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“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Voltaire

Image of man covering his ears

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As soon as I came across the above quote by Voltaire, notable French enlightenment writer and philosopher, I knew it would form the basis of my next post. With his own experiences of imprisonment for his outspoken stance against the Church, he ought to know a little about who rules whom, and the consequences of overstepping the mark.

As do you and I, fellow abuse survivors. Remember what happened the last time you leveled a rational and well-deserved criticism at your tormentor?

I’ll bet the whole of Hades came crashing in upon your head, raining verbal pitchforks at your heart and your sanity. No matter how constructively or how mildly you phrased your complaint; no matter how reasonable your request for change; no matter how you sugared the pill to prepare him, your punishment was assured; served swiftly and with devastating cruelty. Am I right?

Abusers perceive as an attack, virtually everything you say that doesn’t line up with their world view, or their view of themselves. As we have already discussed in previous posts, an abuser’s view of him or herself is way off beam. Abusers can’t face what they see in the metaphorical mirror, and they certainly can’t tolerate you pointing out the truth, even when it should be clear that your aim is conflict resolution and family harmony. I made the ‘mistake’ of taking my marriage vows too seriously. Included in our ceremony were a number of special vows in which we promised to support each other in becoming everything the Creator meant us to be. To me, it seemed obvious that to uphold that vow, we needed to confront each other, albeit gently, about actions and words that were not moving us in a positive direction.

But it’s the ‘truth’ that unhinges them and sends them into defensive mode. You get to sit back and listen to them trot out all the Freudian defense mechanisms in an attempt to make you into the bad guy, and reassert themselves as the righteous and perfect one. Or, in the words of my particular abuser, ‘the well-calibrated one.’ (While I, of course, was the ‘nutjob.’)

In fact, you don’t even need to criticize. All you need to do is hold a differing opinion or express an emotion they don’t understand or agree with. Such is their disordered thinking and sense of entitlement.

This process is explained in detail in Patricia Evans series of books:
‘The Verbally Abusive Man’, ‘The Verbally Abusive Relationship’, and ‘Controlling People’.

(Please bear with me while I work on fixing the links to these books. In the meantime they can be found at the bottom of this page … An Abuser Hides His True Self.

I devoured her writing, turning page after page, while uncovering an increasingly vivid picture of my abuser. I can’t recommend her work enough.

An abuser doesn’t see you for the unique individual you are. You are simply an extension of him or herself, and are therefore expected to conform to the needs and expectations of that fragile, unrealistic self. If you don’t, you are instantly perceived as a threat … a very real threat to the meticulously constructed false self your abuser so desperately clings to. Every time you open your mouth and express your individuality, your abuser loses his cool. In his eyes, he is protecting himself from an attack … an attack that is not actually happening.

Most of us, when confronted by our loved ones with complaints about our behaviour, look within ourselves, consider the feelings of the complainant, and seek to address the issues. Naturally, the complaints will sting, but beyond an initial discomfort, we are still capable of acting and reacting in ‘adult mode’. On the other hand, an abuser is ever a child; prone to tantrums, lies, denials, projection and blame … in fact, anything that works to keep them at the top of the power struggle. Their sole purpose is to win. Too bad if you are crushed or your children suffer from the collateral damage. They don’t care.

So think carefully. Are you afraid to speak your mind? Have you read all the articles advising you to use ‘I messages’ and to time your criticisms wisely, yet when you do, you still find yourself on the receiving end of an abusive tirade? Do you spend hours rehearsing in your mind, the best way to approach even the slightest grievance? Do you find yourself feeling physically sick and full of anxiety at the very thought of bringing up an issue?

If you can answer yes to any of the above, my heart goes out to you. It will take nothing short of a miracle to effect change. I wish it were otherwise.

In truth, you are in an emotional straight-jacket. The person who is responsible for putting you there is the person you cannot, under any circumstances, criticize.