Monday, December 13, 2010

Emotional abusers use Mixed Messages to control and Manipulate

           Among the many things I lost while in an abusive relationship, one of the most important was my ability to trust in myself. I lost all faith in my perceptions, I didn’t believe my feelings had any validity, I was conditioned to believe my thoughts didn’t matter and that my opinions were either stupid or wrong.
            Have you ever gone into a conversation or situation feeling confident, comfortable and safe and walking away angry, confused, hurt, and shamed. Wondering “What the hell just happened?”, “Did I miss something?” This is very common in abusive relationships.
             Abusers use mixed messages as a way to keep you off balance and confused; questioning your abilities, views and values. They also use it as a tool to isolate you from your friends and family. Sending mixed messages is just one of the many ways that they can gain and maintain control
            We often hear things like “trust your instinct” or “go with your gut”? These types of statements may seem natural and intuitive but when living in an abusive relationship it is easy to lose the ability to do this.  Abusers systematically erode their partner’s ability to trust their own thoughts and feelings. They destroy the victim’s ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not through isolation, manipulation and guilt. The victim is left with feelings of confusion, doubt, insecurity and fear.
            An emotional abuser will do this with a repeated pattern of building up then tearing down, by blaming his/her partner for their anger or insecurity and with a constant stream of mixed messages. He/she will systematically maneuver his/her victim into a position where they find themselves doubting their own perceptions. 
            Has your spouse or significant other ever said, things like “Sure, go out with your friends, you deserve to have a good time” but you know he/she doesn't really want you to go? It may be the body language that says "says don't worry about me I'll sit here by myself and be lonely” or the tone of voice, that says “you will owe me because I am allowing you to go out”.  You know that when you get home you will have to deal with a sullen, withdrawn or angry partner. This type of unspoken manipulation plays on your own guilt fear and insecurity.
             So you go out anyway and find you are unable to have a good time because you are preoccupied with thoughts of what he/she doing or thinking, what it's going to be like when you get home. Instead of laughing and relaxing and enjoying yourself you are feeling guilt and trepidation. You find yourself constantly checking the time. Wondering how soon you can leave without offending your friends while at the same time wanting to be home early enough to minimize the scene that's waiting for you at home.
            There is no consistency to how an abuser will react, another way to keep you off balance. One night you may come home early and there is no argument, no silent treatment, no confirmation that the unspoken words of earlier had ever been uttered. This may happen several times in a row until you have convinced yourself that your perception was wrong and you were silly to even doubt him. You gain confidence and feel safe and then there's that one night when you come home and all your original feeling are confirmed when the abuse begins. It maybe yelling and screaming, maybe the silent treatment or the guilt trip. It really doesn't matter what tactic he/she uses, the end result is the same.
            The abuser delivers an original mixed message, his/her subsequent behavior manipulates your thoughts and feelings in a direction that leaves you doubting your perceptions and questioning yourself. He/she will then change their behavior again so the victim is never sure what to think or how to act.  This pattern will repeat itself over and over until the victim is left paralyzed by fear and confusion, without enough confidence to make decisions for him/herself, reliant on the abuser.
            If any of this sounds familiar there are some things that you can do to help:

·         Have your partner be clear and direct. Ask questions until you get a clear statement and then act off the words, not the message.
·         Talk to a friend, relative or co-worker. Share with them the conversation/incident and get their opinion and impressions.
·         Take some time away from the person you feel is being abusive and assess why you are in this type of relationship
·         Think about the relationships you have with your friends and co-workers. Do all your relationships leave you feeling angry, hurt and confused or is it just the one with your abuser?

Always remember: it’s called survival instinct for a reason.

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