Tactic #2 — Mind Games

This is the second of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel – Mind Games.

 

Mind Games are deliberate attempts to psychologically manipulate someone. They are covert, coercive, manipulative intentions masked by innocent sounding communication. Mind Game language is designed to confuse and keep the victim from guessing the perpetrator’s true aim.

Some of the Mind Games men use to psychologically confuse female partners include blocking her from clarifying his mixed messages, questioning all her judgments, and manipulating her by responding with lies. Mind Games are an attempt to indoctrinate someone into believing they are the guilty party and their viewpoints are irrelevant or pathetic, and need to be realigned to the viewpoint of the perpetrator.

Mind Games are especially powerful when the victim totally trusts the perpetrator and believes both their roles in the relationship are well defined and socially ‘normal’.

Mind Games entail brainwashing – a notion that we usually associate with cults or terrorist hostage tactics. But, the truth is, brainwashing is happening in your neighbourhood right now. Ordinary men brainwash their partners when they say one thing and do another. For example when a man lectures her about his life philosophy of caring for others, but only enacts such caring towards others outside the family – not her. They brainwash their partner when they appeal to her instinct and desire to care for him by saying, “If you really love me you’d do what I want”. This gets confusing when you love and trust your partner. But he is slowly – one tactic at a time – oppressing and controlling. It’s insidious – and it can take years to see, and to realise this is a pattern.

Women’s efforts to make sense of mixed messages are often blocked by their partners which is incredibly stressful, anxiety-provoking and can lead some women to experience disrupted sleeps, and illness – physical, psychological and spiritual. Brainwashing, guilt trips and confusion lead to exhaustion, which can make women more susceptible to believing some of the denigrating and manipulative language their partners use against them. Some women are led to identify more and more with the abuser, whilst others are able to maintain morsels of a sense of themselves – of their own thoughts and beliefs.

Women I interviewed for my Masters research, and women I work with in counselling, talk about experiences of emotional blackmail, manipulation, guilt, feeling fearful and feeling mind-numbingly-crazy.

Confusion and crazy-making

Elizabeth said that because she could not “prove that stuff” that her ex-husband did and said to her that now – years later – she still has “this thing, about whether people believe me”.

Victoria said, “The Mind Games leave you in doubt as to whether or not you’re actually being abused … you’re not quite sure anymore and they really start to cloud your judgment. Whereas if somebody hits you, you know you’ve been hit. The psychological abuse has made me pessimistic, untrusting, vulnerable and very strong now I’m at the other end of it. Also I feel there’s this big hole, this big deep cavern that will always be there that I have to work my damndest to walk around and never to fall back into because I know it’s always there because the behaviours have been so well learnt over the years.”

Pauline said, “I had a friend who I used to call a lot on the phone … I was so confused and I needed to talk to somebody to hear it out loud and to get some feedback. At one point I thought I was going quite crazy because he acted innocent. Like if I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ he acted like nothing’s wrong. He wouldn’t really say anything. So I’d think well maybe it’s me, it’s all my thinking, my perception.”

“And my friend who was calling lives in another town and it’s ages later when she was next at our place. And he was home on shift, outside working so I called him for lunch. We’d be sitting down to lunch and he wouldn’t come in. My friend [had previously] thought my husband was an absolute angel, she went to school with him, and she said to me, ‘All these months you talked to me on the phone about what he’s been like, I didn’t think you were lying, but I couldn’t see that’s how he would be, because that’s not him.’ But, she said, ‘Now I’m here today, I can see this is for real, it’s happening’.”

Guilt trips

The combination of tactics some men use to control their female partners lead many women to forgo and lose interests and wants of their own. To survive in the relationship many women continue doing only those things that keep the peace.

Victoria said, “I felt guilty about going onto the nursing course. I didn’t feel guilty at the beginning coz I thought it would be good. But then the more I did it, he’d start to do reactive behaviours like, he’d drop me off at work and then he’d go cruising the main street of the city we lived in. Then I felt guilty that maybe I’d pushed him too much or that I’d offended him, or that I’d damaged his ego because I was moving on and he wasn’t moving on. That was where the guilt came in, that I was making him feel less of a man and I must stop that.”

Questions all her judgments

Teresa said her partner often questioned her judgments about friends: “If I talked about something a friend was doing or had said or some problem that a friend had, if I was talking about it sympathetically he would try and turn it around so I wasn’t sympathetic and say “No, it’s probably this or probably that” and point out negative things about people that I liked to change my judgment of them and so I wouldn’t like them as much.”

