Romance, Fact or Fiction?
This is for everyone who has been on a merry-go-round of abusive relationships. How do you break the cycle, get out of the revolving door, why are you a target? This article cuts through the social distortion and stigma to help anyone seeking an answer to discover that light at the end of the end of the tunnel.
Coercive control isn’t just one element of domestic abuse, it’s at the centre of how an abuser works, violence is one manifestation while there are many other powerful and less visible ways a controller can act. This story starts with someone who leaves, she, who could all the same be he, remains nameless, but it is someone you may know or have known past, present or future, it could also be yourself. I hoped to give insight into how it relates to all of us, where we fit in as a society and why the question we always ask ‘why don’t they leave’ is so loaded for any victim.
I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the abused themselves that acts to reinforce the powerlessness experienced by them. There has always been a concern about how protection is enforced when many family incidents were previously cited as domestic disputes - with new law in place coercive control becomes a criminal behaviour so it’s important to understand what it is and where the boundaries lay. I wanted to uncover some of the myths we perpetuate as victims, as friends, family, neighbours, society as a whole living alongside abuse. It is those false beliefs that help support and perpetuate hostile and judgemental attitudes towards victims that has a wider correlation with other ‘isms’ like sexism, ageism, classism, or racism. It appears that abuse has a fixed hold and is endemic, woven into the fabric of society, how should we view this and is there anything we can do to change it, or do we need to reshape our view of it? In trying to answer some critical questions about ourselves and the nature of society, we need to bring a little understanding, to bring light to those who need it.
I’m drawing on twenty years experience of working in mental health. If you feel you are in danger reach out to the contacts given - no one should live in fear. Its valuable to know the key signs, to become informed and not to overlook it in yourself or others, excuse it or deny it and to get the right help.
In the first section I’ve written about a range of behaviours and strategies you can expect from a controller. This can’t cover every type of abuse, it’s too wide and too far reaching so here I have covered intimate relationships. I am leaving aside some enormous complexities to avoid lengthy dichotomies with the sole purpose of drawing a picture together so that victims and perpetrators can see where they fit into it, why, and how they can move on. How they can take power back for themselves and how you can help them.
This is not an assessment tool, nor intended to label anyone, it’s one aim is to increase understanding. I do mention recognised conditions as a way of clarifying how these relate to the problem. There are organisations that will help you to manage mental health and abusive relationship if you are in one, or as a friend can direct someone to, there is a wealth of information out there. As a starting point some are listed.
She can’t believe that it’s over two years since she moved here. She landed here to put distance between herself and somebody else, someone abusive. That day getting away was frightening, even as the distance steadily grew there were anxious checks in the rear view mirror. It was clear no one was following but still she had passed the border long before she’d stop. Trying to sip the coffee and hold it together both hands and legs shaking - she was free now - it was over, but somehow there was so much more to closing this circle than physical distance. She’d have to learn to live again, start all over with her children with no money, possessions, being mentally and emotionally broken it wasn’t going to be easy. Sadly living with fear is routine for so many,
You might think it’s all part of the exercise of life, we’re bound to make a mistake or two, life is a risk, relationships are a risk, if you never took a risk you would never gain anything. Why had it ended up this way? Like many others who’d already been there she didn’t know the answer. He had changed so much and came to treat her in a cruel and heartless way. She didn’t understand, she tried to confide in someone once but now they avoid her and there are rumours going around. Now she keeps quiet - their words hurt and the guilt stays with her.
Her unanswered questions remain, when you look down the microscope what does an abuser look like? He had looked just ordinary like anybody else to her. So if there is a difference, had she missed something, was it her fault? He had left her feeling it was. How do you get away, how do you get this thorn out of your side without getting caught, escaping is fraught with dangers. Not that she will be ready or wanting to meet anyone for some time, but how do you make sure you don’t get caught again?
Apparently down the microscope are some people that you know, maybe your co-worker, a neighbour, a friend, a family member, that’s people from your walk of life and all walks of life. Quite reasonably you might think everyone already knows what a good person looks like, so the opposite must be true? No. An abuser wears a camouflage that blends seamlessly into the social mix, there is quite a high incidence, it’s more common than you think. It does seem some of us are better at avoiding it than others, why is that and if there is some other factor that makes us less vulnerable then shouldn’t we know. Facing facts however she has failed the exercise along with many others.
To start a narrative describing ourselves as abused, to identify ourselves with it makes us feel diminished in some way, drawn down into an object of someone's actions, a victim, it’s a difficult admission for anyone for a number of reasons with a list too long to conquer. There are survivors not victims who thankfully do speak out and this is a game changer. It's inspiring to see people come out of a negative situation who then go on to help others. The foremost reason she thinks people don’t speak out is fear, fear and confusion, but just as often you just don’t find the right person to speak to.
On the face of it both the abused and the abusers share these unremarkable traits of ordinariness which is why you have to look deeper. What they are could have less bearing maybe than who or how they are. It is tempting when looking at the personality, thoughts, feelings and behaviours of domestic or emotional abusers to look at cluster B personality disorders, at narcissistic sociopathy or other labels because they seem to tick some boxes, much like looking for a self diagnosis for cancer on google.
