How Abusive Women Brainwash You

How do so many smart men fall for toxic, abusive women? Why do they remain in painfully self-destructive relationships when their higher intelligence knows better? Many men frequently cite, “but I love her.” Do they love these women or have they been brainwashed by abusive personalities? Are they confusing love with dependence on their partner/torturer—a kind of Stockholm Syndrome?

Emotional and physical abuse wears you down over time. It erodes your confidence, independence, sense of efficacy and good judgment. Successful abusers use brainwashing tactics to disassemble your personality and extinguish your natural responses to abuse. In other words, you become numb and submissive instead of fleeing or fighting back in the face of her abuse.

Abusive women establish control over their targets by using “brainwashing tactics similar to those used on prisoners of war, hostages, or members of a cult” (Mega, Mega, Mega & Harris, 2000). Most abusers instinctively know these behaviors. Their behavior is mostly unconscious; they’re natural predators. However, some abusive women know exactly what they’re doing. In such cases, I’d argue that they’re sociopaths.

Brainwashing Techniques

In the 1950s, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton studied POW’s from the Korean War and Chinese prison camps. He concluded that these soldiers “underwent a multi-step process that began with attacks on the prisoner’s sense of self and ended with what appeared to be a change in beliefs” (Layton). Lifton defined 10 brainwashing steps that occur in 3 stages.

Stage I: Breaking Down the Self

1. Assault on Identity. “You are not who you think you are.” This step is comprised of an unrelenting attack on your identity or ego. For example, You’re a jerk. You’re a loser. You’re selfish. You don’t deserve me. You don’t have any friends. Your family doesn’t care about you. You don’t make enough money. These kinds of attacks have a destabilizing effect that breaks your stride and keeps you off kilter. The assault continues until you become “exhausted, confused and disoriented,” which causes your sense of self, beliefs and values to weaken.

2. Guilt. “You are bad.” Once your identity crisis sets in, you’re then criticized for offenses great, small and imaginary. You snore. You’re not sensitive enough. You’re too sensitive. You breathe wrong. You blink too much. You don’t fold the towels correctly. You never do this. You always do that. Why can’t you be more like so and so? The constant arguments and criticisms that cast you as the bad guy make you believe you deserve to be punished and treated badly. You feel a general sense of shame, that you’re wrong and that everything you do, don’t do, say or don’t say is wrong.

Humiliation and shaming tactics destroy your confidence and make you feel bad about yourself, which puts you in a malleable and submissive state. Shame is a form of paralysis. Inducing a sense of shame doesn’t just make you feel bad; it makes you believe that you are bad.

3. Self-Betrayal. “Agree with me that you are bad.” Once you’re disoriented and feeling a pervasive sense of guilt and shame, she can manipulate you into going against your own best interests. You forsake your own needs and make choices that are detrimental to your well-being. This is when an abusive spouse or girlfriend may begin to isolate you and/or get you to turn against friends and family. The betrayal of yourself, your beliefs and the people to whom you were once loyal increases feelings of shame, guilt and loss and also makes you easier to control.

4. Breaking Point. “Who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to do?” You no longer know who you are. You’re confused and disoriented from gaslighting and being fed a distorted version of yourself and reality. You may feel like you’re “the crazy one” and/or feel depressed, anxious, traumatized and a host of other negative emotional and physical symptoms like insomnia, paranoia and digestive problems.

You question your judgment, perceptions and sense of reality. She tells you she loves you yet continues to treat you horribly. You believe she loves you and that you must be a colossal jerk for her to always be so upset. If she’s successfully isolated you or gotten you to isolate yourself, you can’t reality test or receive outside support. By this time, she’s made you totally dependent upon her and solely focused upon pleasing her, gaining her approval and avoiding her wrath or disapproval. You probably feel completely alone. Alternatively, if you’re still in contact with friends and family, you fear that if you tell them what’s going on that they wouldn’t believe you or wouldn’t understand.

Stage II: The Possibility of Salvation

5. Leniency. “I can help you.” This is what I like to call the tyranny of small mercies. Periodically, this kind of woman will offer you some small kindness or you’ll have a “fun” afternoon together in which she appears normal. Because your perception has been so warped, the tiniest act of kindness or absence of overt hostility and/or icy withdrawal fosters gratitude, relief and a sense of adoration within you. In reality, she’s not kind and she’s not normal.

