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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4000 Miles

Survivor Voices | Poetry | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Intoxicated by your love
Or what I thought
was your love
Reciprocated with my love
True, accepting, encouraging
My all-encompassing love

And it was amazing
Walking on air
All guns blazing
No need for sleep
Because you would keep
Me going
Just the thought of you was enough to sustain me
Just knowing I was yours
You were mine
No need to keep track of time

Then you changed
Or what you presented to me
Changed
Looking back there were red flags flying high
You were the victim, so meek & shy
How could he treat you like this?
I understand why you cried
You
So pretty, so innocent
For him to do all these things
Well, it was just a sin.

But then the mask did begin
to slowly slip
And words were exchanged
To me, just a blip
I want the best for you
For you to be happy
You told me
Yet when we came to it
And when I needed to see my kids
You punished me
Went silent on me
Cold & distant
You imprisoned me
But I tried to reassure you
To constantly reassure you
You told me you broke up with me in your mind
Without even giving me any time

Your energy changed
Never the happy, loving woman
Was I to see again
As you started to harvest your crops & grain
Of seeds sown during our relationship
You never stopped

Our routine changed
And distance grew I was never enough
Deep down I knew
You would never talk
Engage or discuss
Anything important relating to us

You never wanted to accept
Your failings, your feelings
Of inadequacy, inept
So you breadcrumbed me along
This whole time
Dancing to your song
Planning your discard
No matter how hard I would take it
You knew I’d be devastated.

Because I gave you everything
I defended you to my family
To my children
To all
I would stand up
to every wrong word
For which I would ultimately fall
You manipulated
And gaslighted me
And when I asked
You said it was me

But I ignored the red flags
lying about messaging guys
On Twitter, on Facebook
I didn’t even have to look
Again
I didn’t want to look
You played me for a fool
And I naively fell for you
And that makes me angry
Angry and sad
Disappointed and mad
At myself
Not at you

You wasted my time
you took it away
With each passing day
You drained me
You hurt me
And then
faster than light
You desert me
Shame on you
Shame on you
Goddamn shame on you

But I know your time will come
You can hide
You can run
From the twisted lies
That you tell yourself
But you can’t hide from the Universe
Who knows who you are
And you cant hide from God
Who sees you as you are

Inside your heart
Unlike mine, full of passion & fervour
Yours empty & cruel
The truth’s in the mirror
Because the mirror doesnt lie
And like a true coward
You couldnt look me in the eye

Your eyes they betray you
They slice & they slay you
For they scream the lies
You try to hide
But it doesnt matter
Because I knew
I could read you
I could tell you
What you were hiding

And when I did
then your rage came fighting
But it only masked
And confirmed
The reasons for your deception
Which now lie in wait
For another poor soul’s devastation
As you hunt and you weed
To get the supply for your need

So now I have comfort
I have freedom in forgiveness
In knowing my heart is good
I know my heart is a loving heart
Deserving of more than what you did to me
But with yours
With yours?
You can never love
You will never know true love
God help you
God bless you
I forgive you

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist, Part One

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CO-PARENTING WITH A NARCISSIST is often said to be impossible. A popular quote by A. Price asserts that “A narcissist will never co-parent with you. They will counter parent. They don’t care about the emotional damage that the constant drama inflicts upon the children as long as it causes emotional damage to you.”

A distinguishing feature of narcissistic family dynamics is dysfunction. The more malignant a narcissist is, the more they are prone to ignore healthy boundaries to satisfy their need for control. Narcissists think nothing of using their children to dominate and manipulate the other parent

Children are frequently exposed to or experience psycho-emotional abuse and coercive- and controlling behavior from narcissistic parents who seek to dominate the child’s perception by distorting their reality.

In many instances, children are made to navigate disruptive patterns of intermittent reinforcement, which narcissists use to bring the people they target under their influence.

A narcissistic parent’s oppositional behavior and mischiefmaking can have serious consequences for their children who often struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression.

So what is the best course of action for people who are co-parenting with a narcissist?

For answers, we turned to Dr. Michael Kinsey, founder of the mental health blog mindsplain.com. Dr. Kinsey is the author of the children’s picture book ‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’  and ‘Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists.’

He received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the New School for Social Research and he is a specialist in the dynamics of personality, intergenerational trauma, and parent-child attachment.

In addition to his distinguished background, Dr. Kinsey is in private practice in New York City.

N.B. This interview aims to provide general information, not advice one should rely on. Please get the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking or refraining from any action based on the information in this interview. 

Preventing personality disorders in children

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Welcome to Narcissistic Abuse Rehab, Dr. Kinsey, it’s an honor to have you here today to talk about co-parenting with a narcissist!

The first question is “I’m co-parenting with a malignant narcissist who was verbally & physically abusive to me in front of our children is it possible that my children risk developing personality disorders as a result of exposure to pathological narcissism?”

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Children learn first and foremost by what they see and what they observe. There are going to be lasting impacts of trauma in a context where there is emotional and physical abuse. 

The question you’re asking is, “What are going to be the long term developmental impacts of that trauma?”

That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many variables. I think there are things people can do to buffer against the permanent arresting of development that can happen as a result of witnessing or seeing that type of abuse. 

The first thing I would say is creating meaningful narratives around the experiences. Not walking away from it, not silencing it, not pretending as if it’s not happening. That’s a really important thing for kids. Kids need to know that they’re not experiencing an alternate reality from their parents. 

And especially when the parent who is experiencing the abuse is the same-sex parent. There is a strong identification, i.e. the classic example of a husband abusing his wife emotionally or verbally. The child who is going to be most greatly impacted by that is going to be the one who is identified with the one who is being abused.

