To know whether or not it was really abuse, we need to use Empowering Tool #1: The Knowledge Tool.
Quick reasons to use this tool:
- If it was abuse, it was done in an atmosphere of deception and confusion, so research and clarity are your friends.
- It’s validating to hear that others have experienced what you’ve been through. Research to gain knowledge will you help you get that validation.
- Knowledge about what you’ve been through can help you see red flags and other manipulative tactics to protect you in the future.
- Understanding gaslighting can also help protect you from future hoover attempts. (A hoover attempt is the abuser’s attempt at ‘hoovering’ you back into the toxicity/abuse.)
How about a story to illustrate using the tool?
You probably know this story.
There’s a toxic partner and it happens to be the husband (just in this case. Remember abusers can be any gender.) Let’s call him Joe.
THE IDEALIZATION PHASE (LOVE BOMBING)
Joe uses deception at the beginning of relationships. When he’s interested in a new partner, he smothers her in flattery & contact. Perhaps he’ll bring her flowers. Perhaps he’ll text her 20, 30, or even 100 times a day. He’ll mirror her every personality trait, seeming to be her perfect match. He’ll tell her she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever met. He’ll like every one of her social media posts.
He’ll steal her away from any other love interests, telling her she’s his soul mate, and that she alone can complete him. He’ll tell her the sad story of his childhood, filling in any questionable details with bigger-picture tales of abuse or neglect. In all of this, Joe will never reveal his true intentions. He’ll obscure the truth behind a mask of love bombing.
THE DEVALUE PHASE (INTERMITTENT REINFORCEMENT)
After she’s hooked on Joe, he’ll quickly begin to intermittently manipulate her with conditioning that will confuse her brain and make her doubt her thoughts about what he’s doing. This can last months or even years. Once he’s got her trained to supply him with anything he needs or wants or even just prefers, he’ll use his rage to shock her into submission, throwing tantrums anytime he feels her trying to reclaim her power of choice.
He’ll tell her he wants to break up with her because he ‘just can’t keep hurting her’. Or he’ll tell her that she’s his abuser, accusing her of all the things he himself does. He’ll blame her for every moment he’s unhappy, claiming she doesn’t care. He’ll project his own actions onto her, accusing her of ignoring his needs.
He’ll cheat on her and lie about it repeatedly. Then, he’ll focus on how she’s never forgiven him, even though he’s never shown any growth or even remorse to deserve such forgiveness. He’ll maintain ‘friendships’ with other women to groom them for later.
He’ll lie so much to his intended partner that she won’t know reality when she’s not with him. She’ll deny the abuse, even to herself.
And then, he’ll set about the work of making her life a living hell. Alternately ignoring her or “apologizing”, depending on how well he’s able to get on with his other sources of supply. Once he finds a new supply? He’ll discard the first partner completely.
THE DISCARD PHASE (CALLOUSLY VILIFYING THE VICTIM)
And finally, when she’s no longer of value to him, when he can’t get the supply he needs because she’s finally set a boundary, he’ll accuse her of heinous things she’s done to him, building line after line of deception, gaslighting, and manipulation to prove that he’s the victim in all this mess… that she can’t be trusted.
No matter how many chances she’s given him.
No matter how many times he’s broken her heart.
No matter how many times he’s endangered her or their children.
He will cruelly discard her. Projecting that she is an object to be tossed aside.
LIFE AFTER ABUSE
So Joe’s ‘discarded’ partner… let’s call her Rose. Rose finds herself at the end of this discard, utterly devastated by Joe’s whirlwind actions. She feels foggy, confused, and unable to address what just happened because she can’t even begin to identify Joe’s actions, let alone her reactions to what he did.
The overall pattern of the relationship is obscured by Joe’s careful gaslighting. Even he himself seems to be confused about what he wanted throughout the relationship, so she’s left in a constant state of questioning.
Was it abuse? Or just a toxic relationship?
Should she try to move on now?
Or will he return again in a few days?
What about the other women he seems to be focused on now?
What about all the other times he left and she apologized to him?
Those brought him back, should she do that again this time?
Rose is at a crossroads now. She needs the foundational tool of knowledge to help her recognize the signs of traumatic abuse and build a new clarity for a contented, happy life.
The Knowledge Tool can give Rose a hunger for reaching out to local clinics for information about group sessions for survivors of coercive control. Rose can search for help on social media platforms, Reddit, Quora, Google, Wikipedia, and many others.
As Rose looks for ways to interact with the materials she gathers, she can use books, audio books, articles, music, group recommendations, apps on her phone, and so many other mediums for researching to understand what happened to her. Some of these sources will be more reliable than others, but doing the research will help her see clearly.
Rose decides to get as much knowledge in her head because it will combat the gaslighting and abusive deception she’s just been through. As she can articulate the stage of the relationship, she begins to see warning signs and red flags crop up throughout the beginning stages of the relationship. This education is hard-won, but she now understands that hindsight is a very powerful tool to use for future safety.
Rose begins keeping a journal, gathering elements of her research to one place so she can look back over the research alongside her progress. She is able to lay her insights out next to her emotional breakdowns and tough days. And slowly, day by day, a pattern appears.
Rose can now see his manipulations from the beginning of the relationship for what they are: red flags. She can see that even though he said it was love or flattery or adoration, it was actually manipulation. And she can see her ex-partner through the lens of truth, so that when he returns a few months later, heaping apologies and kind words upon her, she can see those words for the deception they truly are.
Even though she wants to believe him, she is able to protect herself and continue on in her healing. And she can see him for the terribly manipulative deceiver he is.
Rose is able to move forward and she feels the trauma bonds dissipate as she uses the other Empowering Tools to cement everything she’s learned. Rose begins to see true joy and contentedness back in her mind and heart.
Through her research, she is able to determine that it doesn’t matter whether or not it was abuse. What matters is that she needs support as she systematically reclaims her life from this awful relationship.
The question of whether or not it was abusive makes a survivor have to define the answer before they can get help or support of any kind. A better question to focus on is “What support do I need to heal from that experience?” Put the focus back on you and see what questions spring up to help you move along your path to healing and reclaiming your life.
This happy ending can be yours, too.
If you recognize yourself in this story, what knowledge will you choose to pursue?
We believe in you.
We believe in your future.
And we believe in your right to freedom from abuse.