Covert Abuse: How to Handle the “Quiet Ones,” Part Two

Here is Part Two of Covert Abuse: Watch Out for the Quiet Ones, Part One written by CrazyBuster, SSG. SSG offers some great suggestions for handling the “quiet ones.” The following tips are also good advice for handling the “loud ones.”

How to Handle a “Quiet One” or a Covert Abuser

Based on what I learned in counseling, from my conversations with other CrazyBusters, and by observing a man victimized by a “quiet one,” here are some suggestions for identifying and handling this kind of under the radar, high-conflict ex.

Most of these suggestions are preventative measures, but they can be employed at any time:

1. Admit that your abusive ex is not a nice person. If your ex is a serial cheater, abusive controller, etc., and/or demands that her happiness come at the expense of your happiness (e.g., insists that you give up your livelihood, your family of origin, your beliefs, your children from another marriage, your friends, your hobbies, etc.), she is not nice person. That doesn’t mean she can’t have a nice moment from time to time if it suits her agenda, but fundamentally, she is not a nice person. Nice people don’t abuse you nor do they make their happiness contingent upon your misery.

Does that mean that you should start a war with her or him? No. Just admit to yourself that she or he is not nice. And remember that when she tries to violate your boundaries or asks for special favors that will almost always come back to bite you on the backside.

2. No action is still a kind of action. If your ex disregards court orders and does things like move your children out of state without your consent or the court’s permission, fails to follow the visitation schedule or takes your minor children out of the country without your permission, your inaction sets a precedent. She knows you will not challenge her. If you want this kind of nonsense to stop, you must take strong and perhaps legal action and nip it in the bud asap.

3. Beware of abusive jerks bearing gifts, be they female or male. Just because the ex’s new love dumped her or she’s found religion or therapy does not mean she’s miraculously cured of her nasty ways. Any sudden attempts to befriend you or your new partner (that is, if she will even acknowledge that you’ve moved on and have a new partner) may be an indication that she’s manipulating you and intent on re-engaging with you.

Keep all communication with a high-conflict ex civil, brief, infrequent and business-like (BIFF = Brief, Informative, Firm and Friendly). Focus on the kids and be realistic. Leopards, especially Crazy leopards, rarely, if ever, change their spots.

4. Pay attention to your gut. If you fear that challenging your ex and her demands will result in her withholding the children, listen to that feeling. However, don’t let your fears control you or guide your decisions.

It’s important to acknowledge your fears because they will tell you the kind of person with which you’re dealing. Even if your fears are legitimate, cowing to them and your ex is probably not in your best interests. Never challenging your high-conflict ex — e.g., not setting boundaries — will only reinforce her demanding and controlling behavior. For example, if she keeps threatening to “take you to court” over non-issues or outrageous demands, you may want to consider calling her bluff.

5. Pay attention to early warning signs. Note your ex’s behavior when she learns you are dating. Be aware of any cries for attention and control. This may be difficult if she uses the children to make you feel guilty or if she exaggerates or fabricates crises regarding the kids because your natural instinct will be to rush to your children’s rescue.

More often than not, this is a calculated manipulation to get you to engage with her and has nothing to do with the children. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist if your high-conflict ex begins these manipulations once you begin dating. Get an outside opinion on what might really be happening, so you can better handle situations in which you’re being manipulated. Even learning to take some deep breaths and knowing what questions to ask when she calls with yet another false crisis can help you to discern truth from fiction and a real crisis from an attempted manipulation.

6. Remember that you have the right to move on with your life. Divorce is not the end of the world. Children survive it. If you date and/or remarry, that does not equate to abandoning your children. Although, your high-conflict ex may accuse you of this and tell the children and anyone else who will listen that you have “abandoned” her the children (even if she’s the one who left you!)

In our case, the children had the opportunity to see their father more, as I helped contribute to their travel expenses. Just because your high-conflict ex wants to stuff you in a cupboard like a toy and selfishly hide you away from others to keep you from moving on with your life doesn’t mean you have to let her. In fact, it’s very important for your recovery and well-being and the well-being of the children that you do not allow her to guilt or intimidate you into doing this.

