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If You Leave: Behind the Curtain of an Abusive Smear Campaign
“When a psychologically vulnerable person views the spouse’s desertion as a total, devastating attack, they may develop paranoid ideas of betrayal, exploitation, and conspiracy" (P. Mason & R. Kreger)
It’s shattering to realize the partner of your dreams isn’t who you thought he was—or at least not all of the time. When you first met, he was beyond wonderful; he was perfect, at least for you. You shared an immediate bond, and had everything in common—interests, hobbies, morals and beliefs, even your outlook on life. And, as if that wasn’t enough, he adored you. He appreciated your strengths, supported and helped you with your weaknesses, admired you, and thought you were an angel or a saint. It felt good to be so adored and admired by such an incredible, loving, trustworthy guy.
So what happened?
In one overwhelming incident, months or even years after a solid bond had been formed between the two of you, your loving Dr. Jekyll turned into a raging Mr. Hyde. He suddenly went on the attack, spewing verbal venom all over your sense of self, making crazy accusations, demonizing you and saying the most horrific things. His rage was frightening, confusing and dehumanizing. Suddenly you felt like Humpty Dumpty.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall …
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall …
And what a fall it was. Yet you did get back up. Your pieces did fit back together again.
At least in the beginning.
Perhaps he apologized, or maybe he minimized the abuse to such a point that you believed him. Either way, much to your immense relief and gratitude, Dr. Jekyll returned. All was right with the world and your beloved partner was once again caring, appreciative of you, treating you with respect and honor, adoring you … In his mind, you were once more his sainted angel.
Until the next build-up of tension. He began picking at little things, making you feel small and childish, diminishing your self-esteem. Then the next outbreak of venomous rage erupted, in whatever form it took—physical abuse (including smashing household objects and punching holes in walls), turning cold and withdrawing, shouting, baiting you, accusing, battering you with verbal violence. “Whore!” “Bitch!” “Cold and manipulative!” “You’re the worst!” And, over and over despite your ongoing love, “You hate me!”
In his mind, you had suddenly changed back into a demon. But then, the next hour or next day or a few days later, he was contrite once more, minimizing and/or apologetic. As he handed you a bouquet of the most luscious red roses, he whispered in your ear, “You’re my precious angel. I truly appreciate how much you love me.”
“You hate me.”
“You love me.”
“You hate me.”
Again and again in a vicious cycle.
Years go by. Your head has been swimming so fast for so long that it’s in a permanent fog. Your self-esteem has melted to nothing. Most days you feel like a smothering blanket is shrouding your entire body. Friends … where did your friends go? Oh, right. It’s easier not to have friends. If you don’t go out, you’ll reduce the incidences of rage-filled accusations of infidelity, the constant barrage of demeaning questions and the destructive blame. Keep quiet. Head down. Eyes closed. Try to disappear. Don’t wake the sleeping monster.
But then you awake. Oh, glorious day! Something or someone has caused you to realize that this is not a normal relationship—perhaps it was a persistent friend who stood by you despite your self-isolation, a perceptive family member, a book or blog post, the voice of God within. But something or someone has caused you to realize that this, my dear friend, is abuse.
But then you awake. Oh, glorious day!
You may then try to talk to your partner, reason with him, help him to see what you see so he can change and your happily ever after can finally begin. But it doesn’t work. He won’t change, he refuses to admit he has a problem with control and abuse, he persists in blaming you for all your relationship problems. And so, for the sake of self-love and self-preservation, you leave.
And the smear campaign begins.
The smear campaign, also called the distortion campaign, happens when a person finally comes to terms with the need to end an abusive relationship. Often the abuser feels abandoned—his most profound terror come true—and he instantly believes himself to be the victim.
This may be because his black-and-white, angel-or-demon perceptions are now stuck in demon-mode. Donald G. Dutton, clinical researcher and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, describes this broken, dysfunctional mindset in similar terms:
“This split is related to the abuse cycle. Men in the dysphoric phase ruminate on their unacknowledged concept of their wife as a whore: unfaithful, sexually promiscuous, malevolent, and unloving. After the release of tension during an abuse episode, their entire pattern of perceptions regarding their wife and women in general changes. What’s more, it changes literally overnight. They become temporarily docile, almost servile, and the wife is now a Madonna, idealized on a pedestal.”
But, if the tension is never released because of separation or divorce, the skewed mindset is stuck in the “unfaithful, unloving, malevolent whore” mode.
Richard Moskovitz, M.D., author of Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, has written his book for those suffering from BPD, to help them understand themselves and seek help. However, his words apply to anyone who experiences survival-based thought distortions, which is most common in cyclical (Type III) abusers. Moskovitz states:
“You may experience your life as fragile and flickering, lacking in substance and permanence … This discontinuity of feeling is magnified by an amnesia for emotions. Whatever feeling-state predominates at the moment seems to last forever, and you can scarcely recall ever feeling differently … When applied to relationships, this peculiar disturbance of memory means that our last encounter may be recalled as the whole of our relationship. If we last parted on an angry note, then I may be remembered as a scurrilous villain and you may wish bitterly for revenge.”
This accurately describes not only the reason for the smear/distortion campaign of the Type III (dysphoric/borderline/survival-based) abuser, but the reason why your abuser vehemently clings to his version of the story and truly believes it. To him, as he views the situation through his lens of cognitive distortion, his feelings are truth, therefore his version of history is accurate and undeniable.
If this is the case with your experience, chances are that when you left, his intense terror of abandonment went into overdrive, halting the abuse cycle mid-churn: no longer is there chance for reconciliation, which would begin the contrition stage of the abuse cycle and, in the abuser’s split mind, cause his bitch of a wife to become a saint once again. Now you’re stuck in bitch mode, because you left.
Your ex-partner can no longer remember any good you may have done, your past love and devotion, your acts of kindness, the joyful times the two of you spent together. In his mind, the entire relationship is colored by your supposed abusive behavior, your malevolence, your unfaithfulness, your coldness and cruelty. His brain is stuck, and he’s adamant that he’s the victim. His brain will never get unstuck unless he reaches the point where he can admit that he has an abusive personality, seek emotional and spiritual healing, and find a qualified psychological professional who can help him reformat his thought processes.
This is the sad, strange truth behind the dysphoric/borderline (Type III) abuser’s smear campaign. Not all relationships and not all smear campaigns are alike, but for certain types of abusers, this may be the reason for their destructive actions.