The answer is that there are a percentage of society that do have a gene that can express psychopathy but having that gene does not mean it will be expressed or that they will become a psychopath. Psychopathy is an inherent genetic medical or psychiatric condition. Similarly, of the small percentage of society that fall into cluster B personality disorders or sociopathy no one really knows what percentage become domestic abusers, it does not mean they will. People with social behavioural dysfunctions are commonly termed as sociopaths, although the terms psychopath and sociopath are often used interchangeably, it’s not that clear cut.
Recognising narcissistic traits does not assume sociopathy, in short having narcissistic leanings is not a diagnosable mental illness and many abusers don’t fall into those given pathological categories, they might also come up as normal if you like in a mental health assessment. That is where these dysfunctions sit relative to the problem - their relationship to the problem only begs further questions. The police and psychiatric services may be involved in some circumstances but while a label may be applied to a few, may provide someone with an answer it is not a comfort and appears not to apply in many cases.
There are people who like to manipulate and control - there are many theories as to why. In a common pattern fear is what keeps the abused in an abusive relationship and it is often a factor in the abuser. First and foremost they believe they are not an abuser, they are convinced of this and it is a truth to them. This belief can be held because of a lack of insight and self justification (which is explained further on). It also holds true for them that there is no premeditation, deception or disguise, this is just how you experience it, they do not see the world as you do. They are likely to have approached you first, there is usually a tendency to over sell themselves and to be overly complimentary to you.
Overcompensation can translate as a charm offensive - or love-bombing as some term it. They exaggerate their own abilities, skills and qualities while displaying ‘humility’ in efforts to gain admiration. Certain things might be indicative of this type. They will need to rush you, keep you off balance, the pace keeps them in control of the game and ensures you are less likely to face them with unanswered questions. There may be things that niggle that you won’t get to the bottom of, their evasion is seamless. They’re often erratic, for instance broken and irregular arrangements of visiting, you find yourself unexpectedly lonely after a let down only to be surprised by an unexpected return. Explanations are plausible - they lie convincingly. Then there are the situations where you will feel compelled to compensate for them, like pay the bill when they forgot their wallet, the con is to see if you are susceptible to the con. Now they’ve got you acting for them. First steps, small things, things that nudge you in the wanted direction, having assisted you to move over, to put yourself aside you are recruited.
Pace is something that a sales person might recognise, our controller likely has good interpersonal skills and will push for quick involvement. You’ve probably been singled out and approached with purpose and intent. Although you will encounter a range of emotions in them these are the tools that they use, not feelings, these tools are well developed to a point that no one can tell. They are in effect pretending and will fear getting caught lying. Our somebody needs your admiration because they fear being insignificant, which I explain further on.
Fear of being unmasked.
To be credible they need a disguise to achieve the required duality, one for their private and one for public life. This mask tends to stay in place until after you have bonded or made a commitment to them, once you have intimacy and they are embedded in your life. Your commitment is gained through affirmations of their intention, a wish to spend their life with you, affirmations that confirm love and project longevity. The recruit believes they are in a real relationship. After a commitment has been made - it is at this point it is not necessary for them to always maintain the first mask, they can now show you the private one. This is why they appear to have changed. There are many negative features underneath, jealousy, contempt, accusations, anger, physical violence, intimate violation, financial control and exploitation. Controlling where you go or who you see is a common factor, isolating or stalking you, picking up and reading your mail or messages, these are all ways of crossing over your own boundaries, replacing them and enforcing their own in order to keep you in a submissive position.
Before this time there would have been no great difficulty removing them - they are now established. This is the tipping point - you are unlikely to reject or eject them for their behaviour, you now have some idea of the consequences of challenging them. Self preservation comes into play - you have things to loose that they are willing to use as collateral. They don’t want to view the world through your eyes, to take on your view, values or feelings, there is no place for them. Unquestioning loyalty is expected, any criticism leveled by yourself or lack of obedience cannot be tolerated, it is seen as betrayal that won’t go unpunished. Paranoic fear becomes marked - they need you to shield them from those who would criticise, mock, cheat, lie or betray them, they have no fear of their own inadequacies as in their view they do not have any, they lack insight.
As they cannot connect with reality through you, you must help them by connecting with their irrationality, not just as a mediator but as an extension of them. They are very persuasive, you can be charmed, cajoled in the beginning or erstwhile threatened. Fear, emotional blackmail and turmoil are a leverage to make you comply, they may make you believe you are mad, take away all freedoms, isolate you, beat you, verbally abuse you, refuse basic needs such as food, sanitary wear or showering, rape, torment and otherwise mentally and emotionally abuse you. The bargaining chips are all theirs. Our somebody has a stake and they fear losing it.
The end game or purpose is that while they cannot control the world themselves, (they are erratic and chaotic and you are their stability), they have some control if they control you. That in a nutshell is the loose profile of someone who is a controller. There are variations of the theme to a lesser or more extreme extent.
