(Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved)
It is hard to describe the utter despair and agony of watching a beloved young adult child with a bright and happy future become trapped in the hellish cycle of emotional abuse. It's similar to witnessing your child being abducted or kidnapped. The inability to rescue or help that child, as you slowly watch him/her self-destruct, is a parents' worst nightmare.
There are many excellent articles, websites, and resources that can help us to understand and recognize abusive relationships. We had a strong feeling that something was very "off" in my son's relationship with his girlfriend. We saw countless red flags. But we didn't know how to express our concerns until we did a little digging and found a few websites that helped us to define, confirm, and substantiate the abnormal behavior we were observing. It was only after we fully understood what was happening, that we could help him to connect the dots; thus giving him a way out.
Austin is one those young men that everyone looks up to. He is outgoing, kind-hearted, happy, athletic, incredibly optimistic, somewhat naive and gullible, and just plain nice. He is one of those kids who is loved by everyone. He loves people and likes to make them happy. To know Austin is to like him. He is respectful, approachable, and loves life.
Austin had been in Argentina for 2 years doing missionary work. Upon his return, he met Marcia through some common friends on Facebook. They hit it off and he was quite smitten. He spent many hours chatting with her on social media apps. As parents, we were worried from the beginning. There is always some trepidation when people meet online. We also sensed that something was just not right about this girl. After a while, Austin broke things off on his own. He said that it didn't seem right and he admitted that he felt a little suffocated by her.
Picking Up Speed
The relationship moves very quickly. Proclamations of deep feelings and desires for exclusivity or a label follow. It can feel overwhelming, but also incredibly romantic and flattering. You’re constantly texting and talking to one another; it’s like you can’t get enough! They might surprise you with a visit when you’re not expecting it, and you see these things as testimonies of growing affection. The relationship feels intense, but you excuse it because it’s love – or so you think.Taken from OneLove https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/emotional_abuse/
Re-ignition, Romance, Increasing Speed and Intensity
The following summer, Austin flew down to Argentina to meet up with some of the friends he had met while on his mission. Marcia happened to be in one of the cities that he was visiting and he decided to meet her in person. He had felt guilty about breaking up with her and thought he should at least give her a chance. This was the first time they had met in person. They hit it off immediately. They spent two days together. When he called home to report on his trip, he told us about Marcia and how wonderful she was. He was quite smitten. He talked of nothing else. We were a little alarmed. He wasn't acting like himself. He seemed over-the-top, almost like he was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince us. Rather than starting as a friendship and moving slowly towards a more intimate relationship, we noticed this relationship was already abnormally and prematurely intense. After the trip, he returned to the states, where he had an out-of-state sales job lined up that had the potential for lots of college money. During this time, he lived alone, away from home, and didn't have much contact with his family. This was a little unusual for Austin. He was normally very close to us and communicated much more. However, he was in constant phone contact with Marcia. They started talking about future plans together. He stayed up late every night talking to her. She told him that more than anything she wanted to leave her country and come to the US. Her family was broken and her country was corrupt. She needed a way out. She knew that he would help her realize her dreams. His ego was fed and he desperately wanted to help this beautiful girl out of her predicament. He told us later that during this time, he was having second thoughts about the relationship. He realized that things were not ideal. However, she convinced him that love would conquer all. He was enamored and felt that if he worked hard enough, they could make this work. Together they figured out a way for her to get a visa to move to the U.S. and study English. As parents, we were extremely concerned about what we were seeing. The relationship seemed to be speeding out of control. We also sensed a strange sense of desperation in him. He once hinted that if she couldn't come to the states, that he would drop out of school to be with her. This seemed bizarre and very unlike Austin. He was usually very level-headed. It was strange that he was committing himself so completely to someone having only spent 2 days together. He didn't seem quite like himself; something seemed "off," and it worried us.
Having really extreme feelings or over-the-top behavior that feels like too much. Examples are rushing the pace of a relationship, always wanting to see you and talk to you, and feeling like someone is obsessed with you.
Love bombing is an attempt to accelerate the birth and growth of feelings within the victim by creating an intense atmosphere of affection and adoration. It is designed to disarm an individual’s natural guardedness so that they do not question the direction and speed a relationship is headed in.
It does this by adding elements of confusion, flattery, dependency, and an air of destiny into the mix.https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/3737/love-bombing-early-warning-sign-youre-dating-narcissist/
Marcia arrived in the US in October. Immediately, Austin and Marcia were inseparable. Austin had told us that he wanted to get to know Marcia better before he made any decisions. However, it seemed like the decision had already been made. This was not your regular dating (get-to-know-each other) relationship; this was more like an intense engagement. Austin felt completely responsible for Marcia. He provided all her transportation; made sure she got set up with her school. She quickly found an apartment close to Austin , so that she could spend all her free time with him. We stopped hearing much from him. He spent every spare minute with Marcia. We had a feeling that she was completely dependent on him for everything. It also seemed that his time was consumed with taking care of Marcia. We sensed that he was not doing well emotionally. He mentioned that he had been struggling with depression. Several weeks after Marcia arrived in the US, we received a phone call and Austin announced to us that they were planning on getting married in April. We hadn't yet met Marcia, but felt extremely concerned. It was gut-wrenching news. We were terrified. We had seen countless red flags. We were worried about how obsessively quick the relationship had developed. We were worried about culture and language issues in their marriage. We sensed that Marcia was overly dependent on Austin and that she expected him to do everything for her. More importantly, we sensed that Austin was not truly happy. He seemed stressed. He was not himself and showed signs of serious depression. The relationship just felt somewhat forced and wrong. However, not wanting to be overly controlling parents, we tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and hoped that our concerns would resolve themselves.
