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Manipulative people brainwash their partners using something called ‘perspecticide’ — here are the signs it’s happening to you

Business Insider/October 15, 2017
By Lindsay Dodgson

Living with a controlling or abusive partner is confusing and draining. They blame you for things that weren’t your fault, or that you didn’t even do, and you become isolated from your friends and family in an attempt to keep the abuser happy.

The way you see the world can also completely change, because it may be dangerous for you to know the truth.

Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship,” told Business Insider the word for this is “perspecticide.”

She said the word, which basically means “the incapacity to know what you know,” was first used in the literature on the brainwashing of prisoners of war, and has also been applied to people in cults.

“In an abusive or controlling relationship, over time the dominating partner changes how the victim thinks,” Fontes said. “The abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what it appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what she needs to do to change it.”

Over time, the victim — or survivor, if that is your preferred term — loses sense of what their own ideas, goals, and thoughts were. Instead, they start taking on those of their dominating partner.

“Through perspecticide, people give up their own opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, etc,” Fontes said. “I am not talking about the natural mutual influencing that occurs in all intimate relationships — this is much more nefarious and one-sided.”

Someone can fall into an abuser’s trap in a number of ways, but it’s often through psychological, emotional, or physical abuse. Once the victim has been hooked and reeled in, their partner starts to bring them down with belittling comments and insults.

However, they often pause the abuse with intermittent periods of kindness and warmth. This means the victim is trauma-bonded to their partner, constantly trying to make them happy, because they believe they deserve to be punished if they don’t.

Victims become prisoners in their own lives.
The controlling partner might cut off resources like money and transportation, practically keeping the victim a prisoner. By living in fear, the victim changes how they view themselves and the world.

Fontes recalled several stories of people who had been controlled by their partners. All her examples were from women who were being abused, but it’s important to note that emotional, psychological, and physical abuse can happen to anyone.

One man convinced his wife she could not have her own toothbrush, because married couples share these things. He also never let her have any privacy — she wasn’t even allowed to close the door when she was using the bathroom.

Another husband slept all day so he could keep his wife up at night. He deliberately didn’t let her sleep, controlled what she ate, and hid her medication, which all made her physically weak. Eventually, she even forgot her age because everything down to the way she walked was managed by someone else.

Other stories involved a woman who believed her partner could read her mind, when really he was spying on her with cameras in her house and trackers in her belongings. Another man actually told his wife he had inserted a microphone into her fillings to monitor where she went all day.

“He was actually monitoring her through other routes, but she believed what he said — she had no other explanation for why he knew everything about her days,” Fontes said. “Of course, anyone who she told this to thought she was crazy. This isolated her further.”

For the victim, their life is overwhelmed with wondering how to appease their controlling partner. Fontes said they may even experience physical signs of stress over time such as changes to eating and sleeping, head or back aches, and digestive problems, because they are too worried about their partner’s wrath.

“A person who is being coercively controlled — even without physical violence — does not feel free to live their own life on their own terms,” she said.

If you think you might be a victim of abuse of any kind, you can talk to your GP in confidence, or contact organisations such as Women’s Aid and Victim Support.

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What’s ‘Love Bombing’ And How To Tell If You’ve Been A Victim Of It

From showering you with gifts to messaging you non-stop throughout the day, we delve into the worrying behaviours of a ‘love bomber’, who might have convinced you they’re ‘the one’.
Elle/August 2, 2017
By Katie O’Malle
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A bunch of flowers delivered to your office. A surprise romantic getaway to a secluded countryside cottage for the weekend. A thoughtful phone call when you least expect it. All the signs of the beginning a of loving, caring relationship, right?

Well, perhaps not. In fact, they might be signposts for the opposite, or what is commonly known as ‘love bombing’.

According to Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and author, ‘love bombing’ occurs when people are showered with over-the-top displays of attention and affection. And, we’re not just talking romantic gestures and the occasional home-cooked meal, but romantic conversations, talks of the ‘future’ together, and constant contact via social media, phone calls and messages. The difference between a solid loving relationship and one that is subject to ‘love bombing’ is what happens next…

More often than not, ‘love bombing’ is when these displays of ‘affection’ are grandiose and really over the top, leading people to quickly think they might have found their ‘soul mate’ or ‘the one’. However, they soon find the loving, caring, affection, and understanding behaviour from their partner flips, resulting in unreasonable, controlling and manipulative traits.

What is ‘love bombing’?

In essence, ‘love bombing’ is a form of conditioning tool (otherwise known as a form of abuse), whereby one person in the relationship drowns the other in displays of ‘love’ to maintain power and control.