Fear of forfeiture
You will break the boundaries they have set for you, they would be impossible to keep, your own needs, preferences or aspirations are no matter, your somebody has no empathy for you. They withhold your needs being met and punish you to maintain obedience and to elevate their own self importance, they need to be admired and respected. Your role is nearly complete they have freedom to act and to make all decisions.
Revealing the next face shows that there is nothing in their intimate vocabulary, any kindness in their approach is gone, it has outlived its usefulness. They will act as they do because they can, there is now an inevitable escalation in their behaviour an end stage driven by rage and frustration. They have nowhere else to go they have achieved ownership, it has added nothing to their life and you have become worthless to them, you cannot elevate them any further, you are now in their way. They could get the admiration and respect they need elsewhere but you are a millstone around their neck taking resources away from them. The financial freedom they grabbed through abuse increases to the point you may lose your home, or are sitting alone in darkness without heat or food. Now they fear any exposure which could threaten them. They may imprison you, falsify documents, or dispose of you. The status quo will persist until you seek help.
They do not understand the rules of society. Key to some of their behaviour is lack of empathy - what displays as paranoia is based on lack of empathy, as they cannot imagine being you they imagine everyone else thinks or behaves in the way that they do. They do not understand, they do not have insight and as they don’t experience emotional pain themselves, they cannot understand the expression of those emotions in others. It leads them to view you as weak and themselves as superior, leaders with entitlement. They view others as inferior, however,they adopt them as another layer of power to exploit, to feed their ego and to help negotiate their way through life. They believe they are entitled and will do anything to keep you there, even as they dismantle your own identity, your worth and integrity to ensure they can keep hold of you as a resource.
Our somebody is different, the difference is in the way they perceive, process and respond. Controllers are often concrete thinkers, the extent to which they feel regret or remorse is dependent on their level of empathy. Whether nature or nurture is at play, if a person hasn’t ever known love and has been raised in a harsh environment then it can be hard for them to know and understand what love is. Environment and/or genetics can both contribute, abuse can also come to form part of a distorted intimacy. Lack of insight has been broadly applied to lack of empathy, what that means is that a difference in the way they are wired affects how the brain processes things.
Given the word love somebody high on the metric would know the word and its use, have a picture of when or where it might be applied, the concept stops there in the concrete as there are no connections and no experience as to what it feels like. It means a controller or a sociopath can look inward, but (metric dependent) won’t find an emotional connection that feels what love is, and in that sense what they see when they look outward is defined by that. Interpersonal skills are honed from observation, they emulate a range of emotions to make social exchanges, the point of social exchange is self referential - what’s in it for me. These are tools that they use, not feelings. For a psychopath as there is no empathy, there is no understanding or emotional moderator of what is good or evil, what is reasonable, rational, moral or decent.
There is a maxim of you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. A controller’s strategy fools most of the people most of the time, that is enough usually to achieve their aim although their greatest fear will be the humiliation of being caught lying. Should their strategy fail they will use other leverage, notably distraction from the cause, blame, scapegoating, lies, they are compelling to the extent that often no one will believe otherwise. Often the abuser shifts blame onto the victim. Likewise a challenge from the victim that the controller is cruel or uncaring is likely to be countered with reasons why it is the victim who is those things.
To the recruit, like most of the people, this kind or scale of deception is outside of their experience. What the controller has created is often described as unstable equilibrium that operates in the same way in the workplace as in all walks of life. Psychopaths get news room coverage, they are the murderers, serial killers and rapists who are chillingly unpredictable. Sociopaths have a social behavioural dysfunction, controllers may have some or all traits to a greater or lesser degree. Anyone in an intimate relationship cannot remain unaffected by their irrationality, they will be damaged, personalities are broken down and dismantled, they become as fearful and dysfunctional as their tormentor. Our somebody may not limit themselves to one partner and may be party to a number of relationships offering a wider power base made possible by their secretiveness.
Interdependence and Co-dependence
Society and its relationships are interdependent, biologically there are lots of good reasons to have different personality types to make up a society, diversity is about survival. It’s well known in socio-psychological terms that many leaders score higher on the sociopath metric, it’s thought that this is because there are also benefits to be had from some lack of empathy by degree, being driven and calculating enough to reach the top, or on the battlefield a lack of empathy could help in strategic thinking where loss of life is calculated as collateral damage. Pacifists (who are not passives) being highly empathetic would never think death and violence an answer, and appear compelled to take a stand against sociopaths, there always being a struggle between those two factions in society.
Desensitisation and objectifying has some role to play in other professions, consider a surgeon wielding a scalpel. Empathetic people can learn to objectify for compassionate reasons but do not become sociopaths (unless they were previously). Interesting as it is I’ve included this condensed view of society only for its relevance to the wider context and its relationship to the individual, the point I am making is one of human value, abuse is abhorrent. The sociopath has a function within society while they are not good relationship material, then it is far from as clear cut as presented, our nature being contradictory, I point out that it’s quite possible to be a person of principle in one arena and a ruthless operator in another.
Forming intimate relationships involves taking a risk, greater success is found in taking informed decisions.
There are important points to draw out from this and safeguarding issues. Who is a controller likely to target, what factors put someone at risk and how to avoid those risks. What we need is to become aware of the unique traits and differences of a controller and ourselves to learn ways to deal with both.