The disparity between her bad behavior and good/neutral behavior is so great that the simple act of heating up a can of soup for you makes her seem like Lady Benevolence. Her minuscule and infrequent acts of normalcy cause you to romanticize her. “This is why I love her. She can be so sweet.” It also causes you to experience a destructive sense of false hope. “If only she could be this way all the time. Maybe she will if I just try harder to please her.” The only way you can please this kind of woman is by continuing to allow her to harm you, that is, until she starts to resent you for becoming a doormat that she demanded you be.

6. Compulsion to Confess. “You can help yourself.” You’re so grateful for the small kindnesses she bestows in between periods of covert and overt abuse that you agree with her criticisms and devaluations. For example, you agree that your friends are bad for you and that your family is controlling and dysfunctional (um, hello, pot meet kettle). You promise to be more attentive and sensitive to her needs and see your needs as evidence of your selfishness.

Alternatively, you agree with her just to make the rages, derision and accusations stop. By the way, this is why torture techniques don’t work for intelligence purposes. People will say anything to make the torture stop. By this time, your personality has changed. You’re hypervigilant to her moods and ego gratification  demands and wishes.

You’re overwhelmed and confused by her accusations and criticisms. Subsequently, you feel a compounded sense of shame. However, you’re so disoriented that you don’t know what you’re guilty of anymore. You just feel wrong.

The Goal: Pointless Control with No End to the Abuse

Individuals or groups who use brainwashing techniques are deliberately trying to convert followers, change political allegiance or get people to buy their brand of soda. The ultimate goal is to breakdown your identity and replace your belief system with their doctrines in order to make you an obedient follower. Once they achieve their aims, the psychological torture stops because you’ve become a faithful acolyte.

Unlike professional terrorists, cult leaders and prison camp commandants, most abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic wives and girlfriends don’t have an end goal for their brainwashing techniques. They don’t know what they want. They just know that they want to control you in order to feel in control of themselves. This is why they don’t progress past the sixth brainwashing step and complete the process through the third stage, Rebuilding the Self.

By keeping you stuck in the Possibility of Salvation stage, you become locked into perpetual hoop jumping mode. She says if you do x, y and z she’ll finally be happy. You do x, y and z and then she either has a new set of expectations, demands and requirements or tells you that you didn’t do x, y and z to her satisfaction or that you only did it to make her happy not because you wanted to do it. You’re caught in a maddening cycle of trying to please her and not being able to please her with no relief or “salvation” in sight.

Oftentimes, abusive borderline, narcissistic and histrionic women’s moods, beliefs and realities change from day to day and, in extreme cases, minute to minute. They want whatever their current mood or insecurity dictates and change their beliefs, demands and perceptions accordingly. The only doctrine they offer is, “You’re wrong and bad” and “It’s all about me, my needs and my feelings” and “you need to fight for me” or “you need to fight for this relationship” (never mind that she is the one who is destroying it). This keeps you destabilized and in a perpetual state of guilt, shame, hypervigilance and confusion.

She puts you into no-win situations, double binds and keeps raising the bar of her expectations for as long as you let her. You never get to reach the third stage of a new identity that brings some relief. She keeps you stuck in the cycle of abuse where she will psychologically torture you until there’s nothing left of you.

Next week, I will discuss other aspects and techniques of brainwashing and how you can deprogram yourself.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


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Mega LT, Mega JL, Mega BT & Harris BM. Brainwashing and battering fatigue: Psychological abuse in domestic violence.  NC Med J. 2000, Sep-Oct; 61(5): 260-265.

Layton, J. How brainwashing works. HowStuffWorks.

  1. Mr. E
    February 25, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I think I’m going to email this to my family and friends with a note saying “This is where I’ve been the last 13 years… Sorry I’ve been out of touch.”

    • melove54
      March 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm

      What’s up Mr. E,
      My sentiments exactly!! I’ve been rekindling some old relationships, friends and acquaintenances of past, and when they make statements like “thought your fell off the face of the earth, where have you been?” and I’m tempted to give them the address to this site, instead I just say,”I did a 5 year prison term with a crazy-woman” and leave it at that. Best wishes, hope you’re doing well.

  2. Ron
    February 25, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    TK :

    By keeping you stuck in the Possibility of Salvation stage, you become locked into perpetual hoop jumping mode.[…] You’re caught in a maddening cycle of trying to please her and not being able to please her with no relief or “salvation” in sight.

