We probably all know those who get off on the pain, fear and insecurity of others. We probably register the techniques too, albeit at a subliminal level. But sometimes we are too kind, tolerant and forgiving to actually call these people out on their behaviour. We tell ourselves that we are imagining it, that it is a joke and they do not mean it; that their wounds are so much deeper and more serious than ours that we must tolerate the damage-inspired behaviour.
I would, here, flag up a couple of questions – and extend them to thoughts. Number One: What is the role of deliberate silence in your interaction with this person? Is there a pattern of anger followed by Sending to Coventry? Because, if there is, it is possible that the silent one knows that you struggle with this kind of punishment – and uses it with malice aforethought to control you and bring you to heel. Making others wait, fear, beg and grovel is the act of a tyrant and not a friend. Refusing to talk, shrugging off questions and laughing in the face of the distress this causes is not a sign of legitimate love and concern; it is a sure sign of one who thrives on mind games and subtle emotional torment.
I am not here talking about the angry huff, the sullen fury which most of us exhibit at some time in our lives. I am talking about a pattern of raging enjoyment and lust for power which happens at the drop of a hat and often in response to absolute trivia. I am talking about those who choose not to respond because they know, damn well, that the resulting silence will cause huge anxiety, fear and misery – and they get off on those emotions; in fact they feed upon them, gulping them down greedily.
Is your interaction with the other peppered with derogatory comments, sly asides and studied insults? Is criticism being used to shame and control you? I am not here talking about the inevitable arguments, and flying-off-the-handle angry words, we all get into at times. I am talking about constant, low-grade bullying, with nasty words, covert digs and verbal slaps. I am talking about the violent rape of self-esteem; the need to penetrate and tear to ribbons your inner essence, your sense of self, your confidence. A little word here, a nasty comment there; it all mounts up into a feeling of frozen uselessness and a deadly disorientation.
Do you dread certain scenarios because you know, from experience, that they will, with chill inevitability, set the other off, cause the simmering rage to come to the boil and spill over, burning everything in its reach? Are you, for example, a bundle of nerves at the start of long car journeys, or holidays, or social occasions? Has it ever occurred to you that the angry one probably clocked your fear and distress the first time – and is deliberately manipulating the situation so that it happens again and again?
This, my friends, is the true face of emotional abuse – and it is not pretty. True, it leaves no bruises, no cuts. The police do not need to be called to stop, temporarily, the flying fists and kicking feet. But the long-term effects are every bit as damaging, every bit as difficult to shrug off.
Because emotional abusers target the mind, the inner self, and plant emotional IEDs along the way. Anything can trigger those devastating explosions, even years after the relationship ended. Silence, for example, can cause a dirty bomb of terror to explode with no warning: Just a sudden blast and acute, wide-ranging agony.
Situations which are innocuous in themselves can ignite the fuse of destruction because they ape, in some crucial respects, the packages planted in the mind. Those who innocently trip over that wire are often genuinely baffled by the intensity of your response and the storm of tears which follow.
Silence is not always golden. I am not a great talker myself, but a long-lasting silence, for which there is no logical explanation, does trigger that body memory, that desolating fear, that terrible sense that I have to be the one to end it by apologising for whatever it was that caused the other to go quiet on me in the first place.
For most people, such a response is both unnecessary and, frankly, a bit gob-smacking, causing a, ‘Hey! You don’t need to say sorry! I’m the one who should be apologising!’ type of come-back.
For the control-obsessed few, your grovelling is like nectar and your apology, though obviously inadequate – and probably not as fulsome as it should be – is accepted, reluctantly, with the rider that you must learn from this and adapt your behaviour accordingly in order to stop provoking every situation.
But why is it that certain individuals get off on the vulnerable emotions of others? God, I wish I knew. I wish I genuinely understood this gnawing hunger, this desire to wound, this lust for control.
But I don’t. It is beyond my empathy. Yesterday’s second post was ‘inspired’ by seven of those IEDs being set off – two by mistake; the other five I am not sure about. The fire and fumes were intense, the emotional body parts widely scattered, the detonation pretty devastating. The dust is still settling. The crater in the centre of my psyche’s landscape gapes large. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that this is a weak echo of the original – and that any inner wounds re-opened are bleeding again for the purpose of healing, not further destruction.
I know, that is to say, that I will survive – and that, in time, these loud bangs and roadside dangers will abate; that the mines planted with ill-intent will, eventually, all have gone off.