We do that because, in the moment, we chose to stay in the relationship, even though the sailing isnt always smooth. Some of the time, we fail to recognize that were actually excusing behaviors that should never be tolerated. People with insecure attachment styles whose emotional needs werent met in childhood do this more often and for longer than securely attached people who are much more likely to call out hurtful behavior because, for them, its anomalous.
Those who were used to being marginalized, ignored, mocked or picked on in their childhood homes are much more likely to normalize or excuse bad behaviors. Its a bit like the pile of boots and shoes by the front door that you get so used to that alas you no longer see it. (For a more in-depth discussion of how this affects unloved daughters, see my new book,Daughter Detox:Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life.
Tools of manipulation and power
All of these behaviors are ways of exerting control over you, and are signs of an imbalance of power in the relationship, as well as clues to the other persons motivations. Some of them are more obvious than others but the real key is whether or not youre calling them out for what they are or whether youre pleasing, appeasing, rationalizing, denying, or making excuses. We all need to take responsibility for whether or how we tolerate behaviors that shouldnt be a part of anyones emotional landscape.
Marginalizes your thoughts and feelings
Laughing at you or telling you that he or she doesnt care what you think is not okay, or that your feelings are unimportant or perhaps laughable. Or that your thoughts are wrongbased on fuzzy thinkingor that youre too sensitive or too emotional. These are manipulations, pure and simple.
Calls you names or disparages you
Its one thing to complain about someones action or inactionhow he or she failed to deliver on a promise, kept you waiting for an hour, didnt take out the trash, etc. It’s quite another to criticize someones character, replete with examples; These criticisms usually begin with the words You never or You always, and what follows is a litany of everything the other person finds lacking or wrong about you. This is not okay, ever. If this is a pattern in the relationship and you feel denigrated or put-down most of the time, do not rationalize the other persons behavior by making excuses (He only called me names because he was frustrated with me or She really didnt mean what she said. It was just the heat of the moment.) By making excuses, you encourage the behavior and, yes, normalize it.
This is a power play, used by people who perceive the other person in the relationship as weaker or easily manipulated; parents do it to children, using the force of their authority, as do adults who are intent on control. The gaslighter calls the other persons perceptions or vision of reality into question by denying that something was said or done, and then suggesting that youve made it up or misunderstood. The gaslighter preys on what he or she knows about your level of confidence in your perceptions as well as your insecurity and games both.
Treats you with contempt
Mockery, laughing at you, or displaying physical gestures like eye-rolling to communicate contempt for you, your words, and your actions is never okay and always aimed at exerting control over you. Every healthy relationship requires mutual respect, and the absence of contempt should be a hard-and-fast rule for everyone.
Projects his or her feelings on to you
In his book, Rethinking Narcissism, Dr. Craig Malkin points this out as a narcissists favorite ploy, calling it playing emotional hot potato. Rather than own his or her feelings and take responsibility for them, the narcissist projects those onto youtrying to make his or her anger yours, for example. This shifts the balance of power in a subtle way because while you can see his angerhis fists are clenched, his jaw muscles working, his face is flushednow youre on the defensive, saying that youre not angry.
Manipulates your insecurities
This ploy is akin to gaslighting but goes further to shut you down, stop you from speaking out, and keeps you contained and controlled. With this behavior, he or she takes advantage of the knowledge he or she has about youthat you get nervous when someone gets angry, that youre likely to back down if youre challenged strongly enough, or that a stray comment about your weight will make you docile and apologetic, for exampleand uses it to make sure you stay in line. This can be harder to see but if its a pattern, youre floating in a toxic sea.
A refusal to listen or even discuss an issue youve brought up is one of the most toxic behaviors of all, and both frustrating and demeaning at once. The worst thing you can do is take responsibility for someones refusal to communicate, especially by falling into the habit of self-criticism or blaming yourself for picking the wrong time to initiate discussion and the like. This is a highly toxic and manipulative behaviorthats the bottom line.
All of the behaviors are efforts at control. They have no place in a healthy relationship.
Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016.
Photograph by Milada Vigerov. Copyright free. Unsplash.com