by Kelly Harrigan
During a once-in-a-century pandemic, we are told we are safer at home. Yet “home” is all too often the place where abuse occurs, be it physical, emotional, psychological, or an ugly combination of all forms of abuse.
“Every time we impose our will on another, it is an act of violence.”
Don’t you think Gandhi said it best? Emotional and psychological abuse is as real as physical violence. Generally, abuse stems from a rejected partner. Once rejected, whether it’s a perceived rejection or The War of the Roses, a person may become obsessed and allow their obsession to morph into abusive behavior, which is often so insidious to the victim that they aren’t aware of what’s happening to them.
Grab some comfort snacks, the same leggings you’ve worn since the pandemic started, and a comfy chair, while you read a list of some of the ways these creeps can peep.
Jeepers, Creepers, what’s behind those peepers?
The violator can be a gregarious and charming individual, oozing charm, competency, intellect, and kindness. The reality is the face they present in public is a façade, a mask to hide low self-esteem and a narcissistic personality disorder—in other words, they feel like they are the most important person in the universe. These emotional vampires will extol their virtues, their services, and how they are the best at everything. Just ask them.
Subtle, manipulative devices . . .
The classic victimizer has their vices, like manipulation. Wearing the victim down or “stonewalling” them is a prime technique. The manipulator gets their target to agree to something, but once there is an agreement, yet another condition or issue arises that needs resolution. Stonewalling is a startlingly effective tactic. If victims defend themselves, they may hear such adjectives as “selfish,” “dramatic,” and “chaotic” hurled at them.
A manipulator is a big believer in the carrot-and-stick technique or emotional blackmail. They ask for something they want in the now and make vague promises of future benefits to the victim. A manipulator will not hesitate to use their kids as a carrot, which is particularly destructive to the victim. Perhaps they offer the victim more time with the kids. Then they later tell the victim the offer is rescinded because the victim did not respond fast enough, or plans have changed again. Naturally, this would happen after the victim, has already rearranged all their plans to accommodate this request. Maybe the carrot the abuser offers is not to harm the children if the victim agrees to their demands. A perpetrator will also use the carrot-and-stick technique on third parties to alienate and isolate the victim, including promising gifts, money, or trips to a victim’s children, family members, or friends.
Respect my authority!
Perpetrators are often keen to be the figure of authority, aka “a drill sergeant” (which disparages the drill sergeants I knew . . . ). Abusers enjoy power and control and feel they are entitled to it. They do not admit to failure and use spectacles, or theatrical displays, to detract from, and overshadow, their mistakes.
Offenders frame their personal wishes as right or wrong and, naturally, their preferences, opinions, and viewpoints, are—quelle surprise—the “right” ones, which changes with their current viewpoints and moods. They perceive themselves as being in the right, stalwart in their stances, and confident others believe the same. They always have plausible deniability and choose their words carefully.
Violators also tend to believe they are qualified lawyers and replacement cops. This is particularly difficult in a separation/divorce case where the violator makes vague threats to the victim about what a court would make them pay or do, or where the cops are consistently called or threatened to be called. This authoritarian manipulation is particularly devastating against victims who have a strong sense of duty and doing what it is right.
Show me the money!
Only not nearly as cool as Jerry Maguire. Financial abuse happens frequently. Maybe the perpetrator is a “player,” where they sponge off the victim to accommodate their lifestyle, refusing to deal with expenses honestly. Perhaps the abuser complains of poverty but has a stash of cash in offshore accounts. Or, perhaps, they cut off access to the victim’s bank and credit card accounts. However the money tree is shaken, the fallout is the idea that the victim needs to contribute and pay for more. Abusers do everything they can to ensure that money ebbs away from the victim: the control, flow, and access to money should only go to the abuser and ensures compliance from the victim. Money makes people crazy.
What’s your password?
Big brother is watching you. Some research shows that people higher in narcissistic traits are likely to engage in cyberstalking. If an abuser and a victim are or were married, or lived together, and the abuser knows the victim’s personal details (think past taxes and marriage or birth certificates), they may try to gain access to the victim’s accounts, whether it’s emails, banks, or cell phone plans. They may call a government agency like the Social Security Administration or the victim’s workplace to gain information. They will be at their utmost sweet and charming selves and always have a “valid” reason for why they do it. What if, one bright and sunny day, the violator’s email and phone number is in the victim’s bank profile? What if the abuser calls the cell phone company, pretends to be the victim, and gains access to the victim’s account? Perhaps the offender is obsessively checking the victim’s social media? Suddenly, photos are missing from the victim’s iCloud. Lest you think otherwise, the perpetrator may insist on knowing the minor children’s IDs and passwords for Apple, phones, or email, and may try to access a victim’s cell phone, email, or cloud storage.
