The Use of Isolation in Coercive Control

The Use of Isolation in Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab | Julie Levine

I guarantee there is an entire generation that will instantly relate the word isolation to the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.

I do not.

I will not.

Every time I hear that word, my past haunts me. 

Images flash in my mind. 

But they are not of the present social distancing, wearing a mask, quarantine, and antibody testing. The images brought to my mind remind me of a different place, a different time when I was a different person.

Isolation is a reality of post-separation abuse for countless survivors around the world. It is one of the most powerful tools in the malignant narcissist’s game of power, control, and manipulation

The aims of isolation are two-fold:

  • The smaller a malignant narcissist can make your world, the more you will feel dependent on them. 
  • Isolating the victim makes it easier for the manipulator to distort the third partys’ perception of the victim and dominate the narrative.

An Invisible Prison

The last few months of social isolation have been extraordinarily difficult for me. I am reminded of my current strengths daily, as well as the person I used to be. In the blink of an eye, I remember things I wish I could forget.

When I was a married woman, living in a New York suburb, we had an electronic gate at the end of a very long driveway. Located in a well-to-do, bucolic neighborhood, the gate was attached to a concrete wall separating the house from the road – from the world.

There was a large metal box on one side of the front wall, which contained the gate’s motor and electronics. I did not know how to open nor operate the secured machinery. And there were video cameras everywhere. An ordinary person would think they were for security purposes — but I will get to that. 

You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.

Julie Levine

The man I was then married to was in total control of operating the gate. On good days, I had a code to get in and a motion detector operated to let me out. However, on bad days when he felt I was disobedient when I had not been silent or had not worshipped him accordingly – he disconnected that gate when he left for work, abandoning me in a home with what I believed was no way out.

My sons would have to walk around or climb over the gate to get to the cul de sac for their school bus. When the gate was rendered inoperable – my world shrank and became even more restricted. I was ordered to remain at home until further notice.

Isolation was a punishment. It was deliberate. It was a minute component in the cycle of abuse.

Survival Mode in Coercive and Controlling Relationships

Looking back, I wonder: who was that woman who received such punishment? 

I could not drive a car out of the driveway with that damn gate stuck closed – but why didn’t I walk around it like my sons?

I never even considered it. I obeyed him. I lived in constant fear.

I was married to a man for almost two decades who used isolation amongst other Coercive Control tactics to dominate me. In the years since my divorce, I learned that his behaviors are consistent with narcissistic abuse.

In my case, other kinds of harm were added to the mix, such as domestic violence, and financial abuse. 

During my lengthy, high conflict divorce, the man who would later be known as my “ex” was diagnosed by several forensic psychologists as:

  •  a narcissist
  • a psychopath
  • a sociopath
  • having anti-social personality disorder, and
  • being morally bankrupt.

Did I ever hear of those terms before court-ordered reports?

Certainly not. 

For almost 20 years, I was so deep in survival mode, that I did not even consider there to be personality disorders and distinctions. It was just my way of life, a way of life I needed to survive for my children. 

Coercive Control destroys support systems

How Coercive Control Destroys Support Systems

Gradually, friends left my life, my family became estranged, people I had known for years stopped contacting me.

More isolation.

Eventually, the only human contact I had was with my children’s teachers and occasionally parents of my children’s classmates. But even those contacts diminished.

I tried socializing with other people in our community – as couples normally would – but that never lasted too long.

My ex-husband would tell me that people didn’t like me or only bothered with me because they thought I had money, convincing me that all break downs in communication with the outside world were my fault.

For many years, I never questioned it.

I was a class mother for my sons in school, an assistant soccer coach, a softball mom, etc.

I lived my life day to day as a mother of two sons whom I cared for and practically raised alone as their father showed no interest in them until I began to stand up for myself, mentioning divorce.

Throughout their childhoods, my sons learned that the only time their father showed them attention was when they would mirror his interests. My sons eventually understood how the equation worked, dropped their interests and passions, and reflected their father.

No more soccer, softball, or basketball. Playdates were few and far between.

Looking back at all this I realize that he was isolating his sons almost as much as he was isolating me. I didn’t know back then that children too could be targets for Coercive Control.

Coercive Control is Captivity

Getting back to that gate at the entrance of my home address — everyone thought it was to keep people out when, in reality, its purpose was to keep me in.

There were days I just stayed at home, often recovering from bruises, with no means of escape.

I guess I was so traumatized, controlled, and terrified that I did not dare climb over that gate to get out. I remained at home, in fear, until I had a release date that my then-husband determined. The security cameras were strategically placed around that gate to allow him to keep an eye on my comings and goings, recording it on six small television screens within the home and backed up on the Smart House computer system.  

There were years of physical, psychological, emotional, and financial brutality. I would be locked in a bathroom, locked in a closet — a prisoner in my own home — all to disarm me, to break me.

But here I am, despite it all. My life turned out to be one of survival over adversity. It is not one of victimhood. 

Little by little, I mentioned what was going on to people, I started to read, and believe I deserved better.

You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.

Exit Fear Obligation Guilt

The Effects of Coercive Control on Children

Here is a shout out to anyone married to a narcissist. 

They will not want you to leave them, not even when they have a backup plan waiting in the wings in the form of their new supply.

As much as they use isolation to control their victim, narcissists fear abandonment.

If you have children with a narcissist, be prepared for the brainwashing of those children. The narcissist’s lies will be spewed and repeated, eventually destroying the relationship between you and the very children you love so dearly.  

When a narcissist knows you are on to them, they will use whatever will hurt you the most to get you back in line.

You can become isolated from the children who were once your entire world – alienated.