She is not a loud character - quiet, unassuming, plainly speaking there is nothing different about her, ordinary sums her up, polite and ordinary. That doesn’t make her simple or without emotional depth, behind her demeanor there is depth, and although she’s often overlooked she is approachable. She places high values on others and is caring, you can almost tell looking at her that she is sensitive, assertive and confident in her way but there are underlying clues, maybe some setbacks that knocked her confidence. She likes people who give others the space to express themselves and treats others as she would like to be treated, she is helpful, concerned and forgiving. She has friends who share those qualities, she couldn’t be herself without them. As little as you know of her or vice versa you could have things in common, you must have because she is the perfect profile of a victim, she is perfect and her abuser knows it.
Previously I talked about the controllers fears, and how fear is a starting point for both the controller and the victim. The controller and the victim do have things in common, fear was one, another one is that they are the polar opposites, extremes. In asking why me, I first ask why not? Controllers don’t target the outwardly confident, extroverts and other personalities who are self assured, they are unlikely targets. Intellectually aware empathetics' can be assertive, campaign running, politically motivated, challenging creatures. These do not ordinarily offer the level of co-dependency traits that are needed. The most desirable target is thought to be the passive personality.
There are many misconceptions about the victims that can be dis-empowering, we’ll come to that after, but firstly a controller’s personality is self centred - it’s all about me, my ego and a need for admiration. An extreme passives personality is - it’s nothing about me, I have no self importance. They are the opposite sides of an extreme and what they have in common is their fear of insignificance. If you starve the controller ego their worst fears will be realised, praise is necessary for their survival. The alternative to interacting with society in a manipulative way is not interacting with society at all. If you feed the passive ego there is cognitive dissonance that impacts their self worth. The alternative, if we only looked out for ourselves, then everyone as a whole would suffer, there is a corroborative mentality about supporting the group laterally. For both personalities then maintaining an accurate image of what they are is insecure, dependent on external factors and both fear insignificance, becoming nothing to anyone else.
That is what psychology suggests, it is theory but it does help give a wider perspective and as a shorthand for certain personality types it provides a starting point. There are many personality type tests, Myers-Briggs type indicators are widely used, the 16 personality types plus others, they have their applications and uses, they are however criticised by some as inaccurate armchair philosophy. It seems to make sense to split people into different categories or types and different work occupations do appear to attract different personalities. As a person has multiple roles in society it becomes more about a skills set, how they adapt skills and traits to fit the role, use different traits or characteristics for different tasks or develop new skills for new tasks.
Maybe it does make sense as the test suggests for an approximation for a work role fit but further than that it is unclear. For instance sexuality is not a fixed component of personality, neither are all of its traits, those are dependent on genetics, environment and experience they change and adapt. Personal drive to achieve, or ambition, and a moral belief system can change and fluctuate. The more variables thrown in, genetics, illness or conditions, drug addictions, medical treatments, deficiencies, the less predictive it seems to become. A game called Taikyoku Shogi plays on a grid of 36 rows and 36 columns, with a total of 1,296 squares, if each counter represented one component, one trait of personality we would still not have enough possibilities in the 1,296 squares to represent the complexities.
Most of us are neither introverted nor extroverted personalities in the way we approach our preference for interacting with people - most of us would fall into the median. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being an introverted personality, passivity is a behaviour that can be associated with it, it’s a type of behaviour that some people have. It has different cultural connotations over time, what might have been seen as ‘normal’ in the 50′s can be seen as the doormat of the noughties. Passivity is a behaviour and empathy a feeling, thoughts, feelings and behaviours are linked while empathy is largely about respecting the humanity of others it’s not a realm owned by the passive. Passivity is a behaviour learned through internal forces as discussed or external forces like oppression.
Whatever the cause, if you come to recognise problems with your behavior even if the cause is outside of yourself, you still have the same value as the lives of others, to change it you need to be shown that same value by others, to give it to yourself and to others and to reject those who don’t or won’t give it to you. It applies to everyone - including those falling into personality disorder descriptions. It takes a concerted effort, motivation and support to change, that is why we all have responsibility not to victimise a victim and to be constructive.
The reason we often do not give the same value to a victim is built on assumptions about that person, they deserved it based on value judgements governed by social norms and mores, stereotyping, labelling, more ’isms, and a lack of knowledge about victimisation, scapegoating and attention seeking behaviours.
Why should a victim change if someone or something else is to blame for their passivity? If you are an empathetic person who has been victimised by a controller, passivity or empathy will not save you. It is a response that needs to be unlearned in this case, showing empathy is giving respect which is not deserved. After all you don’t understand them or approve of their behaviour, it causes you pain, your empathy serves only to feed their belief in superiority and your passivity confirms their own entitlement to them. You can have understanding about what may have caused them to be like this or led them to this distorted reality, but you cannot join it or give it empathy or respect. You will need outside input to help you to manage your situation safely.