‘Healthy relationships build slowly, and are based on a series of actions, not a flood of words,’ Archer writes for a blog post titled ‘The Manipulative Partner’s Most Devious Tactic’ for Psychology Today.

The term is widely believed to have been first used by the Unification Church of the United States in the 1970s, whose cult leaders used love as a form of ammunition ‘to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder’, according to Archer.

‘Pimps and gang leaders use ‘love bombing’ to encourage loyalty and obedience as well,’ he writes.

How does it work?

First things first, all relationships are different and just because a partner showers you with love and affection does not mean they’re narcissistic or have psychopathic tendencies that might lead to ‘love bombing’. Some people genuinely are very loving and thoughtful and these sorts of gestures continue long into the relationship with no catch.

However, those who use ‘love bombing’ as a form of control often reinforce their love for their victim by showering them with affection when they act in a certain way that pleases the abuser, and later they will punish that person for behaving in a way that the abuser doesn’t like.

For example, an abuser will post an adorable snap of the two of you at dinner to Facebook, for all to see, with an equally mushy caption about how much you mean to him and how happy he is to be spending the evening with a gorgeous creature like you. The same person, though, when you head out for a dinner without him or go to a club with your friends, will call you ten times and accuse you of cheating/abandoning/not caring enough about him.

”Love bombing’ works because humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can’t fill this need on our own,’ writes Archer.

How do you spot ‘love-bombing’?

Getting butterflies, falling head-over-heels, and feeling like you’re falling madly in love with a new boyfriend/girlfriend is very normal in the early months of a relationship.

But, according to Archer, potential love bombing victims often find themselves trapped into having constant contact with a partner, which ultimately convinces them the intensity of the communication is a sign of success and love.

‘If extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it’s probably not “love bombing”,’ adds Archer.

‘On the other hand, if there’s an abrupt shift in the type of attention, from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry, with the pursuing partner making unreasonable demands, that’s a red flag.’

Who is vulnerable?

Joe Pierre, a Health Sciences Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, explained in Psychology Today that narcissists (aka common ‘love bombers’) are attractive because they display behaviours such as self-sufficiency, confidence, and ambition. Meanwhile, Deborah Ward, author of the book Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness suggests in a different post for the publication that victims are attracted to partners who remind them of their parents.

Quite often, people who have experienced family trauma or turmoil might choose relationships with individuals who show similar traits to their family members, as a way of filling the void or in an attempt to fix what was ‘damaged’. However, this tendency isn’t to be taken as a sign of weakness necessarily, but of potential empathy, argues psychologist Perpetua Neo.

‘People think often if you are attracted to a narcissist, you tend to be someone quite weak and very passive in your life… but they tend to be very high achieving women,’ Neo told Business Insider.

‘A very common trait I see in my clients is they’re over-empathetic… but you stop empathising with yourself, because you explain everything away for other people,’ she adds.

How do you avoid being ‘love bombed’?

When the ‘love bombing’ turns into making a victim feel unappreciated, guilty or devalued, they often strive to get their relationship back to the ‘good old days’, when their partner would shower them with affection and surprises. However, Neo argues that those former positive behaviours were illusory.

‘They “love bomb” and then they devalue you, so you’re always on high alert, and you never want to do anything wrong.

‘Because of that your standards are lowering, your boundaries are getting pinched upon, and you lose your sense of self,’ she adds.

The best thing to do with a new relationship is to take things slow, keep perspective and remind yourself of boundaries so not to feel trapped in a ‘love bombed’ relationship.

Archer urges people to remember the advice: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’

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‘It’s like being in a cult for one’: Read 14 tactics used by coercive controllers

East Anglican Daily Times/March 7, 2017
By Gemma Mitchell

Experts in the field of domestic abuse gathered in Suffolk to explore the intricacies of a crime that is “invisible in plain sight”.
A sold-out audience filled the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds on Monday, March 6 for the third Conference on Coercive Control, with presentations from a line-up of celebrated professionals.

Keynote speaker was American university lecturer and author Lisa Aronson Fontes, who described a manipulative relationship as “like being in a cult of one”.

Dr Fontes said dangerous romances often started out happy, with abusers using methods that seem loving, such as constant texting or not wanting to be around anyone else.

She added: “It looks like the care that many women crave, then over time that warm beam gets narrower and narrower and she wants to get that back and she feels like it’s her fault she doesn’t have it.
“Her life is then spent looking for ways of getting into that light again.”

One form of abuse that survivors often feel unable to talk about, Dr Fontes said, is sexual coercion, violence and degradation. This includes revenge porn, sex on demand and forced prostitution.

