Here are the other parts of this series:
Part 1: My story of abuse (Introduction)
Part 2: Seven things you need to know about abusers
Part 3: Dealing with victims of abuse
Part 4: It started with a crossword puzzle
Part 5: Getting help for an abuse victim
Part 6: Taking the next step
Part 7: My church’s initial response to abuse
Part 8: Your marriage counselor may destroy your marriage
Part 9: Cutting off communication
Part 10: How to choose sides in an abusive situation
Part 11: The strangeness of a spring break
Part 12: Filings for divorce and early rumblings at church
Part 13: What are those deacons good for anyway?
Part 14: The “repentance” game
Part 15: Isolation
Part 16: When the church goes off the rails
Part 17: When the church goes off the rails even further
Part 18: Final church problems
I was planning on ending my series on this abuse and will be doing so in the next post but I am going to insert one more post before I do. I hope it will be helpful to some of you. I want to talk about how to neutralize an abuser.
Much of what I am going to say is available in other places online and if you find yourself in a situation where you need to neutralize an abuser, I encourage you to do as much research as you can. It is important that you know two things in particular: how abusers think and what strategies are effective in taking away their power over the victim.
In the situation we are in, the abuser is almost completely neutralized now. The victim has transformed to the point where she is not affected by his tactics and she has all the power she needs because of the divorce settlement they agreed to. The abuser has power as well: the power given to him by the same divorce settlement. However, that is not enough for him. He sees the settlement as non-binding and exploitable and he constantly tries to force the victim into giving concessions outside the settlement.
Because she does not go along with his demands, he is usually furious. I read all his emails and you cannot imagine the nonsense he writes her. Sometimes he writes me too. The profanity-filled emails he sent me over the weekend were a sight to behold. He claims to be all fixed but he has some funny ways of showing it. For sure, he does not sound like the former deacon of my church and head of AWANA that he was.
No big deal. We expected this behavior. You should too if you deal with a similar situation. We can predict his behavior easily simply because we have taken the time to learn how abusers think. Abusers follow the same playbook. They are not special; they are run of the mill and almost boringly predictable. To put it in very simple terms, he is furious because he has lost control but his fury is harmless. He can rant all he wants but it gets him nowhere.
Here are some things to understand about the way abusers think. Keep in mind that most of these beliefs may not seem rational or logical to you and you just have to accept that is the case if you want to get to first base. We are not trying to correct an abuser’s belief system because that is largely impossible. We just want to understand them. That brings me to my first point.
1) Abusers believe that their actions and beliefs are 100% logical. I have seen this particular abuser say the most silly things in emails over the past year. There is not even the beginning of a logical basis for what he often says. He can argue that the settlement says something when it specifically says the opposite very clearly. What is black to the rest of the world is white to him. This is only possible because he has created a fantasy world to live in where his beliefs ARE logical. Until you figure this out, you will go crazy trying to argue logically with an abuser.
2) Abusers genuinely believe that they are the victim. The abuser in our situation now claims regularly in emails that he should have called the police many times on the victim because she “abused” him. He says that she still abuses him by enforcing the settlement that they signed. He says she steals his money because she requires that he pay the money that he agreed to pay for child support and asset allocation. He constantly accuses her of not respecting him enough and not acting with his best interests in mind.
This is typical and routine. In the fantasy world abusers live in, they are the heroes and their victims are the villains. They rewrite the facts and logic to align with that fantasy.
3) Abusers believe that apologizing wipes the slate clean and obligates the victim to view them in a completely restored way. When an abuser flips from Hyde to Jekyll (nasty to kind), he will expect the victim to immediately forgive and forget. If they are married, he will push for intimacy literally an hour after abuse. (A typical victim will often give in out of guilt.)
Here is what happens when a victim fails to play the game and refuses to wipe the slate clean: the abuser shifts the blame of the conflict to her by saying that he tried to be kind and make up but she rejected him. Often, he will twist reality to say that he was originally abusive only because she made him that way in the first place.
On the flip side, when the victim commits an “offense” against him, abusers never forget it. It is fairly humorous that when this abuser brings up his examples of “abuse” perpetuated on him by the victim, he always falls back to a few situations that happened all the way back in the beginning of their marriage (15 years ago).
