Editor’s note: This post was submitted by the Lovefraud reader Aloha Traveler.
Sociopaths often use subtle methods to intimidate their victims. One of the funniest and most absurd manifestations of this tactic came to me in the form of a small stuffed turtle.
I had been on Maui for about six months and was able to get a cheap ticket home to California for a visit with my friends. I was already deep into an abusive and confusing nightmare with the Bad Man. He was twisting up my reality and I needed to be in a place where I knew who I was, with people that knew me well.
The Bad Man agreed to take me to the airport for my departure. As I finished packing and was about to zip up my suitcase, the Bad Man produced a gift from his pocket. It was a small stuffed turtle. He presented it to me stating that he wanted me to have something to snuggle with while we were apart. I am a little too old for stuffed animals but the gesture was sweet and I instinctively knew by this time to make a big deal about his thoughtfulness.
As I started to gush over the gift, he added seriously, “His name is Nookie the Turtle. He can see and hear everything you do.” “Oh. Okay. Well, how nice,” I said, as I turned and tucked “Nookie” into my suitcase. This was one of the those moments where it was undeniable that something was wrong. My inner voice spoke to me. “That isn’t right,” it said… but I still didn’t listen.
These days, I read a lot about the dynamics of abusive relationships. Recently I read that it is common that the victim begins to believe that their abuser has some sort of powers and is all knowing, particularly when it comes to them. The abuser carefully creates this illusion because it helps him/her to control the victim through perceived fear.
A few days ago, I saw The Color Purple on TV and there was an excellent example of this tactic in the movie. Celie, the main character and narrator, is abused by the man called “Mr.” throughout the film. Celie is desperately waiting for a letter from her sister Nettie. Mr. tells Celie that he has “specially rigged” the mailbox so that he can tell if it has been “messed with.” He has done no such thing but she has already been abused, degraded, and terrorized by Mr. and so she believes him. He then catches the mail every day for almost the entire film and hides the letters that her sister faithfully sends over decades. It’s a subtle, tiny piece of the film but it really stood out for me now that I know what I know about abusers.
Here’s another intimidation/control tactic the Bad Man attempted to use on me. Once, several months after I had left the island, he sent me a text message that said, “I had a bad feeling last night. What were you doing at 9:00 pm? I ain’t stupid!” (Well, if you must know, Bad Man, I was watching The Little Mermaid with two small children.) While we were together, he was always calling me “sleazy cheesy pop culture girl” in an attempt to shame me in reference to past sexual relationships. With the text message, he was trying to “catch” me at moving on with my life in a way that I had every right to! Abusers only have to “catch” you once to create the illusion that they know what you are doing at all times. This creates a lot of anxiety in the victim. It gives the abuser power over you and expands their reign of emotional torture over space and time.
Here is a perfect example of how that emotional battering and psychological torture roots deeply in you. One night, at least one and a half years after I had left the island, something popped into my head. I remembered an advertisement I had seen in the back of a magazine for teens. It was for a website called, “DontDateHimGirl.com.” Up to that moment, I had been obsessing nearly 24/7 as to how I might stop Bad Man or warn others about him. I wasn’t sure what he did to me but I knew it was something really bad. I felt powerless to stop him and this caused me to toss and turn many nights. So, I signed on to the site, got the gist of what it was all about and decided to write a post. After a few minutes, my piece was finished and then I hit the button: PUBLISH. The instant the ad posted, I started to feel panic and anxiety. Although my good sense told me it was not possible that the Bad Man would find this ad instantaneously, a part of me was convinced that at that very instant, the Bad Man had found my ad and the email bombs would start to come. My heart raced. I felt shaky and nauseous. My agitated sleep was even more so that night.
Setting verbal traps is another little game that disordered abusers use on their victims. Here’s a simple one a friend of mine experienced with Bad Man Jr. (She had her very own BM.) They were driving through a small mountain resort town. As they passed a restaurant he oh-so-casually asked, “Have you ever been to that restaurant?” She confirmed, “Yes.” His tone suddenly shifted. “With who? Did he PAAAAY?! You are SUCH-A-USER!!!”
I remember when she told me about this charming moment, we began to discuss how we both felt like nothing was safe that came out of our mouths. They were always twisting up our words, and attacking us with them. And another favorite was that they often lamented angrily about all the money “WASTED” on us. It was like they had to reinforce how unworthy we were of being treated nicely, so that way they could justify their Bad Man-ness. We laughed because we agreed that both of these men were cheap but always acted like they we treating us like queens. The Bad Man was always trying to convince me that I needed to be grateful for his crumbs of kindness. “Any woman would want a man like me!”
Do you recognize that twisting of reality?
To this day, I don’t know why I was so susceptible to words. Back then, my thoughts were like this: If someone says it, it must be so. And so, around and around I went, my head spinning and grasping to reconnect with reality as it seemed to spin farther and farther away.
In case anyone out there is wondering whatever happened to “Nookie” I will tell you. There has been no Nookie in bed for a long time.