“Coercive control feels like being trapped in a cage and you can’t get out and you don’t know where to turn,” Dr Fontes added.

Professor Evan Stark, a forensic social worker and lecturer, praised the criminalisation of coercive control – calling it a “revolutionary moment in our women’s movement”.
According to Mr Stark, around 25% of women in abuse relationships are never assaulted, and in some cases it is “low level” harm which police may not take seriously, such as biting, pushing and shoving.

This is where the new law, which was passed in England and Wales in 2015, can come into play.

It carries a maximum prison term of five years for perpetrators who repeatedly subject spouses, partners and other family members to serious psychological, social, financial and emotional torment.

Mr Stark deems coercive control a “liberty crime” that turns victims into “slaves in their own homes”.

He added: “When you smell the suppression of freedom the stench of injustice reeks through society like a great wind.”

Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, an expert in domestic homicide and stalking, told the conference abusers often used coercive control because they were experiencing “separation anxiety” – a fear of losing someone.

She said: “They do not want to be separated from this person that they control because that person is absolutely fundamental to the way they feel about their life.”

It is this trait that can lead to a domestic murder, Dr Monckton-Smith said.

She added: “Some killers say to me once they kill someone it’s like a relief, they don’t have to worry about owning her anymore because she’s gone.”

Organiser Min Grob said she was “ecstatic” about how well received the Conference on Coercive Control had been since she launched it last year.

She added: “What I wanted to do is have coercive control pitched at a level that anyone can get more knowledge or understanding, from frontline workers, professionals and people in relationships or those who know someone who is being coercively controlled.

“It is a day of learning because coercive control is invisible in plain sight and even if you don’t realise it we all know someone in our family that could be being coercively controlled.”

Ms Grob, who has experienced domestic abuse in the past, said putting on an event like this made her feel “safer”.
Here are 14 ways coercive control can exist in an intimate relationship:

– Controlling access to a phone and social media

– Enforcing a certain diet

– Prohibiting or limiting contact with friends, family and health services

– Monitoring and controlling a person’s time or movement

– Regulating what clothes, make up, hairstyle is worn

– Continual belittlement, telling someone they are worthless

– Harming or threatening children

– Jealous accusations

– Constant phone calls, texting and emails

– Controlling access to money and transport

– Forcing sex

– Name calling

– Refusing contraception

– Preventing a person from working and sleeping

With Coercive Control, the Abuse Is Psychological

The New York Times/July 7, 2016
By Abby Ellin

Lisa Fontes’s ex-boyfriend never punched her, or pulled her hair. But he hacked into her computer, and installed a spy cam in her bedroom, and subtly distanced her from her friends and family.

Still, she didn’t think she was a victim of domestic abuse. “I had no way to understand this relationship except it was a bad relationship,” said Dr. Fontes, 54, who teaches adult education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

It was only after doing research on emotional abuse that she discovered a name for what she experienced: Coercive control, a pattern of behavior that some people — usually but not always men — employ to dominate their partners. Coercive control describes an ongoing and multi-pronged strategy, with tactics that include manipulation, humiliation, isolation, financial abuse, stalking, gas lighting and sometimes physical or sexual abuse.

“The number of abusive behaviors don’t matter so much as the degree,” said Dr. Fontes, the author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.” “One woman told me her husband didn’t want her to sleep on her back. She had to pack the shopping cart a certain way, wear her clothes a certain way, wash herself in the shower in a certain order.”

While the term “coercive control” isn’t widely known in the United States, the concept of nonphysical forms of mistreatment as a kind of domestic abuse is gaining recognition. In May, the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou took off on Twitter, with users sharing their own stories.

Last December, England and Wales expanded the definition of domestic abuse to include “coercive and controlling behavior in an intimate or family relationship,” making it a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years. To date, at least four men have been sentenced under the new law.

“In this approach, many acts that had been treated as low-level misdemeanors or not treated as offenses at all are considered as part of a single course of serious criminal conduct,” said Evan Stark, a forensic social worker and professor emeritus at Rutgers University, whose work helped shaped the new law in England and Wales.

Dr. Stark, the author of “Coercive Control,” noted that the English law pertains to a course of conduct over time. American law still does not address coercive control; it deals only with episodes of assault, and mainly protects women who have been subjected to physical attacks. But in about 20 percent of domestic violence cases there is no bodily harm, he said.

