You can be “groomed” into becoming the victim of emotional abuse or manipulation.
Just like a child predator will groom his or her victim for abuse, the “emotional predator” will set you up for their control so that you become whatever they want you to become.
It’s a dirty game. In this episode, I compare emotional grooming to child grooming to reveal the scary similarities.
I want to make sure that you’re not being brainwashed into becoming a victim of emotional abuse, manipulation, coercion, or any of that stuff that we don’t want to be a victim of. This episode is all about watching out for emotional predators.
I don’t know if that’s a real term – I just used it in this episode. But I think of it in terms of the grooming process that child predators do to children.
If a predator wants to sexually abuse a child, then what they’ll do is put the child and their immediate family and friends through a “grooming process,” which is basically preparing them for the abuse.
It’s probably not fair to compare these two things. But there are similarities that I want to point out. Because if you know what to look for, then you’ll know if you are being groomed or not for some sort of emotional predatory practice. I don’t want you to be sucked into some predator’s game where you get stuck in some type of relationship that you can’t get out of.
What are the signs? What can you look for?
As we go through all of these episodes of Love and Abuse, I’m going to share the signs with you. This episode is really focusing on the grooming process itself.
Let me get right into that. I’m going to give you the signs of child grooming first, and this will be more on the educational-informational side so that if you have children, it will be helpful for you to know this stuff.
But then I’ll take the list of symptoms of child grooming and apply it to adult emotional predatory practices. I’ll call the adult predator the “emotional predator” as opposed to the “child predator.”
The following are the signs of a child predator.
The child predator will often:
- Befriend and gain the trust of the child
- Befriend and gain the trust of the child’s immediate family
- Look for opportunities to be alone with the child
- Give gifts or money to the child (that’s going to come up in the emotional predator list too)
- Talk about inappropriate subject matter like sex, trying to make it sound normal or even fun. Also, in an effort to desensitize the child to the language
- Hug and kiss the child, trying to attain physical contact
- Comment on how cute or special the child is or share with them how special their connection is
- Be kind, generous, and helpful to the child (child predators will often target children who are needy, unhappy, and have less parental oversight)
- Assess the level of threat there is, including gauging how closely the children are monitored by their caretakers
- Will go to great lengths to maintain control, using secrecy, blame, and even threats to keep the child from saying anything
That’s the general list. There’s a lot more to the grooming process, so this is not all-inclusive. And I’d like to thank The Bark Blog for some of the contributions to this list.
The child predator grooms the children, family, and friends so that they can infiltrate the child’s life and become a controlling abuser.
I’ve noticed some similarities between emotional abuse and the tactics of emotional predators. Emotional predators usually target adults, but they can also go after children. They do so to gain control over their victim, especially in the context that I’m discussing today. Emotional predators seek out victims for their emotional or even narcissistic abuse (we’ll cover narcissistic abuse in a future episode).
Now, let’s compare the behaviors of child predators to those of emotional predators.
The child predator will befriend and gain the trust of the child.
The emotional predator will absolutely want you to trust them in every way. For the first few months that you know them, they’ll seem reliable. They’ll show up on time every time. They may even tell you secrets of their own and trust you with information about them so that you feel the same about sharing secrets about yourself.
Again, this happens within the first few months. In fact, almost everything I’m talking about here is usually within the first few months of a new relationship. Because during that initial period of time, these people appear as normal or above average, and perhaps even the best thing that could ever happen to you.
I’m mostly referring to romantic relationships, but these people can appear in our lives anywhere. But romantic relationships are where emotional abuse, control, and manipulation often rear their ugly head.
Even though this is for romantic relationships, you might be able to find these qualities in other types of relationships as well.
The second thing a child predator does to groom the child is:
Befriend and gain the trust of the child’s immediate family.
The goal of the child predator is to gain easier access to the child. Here’s the thing: your friends and family will love the emotional predator. They will only see the good side of them while you get exposed to their manipulative side.
For example, in my 20s and 30s, when I had relationships, I made friends with my girlfriend’s friends and they loved me. And if you’ve heard my other show, The Overwhelmed Brain, you’ve probably heard me talk about how I was an emotionally abusive person in most of my relationships up until now, but only because I healed. However, I showed up in all of them with emotionally abusive behavior.
If you think I’m picking on people that are emotionally abusive or putting them down, I’m not doing that. We all have a chance to heal. If you see yourself in any of this, you have a chance to turn things around too. You have a chance to heal.