    Trying to please her doesn’t work, we know that, so STOP DOING IT!
    I think this blog is great, but often written with a victim mentality. Sure, it’s insidious the way they break down your self esteem, gaslight you into doubting your sanity, and set you impossible tasks so they can browbeat you with your failure to be superman, but they can only do it because you LET them. Learn to set and enforce clear, healthy boundaries, outgrow your abandonment/attachment/self-esteem issues, and stop running away from conflict. If you can do that, their power over you evaporates like shadow in front of a bright light, and you realise nothing was ever there in the first place but your lack of vision.
    It’s wrong to victimise someone. But once you realise that you ARE a victim, you can choose whether or not to remain a victim. Choose to not be a victim.

    Really true. We give over our power because of our own issues. Once you stop doing this, you are free. These folks rely on and seek out a partner having these issues. Thye may stem from childhood abuse/abandonment or something else.
    But, have no doubt that your having problems standing up for yourself atracted her and allowed you to remain with her far too long.

    • March 7, 2010 at 2:11 pm

      I think this site is exactly about how to get out of this trap. Because there are men who, like me, don’t want to see what they are doing to themselves by staying with her.

      I think this is great stuff and I hope many can benefit from it.

  3. Ken
    February 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Just wanted to add my appreciation. This is why you are one of the blogs on my blogroll. This is helpful stuff that not only applies to dating/marriage but also to other areas of life. As someone who has read up a lot on cults (religious or otherwise) and cultic behavior, this also applies there. Someone can be highly intelligent and fall victim to brainwashing.

  4. akn
    February 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Great article. Thanks again. Set boundaries and fight back, refuse to be manipulated, confront her with the truth and the facts, trust your gut feeling and it will all end because you are refusing to be a doormat. Never ever play “it just didn’t happen”. They are nutz and need to enrol us in the script of their pathetic drama. Write your own and she’ll leave you alone which is the perfect outcome.

    If you’re up to it Dr T I’d like to contribute to a blog on her freaky favourite movies, the one’s that only make sense to me in retrospect now that I know what a disordered character is like. I’ll start with “Alien” 1,2+3. You know, the horrible thing that lives inside them and rips out of their bodies before attacking every breathing thing in proximity. She loved those films. I guess now because she identified with the alien spawn.

  5. Rob
    February 25, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Another great article Dr.T. Your blog has really helped me close that chapter of my life. On a side note – what are your thoughts on the Jungian/MBTI 16 personality theory/tests and their indicators of a possible cluster B mentality? Thanks and regards, Rob.

  6. TK
    February 25, 2010 at 6:36 am

    By keeping you stuck in the Possibility of Salvation stage, you become locked into perpetual hoop jumping mode.[…] You’re caught in a maddening cycle of trying to please her and not being able to please her with no relief or “salvation” in sight.

    Trying to please her doesn’t work, we know that, so STOP DOING IT!

    I think this blog is great, but often written with a victim mentality. Sure, it’s insidious the way they break down your self esteem, gaslight you into doubting your sanity, and set you impossible tasks so they can browbeat you with your failure to be superman, but they can only do it because you LET them. Learn to set and enforce clear, healthy boundaries, outgrow your abandonment/attachment/self-esteem issues, and stop running away from conflict. If you can do that, their power over you evaporates like shadow in front of a bright light, and you realise nothing was ever there in the first place but your lack of vision.

    It’s wrong to victimise someone. But once you realise that you ARE a victim, you can choose whether or not to remain a victim. Choose to not be a victim.

    • Rob
      February 25, 2010 at 7:59 am

      Learn to set and enforce clear, healthy boundaries, outgrow your abandonment/attachment/self-esteem issues, and stop running away from conflict. If you can do that, their power over you evaporates like shadow in front of a bright light, and you realise nothing was ever there in the first place but your lack of vision.