Coercive control often escalates to spousal physical violence, as a 2010 study in The Journal of Interpersonal Violence found. “Control is really the issue,” said Connie Beck, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. “If you can control a person’s basic liberties verbally — where they go, who they see, what they do — you do not necessarily have to hit them regularly, but if a person is not complying, then often physical abuse escalates.”

To a victim of coercive control, a threat might be misinterpreted as love, especially in the early stages of a relationship, or when one is feeling especially vulnerable.

Dr. Fontes, for example, was in her 40s and newly divorced when she met her ex-boyfriend. He was charming and adoring, and though he was a little obsessive, she overlooked it. Never mind that she has a PhD. in counseling psychology, and specializes in child abuse and violence against women.

“For a person looking for love and romance, it can feel wonderful that someone wants to monopolize your time,” she admitted.

For Rachel G., 46, a mother of three who lives outside Boston (she didn’t want her full name used to protect her privacy), the manipulation was all-consuming. Her ex-husband made them share a toothbrush, and wouldn’t let her shut the bathroom door — ever. He set up cameras around the house, and fastened a GPS in her car to track her movements. Sometimes he would show up at her work unannounced, “always framed as him needing to know where I was in case the kids needed me, or because he missed me and wanted to see me, but it was just his way of regulating my behavior.”

She was miserable, but stuck it out for 18 years. It never occurred to her to leave: She had three children, and “he had convinced me that I would be unhappy anywhere,” said Ms. G., who does fund-raising for a nonprofit. “I wasn’t only a bad wife — in every respect — but I was a negligent mother, or an overbearing mother, I was unsupportive of him, I was a bad cook, I prioritized work over family, my family liked him better than me, our friends liked him better than me. The worse I felt about myself and doubted myself and internalized his view of me and the way the world should work, the more submissive and accommodating I became.”

In the end, it was he, not she, who filed for divorce, after catching her in an extramarital affair. She is not proud of her actions, but she is grateful it got her out of the relationship. “I would never have left if he hadn’t filed,” she said. “I was afraid.” Since then, she has been trying to re-establish connections with family members and friends.

Dr. Fontes ultimately left her partner after four years. The decision came after she spent two weeks away from him, and realized how diminished she had become. “There were repeated telephone calls and emails every day, but it was such a relief to wake up and go to sleep without having to check in with this other person,” she said. “I recovered a sense of who I was as a separate person, my own opinions, my own perspective.”

7 Ways to Tell If Your Partner Might Be Manipulative

Everyday Feminism/November 23, 2015
By Suzannah Weiss

“I think I do it to distract myself.”

I was telling a friend about my newly acquired habit of picking the split ends from my waist-length hair.

“From what?”

“Anger.” I thought about it. “I’m angry all the time.”

“With who?”

My eyes darted around the room. I was scared to admit it. “My boyfriend.”

I was so petty. The words came flooding back from my subconscious. How could I be so petty as to resent someone who never yelled at me or physically hurt me, who I loved and wanted more than anything to get along with?

But all the fights that seemed resolved every time he dropped me off at my apartment kept creeping back. Once I’d realize they weren’t resolved, I’d put on Friends reruns and pick at my hair to forget them, the red tips gathering on my white sheets.

It didn’t matter anyway. I was just overreacting. He was so loving and kind in so many ways. I couldn’t just let things go, could I?

I couldn’t. The memories would resurface days and weeks later.

There was the time I refused to lend him money because he hadn’t paid me back last time, and he sarcastically responded that if I want to treat our relationship like a set of transactions, then we’d might as well put everything on a spreadsheet and never get each other gifts.

Selfish. Greedy. Viewing relationships like transactions. That was me. So petty. Such an underserving girlfriend.

The truncated hairs fell one by one, severing the half of me still angry he never paid me back.

“Name one other time I’ve been unreliable,” he asked in order to make me justify my decision.

“You never read my thesis.” He’d said he would “later tonight” one day in January; it was March.

“Of course I’m going to read it. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. It hurts that you don’t believe in me.”

I was hurting him. I didn’t believe in my own boyfriend.

Never mind the money. Never mind the thesis. What was wrong with me?

This was the guy who had surprised me by arriving at my apartment with newly bought ingredients and cooking me dinner. Who had patiently reassured me about all my body image concerns even though I must have sounded ridiculous.

But I was so mad.

Mad he wouldn’t pay me back the money he owed. Mad he didn’t keep his promises. Mad he turned this all around on me. Mad at him for making me mad at myself, and mad at myself for being mad at him.

I picked one hair after another, lost in the hypnotizing strands.

My brain was as split as the tips of my hair. I couldn’t tell which half of me was right.