We are all an amalgam of positive and negative personality traits. Passivity can be a useful strategy and a healthy coping mechanism in some situations but like all traits it should be one response among others or it can be dysfunctional. An autonomous person has healthy self-esteem, is assertive without upsetting others or themselves, keeps commitments, makes decisions and set boundaries. Some people are quieter and there is nothing wrong in that, or in being shy or easy going. Quietness can be part of a self assured persons calmness, they are centred, they distance themselves from the trivia and contribute when they have a relevant perspective, interest in or feeling on the matter. They do not waste their time or others, they are thinkers who like positive input and will select their best contributions. Being passive doesn’t mean allowing others to walk all over you, that is gullibility. Passiveness and gullibility do not necessarily live alongside one another. I mention this because I have pointed out passivity as a trait that is targeted and that is a negative, but as there are positives, social and biological imperatives for each personality type this needs to be balanced. Passivity can be learned as a coping strategy by a child raised in a harsh environment, emotional numbing protects the self and withdrawal sets the mute button, passivity can be about survival, helping around the home or with care, kindness and protection for siblings, lowering their profile to please and to not displease.
It becomes a problem when the adult continues to use it in situations where it is not safe to prioritise others over themselves, where it is damaging or is not self loving.
There are selfless people who will always give others equal value, whose compass is set by fairness and moral values, the difference is that they are self loving. It seems that raising a child in a harsh environment is more likely to emerge these two types of personality.
There are many circumstance that develop the passive personality, though I’ve only given one example, many more people are familiar with this personality as they make up a larger percentage of society than controllers or sociopaths. In the circumstances of our child in the harsh environment the environment and parenting creates the situation and reinforce the behaviours that mold the individuals. As it also had the capacity to make them cruel, uncaring, destructive or indifferent and assertive autonomy had not been an option, passivity would appear to be a healthy response to an unhealthy environment. They act this way because it is their best protection however it becomes destructive as a long term strategy - they need to undo mute and to switch channel.
It would be hypocritical to criticise introversion as a matter of course as there are many positives to the type. I’ve given equal importance to understanding them because it reveals more biological and psychosocial insights. So while they do tend to be easy going and kind people who build long lasting friendships and bonds and while they are usually unselfish and sensitive, sensitivity is the quality most often criticised or used against them. Sensitivity helps them to avoid conflict and can make them quite diplomatic peace makers that help teams to function, in it’s best form it is corroborative. An unhealthy response is accepting things rather than upsetting others and a personal tolerance that is set too high. Introverted people tend to seek the approval of others and place a higher value on others. They make few demands on them but another unhealthy response is when they make too high demands of themselves which leads them to perfectionism and self criticism.
It is possible to be introverted and self aware, introversion is a tendency, people who fall into this category often develop attractive qualities through educational and life experience that make them socially intelligent and popular. It seems that we are giving introversion and placidity bad press, when what we are really talking about is people who demonstrate more selfless characteristics, empathy and understanding, people who are sensitive to themselves and others. Being placid doesn’t equate with being just a receiver, or a taker, placid types oftentimes are extremely thoughtful and giving, it does however run the risk in the right circumstances of becoming passivity.
As in all polarities the extremes bring negatives, at the extremes you find introverts with passive personality disorders and passive aggressive conditions. These are often termed cluster c type personalities. Where our controller has a problem with expecting entitlement our polar opposite, a complete submissive has a problem with deservedness. They are self depreciating and have problems with deep seated insignificance. They do not articulate their own needs or opinions, are insecure, have confidence and withdrawal issues, emotional detachment, disengaged from communication and intimacy, it becomes a habitual behavioural problem marked by suppressed emotions and sudden flare ups. Poor me syndrome is where the victim both enjoys and engineers the situation, and then uses crying for attention - the attention seeker. The passive aggressive manipulates others with shame and guilt, holds resentment and frustration for those they are selfless toward. Passiveness can have many destructive outcomes.
The danger in polarising personalities and their unhealthy extremes is over simplification. Does it mean that autonomous people don’t have some of the exact same needs, yes they do, but they know how to fulfill these more effectively, without the negative emotional strategies used by controllers or passives when they are exercising power in a healthy way. That doesn’t mean they don’t use manipulation, this is a human skill as much as anything, to get anything through self will is to manipulate, it’s just to be aware of its positive and negative uses. The smiling face can hide a tyrant, a dour grimace conceal a heart of gold, crocodile tears dry the fastest, but the face of conceit, deceit and negative manipulation isn’t a part of healthy autonomy. They still have to negotiate within the same society and face the same problems, but solve them differently. They don’t fall into the parameters of the target group. Other people who might fit into this group are those with low self esteem, maybe knocked down by a life event, a death, a loss, an acrimonious divorce, depression, illness, someone with low affect, or who may have been previously victimised in the same or some other ways. It has been said that any of those personality traits or circumstances leave someone more vulnerable. There are other factors, professions where an important quality is to be able to follow orders and instruction, it’s said these may be more vulnerable.