7. Keep educating yourself about high-conflict personalities and how to manage them. Keep doing what you’re doing right now by reading and learning and working on yourself. It’s also important to talk to friends or family members about what you’re going through with your high-conflict ex for support and so they don’t unwittingly get sucked into her lies, distortions and manipulations.

Some of my husband’s biggest realizations came from trusted co-workers. One female co-worker bluntly stated, “It sounds like your ex-wife is a control freak. Don’t let her do that!”An older male co-worker simply said, “She wants your loyalty to be to her first and to your wife second – that’s her issue.” My husband needed to hear these blunt truths from those not emotionally involved in the situation.

8. Work with a good therapist who understands these kinds of issues and who isn’t an apologist or enabler of personality disordered individuals (APDIs). Working with a skilled therapist can help you build the necessary tools to set boundaries and help you to gain or maintain your rights as a father.

Being with your abusive high-conflict ex, whether she’s a quiet one or a loud one, probably caused you to catch some of her “fleas” or unhealthy traits or behaviors. Working with a therapist can also help you learn how to handle conflict productively and help you to heal from any trauma you incurred while with your ex.

The quiet ones are clever, sly and incredibly manipulative. They are not dummies.  They aren’t the types who will put themselves in situations where they could get arrested or exposed for their malicious behaviors. They are well-versed in making you and/or your partner, her victim(s), look like the bad guy(s).

The stealthy actions and quiet demeanor help the more subtle emotional terrorists inflict their harm. Just like so many professional con artists/sociopaths appear vulnerable, calm and trustworthy as they bilk their victims out of thousands of dollars or lure them into dangerous situations.

Fortunately, you don’t have to remain a victim of your covert abuser’s manipulations and abusive behaviors. You can learn to protect yourself and your loved ones and quit allowing your abusive waif ex to keep you engaged. You can escape her control and find the peaceful fulfilling life you deserve.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/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.

Comments

  1. Awakened says

    True as can be. My ex has finally ramped down on most of this behavior. I was so angry with her from the beginning I simply wouldn’t talk to her unless I had to. So, in essence I was doing most of this anyway, just for a different reason. Occasionally this year she would try to re-engage me but guess what? It didn’t work. Wow, am I glad to know about this site Dr. Tara. Thanks a million. You don’t know how important this site is.

  2. says

    The information provided on this site is priceless. It’s been my lifeline to sanity. I can’t express how grateful I am for the courage showed by Dr. T and other correspondents like SSG and Micksbabe for their contributions.

    As a budding writer myself, I really appreciate the simple and direct language used to express very complex issues around the hard-to-spot manipulative and abusive behaviours of HCPs and BPDs.

    Dr. T, you’ve created an awesome resource here. Great job. Keep up the good fight!

  3. david says

    1. Admit that your abusive ex is not a nice person

    I, after many months, came to this realization. It is a hard thing to accept. There can be no double standards. If they do unsavory things….they are an unsavory person…PD or not. A lightbulb moment for me; if her false allegations would have somehow stuck (it’s not unheard of an innocent person being railroaded), I would have been sitting in jail while her and some of our ex-mutual friends would be having a good time in a bar on Friday night looking for someone else to screw over. These people will do ANYTHING to cover up their lies and manipulations…remember that.

    • SSG says

      When my husband’s ex cheated on him and threw him out, she ensured beforehand that his career was gone as well. While she was cheating and as they were having a custom home built that she apparently thought would be hers and her lovers, she convinced my husband to retire at a young age from what he loved doing. After she threw him out and he refused to allow her to keep the house (which she wanted to do), she moved the kids and her lover out of state.

      People cheat and divorce. Not a good thing, but, holy cow, do you really have to go that far out of your way to try to completely annihilate the other person? Still, my husband convinced himself that she was “a nice person.”

      No, she’s not a nice person. While other people make mistakes, she has a long history of trying to destroy other people’s lives. That is a character flaw, not a mistake, no matter how “lil ole me?” she acts afterwards.

      It wasn’t until his kids stopped speaking to him (the youngest for almost 2 years) that he finally accepted that, no, she’s not a nice person at all.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Hi david,

      I’m very relieved that her false allegations did not stick. How did you avoid her traps? Did she actually try to press charges against you?

  4. exscapegoat says

    “Nice people don’t abuse you nor do they make their happiness contingent upon your misery.”

