Karli writes as a therapeutic outlet and with the hope that her articles will be useful to others who have suffered psychological abuse.
Five Emotional Abuse Tactics Psychopaths Use To Keep You On Edge
Psychopaths, sociopaths, and personality disordered individuals (borderline, narcissistic, histrionic) use emotional abuse tactics to control others. Yes, decent human beings are capable of implementing some of these underhanded practices on occasion; everyone has low points, insecurities, and bad days. However, for those who are morally handicapped - psychopaths, sociopaths, and personality disordered individuals (borderline, narcissistic, histrionic) - these deplorable tactics are an innate part of their being. They display some or all of these behaviors on a daily basis, especially when they are alone with the people who know them best. It's chronic; it's who they are.
I am not a mental health professional; I've chosen to cite some examples from personal experiences with disordered individuals to make the subject more relatable. If you recognize these emotional abuse behaviors in someone close to you, I strongly urge you to consider spending as little time with them as possible. These monsters strip you of your self-esteem and can even make you feel as if you are losing your mind.
For ease of reading, I've made up some generic names:
NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) - the psycho I lived with
BPD (borderline personality disorder) - my husband's ex
Tim - my husband
1. Playing Dumb
When I lived with NPD, I recall standing in the kitchen making a sandwich. I was wearing a frumpy old bath robe, my hair was greasy, and I was trying to be as invisible as possible. He came up behind me and proceeded to put his paws all over me. When I responded with annoyance and revulsion, his response was, "I thought you wanted me to." Really? His first thought when he saw me was, She obviously wants to be groped? I was usually very clear about his advances not being welcome, which is why I was floored that he chose that particular moment to try something. Maybe I just looked vulnerable.
When Tim was first starting the divorce process with BPD (not knowing any better, he trusted her to file and get the papers drawn up), they discussed what would be in the divorce decree. She had her attorney draw up a settlement in which almost everything was the exact opposite of what had been agreed upon. When Tim expressed irritation, her response was to whine about how this was her first divorce, she'd never done this before, she didn't know what to do. Which, of course, was a completely irrelevant response to why the verbiage in the paperwork was altogether different from what the two of them had talked about.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything. Gaslighting makes it very likely that victims will believe whatever their abusers tell them regardless as to their own experience of the situation. Gaslighting often precedes other types of emotional and physical abuse because the victim of gaslighting is more likely to remain in other abusive situations as well.
The term "gaslighting" comes from the 1938 British play "Gas Light" wherein a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy using a variety of tricks causing her to question her own perceptions and sanity. Gas Light was made into a movie both in 1940 and 1944. (Source: https://www.healthyplace.com)
NPD liked to tell me one thing, and then later on try to convince me that he'd said the exact opposite. For example, he would tell me that he hated a certain type of candy, but I'd catch him eating it. When I'd comment on it, he'd tell me he never said that he couldn't stand it, or he'd say it was some other type of candy (which had never even been mentioned in conversation). Or he'd tell me one day that he liked a certain type of food, and I'd buy it, and then he'd tell me he had always hated whatever it was.
He'd relay certain events to me, and the next time he'd tell me the same story, the details would be different. I'd call him on it, and he would insist that he'd told the story the exact same way every time. He also frequently liked to respond with "I don't know" or "I forgot" when it was obviously not the case.
He'd come into my room when I wasn't home and go through my belongings. I could tell, and I'd bring it up, and I'd get the I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about crap. There was one particular instance where I found some important personal documents missing from my file cabinet. I asked him where they were. After going through the I-don't-have-them, what-are-you-talking-about routine for several frustrating minutes, he admitted that he did have them. I watched him pull them from his own filing cabinet and hand them back to me. When I asked why he took them, I got a sullen, "I don't know." It was like trying to talk to a five-year-old, especially since he wouldn't look at me.
Further, he'd even try to convince me that I liked songs I hated, or that I didn't like movies I loved. When I'd get frustrated, arguing that I knew my own tastes better than anyone else, he'd even tell me, "You're crazy." Which brings me to...
