I treat many clients who’ve been or who are being emotionally abused. Some have eating problems and some don’t. Most are or were partnered to individuals suffering from Psychopathy and or the less dangerous Narcissistic Personality Disorder. None of them expected to become victims of emotional abuse and many stayed too long in their destructive relationships. Fortunately, the majority are now on their way out—for good.
One type of abuse called “coercive control” is used to dominate partners. It is described in “The domestic abuse that leaves no mark” by Abby Ellin (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 8/2/16, Wellness, p. 6) as “a pattern of behavior that some people—usually but not always men—employ to dominate their partners.” It is “an ongoing and multi-pronged strategy with tactics that include manipulation, humiliation, isolation, financial abuse, stalking, gaslighting and sometimes physical or sexual abuse.”
“Coercive” individuals make a constant effort to control their partners: where they go, how they dress, who they spend time with, what they say, in bed or out of bed. At first this behavior may seem like pleasant attention: He cares that I look good or it matters to him that I don’t overspend my paycheck. But underneath—always—is the desire to control, manipulate and get a partner under their power. As the article says, “To a victim of coercive control, a threat might be misinterpreted as love, especially in the early stages of a relationship, or when one is feeling especially vulnerable.” For example, your partner insisting that you be home at a certain time “or else” may make you think that he or she wants your company, when what’s really at stake is taking away your independence and ability to make decisions for yourself.
If you are with this kind of partner, it may take you many attempts to get away. And they likely will come after you with a vengeance—calling, sending you cards or flowers, stopping by your workplace unexpectedly, contacting your family and friends and asking about you. One client’s ex-spouse moved in next door to her best friend. Another one came around to visit her mother, a recent widow, to ask if she needed help around the house, all the while pumping her for information about his soon-to-be-ex-wife.
Please understand that these kinds of personalities will never change. Don’t go to family and friends asking for ideas on how to stay and improve the relationship. Find a therapist and seek a way to get out of it as quickly as you can. Whether you’ve left before doesn’t matter. It can sometimes take several attempts to leave an abusive partner for good. But, millions of people have done it and you can too.
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