Of course, there are other problems in continuing the line of abusers down the line when the observer is identified with the abuser.

So I guess what I would say, going back, is just sort of validating the experience. Letting the child know that what they saw was really disturbing and it’s not okay what happened and that something is being done to protect or insulate the child.

One thing I can think of just at a very practical level [would be to say], “I know what you saw was really scary. Do you have any questions for me? Do you have any feelings about it?”

And also for younger kids watching for signs of the impact of the abuse in play is super important and not silencing the play when it shows up and saying in the language of the play, as well. So, if toys are fighting then you can sort of say, “Oh my gosh, they’re fighting. How scary.”

Things like that and just sort of validating that the child is seeing something that’s very hard.

Emotional abuse is a little bit more abstract and harder to pin down. But the other thing I would say, too, is that one of the biggest buffers against personality disorder development is having some sense of understanding of one’s feelings and the feelings of someone else.  

And, I think a theme that we’ll touch on quite a bit throughout this discussion is the fact that narcissists are not devoid of feeling states. 

To optimally protect kids, we need to help them develop an understanding of who that person is and what their emotional system is like and give them a context for understanding the behavior.

This is different from condoning the behavior. We can hold intention that the behavior itself, that the abuse itself, is unacceptable.

But, if a person is staying in that relationship despite the abuse, there’s already a way in which the abuse is being condoned.

So, at the very least, the child needs to have an understanding of who the narcissist is, why they are behaving the way they are and how it’s possible to still maintain a loving understanding of that person, even though they do very bad things. 

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is important because I think you saw yesterday on Twitter we were talking about gaslighting and having your reality invalidated. I think what you brought up is important because a lot of the times survivors who are co-parenting with a narcissist try to overcompensate for the dysfunction in the family. What I see when the overcompensation happens is that it feeds into creating a false reality for the child. Down the line, what I’ve seen, is that it affects the child’s judgment – it skews things because good becomes bad and bad becomes good.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Absolutely.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That can become very problematic. But, let’s go over to question two because it gets a little bit deeper into this. I hope it’s not…well, it is probably a hardball question.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: That’s what I’m here for.

Parental alienation

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: The question is, “I am a survivor of narcissistic abuse and the atmosphere between my adult children & narcissist ex is cult-like. The children participated in the abuse when they were younger and refuse to have contact with me today. I’ve never met my grandchildren.

Why does my narcissistic ex have such a hold on my children when they know they abused me?

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Hm.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: It’s a tricky one.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Yeah, and it’s much easier to understand intellectually than it is emotionally.

I think any time you try to put forth problem-solving strategies or easy ways of understanding these kinds of things it can almost invalidate the difficulty of the situation.

When you have children that you’ve nurtured & that you have loved with all of your heart & in some ways built your life around it’s almost impossible to come up with some emotion or visceral understanding of the situation. It’s so difficult to do.

I think it does help to have some context. The context that I would give people who are alienated from their children or who are caught up in the narcissist’s version of reality [is that] I think what you have to understand is the nature of the narcissist’s defensive structure. And we’re mainly talking about splitting, projective identification and these are kinds of jargony terms. But splitting means that the world to a narcissist and other borderline personality structures is divided into good and bad and the narcissist distances himself or herself from the bad as much as possible.

There is intense profound disgust for the bad & the bad always has to be outside of the narcissistic personality that means that there are scapegoats, it means there are demons, there are devils, there are people who are completely unworthy of association. And it goes back to what I was talking about before about how an identification often develops, especially with the same-sex parent.

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist | Counter Parenting

If the same-sex parent is a narcissist then there is a tendency to emulate that way of dealing with problems, difficulties, and emotions. so, functionally, what this means is the bad that exists in everyone and especially exists in the narcissist is displaced or it’s placed into the other parent. Usually, these are things like vulnerability, weakness, unworthiness –”

 Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: You mentioned – in another discussion we had on this topic – you mentioned tenderness. 

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Tenderness, absolutely. Even really positive things, too, can be disowned in that way

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: And you described it in such an interesting way. You didn’t call it parental alienation at all. You described it as being “exiled from the narcissist child dyad.” I thought that was really interesting.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Being within the dyad is, obviously, a very coveted place. You know with both of our parents there is such a deep need to be loved and accepted. 

If a child is forced to choose they might choose the person that they feel they are most like or they’ll also choose the person who they feel is safer or who they feel is the more desirable one to follow. 

In the case of the kind of scenario you’re discussing, it’s really a matter of survival. Being in the “in-group” of the narcissist is so essential to survival.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s very true and I think it’s a great answer. I think all of these questions I have for you are kind of hardball. I hope you’re ready for question three! And it’s about–

Dr. Michael Kinsey: –Well, you know, these are…in some ways… I was observing your twitter yesterday and there is so much terminology within this community that is new to me and I find it fascinating!

The softball questions aren’t going to help anyone and hopefully, there’s something in there that will be of use to people.

I think we were also talking yesterday about how in some ways these are going to be overgeneralized answers there’s so many nuances and variables and double binds that are built into these kinds of dynamics.

If something I say just doesn’t fit or it sounds like I’m oversimplifying things it’s because I am. What I encourage people to do is…I’m available online, you can reach out to me, you can touch base with me. Additional information is available on mindsplain.com.

Triangulation with the narcissist’s new partner

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Let’s get into question three about counter-parenting or co-parenting with a narcissist: I am being triangulated with my ex narcissist’s new partner. They are telling our children that the new partner is a better parent because they are carefree, while I have been battling anxiety & depression. Ultimately, they want the children to move in with them. In your opinion, what is the best course of action for someone in my situation?

