The Powerful--and Sadly Effective--Tactic of Abusive Isolation
At this point in history we're all familiar with isolation, but what some people don't realize is that isolation is a powerful and effective tactic also commonly used by domestic abusers.
At this point in our strange, globally-mandated lives, isolation is likely no stranger to any of us. There are uncanny similarities to what we’re all going through due to virus fears compared to someone in a domestically abusive relationship. Even so, isolation takes on a vastly more complex level when instigated by an intimate partner. In domestic situations, isolation is not only a negative situation imposed upon us by an outside force, but paradoxically it also becomes a comfortable and habitual—if dangerous—friend.
Isolation becomes a comfortable and habitual false friend.
An abuser isolates his target for several reasons, all of which boil down to one main intention—coercive control so as to manipulate his target into submission. This is accomplished in various ways.
The excessive jealousy of an abusive personality gives him a suspicious, anger-filled need to frequently check up on his victim when she’s out of his physical grasp. He hides his true motives behind an ineffective mask of “I love you” and “I just want to be sure you’re safe,” leading a victim to feel cherished and protected. She’s blind-sided into submission, not realizing that this sort of “protection” isn’t only false, but is potently dangerous to her wellbeing.
A manipulative abuser doesn’t want his target to develop or maintain outside friendships, nor will he permit her to hear opinions that vary from his own (because that might cause her to think for herself, and therefore become free and independent). Besides, if she has outside friendships, she might get clued in to the fact that there’s more out there. She might begin to realize that there’s something severely wrong with her own relationship, an awareness an abuser wants to avoid at all costs (whether consciously or not).
How does a manipulative person accomplish his goal of isolation (again, whether conscious or not)? It takes a series of progressive steps, steps that cause his victim to slowly adapt to the “new normal” of his increasing control until, before she’s even aware of it, she’s living the life he mandates. Her own life has dripped away, bit by bit. Or, in the words of good ol’ Jacob Marley, “Link by link, yard by yard.”
In an abusive thrust of power, the manipulator attempts to control all aspects of his victim’s life.
First are the words of encouragement, unity, and solidarity—words she takes to heart, believing his silky good intentions. “I’m so happy when you succeed,” “I’ll totally support whatever you want to do,” “I hope you have a fun afternoon with your friends.” But when she returns home, she’s grilled with distressing questions and barraged by verbal abuse.
Or, he may say he supports her career, but he then proceeds to sabotage it by frequently interrupting her sleep (with fights, coercive demands for sex, the “urgent” need to talk about something, or other tactics). He may constantly call her at work or even stop by her office, disturbing important tasks or meetings. Because of the stress of her relationship and his constant demands, she ends up performing poorly at her job, perhaps even losing it through quitting (lack of self-esteem) or being fired (because of his controlling persistence and invasive interruptions).
Those are merely two examples out of many, but you get the idea.
An abuser will say one thing yet do another, sowing confusion and doubt within the mind of his target, causing her to feel as if she’s developing dementia or going crazy.
Just what he wants.
He may progressively isolate her by bad-mouthing her friends, family, hobbies, or the places she enjoys visiting. He gaslights her into believing he may be right. Before she knows it—and without even being aware of how it happened—she finds herself sharing his opinions. Why had she ever wanted to hang out with those people, anyway? Why had she wanted to go to those places, or enjoy those things? She can no longer remember.
She can no longer remember, because she can no longer remember her true self. Is she suffering from early-onset dementia, or abuse amnesia? Through education and awareness, as the gaslit fog begins to roll away, the answer becomes obvious.
It’s safer to do things only with him, and no one else. Staying at home in isolation is safer, too. If she stays at home, she won’t expose herself to potential toxins—mainly the toxin of his psychological and verbal abuse. If she distances herself socially from her former friends and even family, she won’t have to run the risk of offending her partner. Life will be far more comfortable if she just gives in and “goes with the flow.”
She feels there’s no purpose in trying to stand up to him.
He has too much power.
She succumbs. It’s easier that way.
Avoiding conflict is now her top priority.
Until it isn’t any longer.
Enough. Is enough.
Isolation has become her habit and trap. She’s now alone. She’s withdrawn and lonely, because it seems the world around her has changed. She’s no longer comfortable—not in her own skin, not in her own life, not in her own world. Yet she knows she must escape. Enough. Is enough.
This is the true face of abuse: Being brainwashed into thinking the world isn’t safe, so you have to distance yourself. Being led to believe that if you get close to another human being, you’re in danger. Being told you cannot live, unless you live with your abuser, who will keep you safe.
Even though he’s the one instigating all the evil in your life.
This, my friends, is coercive control. This, my friends, is classic abuse. Whether domestic or global, THIS IS ABUSE.
The abusive manipulators keep telling us: It’s scary out there in the big bad world! This tactic works, and it works well. In all abusively controlling situations, the target usually becomes so socially distant that she no longer knows how to conduct herself around others. She can no longer think, except with the mind of her abuser. This is a terrifying and dangerous place to be , and one we need to fight against in our struggle to maintain freedom, independence, and self-worth.
An abuse victim clings to her isolation as if it’ll protect her, yet it’s the primary thing that’s keeping her from healing. Even after awareness of abuse settles in and change is being made—firm boundaries are put in place, or she leaves—even then, the addiction to isolation can be too entrenched to release.
Yet this step is necessary. God made us social creatures (Genesis 2:18). The healthy support and love of others is a crucial component to healing. A loving touch, a kind word, a generous hug, genuine companionship—those are the things that make us human. When anyone tries to take that from us, they’re robbing us of our humanity.
Abuse is the attempt by one party to coercively manipulate another into submission, thereby taking away their independence, freedom, individuality, and humanity.
Judith Herman, M.D., in her now-classic book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, states: “Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connections with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological faculties that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.”
That’s why trustworthy and understanding relationships are so necessary. The loving support of true family and friends is crucial, but so is connecting with fellow survivors. A spiritual support group that incorporates elements of healthy healing through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and reassurance of Sacred Scripture can be of particular benefit in renewing and rejuvenating faith, hope and love—in self, in God, in others, and in the world.
Do you have a support group you connect with and if so, how has it benefited you? Have you searched for one, but haven’t had much luck in finding a safe, reliable, trustworthy group? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.