During my relationships, I was emotionally abusive. I had several components of emotional abuse, manipulation, and control. Let’s put it this way: I wasn’t always the best person to be around.
But one of the things I did was make friends with all my girlfriend’s friends so that they would love me. They had all these nice things to say about me, so when my girlfriend got mad at me, her friends would convince her that I was a nice guy.
That was a game that I didn’t even know I was playing. I was just showing up with my people-pleasing, inauthentic, friendly, smiling face all the time, and they never saw the real me, the vulnerable me, the fearful me. They only saw the me that I put out there.
That was part of the control cycle that I had set up in my relationships. I didn’t even know I was doing it. But it worked. It really worked.
Because what happened is that all my girlfriends’ friends loved me, which added to the abuse. My girlfriend got more and more jaded by my behavior, and her friends were no help to her. They simply couldn’t see what she saw in me, so they didn’t see anything wrong. Emotional abuse is often insidious, so we can’t tell it’s happening.
In every relationship I’ve had, my girlfriend has left me. When they leave, their friends support them but are still surprised that she left me.
“Why would she leave Paul? That doesn’t make any sense.”
As I said earlier, unfortunately, for my ex-girlfriends, they had to face the fact that their friends loved me. They also had to face their own doubts and their own misunderstandings of who I was.
They had to face the fact that they got me wrong – they didn’t figure me out. They had to go through many years of trying to figure out what this relationship was all about, how I was showing up, and what I was doing to make them feel so bad about themselves all the time.
My point with all this is that I made sure her friends all loved me. To do that, I had to show up inauthentically in a manipulative way so that her friends saw the side of me that I wanted them to see.
That’s important to remember. It’s important to see if the person in your life is showing up for other people a bit inauthentically. Take note; it’s just adding to the number of things that could make a compound effect of emotional abuse, manipulation, or control. Any one of those things.
Let’s continue with the next item on the list.
The next thing a child predator will do is:
Look for opportunities to be alone with the child
When the emotional predator is alone with you, that’s when you see the side of them that they showed no one else. The side of them that is used to controlling you and guilting you into doing whatever they want you to do.
Again, this doesn’t usually happen in the first few months when they are grooming you to trust them, love them, and see them as this amazing person. But after a few months, this is what happens. They show up as a different person when you’re alone.
The next one is a really clear red flag of emotional abuse or manipulation, and that is that the child predator will:
Give gifts or money to the child.
The emotional predator will do what’s called “love bombing,” affection bombing, or gift bombing. And these are all terms I want you to familiarize yourself with.
For example, my girlfriend dated a guy a couple of years before me, who, on their second date, got her some really fancy dishware. And she was just barely getting to know this guy!
Suddenly he’s bringing gifts on their second date. She found it strange, but she took them home nonetheless.
Before their third date, she realized that it wasn’t the kind of guy she wanted to date. Their values didn’t align or something else wasn’t right. She called it off and said, “Hey, you know, this isn’t going to work out. We can talk every now and then, but I don’t want to go any further on the dating scene with you.”
He got really angry! He couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t date him! So he started stalking her.
There’s a lot more to that story. But the bottom line is she didn’t recognize his gift bombing. She didn’t recognize this as someone trying to look better in her eyes instead of just showing up date after date, building up rapport, building up momentum, building up the relationship in a healthy way where you both just be yourselves and allow both to decide if you want to continue going on.
It should be a feel-as-you-go process for both people.
What he decided to do was skip all that in hopes that she’d fall for him and feel like, “Wow, this guy has money!” or “He makes me feel secure,” or “He makes me feel special.”
I’m sure his behavior may have worked for him in the past to hook the person somehow so that he trapped the person in his dynamic to gain control so that a month, or two, or three down the road, he can be who he really is.
But what she did, and this is something I’m very proud of her for, is that she found out who he was by saying “no” to him, by causing him to face rejection or denial. That often works with anyone who’s manipulative or emotionally abusive is that: You find out who they are when you say no to them.
If they say, “Hey, do you want to go on a date Wednesday night?” and you say, “Naw, I’m doing something else, but I’ll call you when I’m available.” You will find out who they are.
What you want to watch for is the pushiness: “How about Thursday night?” You could respond, “I’ll call you when I’m available.” Then they ask, “What about Friday? Are you available then?”
You’ll feel the pushiness when it’s there. Other behaviors may show up too. When you say no to someone, they might get angry. But the idea is that when you express your personal boundaries and you make them clear, you have some level of control over where things are going instead of always letting the other person decide for you.
You learn who someone is when they have to face any level of adversity or opposition.