The Manipulator's 6 Steps to Idealization
1. We have so much in common
We see the world the same way. We have the same sense of humor. We’re both so empathetic, constantly helping out our friends & family members. We are perfect for each other.
2. We have the same hopes and dreams
The [manipulator] will consume your present life, but they will also take over your future. In order to raise the stakes in the relationship, they will make many long-term promises. This ensures that you are highly invested in the relationship. After all, who wants to stick around for a romance that has no potential future?
3. We share the same insecurities
They will never actually say this, of course. But psychopaths can sniff out vulnerabilities in a second. They will mirror your insecurities to drive up your sympathy—so that you attempt to heal their problems with the same care you might hope to receive yourself.
4. You are beautiful
[Manipulators] are obsessed with the way you look. You will never meet another human being who comments so frequently on your clothes, your hair, your skin, your pictures, or whatever other superficial quality they choose to focus on that day. At first, these feel like compliments. They can’t believe how beautiful or handsome you are—they don’t even feel worthy of being your partner.
5. I’ve never felt this way in my life
This is where the comparisons begin. They hold you in high regard, far above all of their other relationships. They explain—in detail—every one of the reasons you are better than their exes. They can’t remember the last time they’ve been this happy.
6. We are soul mates
Psychopaths love the idea of soul mates. It implies something different than love. It says that there are higher powers at work. That you are meant to be together. It means that they consume your entire being—mind and body alike. It creates a psychic bond that lasts long after the relationship has ended.
First Impressions, Language Boundaries, and Hints of Control
Several of Austin's siblings attend the same university. Each of them had met Marcia, and each of them was concerned with what they saw. Austin seemed completely sucked into Marcia's world. He didn't spend time with his siblings, friends, or anyone else--besides Marcia. And his personality was slowly changing. His siblings noticed that he was trying too hard to convince everyone how happy he was. He had always been very close to his siblings and, suddenly, he hardly had any time for them. We drove out to be with our college kids for Thanksgiving. We were somewhat anxious about meeting Marcia and weren't sure what to expect. When we arrived, Austin told us that they had broken off the engagement because he didn't feel right about it. We were relieved, but still very worried about the situation.
The first thing we noticed was that she refused to speak English to any of us. She spoke only Spanish. All of her communication was directed to or through Austin . By not communicating directly with us, she made sure that her words became Austin's words. He also was unable to leave her side at any time while he was with us. Austin tried to engage us in their conversations by explaining things like, "Marcia said this" or "Marcia thinks that." However, Marcia did not seem at all interested in trying to communicate with us on her own. We could see that she clearly depended on Austin for all her communication with the outside world. That worried us, because we could see that she was using the language to isolate him from being present with those who were around him.
We later went shopping together to get some matching clothes for family pictures. Austin 's sister was in charge of picking out the shirts for everyone. She handed Austin a shirt to try on. Marcia took Austin aside, spoke to him in Spanish, after which Austin announced to us that Marcia wouldn't let him wear that shirt because it made him look pale. We were all taken somewhat aback! Why was Marcia assuming control over what Austin should wear in our family picture? We brushed it off, but it left us wondering. We sensed that Marcia wanted to show us that she was in charge and was going to call all the shots. That left us feeling uncomfortable and worried.
Manipulators Micro-Manage You
Manipulators make it clear what clothes they approve of. They decide what you watch on TV, who you speak to, they monitor your texts. They listen to your conversations and question who you’re talking to and why you said what you said. They use their moods to control you. You try to second guess them and attempt to manage them. You change your behaviour, what you say and do, to appease them. To try to please them. To do everything you can to make them happy. So as not to inflame the anger they’re now starting to reveal. The anger that frightens you.