They like to project their own character flaws onto their victims. NPD did it all the time, and I've seen BPD do it countless times to Tim via correspondence. Frequently, they are quite adept at pointing out their own negative traits, but they never accept them as their own. Instead they transfer those traits to the people they are abusing.
When I would point out the faulty logic that NPD used, he would try to convince me that I was the one who was illogical. I don't recall enough of any one particular conversation to cite an example. Those exchanges were always just so bizarre and exhausting that, usually, I would give up pretty quickly, and simply walk away reeling with frustration.
BPD would accuse Tim of doing something that she was doing as she was accusing him of it. She would frequently call him names, swear at him, attack his character and belittle him, and then accuse him of "criticizing" and "attacking" her when he stood up for himself or responded defensively. She would tell him he was being "combative" whenever he stood up to her combativeness.
This is one of the most common, and frequently used, tools of any personality disordered individual. They will say or do anything they can to get you to bend to their will, do their bidding, buy them something they want, not leave them, etc. Often this involves ostentatious displays of theatrics, including, but not limited to, tears, rage, verbal abuse, telling you exactly what they think you want to hear, guilt trips, transactional sex, and threats to leave you.
If you have kids with your abuser, he/she will use them to control you. BPD did this repeatedly to Tim after they separated. More than once, she even dangled custody in front of him, only to snatch it back at the last minute, because Tim was not meeting all of her demands. She never intended to keep her end of the deal; she was only trying to get him to come back to her, or at the very least regain control over his mind and his bank account.
They will use your deepest fears to control you and keep you from leaving them. If your fear is being alone, they will convince you that you are a horrible person and that no one else would ever put up with you. If your fear is losing your children, they will threaten to accuse you of child abuse. Discovering your weaknesses is something they do early on, and they insidiously reinforce fear and self-doubt in you.
Dr. George Simon, author of In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People
5. Pathological Lying
For personality disordered individuals, lying comes more naturally than telling the truth. We're not talking about "white lies" or even just lying to get out of the hot seat (although they do that too - usually by turning things around and making it about you); these dysfunctional creeps will lie even when it would be easier, and less risky, to tell the truth.
For psychopaths, lying is akin to breathing. They also have no problem at all asking (in some cases demanding) others to lie for them. For instance, less than two months after Tim and BPD separated, BPD found a new victim, bought him a plane ticket (with Tim's money, because she never worked), and moved him in with her. She didn't know the guy at all (she met him while trolling internet chat rooms which, incidentally, is how she got her claws in Tim), but she didn't want to admit to Tim that she, and the children, were living with a complete stranger, so she lied. She also requested that a friend lie for her, and then showered the friend with praise and affection:
Hey, Friend, I hate to pull you into a lie, but Tim asked me where I knew this guy from and I said a friend of a friend and he insisted to know which friend, so you automatically came to mind. I don't think Tim will contact you, but if he does, the new guy's name is New Victim and you can say you went to school together and he's a good guy. I'm so sorry I potentially put you in this position. I'm such a terrible friend, and you are completely awesome. I love you! BPD.
It's worth noting that personality disordered individuals are incapable of developing meaningful friendships. What they refer to as friends are people they can use for various reasons - narcissistic supply, money, status, favors, sex, whatever they can squeeze out of their victims. And these friends stick around, usually because they are either enamored of the psychopath or they feel sorry for him/her.
Walk Away From Emotional Abuse
The examples given for these five emotional abuse tactics are just a few, but I could post volumes from personal experience alone. Sadly, when a person is being psychologically abused, they are rarely able to recognize the abuse for what it is. For me, I knew something was very wrong, I just couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. If someone close to you employs any or all of the tactics discussed here on a regular basis, seriously consider ending the relationship. At the very least, reach out to a trusted friend, join an online forum, or find a qualified therapist to talk to; you are not going crazy, and you are certainly not alone.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Karli McClane