Abuse-Can Be Subtle and Deadly

People hear the word “abuse” and assume physical violence, but there are many forms of abuse. There are your run of the mill a-holes, wife beaters and cheaters and then in a class all of their own, are narcissists/psychopaths. Even narcissism has varying levels of abuse and degrees of severity, some narcissists, although cheaters and liars never physically abuse their partner and are able to hold down jobs. At the other end of the spectrum are the narcissists who destroy all who come in contact with them. It has taken me a long time to accept I was involved with a narcissist and even longer to realize and accept how truly evil he was and the danger I was in. One of the most powerful weapons the abuser has to keep the victim in the relationship is the victim’s own denial.

In my quest for answers I came across a couple who claimed he was a narcissist and she, through her love for him discovered how to “cure” him. For anyone to claim they can cure a narcissist is a dangerous game to play. As is typical of the victim, my hope was restored and I clung to any remote chance; I could “cure” JC also. I was quick to grasp at anything that indicated if I tried harder, was more understanding and loved unconditionally I could save the relationship and JC. That was almost 10 years ago, I don’t know if they are still around but you would figure if it was possible to cure a narcissist the internet would be full of testimonial about their discovery. Never think you can love the narcissist well, or if you try just a little harder to please him things will be ok. We are strong women, we tend to think we can give a little more, bend a little farther and then we find ourselves in too deep to extricate ourselves.

I read somewhere that a woman will stay in or go back to an abusive relationship as long as she feels there is something she can do to “fix” it; until she feels she has done everything she can do, she won’t leave on her own. With my experience I can only say that the longer I stayed and the more times I went back the more severe and insidious the abuse got.

With physical abuse there are often signs of abuse, bruising etc and people are much more apt to believe the victim, come to their assistance, and support them emotionally or financially.

Emotional abuse is ambiguous and hard to prove, the victim is less likely to get support and people tend to think they are exaggerating, overly sensitive or antagonizing the abuser. Society in general does not view psychological or emotional abuse as “dangerous” and feel that if the person isn’t treating you the way you would like just leave. They don’t understand the damage done to the emotional state of the victim or the potential danger to the victim.

All abuse stems from the abusers need to control the victim, whether it is physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse.

A narcissist at his worst will use a combination of all the above abuse tactics and can leave the victim paralyzed, unable to make decisions, hopeless, depressed and lacking the self-confidence to help themselves. They no longer feel like themselves, having lost their soul to the narcissist, they don’t even know who they are any more and have lost all trust in a fair and just world.

The most dangerous of all abuse is Ambient Abuse, (and the kind of abuse JC is so adept at) Often called “crazy-making”, or “gas lighting”, it is the stealth, and subtle, underground maltreatment that sometimes goes unnoticed even by the victims themselves until it is too late. It is ambiguous and atmospheric and very hard to pinpoint or prove; hence it’s insidious and deadly effects.

Ambient Abuse is the fostering of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There is no tangible evidence of abuse but the victim constantly senses a bad omen or premonition of impending doom. It is perpetrated by dropping subtle hints, by disorienting, by constant and unnecessary lying, by persistent doubting and demeaning and by inspiring an air of unmitigated gloom and doom. Insisting the victim did not see or hear what they did, hiding personal items of the victim but blaming the victim, insisting the victim said or did certain things that the victim did not do but eventually starts to doubt their own perception of reality.

Over the long-term this environment eats away at the victim’s self esteem and their self-confidence is severely damaged. Many times the victim starts to act paranoid and highly emotional, which makes them look like the mentally unstable one and the abuser is the poor suffering soul. Some examples of ambient abuse would be withholding affection or intimacy, rolling their eyes when you express an opinion or criticizing your actions “for your own good”.
(With JC the rolling of the eyes was SO frustrating, and made me feel my opinions or feelings weren’t of importance).
(For most of our relationship he refused to come to bed, at first he always came to bed then he would stay up until 3 or 4 am, then he was coming to bed just in time to have sex before we had to get up for work, and the last few years he rarely came to bed at all. He said he just didn’t need sleep, but he would fall asleep any where and every where, he could sleep standing he’d be so tired)

There are 5 categories of ambient abuse:

Inducing Disorientation

The abuser causes the victim to lose faith in her ability to manage and cope with the world and its demands. She no longer trusts her instincts, her skills, her strengths, friends, family, or the benevolence and predictability of her environment.