During the last few years living under the same roof, my ex did all in his power to separate and isolate me from the children I cherished. He wanted me to be as alone as possible.

Total isolation.

Isolation in a COVID-19 World

That word again – isolation. It is a gate that separates you from your children and the world. 

Lately, I’ve gotten so tired of hearing people complain about not seeing their families, not seeing their friends, not going out to restaurants, or on vacations. I’ve become inundated with people whining about how they can’t hug their grandchildren or go on their beloved shopping sprees.

Of course, these times are a challenge. But honestly, I think I’ve lived through worse. I often thank my Higher Power that at this very moment, at this very time – I am not in isolation with the man I was once married to.  

During this harrowing time of health crisis in our world, I am not isolated as I was in my past. This time, my isolation means I choose to stay safe.

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Christopher Hitchens on Bill Clinton

Christopher Hitchens on Bill Clinton | Photo by Gage Skidmore

IN JAMES BALDWIN’S ACCOUNT of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-81, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, he recalls a dreadful earlier moment from 1964. The swamps and creeks of Mississippi were being dragged for the bodies of Schwerner, Chancy, and Goodman (done to death by the political ancestors of Bob Barr), and the search parties kept turning up corpses. Examinations proved that these were not the cadavers that the authorities were seeking. It took a while for the subject to change, or at least for it to change enough for someone to exclaim: Wait a minute! What are all these other bodies doing in the swamp?

It is one thing to say, with reasonable confidence, that the Oval Office is currently occupied by a war criminal, a rapist, and a pathological liar. It is another to ponder the full implications. If half of what one knows about Clinton’s business deals and date-rapes is half-true, then he has been going through political life for years, aware or quasi-aware that any or every telephone call might be the one he has been dreading. That’s more stress than most of us could take. Only a certain kind of personality could be expected to endure it. You can find this under the simpering liberal inertia of “Comeback Kid,” or you can check it in a taxonomy of an entirely different kind, where the key phrase is “Threat to self and others.”

Almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue.

Christopher Hitchens

It seems to me morally feeble, as well as intellectually slack, to split the difference between Clinton and Broaddrick or to characterize her allegation as unprovable. The feeblest summary of this compromise is contained in the lazy phrase “he said, she said.” In the case of the “he,” we already know he is a hysterical, habitual liar. We also know that almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue. And we know that ex-girlfriends have been subjected to extraordinary campaigns of defamation, amounting in some cases to intimidation, merely for speaking about “consensual” sex. What allegation could be more horrific than that of rape? And yet, “he” hadn’t said anything yet. If I were accused of rape and the woman making the charge was a lady of obvious integrity, I would want to do better than have a lawyer speak for me and make a routine disclaimer (especially a lawyer, in this case, the pathetic figure of David Kendall, who had not even met me at the time of the supposed crime). Asked by NBC to say where Clinton had been on the morning in question – a fact easily established in the life of a state attorney general – the White House declined cooperation. I would have wanted to do better than that, too.

A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth.

Christopher Hitchens

So much for the “he said.” What of the “she”? If the allegation is false, then Broaddrick is not just getting her facts wrong. She is deliberately fabricating one of the most damning charges that any one person can make against another. She must be a wicked or deluded or malicious person. There seems no escaping this corollary conclusion. There also seems no reason at reaching for it. Where is the famous Clintonian rapid-response team? Has it no pride? Can it not find or produce any shadow of a doubt to cast on Broaddrick’s character? I think that if it could, we would know by now. Furthermore, a woman who groundlessly makes such a charge may be, and in my opinion ought to be, proceeded against for slander and wasting police and legal time. No hint of that.

A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth. Questioned fairly closely by NBC’s Lisa Myers, she and her contemporaneous corroborative witnesses were easily able to answer the questions about silence and delay. The victim felt guilty for letting an unchaperoned man into her room, even if he was the attorney general. In a banana republic like Arkansas, allegations against powerful men were believed to have potentially unpleasant consequences. The victim was also having an extramarital affair with a man she hoped to marry. She did not want to be exposed, and she did not expect to be believed. Finally, and very importantly, she didn’t “go public.” She was made public. The feminist movement has taught us to recognize this pattern of response as a familiar and intelligible one. (How sad it was, by the way, to see Patricia Ireland changing her mind at this late stage. Doesn’t she know that she has lost something that she can’t ever hope to retrieve, and has lost it to Clinton?)

I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist.

Christopher Hitchens

Perhaps I won’t be taken as an authority on the moral credibility of the feminist leadership. But something ought to be said about the honor of the male sex in this business. It has been disgusting, all through the past year, to hear Clinton defended as homme moyen sensuel. “Everybody does it…all men lie about sex…a gentleman is expected to lie.” One reason a gentleman may be obliged to lie is to protect the reputation of the woman. Clinton has lied in order to trash them. I don’t have any male friends who say that it wasn’t “sex” because the woman got nothing out of it (the gallantry defense). I don’t have ay male friends who hump the help and then (with the assistance of paid slanderers) call them liars, golddiggers, sluts, and blackmailers. I don’t have any male friends who have been plausibly accused of rape, either, though I do know several women who have been sexually assaulted and decided not to go public. I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist. This puts him, in male terms, way outside the limit of what can be tolerated. I see him on television all the time, biting that fat lip of his, and now I have an additional reason for the powerful nausea I have always felt. I imagine his teeth in Juanita Broaddrick’s lips after he’s told her to lie still or he’ll bite her again. But hey, it’s time to move on. So forget it. Forget it if you can.

This article was originally published with the title ‘The Clinton Swamp’ by Christopher Hitchens in his column The Minority Repost at The Nation on March 29, 1999.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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