First Major Red Flag
We could tell that Austin was very invested in the relationship. Austin and Marcia joined us for our extended family Thanksgiving dinner. Austin spent most of his time entertaining Marcia and wasn't able to interact much with the rest of the family. After a while, we could tell that Marcia was upset. We mentioned to Austin to come into a separate room so we could talk to him. We explained that we had concerns about this relationship, but that we trusted him to make a good decision. While we were talking to him, he received a text from Marcia (who was upstairs). He looked at us in a panic and said, "Mom, she just broke up with me!" He started to freak out. A minute later, the door opened and Marcia poked her head in and then closed it again. Austin jumped up and followed her, motioning for us to come. We found Marcia sitting on a sofa, angrily scrolling on her phone. Austin was frantic. He was half wailing, half crying: "Mom, She's breaking up with me! I wanted to marry her! We have been looking at rings! Mom, I wanted to marry her!! What am I going to do?" The desperation in his voice was unnerving. But even more unnerving was watching Marcia sit there, unmoving, without any response, scrolling on her phone, quite pleased that she had an audience (us) to witness Austin's desperate weeping. Now and then, throughout his wailings, she would pat him on the leg, but did not take her eyes off the phone. We were blown away by the callousness. It was apparent that she was punishing him for choosing time with family over her. Austin was devastated and asked that they be taken home. Austin 's sister agreed to drive them back to their apartments. We found out that on the way home, Marcia had promptly made up with Austin . This was even more unnerving, because we could see that the sole purpose of the break-up was to control and punish Austin and to show us, his parents, that she was in charge. After this incident, we knew that Austin was in over his head and we became worried that he would become trapped in an abusive and unhealthy relationship.
"The only time you should hear the words "it's over" should be when the relationship is really and truly over.
If your partner is invoking a "break-up" or threatening to end it with you over a simple argument, they're willing to make you feel unsafe in the relationship. They are showing you that they don't care if they hurt you or risk you saying, "Okay yeah, we are over," as long as they get the upper hand."
Always "forgiving" you
After abusing you, and especially after escalating the abuse, your abuser is sweet and light, full of tears, apologies, gifts, special dinners or a night out, self-recrimination, swearing to do better and telling you how much he loves you and how it will never happen again. This is one of the abuser's most effective manipulations.
Signs of Depression
We had noticed a huge change in Austin's demeanor. Instead of the happy, optimistic, and cheerful young man we were used to seeing, he seemed anxious, worried, and, at times, very withdrawn and depressed. He had struggled a little with depression before he met Marcia, but this was much more intense. We found out that he had been having suicidal thoughts. When we asked him how things were going with Marcia , he always said they were fine. Yet, we could tell that they were not OK. Marcia would pout and mope and Austin would feel responsible and try harder to make her happy and also try to convince us that he was happy. There were also times when we would get together and Marcia would not join us. During those times, Austin was withdrawn and despondent. We found out afterwards that Marcia had been angry and made him feel very guilty for spending time with his family. He seemed confused and remorseful about disappointing Marcia. We tried to explain to him, that in a healthy, good relationship, he would be feeling happy. He would feel like his best possible self, not his worst. We had literally never seen him so changed, so full of doubt and worry, and so depressed.
We were so concerned about the drastic changes we had observed in Austin personality and the possibility that he might hurt himself or become suicidal, that we suggested that he withdraw from school and come home. Austin desperately wanted to come home. He confided in us that he needed to rest and that he felt like his life was spinning out of control. We hoped that by getting a break from Marcia , that he might be able to heal and see things a little more clearly. He was clearly torn between feelings of guilt and responsibility for Marcia and needing to come home to rest and heal. We could see that he was desperate for help. He decided to withdraw on the condition that Marcia could join us for Christmas. We agreed and brought him home with us the week after Thanksgiving. The night we arrived home, he had an emotional breakdown. He literally crawled under his bed and sobbed. It took us a while to coax him out. We were so very worried about our sweet boy. He seemed completely exhausted and overwhelmed.
How Emotional Abuse Leads to Depression
It takes a great deal of energy to deal with emotional abuse and stay buoyant. Each emotional assault takes its toll on that store of energy. Some people simply run out of strength to climb the mound of abuse heaped upon them. When that happens, they slip into the pit of depression. Unable to escape from anger, fear, shame, and guilt, they attempt to shut down all of their emotions. With no visible way out, they curl into themselves, isolating themselves from others and imploding their world.
No Space Allowed
For the first week after Austin arrived home, we were relieved to see that he had returned to his cheerful, happy self. He seemed so relieved to have space and rest. He played with his siblings, spent time with friends, met with a counselor, and seemed genuinely better. We started to hope that he would be able to connect the dots and recognize that his relationship with Marcia was unhealthy. We expected to have Marcia join us a few days before Christmas and hoped that by then, Austin would be healthy enough to establish some boundaries in the relationship. However, just a few days after he arrived home, while at a friend's house, Austin texted us that Marcia would be arriving at our home in a few days (a full week and a half before expected). When we asked him about it, he seemed somewhat embarrassed. We found out later that she had insisted he pay for a plane ticket (with his meager college funds) and fly her up immediately. He took the all the blame and defended Marcia's need to be with him. However, we found out later, that he had not wanted her to come, but had felt immense pressure to do whatever she asked.