The autonomous person is assertive not aggressive, they do not need to get their way on every occasion, so their position can also be passive sometimes. If personal space is trampled on, they act, their boundaries are clear and they will regain their space. While passive individuals do not ask, their counterpart knows how to get what they want while giving others what they want –this is attractive and will attract others to them. Compromising with another person is one thing but compromising ourselves is quite another. It’s impossible to maintain a healthy sense of self when playing the victim role, blaming others as unreasonable is a way of avoiding any real responsibility. Anger is socially unacceptable, passives have learnt to squash honest self-expression and hide angry feelings where the assertive expresses anger honestly and directly within relationships without aggression or manipulation.
The problem is this, the message society focuses on is the myth authored by the abuser. This is firmly cemented into the social picture by the abusers labelling them ‘mental’ ill, unstable or unfit. It confirms a number of preconceived ideas - it is the victim’s gullibility and vulnerability that brought it upon themselves, in the same way that women attract rapists by being women or children attract pedophiles for being children. Abusers try to mitigate guilt by blaming the victim a view carried forward by society in an ironic twist. Abuse happens without consent, suggesting that the target is a willing participant is another way of laying blame on them. There are many deniers, people who would distance themselves, see victims as trouble or even bully them further for being inadequate. Their abuser, their opponents aim has been to erode their sense of reality, to leave them helpless, our aim should be to help them feel safe so they can find it.
A childlike gullibility is more often a feature of learning disabilities there are conditions or situations that leave people open to abuse, an inability to learn social intelligence is one. People who fall within the extremes of passive personality type may have a disorder which deserves understanding, it does not deserve abuse, and their behaviour needs to be understood within the context of that.
The question isn’t are they responsible the question is how to safeguard them or equip them to deal with a predatory society, how to improve their situation and their lives.
For the remainder, they are your co-workers, family, friends etc. competent, understanding, reasonable people from all walks of life. They are the specific target, they can and will be duped, just as you could yourself, our controller or sociopath is compelling to the extent that no one would believe otherwise.
It will take an attitude shift, but once people understand the problem, they can stop being a part of it. Being passive is not a crime, being an abuser is, misconceptions deny victims of the love and support they need.
There are perfectly loving people out there who either do not know or understand why they are so unsuccessful in relationships, who can and do get targeted repeatedly. Trapped in cycles of violence and abuse that is not deserved. People can end up choosing loneliness because they are disillusioned and no longer know who can be trusted. Who should we blame?
It’s much easier to deceive someone when you don’t think of your behaviour as deceptive and as this is the mindset of our controller the clues they give out can be very subtle. Some people are natural risk avoiders they are of the mindset that trust has to be earned, are more cautious than others, some are better at spotting lies, body language or verbal cues, and the facial expressions of concealment. These are skills that can be honed but alone they will not make us infallible. Trust and intuition both involve feelings and emotions, listen to yours, initial gut feelings are often ignored. Further to this if you have met a master there are other strategies that can help you avoid, sidestep or discontinue their attempt from the start. Even in the absence of obvious problems it’s not wise to throw caution aside.
Contract is a part of all relationship and ultimately trust is an investment. For instance a trusting friend or neighbour investing money in a friends business venture can end up exploited - without written contract their goodwill can be abused. More widely goodwill is what you bring to social encounters but as not everyone will bring it to the table you cannot invest your trust in them until time and experience shows otherwise. We can all hit it off with others from a first encounter but the contract itself is time related, there is a proving time in which they should demonstrate or you should observe the values and integrity you are looking for. Knowing yourself and your own self worth is the one largest component, knowing them it follows if they respect your self worth, your boundaries, your values and moral compass in effect, if they support your self loving then you might decide to invest. Self loving is not selfishness.
At first point if your instincts tell you something is wrong - listen to them.
Know your strengths, limitations and weaknesses as they will use all of them. There is nothing wrong with being guarded, if you think about it, we are programmed to be pleasant and accepting. When you are approached you don’t need to project the need to be liked. Be self assured and be careful about what you disclose, if you don’t know this person make it clear how long you will stay to talk. Set a boundary on time “I’ve got 10 minutes” and leave when you have said. Never accept a lift or give them a lift or your personal information. A reasonable person will respect your boundaries.
In conversation if you disclose you like helping, which applies to most people in general, they may make a pity play. This is a concern.
If they try to negotiate or override your boundary - This is a big concern.
Ask questions that are emotion based - oh how did you feel about that - sociopaths are coldly rational, although they can emulate but it may feel ‘off’ to you.
Keep personal information about yourself narrow. It does not matter if your conversation is generalised. Weather, tv, deflect questions back and listen.
Don’t talk about your emotions - loneliness, self esteem, finances all provide a vector.
You are listening for gaps in their story, for vague answers, you are listening for a sad childhood or sob story or help they need, you are listening for blaming.
You are listening for pressure of speech and pace are they trying to rush or pressure you. You are looking for a charm offensive. You are listening for any terms of responsibility, lack of it, long term commitments in relationships or jobs - if there are none be concerned.
You are listening for questions about your finances, your status, what resources you have to offer them - set a boundary - don’t discuss things like that. Off limits is a reasonable answer, my rules apply. A reasonable person will accept your boundary a controller wants a means to an end. A controller does not like no.
Never infer you find relationships difficult or are cautious because you have been hurt before, you are exercising your right assertively to healthy relationships, it shows self respect.
