight telling me now???
FIRSTLY: If I had known what love was I would have realized it wasn’t supposed to hurt like that. I would have seen him for what he was when we met. His limited capacity for love was visible in his actions and words – if I had just paid closer attention.
SECONDLY: If I been secure in my own self-worth, I would have claimed ownership of it as a fact. I would have realized nobody can have power over me as he did – UNLESS I ALLOWED THEM TO.
THIRDLY: This experience in retrospect is like the Wizard of Oz story. If you recall, Dorothy has everything she needs to get home, (i.e. the ruby slippers on her feet). The journey through Oz is about learning to believe in herself.
STEP 3: psychological manipulation
Carrying the addiction metaphor further in this discussion, the two other critical ingredients of an addictive relationship include: the presence of a drug of choice (“IT”) and the addict (“ME”). Creating these two things requires psychological manipulation: influencing someone’s emotional state, cognitions, and perceptions for your own benefit.
“IT” followed a few “rules of thumb” in his ongoing efforts to manipulate my mental state for his benefit:
NEVER SHOW HER LOVE: This implies need, want and caring. This is a sign of weakness and something a person can use against you. Only when she has completely submitted to your complete control, do you even allow her to see that you give shit. REMEMBER: ALWAYS IN CONTROL
MAKE HER JEALOUS: The goal is that she lives in constant fear of losing you. Only when her existence is filled with constant agony and heartache, can you be sure you’re in control. In this state, she is willing to do whatever it takes to “KEEP YOU”. Enjoy this, but never let your guard down: SHE MUST ALWAYS LIVE IN FEAR.
VIOLATE HER RULES – CREATE YOUR OWN: Learn what her limits are and violate them. Remember, the goal of emotional manipulation, is to create a state of complete control, whereby the only rules that exist are your own. She is at your mercy, living and existing to do your bidding. USE HER DESIRE FOR YOU AGAINST HER.
ALWAYS KEEP A FEW “SPARE WOMEN” ON THE SIDE: Make sure she knows, you are not the kind of guy who is able to remain monogamous. Let her know, that you expect her to remain faithful, and that it isn’t realistic that you be held to the same standard. This leaves her always uncertain and never able to be comfortable in the relationship.
YOU ARE EVERYTHING: Maintain an air of irrational self-confidence that exists without regard to any evidence (or lack thereof). It doesn’t matter what others think. The point is, you are “The best thing since sliced bread”.
SHE IS NOTHING: Use her insecurities against her at every available opportunity. The goal is to make sure she comes to accept her insecurities are fact. In time, against your irrational self-confidence she will feel completely helpless and lost without you. Only at this point, can you be sure you have complete control.
As our relationship drew to a close, I came to recognize “IT’s” emotional manipulation for what it was…
Near the end of my relationship with “IT” (just before the london trip), he complained about how bad I was in bed. He cheated on me constantly (and without apology) throughout our relationship. He began describing in detail what he was doing with these “other women”. I remember listening to his story and recognized a familiar thread of emotional manipulation. It dawned on me that he was hoping to make me jealous. I began to think silently of other things that happened throughout the course of the relationship. His own “hot air” ideas of self-importance were coupled with the assertion that I was completely worthless. Were these things also manipulative endeavors on his part?
I came to realize his goal was to compensate for his insecurities by treating me this way. In his mind, if I was desperate to win his affections, then he could feel secure. I wondered, what sort of insecurities fueled this idea. Needless to say, since I was in a perpetual state of dissociation and numbness, this tactic wasn’t working. Sensing this, he switched gears and started getting angry. This didn’t yield the desired response either, since I was beyond the point of giving a shit. Instead, I reminded him that he is the only guy I’ve every been with and haven’t had as “much practice”. I described the consistent message he had driven home over the years that I was ugly and unlovable. I asked him how I was supposed to feel when he told me this? I wondered silently why he wanted me if I was so ugly and unlovable? After a moment of silence he responded with a devilish smile and said “pretty KJ”…
In that moment, a poorly disguised veil of bullshit had been lifted. Remembering his favorite nickname for me was “ugly KJ”, this response grabbed my attention. It occurred to me then that he was manipulating me. He simply wanted to get his way, and didn’t care how as long as I did what he wished. The devilish smile, reflected a “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, in support of this conclusion. I realized then that he didn’t love me, and if he did he was unable to show it. This was one of the last times we spoke, before I left for London with my family and broke up with him (from a safe distance)….