Most abuses aren’t usually so obvious, especially when the abuser knows that it serves their needs to keep their victims around long-term. It is gradual, so many people don’t understand that they have been trapped in for so long, if they ever realize it at all.
There are typically three stages of abuse: idealization, devaluation, and the discard. Of course these may look a little different per situation and people, but overall, there is a script that is followed. Within each stage, there are very specific tactics, that many of us need to familiarize ourselves with. If we don’t, we may continue making excuses for this behavior forever. Oftentimes we truly love those who are hurting us, but we just don’t realize why it is that we feel so “off”.
Understand that each one of us is capable of abuse, and manipulation is typically the tool we use. We want to gain or remain in control, even over the simplest of things. Realize that we were never meant to control other people. We have control of ourselves, setting our own boundaries, and enforcing them. Once we start lying and manipulating to get our way, we are acting abusive. But, everyone who does this is not considered an “abuser”, it is those who do it long-term, usually without remorse, even if they know exactly what they are doing. There is often a lack of empathy that sets them apart from a person acting out in selfishness and/or panic. (Sin is sin is sin, just remember, there is sinning, and there is walking in sin. The difference is one is repentant, the other is not).
Phase 1: Idealization
Idealization is the stage where it all begins. This is the stage where we often look back on to remember the good times. The times when everything was simple and amazing. We often compare the person we are dealing with now to the same person, but when they were in the idealization stage. This keeps us feeling like they are a “good person”, and keeps us hanging on to the feeling that they could go back to being this “good person”. It starts off with something called “mirroring”. It is something we all do (and can be done without ill intent), but it is when we reflect or replicate another persons mannerisms, speech, emotional behaviors, etc. As they get to know you, they learn what you like, dislike, your heart’s desires, etc. As they learn this, they fulfill these desires in the way they know you want it to be fulfilled. They also see that you act somewhat like the kind of partner that you desire, and they mock your good behavior. This is where the “mirroring” comes from. If it’s a friendship, they often become your “best friend” extremely fast, proclaiming how close you are. If it’s a romantic relationship, love, marriage, or whatever you dream of within that relationship is on the table very fast. Promises are made to fulfill those dreams, and that they want all of the same things. If it is a parent-child or family relationship, the idealization stage isn’t necessary at the beginning, but will sometimes come up as needed throughout the relationship. It is used to “butter you up” for the abuser to eventually get what they want. Gaslighting often enters in the middle or at the tail end of the idealization stage. Gaslighting has to start out gradually so it goes unnoticed. It is when they do something surprising, something that seems out of character for how they’ve been acting up to this point. But, when they see you’re surprised reaction, they will respond with “just kidding”, “I didn’t really mean that”, tell you that “you saw wrong”, or even that “you are overreacting/crazy”. Because this was the first time something like this that has happened, and it doesn’t match what you believe to be their character, you brush it off and move on. But then, it gradually continues and these occurrences happen more often than not, and before you know it, you have willingly (yet unknowingly) let them replace reality with whatever they want you to believe. What that typically looks like is you become their puppet or robot, and everything that happens becomes your fault. At this point, we have more than begun the second stage.
Phase 2: Devaluation
The second stage of devaluation typically truly begins when the gaslighting has begun, but it is in full force when there is very little, if any, of the good from the idealization phase left. Now, don’t be confused, idealization can come and go as the abuser needs in order to get want they want, so it usually starts with idealization, but it can come back to idealization at any point. That will keep us tricked into believing that they once were “good” instead of realizing that what was happening was manipulation, and it was all a show.
The abusive weapon of choice is manipulation. Manipulation is a very specific word with many different tools in it’s belt. It can shapeshift to fit any situation or circumstance. Let’s talk about some of these.
