"The contemptuous person intends to shame the person he derides." (St. Thomas Aquinas)
What is contempt, and why is it such a traumatic theme in toxic relationships? Why do abusive personalities cling to contempt as if it’s a treasure, rather than a deadly vice that wounds the soul? Why do people who use abuse as a means of control cling to their resentment as if it's something owed to them?
The answer rests in an individual’s choices and motivations. What do they desire, what’s their goal?
“Allow yourself to be loved! This is crucial, because the soul cannot live without love. The soul always wants to love something, because love is the stuff she’s made of, and through love God has created her.”
(St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and St. Catherine of Siena)
There are many challenges to authentic love, but in this post I want to focus on just one—and the one that’s often the most difficult.
Self-Love. (But not in a narcissistic way.)
Love of self can be a unique challenge, particularly if you're experiencing trauma from intimate partner violence. When your sense of self has been covered by insults and demeaning comments, how can you begin to love -- and trust -- yourself again?
A skilled manipulator has a surprisingly fragile sense of self. These individuals demand to be respected, understood, and admired, while at the same time refusing to reveal their true, innermost selves.
At the same time, they tend to be hypocrites. "Do what I say ... but don't do what I do" seems to be their motto. Projection and blame are their motives of choice. If they give too much of themselves they feel vulnerable--and that feeling is terrifying to them, especially in intimate relationships.
And so, as a mask and a shield, an abusive personality will unconsciously create a false self, the "self" they present to the world.
"Go away, go away, don't you come back any more! Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door!"
In this post, I wish to discuss coping with the “man who isn't there,” yet who still seems to linger inside your head. If you’ve finally made your way out of an abusive relationship and have begun healing, your ex-partner's voice may still haunt you. Your perceptions of the world around you -- and even your thoughts -- may still be guided by his projection and gaslighting. It takes a lot of effort and healing to get him out of your head.
But it can be done!
Abusive love-bombing is dangerous and insidious, especially because it's not necessarily conscious on the part of the abuser, and it seems like heaven to the target. As you were first getting to know him, you may have been completely sure he was the one for you. He seemed to really understand you in ways no one else ever had.
But now ...
His loving attention has turned into obsessive control and jealousy. He's full of demeaning comments and false accusations. And you're left wondering ... What happened?
One of the most destructive side-effects of being forced to endure an abusive relationship is the hazy fog that seems to settle over not only your mind, but your entire self — body, spirit, and innermost depths.
Physically you may feel depleted, exhausted, and perhaps even in actual pain. A few of the most common side-effects of chronic abuse include headaches, achy joints or muscles, and stomach issues. An erratic heartbeat or palpitations are also typical physical symptoms, as are shortness of breath, dizziness, generalized anxiety, sleep disturbances (either too much or not enough), and cognitive confusion.
Emotionally you may feel flattened and defeated or — as I heard one young adult recently describing her mother after enduring another abusive attack — crumpled and broken. Spiritually you’ve lost joy, connection, optimism, and the ability to feel the fullness of life.
You’ve lost faith, hope, and love. And when the greatest of these things has proven to be the most destructive, where does that leave you?
You feel “socially distanced” — from friends and family, from what was once the richness of your spiritual life, from yourself.
From your true inner self.
You may not even remember who your true self had once been, or perhaps you wonder if you ever knew her in the first place.
One of the hallmark traits of an abusive personality is extreme, possessive jealousy, which can take many forms—all with an end goal of isolation. Whether consciously or not, an abuser wants to keep his partner to himself, to ensure she’s available whenever he wishes, in whatever way he desires.
If his target maintains close relationships with anyone other than himself, he feels his control slipping. After all, being around other people may cause a target of domestic abuse to reassess her own situation and to be less vulnerable to her abuser’s gaslighting, criticisms, and manipulations. External friendships will help her maintain a higher level of self-esteem and self-worth—in other words, inner strength. And, if she’s exposed to other couples, she may see what a healthy relationship looks like—and begin to question her own.
Although an abuser may not consciously harbour these thoughts, the underlying attitudes and motivations are still present. Her ability to maintain close ties with others not only means he has less control, but it also means his target’s attentions aren’t focused on him 24/7—something an abusive personality absolutely cannot tolerate.
Isolation in a domestically abusive relationship is one of the key tactics of coercive control because it “deprives victims of all social support; the ability to resist weakens; it makes the victim dependent on the abuser.” This tactic is particularly toxic when the abuser begins isolating his target from her family.
How does a manipulative person accomplish his goal of isolating his victim? It all begins with convincing her that he’s the only one who truly understands her—after all, they’re soul mates, he’ll claim. He’ll employ all the romantic strategies in his playbook until she’s completely hooked. This is all done to solidify their relationship bond, making total isolation easier to achieve.
“Using pornography is not OK behavior. It is a perverse and ridiculous intrusion into your relationship. It is an insult, it is disloyal and it is cheating.” (Dr. Phil McGraw)
In today’s world, pornography not only seems to be everywhere, but it’s often viewed as “normal” and even “healthy.” Whether it’s soft porn in the form of sexy and objectifying ads for beer, trucks, clothing, movies, food, music—well, anything, really—to easily accessible hardcore porn on the internet, the over-sexualization of society has become a damaging wound. Is it inevitable that all guys—and, increasingly, women—interact with porn? Should we just shrug our shoulders and dismiss such behaviour as “the way things are nowadays”?
No. Absolutely not.
Pornography is destructive on so many levels. It isn’t merely demeaning and vile, but it also contributes to the prevalence of domestic violence.
“Most pornographic movies, magazines, and web sites can function as training manuals for abusers, whether they intend to or not, teaching that women are unworthy of respect and valuable only as sex objects for men. A great deal of mainstream pornographic material—not just the so-called “hard core”—contains stories and images showing the abuse of both women and children as sexy.” (Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men)
This post was inspired by a comment from one of my subscribers. After reading “Under My Thumb: Coercive Control and the Sensitive Victim,” she sent me an email to tell me that her ex-husband used to blare that same song as often as he could, laughing in a tauntingly cruel way. He’d encourage his children to sing along as if he was playing a carefree, fun game with them. They often did exactly what their dad wanted, not realizing how much they were wounding their mother—after all, they didn’t know he was purposely tormenting her, and they simply wanted his approval.
This sent a double-message to the confused and vulnerable children. First, their father made it clear that they’d only get approval from him if they went along with his “teasing,” which sent the bewildering message that if they didn’t antagonize their mother, they wouldn’t get his admiration or love. They were also being taught that a woman’s place was “under the thumb” of her superior husband.
This particular man never hit his kids. He never called them ugly, or stupid, or worthless. So, he never abused his children, only his intimate partner. Right?
Despite the current trend in referring to an abusive personality as "the narcissist," that phrase shouldn't be thrown around carelessly. Here's what it really means.
“The narcissist” and “the abuser” tend to be synonymous terms in the current trend of domestic abuse literature. It’s assumed by many authors—and therefore by their readers—that if a person is abusive they must be a narcissist. But what, exactly, do these authors mean by “narcissist”? Are they claiming that all abusive personalities have NPD, whether nor not they’ve been officially diagnosed? Or are they merely commenting on overbearing and controlling narcissistic tendencies?
First of all, no one has the right to carelessly bandy about terms as if discussing someone who has actually been diagnosed with a psychological disorder. It’s rare for someone to be diagnosed with NPD for two reasons:
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.