The abuser challenges his target’s perception of the world, right and wrong, her judgment and offers plausible but false alternatives. JC would always say he couldn’t handle my warped perception of reality, until I questioned myself for getting upset he was seeing other women and whether I was actually being abused. By continually criticizes her decisions he makes her doubt her ability to make wise choices. With his pathological lying he blurs the lines between reality and nightmare. He constantly violates her boundaries and disrespects her values, feelings and opinions, “deal breakers” such as drug abuse, infidelity, lying and stealing become common place and she is made to feel she is in the wrong for confronting him on his indiscretions or that some how she is to blame for them.

By overreacting to the slightest mistake on her part and setting her up with demands impossible to meet he intimidates her to the point of paralysis.


The abuser gradually takes control over the victim’s freedom and ability to be self-sufficient (i.e.: their vehicle is never working, they lose their job, loss of friends and support system due to never being able to entertain or attend events because of the N) it is very subtle and done in such a way that the victim doesn’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Then they find themselves isolated from the outer world and a hostage to the goodwill – or ill will of their captor.

The abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, and unpredictable situations where his skills or knowledge is sorely needed. He orchestrates circumstances where his specific skills, connections, or traits are the only ones useful and helpful. In this way he creates his own indispensability; giving him another reason to resent his victim and another excuse to be angry with her for being needy. (JC used to sabotage my vehicle, I would have no choice but to call for his help and he would make me wait hours and make it sound like it was a HUGE inconvenience and effort on his part to help me, but acted like the benevolent rescuer when he got there. He also got me evicted from every place I lived or we lived making us homeless and me dependent on him for everything) Right up to the last day we were together he constantly told me I would never find a man who would rescue me like he always had and I believed him. The truth is, I had many men willing to help me when JC was out of the picture but my vehicle didn’t break down like it did when I was with JC either.

Shared Psychosis

The abuser creates a fantasy world inhabited by the victim and himself besieged by imaginary enemies. The enemies may be people they know, (or totally made up) these people are plotting against them, lying to them or about them, basically “out to get them, and destroy their relationship” and she is expected to stand by him, fight against these enemies, lie, and pretend. She is continually “tested” and must prove her continued affiliation and support of him.

Eventually this constant stress reduces the victim’s resistance and ability to “see straight”. (JC used to watch videos and talk about the “one world power” coming and how we would have to live in the hills, the holocaust that was coming and I became very afraid of the future without him there to protect me. He said “they” had erased files on his computer etc)

Abuse Of Information

From the first moment the abuser meets his victim he is collecting information. He will reveal just enough dirt about his past to put his target at ease so they feel safe opening up about their fears, indiscretions, and weak areas. The more he knows about his potential victim the easier it is for him to coerce, charm, manipulate and extort her. Whereas he was sympathetic when he first meets her once the mask drops he will use any information he has to belittle, criticize, discredit, and embarrass. He has no qualms using information he gleans to achieve his goals or destroy the target.

Control By Proxy

If all else fails the abuser will recruit a third-party to do his bidding. That 3rd party could be family, friends, institutions, teachers, the media, the authorities, and he uses them to cajole, threaten, stalk, harass, communicate, and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware accomplices exactly as he controls his victim and dumps them unceremoniously when the job is done.

Many narcissists do not physically abuse their victims, they are able to control them through psychological and emotional abuse which is much less likely to be detected and it’s much easier to deny and make the victim look crazy. In JC and my relationship he did strangle me once (and denied it, according to him he didn’t strangle me or choke me, he just had his hands around my neck) and he hit me a handful of times in the 10 yrs we were together. There was no need to hit me, like most women after he hit  me the first time all he had to do was come at me with his fist raised and I would back down, but near the end even backing down didn’t stop him. It was as if he knew it was ending and he had nothing to lose by not holding back.  We went several years without him actually hitting me, but like my son said, that doesn’t mean he’s changed it just means you walk on eggshells.