Ask questions about reliability - sociopaths are unreliable and often have chaotic lifestyles, controllers may share those traits. If they can’t take responsibility in the little things then they won’t take it in the big things. Point out any inconsistencies to them to see their reactions.
Boundaries - make it clear that you take relationships very slowly, make this your behaviour, believe in time and patience in all things. Time is your evidence whether a person is worthy of your trust.
Make your personal space your personal space without compromise.
Body language - deceptive behaviour is driven by fear - learn to read the signs of deception but be aware that sociopaths are rarely nervous or anxious. Research shows that lies contain fewer words and more omissions of information - look for gaps. Body language takes time to learn and it’s difficult to interpret in the context of a first meeting without a baseline.
If you feel you can’t trust this person enough - don’t.
Cutting the risks
Self preservation is always of the highest agenda - Psychologists suggest we set boundaries and distances, seek professional help, advice and support.
Dr. Martha Stout in her book The Sociopath Next Door has 13 suggestions on how to do this.
www.lwa.org.uk - Living without abuse contact for all support services 0300 365 0112
www.ncdv.org.uk/The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) provides a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence.
0808 2000 247 Freephone 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline - Women’s Aid & Refuge.
www.mind.org.uk MIND - mental health charity phone: 0300 123 3393 for helpline or text 86463
Be selective, choose national organisations, read their help information, find credible sources of good information.
If you are hurting someone with abuse
www.respectphoneline.org.uk or phone 0808 802 4040 for male perpatrators. Respect is the national association for domestic violence, it has perpetrator programmes and associated support services and can help you find a programme.
Assessment tools for professionals -Monckton-Smith -Dart (domestic abuse reference tool) a diagnostic tool for frontline workers.
Victim-DASH (V-DASH 2010) domestic abuse, stalking and harassment. http://www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk/
More On Trust
There are relationships that some give automatic trust to, as in your GP, Dentist, healthcare providers. It is good practice to work with an assistant or observer in any case where intimate examination or intervention is needed. If you feel uncomfortable you do have options, asking for the presence of a practice nurse, requesting a worker by preferred gender, taking along a spouse, family member or trusted friend/chaperone. Lone workers in the community are at more exposed risk in all directions. To understand more read
GMC | Intimate examinations and chaperones (2013)
www.gmc-uk.org › Good medical practice › Read the explanatory guidance.
Be aware that our sociopath or controller can be any gender, is not set in a straight hetrosexual world, and profession is no bar. There is financial abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse, all kinds of abuse across every section of society. Those in certain positions have the most access whether they are celebrities, bankers, doctors, solicitors, religious leaders, carers or family members, anywhere there is opportunity there is risk which is what makes it difficult to combat.
Will They Ever Change?
The effectiveness of relationship counselling depends on if they are willing. Not all counselors are trained to work with this population or type of intervention. Refer your question back to the national organisations and seek advice, it may be that you would benefit more yourself or that a perpetrator could join a Respect programme.
Providing services and interventions is one way of ensuring that victims and perpetrators can access help. Services are reactive, they exist as a result of need, and while most helping agencies do much to challenge social attribution and attitudes they are unable to solve specific social problems. A more proactive approach requires both political will and social will if it is to increase understanding, strengthen communities and to reshape attitudes. On risk identification and assessment there are various professional models in law enforcement that have changed approach from ‘it’s just a domestic’ to one of having to ask questions and to assess the risks involved. These take specialist training which all professionals working in the field of public protection and child protection should undertake.
The United Nations recognises that primary prevention involves tackling the root causes of domestic abuse and that it will involve the commitment and engagement of whole communities. Communities need resources to mobilise if they are to affect those changes. Attitudes take time to change, however they are also influenced by redressing power imbalances through other factors such as gender based, age related, cultural, economic, educational or other inequalities, other factors that impact on personal power. Change then is only effective if driven from every level of society.
Changing the Status Quo
For our domestic victim a clear cut answer remains frustratingly elusive to where the boundaries lay, the power is in the hands of helping agencies to assess again as a reaction to the crime. These will lay in the hands of various community agencies at the interface, Police, Social Work Departments, Refuge and Refugee workers, Child Protection, MAPA, Probation, homeless hostels etc. training is intensive therefore expensive and while there may be some trickle down effect the results are mostly linear. Marry this along with little joined up thinking between agencies in poorly resourced services already dealing with an accumulation of guidelines, documents and legislation they are struggling to implement we can see the scope of the problem. Strengthening communities is a proactive approach that the UN gives guidance on that could act as a starting point for developing many ways of tackling predatory, controlling, coercive and all kinds of criminal and antisocial behaviour.