While caught in this cacophony of conflicting thoughts, I went to a book fair with my boyfriend and a title caught my eye: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. This should be interesting, I thought. I’m interested in psychology. I stuffed it into my paper bag, all-you-can-fit for five dollars.

It was only during that fleeting moment between our kiss goodbye and my Friends reruns that I admitted to myself why I had really bought that book.

The next day, I opened it instead of my computer. As I half expected, I saw myself – both selves – scattered across the pages.

And in the midst of those pages, I learned that gaslighting – my partner’s technique of making me doubt my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions – was an abusive manipulation tactic. For the first time, I saw why his behavior stressed me out. And it wasn’t because I was a bad partner.

If you can identify any of these six patterns in your own relationship, you may not be a bad partner either. You may simply have been manipulated into believing you are one. If you find yourself in that position, I hope this list helps you the way The Verbally Abusive Relationship helped me: by providing an explanation for your distress other than your own inadequacy.

1. Conflicts Never Feel Resolved

If conflicts from days, weeks, or months ago still bother you even though you’ve discussed them with your partner, it’s possible they manipulated you into believing the discussion was over before it was.

My partner accomplished this manipulation by deflecting blame onto me.

Even if the action under discussion was his, I was just looking at it from the wrong angle. He’d tell me what the right angle was, and I’d feel guilty for not seeing things that way in the first place.

When our arguments were “resolved,” the resolution was usually that I had to work on myself because I was overreacting or my expectations were unreasonable.

Making someone feel oversensitive and unreasonable is gaslighting.

For example, one night, I was painting an instrument he’d built. After he told me what to paint and hovered over me complaining that I was doing it all wrong, I got mad and left the room. When he asked what was wrong, I yelled out of frustration, “You’re so clueless!” (Admittedly, I could have handled this better as well.)

He then gave me a talk about how I needed to stop calling him names like “clueless” to back him into a corner with no choice but apologizing. I panicked. Could I be the manipulative one? Would he break up with me?

I went to the bathroom, and when I got out, I was relieved to find him standing there holding his cat. We stood together and pet her like nothing had ever happened. Forget about my anger toward him. I was just relieved he wasn’t mad at me – so I dropped it.

Our fights went on like this for months, with me getting hurt and then repressing that hurt so he didn’t get mad at me.

As they started getting worse, a friend encouraged me to end the relationship. “But you fight with your boyfriend,” I pointed out.

“Our arguments end, though,” she said.

Finally, I saw why I could never get our arguments out of my mind: None of my concerns were ever addressed. They were simply deflected onto me.

I had stopped taking issue with his actions because I wasn’t allowed to, not because I felt better.

In a healthy relationship, your partner hears you out if you’re upset, and their goal is to avoid upsetting you in the future, not to debate whether you should have been upset in the first place.

2. When Your Partner Hurts You, You End Up Apologizing

Repeatedly gaslighted into believing my feelings were wrong, I grew remorseful for feeling them. Conversations would start with me believing he’d hurt me and end with me apologizing for getting hurt.

He’d convince me I was not only too hard on him, but also myopic. “Life is too short to get mad,” he’d say. “Can’t we just enjoy this nice day together?”

I’d tear up and think about how much I loved him and hated to taint our precious time together and thank him for reminding me what’s important in life and hug him and apologize for being so petty.

I’d go home on a high, feeling like I’d had a revelation about picking my battles, though the high would fade once I realized the conflict wasn’t resolved.

My concerns became results of my own pettiness. They didn’t matter – I was oversensitive, after all. I couldn’t be trusted.

Feeling like your feelings can’t be trusted to the point that you apologize for them is also a sign you’re being gaslighted.

3. You Don’t Feel You Deserve Your Partner

If someone makes you feel like the source of every conflict and convinces you that you’re shortsighted for getting upset, as my partner did by telling me it was unproductive to get angry and that it was my choice to be hurt by him, you may begin to feel like you don’t deserve them.

In fact, I wondered if I would drive all my future partners away for being so over-critical.

I grew to believe he was noble for resisting the urge to argue and I was small-minded in comparison. Thank God he was there to steer me back on track, I’d think. He understood what life was about.

Terrified I didn’t deserve him, I squashed my negative feelings to try to make myself more deserving.

This is what manipulative people want.

“It’s important to remember that you are not the problem; you’re simply being manipulated to feel bad about yourself, so that you’re more likely to surrender your power and rights,” psychologist Preston Ni writes in Psychology Today.

Since I was constantly trying to prove I was deserving, my partner always got what he wanted from me.

