Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stealth Abuse

For many years I didn't realize I was in an abusive relationship. I always thought you could point out abusers easily and my husband was sweet and charming and my friends and family liked him. He had me convinced for years I was the one that was emotionally unstable (yes I was living with his narcissism) and he was doing me a favor by staying with me. I can't tell you how many people thought we were the ultimate couple and how I was so lucky to have such a great husband and father to my kids. I used to walk around bragging about how good he was to me and even believed it but I had a secret I didn't want people to know about. The same man people saw at church and social functions was not the same man I lived with. Even though I have a higher than average IQ I still didn't realize that what was happening in our home was called STEALTH ABUSE.

Again I will quote Dr Sam Vaknin - http://samvak.tripod.com/abuse.html

Most abusers abuse surreptitiously. They are "stealth abusers". You have to actually live with one in order to witness the abuse.

Sam classifies abuse into four categories

I. Overt Abuse

The open and explicit abuse of another person. Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring ("silent treatment"), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of overt abuse.

The silent treatment is my husband's favorite tactic. When we have a disagreement he will spends days even weeks ignoring me. Of course he uses the other tactics listed here but the silent treatment is the most damaging of them all in my opinion.

II. Covert or Controlling Abuse

Abuse is almost entirely about control. It is often a primitive and immature reaction to life circumstances in which the abuser (usually in his childhood) was rendered helpless. It is about re-exerting one's identity, re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment human and physical.

a) Unpredictability and Uncertainty

The abuser acts unpredictably, capriciously, inconsistently and irrationally. This serves to render others dependent upon the next twist and turn of the abuser, his next inexplicable whim, upon his next outburst, denial, or smile.

The abuser makes sure that HE is the only reliable element in the lives of his nearest and dearest by shattering the rest of their world through his seemingly insane behaviour. He perpetuates his stable presence in their lives by destabilizing their own.

I can't tell you what it is like living in a household where you cannot depend on your spouse. I live waiting for the next outburst or threat. It is better to be prepared for it then to take on an attack in surprise. We would get into a disagreement and the next day a Realtor would show up to put the house on the market. We would argue and the next day my bank account would be closed. We would have a fight and the bills that are in my name don't get paid. (Don't even ask me what this has done to my credit) Never challenge him or else sit and wait for the bomb to drop.

Disproportional Reactions

One of the favourite tools of manipulation in the abuser's arsenal is the disproportionality of his reactions. He reacts with supreme rage to the slightest slight. Or, he would punish severely for what he perceives to be an offence against him, no matter how minor. Or, he would throw a temper tantrum over any discord or disagreement, however gently and considerately expressed. Or, he would act inordinately attentive, charming and tempting (even over-sexed, if need be).

This ever-shifting code of conduct and the unusually harsh and arbitrarily applied penalties are premeditated. The victims are kept in the dark. Neediness and dependence on the source of "justice" meted and judgment passed on the abuser are thus guaranteed.

I never understood how he would go to the extremes he did over the smallest infraction while ignoring ones I would consider major. Sam explains this well

Dehumanization and Objectification (Abuse)

People have a need to believe in the empathic skills and basic good-heartedness of others. By dehumanizing and objectifying people the abuser attacks the very foundations of human interaction. This is the "alien" aspect of abusers they may be excellent imitations of fully formed adults but they are emotionally absent and immature.

Abuse is so horrid, so repulsive, so phantasmagoric that people recoil in terror. It is then, with their defences absolutely down, that they are the most susceptible and vulnerable to the abuser's control. Physical, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of dehumanization and objectification.

I was once considered a smart strong woman with ambition. I know first hand how abuse can tear you down into a shell of a person.

Abuse of Information

From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows about his potential victim the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it "to the cause". The abuser does not hesitate to misuse the information he gleaned, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armory.

This is another of his favorite tactics. Before I understood Narcissism I used to accuse my husband of 'finding ammunition to use against me'. There is no stone unturned. All the secrets I shared with him have been used against me to win battles. I made the mistake of sharing with him about a friend's extra marital affair - big mistake because he uses it as a weapon even threatening to tell her he knows. I confided to him about the situation of my daughter that I gave up for adoption. I was the victim of a date rape something I had not shared with ANYONE before. Even that information has been thrown in my face with new evil twists such as I asked for it because I was too drunk. I learned the hard way never give him any information that will be used against me down the road.

