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Why does it always seem like you have to constantly explain or defend yourself with certain people? Are you just not coming through clearly? Do they have trouble understanding?

Or is there really something deceptive going on to keep you under control?

Learn the Turn-Around game and how it keeps you from ever gaining ground with controlling and manipulative people.

I am going to read you parts of a message I received to help this person deal with a difficult challenge they are facing. You may benefit if you’re dealing with something similar.

A man wrote to me and shared, “As I question whether my spouse is emotionally abusive, I find myself constantly tripped up by her rebuttals to nearly everything I say. It’s incredibly difficult to counter with logic because that logic then seems to turn against me. When we text, it becomes painfully clear how controlling and hurtful her words are to me.

Here’s a specific example. When I leave in the morning, she’s typically still half-asleep. I’ll kiss her, tell her I love her, and sometimes wish her a good day. She doesn’t respond or even acknowledge me. However, if I’m upset with her and, on a rare occasion, don’t say ‘I love you’ or kiss her, she’s quick to text me, accusing me of being spiteful or hurtful by withholding my affection. This leads me to believe she’s aware enough to notice whether I’m affectionate or not, but she’s not interested in reciprocating or even acknowledging it later.

This then escalates into a dispute about my love for her and my commitment to our marriage, leading to more accusations and putting me on the defensive. At this point, I’m flustered, frustrated, and disinclined to engage further, which would only exacerbate the argument. My question is, where can I find resources beyond the podcast to help me communicate effectively, stay focused, acknowledge my feelings, and act according to my values?

He sent a quick follow-up to that message too, but before I read that, I want to address his first question. When she doesn’t acknowledge him as he leaves for work, that’s something that could happen to any of us, whether we’re in an emotionally abusive relationship or not. Your partner or someone in your life may be upset and may not want to reciprocate your affection.

I’m assuming this happens to this man frequently, which is why he reached out to me. I’m pointing this out because it’s one of those aspects of emotional abuse that might be mistaken as a typical relationship issue, something everyone experiences at some point.

However, the distinction lies in the patterns. In emotionally abusive relationships, hurtful behaviors repeat consistently and form a pattern.

One key piece of information I want to emphasize today is that when you consistently encounter behaviors that leave you feeling hurt or particularly bad about yourself, you may be dealing with emotional abuse rather than just a typical relationship challenge.

Understanding what emotional abuse entails is crucial if you’re trying to discern if that’s what you’re experiencing. It’s important to recognize the patterns that keep you feeling bad. If this negativity is a constant aftereffect of the interactions you have with someone in your life, that’s a pattern that needs attention.

I’m not necessarily saying every pattern is emotional abuse every time, but the patterns you observe could be pieces of the larger puzzle that might be unfolding in your life.

I reached out to the writer of the email I received and inquired about his score from The M.E.A.N. Workbook. If you’ve tuned into the Love and Abuse podcast before, you know that at the end of the show, I often refer to this resource.

The workbook includes an assessment with 200 checkboxes, which, when completed, provide you with a score that helps you understand the level of manipulation you might be experiencing in your relationship.

The man who wrote to me told me he had a score of 128, putting him at the threshold of the highest level of manipulation as defined in the workbook. There are four levels I’ve identified—Class A through D—with Class D starting at 122 and going up to 200. A score within this range indicates a significant pattern of emotionally abusive behaviors.

The checkboxes in the assessment cover a wide range of statements, such as feeling like you can never meet your partner’s expectations or experiencing extreme highs and lows in the relationship (with no middle ground).

There are many more indicators I could share, but you’ll have to get the workbook if you want to explore this further. My point is, with a score of 128, this person identified a substantial number of signs of control and manipulation. I’ll read directly from the workbook what such a score implies:

“Any score above 121 is manipulation and emotional abuse at its worst. At this point, you very likely feel like a shell of your former self. Not only have you lost trust in yourself, but you may not even trust anyone else. You may fear going to counseling because you know your partner will find a way to manipulate them, too. They have the ability to do this with counselors who have not had a lot of experience with emotionally abusive people.

