What does it mean when an abuser is nice? There are one of three options:
- It means he wants to be nice, either to bolster his image around others and/or to convince himself that he’s a good person.
- He wants something from you and it’s a manipulation strategy.
- He’s in the recovery phase of the abuse cycle.
When an abusive person is nice, he persuades himself that the other person is the one with a problem because after all, “Look how kind and generous I am.”
In reality, the periods of kindness, are simply a different approach to control and manipulation. These periods give illusions of change, but are nothing more than covert strategies to maintain the upper hand in the relationship, set the stage for further control, and keep everyone involved stuck in a state of distraction.
Following is an example given by Angie Atkinson, Narcissist Relationship Recovery Coach, which is a perfect illustration of what victims of narcissistic abuse contend with.
Consider the fishing lure. When an abuser is nice, he is throwing you what looks like a morsel of kindness. This niceness can be in the form of a compliment, an apology, a moment of insight, or some otherwise “non-mean” gesture.
Now consider the idea that the abuser’s “nice” is akin to a fishing lure; in this case, the nice behavior is really a disguise, just as fishing lures are disguises. Fishing lures claim to be food for real fish; however, when a fish bites a lure, he is caught. What happens to a caught fish? Why he gets killed, disemboweled and eaten!
“The fish is destroyed for seeking to be nourished.”
An abuser seems to have a keen ability to hone in on your largest vulnerabilities and offer to meet you there. His lure is perfect for tapping in to your deeply felt unmet needs (many of which have been created by him over time.) So you take the bait.
“He purposely dangles your deepest desires to ensnare you.”
Don’t be fooled. Understand that there is a reason for the good behavior, and it most likely has nothing to do with what’s best for you. Abusers are addicted to power and control. They get filled by this power and control. In fact, any time you give an abuser emotional energy because of something he did, you cause him to feel powerful and in control.
Also in line with the fishing lure example is the hook. Once you take the bait (the abuser’s nice behavior,) you in turn, take the hook. Now you are “hooked,” and your abuser has you right where he wants you, under his control. The nice behavior was a manipulation designed specifically with you in mind.
Unfortunately, the victim has a role. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not a victim blamer. I agree with Lundy Bancroft: “Abuse is a problem that lies squarely within the abuser.” What I mean when I state that the victim has a role, is that she does. Victims of abuse have certain traits when confronted with abuse:
- They have a hard time holding on to or remembering abusive incidents.
- They are very forgiving and understanding and willing to move on.
- They feel compelled to help their loved one change and grow by loving him better.
- They take on the abusive behavior as a “we” situation that should be solved as a couple.
- They tend to take responsibility for the abusive behaviors in their loved one.
These traits are compounded even more when a victim is confronted with kindness. She gets lulled into believing that he is trustworthy and reliable. She becomes more willing to forget the bad stuff. She allows herself to become more vulnerable, exposing more of her weaknesses to her abuser, giving him further ammunition to exploit her with in the future.
Victims of abuse have a hard time holding on to the reality of the relationship when there are good periods. This inconsistent reinforcement manipulates victims into waiting for these good periods to reappear in the future. Victims’ longing for the good times is a powerful force for staying in the relationship. This is how a trauma bond is formed.
What the abuser experiences, based on the victim’s responses over time, is a burgeoning reinforcement of his entitlement to his collection of comforts and privileges (Bancroft, 2002).
It is hard to change this dynamic because victims often are so beaten down emotionally that all they have to hold on to are the times when he is nice, no matter how fleeting. And as she is holding on to her fantasy (that some day all will be well,) he is holding on to his (increased power and control.)
If this is where you are, it is important for you to realize that in order to recover from an abusive relationship, you must give up the illusions that he is changed just because there are calm or nice periods. because these thoughts keep you trapped and increase your feelings of helplessness and disappointment when he returns to his “old ways.”
Atkinson, A. (n.d.) When the Narcissist is Nice, Beware! The (VERY POWERFUL) Fishing Lure Illustration. www.youtube.com
Bancroft, L. (2002). Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group.