What we all forget as victims is: IT IS NEVER OK FOR A MAN TO HIT A WOMAN (vise versa) there is absolutely no excuse for hitting a woman unless she was coming at him with a knife. There is nothing a woman can do that justifies getting hit, he can walk away, hit a wall if he has to hit something but she can not MAKE him hit her. Another thing we have to remind ourselves of: He knows exactly what he is doing and that it is wrong, he expects you to lie about it to everyone and if someone came to the door he would stop. If he was so justified in what he was doing there would be no need to lie and IF life with you is so unbearable that he feels he has no choice but to hit you then he needs to leave the relationship, BEFORE he finds your replacement!

Narcissists control by keeping their victim off-balance, another tactic for this is to not respond to something that would normally send them into a rage. They appear unaffected by an argument and act as if nothing happened leaving the victim waiting for the shoe to drop. Have no doubt that the narcissist will get revenge; he is the king of passive aggressive behavior that punishes the victim. He will take or destroy something of value to the victim. It could be weeks or months after the incident when the victim realizes a treasured possession in missing or broken, of course the N will deny knowing anything about it. This is most likely to happen when her focus is shifted on something other than the N, perhaps a child or other family member she is concerned about, anything that takes the attention off the N. (In 10 years I had all my clothes stolen, my photos had anti freeze dumped on them, memento’s were lost, my son’s baby teeth disappeared but the container they were in was in JC’s music room, 3 vehicles were stolen, my vehicles were tampered with, the amount of hours I spent broken down on the side of the road would boggle your mind, almost weekly I would need him to rescue me, he made me miss events that were of immense importance to me, I was unable to finish my college education, every single piece of personal property I had was destroyed or stolen. I do not own anything today that I owed 14 years ago, nothing. Oh sorry, a few Christmas decorations, that is it)

The best indicator that you are a victim of ambient abuse is your gut; throughout the 10 years of my relationship with JC I denied what my gut was telling me. And I wish with all my heart that you believe me when I say; it does not get better, his apologies mean nothing, he is only manipulating you further. Get out!! Before it’s too late.

Link to a post from 2012 one year after JC and I split, You can’t be first but you can be next http://wp.me/p1wKh3-kb


219 thoughts on “Abuse-Can Be Subtle and Deadly

  1. AJ

    this site has been cathartic and if I wasn’t sure I would have sworn you dated my ex. 5 Years on and off. Left the last time a month ago, but tried to remain friends this is after he has pummeled me, kicked me and spit in my face as well as lie about other women, a porn addiction and everything in between the last straw came yesterday when I simply asked him if he had company over. He over reacted freaked out and told me that everything was my fault how I don’t trust him and treat him like a 2 year old and since I can’t act right we need space. and OMG there is so much more. But thank you for all of your insights.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      AJ I don’t know how I missed this a month ago. Some times I have so many comments that some get buried. my apologies!! I am sorry you are going through this but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope you read Janni’s post and link; she is so right. It never gets better only worse and if you stay away eventually you do heal and you will find happiness. With the N, he will never allow you to be happy
      Please stay no contact it is the only way to break away from them and their toxicity.


    2. Tanya

      I have been through exactly the same. I needn’t tell you what happened to me. I would be repeating your story. Except I did a 20 year shift. Crazy isn’t it.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Janni I don’t know how I missed your comment until now. Some times I am buried in comments and some slip through. My apologies! Thank you for sharing that link, very inspiring for someone struggling to leave and so true. I don’t regret my time with James because it brought me here and I have gained so much through my recovery but I do wish I would have left the first time I had my hand on the door. But like with you, there was always so excuse, some trauma or drama going on and I would think, “When things settle down, then I will leave.” and the years flew by and every year the abuse got worse and I got weaker and lost more.
      You are proof that there is life after abuse AND love!! So happy for you. Hugs