Dr. Michael Kinsey: I think that there’s the short view and the long view here. The short term view can be pretty discouraging. The kids may be believing it, they may be acting in line with what the alienating or narcissistic parent is feeding them.

But the thing to keep in mind with narcissistic people is that if you have an estranged relationship with them you are one of many people. The hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder is there are chronically strained relationships.

And the reason for this is that everyone ultimately has a fall from grace with a narcissist. So if you kowtow and you ingratiate yourself back into favor things can continue peacefully. But it will always happen. 

People will always see through the façade at some point. Maybe at first just for a few moments. Maybe there will be a prolonged estrangement that develops between the narcissist and the kids. But there will always be an opportunity.

And so what I would advise people is to create a very welcoming, open, accepting, non-contentious environment for the kids to return to. 

In many ways, that’s the best you can do.

  • You stay above the fray.
  • You don’t comment on it.
  • You don’t respond to it.
  • You speak to the kids.
  • You don’t speak to the narcissist through the kids.

You speak to the kids and you say, “It really hurts that it feels that way to you, that this other parent is better, but I’m your mother or father and I’m always here for you.”

Part Two of ‘Co-Parenting with a Narcissist’ will be published on May 22, 2020. You can find Dr. Kinsey on Twitter at @mindsplain He can also be reached through his website mindsplain.com

‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’ is available on Amazon. 

Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists is available at mindsplain.com

Watch the Co-Parenting with a Narcissist video

Podcast

This interview is also available on our podcast on these fine platforms:

Narcissists and Love Fraud

Narcissists Love Fraud | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR NARCISSISTS to manipulate others into relationships by making fraudulent claims about who they are, what they stand for, and by mirroring the goals of the targeted individual. 

They deliberately make promises they don’t intend to keep and spin webs of deception for the sole purpose of exploiting the target and their resources. 

In popular psychology, this deceptive tactic is called future faking. Narcissists profess a desire to build a long-term relationship with the target to obtain short term gain.

Once the target has extended trust to a narcissist, their good faith is weaponized and used to access their assets, e.g. sex, connections, status, goods, and services.

The narcissist’s agenda

Narcissists enter relationships with a self-serving agenda. In their estimation, whenever they interact with another person, they are either gaining power or losing it.

Once they have made up their mind to exploit someone, they disguise their malicious intentions by mimicking love for the person they are targeting. 

Early in the relationship, they spend hours asking the target about their hopes, dreams, and goals. The target mistakes this for interest when, in fact, the narcissist is data mining to discover the target’s likes and dislikes. With this information, the narcissist can craft a tailor-made false persona in the image of the target’s soul mate. 

Misled by the narcissist’s pretense, the target invests themselves and their resources in the relationship. They may move in with the narcissist, marry them, and have children with them. All the while, though the narcissist is going through the motions, they remain detached.

The discard phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle

The discard phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle often comes as a complete shock to the narcissist’s partner. While they are blindsided by the narcissist’s betrayal, the biggest shock is the ease with which some narcissists abandon their progeny.

So why do some narcissists discard their children?

The reasons why may be rooted in the narcissist’s dysfunctional family of origin. These are high conflict family units with power imbalances, rampant denial, low empathy, and little to no boundaries.

In a narcissistic family, there will be a lot of psycho-emotional abuse and coercive and controlling behaviors. Anger, hypocrisy, envy, and betrayal contaminate the ecosystem beneath the façade. The toxicity between the caregivers trickles down to their children.

Why dysfunctional families discard their own

Children not accepted or loved for who they are in a narcissistic family. They live in a gaslit reality where the only love they receive is conditional upon their performance in the roles assigned to them by the narcissistic caregiver(s).

In a dysfunctional family, these roles are:

  • The Caretaker – this child is given adult responsibilities at a young age and parentified.
  • The Hero/The Golden Child – this child tries to make the family seem normal and trouble free.
  • The Lost Child – this child is introverted and flies under the radar.
  • The Mascot/The Clown – this child distracts from the issues in the family,
  • The Manipulator/The Mastermind – this child is an opportunist who exploits the vulnerabilities in the family to serve their own needs.
  • The Rebel/Problem Child – this child acts out the families dysfunction and is frequently punished.

    The Scapegoat/Black Sheep/Truth Teller is an alternate version of The Rebel and is distinguished by the fact that they are innocent and wrongfully blamed for all of the dysfunction in the family.

Why do narcissists discard their children?

Narcissists may discard their children when the child poses a threat to the narcissist’s narrative or the narcissist’s false self.

In Summary

When a narcissist discards a innocent child it’s likely that the child has been cast in the painful role of family scapegoat because they are not like the narcissistic parent(s).

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Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Essential Guide

Psycho-Emotional Abuse | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

PSYCHO-EMOTIONAL ABUSE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE was made to provide you with greater knowledge of this fundamental component of narcissistic abuse.

This information will give you a clear understanding of:

Let’s get started.

What is psycho-emotional abuse?

Psycho-emotional abuse describes any non-physical pattern of behavior that intentionally harms an individual’s mental state and undermines their ability to reach their full potential. It is a portmanteau of psychological and emotional abuse.

This kind of abuse can occur within a variety of contexts. For example, it can take place in intimate partner relationships, in family relationships, in friendships, in the workplace, etcetera.

Above all it is used to manipulate and control another person or people.

Neglect, hostility, sabotage, indifference, false concern

Other definitions of psycho-emotional abuse

Dr. Marti Tamm Loring defines psycho-emotional abuse as, “An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another.”