4. You’ve Done Things That Make You Uncomfortable to Avoid Conflict

Manipulation occurs when someone tries to force you out of your comfort zone. And I’m not talking about going on a spontaneous trip or trying a new food – I’m talking about disregarding your physical, emotional, or financial boundaries.

Manipulative people have sneaky ways of making their partners think their comfort zones don’t matter.

My partner’s chosen method was convincing me my comfort zone was unreasonable and that respecting it would mean disrespecting his.

The first boundary he coaxed me to cross was my standard for safer sex.

Since he’d had unprotected sex since he’d last gotten tested, I wanted him to get tested or use a condom before sleeping with me. He told me condoms hurt, so I asked him to get tested – for months.

He kept saying he would make appointments but never did. Eventually, he confessed that doctors’ offices made him anxious. He told me he’d only had unprotected sex one time since he was last tested and she said she was STI-negative, so it shouldn’t be an issue. I got sick of having the same discussion over and over, so I gave in and had unprotected sex.

My decision was not safe either, but it was understandable given the alternative. I didn’t want to dishonor his own feelings about condoms or doctors’ offices and put him out of his comfort zone.

The next boundary he wore away at was financial. Since I made more money than him, he argued, I should cover our dates when he was short on cash.

I had enough money to pay for his meals, so I again felt petty that it made me uncomfortable. Why was I putting my own ability to save money over his ability to enjoy our time together?

He also got me to cough up cash by telling me I was privileged and couldn’t understand what he was going through. I didn’t want to be unsympathetic, so I helped him out. I was afraid I’d be an inconsiderate, spoiled girlfriend if I didn’t.

As these stories show, his weapon of choice was not overt aggression, but intellectual, seemingly rational arguments. If I couldn’t justify my boundaries intellectually, I couldn’t have them.

That’s the ultimate manipulation – not violating the boundaries you’re defending, but convincing you to take them down on your own.

5. They Don’t Answer Your Questions Directly

My partner once taught me a trick for job interviews.

If someone stumps you with a question, he said, change the subject. Talk about how passionate you are about your work, how you always give it 100%, how you don’t like to say 110% because that’s an imaginary standard that doesn’t hold us accountable. By the time you’re done, the interviewer won’t remember what they asked you.

I soon realized he took this same approach to our conversations, which explained why so many of them left me wondering “Where did this all start?” only to realize they started with me unhappy.

When I’d try to tell him something was wrong in our relationship or even discuss a problem in my life that wasn’t about him, he’d bring up a tangentially related experience of his own or an abstract philosophical concept that had nothing to do with us. It was maddening.

Manipulative people do this so you can’t expose them.

Instead of confronting their mistakes, they divert your attention to something else, often with an emotional story that you’d feel bad interrupting. So, you comply with their subject change and try to forget how the conversation started in the first place.

Unfortunately, if it started with something important to you, it comes back to haunt you later.

6. You Feel Like Two Different People

One minute, I’d be complaining about my partner to my friends and family. The next, I’d be defending him against their claims that he wasn’t good for me. One minute, I’d vow to change my ways and hold him to lower expectations. The next, I’d be angry with him for not meeting the expectations I held.

I felt like I had split personalities, my allegiances constantly shifting. My thoughts were muddled and confused.

But after gaining an understanding of manipulation, I realized the version of me that was aligned with him was not based on my own original thoughts. He had manipulated me into advocating for him.

In fact, when I defended him, I sounded just like him. I ranted about how misunderstood he was. “Gas prices are ridiculous these days,” I’d point out when my friends found his habit of backing out of plans due to insufficient funds inconsiderate. “There was only one time he could have gotten anything,” I’d say to downplay the whole STI debacle. “I’m not perfect either,” I’d remind my friends, repeating something he liked to remind me.

I was in the middle of defending my boyfriend’s decision not to share any of the food in his house with me when my dad yelled, “Snap out of it!” Something clicked, and I realized I had been upset about all these things, too, before my partner convinced me they were no big deal.

Thankfully, I had family and friends who stood up for me – and stood up to me when I was gaslighting myself. Eventually, it became impossible to play the roles of both the loyal girlfriend and the friend and daughter of people who wanted the best for me. I had to pick one version of myself.

So I decided to speak up.

7. They Manipulate Your Beliefs About the Manipulation Itself

If you want to confront a manipulative person, Ni writes that they behave like bullies, so as you would stand up to a bully, “be sure to place yourself in a position where you can safely protect yourself, whether it’s standing tall on your own, having other people present to witness and support, or keeping a paper trail of the bully’s inappropriate behavior.”

But sometimes that doesn’t work. In my case, my partner used my “paper trail” as further evidence of my own pettiness.