Abuse and Isolation
An emotional abuser doesn’t like to share. They’re in constant need to know your whereabouts and do not want you to have a life outside of their relationship. In most cases, they mandate that you stay away from your friends and family – and if you do associate with them, they have to be around. Isolation is pretty easy to identify. However, the person being abused is likely to cover for the abuser. They may be blinded by love and unaware of the isolation taking place or they could be so scared of the abuser that they choose to hide behind due to fear. https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/galleries/6-signs-of-emotional-abuse.aspx?p=2
Marcia stayed at our home for almost 4 weeks. We were not able to communicate much since she would not speak English to us and we did not know any Spanish. It was a difficult time. We tried to make her feel welcome, but it was hard. We did not dislike nor hate Marcia. In fact, we made an effort to be kind to her as a person. However, we definitely disapproved of the relationship. We saw countless red flags and were worried about Austin . He waited on her hand and foot. She seldom ate any of our food, and insisted that he constantly drive her to the store to buy her other food. When he was not around, she stayed in her room with the door shut. She became angry that he wasn't entertaining her and showing her around the area more--when all he wanted was to be home and spend time with his family. She pouted when she didn't get her way. He tried so hard to get Marcia to open up and communicate more with the family. He wore himself out trying to fix everything and to make her happy. We went out of our way to make Christmas as nice as possible. We bought presents for her and tried to include her in our traditions. However, she remained unapproachable. She would go in her room and sulk until Austin went in to check on her. Then they would have "intense conversations" that would last hours. Of course, we had no idea what they were discussing, because everything was in Spanish. We noticed that Austin always seemed worn out and depressed after these intense conversations. We weren't sure exactly what was wrong, but we did know that things were definitely not right. This was not normal nor healthy.
Suicide as Emotional Abuse: When Threats of Suicide are Used to Control
When abusers threaten suicide or self-harm, they are causing the fear to rise within us so that we don’t leave. In this way, threats of suicide are being used as a method of control. They may go so far as to claim that we don’t care enough about them and that they have lost the will to live. They may sit crumpled up on the floor and cry their fake tears just to make us fear for their safety. Or, they may even loop an extension cord around their neck while making the same threat of suicide or self-harm. This is all so that they can trap us into staying with them.
Their goal is to cause us to feel guilty if something were to happen to them. They are playing on our emotions of love for them and they know that. They may even say, “Well if you really loved me, you wouldn’t let me kill myself.”
Say and Want One Thing, But Do Another (Trapped Against His Will)
Even though it made Marcia angry, Austin went out of his way to connect with us during the holidays. He occasionally came into our room late at night to talk. During those times, we communicated our love and concern for him. We lovingly explained to him that that we saw many red flags in the relationship and that the behavior we were observing was not normal. He seemed to understand what we were saying. He even agreed that he felt trapped in the relationship. When we talked to him, he told us that he didn't think the relationship would last. He admitted that there were major red flags. He explained to us that he would be relieved if she decided to break things off and return to Argentina . He talked about his desire to be single again. When we asked him why he couldn't break up, he explained that he just couldn't do that...not now, not during the holidays. He wanted her to have a nice Christmas. He told us that when Christmas was over and they were back at school, that he would create some space, set some boundaries, and possibly break up.
However, when it was time to return to school, things started to escalate. Because he had sold his apartment contract, Austin needed a place to live. We found him a few inexpensive, close-to-campus apartments with short leases (ones that ended when school was out). However, unbeknownst to us, Marcia had found him an apartment directly across the street from her. It was more expensive with a much longer lease (through the summer) and further away from campus. Austin was clearly excited about the cheaper options that we had found for him, but was noticeably worried about what Marcia would think. We reminded him that he had set a goal of creating some space and setting some boundaries and that this should be his decision, not hers. He agreed and decided to take the apartment.
When Austin explained to Marcia that he was going to take the cheaper and closer-to-campus apartment instead of the one across the street from her, she became irate. She kept him in her room for 2 hours. We could hear crying, some yelling, and lots of angry and intense talking. When Austin emerged, he was visibly broken. His only words to us, before he went to bed, were "I feel so lost and confused." This was such an awful, gut-wrenching time for us, as parents. We could see the anguish that Austin was enduring, yet we felt so helpless.
The next morning, the college kids, including Austin and Marcia , drove back to school. On the way, Marcia cried and pouted. Austin was dropped off at his grandparent's house and was extremely depressed and withdrawn. He locked himself in his room. His grandparents couldn't believe the change in Austin . They had never before seen him depressed or distraught. They were shaken by the change in their grandson. Marcia was dropped off at her apartment. We called Austin to check on him. We found out that Marcia had been threatening suicide and making him feel like such a horrible person for leaving her alone with her terrible depression that Austin felt compelled to take the apartment that she had selected for him. He seemed extremely depressed and somewhat ashamed of his choice. We could see that he just did not have the strength to oppose Marcia or go against her will. As parents, we were terrified at what was happening to our sweet son. The suicide threats, the break-up threats, the pouting, the anger, the guilt...it was too much for him. We knew he needed and wanted help, but he was unable to take the life-lines that we were continually throwing out to him. He was just too weak and too susceptible to her controlling threats.