Professor Dorota Iwaniec describes it as hostile or indifferent behavior which:

  • Damages the individual’s self-esteem,
  • Debases their sense of achievement,
  • Diminishes their sense of belonging,
  • Prevents their healthy and vigorous development, and 
  • Takes away the individual’s well-being.
Dorota Iwaniec

Characteristics of psycho-emotional abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is subtle and can be tricky to spot – even by the person experiencing it!

Abusers often disguise their malice as good intentions, which confuses the person they target and deceives most bystanders.

At times, the aggression is overt and takes place in front of witnesses. However, in these instances most people do not understand the nature of this kind of aggression and so they fail to recognize that abuse is taking place. 

Some of its characteristics are:

  1. It is a pattern of behavior.
  2. The harm it causes is deliberate and intentional.
  3. The target experiences the behavior as harmful.
  4. The abuse may be overt or covert.
  5. It may or may not occur in the context of conflict.
  6. It may not immediately seem aggressive.
  7. The aggressor may camouflage the abuse as caring, love, or humor.
  8. The targeted person’s vulnerabilities are exploited to cause them to feel confused, insecure, and unsure of themselves.
  9. It may manifest as neglect.
  10. The abuse causes harm to the targeted individual’s well-being.

Abusers are cunning enough to understand that psychological abuse is a bloodless crime which usually enables them to escape accountability for the harm and devastation they cause.

This is because the theatre of the abuser’s aggression is not visible to the naked eye.

While the recipient of the abuse has no physical symptoms, the emotional wounds may be catastrophic.

Pattern of behavior, malicious, deliberate, exploitative, camouflage

What causes psycho-emotional abuse?

There are many reasons why psycho-emotional abuse may occur. The abuser’s behavior is often rooted in envy, fragility, and aggression.

A common occurrence is when an aggressive and/or narcissistic person feels intimidated by the presence of someone who they believe has qualities or privileges they do not. They may seek to resolve these painful feelings by asserting dominance over the person they regard as a threat. 

In some instances, the abuser is externalizing their toxic shame and placing their burden on the victim. In this way, the abuse strips away the authentic identity of the target and assigns to them a new one that encompasses the parts of the abuser’s persona which they despise and reject.

What are the effects of psycho-emotional abuse?

The cumulative effect of psycho-emotional abuse is the erosion of the recipient’s self-worth and trust in their judgment.

Some of the specific consequences may include:

  • Confusion
  • Self-blame
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastination
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of failure
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Self-sabotage

Abusers often compound the damage they do by refusing to recognize the right of the targeted person to feel hurt, wronged, or angry.

They use a variety of tactics to convince the person they target that they brought the abuser’s aggression on themselves.

They defend their aggression and escape accountability through the process of scapegoating. This is done by using the targeted individual’s vulnerability to excuse the abuse. By blaming the person they victimize, they absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.

Abusers often silence targets by using threats and intimidation. They enlist agents to gang up on the target. The result is that the targeted individual may experience fearanxietydread, and panic

Prolonged psycho-emotional abuse can lead to adverse health outcomes. It may cause chronic anxiety which can impact the targeted person’s physical and psychological well-being. Over time, this may cause depressioncomplex post-traumatic stress, and auto-immune disorders.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Comparisons to Coercive Control

Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse are both power- and control tactics.

Psycho-emotional abuse may refer to harm inflicted on men, women, and children by abusive men, women, and children.

Coercive Control originated as a descriptor, Dr. Evan Stark, used to describe the entrapment and subjugation of women. It points to a specific kind of gender-based violence, namely how abusive men prevent women from “freely developing their personhood, utilizing their capacities, or practicing citizenship.”

Coercive Control may include isolation, monitoring, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and bodily harm.

Dr.Stark underscores that Coercive Control is more akin to hostage-taking and kidnapping.

“We must stop characterising Coercive Control as only psychological abuse,” Forensic criminologist Dr.Jane Monckton Smith of Gloucestershire University explains, “Psychological abuse is a method used by controlling people to exert and maintain control. Coercive Control is a campaign made up of any or all of these things which then trap people in a relationship, and make it impossible or dangerous to leave.”

Gaslighting is the distortion of another person’s reality. It’s purpose is to undermine their sense of self-mastery. It is a feature of Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse.

Psycho-emotional abuse has legal status in France and Canada as harcèlement moral and harcèlement psychologique ou sexuel. It was criminalized in 2010.

The United Kingdom recognizes Coercive Control as criminal behavior. Laws prohibiting coercive and controlling behavior came in to force in 2015. The legislation is gender-neutral and applies to anyone experiencing entrapment and domination.

The Kingdom of Sweden recognizes Coercive Control as the crime våld i nära relationer.

Relationship to narcissistic abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is one of the two fundamental components of narcissistic abuse. The other is Coercive Control.

Now It’s Your Turn 

That wraps up Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Definitive Guide.

Now, it’s your turn to have your to say:

What part of this guide resonated with your lived experience?

Do you think you have a better understanding of this kind of abuse after reading this guide?

Do you understand how it works in the context of narcissistic abuse?

Share your insight by leaving a comment below.

Bibliography

Loring, Marti Tamm. “Emotional Abuse: the Trauma and Treatment.” San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1998.

Iwaniec, Dorota. “The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child Identification, Assessment and Intervention; a Practice Handbook. Chichester: Wiley, 2008.

Strecker, Peter John. “I Wish That He Hit Me: The Experiences of People Who Have Been Psychoemotionally Abused and Have Psychoemotionally Abused Others.” Victoria University, March 2012.

Stark, Evan. “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Monkcton Smith, Jane. “Coercive Control is Not Just Psychological Abuse.” Forensic Criminology: Working in Homicide Prevention, 2020.

“C-PTSD Academic Research Material.” Out of the Storm. Accessed May 5, 2020.