    Preach it sister, preach it!!!!! Ditto for “but sheeee looooovesss youuu!” You (general you, not you specifically) don’t show love and niceness by making other people’s lives a miserable living hell for no reason other than you can’t handle your own issues. I’m so tired of people enabling/apologizing for abusers in this matter. It doesn’t making them loving or nice, it makes them f**king abusive a**holes. I’m beginning to wonder if the enabling/apologizing for it is a form of abuse in and of itself.

    “The quiet ones are clever, sly and incredibly manipulative. They are not dummies. They aren’t the types who will put themselves in situations where they could get arrested or exposed for their malicious behaviors. They are well-versed in making you and/or your partner, her victim(s), look like the bad guy(s).”

    Again, spot on! Thanks for saying this and bringing awareness to this.

    • TheGirlInside says

      Amen and Halleluiah! This is why I think of PD’s as which color of a**hole is it? Rather than ‘poor poor dear has a mental disorder.’

      Making mistakes usually leads to apology + (PLUS) amending, changing some part of how you acted to ensure you will not hurt the other person again. Without the second part, the apology does not mean diddly squat.

      Trying to destroy people = evil. PD or no PD. Period.

      • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

        Making mistakes usually leads to apology + (PLUS) amending, changing some part of how you acted to ensure you will not hurt the other person again. Without the second part, the apology does not mean diddly squat.

        This, this, this, this, this.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Therapists who enable this abuse are . . . ugh. No words.

      I hope to god they’re not doing it knowingly, although, doing it unconsciously is just as scary.

      One wonders if they’re so quick to excuse and enable the abuse of males.

  5. SSG says

    You are so welcome. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to take what was a horrible situation and hope that our experience can help someone else in the smallest of ways! I remember feeling so incredibly alone and confused when it all hit the fan here.

  6. LiliM says

    Great Article, SSG! It’s so true, those who don’t scream and carry on and expost the crazy to the world are not seen as threatening. I would bet those who know your husband’s ex would say, “But she seems so pleasant, and nice!” because they see the basic manners that even crazees can pull off.

    What TGI said is also very signifigant. There needs to be an apology, and an attempt to change behavior. In your husband’s case, the ex has no remorse, and feels nothing over the fact she ruined a big part of your husband’s career.

    Yep, she is evil.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Don’t ever forget, LiliM. All of their abuse is okay because they’re hurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrting and their pain is bigger and badder than anyone else’s pain (especially the pain they inflict upon others) and when their victims’ feel pain, well, how dare they? How dare their victims try to get any sympathy or attention or help? They’re the real “victims.” They’re the “victims” whose needs must always come first.

      By telling one of these types that her or his behavior is hurtful, you’re victimizing them for victimizing you, which clearly trumps your victimhood.

      My advice, let them keep the victim tiara and get the hell out and as far away from them as you can.

  7. Closure at last says

    Great ones – both part 1 and 2 on the ‘quiet ones’. In the animal kingdom, the best predators are those who are best at camouflage. Covert abusers are the camouflaged predators.

    Also, I’ve often noticed (and heck, being a mix of several ethnicities, it’s not non-PC if I say the following:) since a majority of American women are quite openly talkative, after having been with any loudly ranting PDed women, many American men make the mistake of thinking that women in some other cultures (especially French – enforced by sterotypes like the movie ‘Amelie’ or Asian women – again stereotyped by the ‘shy lily-type’ in films or the submissive-type in nostalgic-history films) might be fighting less, or easier to get along with, and mistake the external ‘quietness’ as being an absence of PDs. (Note: often ‘quietness’ might be due to limited English language skills, but in the confines of home plenty of verbal fireworks will be going on.) The ‘other’ is exoticized or idealized after domestic war in the American home-turf. Reality: Many men often get a rude shock when they discover that personality disorders and abusive women can occur anywhere, in any demographic, culture, country, population. It is a HUMAN condition, not a cultural one, and no one is free of that. Good and evil women exist everywhere. So the ‘quiet ones’ in other cultures might be as abusive as the louder ones here and elsewhere. Interestingly – books like ‘the Rules’ etc. teach women here how to act coy and quiet to lay the trap, while eastern cultures have already taught those rules for eons.