Impossible Situations

The abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely needed. The abuser makes sure that his knowledge, his skills, his connections, or his traits are the only ones applicable and the most useful in the situations that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his own indispensability.

I could go into this subject all day long. I have put myself into a situation where I am 100% dependent on him. When the house or kids needs something we are at his mercy to follow through. Even then I can't count on him because he will decide at the last minute to not follow through causing me to make alternate plans. If it wasn't for my friends and family I would have died along time ago.

III. Control and Abuse by Proxy

If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers in short, third parties to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.

Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment and humiliation provoke social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment) against the victim. Society, or a social group become the instruments of the abuser.

I have been the victim of this tool one too many times. I can't tell you how my husband has used the police or friends and family to assist him in his rage against me. Because he was arrested for physical abuse in the past (and he still claims his innocence as it was all my fault) his lawyer directed him to call the police first. When we would be arguing and I would have the nerve to stand up to him he would call the police to say he was scared I would attack him. Doing their job they would show up but not press charges on me as there was never a physical attack. They would lecture me about how they would arrest me if I attacked him. This happened more often when the kids were younger. As they got older they would totally fall apart so the episodes are not as regular. He has used the police at least 10 times to target me. My counselor explained to me that when he feels a loss of control its a tactic to gain it back. I don't know if it was supposed to make me feel better because on paper I look like a homicidal maniac.

Another thing he does is bring in my family and friends into our fights. One day we were fighting and he physically prevented me from leaving the room by grabbing my arms. I begged him to let me go over and over again but he said he had to 'restrain' me from doing something stupid. All I wanted to do was get away from him but he was going to force me to listen to him no matter what. I took pictures of the bruises because he has a way of distorting the truth and denying things down the road. The next day he threatened to have me ordered out of the house so I sent him the photos to challenge him. In turn he emailed my father who was coming up to visit us that week telling him I was on drugs and in need of an intervention. My dad doesn't know what is going on in the house and believed him(why would he doubt his good christian son in law). He was coming up with his family and so was my daughter that I had given up for adoption. My dad didn't want to confront me but instead was telling me that my daughter wasn't going to stay at my house (he was concerned) and she would stay with my aunt. Because I didn't know what was going on I was angry and hurt that my father would control where the daughter, I gave up for adoption, would stay. My husband had decided to be on his best behavior since my family was coming and accepted my 'truce' while my family was here. I was still upset about my dad's actions and even shared my pain with him. He still didn't tell me what had happened between him and my father. The closer it came to seeing my daughter the more anxious and upset I was getting about the family visit. This was supposed to be a time of happiness yet I was feeling so much pain. It was hours before we were all to meet at the airport for lunch and I was texting my aunt (father's sister) about what a control freak my dad was being and making decisions for the daughter I had given up for adoption. She knew I was in pain and told me what my husband had told my dad and he was only trying to protect her from it all. I was in McDonalds with all my kids and my husband at this time waiting to go to the airport. My heart dropped out and I asked him if it was true. He was trying to be supportive to me all morning telling me to talk to my dad about my feelings etc (fake empathy) all the while knowing what was going on. By not telling me he was able to drop another bomb on my lap. He admitted what he did but of course it was all my fault because I had sent him the photo of the bruises. I was in tears so I knew I couldn't stay in a public place and thank goodness we had taken both our vehicles so I could escape. I drove home and waited outside for them to return as he knew I didn't have gas money and the original plan was that he would gas me up on the way to the airport. My middle son texted me to ask if I was OK and to tell me he loved me (he didn't know what was going on he only saw me tear up and ask my husband WHY!?!?!). When they came back home I asked my husband for the bank card so I could still get to the airport. He refused now and didn't care that I was unable to get there. I texted my dad and told him I was not going to be able to make it and I would see them later. I then called my girlfriend to beg her for some help (something I LOATHE doing but under the circumstances I was willing to beg). My dad had called my brother and asked him to go to my house to see what was going on without me knowing. I was in the house fighting with my husband about it when my brother showed up. My husband doesn't have the decency to NOT fight in front of people and was telling my brother I was out of control. I broke my rules (sadly) and told my brother what was really going on. My brother being the rational one was just telling me that the important thing was my daughter and that I had to go meet her so she wouldn't feel rejected. He was right this was all about her so I cleaned up but NOT before my dad showed up with his family to make sure I was going. I didn't want my dad to come in because my husband was threatening me (even with my brother there) telling me he was going to tell my dad everything and get me some help. I had to ask my brother to go out and tell him not to come in and just meet me at the airport. I didn't want my family to witness what was going on. If my husband wanted me to feel shame he sure got what he wanted. I went to the airport to meet her as my brother agreed to drive me. I finally broke down and told him everything that was going on. My brother had an idea from the past as when I was desperate he would come to my aid but I would always lie and tell him the short version. Now I had to let him know what dark secrets that were lurking in my life. I felt so small even feeling like I disappointed my family be becoming a weak dependent woman. I compromised with my dad that I would spend the night with her at my aunts house as I cannot guarantee how my husband would act in front of her. The next day we were supposed to have a family party so when I called the house to find out when he was coming with my kids he said he wasn't I had to beg and plead to have him drop my kids off at the very least. He said he would but only if I promised to have them home to go to church. I gave him my word and reminded him that 1) I was out of gas 2) he promised me earlier to give me money so I could do something special with my daughter. He said he would but knowing him I had to have plan B. I was so upset that he wasn't coming knowing people would ask me where he was. This wasn't something new for me - he has decided at the last minute NOT to come to family gatherings or even funerals as a way to throw me under the bus. I have become a master liar on his behalf always making up excuses why he is not somewhere he promised to be. I was NOT going to let him ruin a great weekend though as I was able to spend time with my daughter and my family. My dad never did talk to me about what my husband has said as I think my aunt (she has seen my husband in action firsthand before) had talked to him about it.