* This is article is an except from the book ‘Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship.’ To download your FREE copy, subscribe to our Mailing List.

The Narcissist’s Flying Monkeys

Traits and Characteristics of Flying Monkeys

FLYING MONKEYS ARE ENABLERS who act on behalf of narcissists. They are usually friends and relatives who serve as surrogates, emissaries, fixers and drones in the narcissist’s network. Moreover, they make it possible for narcissists to carry out their campaigns of abuse by proxy.

A person may rationalize playing the flying monkey role for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples:

  • Necessity – They may feel beholden to the narcissist because they are a relative or friend. 
  • Acceptance – They may long for attention and validation from the narcissist.
  • Avarice – They may benefit from enabling the narcissist.
  • Schadenfreude – Some people genuinely enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on others.
  • Manipulation – They may be empathic people with poor boundaries who buy into the narcissist’s schemes and mischief-making.

Flying monkeys and the cycle of narcissistic abuse

Flying monkeys are usually active in every stage of the cycle of narcissistic abuse:

  1. Idealization
  2. Devaluation
  3. Discard
  4. Hoover
The Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse

In the idealization or love bombing phase, flying monkeys may be used to provide social proof for the narcissist. At this stage, it’s their job to convince the target that the narcissist’s false self is real.

Flying monkeys help the narcissist accomplish this by vouching for them and helping them appear to be believable, trustworthy and stable. Flying monkeys also provide false verification for the scapegoat stories/smear campaigns the narcissist has crafted to discredit their previous victims.

During the devaluation phase of narcissistic abuse, the behavior of flying monkeys is similar to canned laughter on a sit-com. In other words, the flying monkeys encourage and echo the abuser’s negative sentiments about the person the narcissist is denigrating.

They also cover for the narcissist while they are grooming a new source of attention and adulation i.e. narcissistic supply.

In the discard phase flying monkeys enable the narcissist to control the narrative and escape accountability. Once again, this is done by providing the narcissist with social proof of their scapegoat story/smear campaign which is now directed at their current target.

Flying monkeys provide a narcissist with an alibi for whatever narrative they invent about themselves or the people they target.

They enable the narcissist to use a gaslighting tactics like DARVO against the target. DARVO is an acronym for:

  • Deny the abuse took place.
  • Attack the individual confronting the abuse.
  • Reverse the roles of
  • Victim and
  • Offender

The final stage of the cycle of narcissistic abuse is the hoover maneuver. In this stage the flying monkeys enable the narcissist to hook the target and reel them back into the relationship so the cycle of narcissistic abuse can begin again.

This may be done by carrying messages from the narcissist to the target. For example, flying monkeys often surface when the recipient of abuse has ended contact with the narcissist. The flying monkey may befriend the target to extract information about them for the narcissist.

Alternatively, malevolent flying monkeys may slander, harass, stalk and assassinate the character of the target to such an extent that the recipient of the abuse may feel that the only way to put an end to their torment is to resume contact with the narcissist and plead with them to make it stop.

Types of flying monkeys

Narcissists assign different kinds of flying monkey roles to people depending on the individual’s motives.

There are two main subgroups of flying monkeys: benevolent and malevolent.

Benevolent Flying Monkeys

Benevolent Flying Monkeys have four main characteristics.

  • The harm they inflict is largely unintentional.
  • They are susceptible to manipulation.
  • They have poor boundaries.
  • They are people pleasers.
Benevolent Flying Monkeys | Narcissistic Abuse

As people pleasers, it is easy for narcissists and psychopaths to manipulate benevolent flying monkeys into doing their bidding. All they have to do is appeal to their empathy and/or fear.

The benevolent flying monkey turns a blind eye to the narcissist’s history of odious behavior. They justify this action with self-deception and put their trust in platitudes like everyone makes mistakeseveryone deserves a second chancethey’ll grow out of it someday, and love conquers all.

Benevolent flying monkeys are likely to be triangulated because have a desire to be seen as heroic. They are blind to the true nature of their role as flying monkey. Instead, they view themselves as the peacemaker, the rescuer or savior.

The Meddler | Benevolent Flying Monkey | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

The Meddler is usually someone seeking the thrill of the rescuer role. They are usually reacting to the theatrics of a narcissist. To cast someone in the role of Meddler, a narcissist may go to them and claim that their target has abused them. Because Meddlers lack boundaries, narcissists can easily overwhelm them by pouring out a never-ending litany of woe peppered with threats of self-destruction.

Meddlers are often in awe of narcissists and find their endless drama titillating. However sometimes exhausted Meddlers interfere in an attempt to stop the narcissist’s whinging.

The Empath | Flying Monkeys | Narcissistic Abuse

The Empath can also be triangulated by a narcissist. An unseasoned empath is easily be seduced by the narcissist’s manipulation tactics, especially pity plays and love bombing

Highly empathic people often have a blind spot for the scheming nature of a narcissist as they are unable to conceive that anyone would deliberately conjure up the mischief and mayhem that narcissists revel in.

Narcissists corrupt empathic people by mirroring their good-natured persona back at them. Thus, empathic people identify and bond with narcissist’s false persona. Seeing their reflection in the narcissist, the unseasoned empath extends trust but fails to verify the facts. In other words, they do not do their due diligence and dismiss the other person’s side of the story.

When a narcissist is mirroring an empathic person, their empathy can be weaponized. The Empath believes, “this person is similar to me, therefore I will treat them the way I would like to be treated, I will give them the kind of support I would like to have if I were in their shoes.”

To live a life free from manipulation and enabling toxic people, Dr. Paul Bloom’s proposes rational compassion as opposed to unbridled empathy.