“Every conversation you have with your partner about relationship issues always turns out to be your fault, your responsibility, and up to you to fix. They don’t take any responsibility because they know that they are right and you are wrong. Even when you have evidence that they are wrong, they will shame or guilt you into taking the blame for the problem.

“A manipulative partner at this level is so entrenched in their ways that it’s nearly impossible for them to listen to reason or see the facts. You can have video evidence of them doing a bad deed, which they may even admit to, but they will almost always make you the cause for that deed at some level.

“Whatever you do is wrong unless it’s what they tell you to do. And even then, they will probably still find a way to make you feel bad about your behavior anyway. Unfortunately, there’s probably nothing you can do to change your partner’s behavior at this point.

“Anytime you attempt to change their mind or convince them that their behavior is wrong, bad, or incorrect, you will be put in your place through exquisite tactics implemented through the words and actions of a master manipulator.

At this level, they are so crafty and adept at controlling you that your chances of having a productive conversation with them are nearly non-existent. They are highly skilled at making you feel bad about yourself. And full submission to their control is what they want from you.”

I won’t read the entire section, but the gist is bleak. It suggests that at this level of manipulation, you’re unlikely to incite any change in your partner. They’re so skilled at control that productive dialogue is almost impossible.

Can an emotional abuser change?

Certainly, they can. But it’s healthier for you to proceed as if they won’t rather than clinging to hope and waiting for a transformation.

On the podcast, I shared the story of my mother, who waited over forty years for my stepfather to change. Waiting that long is an option, but it’s not one I would recommend. It’s a life filled with unhappiness, stress, and suffering at the hands of a master manipulator or emotional abuser.

In scenarios of severe abuse, the possibility of positive change is remote. It’s not a matter of winning or losing, but when attempts to communicate how their actions are hurtful to you fall on deaf ears, it’s clear that their selfish wants and needs, regardless of your feelings, are their priority.

The man who reached out to me demonstrated that his partner was strongly inclined to prioritize their own needs, with little regard for his well-being.

I’m not labeling his partner as a narcissist, as that requires a professional diagnosis. However, a simple litmus test I use involves assessing selfishness and empathy. If someone consistently acts in self-interest and shows a lack of empathy—even when they are aware their actions cause pain—it’s a telling sign of their disregard for others.

For those who find themselves in such a situation, it’s a harsh reality to face. The likelihood of suffering and absence of happiness in the presence of someone who doesn’t care about you is high.

I apologize if this article isn’t uplifting. But I think it’s an important and necessary reality check for those who might need to hear it. When every effort you make to improve the relationship or make the other person happy seems futile, and their expectation is for you to live solely for their benefit, it’s a big red flag of a deeply problematic dynamic.

Talking directly to the person who wrote the email (and you, if you can relate to his challenge), when you notice a lack of reciprocity, it’s crucial to evaluate your situation.

His assessment score of 128 signifies a severe level of manipulation and control. And with so many indicators of emotional abuse, his situation may be more than he can handle on his own. He may need a support system like friends or family, for example, because enduring such a relationship on your own can be very difficult and may feel completely defeating.

It’s also important to learn how to cope with the constant counters and manipulations from an emotionally abusive person. Even well-intentioned gestures like a kiss or an ‘I love you’ can become tools for coercion in such relationships.

Of course, occasional disagreements and hurt feelings are normal in any relationship. But when there’s a persistent pattern of someone making you feel guilty combined with other signs of emotional abuse, it’s time to take a closer look.

Understanding these patterns and the context in which they occur is key to navigating such complex and challenging situations.

Manipulation Is A Weapon

Consider a scenario where you intentionally provoke your partner or someone you care about in your life, leading to an argument. Then, the next day, they leave for work and don’t offer you a goodbye kiss or hug. They don’t say “I love you” or “Have a nice day” or anything. They just go.

