By: Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
Abuse takes many forms– physical, verbal, financial, intimidation, manipulation. There is no justification for any form of it, and I carefully make this next statement: It takes two, so remove yourself. It is easier said than done, but it must be said and it must be done. If you are the victim of any form of abuse, you must get away from it.
In my practice I am seeing more and more borderline personality traits, which include emotional blackmail, manipulation, and crazy making. It is, in essence, an emotional way to exert control over another. Sometimes, this involves convincing the partner that he or she is bad, no one would agree with him or her, and he/she is lucky to be loved by the abuser. It can also include promises to get certain immediate responsive behavior, just to later be told such promises were never made. The victim is left spinning, exhausted, scared. Yet, the victims cannot stop themselves from engaging. It is a trained response, and one that feels most “normal” to them.
The first step is to get away from the abuser. This means physically as well as any contact. This is, actually, the hardest step, as the abuser, sensing loss of control, ups the antics. It gets worse before it gets better. But if the victim stays true to the boundaries, it is amazing how quickly he or she finds peace, quiet and an opportunity to return to one’s true self. When the chaos is gone, the victim is able to see clearly the manipulation and emotional blackmail they endured that was not apparent when in the thrust of it all. Therapy is so beneficial for the victims at such a juncture, to process their experiences with a clear mind and “undo” the crazy making while working through what got them to that point and how to never be in such a relationship again.
If there are children involved, this is all the more difficult. There must still be some level of communication, so the victim must be vigilant to keep it to only talk about the children and even then the minimum of what is necessary. There are great communication tools, such as TalkingParents, that can be used as to the sole communication avenue between the parents. Every word is cemented, and saved, and cannot be deleted or altered. As such, if the abuser attempts to violate boundaries, there is a record of it. The victim learns to simply not respond to the transgressions, and there is a record of that non-response as well. These communication tools are email-based, so are slower, and eliminates phone calls and texts, that can be rapid fire and all-consuming. The abuser will not simply abide by the boundaries being attempted to be imposed, so a block is sometimes necessary.
The next concern, though, is that the abuser will direct the emotional blackmail, intimidation, and manipulation onto the children, now that the adult victim has stepped out of the role. As difficult as it is for an adult to be the target of this kind of emotional abuse, it is overwhelming and beyond confusing for a child. The key is to go slow with parenting time between the victim and the children, get them in their own therapy with a good therapist who understands this kind of abuse, and see a skilled Parental Responsibilities Evaluator to help a court understand the risks presented and the best limits for the children. I cannot stress enough that family therapy between the children and the abuser should be avoided. The abuser can, outside of sessions, falsely cite to the therapist against the children, inaccurately using the therapist as a third party manipulation of the children.
In addition to protecting the children from being the victims of abuse, a goal needs to be to help them not to develop similar tendencies as the perpetrator. It can be a learned response, making even more crucial that the parent victim get out of the situation, get strong for him or herself, and then be strong for the children.
I have had the pleasure of seeing all of my clients who have been victims of this type of abuse get away from it, come out of the fog, and find themselves again. Each has done the hard work, set the boundaries, and rescued their children. It can be done.