That September, I pointed out that he still hadn’t read the thesis he promised to read in January. I didn’t even care about the thesis anymore, but I wanted him to understand why I had trouble putting faith in him rather than portraying my lack of trust as an attack.

“You didn’t have the right to yell at me for calling you out on not reading my thesis,” I said.

“Yes, I did.”

And that was about when I knew our relationship was headed downhill for good.

I was starting to see I didn’t deserve to feel like an ice queen for asking to split expenses or like I had to compromise my sexual boundaries to make him comfortable. And I knew that as long as I stayed with him, I would feel those pressures.

I dragged myself out of that relationship kicking and screaming, but I haven’t looked back since.

In her follow-up book The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?, Evans writes that some verbally abusive people can change if they truly understand what they’re doing, which usually requires therapy, while others don’t recognize themselves as abusive.

When you confront a manipulative person, they will either take a good, hard look at themselves, or they will manipulate you into unseeing the manipulation.

That’s the final sign that you’re in a relationship with a manipulative person – and a loud and clear signal that they won’t change.

By the time of that conversation, I had already seen my partner’s manipulation too clearly for him to deny it, no matter how convincing his arguments were.

I hope that if you are being manipulated, what was previously fuzzy and confusing and so maddening you wanted to tear your hair out has come into focus for you as well.

Over two years since I ended that relationship, I’m still learning to view myself in a more positive light. I still gaslight myself all the time, but when I catch myself doing this, I try to remember my negative feelings are a sign something’s wrong, not a character flaw.

And I no longer pick my split ends.

Seeing the warning signs of a toxic relationships

In the flush of a budding romance, a person may dismiss or minimize the telltale signs that warn of future relationship problems.

That person may minimize or dismiss bad behavior because “he’s so good-looking” or “she doesn’t act like that all the time.” Or, worse, they blame themselves for their partner’s destructive actions.

Don’t ignore these signs if you’re serious about finding that special someone, experts say. In the end, when you’re asking why it all went wrong, it’s usually those “red flags” that were your first indication to move on.

Some signs of domestic problems are obvious — blatant infidelity or physical violence — but others are more subtle, said Maren Richards, crisis intervention coordinator for the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks.

“Name-calling, verbal put-downs, humiliation or making a person feel like they’re worthless or crazy” are common tactics of an abuser, she said.

Another prevalent attitude that the man should be in control weaves through the cases of many victims of domestic abuse.

“We see a lot of abusers using their ‘male privilege,’ that belief system that says males are dominant and should take charge,” Richards said. “They treat their partner like a servant — to care for the children, do the housework — and say, ‘I’ll make all the big decisions.’ ”

Some people are content “to go with the flow,” she said. But sometimes, if their opinions are never heard, they just give up.

Warning signs

Here are some signs that can help you determine if you are, or someone you know is, in a toxic relationship:

1. You’re always walking on eggshells.

One of the first signs of a toxic relationship is when one partner is always controlling, but that doesn’t always mean physically threatening or violent. It can simply be that you feel frightened to share your opinions — you’re constantly walking on eggshells because you’re afraid of your partner’s emotional reactions, experts say.

It’s also about emotional safety. Partners should be able to express themselves without fear of what’s going to happen when they do.

2. Your partner tries to control you.

Control and emotional manipulation are hallmarks of domestic abuse.

The abuser uses guilt to shift blame for poor behavior, Richards said. “They’ll say, for example, ‘If you wouldn’t have made me mad, I wouldn’t have done it.’ And the person will believe it and think, ‘Yes, I really did make him mad. I guess it was my fault.’

“It’s an ugly cycle, and the further you get into it, the harder it is to see what’s happening,” she said. “I hate to use the word ‘brainwashing,’ but it changes the way they view themselves and the way they think.”

3. Your partner punches a wall or throws objects during a fight.

Not only are these unhealthy ways of regulating emotions, but they could escalate to actions that really do cause harm. This kind of behavior is meant to intimidate another person.

“Even a look — like the one moms give their kids in a grocery store — that says, ‘Get in line’ ” can be an attempt to intimidate, Richards said.

Physical actions — such as grabbing someone’s arm and saying, “Get back here, I’m not done talking to you” — can be early indications of abuse. But that may not happen early in a dating relationship.

“If someone hit you in the face the second time you go out with them, it’s easy to walk away,” Richards said. And the abuser knows it.

“Generally, there’s kind of that buildup. It may start with a push. It rarely immediately escalates to a higher level.”

