“When a psychologically vulnerable person views the spouse’s desertion as a total, devastating attack, they may develop paranoid ideas of betrayal, exploitation, and conspiracy.” (1)
It’s shattering to realize the partner of your dreams isn’t who you thought he was—or at least not all of the time. When you first met, he was beyond wonderful; he was perfect, at least for you. You shared an immediate bond, and you thought you had everything in common—interests, hobbies, morals and beliefs, even your outlook on life. And, as if that wasn’t enough, he adored you. He appreciated your strengths, supported and helped you with your weaknesses, admired you, and thought you were an angel (or a saint). It felt good to be so adored and admired by such an incredible, loving, trustworthy guy.
So what happened?
In one overwhelming incident, months or even years after a solid bond had been formed between the two of you, your loving Dr. Jekyll turned into a raging Mr. Hyde. He suddenly went on the attack, spewing verbal venom all over your sense of self, making crazy accusations, demonizing you and saying the most horrific things. His rage was frightening, confusing and dehumanizing. Suddenly you felt like Humpty Dumpty.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall …
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall ...
And what a fall it was. Yet you did get back up. Your pieces did fit back together again.
At least in the beginning.
He apologized, or minimized the abuse to such a point that you believed him. Much to your immense relief and gratitude, Dr. Jekyll returned. All was right with the world and your beloved partner was once again caring, appreciative of you, treating you with respect and honor, adoring you … In his mind, you were once more his sainted angel.
That is, until the next build-up of tension. He began picking at little things, making you feel small and childish, diminishing your self-esteem. Then the next outbreak of venomous rage erupted, in whatever form it took—physical abuse (including smashing household objects and punching holes in walls), turning cold and withdrawing, shouting, baiting you, accusing, battering you with verbal violence. “Whore!” “Bitch!” “Cold and manipulative!” “You’re the worst!” And, over and over despite your ongoing love, “You hate me!”
In his mind, you had suddenly changed back into a demon. But then, the next hour or next day or a few days later, he was contrite once more, minimizing and/or apologetic. As he handed you a bouquet of the most luscious red roses, he whispered in your ear, “You’re my precious angel. I truly appreciate how much you love me.”
“You hate me.”
“You love me.”
“You hate me.”
Again and again in a vicious cycle.
Years go by. Your head has been swimming so fast for so long that it’s in a permanent fog. Your self-esteem has melted to nothing. Most days you feel like a smothering blanket is shrouding your entire body. Friends … where did your friends go? Oh, right. It’s easier not to have friends. If you don’t go out, you’ll reduce the incidences of rage-filled accusations of infidelity, the constant barrage of demeaning questions and the destructive blame. Keep quiet. Head down. Eyes closed. Try to disappear. Don’t wake the sleeping monster.
But then you awake. Oh, glorious day! Something or someone has caused you to realize that this is not a normal relationship. Perhaps it was a persistent friend who stood by you despite your self-isolation, a perceptive family member, a book or blog post, or the voice of God within (1 Kings 19:12). But something or someone has caused you to realize that this, my dear friend, is abuse.
You may then try to talk to your partner, reason with him, help him to see what you see so he can change and your happily ever after can finally begin. But it doesn’t work. He won’t change, he refuses to admit he has a problem with control and abuse, he persists in blaming you for all your relationship problems. And so, for the sake of self-love and self-preservation, you leave.
And the smear campaign begins.