Empathy is a disaster in this complicated and interesting world. It has several problems. It is biased. We feel more empathy toward people who look like us, who share our skin color or our ethnicity; who are attractive rather than ugly; who are close rather than far. It’s innumerate. We feel empathy for the one but not for the hundred. Thirdly it can be weaponized.

Paul Bloom, Yale University.

Dr. Bloom points out that empathy can be biased whereas compassion is just.

Coward | Flying Monkey | Narcissistic Abuse

The Coward is recruited to do the narcissists bidding because they feel intimidated and afraid of the narcissist. The Coward may feel that they stand to lose some advantage by failing to keep the narcissist happy. Their self-interest readily overrides their conscience.

In many instances, the coward relies on the narcissist in some way i.e. they may be employed by the narcissist or they may wish to access privilege through their connection to the narcissist.

Malevolent flying monkeys

Malevolent flying monkeys share several common characteristics, as well.

  • The harm they inflict is intentional.
  • They take genuine pleasure in destroying other people.
  • They have are amoral.
  • They are highly anti-social.
Malevolent Flying Monkeys | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Malevolent flying monkeys are divided into three common classes: the Scandalmonger (Sadist), the Narcissist, and the Psychopath.

The Scandalmonger is always up for the sadistic power trip of destroying another person. They are recruited into the narcissist’s triangulation efforts because they relish the thrill and brutality of scapegoating.

Scandalmongering is antisocial behavior and it is done without conscience. This type is callously treacherous. Often they make a pretense of sympathy and solidarity with the target in the aftermath of the devaluation or discard stage of narcissistic abuse.

Their aim is to weaponize the trust of the target. Anything the target confides in them will immediately be conveyed to the narcissist and used to inflict greater harm to the target.

If the scandalmonger believes that the narcissist has a high enough status, they don’t bother pretenses and go straight for the target’s jugular by gleefully participating in the narcissist’s smear campaign and assassinating the target’s character.

In both instances, scandalmongers are uninterested in the target’s point of view because their goal is to silence them. Scandalmongers don’t care about what is right or what is fair. They are happy to shoot first and ask questions later – if at all.

Scandalmongers experience a profound Schadenfreude at being able to participate in the destruction of another person.

Narcissist | Flying Monkey

The Narcissist often finds themselves in the role of flying monkey because they are part of a narcissistic collective or hierarchy and thus barter their loyalty in exchange similar favors from their brethren.

A narcissistic collective is elitist in nature and operates under the belief that its members are superior to others. Examples of how this plays out on the can be seen in tribalism, racial superiority, sexism, gangs, sororities, fraternities, cliques, etc.

Narcissists participate in drama triangles because they wish to be in the good graces of a narcissist overlord and/or they are buying insurance for the day they may need social proof from the narcissist collective when they wage a smear campaign of their own.

Furthermore, narcissists may be triangulated if the target has special traits or status triggers a narcissistic injury. Narcissists delight in the destruction of people for no other reason than the fact that they have qualities or a position that the narcissist covets. Ganging up on such a target with another narcissist allows them to feel superior to the target. Thus, they are able to resolve the envy that triggered the narcissistic injury in the first place.

Psychopath | Flying Monkey | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

The Psychopath is recruited by the narcissist to play the role of enforcer. They know exactly what the narcissist is doing to the target and they know it’s wrong. They are enlisted to slander, harass, stalk, smear, bully and, often, physically assault the target on behalf of the narcissist.

They are the most dangerous of all the flying monkeys.

Common Flying Monkey Behaviors

  • Gossiping
  • Spying
  • Gaslighting
  • Manipulation
  • Harassment
  • Sabotage
  • Enabling
  • Intimidation
  • Victim-blaming

Have Your Say

Now, it’s your turn! What is your experience of flying monkeys? Were they benevolent or malevolent? Do they fit any of the descriptions of the flying monkeys in this post? Share your experience in the comment section below.

Bibliography

Narcissistic Injury

The Narcissist's Hidden Depression

IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to generate authentic joy, love, or compassion.  It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that one’s internal ecosystem would be a bleak and desolate landscape. However, if you were to open up the mind of a pathological narcissist and look inside, what you would find is a psychological wasteland riddled with persecutory objects.

The ambiguity of malignant narcissism is that its outward manifestations are often the opposite of the internal reality, which is a gaping void. The gnawing emptiness within is a catalyst for narcissistic pretensions that serve to preserve their idealized false self. Chest thumping boasts of supremacy are a safeguard against the toxic shame that has engulfed their true self.

Where others have a conscience, the pathological narcissist has a vacuum. For this reason, they are on a constant hunt to consume anything that might fill the void. Alcohol, narcotics, pornography, sex, gambling, people – you name it, the narcissist ravenously devours it. But it doesn’t fill them up because they are bottomless pits.

When narcissists encounter people who are able to manifest constructive emotions the narcissist cannot, it wounds their pride, stirs their jealousy, and causes a narcissistic injury. 

What is a narcissistic injury?

A narcissistic injury is a threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s steely psychological armor is penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.

Sensing danger, their ego sends all hands on deck to rescue the false self from annihilation. For this reason, narcissistic injuries go hand in hand with narcissistic rage.

The narcissist’s first line of defense is a disavowal of reality. They devalue the threat, stripping the individual of their humanity and reducing them to the status of object. The narcissist’s ego then fractures the object as it resorts to primary defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection.

narcissistic abuse rehab | narcissistic injury | triggers | false self

Someone who was once all good is now all bad. A person once hailed as the light of the narcissist’s life becomes the very heart of darkness. The threatening object is made wrong so that the false self can be right. Thus, the narcissist vindicates themselves from any criticism, wrongdoing, and – most importantly – shame.

