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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

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Catherine July 14, 2011 at 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.

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2 SadMomma March 15, 2012 at 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.

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3 Colleen June 1, 2012 at 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.

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4 elisa samuel June 8, 2012 at 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.

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5 HateTheDisordered April 14, 2013 at 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!

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6 Diana December 6, 2012 at 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?

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7 jennifer March 9, 2013 at 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 …

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8 Darci Zickuhr June 17, 2014 at 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.

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9 Clare Murphy PhD June 17, 2014 at 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

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