What if you found yourself, unfortunately, a prisoner? Would you say it was a good experience?
Lie around in your cell and consider how lucky it was that you were there? If you found your cell open one day and no guard on duty, would you stay inside?
Of course not.
Yet, we often allow ourselves to be imprisoned by an abusive partner. It indeed takes time to figure out that you are in an abusive relationship but after a time your eyes do become open to this horrifying truth. So why do we allow ourselves to be abused?
Emotional abuse in a relationship is a covert form of abuse. It’s sneaky and hard to put your finger on what the problem is. It’s the same psychological warfare that’s used in military prison camps. Guards at POW camps know that physical compliance is difficult. It requires physical exertion and, besides, it’s messy and requires not only energy but strength. So, they often choose the easier path, one in which the prisoner not only accepts but complies with every demand.
How is this done? Through emotional manipulation and abuse, which is used to humiliate, degrade, disrespect, and punish. It’s meant to cause you to question your every behavior and thought. It includes doing negative things, threats of doing negative things, or coercive tactics to cause emotional distress. This is the same method the narcissist uses.
What does this look like to the unsuspecting person? Here are some common tactics used, along with what they look like in real life (this is by no means all the sinister tactics they use).
Isolation from friends and family
This tactic is used to deprive you of social support, cause you to depend on your abuser, and weaken your defenses. At first, this may seem harmless. Some common comments by the narcissist include:
“Do you have to go out? I get lonely when you’re not here.”
“I wish you could spend more time at home.”
“I don’t get a good vibe about your friend, _____.”
“Your friend, ____, seems to dislike men, including me.”
Gradually, these comments turn more nasty and sinister:
“Your friends are bitches and whores.”
“You’re a slut, just like your friend, ____.”
“Everyone knows that you and your friends are losers.”
“You know your friend______, is in love with you right?”
These aggressive statements usually have you think about what they have said and result in your withdrawing from your circle of friends, or worse, you might begin to believe there is some truth to them.
Bread crumbs given out by the narcissist give the false appearance that they are pleased with you and also give the illusion of a normal relationship.
This tactic is used to provide positive motivation for continued compliance. This may come in the form of praise:
“You look lovely today”
“That dinner was nice because I was sitting with you.”
“I want to spend my life with you.”
“I’m sorry, I should not have said that.”
“Let’s go to that new restaurant that you mentioned last week.”
Later this turns into:
“I really can’t take any more of your crap.”
“No one but me would put up with everything you do”
“It’s no wonder none of your relationships never worried out.”
“The only reason anyone would want you is your income”
“I can’t listen to any more of your whining.”
“Things have gone wrong for you as you have deserved.”
Those of us who have been subjected to emotional and narcissistic abuse didn’t realize it, but our abuser throws in small moments of kindness and affection in between the chaos purposely. For us, it creates an unhealthy attachment to the abuser. It’s called trauma-bonding, and narcissists are masters at it.
The silent treatment is used as a form of punishment when you have attempted to establish a boundary. The intended result of the silent treatment is to manage down your expectations so that you expect less and less and the narcissist gets away with more and more.
Its message is, “Compliance, or else”. This can last from a few days to several weeks with the narcissist often leaving the communal home.
During this time, they are typically grooming the new supply.
Humiliation is when a person uses silence, words, or actions to belittle or threaten another person. The purpose is to intimidate or instill fear and the goal is to control. It can happen when you are alone but also when you are with others. Common phrases used by the narcissist early on include:
“I think we both need to go on a diet”
“How come you don’t take care of yourself like you used to?”
“Why don’t you get your hair cut like your friend, ____?”
“Have you ever thought about plastic surgery- to increase your breasts maybe?”
Later, they will use more hurtful comments such as:
“You’re fat and I can’t stand to look at you let alone have sex with you”
“I’m not attracted to you anymore, I don’t know if I ever was”
“You can’t get anything right can you?”
“I knew you weren’t that smart”
“You have a personality disorder”
“Even your mother didn’t want you”
“I should have listened to myself about you right from the start.”
The purpose of these harsh comments is to destroy your self-esteem confidence. It’s a form of conditioning that usually results in you believing you are worthless.
Failing to Meet Emotional or Other Needs (especially if you are in a dependent position)
Are you a stay-at-home mom? Does your partner or spouse try to convince you that you don’t need to work and insist on your staying home? This was not the case with me. My narcissistic partner wanted me to work full time at my job and also work full time at home with the children.
This maneuver is used to make you fully reliant on your abuser and allows them to withhold important resources such as money for your hygiene needs, cell phone, gas money and access to transportation, internet/computer access, and other common conveniences.
When to Consider Leaving
Emotional abuse robs a person of their self-esteem, the ability to think logically, confidence in their identity and themselves. If your partner’s words or actions have caused any of the following feelings it is time to consider leaving:
- Excessive dependence on them.
- You tolerate behaviors that you never imagined you would.
- You are trying to survive day-to-day, unable to plan an escape from the sheer mental exhaustion. Any action you take is criticized unless it is one of compliance with their desires.
- You feel anxious and depressed most of the time.
- Isolation from others, you rarely see friends and family.
- You constantly think about other ways to say or do the right thing so that your partner does not become upset.
- You keep your partner’s abuse a secret from your friends and family.
- Anything you do or say is met with anger or indifference. Your feelings and desires just don’t seem to matter to your partner.
- There are times you are suicidal.
If you’ve tried therapy and setting boundaries and are still being abused, it’s time to leave the relationship. I tried therapy with a few therapists with my narcissistic partner however that never works and it did not work with us either. ( See my post on what happens when you go to therapy with your narcissistic partner)
At this point, the prison you see is based on the delusion that you need your abuser in your life.
Break all ties with the Narcissist, hire a lawyer, contact a Domestic Abuse Shelter, and start making plans for your new life without abuse.
It is harder to do this when you have children with them, however looking back at what happened to me and how I tried to ” co-parent” with my narcissistic partner. I realized just how wrong that was both for me and the children. You can never co-parent with them. If you were to look at this objectively and how you could not live with the narcissist, let alone co-parent with them when you were with them due to their controlling, manipulative, lying ways, you would know this could never work.
I wasted years trying to work with my malignant narcissistic abuser around parenting and after years of this torture, I finally realized it could never work, plus, he took great pleasure in continuing the relationship as I was still his narcissistic supply. Only when I truly understood this and discontinued ALL contact with him, was I able to work on healing myself on much deeper levels.
Have a look at my free resources here on the website. I wrote these myself and they are useful to guide you on how to begin to see that you are in an abusive relationship and what steps to take for yourself and your children from there. There is an ebook available that has a great deal of useful information to begin your life again. This ebook shows you a plan on how to start the process of getting out and healing. If you would like some support or have a question then please send me a comment or DM via Instagram or Facebook here on the site.
I have been through a similar hell and I am free now and healed. You can too.
Love to you