If you were vindictive or resentful, you could use their behaviors as ammunition against them, even though you orchestrated the entire scenario.

In other words, you set them up to fail and look like that the “bad guy.”

This is an emotionally abusive tactic that some people will employ. They will deliberately incite your anger specifically to use your reaction to their advantage.

As the person who wrote mentioned, it’s like she’s using his words and emotions as a weapon. And when he expresses anger about her actions, she deflects, turning the focus back on him, ensuring she remains on the offensive while he’s left defending himself.

This is a common strategy among emotional abusers – to constantly put you on the defensive, consuming your time and energy in self-explanation. They set traps to ensure you’re preoccupied with your faults, not theirs.

If the focus shifts back to them, they risk exposure and vulnerability (which they perceive as being weak and vulnerable). To maintain power and control, they manipulate you into obsessing over your mistakes and what you could do better.

In such situations, it feels like you can’t win. No matter what words you use to communicate with them, they’re twisted and used against you.

Effective communication is futile with someone who is not receptive to it. Even asking them if they realize their words or actions are hurting you can backfire. They may just deflect the question or turn the blame back on you. It’s a relentless cycle where they maintain power by ensuring you’re always on the defensive.

When you try to confront them, they have their objection-handling techniques at the ready, adept at deflecting anything you throw at them.

That is a classic manipulation tactic: they simply throw your concerns back at you, forcing you to defend yourself.

It’s a sad truth that emotionally abusive people know how to dominate conversations and arguments with you. These aren’t even productive conversations or arguments – the abusive person is simply doing whatever they can to maintain a firm grip on their power over you.

For example, imagine you accuse them of cheating. But instead of addressing your accusation, they simply accuse you of the same thing.

This is a common tactic where blame is deflected back onto the accuser. I call it “the turnaround game.” It’s vital to recognize when this game is being played with you. When you see it unfolding, you can avoid getting dragged into a defensive position where you feel compelled to justify your actions.

Instead of falling into this trap, try to stay composed and rational. When the turnaround occurs, acknowledge it but bring the conversation back to the original issue.

You might say, “We can definitely discuss your concerns, but first, let’s address what I brought up.”

This approach may not always be effective, especially with someone deeply entrenched in patterns of emotional abuse, but it’s worth a try. With individuals who aren’t highly manipulative, this strategy can be quite successful.

I once experienced this myself. I was making a point to someone, and the person I was speaking with tried to deflect by bringing up my past mistakes. I recognized the turnaround immediately.

Even though I teach strategies to counter the turnaround game, it can still catch me off guard when it happens. We can get so wrapped up in a conversation or argument that we might not be able to detect when it occurs.

In the situation I just mentioned, however, I was able to recognize it happening at that moment, so I remained alert so I could address it head-on. The person I was talking to mentioned something I did in the past to deflect and take the focus off of them, so I replied, “Sure, we can talk about that. But let’s finish discussing the current issue first.”

This particular comment worked in that instance. It forced them to put their attention back on the original point. It also made them realize they couldn’t just put the focus on me and put me on the defensive. They had to engage with the topic at hand.

This isn’t a guaranteed solution, but by acknowledging the other person’s point and insisting on resolving the initial topic before moving on, you can sometimes de-escalate the situation. It allows you to open up the conversation to include their grievances as well, even if they’re dredging up something from five years ago.

By saying, “Sure, I want to talk about that. I definitely want to get your perspective on that and hear what you have to say, but only after we address this first,” you’re creating space for a more balanced dialogue.

When you spot the turnaround game, you have an opportunity to steer the conversation back on track, addressing their concerns, too (which may or may not be valid). But the goal is to try and make sure they don’t use that tactic as a way to avoid talking about what they did or said.