Luckily, Teresa didn’t take any notice of what he said about her best friend. Instead she, “considered the things he said and then mentally dismissed them”.

But when he said things about other people Teresa, “would think Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, oh yes he’s probably right. He would also tell me that people had said things about me. People at work, that they had said that I was this, that I was that., horrible things, which I believed and I don’t know whether they had said them or not. I think that he probably twisted a lot of things like that and I believed him, so that would change my judgment.”

Manipulates with lies

Heather said her partner scared her, “how he would fabricate the truth all the time. I never knew what was truthful and what wasn’t. He told people, “I laid all those tiles,” but I’d seen with my own eyes that he hadn’t laid those tiles, I saw the tile man doing it. I said, “Look Luke you didn’t actually do those tiles.” He said, “I did.” I said, “You did a little bit over there where the man showed you coz you wanted to cut a tile. That’s lying.”

If she withdraws he punishes her, if she reaches out he rejects her

Sally said “my husband initiated sex 99% of the time.  He would insist that part of the problem we had sexually was that I didn’t initiate.  So occasionally I would initiate sex … and every time I initiated sex he just wasn’t himself, he just became kind of angry, kind of a hatred on his face … I don’t remember his words but they were something like how dare you initiate sex at this time, I am busy, I’m working, yet generally he was not busy or working.  I was so confused … one day it dawned on me.  I thought he doesn’t want me to initiate sex, but that’s not the issue.  He just wants to be in full control, no matter what.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Victoria said she was not allowed to be independent, nor was she allowed to be dependent. If she didn’t agree with Graham, he would manipulate and twist things to make her doubt herself. She was not allowed to express feelings and, if she did, he said she was either overreacting or misinterpreting.

Behaves differently when people visit

Women share stories about ways their partners don’t carry out household, personal or parental responsibilities, but suddenly when visitors come to the house, their partner starts performing his responsibilities. Raewyn said that if she “wanted a break from the children he was either uncooperative or refused saying that she did nothing anyway. He sulked if he did not get his own way [yet] when friends came over he would suddenly start being a father.” Sally said that Dylan would often not work, but would “appear to be busy when visitors or guests came to stay”. Donna’s husband had trouble putting on his own boots, but she said that “one day Frank’s family were visiting and he bent down and put his own boots on and off in front of them.” Donna was devastated that she had been so used because she did not know he could manage himself.

Charming in public and abusive in private

Teresa said others told her she was misinterpreting things because Patrick was so charming to his colleagues. Elizabeth said her husband, David was charming in public but at home he stomped on Elizabeth’s budding creativity. Heather said that she’s still having trouble coming to grips with her own experience of abuse and control in private and his public utterance of words of love. She was further confused because of other people liking him and validating him.

Mind Games are abuse

Mind Games should not be taken lightly – they are abusive and they are controlling. Patrick attempted to impair Teresa’s judgments by hiding things and suggesting that she was going insane when she could not find them. Victoria said she had no name for her husband’s behaviours when she was in the midst of experiencing his power and control tactics. She said, “I didn’t really consider it abuse until I was deeply entrenched in the marriage. I just thought he was manipulative and I thought he was moody. But in the initial stages I didn’t know I was being abused. I thought he was playing Mind Games with me, but I never considered Mind Games to be abuse. If I had been aware that there was such a thing, then I would have seen it as abuse earlier.”

Mind Games are a warning sign that you are being abused and controlled

If you believe your partner is playing Mind Games, then seek help. If you feel you are going crazy, then you may be in a relationship with a partner who is controlling you. You have the right to seek help and to seek support and validation from people who believe in your judgment about what you are experiencing.

The compassionate view

We live in a society where the notion of being a man is written in a social script that all too often is distorted and suppresses a man’s natural humanity. Acts of dominance hide vulnerabilities and emotions, which results in some men remaining unaware of their underlying needs for love and care. In the distorted society myth it’s not regarded as manly to show feelings. Mind Games are part of this complex cover-up that hides the perpetrator’s real need and desire for human connection. Paradoxically, women often detect such insecurities in their partners whom they love, which can get in the way of women being able to name Mind Games as ABUSE. Until, and unless, the perpetrator is helped to develop empathy and a compassionate view, the victim must acknowledge there is harm being done and need to protect themselves from further harm.

Reference:

Murphy, Clare (2002) Women Coping with Psychological Abuse: Surviving in the Secret World of Male Partner Power and Control. Unpublished Masters thesis, University of Waikato, New Zealand. Available here.