      Tk – I wholeheartedly agree with your statement in principle. There’s a few issues you face if you’re continuing the relationship (as I see it):
      1. You have to know what’s happening;
      2. You have to rebuild your self-esteem – not in a vacuum, but with her using the above techniques to stop this from happening;
      3. Once you’ve rebuilt your self-esteem up enough to start responding to conflict in turn, you make every day a conflict, a shouting match about anything and everything even in front of the kids (in my case), as there is nothing more important than her rightness and to win the argument (she continues to escalate ad-infinitum).
      I understand your view of the victim mentality – I don’t consider myself one and I’m sure pretty much everyone else here doesn’t. Whenever I lapsed into feeling sorry for myself (when married) I’d pull myself out of it (due to previous life lessons). The cluster Bs act as victims and this makes the whole relationship one big blame game – I lapsed into blaming others or situations for the way I felt just like my ex (before snapping out of it).
      So – are you still with this woman? Has the conflict rate reduced? I don’t mind conflict when it’s constructive – but when it’s a rant about anything and everything then it ceases to be conflict and becomes a tantrum – and anyone with kids knows that tantrums just get louder and more ridiculous until you put the kid in the naughty corner or give in to their demands. Regards, Rob

      • TK
        March 2, 2010 at 6:53 am

        I agree with (1) and (2), but not entirely with (3). It’s true that there’s a phase where she’s trying to get you back under control. Once you’ve regrown your cojones and are standing up to her, however, things improve rapidly. Your comment about kiddy tantrums is spot on – if you give in to a tantrum even once they will start doing it more often because they know it works. I cringe now when I hear people talk about ‘being in the doghouse’, or getting in trouble with their wife. Sure, she can be angry at me, but I’m the one who decides whether I’ve done something wrong and need to make amends.

        It’s always possible that your ex was just a pathological case and leaving her was the only solution. You can only do so much and if she’s unable to respect your boundaries, you have no choice but to move on.

        As for me, we’re still together. Since I started fixing myself, our relationship has gone from the brink of divorce half a year ago to a solid, stable, happy relationship. She still shit-tests me (but now most of the time I pass) and occasionally she has tantrums (she’s a woman, they do that) but my happiness is no longer decided by her moods, and by and large we’re very happy together.

        • Simon
          March 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

          Hello TK
          Glad to hear you are happy my friend but have to say as I read what you put it sounds more like you play dodgeball every day whilst standing in a minefield. Lets not forget about what relationships are all about, reciprocated love, not strategy and upper hand tactics….

          • TK
            March 9, 2010 at 5:47 am

            It’s not so much about playing dodge in a minefield. It’s about stomping firmly on one or two mines, showing that they can’t hurt you. After that they stop throwing dodgeballs at you and the mines all deactivate. Every now and then one goes off just to see if you’re vulnerable to shrapnel yet, but by now you’re bulletproof and you probably don’t even notice, or laugh it off as “oh, one of her moods again, she’ll get over it”.

            I’m not talking about strategy and upper-hand tactics, I’m talking about real life relationship dynamics. Fairytale romance is nice and all but it can’t exist forever – notice how even in fairytales they only cover the first few romantic hours or days, and gloss the actual relationship over with “happily ever after”?

            • Recovering Alpha
              March 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

              Sounds like a lot of work which would become exhausting eventually over the years. I say pass and move on to greener pastures.

              • Rob
                March 19, 2010 at 6:32 am

                Hey TK – good comeback. It’s good to hear you’ve got your relationship to a healthy place for you. I also cringe when I hear “happy wife happy life” and comments of the same ilk. I think we’re the lucky ones because I hear that type of statement quite often. I direct some of those guys to this site – so many people don’t know what constitutes a healthy relationship and even when they know what they have isn’t good for them, they’re too afraid of the unknown to either end it, move the relationship into a different direction, or in your case – change the dynamic (which I think is the first port of call – if that doesn’t work then it’s time to dust off the samsonite). Kudos TK for getting yourself back together and making your relationship work for you. Regards, Rob

      • del
        September 17, 2011 at 12:20 am

        great points…..

  7. Holy Order of Garlic
    February 25, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Another outstanding enslavement tactic is: KILL HIS CONNECTIONS/BLOW HIS COVER i.e. she’ll tell you you’re doing ok dude, but your family, friends and your work and hobbies are to blame for all “our” difficulties…you ponder this….self doubt sets in then you have no cover, you are now the sole target and the man-oblivious assault begins in earnest….and wait…what’s that sound? It’s ballet music…and you better start dancin…Operation NUTCRACKER was a success.