Of course, dealing with a highly manipulative or emotionally abusive person can be incredibly challenging. When you attempt to bring such an individual back on track, they may perceive it as an attack. This perception could trigger their defense mechanisms, and they might employ various strategies to deflect once again to maintain control.

One common approach is for them to dominate the conversation, speaking incessantly to ensure you are forced to listen. It can sometimes be pointless to interject as they may simply talk over you. The relentless barrage of words often leaves you with no choice but to submit, which is precisely what the abuser wants.

Most emotionally abusive people operate from a place of survival, driven by deep-seated insecurities and fears. The fear that if they don’t control the situation, they might not get what they want often leads them to harm others as a means of self-preservation.

When they feel exposed or vulnerable, they resort to powerful tactics to keep you on the defensive, ensuring the focus shifts to you. So you’re left justifying yourself. In such scenarios, regaining your power seems almost impossible.

When you recognize this pattern and others like it (the patterns that allow them to keep their power over you), it’s essential to maintain your composure and gently insist on returning to the original topic.

Acknowledge their points, even if they seem fabricated, and gently steer the conversation back to your concerns. You might say, “We can certainly discuss your points, but I’d like to get an answer to my observation (or question) first, and then we can address your concerns.”

However, there are times when, despite your best efforts, the conversation may not yield any progress. If the abuser continues to deflect and refuses to engage with the issue at hand, it’s a sign that you may not be able to reach a resolution.

It’s not about winning the argument but rather about being heard and having your feelings acknowledged. With a high level of abuse, these outcomes are often unattainable.

My goal with this article is not to discourage you but to arm you with solid knowledge to help you take empowering steps for you and the relationship. It’s crucial to operate from a place of facts, not the confusion and disorientation that emotional abuse can create.

When you have the facts, you can make informed decisions from a place of confidence. Whether it’s standing up for yourself or realizing a situation isn’t worth the fight, knowing the truth empowers you to make choices that are beneficial for you and those you care about.

I don’t advocate leaving or staying in a relationship; my role is to provide you with information so you can make sound decisions. If you do decide to leave an abusive relationship, remember that act is also a gift to the abuser.

Why is leaving an abusive relationship a gift to the abuser?

Because your departure removes the opportunity for them to engage in their harmful behaviors, potentially prompting them to exit survival mode and consider seeking help.

While your departure doesn’t guarantee they’ll change, it offers them a chance to reflect and possibly embark on their own journey of healing. When one is given the opportunity to heal, that is a gift.

Should I Leave?

Leaving a relationship is indeed a complex decision. And it’s not one that can be taken lightly, especially when there are additional considerations like children or financial control. It’s crucial to have a well-thought-out exit plan or strategy in place.

And of course, when dealing with a violent or dangerous person, an entirely different set of precautions must be taken. In that situation, a support system is important – or at least some sort of protective measures so you can feel safe when you get to your destination. Refer to this website for more information on leaving a violent relationship.

Coming back to the person who reached out with their message, he said he is struggling with a dynamic where expressing his hurt feelings or frustration is met with deflection and blame. His partner not only turns the tables but also distorts facts to put him on the defensive.

It’s like being accused of causing damage to something you borrowed when you know you did no such damage. In a situation like that, you feel forced into a position where you have to defend every false accusation, leaving you exhausted and sidetracked.

Being accused of things you didn’t say or do often leaves you stuck in a cycle of explaining and justifying your actions, all the while diverting attention from the accuser’s own behavior

When you’re aware this is happening to you, you can change your reaction. Instead of getting caught up in correcting the distortions, you can observe the tactic for what it is—a power play. Once you know what’s happening, you have decreased their power over you. However, a truly manipulative person will find other ways to control you.

The writer also mentioned that after these confrontations with his partner, his partner demands to feel loved yet does not offer an apology or understanding in return. It’s a one-sided demand where the focus is on meeting her needs. And if those needs aren’t met, there are consequences.