I love that. I’m sorry that my girlfriend had to go through it, but this is something that you can do in any relationship. Find out who someone is by denying them something they want.
I don’t mean just denying them. I mean confidently saying, “No, that’s not good for me.” If they have a problem with that, you will figure out who they are real fast.
That’s a good one to keep in mind.
Another thing that the child predator will do to groom their victim is:
Hug and kiss the child, trying to attain physical contact.
Since we’re talking more about the emotional predator, this may or may not apply to the adult relationships I’m referring to. Though, I can see this being a grooming tactic for sure, as it can build further bonding and trust.
Meaning the predator will touch your shoulder or your back just to get close – just to feel their way in – to show that they’re a safe person to be around.
‘If I touch your back enough times, and there’s no indication that I want anything further, I am building trust with you so it will be okay to touch you more and more.’
I know it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between grooming and authentic, innocent behavior. This is why it’s important to see the big picture of everything that adds up to what could be some sort of emotional predatory practice.
But these things by themselves don’t always equate to emotional abuse, manipulation, or control. It’s just something that when your red flag radar goes off, you can look at this incident, and other ones too, and think, “Hmm, maybe there’s something more to this.
All right, we’ve got five more to go. The next behavior the child predator will do is:
Comment on how cute or special the child is or share with them how special their connection is.
That’s Love Bombing and Affection Bombing, for sure:
When you’re showered with affection, loving words, compliments, or anything like that.
Who doesn’t want to be told how cute or special they are?
For the emotional predator, it’s very high on the list of things to do to a potential victim so that they feel special and significant to another person.
In fact, don’t be surprised if the emotional predator goes the extra mile and wants to have a deeper connection where they may even talk about marriage and children – at least in reference to a romantic relationship.
The emotional predator will often say things like, “You’re the most special person I’ve ever met.” Or, “I think you’re the one!”
They may say, “I think you and I can have a long life together.” They will get into that kind of deeper conversation way too soon.
I mean, this is stuff you figure out months, maybe a year, or more down the road. I can understand that sometimes you see things in someone and realize, “Wow, this could be the one.”
But how soon did that happen? If it happens too soon, in my opinion, you simply haven’t had enough time together. You need to figure out all aspects of each other; all facets of each other. You need to know who they are in all situations, or at least most situations.
Just like the last thing I said about finding out who they are when you deny them when you reject them because you’re going to face these aspects of their character in a relationship. You’re going to face them.
It’s good to find out these things – who they are in most areas of life, in most situations that come up, and especially who they are during the challenges so that you don’t see the relationship for only the positive aspects and base life decisions on that.
This is just something I want you to be aware of. When there is too much “I want to be with you forever” talk too soon, there needs to be some backing up so that you can seriously consider what’s really going on here.
Ask yourself why this is happening so fast. Say, “Let’s slow this down. Let’s feel our way through this. Let’s take it day by day. If you keep showing up in a healthy, kind, and generous way, and I keep feeling good about it and you do too, let’s keep moving forward. But all this talk so soon, we need to really step back out of that.”
You just need to be aware that this behavior could be part of the emotional manipulation game.
Sure, it could really be true love at first sight. And it could be wonderful! And everything could work out perfectly. But stay observant, and note any red flags that come up. This will help you form a bigger picture so you know what you’re dealing with.
The next behavior a child predator will do is:
Be kind, generous, and helpful to the child.
Almost always, every emotional predator turns on the charm. This is also the reason they’re so appealing and attractive to friends and family.
They display their amazing generosity to make themselves look like the best catch ever. When someone shows up like that, when they’re super kind, super gentle, and one who is always ready to lend a hand, we all have a tendency to like those kinds of people.
They know how to play that game so that other people will like them. With narcissistic and emotional abusers, typically, what will happen is that they will play that game forever with friends and family, which makes you look crazy when you say anything bad about them.
If you get into a relationship with some sort of emotional predator, they will play that game with your friends and family forever. Your friends and family will probably never see that side of them. This is why it can be so hard to get any type of support.
One of the reasons the Love and Abuse podcast exists is so that you have a support system. I mean, there are other shows, groups, and friends and family that can support you for sure. But I want to make it clear to anyone listening that this can happen to your best friend, and you may not even see the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse, manipulation, or control because the person they’re talking about appears to be a healthy non-toxic person.
They can appear to be the best thing that could ever happen to someone.
But that’s the game. We really have to listen to people when they say, “You know, there’s something going on in my relationship, but nobody can see it happening. Only I can see it happening.”
