Over many years I have witnessed & been on the receiving end of emotional abusers & manipulators. The problem is that at the time it is often very difficult to see or understand what is happening: we just assume that there is something wrong with us or it is something of our making. Unless we are able to recognise the situation, the abuser & their behaviours for what they are, we will become entrapped in a mesh of confusion & be constantly unhappy, stressed or even neurotic.
In this Part 1 of a series of 5 articles I examine some of the scenarios in which emotional abuse & manipulation occur.
Firstly, we need to understand what manipulation & abuse are & also understand how they are developed.
Definition of Abuse (Oxford English Dictionary)
- Use or treat in such a way as to cause damage or harm
- Speak to (someone) in an insulting and offensive way.
Definition of Manipulation (Oxford English Dictionary)
- The action of manipulating someone in a clever or unscrupulous way.
Relate lists emotional abuse under several categories:
- Intimidation and threats: e.g., shouting, acting aggressively or just generally making you feel scared. This is often done as a way of making a person feel small and stopping them from standing up for themselves.
- Criticism: e.g., name-calling or making lots of unpleasant or sarcastic comments. This can really lower a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Undermining: e.g., dismissing your opinion. It can also involve making you doubt your own opinion by acting as if you’re being oversensitive if you do complain, disputing your version of events or by suddenly being really nice to you after being cruel.
- Being made to feel guilty: This can range from outright emotional blackmail (threats to kill oneself or lots of emotional outbursts) to sulking all the time or giving you the silent treatment as a way of manipulating you.
- Economic abuse: e.g., withholding money, not involving you in finances or even preventing you from getting a job. This could be done as a way of stopping you from feeling independent and that you’re able to make your own choices.
- Telling you what you can and can’t do: As the examples above make clear, emotional abuse is generally about control. Sometimes this is explicit. Does your partner tell you when and where you can go out, or even stop you from seeing certain people? Do they try to control how you dress or how you style your hair?
The reasons for someone becoming abusive or manipulative can be many & varied, but the end-result is someone who has low self-esteem, may feel out of control & needs to feel significant. In order to rectify these deficits the person needs to be in control, needs to be seen, appreciated & praised, or who needs to reduce others to their own level in order to feel equal. The result is that they become unhealthily sensitive about being on top or in control: anything which challenges this is threatening & can bring out intense, sometimes aggressive responses.
Many such people that I have known also react like children. Perhaps they have ben overly criticised or repeatedly let down whilst they were growing up; perhaps they have been the victim of over-bearing parent(s) or grown up with no behaviour boundaries. Whatever the reason(s) they are trapped in a child-like (school playground) mentality, meaning that making people take sides (good & bad), turning people against others, taking revenge, petty discussions & arguments, even throwing tantrums, sulks or guilt trips & isolating their target are common behaviours.
These people inhabit the same spaces as the rest of us & therefore, wherever they are found their insecurities & problems go with them. This means that unless you are very lucky & exist somewhere that these controlling & childish behaviours are monitored & checked, you may encounter abuse at home, at work, at play, at church; in fact in any walk of life. If left unchecked, their behaviour can lead to disharmony, disruption, mental health issues & even in extreme cases, suicide.
Manipulation & emotional abuse may leave no physical scars but they can destroy lives equally well, if not better than physical abuse particularly because they are often invisible & kept in secret.
When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, it was common knowledge that in order to gain promotion some staff were ‘expected’ to do favours for their bosses, including sleeping with them. Some employees used their personalities & looks to manipulate their bosses & gain promotion. In other cases some managers had a large turnover of staff because they abused their staff through setting unrealistic expectations, micro-managing & behind-the-scenes harassment,
Because the manipulator/abuser needs recognition & to be in control then positions of high visibility or importance are a target for their aspirations. Their fastidious nature & pedantic approach can make them great process managers but awful people managers. Unless spotted early-on, these people can assume positions of significant responsibility in business, commerce, government & church; ultimately to the detriment of the organisation & its staff.
In many organisations there is upwards (& in some, downwards) accountability which can help to identify & control the destructive effects. However, abusive & manipulative behaviour seems to be highly prevalent in situations where there is no upwards accountability. Independent churches often fall foul of this, where the leadership almost equate with God himself in terms of authority & wisdom. If they make decisions that are off-beam, the congregation either doesn’t notice because they are made ‘behind closed doors’ or those who dare to challenge are ostracised & eased-out of the fellowship. This is even more disastrous when a manipulator/abuser uses an abusive leadership team to isolate or expel their target or opposition. We will examine further the tactics & characteristics of manipulators & abusers in Part 2 & Part 3 of this 5-Part series.
Emotional abuse & manipulation is a serious issue for the health of our Nations & is recognised as such in the UK by being incorporated into UK Law where it is a criminal offence. The most common recipients are children & women, but there is increasing incidence of men being emotionally abused by women. One tragic case I heard of recently ended in a husband taking his own life because of what he was put through.
Not every case reaches that extreme stage but it is important that we are diligent & aware of potential situations, not only in our own life but also in the lives of those around us. Just like a broken leg, physical abuse leaves signs that can be seen. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is like mental illness & is rarely visible at first sight, unless we take the time to look a little closer.
If you are concerned that you may be in an abusive relationship it is always good to confidentially talk to someone outside of that relationship such as your doctor. Being able to share your concerns is the first step towards breaking free. The UK has a great resource in Relate a relationship counselling service.
Wherever you are I hope that these 5 articles will not only help you to understand & identify emotional abuse & manipulation but also empower you to be able to break free & stay free.
Take care until next time …