In addition to gaslighting, something called projection will begin to happen. This is when they are doing something, and they either blame you for the exact thing(s) they are doing (while denying or ignoring that they are doing it), or they just start blaming you for whatever comes to mind in order to get you off track from what they are doing (this is more deflection than projection). It also occurs when they blame you for thoughts that you may or may not be thinking, but they wouldn’t be able to know either way. If you are anything like me, you self-reflect. When someone accuses you of doing or being something, you ponder it, you question it, you wonder if you really are what they say you are. The tricky thing with this is they often know where we are most sensitive and vulnerable, so whether it is an ugly truth, a struggle we have, or a lie that they know will bother us, they use it because it will stop us from catching on to them. In short, it is getting the negative attention off of themselves, and shifting it over to you. This doesn’t mean that we are perfect or we have nothing to work on, but don’t let them use that to deflect their own sin. We are each responsible for ourselves. Stop letting them push responsibility for them onto you.
There is also a smear campaign that can happen in this phase. It is just as it sounds. They start spreading untruths about you to make you look bad, crazy, unstable, etc. They often have what are called flying monkeys (yup, like from the Wizard of Oz), which are people who believe their lies, oftentimes help spread the slander, and more often than not, treat you poorly based off of those lies. So, most aren’t typically abused by just one person at a time. Those who willingly participate in the abuse (even if they don’t realize it is happening that way) often don’t have the discernment or desire to see the abuser any differently. They are just as responsible for their own actions as the rest of us.
Phase 3: The Discard
This one is hard to come to terms with for many (understandably so). It is just as it sounds. They trick you, they confuse you, then they throw you away. It’s all about having you to get what they want, and when that’s over, they’re out. I’m not trying to sound callous or bitter about it, it’s just a really ugly way to treat people, so I will speak straight about it how it really is. When you work so hard to change into what you thought they wanted you to be, it often disgusts them. They truly wanted you for who you were, but they just wanted you to do everything the way they want, when they want, how they want, with no questions asked. They truly will leave you at your worst moment. Discards often happen if/when you become sick, when you quit/get fired/get laid off from a job, when you start making decisions without their permission/approval, and even when you are grieving the loss of someone. These are just a few examples. Think of something that puts you out of “commission” or breaks the cycle of their control somehow, they want none of this. They will also leave you if you somehow start to add healthy relationships into your life, you start learning the truth, and most importantly, if you start setting and keeping boundaries. They don’t want a difficult fight, so if you are going to stick to your guns, and they don’t have energy to “punish” you, they will be gone. However, they will stick it out as long as they need to until they feel like they have someone to replace you. If they don’t have the security of a new “supply” (a term of what victims are to abusers to keep their ego’s fed), they will hang on only as long as they need to. They will also try to return if the next supply doesn’t work out, and they have no new supply set up. This is referred to as “hoovering” (yes, like the vacuum). They will also hoover to keep options open for themselves in the future. If you try to leave them, I would advise extreme caution. If they are not yet ready for the discard phase, and you try to leave them, their violence often erupts. I’m not saying stay in a bad situation, but please think and pray it through well because it could end very badly, I have seen it many times. God can give you the wisdom and strength to know if, when, and how you should “escape”. If you are married, I’m not counseling divorce, but I do know that separation is sometimes the safest way in these situations.
A smear campaign often happens during/after the discard stage as well. The main goal is to save face in front of everyone else. It is very confusing because it doesn’t match the actions that we have witnessed. It’s hard when other people we wished supported us believe the abuser instead. Most abusers are extremely charismatic, and will only abuse a few people, often those within their own household. Other people wouldn’t even suspect that this person could hurt a fly, let alone intentionally abuse people that they supposedly love. Walk in truth and love, surround yourself with those with discernment, who also walk in truth and love. The truth always comes out.
Even when these abusers share these similar traits, actions, etc., this doesn’t mean it will always end in the way a script or study has determined. The reason I am saying this is because we should use these as warning signs to guide us towards wisdom, but not use them as excuses, reasons to justify our own bad behavior towards them. They are still human, and they still deserve the common decency of being treated like humans, no matter how they are treating others. Justice should happen and consequences should be served, however, we aren’t responsible for control over all of it. Take control and responsibility of your own life. When you know better, do better. I just gave you more to know, so now it’s your turn to act. Don’t enable abuse, it will only breed more abuse. It will never disappear when ignored, no matter how much we wish it would. Please know, I’ve been through it, and I’ve made it to the other side. You are not alone!
- Gaslighting – What You Need to Know About This Psychological and Emotional Abuse
- How to Not Raise a Narcissist
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