Watch out for blogs on the following control tactics:

One-Sided power games
Inappropriate restrictions
Isolation
Over-protection and ‘caring’
Emotional unkindness & violation of trust
Degradation & suppression of potential
Separation abuse
Using social institutions & social prejudices
Denial, minimising, blaming
Using the children
Economic abuse
Sexual abuse
Symbolic aggression
Domestic slavery
Physical violence
Cyber Abuse

Like this? Share SpeakOutLoud ~ Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someonePrint this page

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Catherine July 14 2011, 9:40 pm

    Excellent article.

    Also to be noted is the way family court agents, social workers, court reporters, etc. use the same tactics on women and even aid and abet the abusers.

    Serious training is needed in the family court system worldwide.

    My lawyer in Dublin informed me last week 2011 that ALL WOMEN ARE SEEN AS FEEBLE MINDED IF THEY CHOOSE TO BREAK FREE OF BEING UNDER MALE CONTROL AND ABUSE.

    I am still getting my head around this. These are profssionals supposedly trained and educated in abuse, but also trained to keep women in their place in patriarchal society.

    I was told by the judge in Ireland 1995, that it was my duty to obey my abusive husband and if not, then the court would take all my property, children etc. and I could walk the streets. I choose the streets in order to break the cycle, but the very system claiming to help women escape violence and abuse aided and abetted the domestic terrorist and in doing so, he moved onto his next victim – my student – who now suffers the same as me. The system helped the abuser all the way.

    Abused women worldwide are being advised by lawyers, judges etc. NOT TO MENTION DOMESTIC ABUSE or they will lose their children. Once again this is the patriarchal system using threats etc. to keep women under control while aiding and abetting the criminal male.

    Professor Marianne Hester explains how the situation has got worse not better in 20 years because the system’s agents are trained patriarchs, supporting the male and preaching about HIS rights. If we check the ancient sacred texts we find the root cause of this – men have full say over the women and children – they own them and may do as they please. This is in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim religions. So it is in our patriarchal collective consciousness and needs to be brought out into the light, so we may address it in 2011.

  • SadMomma March 15 2012, 6:44 pm

    I’m waiting for your article on using the children. I’m finally divorced, only after supporting my ex’s career and moving across the country where there’s no family. I jumped with no security net (a stay-at-home mom for 4 yrs) and filed divorce. Three years later I’m struggling to take back the half joint legal custody so I can stop his manipulating and blocking my every move. Life is hell even divorced especially for the children. His dad is so bitter about having to pay child support that he tells our son how poor he is because he has to help mommy take care of him. Any chance to make me look incompetent and insult me is never wasted. I just don’t know how to escape his abuse…and everyone thinks he’s wonderful. I want to get an attorney but am scared because he’s so good at making me look like the crazy one…he sets me up and I’m worried for our son who he’s emotionally abusing. I wish we could escape him.

  • Colleen June 1 2012, 1:08 pm

    There was a time my friend told me my man was playing mind games with me. And I thought I could do them better. Only to let myself into a web because it seemed I was in agreement with him and I was thought to understand him. And then another guy friend practising law, told me I’m brainwashed. I laughed it off as I thought it was a crazy idea. Now, looking back at the frustration I have been in, second guessing myself to make life peaceful. It’s only today that I know what I’ve been through.

  • elisa samuel June 8 2012, 12:42 pm

    I have been living with my partner for over 14 years. I have 3 kids of which the 2 youngest are his. My oldest child is a 14 year old girl. I used to see strange behaviours in him – like molesting her – but could not accept it, until I caught him. He had threatened to take away his younger sibblings and would want me to be isolated from my friends, especially the males. He had control over everything with money now. I finally made a decison to report him but he is saying it’s my word against his. All I have is a recording where he admits to doing it but I’m afraid of what he might do since I don’t have money or anywhere to go. I really love him and he always kept manipulating me in a way that I could forgive him – but it’s gotten bad with the jealousy, possessiveness, verbal abuse and mental abuse.

    • HateTheDisordered April 14 2013, 3:28 pm

      Please protect your children! If he is molesting your daughter, he must be reported! Your children are counting on you to protect them. No matter how you think you love him, he’s not a good person, and he will not stop what he is doing until somebody stops him. Check out resources that might help you like women’s shelters, counseling, etc. Best luck!

  • Diana December 6 2012, 5:46 am

    I am interested to know where people learn to behave like this. Is it innate or have they watched someone else doing it while growing up?