Therapists are not immune to ubiquitous and age-old influences and biases.

They are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser and to his impressive thespian skills. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor. The therapist rarely has a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In contrast, the abused are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown: harassed, unkempt, irritable, impatient, abrasive, and hysterical.

Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally. The prey's acts of self-defense, assertiveness, or insistence on her rights are interpreted as aggression, lability, or a mental health problem.

Another example is where he manipulates counselors to make me look like the bad guy. I have found that unless they are trained in the family dynamics of abuse they can't see the bigger picture. Usually its me that convinces my husband to go into counseling but the few times he has set it up I should have known better. When we enter the session he will tell the counselor that he is looking for a divorce and I am still hanging on. Well of course now I am shocked because I had no clue that is why we were there. He had told me both times it was to work out our issues so to hear this from him is a total shock. He threatens me with divorce almost ever disagreement (this is NOT an exaggeration) he says it to me so often that the shock has worn off. His new tactic was to say it in front of a stranger and of course with their training they want to help me accept it. He sits back and smirks at me while I am dumbfounded and look stupid. I don't even know what to say. I just remind myself that this is just another weapon in his arsenal.

IV. Ambient Abuse

The fostering, propagation and enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There are no acts of traceable explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a premonition, a bad omen. This is sometimes called "gaslighting".

In the long term, such an environment erodes the victim's sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victim adopts a paranoid or schizoid stance and thus renders himself or herself exposed even more to criticism and judgment. The roles are thus reversed: the victim is considered mentally deranged and the abuser the suffering soul.

WOW I want to laugh and cry at the same time! I thank GOD for the one counselor that was trained in family violence. For the longest time the police and other counselors would look at me as the crazy one and him as the victim. She was able to see whe bigger picture and would help me in individual counselling to see what was going on and how far in denial I was. Of course when you live in a household ready for the next bomb to drop you do become deranged. You are just holding on to the last strand of sanity you feel you have left. You never know if your bills are paid or if you are going to be allowed to access money or if he will go through with his threats of taking your kids away from you. He is sweet and charming while I look beat up and hyper all the time. The whole time I thought I was helping myself by giving into his control I was actually setting myself up for more abuse. I didn't see it until this lovely lady worked with me. When the light switch finally turned on I felt a heavy burden lift off of me. I am no longer a victim in his sick game I am a volunteer but it does give me a sense of control because I now know its my choice.

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