There’s often a lot of truth to that. Three more left.
A child predator will:
Be kind, generous, and helpful to the child and will often target children who are needy, unhappy, and have less parental oversight.
This is closer to the emotional predator than anything else on this list. Well, almost anything. Emotional predators usually prefer people who are desperate for love and attention.
I don’t mean to put you down if you feel that way. But the more desperation you have inside of you for love and attention and wanting a relationship, the more the emotional predator can prey on you, giving you that at first, then withholding it later, causing you to want more from them.
This is why it’s sometimes so hard to get out of this type of relationship. Because, ‘I want more of that stuff that you gave to me in the beginning, but now you’re not giving it to me anymore.’
The predator wants people to have so much attachment to a relationship or that person that they pine and long for them, like some romance novel. In fact, the lonelier you are, the more susceptible you are to an emotional predator. They gravitate to those that are kind, generous, caring, and compassionate.
The trick is to turn those qualities off when they start making you feel bad about your behavior. Because people who love you want you to feel good. When you’re made to feel bad, that is emotional predatory behavior.
This is a good way to gauge things. When you’re feeling good in the relationship, and your partner or someone wants you to feel good, and they support that good feeling in you, and they’re not putting you down and not making you feel guilty, you probably have a healthier than normal relationship. Or at least a healthy relationship in general.
If the person prefers to make you feel bad, prefers to say things that make you doubt yourself or question yourself. If they make you feel guilty, responsible, and accused, that is most likely emotional predatory behavior.
You just have to be careful about it. You have to be aware that that’s what’s happening. Because most of the time, it’s not you that is the problem. When this happens to you, most of the time, it’s not your fault. It’s that you’re falling for the game to keep you on the defense all the time.
If you’re on the defense all the time, they have control.
Just stay aware so that this doesn’t happen to you.
All right, two, more. The child predator will also:
Assess the level of threat there is, including gauging how closely the children are monitored by their caretakers.
This may not apply too much in an adult relationship, but emotional predators will make sure that all of your friends and family keep liking them. And they will keep a close eye and ear on their behavior to make sure that their own image is not altered in any way. This helps them keep the game going.
I remember when I was in my first long-term relationship. I think after my first girlfriend and I broke up, her best friend called me to console me and ask me if I was okay.
That really showed the level of friendship and connection I made with her friends to make sure that I looked good. I don’t know if that was very healthy behavior, but it was very kind of her to do so.
I think it was indicative of the patterns I’m referring to today, which is not healthy.
Here’s the last one. The child predator will:
Will go to great lengths to maintain control, using secrecy, blame, and even threats to keep the child from saying anything.
This is the emotional predator’s main game. They will use secrecy, blame, threats, and even passive aggression. They’ll guilt you, invalidate you, and minimize your feelings. These are all terms you’ll hear about throughout many episodes of Love and Abuse.
The emotional predator may not directly threaten you to keep you from saying anything, but you’ll experience a level of worth-smashing that puts you in a place of guilt and self-invalidation so you feel too stupid to tell anyone else.
They’ll even get you to stop trusting yourself so you won’t be sure if what you believe to be true is actually true. That’s part of what’s called “crazy-making” or gaslighting. It’s an insidious game that’s very difficult to counter when you don’t know what’s happening to you.
Keep all of this in mind so that you aren’t groomed for abuse and that you aren’t groomed to be controlled.
I don’t mean to equate child predators with emotional abusers (or what I call emotional predators). I was an emotional predator at one time.
I don’t like to compare myself to a child predator at all. But what I’m comparing is the actual grooming process. There are many eerie similarities.
It’s interesting how people will groom others in many areas of life for various reasons. We will groom or “prime” someone so that we can get away with certain behaviors. When we do that, we’re less likely to get caught or questioned.
Some people are really good at this, and they’ve been doing it most, if not all, of their lives (at least their adult lives). They learn to put the dots together and learn to manipulate and deceive people into believing something about you that isn’t true.
Hopefully, that’s not you. For me, I had to figure those things out about myself. I had to learn to heal from that behavior so I could move into a space of not wanting to control the world and the people in it and learn to be reflective of my own behavior.
Now, if I don’t like the way someone’s acting, I act on my personal boundaries and values instead of wanting to change them.
All of this coercion, manipulation, and emotional abuse has to do with wanting to change someone else, wanting them to conform to a standard that the perpetrator sets up.
“If you don’t meet that standard, I’m going to control you.”
That’s how it sometimes plays out. Don’t let that play out with you.