Have you frequently or even consistently been called traumatizing names by the person who is supposed to love you for who you are, as you are, “for better or for worse”? Some name-calling techniques are overt, demeaning, and horrible, such as:
If any of this sounds familiar, and is a consistent pattern in your relationship rather than an all-too-human “one-off” mistake, then you may be involved with an emotional/verbal/psychological abuser. These types of abusers are often covert passive-aggressive, so their manipulative techniques are far more difficult to detect than the overt, grandiose types of abusers.
Think, too, about the context of abusive comments. If a man (and yes, I realize women can be abusers as well, but far more women are victims than men, and I’m a woman, so I’m going with that pronoun simply to avoid the awkward “he/she”) …. Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself. If an abuser claims he “said things he didn’t mean” while refusing to admit he’s an abusive person with a habit of spewing demeaning criticisms and accusations at his target (often in predictable cycles, see “Unwittingly Describing the Abuse Cycle”), then please be aware … Red Flag Alert! If he claims to be a victim rather than abuser for any number of questionable reasons , then … Red Flag Alert!
People with these sorts of mindsets tend to feel a huge level of toxicity and resentment toward those who they feel (or who actually have) slighted, abused, or mistreated them. Those who cling to their victim mentality love to talk about how manipulative, closed-minded, emotionally unavailable, and generally neglectful their mothers or peers or exes or bosses (or whomever else) had been toward them. They’re damaged, and that’s why they abuse. Or so their story goes.
All these things may or may not be true. I’m not judging one way or another, but I am saying that the levels of toxic resentment that are held by such personalities in order to maintain their victimhood status create a thick, tense, and unbearable atmosphere within what should be the safety of the home. And this is wording things mildly.
That’s why context is so crucial. Let’s say that your abuser has mother-issues; he resents his mother, sees her as a manipulative and emotionally cold woman and says he’s been damaged by her negative influence (which, again, may or may not be true—but that’s not the point). Let’s say that in one of his Mr. Hyde rages, he shouts in a spewing and toxic rage, “You’re the greatest manipulator since my mother!”
What then? Well, in context you can realize what an abusive man you’re dealing with. He has unresolved issues—obviously. But he should never—ever—take his psychological issues out on you. That’s just wrong—and cruel, and unjust, and unfathomable.
When hearing a phrase such as “You’re the greatest manipulator since my mother,” listening to it in context and knowing how he feels about his mother and her (real or imagined) manipulations sends a distinct, purposeful, and biting message to you, the target. In this example he intends to more than “merely” zap yet another critical insult at you, but is directly stating how he feels about you, which is on par with his mother, a woman he feels to be akin to the Wicked Witch of the West.
Solid relationships are built upon trust, mutual self-giving, friendship, and openness. All of these things simply aren’t possible with someone who can’t see you for who you truly are, but rather views you through his own darky-coloured lens of resentment and past hurt (injuries which have nothing to do with you).
I’ve used this “mother example” only because it’s so common, but you can apply this technique to a myriad of other abusive behaviors and comments. My point here is to demonstrate just one of the many red flags of abusive, coercive, and manipulative relationships. I’ll detail others in future posts but for now, I’ll leave you with this brief list of further red flags. If several of these are present in your relationship, you may want to consider seeking more information in IPV (intimate partner violence) and take the time to think seriously and deeply on where you’re at in your life, how you feel about yourself and your relationship, and the next steps you may need to take (here’s a list of resources to get you started). And remember, violence isn’t limited to physical or sexual abuse. It can also be emotional, verbal, psychological, and spiritual--the most toxic types of abuse.
The following list of red flags indicating that you may be involved with an intimate partner abuser come from my upcoming book, Don’t Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Domestic Abuse. Obviously the more traits you find in your relationship, the greater the chances that you’re involved with a chronic abuser. Again, it’s important to remember that these signs must be seen in a consistent manner, not a “one-off” mistake. Abuse is a pattern and a way of living for the manipulative person, not a one-time thing. Being abusive is a core attitude, not a merely human mistake.
Some typical red flags include:
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)
 “Playing the victim role” is a very common tactic domestic abusers employ “in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something from another.” George Simon, Jr., Ph.D., In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, Revised edition (Little Rock, AK: Parkhust Brothers, Inc., Publishers, 2010), 127-128. See also Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (NY, NY: Berkley Books, 2002), 25-29; Don Hennessy, How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser (Cork, Ireland: Atrium, an imprint of Cork University Press, 2012), 32-33; Patricia Evans, Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out: On Relationship and Recovery (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 1993), Chapter 5, “Blame,” 76-89; Joseph M. Carver Ph.D., “Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser,” http://drjoecarver.makeswebsites.com/clients/49355/File/love_and_stockholm_syndrome.html (accessed April 19, 2021); Natalie Collins, Out of Control: Couples, Conflict and the Capacity for Change (London, UK: SPEK, 2019), 44-45.
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.