The more the narcissist uses splitting as an ego defense, the more anything resembling a cohesive identity unravels. Whenever the ego splits an object, an identical split takes place in the ego itself, causing it to become fragmented. The more a narcissist splits off from the abuse they inflict, the more it escalates.

To escape accountability, the narcissist uses a sleight of hand and projects their sadistic acts on to the people they target. This enables them to shape-shift into a new persona – which they do with the ease of a serpent shedding its skin. 

What are the causes of narcissistic injury

The narcissist is a paper tiger. Their psychological structure is too feeble to grasp a self-concept with any complexity. They are satisfied to worship an illusion of their perfect false self. This disposition is common in toddlers, but it’s crippling in adults.

The construction of a false self may have shielded them from adverse childhood experiences in their early years, but it is maladaptive in adulthood as it prevents them from living authentic emotional lives.

The need for emotional bonds disgusts them. Yet, paradoxically it is also something they covet.

While the false self mimics edifying emotions, it does not experience them. A kind of emotional rigor mortis defines the narcissist’s existence.

How do narcissists cope with narcissistic injuries?

Their fragility sends them on predatory crusades to boost their ego. They may sustain their insatiable false self with adulation or attention or with cruel power trips utilizing coercive control, and psycho-emotional abuse.

Narcissists believe that by destroying a person or thing, they obtain power over it.  They accomplish this through deception, seduction, and psychological cannibalism. To the narcissist, this affirms their imaginary superiority.

It is their way of making the false self appear real. 

y disorder fragility

Bibliography

Children are targets for Coercive Control

Children Are Targets for Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CHILDREN ARE OFTEN TARGETS for Coercive Control as part of a wider campaign of intimate partner abuse.

In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse. 

Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?

Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.

Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”

The impact of Coercive Control on children

Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.

Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”

The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

She explains, “Children’s access to resilience-building and developmentally-helpful persons and activities were limited.”

The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.

The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.

Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.

Dr. Evan Stark

According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”

The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.

Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships

The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.

Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.

Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”

What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?

Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.

This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.

For information on how to approach this situation please read our interview with Michael Kinsey, Ph.D. ‘How To Co-Parent with a Narcissist.’

Have your say

Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

How Narcissists Use DARVO to Escape Accountability

What is DARVO?

SOMETIMES IT CAN SEEM as if narcissists possess such extraordinary manipulation skills they appear to bend reality to their will.

This is made painfully clear when they inflict harm on someone and, astonishingly, escape accountability by flipping the script and blaming the person they’ve wronged.

Narcissists are expert at erasing the pain they cause from the narrative. They wipe their hands clean by projecting their malice, aggression and treachery on to the target.

The more malignant a narcissist is, the less of a conscience they have. This makes them able to blame the survivor with such ease and skill that, once the narcissist has spun their web of deception, the survivor appears to be the aggressor and the narcissist their hapless victim.

In many cases, survivors are left reeling as their abuser blithely revises the fact of their aggression, twisting the truth into a narrative that bears no semblance to what actually transpired.

This is because narcissists have mastered a tactical maneuver that effectively grooms individuals and, indeed, entire social groups by controlling their perception of events.

The name of this strategy is DARVO.

What is DARVO?

DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender. It is a defense mechanism used by manipulators to evade accountability for the abuse they inflict on others. 

The term was first presented in a 1997 article by Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and founder of the Center for Institutional Courage.

DARVO | Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D.

According to Dr. Freyd, “The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistleblower – into an alleged offender.”

Denial is used by the abuser and bystanders in their clique. It usually sounds like:

  • I didn’t do anything, but if I did, it wasn’t that bad.
  • It never happened, but if it did, it wasn’t that bad.

At the local level, this strategy is common among perpetrators of sexual offenses, psycho-emotional abuse, and domestic abuse. DARVO is a regular feature of coercive and controlling behavior.

At the structural level, Dr. Freyd refers to this tactic as institutional DARVO.

Who gets targeted for DARVO?

For DARVO to occur a power imbalance must exist. It is most effective when the abuser has more social capital than the survivor.

Power Imbalance | Social Capital

If the abuser is a member of a dominant group and the survivor is a member of a disenfranchised group, generally the survivor is less likely to be believed.

People who are likely candidates for DARVO are:

  • Survivors who confront their abuser.
  • Whistleblowers.
  • Socially vulnerable individuals or groups, e.g. women are more likely to be targeted for DARVO than men.

What is the purpose of DARVO?

The DARVO tactic serves many purposes.

  • DARVO is a smokescreen used by narcissists, psychopaths or other manipulators to conceal the truth of their behavior.
  • DARVO enables the narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator to control how others perceive the target and the conflict.
  • DARVO often stuns the targeted person into confusion and silence.

Thus, the abuser is able to craft a scapegoat story which is used to cultivate biases against the target and rally bystanders to their cause.

“This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation,” explains Dr. Freyd.

In a DARVO climate, no amount of evidence will suffice as proof of the abuser’s transgressions. The target will not be believed within a social circle that has been groomed by a narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator. On the contrary, the target will be subjected to a terrifying campaign of victim-blaming by the group.

Once the abuser has successfully secured the bystanders’ support and conditioned them to perceive the survivor as the perpetrator, the clique collectively subjects the survivor to the merciless process of scapegoating.

If the survivor lives through it, they are usually driven into isolation and social death. Other outcomes can include homicide or death by self-annihilation. The narcissist, psychopath or manipulator’s endgame is the complete destruction of the target.

DARVO as a collective grooming tactic

The cognitive distortions created by DARVO cultivate an ecosystem of moral corruption. Members of the peer group are encouraged by the narcissist to engage in polarized or black and white thinking.