  • jennifer March 9 2013, 7:34 pm

    I sit here reading this, and actually this is my second time reading through everyone of these articles and all the comments, and I am frozen. I am so totally blown away to see and “FEEL” the words of so many other women. I cannot believe it … can it be true? Is it possible that I am not crazy? Am I not the problem? Are all my decisions and actions not the dumb, misguided, stupid moves of a weak and ridiculously naive dimwitted crybaby? There is someone else who knows what I am going through? Someone that will understand, someone that knows the heartbreak and the gut-wrenching screaming pain that drives you to the brink of despair and cripples every single move you make when your children are ripped from you with lies and you are stripped of all you were, left penniless and powerless, and still he says, ‘well..I am willing to be reasonable, I don’t want to talk about the past, I want to move forward.” Yet his actions are still the same and nothing has changed for me except now he is ok with what a loser I am.

    I was married for 14 years, and now have been divorced for almost 7. I stood up to my husband for my children who I was a 24/7 full time mother to (son 21 and daughter16 now). He was not a good father. He never took one picture of his children … not one. He didn’t want to hold them, and never, NEVER, not once did he play a game or initiate any kind of close “daddy” like behavior. He teased and insulted my son, gave him titty twisters until his nipples were black and blue. He called myself and my son names and would taunt us with them when we were at our weakest most stressed times. When we would finally burst out after several times of nicely asking please stop … okay hahah I know I am a baby, but seriously, please stop. I know you’re just playin’ around but I am really stressed (I did daycare 10 kids a day). Parents are going to be here soon, could you turn that down … hey that’s not a good for a kid’s movie, can it wait until later on. Could you not drink before parents get here? The answer was always no. He worked all day, he wasn’t babysitting, get them out of this room (which was the main room with craft supplies and the after school kids were usually doing homework and having snacks at that time).

    He did not give, ever. Not one bit. And I continually adjusted, made excuses and took the responsibility of fostering the relationship between my own children and him, covering for him all the time. Telling them a gift was his idea even when he called me a retard and a moron for buying it. I would force him to hold a sleeping infant take a quick picture and have to practically catch the child before it was dropped …

  • Darci Zickuhr June 17 2014, 4:28 am

    I am so thankful for this website. My husband has been playing these exact games with me and playing innocent all the while. He denies his actions and always has an excuse for every explanation. I have been drained, isolated, and have nowhere to go. I have no job because he is sure of that. I have no family life because as he states it is best I stay away from them. He is constantly making me out to be the bad guy and I am tired of all of it. I am at the end of my rope with this marriage.

    • Clare Murphy PhD June 17 2014, 4:31 pm

      Hi Darci, Hopefully you’ll find validation, clarification, and encouragement to dig deep and excavate exactly what you want to do next. You have every right to be free from abuse and to flourish. Clare

  • Genoveve July 19 2014, 4:25 am

    After reading this article I realize just how much this hits home. For 4 years I have been with this monster of a man. We are not married but share a beautiful daughter together. We do not live together he is a mommy’s boy living at home. He’s 30 years old and takes orders from his parents like a child he has put my life through a living misery. He has broken into my home on several occasions, stolen from my father, lies to me and his daughter about everything. One minute he’s loving and attentive the next he switches off and becomes distant and cold. He has forced sex on me numerous times, pushed me into walls. He broke up with me in February this year and said he had met a woman at his work and wished to just be friends with me. I thought that was the last of him but no it was far from it. He found out I went out to a party and went crazy, kept phoning me demanding me to answer my phone I told him to leave alone and reminded him he had broken up with me. He refused and said he loved me and won’t stop protecting me. About a month later he tried to crawl back again I foolishly accepted and soon enough the mind games continued. He would make movie dates and drop me. Basically forget on purpose he would swear at me in front of the kids, calls me a whore and a bitch and says he was joking. He’s just broken up with me again giving me the same pitch he gave me last time. I think we should be friends and he has met someone, which I think he is lying about. After he broke up with me he had the cheek to tell me not to run off and sleep with other men the man just broke up with me and he’s telling me that?? I told him he has a girlfriend so why should he care what I do. He says he’s not sleeping with her and won’t sleep with her and that she is away for 2 weeks how convenient. He comes over and starts forcing me to cuddle him and hold him. I told him to leave me alone telling him he has someone and all he can say is ‘I know’ and tries to force sex on me. I’m tired of his games and abuse I just don’t know what to do I never know what evil trick he’s going to pull next I just want it to end :(