    • Mike
      February 25, 2010 at 8:54 pm

      It started with my friends. A friend of mine and I went to the movies every weekend to see the latest “guy movie”. She wanted me to take her see a “chick flick” instead so we could “spend time together”. Then when we went out, she didn’t want to “sit in a movie theater”, she wanted to do something else. My friend eventually stopped calling. Then she heard me have an great hour long conversation with my sister (she had just bought a new aquarium and I’m a “fish tank guy”), but as soon as I got off the phone started with “Why don’t you talk with me like that?” After that she targeted my sisters every fault – real or theoretical. She acted as if my sister and I were having an affair!

      • Jb
        July 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

        Being “jealous” of my conversations with mom or sister is what hits me here. My ex grew to what became an insidious hatred for my mother or any friend that I had “nice” conversations with on the phone. She would often say that I NEVER talk to her that way or that I ALWAYS speak so lovingly and caringly with my “family” and I treat and talk to her with “disdain.” This has really f’d with my head, as she has accused me of having an unhealthy relationship with my mother and that I am somehow my mother’s surrogate husband….more than making it sound creapy. I take care of occassional financial concerns for my 70 year old mom, and when I speak to her, I am nice. Is that so weird??? Truth is, I was so afraid of being perceived this way by my ex that I kept my mother away, didn’t invite her over, etc… against my own good judgement.
        PLEASE EXPLAIN….WHAT IS IT ABOUT THESE WOMEN AND THEIR HUSBAND’S MOMS AND SISTERS. By the way, I greeted my wife with a note, text or email almost every morning just to remind her that I was thinking about her…like flowers every day.

      • Aapeli
        August 6, 2010 at 2:01 am

        Movies! Ha-ha!

        My brother invited me to come to a movie theater with him and his girlfriend and he also invited my girlfriend (one with the NPD). So I asked her if she would come and she said yes. But then she had a condition to it. She would have to be able to make it to the gym after the movie. I thought no way she is going to make it as the gym closes very soon after the movie ends. But I thought it’s OK if she comes to the movie any ways and so there we went.

        The movie wasn’t at all the kind of a movie my gf likes and she sat there her arms crossed and looking angry the whole duration of the movie. My brother and his gf noticed that too. I thought “OK this sucks, I should not have brought her here to ruin the evening for all of us”. Then the movie ended and she looked furious and told me the movie was very bad and then she was in a big hurry to make it to the gym. I thought she was being irrational as she insisted she must get to the gym. It’s not like she could not go there any other evening! Why the hell did she say yes to the going to the movies if she knew she doesn’t want to be there. I guess I learned my lesson there – I will not go to the movies ever again with her. If the movie is not the kind of a movie SHE would like to see, she is going to ruin it for everyone. I felt sorry for my brother and his gf that they had to endure my gf being there and acting like a jerk. She has been fine other times at the movie theather but then every time she was the one who picked the movie. If it’s someone else then she is going to have massive problems with it.

    • Deborah
      March 23, 2016 at 1:11 am

      I am the mother of a son who is married to a woman like this. They have 1 child, whom I haven’t seen in 7 months. He is 18 months old. My son is now under the distorted belief that his dad and I were terrible parents. It’s all her brainwashing. She’s manipulative, coniving, vindictive, cruel and downright mean. I said goodbye to my son, and reminded him we will always be here for him. (if he ever realizes he’s been brainwashed and leaves her)

  8. JAP
    February 25, 2010 at 1:00 am

    It’s a recurring pattern of behaviour described here.

    Dr. T is a GREAT source of information and I am thanking my personal God I found this site. A site that is not gender biased to the side of the female. I am still trying to find my way out of the black hole. Day by day I feel stronger. Funny thing is that of all the stories I have read on this site, I probably have it the easiest to find my way out. I just haven’t done it. Good luck to all.

  9. Mark
    February 25, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Dr T, what never ceases to amaze me is the fact that they all seem to say and do the same things – almost verbatum.

    I am luck enough to have come out the other side – realising, the fact that it isnt me its her and she will be exactly the same with some other unfortunate.

    How can these women be so predictable? It has to be ‘learnt’ behaviour – do they just experiment or do they take the lead from other unstable family members around them?

    To any guy who is reading this and is still in an abusive relationship – it seems like love, chemistry etc…….but it isnt. There are so many other beautiful women – but they are also beautiful on the inside, which for me now, would be a deal breaker

    • Keiichi
      February 25, 2010 at 8:02 pm

      This morning after reading How Abusive Women Brainwash You, I sat down to think and write my thoughts down on paper. One of the most difficult things to personally understand during, or after being involved with a woman with BPD/NPD is that love isn’t the real emotion being felt. Prior to reading this I thought there was only one kind of chemistry, and that it’s always positive. What I’ve been experiencing is the chemistry of abuse.