Why doesn’t she leave - I hope that in the broad context of information I have answered at least some of this, i.e. there are wider social factors that impact on a person’s ability, as well as conditions the controller has imposed, resources the controller limits and collateral damage they use such as children, property, finances which can literally hold a victim prisoner. A complex combination of factors used against victims meet with a mixed social response. For instance a person who has had their financial control taken away is unlikely to cower but is being abused. A person in a relationship or marriage coerced into unwanted intimate sex, sexual acts, or FGM may not know that their rights to choice are supported in law, others may be concerned about disclosure of their private intimate past, (which is no longer the case), cultural, religious and family pressures come to bear. The domestic sphere is just that, private domiciliary, which is why help has developed reactively. Opportunistic abuse takes place in many environments sometimes unwittingly assisted by data protection, outdated IT systems that don’t ‘handshake’ across national data bases, and confidentiality, all of which have to be reassessed at an inter and intra agency level in view of the greater public good.
The UN suggests ‘community leaders’ be identified to take a lead role in bringing about social change. There is no platform, a forum is lacking, but as the quote goes “build a field and they will come”.
It’s important to know when something is over, has reached its end, that way we can know when we are free. The past is gone but moments have memories, some that are unwelcome while others we cherish. Memories shape our lives, we can use them to learn, to become stronger, more resourceful and confident. Memories should serve you - be compassionate never punish yourself with them or they serve no one. Learn the language of resilience and leave sorrow behind, you are a survivor, you are wiser, better prepared, more able to help others and you have grown. You have the capacity to increase your self and others awareness with new insights, sensitivity and increasingly sound judgement in where your emotional investments are best placed. This is your freedom.
How we view all of this depends on where we are looking from. A standout point is that all of the negative features we ascribe to one personality can equally be ascribed to another - with the exception of the healthy autonomous. Healthy autonomous is another way of describing emotional literacy, a lack of which seems to manifest in abuse, child abuse, divorce, conflict and all sorts of isolation and disenfranchisement. It’s easy to cast controlling features as evil, or passive features as lazy at the offense of the majority who don’t use them in an unacceptable way. If there is an increasing incidence of extremes though, then why is that so, and what are the forces behind it? Leaving aside genetics, there’s more passivity in poverty than there is autonomy, there’s less knowledge in a society that closes its facilities and libraries, more injustice in a society that has no legal aid or accessible health care for its poor, passivity can be the end result of something larger and more sinister as much as can evil.
Poverty is not merely an economic factor, it’s a social factor and social poverty is the end result. Strip society of the arts, expression, education, care, then society simply becomes unable to pass on a healthy culture as learning and interpersonal skills are the necessary tools by which individuals grow and meaningfully contribute. Whatever our inherent nature, personality or identity, deprived of those passivity and evil are the unstable equilibrium, the axis, on which society hinges or unhinges.
Empathy is a quality that helps us to validate and value ourselves and others, but it’s poorly translated through politics and policy where reason and rationality implode into an unequal view of the value of different groups and cultures. The question individuals and society as a whole face is the same one, how do we increase healthy autonomy, how do we increase emotional literacy. Energy, skills and resources are poured elsewhere, making us literate in other areas, IT, technology, science etc. everything but.
As part of our most basic recruitment processes it’s common to assess personality to match suitability to the task and yet we place leaders with blind faith often reaping the rewards of Political terror. Power, money, publicity and self interest, if that is what they love then there can only be unjust outcomes. We hear how a party will improve the world - the hyperbole from ban them and bomb them authoritarians. In real terms in the real world healthy autonomy does not need to kill its neighbour, it wouldn’t watch them starve or deny them refuge. The will of communities, institutions, agencies, services, states and governments needs to be harnessed to fund it, to translate it through welfare policy and education, to achieve it as far as possible you have to invest in its people. If we want more prisoners, drug addicts, mental ill health, correctional work and a more socially irresponsible people simply allow inequality to widen.
Communities need investment otherwise they become the physically and spiritually impoverished hunting grounds of predators and incubators for radicalisation and extremism. The challenge of non-affluence and social poverty is the underbelly of the matter. Historically the poor are recorded as idle, undeserving, brutal, corrupt, riddled with criminality, poverty, prostitution, gambling, alcohol, drugs and disease. Then aristocracy or middle class values are deemed to be a dirty word, the have's being charged as part of the cause of the have nots leading to class bigotry, and more 'isms, fanaticism and sectarianism from perceived injustices. I'm not here to speculate on rights, wrongs or injustices, the observations serve nothing but to show welfare rights are politically loaded. Investment should be thought of in wider terms as pointed out previously throughout, and it should be aimed through social policy, with intent to shift the axis.
The framework to expand social educational and personal development already exists within Community Health Councils, Family Services, LEA’s, the voluntary and private sectors.
On a personal level, learned behaviour and dysfunctional behaviour can be unlearned. Neuroscience confirms we have something called brain plasticity, it means that we can take on board new learning, new meaning, make new connections, we are actually amazing in our adaptability and ability to reshape and grow. If the test of trustworthiness you develop is so stringent that most people fail it, loneliness and disappointment will follow. The cornerstones of emotional literacy, a sense of identity and assertiveness, confidence, personal boundaries, and ultimately autonomy are realistically achievable in individuals and a society that makes them a priority. Nothing sums up more succinctly than this quote. “Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated. Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.” ― Ziad K. Abdelnour, Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics.
Coercive control isn’t just one element of domestic abuse, it’s at the centre of how abuse works, its overtones impact on the individual and reverberates throughout every level of society. It's time to change.