This was a really painful book for me to read and this is going to be a really painful review to write.
I once had an employer who fit the emotionally abusive criteria in this book. When he first hired me, he treated me very well. He praised my abilities often. He gave me credit for increased business. He sent me to training and paid for it. He gave me the second best office in the building after his. I thought I had the best boss ever – so much better than all the ones I’d had before. I worked really hard for this boss, and it was my pleasure. It’s nice to have my hard work acknowledged and appreciated!
After a few very happy years, I started noticing that he seemed to be undermining my projects and encouraging other employees to keep information from me that would help me do my job. It didn’t seem to matter if clients were being harmed in the process. No boss would do that, would he? I was just being paranoid, wasn’t I? He started discouraging me from learning new things. He started telling me I didn’t have the ability to learn what I wanted to learn. Then one day he insulted me in front of other employees, then tried to talk me into quitting. When I wouldn’t agree to quit without finding a new job first, he fired me. Then he asked if we could still be friends!
This behavior was unlike any I’d ever experienced before, and I found it baffling. I didn’t enjoy the process, but I got over it pretty quickly because I found a better paying job with an even better boss within 18 hours. I’d noticed this boss lying to other people in the past – I just need to be more skeptical about people who lie, right? If I ever meet someone like this again I’ll be able to recognize it, won’t I?
During the summer before last, I started dating a guy. I was really impressed by how he treated me. He opened doors for me. He made baked goods for me. He showed me lots of affection. He seemed interested in what I said and when I did nice things for him he expressed appreciation. It was wonderful to finally be in a relationship where I was treated well – so much better than all the others. I met his friends and family. Nobody warned me to watch out. For months he talked often of our future life together. We discussed where we’d like to have a wedding, what kind of reception, where we’d live, whether to get a trailer so we could haul two kayaks. I’d never caught him in a lie about his background or work or anything like that. I’d never seen him lie to anyone else – I thought he was an honest guy. When he said he loved me I believed him. I trusted him completely.
For several months he had also been suggesting there might be something wrong with me, like ADD or Asperger’s. I thought he was trying to help me be healthier but I realized later he didn’t want me healthy – his goal was to gradually break down my self confidence. Several times he expressed doubt about my ability to manage money even though I have no debt and he has quite a bit (an example of a manipulation called “Projecting”). He put down my appearance. He told me my web site gave him a virus when it didn’t have one. I did notice he seemed gradually less interested in my activities and interests but he still feigned enough to satisfy me. One night this past summer he talked about where to go on a honeymoon and the very next day, he told me he’d been thinking about breaking up with me for months. Why? Because he was angry that I had a garden and rented an art studio, plus I didn’t make enough money to suit him. He tried to talk me into breaking up with him but when I suggested I go into counseling to try to fix what was wrong with me instead, and made an appointment, he cruelly dragged out the process for several days then dumped me, in order to cause maximum pain and humiliation. He said I was the best girlfriend he’d ever had, he had to dump me because of a “gut feeling”, he loved me and still wanted to be friends later! (Of course I realize now he meant none of that, it’s just an extra bit of cruelty typically added on to confuse the abused person and delay their recovery.)
Well, here I was taken in by the same kind of emotionally abusive person again, going through the exact same stages again, only this time it was much more hurtful because I had really loved him and was changing my plans for my life to include him in it permanently. I thought I was safe with him but he wanted to hurt me for having interests and accomplishments. What is wrong with me that I am vulnerable to this kind of abuse? How can I avoid getting sucked in again?
I read this book hoping to get answers, and I learned a lot. There are certain subtle warning signs that I will pay more attention to next time, although I’m not sure how early one can detect abuse if the person is really good at hiding it. My ex-boyfriend is a very good actor and he had apparently read up on what signs to try to hide – he seemed to cover his tracks ahead of time on so many of the characteristics I should have been looking for. According to the author they do try to hide these things until they are sure you really love them and will really be hurt by them. There are guidelines to tell whether an abuser is a good candidate for change and how to tell if they are changing. I realize I’m lucky I got dumped because the vast majority do not change. Some of them dump you as a punishment for not agreeing with them on everything. How do you know if you’ve been abused? This book will help you figure that out. Lying to someone for months is abuse, for example. There are chapters in the book that address when the relationship goes further than ours did – what to when you’re financially dependent, if there are kids, if you fear it’s not safe to get out, if it escalates to physical violence. It was helpful to read about some of the things I’ve been spared. My emotionally abusive boss had been taken into custody for physically assaulting his wife, I found out later from public records, so the pattern described in the book sure does fit. It’s reassuring to read that my abusers wanted me to think there is something wrong with me so I’d be easier to control but they may have attacked me precisely because there is a lot RIGHT with me and it feeds their ego to hurt me because I am so accomplished. Their incomprehensible behavior now makes sense – making you feel great in the beginning is a tactic called “Love Bombing”. It was painful to realize that the man I had been in love with was not a real person but a persona calculated to best manipulate me – this is called “Mirroring”. Trying to confuse you with lies or make you doubt yourself by suggesting something is wrong with you is called “Gaslighting”. Learn about lots more tactics in here.
This book was hard for me to read and digest, but there are things in here that everyone needs to know. I felt better just reading the reviews so I knew this would be a good book for me to read. Abuse isn’t just a problem that makes women suffer – my male co-worker was a victim of a brutal crime last week. What is the difference between violent crime and abuse? Both involve someone thinking that they are entitled to cause others’ suffering to meet their own selfish needs. Read this to arm yourself against abuse.
Here are some of my older book reviews.
Edit: In 2020, I wrote more about the abuse later in an online artist statement which is still being worked on and written. It turned out to be a lot longer than I planned! Here is a link to the most relevant page to this article. If you want to read more, click the arrow images at the top to scroll forward or backward. Link: http://www.limegreennews.com/roots/m.html
For those recovering from emotional abuse, these links have helped me – they might help you too.
http://liveboldandbloom.com/11/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse – recognizing the signs takes awhile sometimes – it can creep up on you slowly and it can happen to anyone
https://www.psychopathfree.com/articles/10-simple-things-you-can-do-to-support-a-survivor-of-emotional-abuse.335/ – send this link to your friends and family
http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/index.html – emotion regulation
https://www.psychopathfree.com/articles/stages-of-grief-from-a-psychopathic-relationship.138/ – understanding the stages of grief might help you avoid beating yourself up for taking too long to get over it