The smear campaign, also called the distortion campaign, happens when a person finally comes to terms with the need to end an abusive relationship. The abuser feels abandoned—his most profound terror come true—and he instantly sees himself as a victim.(2) This is because his black-and-white, angel-or-demon perceptions are now stuck in demon-mode. “Splitting may render them unable to remember the good feelings they had for you or to see you as a whole person with both good and bad qualities. As a result, the person with BPD may view you as an evil monster who deserves to be punished.”(3) Donald G. Dutton, clinical researcher and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, describes this broken, dysfunctional mindset in similar terms:
“This split is related to the abuse cycle. Men in the dysphoric phase ruminate on their unacknowledged concept of their wife as a whore: unfaithful, sexually promiscuous, malevolent, and unloving. After the release of tension during an abuse episode, their entire pattern of perceptions regarding their wife and women in general changes. What’s more, it changes literally overnight. They become temporarily docile, almost servile, and the wife is now a Madonna, idealized on a pedestal.”(4)
But, if the tension is never released because of a permanent breakup, the skewed mindset is stuck in the “unfaithful, unloving, malevolent whore” mode.
Richard Moskovitz, M.D., author of Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, has written his book for those suffering from BPD, to help them understand themselves and seek help. However, his words apply to anyone who experiences survival-based thought distortions, which is most common in cyclical (Type III) abusers. Moskovitz states:
“You may experience your life as fragile and flickering, lacking in substance and permanence … This discontinuity of feeling is magnified by an amnesia for emotions. Whatever feeling-state predominates at the moment seems to last forever, and you can scarcely recall ever feeling differently … When applied to relationships, this peculiar disturbance of memory means that our last encounter may be recalled as the whole of our relationship. If we last parted on an angry note, then I may be remembered as a scurrilous villain and you may wish bitterly for revenge.”(5)
This accurately describes not only the reason for the smear/distortion campaign of the Type III (dysphoric/borderline/survival-based) abuser, but the reason why your abuser vehemently clings to his version of the story and truly believes it. To him, as he views the situation through his lens of cognitive distortion, his feelings are truth, therefore his version of history is accurate and undeniable.(6)
When you left, his intense terror of abandonment went into overdrive, halting the abuse cycle mid-churn: no longer is there chance for reconciliation, which would begin the contrition stage of the abuse cycle and, in the abuser’s split mind, cause his bitch of a wife to become a saint once again. Now you’re stuck in bitch mode, because you left. Your ex-partner can no longer remember any good you may have done, your past love and devotion, your acts of kindness, the joyful times the two of you spent together. In his mind, the entire relationship is colored by your supposed abusive behavior, your malevolence, your unfaithfulness, your coldness and cruelty. His brain is stuck, and he’s adamant that he’s the victim. His brain will never get unstuck unless he reaches the point where he can admit that he has an abusive personality, seek emotional and spiritual healing, and find a qualified psychological professional who can help him reformat his thought processes.
This is the sad, strange truth behind the Type III abuser’s smear campaign. I’ll discuss ways to protect yourself against this vehement attack in a future post.
(1) Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger, Stop Walking on Eggshells, 3rd Edition, 216.
(2) Ibid., 215. See also Neil Jacobson, Ph.D. and John Gottman, Ph.D., When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships, 253; Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus, Sometimes I Act Crazy: Living with Personality Disorder, 45-48; Donald G. Dutton, The Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships, 2nd Edition, 105 &123-146, especially “The features that were strongly related to borderline scores were anger, jealousy, and tendencies to blame women for any ‘negative event in a relationship’ which causes them to rewrite history and “to make highly idiosyncratic, illogical and inaccurate attributions of people’s intentions.”
(3) Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger, Stop walking on Eggshells, 217-218.
(4) Donald G. Dutton, The Abusive Personality, 126.
(5) Richard Moskovitz, M.D., Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, 2nd Edition, 5 & 6. See also Donald G. Dutton, The Batterer: A Psychological Profile, 34: "They find ways of misinterpreting and blaming their partners, holding them responsible for their own feelings of despondency, making impossible demands on them, and punishing them for inevitably failing."
(6) Richard Moskovitz, M.D., Lost in the Mirror, 6-8, especially: “If you are borderline, feelings may sometimes become so intense that they distort your perception of reality. At such times you may imagine yourself deliberately persecuted by those who have merely let you down.”
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I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.