In such situations, it’s hard to find a resolution through conversation alone. If you experience this, the best approach may be to ask yourself some critical questions about what you’re willing to tolerate and what your boundaries are.

Recognizing the patterns can be the first step in deciding how to navigate the relationship moving forward. And knowing your boundaries and making decisions based on what you will and won’t tolerate is a major second step in making sure you don’t end up completely powerless.

Confronting someone who doesn’t reciprocate your affection can be daunting, but there are ways to approach the situation that may help. It’s important to stand your ground, not in a confrontational way, but by honoring yourself and addressing the issue as it arises.

Instead of reacting with anger, try to come from a place of wisdom. Ask a simple, direct question like, “Why don’t you want to kiss me back?

This question isn’t accusatory; it’s straightforward and seeks to understand the other person’s feelings. Asking such questions can interrupt the pattern of control that might be developing. By withholding affection, a partner may be trying to influence how you feel, maintaining power over you.

This behavior can be manipulative, whether it’s done consciously or not. When you openly ask why they’re not reciprocating, it forces them to confront their actions and possibly break that cycle of control.

It’s true that you might not get a straightforward answer, especially if past attempts at communication have been twisted against you. However, it’s a valid question in a relationship. If the response is to deflect and blame, you can insist on discussing the initial issue before moving on to other topics.

Taking control of the conversation can be unsettling for someone who’s not used to being in charge. By remaining firm and asking for an explanation, you might be able to elicit a response. It’s a slim chance, but it’s worth a try.

However, as I stated before, if you’re dealing with someone highly skilled in manipulation, they may use every tactic they know to avoid giving you a straight answer, including pushing your buttons and triggering you.

Staying conscious and present in these interactions is crucial. If you’re with someone who’s open to discussion, standing your ground and honoring your needs is essential.

If you can’t get a straight answer out of them, you might say, “I really want to know the answer. Please tell me.”

If they try to deflect, you can agree to address their concerns as well, but only after they’ve answered your question.

Testing for empathy is also important. You can ask, “Do you realize you’re hurting me?

If they acknowledge they know they’re hurting you but show no remorse, it could indicate a lack of empathy. That’s also good to know as, without empathy, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for someone like that to care enough to stop hurting you.

Victims of emotional abuse often struggle to get to the truth, which is why asking direct questions is so important. If your partner or someone you care about avoids answering or becomes defensive, they may be trying to maintain control. Unfortunately, there may be little you can do about that. That may not be easy to hear, but understanding the dynamics at play can help you decide how to move forward.

To conclude this article, I want to tell the person who wrote that it’s clear you’re facing some challenging times. I truly empathize with your situation. I highly recommend you continue exploring the workbook, as it will provide you with additional insights, practical information, and strategies to recognize what’s happening in real-time.

Knowledge is the key to preventing yourself from being trapped in a powerless position. When you feel powerless, you’re constantly on the defensive, trying to explain what’s wrong or pointing out their mistakes, only to have them turn it around and place the blame on you. It’s a cycle that leads nowhere and can leave you feeling defeated and sad.

However, you’re now equipped with some knowledge. Hopefully, what I’ve talked about here will help you.

And, to directly answer the question you asked about finding resources beyond my podcast and this article, I suggest my other platform: The Overwhelmed Brain. It’s designed to help you boost your self-worth and self-esteem, increase your confidence, align with your personal values, and embrace authenticity—all of which you mentioned in your last question.

By visiting that website and searching for topics like values, boundaries, self-esteem, and self-worth, you’ll discover episodes that will support your journey to self-connection.

When you’re in a relationship with someone who lacks empathy or doesn’t seem to care about your feelings, it’s crucial to turn your focus inward so you can work on building your self-esteem and self-worth.

Reclaiming trust in yourself and recognizing your worthiness and significance is essential. Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

I’m grateful to the person who reached out and I wish them much strength and healing going forward. Feel free to share this article with others who may need it.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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