Double down on your passwords and security. Don’t share your Apple ID with anyone, including your kids. (Think of it as the “Golden Apple” of mythology. When it gets into the wrong hands, it tends to wreak havoc and discord.) Do not link your credit card to other people’s Apple ID, Amazon, eBay, or PayPal accounts if you think your abuser is accessing your accounts. And remember, social media (side eye at Facebook) is a wealth of information for your stalker, so you might consider taking a vacation from the social spotlight.
You Think I am Crazy.
Watch the movie “Gaslight”—Ingrid Bergman is always a treat and you learn something. Bonus. Gaslighting is generally employed by sophisticated abusers like narcissists, cult leaders, and dictators. And it is not just done in tweets and “fake news.” An abuser wants to gain power and control by making their victim question reality. They will tell blatant lies, confuse the victim, get the victim to believe something else, all of which allows the culprit to feel superior and powerful. Predators will project to deflect from their own behavior and put a victim in a constant state of self-defense.
They will deny, deny, deny, and tell lies.
Gaslight evildoers will align with people the victim knows to isolate the victim from support. This tactic is third-party-proxy stalking. This is seen when the stalker becomes friendly with the victim’s friends, family, co-workers, ex-spouse, or even the victim’s children. Who knows? Maybe your ex becomes friends with your new lover’s ex? Or was that an episode on “The Real Housewives” . . . This form of psychological abuse can lead to a victim’s feeling a loss of self as their self-confidence is destroyed little by little, until they are beaten down into accepting the abuser’s version of reality.
TBI inherently makes victims more vulnerable.
Cognitive, behavioral, communication, and on-going physical issues allow people with TBIs to be susceptible to victimization.
Unfortunately, cognitive deficits or behavioral changes caused by a TBI make it hard for individuals to perceive and avoid risky situations involving abuse, while also causing the victim to think that no one will believe their account(s) of abuse. Communication issues associated with TBI may make it difficult for victims to report abuse.
These same deficits related to TBI often cloud caregivers’ and providers’ belief in a person’s ability to accurately report physical abuse, let alone identify the symptoms of emotional and psychological abuse, which are invisible to the naked eye. Further, the perpetrator may tell medical professionals or law enforcement that a victim should not be taken seriously due to their TBI-related issues. Treatments and therapies prescribed by medical professionals that are demeaning or abusive due to misperceptions about TBI, or treatments that involve improperly monitored or inappropriate medications, can create behavioral or cognitive deficits in the victim, and further complicate the situation and endanger a person with TBI.
A person is also at risk of abuse due to financial stress resulting from their TBI. Medical bills? Job loss? Savings gone? Check, check, and check. As a result, victims may choose to remain silent because they have nowhere else to go, particularly if custody of children is involved.
All of these factors obfuscate the identification of persons with TBI as victims of abuse. Education, training, and other community resources are not designed to assist people with disabilities, while law enforcement or healthcare professionals are often uninformed about victimization of persons with TBI. It is imperative that our family law, domestic violence, and criminal courts, as well as child protection and other social services have readily accessible information and training on TBI and its subsequent conditions to assist persons with a TBI to navigate these systems. It is important for caregivers and providers to know their patients and treat the whole patient, so they can recognize early symptoms of abuse.
Service providers should help domestic violence victims with TBI to learn how to assess danger, how to prepare and remember safety plans, and assist with instructions on how to access services. If a victim with TBI is entering a shelter for victims of violence, providers need to realize that a domestic violence victim with TBI who experiences this upheaval and stress may become confused and anxious, requiring additional assistance to understand and remember shelter procedures.
Victims of emotional and psychological abuse, or stalking, often fear that it will never stop. They may be stressed, feel on edge, anxious, depressed, fearful, confused, and isolated. Problems with sleeping, eating, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are commonplace. These victims may withdraw from friends, family, or other activities they normally enjoy because the stalker engaged in smear campaigns and proxy stalking. Finances could be impacted due to moves, job changes or job loss, therapeutic and medical treatments, property repair costs, and increased security measures.
There are more challenges and barriers in the era of coronavirus: lack of shelter, food, transportation, childcare, employment, and delays in court proceedings involving financial support, which force the victim to return to the abuser, to live near them, or to become homeless and destitute.
If someone you know is being abused, listen, be compassionate, and don’t blame them. If you are the victim, know you are not alone and take action. If knowledge empowers you, a simple Google search on dealing with narcissists or narcissistic abuse will lead to a wealth of books written on the topic by various authors. Take a self-defense class, add extra cybersecurity on your accounts or place them in “locked” mode where only you have access. Keep a log: Write down when and how incidents occur and take photographs of damage to you or your property. Talk to someone about the situation, whether it is a friend, family member, the police, or a therapist.
Every human being has an inherent right to safety.
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Kelly is a veteran, a writer, a TBI survivor, and a single mum of a girl child and a Frenchie, often found with oolong tea in one hand and humor in the other. She lives near Annapolis, Maryland.