Jealousy is one of the most consistent prominent traits within an abuser. No matter what a victim does or says, an abuser will perceive the actions as an act of defiance and become overwhelmed with jealousy. In addition, an abuser wants complete control over the individual twenty-four-seven. And any moment the abuser doesn’t have complete control, they will exude a great amount of jealousy.
Read more at https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/galleries/6-signs-of-emotional-abuse.aspx?p=7#zmuZudbJrBpygumo.99
Radio Silence: a period during which one hears nothing from a normally communicative person
From Our Viewpoint
After Austin returned to school, we didn't hear anything from him for a few months. He didn't answer phone calls. He didn't interact much with his siblings. We were very, very worried about him. This was such a far cry from the boy we knew and loved. We sent him constant texts, telling him that we loved him. We really didn't know what was going on in his life. We felt like we were losing him. His once bright future looked absolutely hopeless and black. Our happy, optimistic, outgoing son seemed like a shell of the man he once was...he was broken and miserable. Marcia had pushed him to compromise his values, his friendships, his personality, his athletic goals, his academic goals. As parents, we were extremely distraught. When his siblings tried to talk to him, he became defensive and angry, which, previous to this relationship, would have been inconceivable. Our family has always been extremely close with very loving and open relationships. Austin worked at the same on-campus job as his sisters. They noticed that whenever he was working, Marcia was often in the building during his entire shift. They tried to reach out to him, but they couldn't get him to leave Marcia's side. At one point, Austin confronted his sister and scolded her for not being more warm and welcoming towards Marcia when she saw them. His sister, who was desperately worried about Austin, tried hard to smile and greet Marcia when she saw her. However, the fact that Marcia didn't speak much English, and the fact that Marcia clearly disliked everyone in our family, made it quite difficult to reach out to her. We didn't know what to do. We wanted to help him, but we also didn't want to push him further away from us. We prayed, loved, offered support, and, as always, avoided criticizing Marcia . We let Austin know that we were there for him, that we were concerned about him, and that we cared deeply about his well-being.
This time of 'radio silence' was probably the darkest time for Austin . We didn't hear about everything that he was going through until much later. We had read about about victims not being able to leave abusive relationships, but we did not know the full extent of Marcia 's abuse tactics until a later time, when Austin was able to share the details with us. See "In Austin's Words" . From what we were able to discern during these months, is that the fights , control, irrational jealousy, mind games, constant monitoring, frequent suicide threats, and even physical abuse, had escalated to the point where Austin felt absolutely crazy. He gave up trying to assert his will because of the punishment that he would receive if he went against Marcia's wishes. He told us later, that the reason he shut out his family, was to preserve his sanity. Marcia's anger and the fights that would ensue after our reaching out to him, left him beaten and broken. The only way to avoid the fights was to avoid his family and try to convince Marcia that he hated them and loved her.
Stockholm Syndrome is also common in long-term abuse situations. In Stockholm Syndrome, the victim is so terrified of the abuser that the victim overly identifies and becomes bonded with the abuser in an attempt to stop the abuse. The victim will even defend their abuser and their emotionally abusive actions. https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/effects-of-emotional-abuse-on-adults
Constant Surveillance/Control and Irrational Jealousy
As parents, we were frantic to reach our son. We wrote him an email, begging him to open his eyes to the situation. We weren't aware of Marcia's constant surveillance at that point. We didn't know that she was in complete control of his phone and his computer. She read all his message, monitored his Facebook activity, his Whatsapp, his emails, and even his browsing history on both his phone and computer. We knew that she was controlling Austin , but we weren't aware that she was monitoring his every move--both physical and virtual. Because she saw us as a major threat to her claim on and her control over Austin , our email to him enraged her, which led to a huge fight between them. The fight, in turn, made Austin's life miserable, and kept him from reaching out or involving us in his life. He was literally in survival mode and just couldn't take on any more stress. So, all of his efforts went into keeping the peace with Marcia .
His siblings were very concerned. They would call home, very worried about Austin, because his whole personality had changed so much. They tried to talk to him, but Marcia was always there. When we called him on the phone, she was always listening. When we sent him messages, she always read them. He was literally unreachable.
We also were not aware at the time, that in addition to going to work with him, she also followed him to his classes and monitored every interaction that he had with other people, especially other girls. If she noticed that he even looked at a girl, she would become irate, stalk the girl on Facebook and confront him about his unfaithfulness and make him feel like a terrible person. In fact, after seeing him look at a girl in his biology class, she blew up, stalked the girl, confronted her, and didn't allow him to ever attend that class unless she was able to accompany him. He ended up almost failing the class because he could only attend class when she felt like going.
Austin was made to account for every minute spent away from Marcia . She timed him between walking to and from work. She made sure that he was checking in with her upon his arrival. If she called and he didn't answer, she would become irate. She suspected that he was cheating on her at every turn. At one point, they were ordering food at McDonald's and she saw him look at the girl in the drive-through, who was handing him the food. She became irate and chucked her drink at him and soaked him.
