Red Flags – Controlling Behaviour


Criminal Justice (Series 2, 2008-9) follows the story of Juliet, a woman who has been tormented for years by a husband who meticulously controls her every move.  It’s a familiar theme for many who live their lives in secret this way.   I know all too well that bruises can heal, but psychological abuse destroys a person from the inside out and does so in a quiet and insidious manner.  It is unseen but causes victims to doubt themselves and their reality, and often leads to their becoming solely dependent upon a sadist.

Psychological and emotional abuse are excellent forms of control for the narcissist or sociopath because they effectively silence a person from ever blowing the whistle.  This type of abuse also helps the narcissist in their never-ending quest to feel superior to other human beings.

‘Annabelle’s’ Story:

A narcissist will always test their new girlfriend or boyfriend or friend to find out if they are controllable, and these attempts to control can be subtle or big, in-your-face ones, as I found out.  The warning signs are always there if we are willing to see them but more importantly, co-dependents or victims of this type of abuse need to monitor their own tendency of brushing warning signs under the carpet.

‘Mike’ arranged some impressive dates within the first few weeks of our meeting.  During one of them he casually said, “Well, if things work out between us and we have kids one day, we could bring them to these great places too”.  Instead of taking this with a pinch of salt or seeing it as a red flag, I swallowed it whole – this is it – this is THE one!  In the same week, he arranged for me to meet his parents.

My life had suddenly taken off – here was the man of my dreams taking a big interest in someone like me.  The next day we were strolling hand in hand on a warm summer’s evening, heading to the local pub for drinks and dinner when I stopped to get a snack from a shop on the way; we still had a fair walk ahead of us, and I was starving.  What followed was the mother of all red flags, and even though it smothered my face and body, it went ignored.

“What the HELL are you doing?”  he boomed.  My mouth hung open with the now-loosened Mars Bar hanging out of it.  “Don’t eat that!  We are going to have dinner!  Why would you DO that?  You couldn’t help yourself, could you, COULD YOU?”  He was furious and barely keeping it together.  He was so disappointed in my behaviour that I almost apologised for ruining his night.  My old friend, Shame soared like a bullet through my solar plexus.  NO!  Not from him!  Please!  What happened?  What did I do?  Once again, I was alone in a room full of monsters.  This man had no authority to stop me eating a Mars Bar, but the dramatic physiological responses that came afterwards indicated he had every right to.  The blood drained from my face, and my lungs deflated and ceased to function.  Dread had come upon me, once again – I’d been led up the garden path to another cesspit with an ogre at the bottom saying, “You are just bloody hopeless”.

Instead of making a run for it, I tried to reassure him and defend myself, “But I never put on weight!  I’ll still eat my dinner even after eating chocolate; I do it all the time!”.  But it was to no avail, the damage was done, and there was no coming back from it.  Grovelling just made things worse.  All bullies will keep bullying until someone puts them back in their box, but I didn’t know this yet, nor did I realise that a person instigating control over someone else’s food is a huge sign of impending disaster.

We sat at the table in silence – he wouldn’t even look at me.  This was red flag 2, and torture 2 – the silent treatment.  When I caught his eye, the look on his face was one of cold contempt.  I’d seen this same look before on my mother and one or two of the nuns at my infant school.  It was the look you’d give to someone who’d done something terrible to a beloved pet.  The only nice thing about the evening was the Mars Bar, but even that was demonised (probably because I enjoyed it).  I should’ve just thrown my dinner on his lap and walked out, but I couldn’t bear to lose this perceived ‘acceptance’, or say goodbye to the ‘high’, over one weird incident.

How could I get the good feeling back after this?  The silent treatment killed my appetite, and this led to more shaming, which was slightly better than being ignored entirely.   I was chastised more about having no self-control and also, for ruining the night.  He found my weak spot – accepting blame and punishment readily.  This date had been a test, and I passed with flying colours.

I stayed with Mike for years and the controlling got worse.  It would take years to acknowledge the brainwashing effect this first ‘attack’ had had upon me.  His strange metamorphosis along with the timing and intensity of it scared me enough to quickly fawn and submit.  It had brought about flashbacks from early childhood and triggered within me an old coping mechanism – I must try to please this person in order to regain his approval (instead of walking away to find a healthier person to date).

In a very short time, I’d become hooked on feeling wanted and accepted as a result of the good treatment I’d received on the first few dates.  I let myself believe the impossible – this was someone who was finally going to love and accept me, and it was a feeling too precious to give up.  I couldn’t bear to face the truth that this person, along with so many before him, would reject who I was a person, so I ignored this enormous red flag.

Flipping into extreme fawning and people-pleaser behaviour was a sign something wasn’t right, but back then I didn’t know how to tune into myself, or even know I someone worth tuning into.  Nor did I realise that getting systematically depleted on every level by an intimate partner was not in fact normal.  In time I began to learn what was healthy and what was unhealthy behaviour and to distance myself from all that I’d known before.  Stopping to acknowledge my feelings at any given moment helped me to make better choices, in other words, I directed my attention inwards for answers and not in the narcissist’s direction.

If this post resonates with you or someone you know, please comment and share!  My goal is to connect with others to bring awareness and choice to those affected by childhood emotional neglect, codependency and narcissistic abuse.

Zoe is a Registered Nurse, Kinesiologist and Holistic Health and Wellbeing Practitioner.

Find and head to the BLOG – “A Recovery of Self” for more upcoming posts on recovery and healing from childhood emotional neglect, co-dependency and narcissistic abuse.

Photo by Tyler B on Unsplash

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