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karin

    Today is the day that he doesn’t get to waste my time telling me how terrible of a person he thinks I am because …..,,. Oh-because he freakin’ thinks so. I make my own thoughts of myself and I do not share his thoughts because they SUCK ,for me. I see no love for me so I must protect the lost little soul that subconcioually became weak and so desperately knows that he is not worthy to be in my presence and today I help that lost girl and love her till she loves herself and who his he? He doesn’t make the rules and I don’t care because he’ll always degrade me and actually,I hate him now that I see the total phoney that he is. It embarrasses me to know that this is the Man that I picked to stick it out with me till the end. I never become the strong-willed female that never takes that crap from my Man. I’ve got to respect myself and let him walk away. Happy Days will come again!!!!! They suck and we have the final say so who says what to us. Peace to Everyone and know that it’s love that works miracles. One weak, no contact and I can feel my true self more and more and I am happy and I am making the decisions for me and they are good.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Karin, congratulations on one week no contact!! Keep it up!! If you feel tempted to break no contact we are here for you or anytime you need to vent, cry, rage! We have all been there and know what it’s like. You are not alone and you DO deserve to be treated with love and respect!!
      Happy days WILL come again. NO ONE can determine your worth, you are valued and so far above him he tries to bring you down to his level.


  3. Remo5

    I thinkmy ex was a paranoid schizophrenic – all this end of days/people are after me stuff. This does not mean what he did was OK. And schizophrenivs are not evil people, not dangerous. I just wonder if this horrendous personality type is some offshoot of schizophrenia. I was destroyed by being with him. 7 months No Contact and it seems to be getting worse again.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Remo5, they can have much the same symptoms but they are not related as far as I know. Narcissists are much more conniving and do things because they enjoy doing them. The schizophrenic really has no control over their actions, they hear voices telling them to do something and they are truly out of touch with reality at times. They can also be helped with drugs and a narcissist can not. How did you come up with schizophrenic? they may be narcissistic. But it really doesn’t matter what you call it, abuse is abuse and no one should stay with an abusive person.


  4. Kerry

    I am in an emotional abusive relationship. With my husband of 35 years. Yep, that’s right….35 years. I did not recognize this as emotional abuse until recently (long, long story but basically I grew up with an emotionally abusive father who recently passed away). The emotional abuse was subtle for years but over past 3 years has become outright blatant and is increasing in frequency. I am smart, attractive, creative person but he has slowly eroded my self confidence and self worth. I haven’t worked in 3 years and have very little confidence in my abilities in getting a job where I can support myself. My lack of employment is a hot topic of debate, he has so much anger and hostility towards me and claims I do not contribute to the relationship although he does NOTHING around the house except mow the lawn. I do everything else. We do not have financial worries so me working is not preventing us from paying our bills or doing the things we like to to do although he thinks I don’t deserve to spend money on any hobbies (dog training) because I don’t work. We live in a really nice home, and have a substantial retirement fund so money is not a problem. He controls the finances, although I do have access to everything I am afraid of his degrading comments if I spend money on anything but groceries or gas for the car. He recently cancelled my credit card, and lied to me about it, because he said he wanted me to know what it was like to not have any money. He has said to me that if I leave him he will fight against paying spousal support. Luckily there are no kids involved in this relationship but we do have dogs that I will need to care for. How do I get out? What is the first step? How do I protect myself?


  5. Nicole

    It’s all emotional abuse and games after the early stuff. My friend warned me but I didn’t see it. Living with this man is a nightmare. I own my own home, have a job in finance and a small family circle. He knew these things and saw me as a target. It’s taken me a few years to see that he will never change. He lies, cheats, manipulates and then leaves and returns again. Excuses that are false. He has two young boys and I now think he uses them for attention too. Wish I’d never met him. His wife was lucky to get rid and I never realised it. I appreciate all advice on getting him out of my life. I cannot confide much as we have mutual friends/colleagues in the bank and most think he is a nice guy because they don’t know the truth. Nicole


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Nicole, sorry it has taken so long for me to say “welcome” , you are not alone, we all know what you are living with and going through. We are here if you need support or to vent.



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