      It’s been a slow process for the information provided here to make it through her distortions. In the past when I’ve commented here I’ve called her my friend/ex. The truth is if someone loves you they wouldn’t abuse you, finding ways to hurt you. With her love is not something present between me and her, nor is friendship. Because a friend wouldn’t feel enjoyment from hurting you.

  10. Christophe
    February 25, 2010 at 12:07 am

    I too found myself reliving each moment in the early stages of the relationship reading this excellent article. It was only when I got away for her few months that my sense of self started to return. Another thing that helped the brainwashing was her constant talking which had the effect of making it impossible to string a complete private thought together. Even when she was ‘being nice’ and wasn’t directing the verbal diarrhoea at me she gave me a running commentary on everything that was happening around us.When I did try to express myself I could hardly finish off a sentence without an interruption or she was always ready with a helpful comment such as, ‘hurry up, you’re too slow’.

    After two years of this my mind was numb!

    • nick
      February 25, 2010 at 3:54 am

      “hurry up your too slow” WOW…I used to hear the exact same words…..

    • Mike
      February 25, 2010 at 8:04 pm

      I never got that “curtesy”. When I would finally start to get a word in, she would continue talking or change the subject as if I wasn’t speaking. I began, as I got better and the relationship was declared “over”, to make dramatic mouthing without speaking “I’ve-been-cut-off” and would act like I’d just been cut-off by someone walking passed me. Then she would stop, looked angry that I was suggesting that she was rude, and let me speak briefly before cutting me off again.

    • Aapeli
      August 6, 2010 at 1:51 am

      My NPD girlfriend doesn’t get it when she keeps talking to me non-stop about some trivial thing and I at first acknowledge her and she then continues to talk about the same thing she starts to annoy me with her non-stop talking. I finally, after like half-an-hour, tell her to shut up (or maybe not that bluntly – I tell her that I am not interested in the subject and that she should not try to get me to talk about it any more), she will get angry at me for that.

      An example. Just a day ago I had to listen to her explaining – or trying to figure out – what she would do with some empty juice bottles that would have to be taken to her mother so the mother could put new juice in the bottles. I listened to that for about 15 minutes and then told her I really don’t care about the whole subject at all and then she became angry at me.

      She was trying to decide how she would take the bottles to her mother and she couldn’t decide between a bicycle and a car. I told her she needs to use her car (lots of bottles so that was the most sensible option). But she could not accept that and was trying to come up with a way to do it using the bicycle. At that point I lost interest in the subject because I had given her my good advice and as that was not okay to her I decided I will let her deal with it alone. If she has that kind of a big problem with such a trivial thing and she isn’t willing to take my advice even though she keeps talking to me then I take the liberty to ignore her. But I would like her to stop harassing me about the subject. With harassment I mean that she will keep asking me questions about that trivial thing that I already told her how she could solve it. I consider that’s harassment, she ask me but shows no intention at all to accept my advice, then keeps asking me about it. It’s like she is just blabbering for the sake of it. I actually told her that she can talk about it but that she should leave me out of it. I considered it was actually polite from me to tell her quite politely that I am not interested in the subject as I already told her what to do. I appreciate a girl who talks to me but that’s harassment as far as I am concerned – it’s okay if she keeps talking to me but she should not expect me to answer every single question if it’s about the same trivial thing I answered 15 minutes ago. She got upset because I wasn’t answering her repetitious questions basically about the same subject. I was thinking WTF is wrong with this person, does she not understand that this is not supposed to be so hard? Just some bottles that need to be transported – it’s not like it takes two people to figure out what to do. She is not that stupid, in fact she is smart, but then when she does things like that I can’t help but feel she is often times being irrational.

  11. Sean
    February 24, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I was always suspicious that my ex wife was secretly trained by the CIA and stationed at Guantanamo Bay, before going undercover to peel away every layer of self until out of desperation the shell of the man I used to be crawled back to my former self and divorced her. I have become detached from her behavior but have to deal with her with are 3 children.

    The children, my financial support and my family(parents, siblings and my friends) are still used as tools in her behavior.
    That is one subject I would like to you to write about here on your blog..Please!

    • shrink4men
      February 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Sean,

      How is your ex still using your family as tools? I can guess how she’s using the children you share. Is your family colluding with her?

