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Image of a brother and sister arguing, with one of them not listening and using a hand gesture to tell the other person to stop.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/artur84

The unwillingness to accept responsibility stems from a huge and fragile ego. It also stems from cowardice. Bullies and abusers are always cowards. They don’t have the intestinal fortitude to face the fact they’re culpable of any, and many, transgressions, and they’ll tear you apart at the slightest criticism, no matter how warranted.

It’s this unwillingness to take personal responsibility that leads abusers to use any, and sometimes, every form of psychological defense mechanism, with devastating effect on their prey.

One of the most maddening, confusing and stress-inducing of these defense mechanisms is ‘deflection’. By deflecting blame, especially in the heat of the moment, abusers throw their victims off course and turn the whole situation back on them.

You end up having to defend yourself against a barrage of cruel allegations that bear little resemblance to reality.

He’ll say, ‘What have you ever done for me?’ (Plenty, is my guess.)

He’ll snarl, ‘You lied about my kids.’ (You know you didn’t.)

He’ll stab his finger at you and yell, ‘It’s your fault my family wants nothing to do with us.’ (In truth, you’ve turned yourself inside out to bring about reconciliation and relationship, and copped a truckload of abuse from his family for your trouble.)

The fact that he doesn’t recognize the truth about you; the way you’ve been doing everything possible to foster a harmonious marriage and family, only to be brutally hit with accusations to the contrary, is really, really hurtful.

And you’ll feel desperate to defend yourself – to get him to see the truth. But he never will, because it doesn’t suit his narrative. Or perhaps, even more insidiously, he does know the truth but has only one goal in mind; to decimate you emotionally. To shut you down, silence you and avoid facing his own shortcomings. He knows he’s hurting you and he just keeps going, bludgeoning you verbally with more and more outlandish accusations, putting you in the position of having to prove him wrong.

One way to recognize if someone is employing this strategy against you is to ask yourself if you entered the discussion with one intention and then found that the discussion that needed to be had didn’t happen at all. The conversation was hijacked and taken in an entirely different direction. Did you want to talk about the way he belittled you in front of friends, for instance, but ended up talking about every little grievance he has against you? And most likely it will be the same list that comes up over and over again, whenever you try to breach a difficult subject. That too, is a clue. Over time, you should almost be able to predict what he’s going to blast you with.

You end up apologizing, don’t you? And begging for forgiveness? And just wanting the relentless verbal assault on your character to stop?

Heaven forbid that a conversation should ever revolve around your needs and not his!

I vividly recall finding myself in this dilemma time and again, and yet it took me years to pull apart what was really happening; to learn to recognize this deflection of blame while it was actually happening. Keeping a level head at these times is extremely challenging and yet, it’s essential if you’re ever going to extract yourself from the cycle of abuse. If you don’t clearly recognize what’s really happening, you can’t look it in the face for what it is…and reject it.

You can’t say ‘no’ with clarity, and walk away.

You have the right to speak your truth. A rational, mature person will be able to take that in their stride, even if speaking your truth brings up their faults and failings. They might feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, confused, sad, or even angry at first. But they will address the issue. They’ll be big enough to talk it through with you; to hear you. They will not silence you by attacking you and your vulnerabilities. And they will most certainly not turn the conversation back on you, making you the culprit.

It’s essential for you to recognize when this is happening – right in the midst of it. You need to call your accuser out. Tell them that what they’re saying has nothing to do with the issue at hand, and that you’re aware they’re sidestepping the problem by mentioning subjects that are totally irrelevant. They need to know that you know they’re not answering your questions, and that you’re aware they’re perpetuating a pattern that’s designed to ‘get them off the hook’. You need to insist on a rational, clear-headed response from them that is a direct response to your questions and grievances. If they’re not rational enough to do that, and abusers never are, then you need to turn your back and refuse to continue the conversation.

It’s breathtakingly difficult. Every raw nerve, every traumatic trigger will have been thrown in your face. You’ll want to defend yourself against all the irrelevant accusations, but you don’t need to. In fact, you shouldn’t even try. It’s just a game to them…an ugly, cruel game that’s fully intended to ensure you look like the bad guy, and they look like the long-suffering martyr.

All they want is to throw you off kilter so they don’t have to face their own short-comings. Don’t let them get away with it. Keep bringing them back to the point. If that doesn’t help, turn your back and exit the conversation.

If the pattern continues without abating, I suggest you think long and hard about exiting the relationship entirely. It may well be time to take back your sanity.