In order to keep him in line, she would tell him that he was becoming just like her terrible ex-boyfriend. Sometimes, she would bring up all the men that she thought would love to be with her. She would even threaten to have sex with these men, if he was ever unfaithful to her.
Jealousy, though a natural emotion, is not a sign of flattery or love -- it is a problem. Telling a dating partner that they get "crazy jealous" is a warning sign of dating abuse and should be heard loud and clear. Jealous behavior can potentially escalate into other harmful behaviors. The person experiencing abusive behaviors may feel they have no one to turn to, leaving them without the support of friends and family when they need it most.
The emotional abuse cycle follows the same pattern as that of physical abuse — once the victim of emotional abuse figures out what’s going on and starts thinking about leaving or seriously calls the abuser on his actions, the abuser will suddenly become very apologetic and romantic, trying to woo her back into the fold.
Crazy-Making Fights and Self Harm
After a while, the fights with Marcia made Austin feel absolutely crazy. Her arguments were irrational and demeaning. She would always circle back to what a terrible person he was and how he couldn't trust him. She would make him feel guilty by listing all the the things she had done for him and would point out all the ways in which he had failed to live up to his responsibilities. She constantly threatened to break up and leave (but never did). They would yell and scream at each other--which is something Austin had never done. He was not raised around any yelling and screaming. This type of violent fighting was so foreign to him, that he was confused and felt like his sanity was going to snap. He found that he would do anything to avoid the fights. However, if he tried to leave during a fight, she would stand in front of the door, threatening to call the police.
Because he could never win these illogical and crazy fights, he would try to escape by hurting himself. He would bash his head against walls and furniture, hoping to black out. He'd slap himself, just to feel the pain. Any time we tried to reach out to Austin, Marcia would get angry. In her mind, we were racist, evil people who were out to control Austin and ruin a loving relationship. Whenever Austin defended his family or tried to reach out to us, she became irate and jealous, and would say awful and terrible things about his siblings and us, his parents. She told him often that she wanted to punch our faces. She took one of his family pictures and tore our faces out. These fights became so stressful, that Austin stopped responding to his family, even becoming angry whenever we tried to reach him...because of the awful fights that it would cause with Marcia. He said that at one point, he even started telling Marcia that he hated his family because by telling her the things she wanted to hear, he was able to have some peace and avoid her anger. After one particular fight, he became so upset that he punched a concrete wall and broke his hand. This disqualified him from competing as a collegiate athlete. His athletic career used to be so incredibly important to him. However, Marcia, resented any time he spent training. As parents, we were so concerned to observe this strange apathy about something he used to be so passionate about. When he went in for surgery, he told us and everyone else that he had tripped and fell. When we asked him how things were going, he always said that things were fine.
Because Austin had these violent episodes after fights, Marcia would tell him that he was bi-polar and mentally unstable and would threaten to call the police and put him in the hospital. She attributed his behavior to a preexisting mental illness and tried to convince him that she was there to help him. She also claimed that his family was the a major cause in his stress and that if the family would just leave him alone, things would work out. She was (and is) incapable of conceiving the fact that her emotional abuse was the cause of his mental breakdowns. He was literally her prisoner. During this time, he lost weight, was often sick, was extremely depressed and hopeless. He felt like he was going crazy and often had thoughts of just ending it all.
Coercive Control describes relationships where one partner systematically dominates the other. Tactics can include criticism, isolation, threats, stalking, manipulating, and sometimes abusing physically and sexually. Physical and verbal abuse are often present in Coercive Control—but not always. With young people, especially, Coercive Control may feel like love. The abuser will often say he is doing these things out of love or jealousy.
This was a very dark time for us, since Austin had completely shut out his family. He wouldn't respond to texts or calls. We couldn't send him emails because we didn't trust that he would keep any message private. At one point, his sister convinced him to come over to her apartment. While there, she had Austin read a message from us on her own computer. It was a plea for him to consider the fact that he was not doing well emotionally and that we saw signs of his relationship with Marcia being quite unhealthy. We were careful not to attack Marcia, but focused our comments on our concerns for his mental and emotional health. However, the letter made him angry. He stormed out of his sister's apartment, which left his sister sobbing. This was so unlike Austin. He had never blown up at anyone in our family. We started to give up hope that we would ever get him back. This was a dark and hopeless time for us as parents. We literally felt like we had lost the precious boy we loved so much. His mind had been hijacked, his personality changed, and his life destroyed. The pain and anguish we felt was unbearable.
In the back of our minds, we knew that he was unhappy in the relationship. We didn't know how bad the abuse had become (until after the fact), but we knew our son and we could tell that he was miserable. We remembered how, during Christmas, he had expressed a desire to be single again. He had also said that it would be relieved if Marcia decided to return to Argentina. We knew that something was desperately wrong. Austin had cut off all communication with us. We were extremely worried about him. Then, one day, he called and told us that he and Marcia had decided to get married the following month. We were floored. It felt like the wind had been knocked out of us. We didn't understand what was happening. The last time we had really spoken with him, Austin had insisted that he did not want to consider marriage for at least 6 months. He had admitted to us that he had many concerns about the relationship. We weren't sure how to respond to his marriage announcement. We finally wrote him one more letter, begging him to consider his future happiness and explaining how everyone saw major red flags in the relationship and how we were extremely concerned. It was after this letter, that he responded to us that it was too late. We received an email from him the next day, telling us that Marcia was pregnant.
Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching,” or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones (Engel, 1992, p. 10)
Over time, the accusations, verbal abuse, name-calling, criticisms, and gaslighting erode a victim's sense of self so much that they can no longer see themselves realistically. Consequently, the victim begins to agree with the abuser and becomes internally critical. Once this happens, most victims become trapped in the abusive relationship believing that they will never be good enough for anyone else.
By using isolation as a method to cut a dating partner off from family and friends, the partner who is using abusive behaviors has a greater amount of control in the relationship. Isolation can also create the space in a relationship for the partner using abusive behaviors to escalate other harmful behaviors. Ultimately, the survivor may feel like they have no one to talk to about the abuse they are experiencing, leaving a dating partner without a support system during their greatest time of need. https://www.breakthecycle.org/blog/know-signs-spotlight-isolation-friends-and-family
Complete Submission: Anything for Peace
Austin explained to us, that in order to survive, he gave into all of Marcia's demands, emotionally, physically, and financially. Whenever he put up boundaries, she would feel threatened and all of her energy would be channeled into making sure those barriers were removed and that she regained complete control. If he didn't submit, she would make his life a living hell until he did. He was so broken and beaten, that he just didn't have the strength nor the energy to deal with her jealousy, her distrust, her anger, and the ensuing fights. He was constantly required to prove his love to her by spending every waking moment with her, constantly entertaining her, promising that he would never leave her, paying for expensive items (paying for her housing, her schooling, her clothing , and her food, etc.) and, through physical intimacy. The latter went against his very core beliefs. He knew that it was wrong. He hated the situation, but he also didn't know how to escape. All he cared about was keeping the peace and avoiding fights. Yes, of course, physical attraction and hormones played a big part in his situation, Marcia was attractive and there was a lot of temptation. However, sex before marriage was against his core beliefs. It was something, that under normal, healthy circumstances, he never would never have considered. His self-confidence, self-worth, and self-concept had been slowly eroded over months of abuse, so that Austin had lost touch with his core values. Out of necessity for survival, he gave up on defending his own values, aligned his principles with Marcia, and allowed her to dictate his actions and behavior.
Hopelessness and Stark Contrasts
The news of Marcia's pregnancy, literally shook us to the core. We felt like our world fell apart. We had seen Marcia pout, get angry, threaten to leave, threaten self harm, and even threaten suicide to make sure that Austin stayed under her control. We knew that she was very angry that Austin continued to postpone marriage. However, we did not expect her to stoop to this level in order to ensure that he would be forced to marry her. There was just no way out of it now. We had to accept the fact that we were going to lose our son. He tried to put on a happy face. He tried, and failed, to convince us that he was excited about his upcoming marriage. The news about the pregnancy came just one week before our daughter's wedding. This daughter's relationship with her fiance was everything that Austin and Marcia's relationship was not. Our daughter's relationship was full of joy and excitement. She and her fiance had a very healthy and beautiful relationship. We had never seen her happier. They brought out the best in each other. In contrast, Austin's relationship with Marcia brought out the absolute worst in him. We had never seen him more miserable. We had been planning Austin's sister's wedding for months. We now tried to throw together a quick wedding for Austin and Marcia just weeks after his sister's wedding. We were so incredibly happy for Austin's sister because of the love and joy that literally radiated from her and her new husband. The contrast between our daughter's wedding and the wedding that we were now planning for Austin and Marcia was heartbreaking. We sensed absolutely no joy, no hope, no love...just desperation, lost dreams, and despair. However, we tried to make the best of it. We started planning out the details of the wedding. We worked with Austin's church leader to find a place for the wedding, a dress, decorations, etc. Even though we only had two weeks to plan, we wanted to make the wedding as nice and as memorable as possible. But, the contrast from the joyful wedding we had just experienced, left us devoid of joy and hope. We forced smiles through our tears and faced the inevitable.
Wedding Called Off
Just five days before the scheduled wedding, we called Austin to check on him. We were in the middle of planning the wedding and had some questions regarding decorations and other details. He still had not found an apartment for them to live, he wasn't sure how things were going to work out financially, and we sensed that he was very unhappy. At the time, we had no idea just how volatile, contentious, and even violent their relationship had become. He admitted that he was feeling overwhelmed and very stressed. One of Austin's close friends had recently told us that Austin had confided to him that he did not want to marry Marcia. Upon hearing this news, we let Austin know that there was no pressure to rush into this wedding. We assured him that the plane ticket we bought were of no consequence. We told him that if he was extremely stressed, he could postpone the wedding until a later date. We felt like he was looking for an "out." The next day, he called and announced to us that he and Marcia had decided to postpone the wedding until they felt more prepared. And so we waited....but the wedding was never rescheduled. We weren't sure what to think. We tried not to get our hopes up. We weren't sure what was going on in Austin's mind. But we did know that deep down, he did not want to marry Marcia. But we also knew that he did not know how to get out of the relationship.