4. You’re being isolated from family and friends.

The abuser may take steps to control who you spend time with, as part of a subtle effort to manipulate you, Richards said. “They control who you see so they become the sole influence (in your life), and it’s harder for you to leave.”

They also use finances as a way to control their partner, she said. “(For example) they may keep you from working.

“One of the largest barriers to leaving is being financially dependent. It may feel overwhelming — the person may not see how they can make it on their own, especially if children are involved.”

5. You’ve been lied to.

“Honesty is an important facet of healthy relationships,” Richards said. “If someone has lied to you, you’ll want to figure out what this person’s intentions are.”

Was it to engage in some behavior they knew you wouldn’t be on board with or supportive of? If so, that might be a strategy they’ll continue to use.

“Little white lies,” especially when used to protect someone or spare their feelings, are probably not a sign of abuse, Richards said. “But if they’re lying about what they’re doing, who they were with, or where they were, that’s an indicator that something unhealthy is happening.”

6. Your family and friends tell you something’s wrong.

You may not realize you’re in a toxic relationship until things get really bad, especially if things have slowly gotten worse, or it’s gone on for so long it seems normal, experts say.

It’s important for family members to identify a domestic abuse issue, Richards said. “You could say something like, ‘I’m concerned about you; I think (the relationship) may be unsafe.’ But you have to be careful not to be too pushy because you may push them to further isolation. It’s about finding that fine line.

“You can make the offer, show concern, and let them make the decision about what to do,” she said. “It’s a tough thing to support someone who’s in this situation. It’s kind of like addiction in that the person has to be ready to make that big step.”

Help is available “if you’re not sure about your relationship,” Richards said. “You can come in (to CVIC) to talk.

“We see a lot of people come in and say, ‘I’m not sure I should be here,’ but they usually are in the right place. They don’t recognize how bad it might be, but we do, because we work with this every day.

“It’s hard to come to terms with (the fact that) someone you love would do that to you.”

Viral domestic violence video: Ex-partner admits violently shoving Emma Murphy

Irish Eaminer/July 12, 2015

The man whose ex-partner accused him of punching her in the face in a viral video this week, has admitted that he did use violence against her.

In an interview published today, Francis Usanga said: “I lost the head and basically pushed her straight in the face. I shoved her in the face. It was a real forceful shove in the face. I connected with her face.

“I didn’t use a fist. I didn’t use a fist to punch her you know, because if I think I used a fist to punch her, even though she was severely damaged, I think her face would have been…”
He then cuts off, before adding: “It was uncalled for, I don’t condone it.

“It was very hard. I pushed her really hard in the face. It was so quick that it would have been the strongest part of my hand, it was with an open hand.

“It was more of a push, a real hard push. It was pretty violent and there’s no excuse at all and I’m extremely sorry for that.”

Usanga added in the interview with the Sunday World newspaper: “No man should hit a woman. It was a situation where I was in the wrong”.

In the video uploaded this week to facebook and YouTube, Emma Murphy had a visible black eye, which she claimed was caused when her now-ex partner Usanga hit her. She describes finding out he had been cheating on her with a woman who is now pregnant.

When she went to confront him, she says he hit her in the face.

The powerful video has been viewed almost six million times, has attracted international attention and has generated thousands of likes and comments, with many praising Ms Murphy’s courage in coming forward.

Speaking to 98FM this week, Ms Murphy said that she has filed a report against Usanga to the Gardaí.

In the emotional interview, she also said she still has feelings for him but that she will never go back to him as filming the video gave her closure.

“At the moment I still have feelings for him and I still love him… when somebody hits you, you just don’t stop loving them,” she said.

She said she had posted the Facebook video to raise awareness of physical and mental abuse because she strongly believed no man should hit a woman. She said the other reason was to make certain that she would never go back to Usanga.

She said posting the video had nothing to do with revenge on her Usanga. “(I did this) for me…Enough was enough. Hitting a woman is wrong. Full stop,” she said.

“The main reason to post the video was I would always have chased him (previously). I knew by posting that video that that was that. That was the nail in the coffin. By posting that video I knew there was no going back…That was it for us.”

She said she had given him a number of chances in the past. Explaining why she took him back on those occasions, she said:”I felt weak…I loved him.”

She has two young children with Usanga.

She said domestic abuse can be very complicated, and explained: “He was the love of my life (and) I still love him. When someone hits you, you don’t just stop loving them…You don’t just wake up one morning and have no feelings for him.”

She said the worst aspect of the three-year relationship was that she lost confidence, friends and some family who did not want her to be with him after he told her her insecurities would eat her up. She described this as “mental torture”