    • Clare Murphy PhD July 28 2014, 1:28 pm

      Genoveve, it might be helpful for you to get counselling to support you in setting safe, clear boundaries. One possibility is changing your phone number, not answering his calls. But only if taking such a clear position is safe – you will know whether it is or not. You could ask yourself “What am I thinking?” “What am I feeling?” and “What do I want?” to help you clarify the difference between what you think you “should” do as opposed to what you truly want that supports your dignity and integrity as a woman who deserves better. Best wishes, Clare

  • Connie July 30 2014, 8:29 pm

    I have been with my man for 1 year and 4 months. After the first 3 months it all started. He became jealous and possessive. He accuses me every other day of cheating on him. It’s not possible when he is around me 24/7. In June my son arrived for summer vacation. My son lives with his Dad over 2000 miles away and I see him three times out of the year. My son is 15 and he hates my boyfriend. This summer I made a conscious desision to devote all 8 weeks to my son. My boyfriend lives nearly 40 miles away so that helped keep him away from me and my son. These past few weeks I have seen my boyfriend three times maybe four. Every time we see each other he comes up with some crazy unrealistic reason to be mad at me. One night I took the train to see him and spend the night. It had been two weeks and I missed him. When I arrived he was all sweet and lovie dovie. No sooner did we get to our destination and he started accusing me of being with some dude. He actually thinks that this dude is in the other room and when he is asleep I go into that room for sex. I finally come to realise it’s just another manipulating tactic. That same evening I arrived by train I called a friend to pick me up and bring me home. My son was like “Mom why are you home? What did he do?” I was humiliated once again by this man who claims I am the only one he has ever loved so much. A week went by I decided to go to his house for the day. He wanted me to spend the night but I want to be home for my son. Within the hour of my arrival he was questioning me about this and that. Asking about people I didn’t know. I finally got up, walked out and went home. Last Friday I decided to try one more time. Although during the week when we talk on the phone it’s always an argument over some bullshit that is not real. He lies and I finally realize he lies so I no longer believe him . On that Friday we were in public in the downtown area and he was upset because he wanted to come home with me. I told him “No”. My son does not want him at our house. He was making loud remarks like “Ya but your son is okay with that dude being there” and then he starts calling me whore, bitch, etc. My uncle was giving us a ride to his place so my man sat in the back seat. He sat back there making the most absurd comments and started hitting the back of my head. My uncle got mad, stopped the car and let him out. My uncle then drove me home 40 miles.

    I have been doing alot of reading on abusive relationships. Mine fits the profile to a “T”. Being away from him these past 6 weeks I have been extrememly happy even though he starts a fight with me every day just to keep me texting him or calling all day. I will not answer his calls or reply to his text messages. When I do not answer it does worry me. He hurt me once really bad. That is why my son hates him. But he hurt me more than that and I covered for him. I used to be a strong independent woman. My son said, “Mom, I thought you were the smart one.” I was married to his Dad for seven years. I have fought with all my family members due to him. I have lost some of my closest friends because of him. My family always comes first I just don’t know who I am any more. Today is another day of arguing and texting. What gets me the most is he will cuss me out and then call later and sweet talk me. I can’t deal with him anymore. I told him to leave me alone and he calls over and over because I do not answer the phone. He will stay up all night sending text messages. I love him but I thought he was the person he pretended to be during the first three months. I think I am going to have to get a restraining order to keep him away. I question myself and wonder if I am right about who he is. He tells me over and over that I have him made out to be someone he is not. I am a good woman. I don’t steal, lie or cheat. I am giving and considerate and when I love, I love true and with respect for him and myself. I have never been accused of cheating so many times from one person. It’s a daily ritual for him. I even told him, “it’s not working think of a new tatic. I am not buying that bullshit anymore”. But he continues to do it.
    I can’t talk to anyone in my family about him. He and I created enough drama. I am not wrong about him. Or am I ?
    Question my self in California.

    • Clare Murphy PhD July 30 2014, 10:19 pm

      One suggestion I have for you Connie is to listen to what he does, not what he says. Do you feel fully free to be yourself with him? Does he respect you? Is he honest with you? Does he invade your privacy? Do you feel psychologically safe with him? Does your son feel all these things with him? In a healthy relationship you should expected your partner’s actions to match his words. You should flourish over time in a healthy relationship….. not go downhill riddled with self-doubt.

  • Connie July 31 2014, 9:32 pm

    Thank you. I am trying to trust my gut feelings. I appreciate your input.

Leave a Comment