    So bottomline – one can never know who may turn out to be a psycho. Better to go by the red flags. Remember the venus fly trap and the skills of camouflage.

    “The quiet ones are clever, sly and incredibly manipulative.
    The stealthy actions and quiet demeanor help the more subtle emotional terrorists inflict their harm. Just like so many professional con artists/sociopaths appear vulnerable, calm and trustworthy as they bilk their victims out of thousands of dollars or lure them into dangerous situations.” True, oui – c’est tres vrai.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Victims come in all shapes and sizes and cultures and religions and ethnicities.

      Crazy knows no bounds and is cross-cultural. This is why I feel bad for men who think they’re avoiding this kind of abuse by marrying a non-western women who end up getting steamrolled by the big-time manipulator who are looking for citizenship and to start their new life in America with the assets they steal from these men — that is, after they make up false allegations of abuse.

  8. Jason says

    I like this site, but I’m getting tired of the stereotype that abusive women (and men) are nasty and obviously abusive. There are abusive women (and men) that don’t hit, rarely yell and are genuinely nice and well behaved to other people and usually to you. Their abuse is almost entirely emotional and intimate; it truly is quiet. Calling each incident by itself abuse comes off as being hysterical or exaggerating. But it’s not just one incident, it’s death by a thousand, each so small that even witnesses to the abuse, such as children and family, and the abuser easily dismiss it.

    Another mistake is assuming the abuser is cognizant of their abuse or manipulative in any planned way. For myself and other victims of this quiet abuse, this is the worse aspect, yet I think the most common. It wears at you in a devastating way, especially since there is no malice, no ulterior motive, just behavior.

    In my own case, my wife did disassociation, something I suspect she learned as a young girl due to the absence of her father in early life and an emotionally abusive/narcissistic mother–who is equally genuinely unaware of her own behavior. Many people scoff at that, as I did early on in my marriage, but I’ve since realized that it’s true. I’ve also realized that despite seeing similar behaviors from my wife, I rejected them because she was so clearly unconscious of her behaviors and how devastating they were to me.

    This isn’t to say there aren’t people who are deliberately cruel and even evil and there are those with personality disorders who are quite aware of their actions, but they make up the minority. Most people with personality disorders aren’t obvious at all, especially since they often reflect behaviors with a normal range. For example, just because someone is extremely self-confident doesn’t make them a narcissist. Likewise, just because someone has a temper, doesn’t make them borderline.

    It is challenging for any man to admit he was abused, but if he can point to something obvious, it is acceptable. I’ve noticed over and over again on mixed-sex blogs, and even here to some extent, the notion that abusive women (or men) are obvious; there are red flags; you should have known. Even the host of A Voice for Men has repeated this crap. IT ISN’T TRUE. Even during the marriage, many of the so-called “red flags” are more minor that things that happen in genuinely good marriages.

    The problem is that this means it’s really damn hard to figure out if marital problems are due to a mismatch, a confluence of circumstances, drug use, inability to handle money and/or children, a myriad of other things, or due to one or both spouses having a psychological disorder.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Hi Jason,

      I think death by a thousand cuts is far more painful and, yes, abusive than a punch in the face or periodic rage-outs.

      Just because the abuse is delivered in a soft tone of voice or with a smile doesn’t mean it’s not just as abusive as the more obvious stuff. And people who hurt others in this way are not nice even if they have the appearance of niceness.

      I don’t buy the “abuser who isn’t cognizant of their abuse.” If you tell someone who is hurting you that they’re hurting you and they deny it or willfully refuse to acknowledge it, it doesn’t make them any less culpable.

      Often, when you persist in confronting the “non-cognizant” abuser with their abusive behavior every time they do it, the abuse will begin to become more overt and less covert.

      Most people with personality disorders aren’t obvious at all, especially since they often reflect behaviors with a normal range. For example, just because someone is extremely self-confident doesn’t make them a narcissist. Likewise, just because someone has a temper, doesn’t make them borderline.

      All valid points. Infrequent emotional outbursts over legitimate issues happen in otherwise healthy marriages and so does conflict.