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

  12. thom
    February 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Thank you for yet another insightful article. I appreciate the addition of HPD with the BPD/NPD descriptions.

    As I was reading your article, I was actually reliving each moment as it unfolded in my relationship…

    Chillingly accurate.

    Luckily, through counseling, reading your articles, and going as close to no contact as possible (we have a child) I have been able to unravel her twisted web and break free from her abuse for the greater portion of a year now.

    Keep up the great work!


  13. Mellaril
    February 24, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Read it, believe it. My ex-gf actually admitted the following:

    1) I was the most stable person she had ever met and would try to destabilize me.
    2) She couldn’t control me.
    3) As I would meet one set of demands/expectations she would change them. The harder I tried, the more she resented me.

    At one point, I asked her to marry me and she declined (luckily for me). Until she later left town, our relationship had a “let’s pretend this never happened” quality to it. She never really tried to assign blame for the problems, she preferred to deny the existence of problems at all.

  14. Verbal
    February 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Dr. Tara, you have an amazing gift for expressing what life is like being married to a Cluster B woman.

    Because I have self educated over the last several years, I have no trouble recognizing the manipulations and stratagems that my wife uses to gain control over me. Before I became aware of BPD/NPD, I fell into a lot of the brainwash traps that you describe here. Today I recognize them for what they are, even to the extent that I play a little game of Cluster B Bingo in my head when she is presenting her traits. “Aha! She’s taking a minor transgression and extrapolating it to a major character flaw! Bingo!”

    So while I am now essentially resistant to her brainwashing, the experience remains unpleasant. Interestingly, I learned to “say nothing” in response to her accusations even before I read your advice to that effect in one of your previous posts.

    Keep up the good work. Your blog is an island of sanity, and clearly has found a large target audience.

  15. Dave
    February 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Spot on, Thanks.

  16. Lauren
    February 24, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    My mother is an extreme version of this. The simpliest and easiest way I have learned to think of these people and deal with them/her is that my Mom is a very spoiled 6 yr old emotionally in an adult’s body. Everything that was mentioned above especially the moods is 6 yr old behavior. Being the child of one of the monsters, I can’t even describe it. I just figured it all out at 50 yrs old with the help of a therapist. Sadly if you are their child, you think it is normal. So I’ve been involved with one narcissist or sociopath or jerk after another until now.

    My poor father lived a miserable life for 30 yrs and finally left but she had me so brainwashed, I didn’t realize the whole picture until 20 yrs after he died. He left her to find a little happiness and divorced her and seemed like the bad guy to me so I rarely if ever saw or spoke with him. My mother and these women are the living embodiment of evil. You can’t deal with them. Why oh why would you stay with them. Run Run Run and please don’t have children with her and figure out why you allow this treatment or are attracted to it. Is one of your parents like this? Bless each of you. Peace.

    • Tatiana
      March 18, 2010 at 3:37 am

      Lauren, thank you for this your post. I’ve shown your post to my husband so that he understand completely what was happening in the past 30 years of my life; and the decision to stay away from my parents esp. mother. She will never change because everybody around her is an enabler by not standing up. I’ve stood up and she disowned me. No family contact but im happy now.

    • velvetgrapes
      March 18, 2010 at 10:23 am

      I just read your post and Tatiana’s.
      Finally there are people like me who feel this way about their family and concern over our father’s well being.

      My father is in his early 60s and it makes me sad and angry to hear my mother walk all over him and he does so much for her. I want my dad to be happy and I wish my mom learned anything from the current situation (everyone hasn’t spoken to her) that no one approves her bad behavior. She has been expressing sadness over it but she’s less likely to change when things go back to “normal”.

    • Brian
      April 1, 2010 at 1:18 am

      My mother is also a very good example of this entity of pure evil. I’m really happy to say that I’ve realized it at a relatively young age (im now 18) and once I realized that my mother is just a small bratty child in an adult body, everything became crystal clear. This wretched woman has caused me severe stress, depression, isolation, suicidal thoughts, and so on. This world can do much better without people like them. I feel really sorry for anyone unfortunate enough to spend their childhood with one of them as their parent.