4) Abusers are miserable and insecure people because they are in a fruitless and never-ending quest for validation and respect. Abusers do not wake up in the morning with a desire to abuse someone. Rather, they wake up with a specific need and abuse results from their desperate attempts to fill that need.
It is amazing to me how much this abuser demands respect almost a year after divorce. Complaining that he is not respected is a common theme of his emails as is a constant bemoaning that he is not being treated as a human being.
When it comes down to it, the perceived lack of respect and validation leads an abuser to try to control someone to force that respect and validation. The control is the beginning of abuse. In fact, the definition of abuse is illegitimate control.
In a nutshell, the abuser is someone that is missing something in his life and is desperately seeking it from other people. When that need becomes obsessive and desperate, abuse is a natural byproduct.
Ideally, if you have an abuser in your life, you get away and never talk to them again. However, that is not always possible. If you have children with him, even if you divorce, you will still have to interact on some level. That being the case, in light of what I just told you about how abusers think, how do you neutralize one? Here are a few tips:
1) Work on yourself. Make sure you understand that the typical ideas of kindness and social etiquette do not really apply in an abusive situation. You do not have to respond to their texts and phone calls. You do not have to interact as much as your abuser will invariably want. Frankly, you owe an abuser no interaction at all other than what the law and/or the courts might state.
Get used to being called “mean.” Get used to being called unforgiving. Abusers will work very hard to try to force you into interaction through a combination of very nasty and very apparently “nice” strategies including heavy guilt. Just ignore all of them. The first key to neutralizing an abuser is to get to the point where you recognize his tactics.
2) Understand your power. You are not going to be a doormat anymore; rather, you are going to assert legitimate power.
Here is an example: the abuser we work with suffered from a delusion that he had the right to do things on the victim’ property against her wishes. The victim sent him a letter stating the rules for his behavior on her property during child swaps and let him know that if he broke them, she would pursue a criminal trespass charge against him. He backed down because the law about criminal trespass and the resulting consequences are clear.
Make sure that you only assert yourself when you have real power behind you. The law is power; so is a restraining order and a divorce settlement. You can very safely assert yourself if you are clearly within your rights as a citizen or within the guidelines of something like a divorce settlement. However, if you stretch yourself without power behind you, you will just end up less powerful. Never make a threat that you cannot back up and never make a demand without a way to enforce it. If there is any ambiguity in the law you are relying on for power, get a professional opinion before you act.
3) Stop arguing. Arguing is pointless unless both parties are working with the same base of logic. Abusers do not use the same base of logic you do and thus, trying to logically convince them of anything is a waste of time. Trying to argue from an emotional perspective is even worse.
Assuming you have power behind you, simply state how things are going to be. Do not explain yourself; do not respond to the vicious responses you will get. Just ignore all the noise.
4) Stay away and avoid as much as possible. If you share kids with an abuser you have divorced, you will have to interact but only on a transactional level. Wade through the nasty and nice emails and if there is something there that you need to respond to, do so unemotionally and briefly.
The victim in our situation has a rule that except for emergency situations, there is no communication with her abuser except by email. She does not talk to him at all during child swaps. There are no joint activities such as birthday parties. While all of these restrictions might feel a bit strange in a normal divorce, in an abusive situation, her approach is generally considered best.
5) Keep boundaries non-negotiable. If you can’t keep boundaries, you are doomed. Boundaries must always remain in place without compromise or negotiation. Any attempts to break them down have to either be ignored or rejected with power. If you give in even a bit, you accomplish nothing; there will be no new peace and goodwill. Rather, you just empower the abuser to move the goalpost a bit and start working on the new boundary.
Do not expect an abuser to ever stop trying to break down boundaries. They have no self respect in that area. Even if they have been told no hundreds of times, they will keep pushing. Our victim’s texting boundary has been tested literally hundreds of times. Even though she ignores every single text, he still keeps texting and sends regular emails begging her to talk to him by text or phone.
I think that is it for today. You can completely neutralize an abuser and get your life back. Get help if you possibly can. Find someone to talk to about every interaction if you have to. Over time you will need that accountability less and less but a wise friend can keep you from compromising boundaries or overreaching your power.
Read on: Conclusion