- Monitoring your activities with family and friends
- Constantly checking up on you
- Questioning your behavior
- Setting time limits when you are out with friends
- Isolating your from family and friends
- Banning you from seeing certain people
- Stopping you from working in certain places
- Controlling how you spend your money
- Controlling how you dress or style your hair
- Repeatedly telling you that you’re worthless
- Allowing you no privacy
- Damaging your property
- Using children to report on you
- Getting angry at the slightest little thing
- You are constantly living in fear of upsetting them
"Most people in an abusive relationship feel trapped. Breaking the cycle of abuse can be difficult, especially if you’re in a place where you no longer trust your own thoughts and feelings. "
"Feeling trapped is one of the key aspects of an emotionally abusive relationship. An emotionally abusive partner works hard to create an illusion of powerlessness within you. He [She] wants you to have the sense that all your options have been closed down. So you feel you have nowhere to go, nothing you can do, and nobody you can turn to – except him [her]. "
Pretend Marriage and Strange Future Plans
A few weeks later, Austin announced to us that Marcia had decided to have her baby in Argentina. She was miserable living in the United States and wanted to be with her family. She had decided that she and Austin would fly down to Argentina for a month. She wanted the two of them to live with her family. She said that she needed him there to take care of her. But realizing that Austin would be unable to work and earn money for them, she decided that Austin would return to the US after a month or so and work all summer. The plan was for him to return to Argentina a few months before the baby was born and stay there until the end of the semester. At this point, their future plans became more vague. She talked about having him return to college and that she would then join him in the US again and that they would consider marriage again. However, she had told all of her family and friends in Argentina that she and Austin were already married. She had even asked to borrow a dress so that they could take 'fake' wedding pictures. Thankfully, the dress owner talked her out of this. She insisted that Austin change his social media status to "married" so that she could convince more people that they were already married. When we saw the change on his status, we panicked at first and worried that they had eloped. However, Austin called and assured us that he was still single and that it was all Marcia's idea to try and convince everyone in Argentina that she was married.
Wake Up and Cry for help
With the recent wedding postponement (cancellation), we started to hope that maybe Austin was emerging from the crazy, surreal, mind-altering oppression he seemed to have been under for the past 6-9 months. We noticed that Marcia's iron grip on Austin was lessening. Austin stopped making excuses for and defending Marcia's irrational behaviors. Instead, he admitted that her behavior was unreasonable and immature. At one point, we received a phone call, where he told us that he didn't think the relationship would work out. He told us that they fought a lot. Then, one night, around 2:00 am, we received another phone call. As we held the phone to our ear, we could hear Austin wailing. He told us, amid sobs, that Marcia was breaking up with him. We were alarmed because he sounded so distraught and frenzied. We weren't sure what to say, since we assumed that Marcia was close by. So, we asked him if he was alone. He repeatedly assured us that he was alone and that Marcia was not around. Then he asked: "Are you happy and relieved that she's leaving me?" We answered that we weren't feeling happy at all, but that we were very concerned about his mental health and stability. We then heard Marcia angrily speaking Spanish in the background. We were stunned. He had lied to us! We asked him what was going on. He told us that they were having a major fight and that he had lied in order to prove to Marcia that we weren't the monsters that she made us out to be. They really were in the middle of a very heated and explosive fight. During the fight, he kept us on the phone. We could hear Marcia screaming at Austin in Spanish. He translated most of what she was saying. At one point, he started sobbing and told us what a terrible person he was and that Marcia deserved so much better because he had looked at another girl while they were on campus. (He later told us that he said that because he knew that it was what she wanted to hear) Then she'd start screaming again and he'd translate for us: "Mom, she says she hates you so much. She says you 're evil. Now she's mocking the way you talk." He would then say things back to her (keeping us on the phone) and they would yell back and forth at each other. We sat there in bed completely stunned for several hours as we listened to the awful fight. We couldn't understand most of it, because it was in Spanish. Marcia was yelling a lot. Then we heard a door slam. Austin then told us that she had run out and that he needed to check on her to make sure she was ok...and he hung up. At this point, it was 4:00 am and we were very concerned about their safety. Neither of them was in a safe mental state. We tried calling back, but got no answer. We texted and told Austin that unless he responded, we would call the police. He finally called us and told us that he was back in his apartment. The entire phone call was a very surreal and disturbing experience and it took us a while to process everything we had experienced. We realized that Austin was desperate and that the phone call was his cry for help. He called because he needed to have someone he loved and trusted witness the crazy-making, irrational, and explosive fights he was experiencing. The next morning, he called us again. This time he was alone and calm. He explained to us in more detail what had happened. He knew that their relationship was extremely unhealthy and that he didn't think it would work out. We could clearly see that he wanted out, yet he was still unable to escape on his own.