  17. uburoi
    February 24, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks Doc! Revelation time! That is exactly what I allowed to happen to me. You can’t be a victim if you do not allow yourself to be. With that, comes respect for the self which obviously, I had little of, which perpetrated the cycle of emotional and physical abuse. Ladies and Gents, we cannot fix, heal, or cure someone else until we have done it for ourselves. I went from a marriage which obviously was not happy (otherwise the ex BP1 GF would have never been allowed by me to break it up)to a nightmarish torrent of abuse. Alas, from the frying pan into the fire. Two things I have read and been told are: “A woman or man cannot break up a happy marriage…they just can’t” and also, “Clean up the mess in your own backyard before you try and clean up someone elses.” Good god I’m glad to be alive and not under the foot of that deceitful siren any longer.

    • shrink4men
      February 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      You can’t be a victim if you do not allow yourself to be. EXACTLY, uburoi.

      I’ve watched smart men give away their power and esteem to screeching, uninteresting and not too bright petite tyrants for many years. It’s painfully obvious what’s going to everyone but them, which is why I began to suspect brainwashing or programming tactics are at play. So I did a little research and it wasn’t difficult at all to connect the dots.

      Dr Tara

  18. Jon
    February 24, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Thanks for another insightful and enlightening post Dr. T. Can’t wait to read next week’s follow up!

    • shrink4men
      February 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      Thank you, Jon.

  19. Ron
    February 24, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    This describes it , exactly. It was torture and harrowing. Thank God, she cheated and I got out.

    • shrink4men
      February 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      I’m glad you got out, too, Ron.

      Dr T

  20. Kev.
    February 24, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    thank you.

    People ask me “what happened”, and I’ve tried to put it all into words. You’ve managed to capture the essence of my time in Hell perfectly, including a few familiar examples. :)

    My new response to “what happened” will be a link to this article.

    • shrink4men
      February 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Kev,

      You’re welcome. I still thinks it’s amazing how emotional predators and intimate terrorists instinctively know these tactics. It’s frightening, actually.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • Jim
        March 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm


        What percentage of the population exhibits these characteristics? Any idea? Do you have a rough sense? My guess it is pretty small but it seems large because of all the people affected here.

        Also, do you have a sense that these type of people get worse with age?

        Since these people are so good at pushing buttons, is there a silver bullet to push their buttons and get them off your back when “no contact” is not an option.

        • shrink4men
          March 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm

          Hi Jim,

          Research from 2007 finds that 1-2% of the general population has BPD and 75% of those officially diagnosed are female. I think 1-2% is a low figure. Many women and men who exhibit BPD traits go undiagnosed. I believe it’s closer to 6% if not higher. Approximately 1% of the general population is diagnosed with NPD. Again, I believe this statistic is due to significant under-reporting and failure to make an accurate diagnosis.

          An article on counselingresource states:

          “Personality Disorders are present in 10 to 15 percent of the adult population, with Cluster B accounting for approximately 9 percent based on research.”

          I think it’s closer to 15-20% re: Cluster Bs, which means 1 out of 5 (4 out of 20) people have BPD/NPD/HPD/APD or some combination. If you factor in the other diagnostic personality disorder categories (Cluster A: paranoid, schizotypal and schizoid; Cluster C: Avoidant, Dependent and Obsessive-Compulsive) and increase that figure as well to 15-20%, it means that 8 out of 20 people have some hard wiring issues that make it impossible to have a healthy adult relationship.

          Dr T

    • AG
      March 1, 2010 at 6:04 am

      Tara ,
      This article of yours resonates among all men alike , irrespective from countries . I am from India and the MRA movement in India is very strong with hundred thousand active men and their families . We read your article always and have it on our blogs so that people cam learn from your fantastic articles . This article holds up a mirror in front of men and not a single man in our movement can deny that these did not happen to them . The language may be different and country may be different bu the behaviors are exactly the same .

      Thanks once again ,

    • Aapeli
      August 24, 2010 at 10:49 pm

      I was just thinking about the exact same thing!

      I came back to this website (you can see other comments made by me here..)

      Yeah, there are a few paragraphs in the article that I would like to give to my family to explain what went wrong with me and my girlfriend. I think the articles at this website explain it perfectly.

      I just wish I could have understood sooner what is happening to me. Now I am an emotional shell, feeling that my identity has been destroyed, I have almost no self-confidence at all, every day is a struggle for me to get something done, obviously I’m very depressed. So basically this relationship has destroyed me and now I need to re-build myself. It’s going to be a massive task to reverse the damage that has been done by this poisonous relationship.

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