The group’s empathy for the narcissist is weaponized and used to encourage negative biases about the recipient of the abuse. Narcissists, psychopaths and other manipulators do this in order to ensure that members of the dominant clique become indifferent and callous about the betrayal of the survivor.

The desensitization of the group opens the door to the objectification of the targeted individual and once this is accomplished every kind of violence becomes acceptable.

Examples of this can be seen in manifestations of anti-semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.

Why do bystanders participate in collective betrayal?

According to Dr. Freyd betrayal blindness is a survival mechanism that arises “when awareness would threaten necessary relationships.” 

In other words, bystanders yield to betrayal blindness in the interest of looking out for themselves and to avoid the loss or pain they might risk if they sympathized with the target.

They assign more value to their relationship with the abuser so it follows that it’s in their best interest to empathize with the narcissist not with the survivor.

In fact, in many cases bystanders may stand to gain more social capital if they lend their support to the narcissist. So it is usually a combination of greed for gain and an instinct for self-preservation that eclipses any ethical or moral considerations in the bystander.

In other words, members of the clique adapt to conflict within the group by “turning a blind eye,” to the harmful behaviors of the narcissist.

The longterm effects of DARVO on survivors

Many survivors feel psychologically obliterated by the trauma of experiencing DARVO. It can have disastrous consequences for the survivor’s mental health. For example, it can cause severe anxiety, panic, depression, and post-traumatic stress which, in turn, can adversely impact the survivor’s physical wellbeing.

DARVO invalidates the survivor’s lived experience. It inflicts further pain and suffering as the wronged party is cheated out of any measure of justice. Instead, in addition to the original violation, survivors are persecuted and blamed in spite of the fact that they are the wronged party.

Rejection from their peers and the narcissist’s immunity to being held accountable is a constant cascade of salt poured in the survivor’s wounds, causing them to be repeatedly re-traumatized.

More about DARVO

Learn more about DARVO with Dr. Freyd in their lecture ‘Institutional and Interpersonal Betrayal.’

Bibliography

What is Coercive Control?

What is Coercive Control? | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

COERCIVE CONTROL is a pattern of acts used to secure emotional, psychological, and financial dominance over a targeted individual. It is also referred to as “intimate terrorism.”

The term was Coercive Control was coined by Dr. Evan Stark of Rutgers University to describe the hidden, invisible psychological violence many survivors of domestic violence experience in toxic relationships. It is a component of narcissistic abuse.

Coercive control  is a kind of emotional terrorism that aims to subjugate a targeted person and give the abuser total control.

Dr. Stark’s groundbreaking work influenced the criminalization of this invisible form of violence  in England and Wales in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.  

Here is the British Government’s definition:

  • Coercive behavior is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
  • Controlling behavior is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.

Coercive Control was criminalized in Ireland and Scotland in 2019. Efforts are also being made in Australia and in the US an historic Coercive Control Bill is being sponsored by State Senator Kevin S. Parker in New York. 

Coercive control in the context of narcissistic abuse

Coercive Control is a narcissist’s weapon of choice. After half a century of research, efforts are being made to put a framework in place to protect survivors from this insidious kind of psycho-emotional abuse.

Some of the basis for Dr. Stark’s work can be found in Albert Biederman’s Chart of Coercion and Mary Romero’s comparative study of domestic abuse survivors and prisoners of war.   The findings in these two reports were based on numerous studies of how stress can be used to break down the will of human beings.

Albert Biedermann's Chart of Coercion

For example, Chinese Communists used this kind of coercion in many contexts at universities, prisons, businesses, with laborer and peasants alike. They called  it zu-hsiang kai-tsao or “thought reform”.

Signs of Coercive Control

Here are the indicators of coercive and controlling behavior:

  1. Isolation – The abuser will keep you away from family and friends. 
  2. Monitoring your time – They abuser will want to know where you are, where you are going and what you are doing at all times
  3. Deprivation of Basic Needs: The abuser will restrict your access to healthcare and/or food.
  4. Monitoring Communication: Your abuser may use spyware to track your online communication tools.
  5. Taking control of your daily life: They may  control where you can go, who you can see, what you wear and what you eat.
  6. Put-Downs: your abuser may repeatedly tell you that you’re worthless or useless. They may call you degrading names or make comments about your appearance, your body, your intelligence, etc.
  7. Rules and Regulations: the abuser will create a set of ever changing rules which they enforce by humiliating, degrading or dehumanizing you.
  8. Financial abuse: the abuser will control your finances, making sure you have little access to money and making you dependent on them.
  9. Threats: an abuser may threaten to to hurt or kill; to take away your child; to reveal publish private information such as intimate photos or revealations about your sexuality.
  10. Criminal damage: the abuser may destroy your personal property. For example, they may destroy your cell phone or an article of your clothing.
  11. Assault or rape: the abuser may physically abuse you or violate you sexually.
  12. Obstruction of Employment: the abuser may stop you from working and earning your own money.
Coercive Control Evan Stark

The impact of this sort of abuse is long lasting. Coercive and controlling abuse harms the survivor’s sense of identity, safety, autonomy and their attachments to other people. 

It’s so subtle that many times survivors don’t realize what’s happening to them. They often compare it to the fable of the Boiling Frog. In their isolation, it can be difficult for them to have any perspective.

Daniel Quinn, author of ‘The Story of B’ explains, “If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”

It’s important to remember that narcissism is a trait that exists on a spectrum. It ranges from healthy narcissism to full on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). These are two very different things. The further along the spectrum of narcissism an individual is, the more like they are to use coercive and controlling behavior to dominate others.

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