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Sunday, June 17, 2018

How abusers exploit civility

I've been experiencing a very peripheral relationship that I'd call abusive--abusive to me, that is--and WHOAH, I'm realizing so much about dynamics of abuse.

I'm realizing that if someone is focused on achieving control over someone who is (relatively) reasonable and civil, they can deploy so many tools that exploit aspects of the ways we trust others.

For example, an abuser can steadily escalate and reshape demands, keeping the conversation centered around those demands indefinitely. This crowds out the ability to address things the abuser's done.

This exploration of what demands are possible can be a very sophisticated process. Where there's real resistance, they can just backtrack misleadingly and try pushing somewhere else.

They can challenge perfectly reasonable statements and actions, creating deeply awkward explanations of everyday actions or terms. Then they can point to that awkwardness as denied intimacy.

They can show a different face to each person, or different faces to the same person at different times; if they themselves aren't trying to reconcile these, it's very hard to make the case to them that they must. It's just rhetorically extremely difficult.

And per that last point, by putting no energy into introspection or understanding feedback or questions from others, they can make any effort to get through to them extremely demanding.

Getting through has to be rhetorically brilliant from a tactical perspective, while also putting them constantly at ease and avoiding any land mines. And they have to not decide to disrupt it with any of a million arbitrary misdirections or changes of topic.

Because the effort of connecting meaningfully of being so completely one sided, there are no real boundaries or expectations that the abuser must meet during a difficult conversation.


They don't have to be polite. They don't have to be consistent. They don't have to be honest. They don't have to be fair. They don't have to own their statements or actions.

Because all it ever takes on any of these is for them to *eventually* act as though in healthy relationship. If at some point their carelessness and irresponsibility really is proving inconvenient, they can drop that individual piece and it's hailed as a step forward.

In this way, their unreasonableness, their irresponsibility, their dishonesty, their unfair judgments--all these are not liabilities, they're **assets**. Each is valuable to establish because it can be cashed in at will.

And because it takes such an effort to address any one, the others can get in free, shielded by the focus of the discussion and shielded by the general expectation of trust and civility.

The more extreme the demands, the more rude the asides, etc., the more useful they are. Because the core purpose of the relationship, for the abuser, is to assert control.

They don't know how to achieve the type of control built of mutual trust, respect, balance and generosity. But they do know how to use the seams in civility to inject cruelty and compromise that the recipient alone must internalize and deal with.

When there's a demand from an abuser that seems absurd and out of line with reality, that's not a bug. It's a feature.

By demanding something absurd and then treating it like it's perfectly reasonable, the abuser exploits others' inability or unwillingness to end the relationship.

It's not that they don't have the social skills to know what is and isn't reasonable. They're demanding something absurd because it's unreasonable. They want others to have to grapple with it.

By their own logic, they get what they want whether the demand is met, or not. Because it's been considered with far more care and energy than it took to make the demand. Others have had to build careful explanations and responses, losing sleep and focus.

As long as others treat maintaining the relationship as a goal, or are forced by family or circumstance at maintain it, this room for exploitation will be there.

It really can't be argued out of, no matter how many perfectly articulate emails you compose on you pillow at (*cough cough*) 4 in the morning

You can't appeal to the relationship, because there's a more important relationship you can't come close to touching--the pathological coping relationship the abuser has with themselves. The relationship with control.

The abuser will use the language of caring and connection. They'll say they care the most, to the utmost. But look at the edges of their actual caring: the marginal steps they do or don't take towards it.

Do they lean towards picking up the slack? Giving the benefit of the doubt? Responding to questions with introspection? Do they take overtures of contact?

Or, presented with opportunities to step towards our away from meaningful contact, do they more often reject or deny them?

Control is what they seek--the illusory control that only feels real when they're disrupting others and knowing everyone is having to operate on their terms.