      Some red flags are more obvious than others. The covert behaviors are more difficult to spot in isolation. If one can take a step back and look at all the covert and overt behaviors in a big picture kind of way, I think it can give you and idea of exactly what you’re dealing with. Specifically, men and women who are dealing with covert abuse need to look for patterns — is the abuse an ongoing pattern? Have you asked your partner not to behave in those ways? Do they respect your request or deny the reality of your experience and continue to hurt you? Must you validate their every emotion while they ignore or dismiss yours? Are you having the same kinds of pointless arguments over and over in which you’re the villain and there’s never resolution?

      One consequence of being in this kind of relationship is that you get stuck in survival mode and go from one fire to the next, from one emotional crisis to the next, from one undermining insult with a smile (which is confusing as hell, btw) to the next and only see one tile of the mosaic at a time. Most guys are so busy treading water, so to speak, that they don’t stop to look at the entire picture and so they continue to doubt and second-guess themselves.

      • Jason says

        I don’t buy the “abuser who isn’t cognizant of their abuse.”

        There is a reason psychologists don’t like treating people with Borderline Personality Disorder. They rarely see their behavior as abusive and refuse to recognize that they have a problem.

        Other disorders can have similar issues. When the abused points out the abuse, the abuser simply does not see it that way. Instead, they believe the abuser is making up stories; exaggerating to get their way. They often see themselves as the abused, as the victim, not out of artifice, but because they really see the world that way.

      • Jason says

        “If you tell someone who is hurting you that they’re hurting you and they deny it or willfully refuse to acknowledge it, it doesn’t make them any less culpable.”

        I didn’t say that at all; quite the opposite. The point is that assuming an abuser is aware of their abuse as abuse is a mistake I and many others made to our detriment. We assumed our spouses were fundamental rational; that they could be reasoned with; that in time, they would become aware of their behavior and change it. In hindsight I realized exactly the opposite occurred.

        In my case, I do believe my wife has a conscience, but just when she would begin to be aware of her behavior as hurtful to me, she’d pull back, go into idealization mode and disassociate herself from her previous behavior. I had assumed she was doing this consciously until our marriage counselor talked to her and eventually witnessed it first hand and assured me that is wasn’t conscious. That’s what I struggled with the most with the divorce.

  9. niceguynomore says

    Here is a email from my therapist in response to all the stuff my wife did/said.

    “I am not denying how you feel and I don’t believe you should be mistreated; however, at some point there has to be an opportunity for reconciliation. The only way reconciliation is not possible is if you don’t want it. I have spoken with XXXX and she does. Thus, you are the only one left for reconciliation to begin. The key point here is that reconciliation is not just on your terms only. There has to be flexibility. Rigidity (my way or the highway) is not going to work.”

    I just refuse to be treated that way again and now I’m the bad gut for saying enough with abuse. How is saying no I don’t want to be mistreated anymore abuse?

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      I just refuse to be treated that way again and now I’m the bad gut for saying enough with abuse. How is saying no I don’t want to be mistreated anymore abuse?

      It isn’t.

      I would say, the only way reconciliation is possible is IF your wife recognizes that she has mistreated and abused you and is willing to get real help to stop her abusive behaviors.

      She wants to reconcile. So what? What is she willing to do to show that she will be different? If she won’t get real help, demonstrate that she is working at changing and actually change over a significant length of time, it’s irrelevant that she wants to reconcile.

      To me, your therapist’s message is “Your wife wants to maintain the status quo and you’re the person who is standing in the way of maintaining the status quo.”

      That’s not change and it’s NOT therapy.

  10. niceguynomore says

    That is my point. She denies and minimizes the things she has done to me. When I bring them up she says why are you so mad and is that all you have.

    In public she is one person kind and caring but at home she is the opposite.
    Withholding sex,affection,money, questing my manhood, yelling, name calling are normal. I call myself taking the high road never getting down on her level and telling her I didn’t like way she was treating me. Long story short now to friends, family, my pastor I’m the bad guy for saying I’m leaving and won’t be treated bad anymore.  

  11. ItzaSekret says

    Dr T, Could you suggest three questions to vet a therapist during couple’s counseling, re: ability to recognize BPD, particularly in the “quiet/victim” type?

    For eg: it’s tough for me to differentiate between “radical acceptance” that acknowledges BPD, and a counselor who’s been completely duped.

    At nite my ex would rage like a bull, but during the day with witnesses around… she’s quiet as a lamb.

    thanks-

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