There are many tactics an abuser can use to control and manipulate his victim. In a previous article, I talked about gaslighting, which is a tactic my abuser used often. Today, I want to focus on another common tactic: isolation.
In today’s society, we’re constantly connected to the outside world through our cellphones, computers and tablets. With so much access to the world around us, it’s hard to imagine it’s possible to isolate someone without physically cutting them off. In fact, even prisoners keep in contact with the outside world.
Unfortunately, that’s what makes this emotional abuse tactic so effective. Making someone believe they’re alone when they’re surrounded by people is a crushing blow to their mentality. It wrecks self esteem, causes depression and can lead to other mental health struggles. It weakens a person, making them easier to control and victimize.
Isolation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a sneaky tactic that happens so subtly it goes unnoticed until it’s too late. One day everything seems normal, the next you suddenly feel entirely alone.
Generally, an abuser will attempt to isolate you from your friends and family. To do this, he may express jealousy or displeasure in the amount of time you spend seeing or speaking to the people you’re closest with.
Here’s an example…
Maybe you have a standing Thursday night drink date with your best friend. You’ve been meeting her at the same bar to de-stress from the work week for years. It’s nothing crazy, just two girls gabbing in a corner booth over a glass of wine.
Your abuser might begin complaining about how you never have time to spend with him because of this meet up. He might insinuate that you only go to the bar to flirt with other guys. Perhaps he’s upset you “aren’t willing to compromise” with him about activities he wants to do on Thursday nights.
To make him happy, you bail on your bestie one week. Maybe you make an excuse, saying you’re not feeling well or too tired. Either way, you stay home because it’s what your significant other seems to want.
The next week, you have every intention of going to meet your friend, but the complaints and jealousy start again. Maybe you argue about it. Your abuser might make you feel guilty for wanting to go. Maybe he says something like, “you don’t care about how I feel or what I want.” In the end, you decide it’s easier to bail again instead of continuing to fight with your significant other.
Next thing you know, 3 months have gone by and you haven’t been to your meet up. She’s sick of your excuses, and you realize your text message conversations are less natural and feel forced. Soon, it’s almost like you’re talking to a stranger. That’s how easily isolation slips in.
Your abuser will use guilt, jealousy, and intimidation to cause you to pull away from your loved ones. Your world slowly shrinks to revolve entirely around your abuser. You have no one to turn to and no one to confide in. Despite having access to your phone, you have no one to call. You suddenly feel entirely alone.
The sense of loneliness causes you to cling tighter to your abuser. You fear if you loose him, you’ll have no one left. This fear only strengthens his control over you.
There’s a reason that isolation is such an effective technique. Your abuser essentially convinced you to do it to ourselves. Technically, you CHOSE to ditch your bestie or bail on a lunch date with mom. You feel responsible for the distance you’ve created between you and you’re friends and family. You feel like you have no one to blame but yourself.
Often by the time you realize what’s happened, it feels like it’s too late. You don’t feel you’re capable of mending those bridges or you allow stubborn pride to prevent you from trying. But this works to strengthen the hold your abuser has over you, too, and only further increases your isolation.
Days quickly become filled with loneliness, stress and depression. You don’t believe you have anyone to lean on for support, so you continue suffering in silence.
Breaking the Cycle
I’m here to tell you suffering in silence does nothing to break the cycle of isolation. In order to do that, you need to reach out and be willing to put your pride aside.
One thing I quickly learned when I decided to reach back out is that the people who truly cared about me were still there. They didn’t disappear or turn their back on me. They embraced me when I reached out and assisted me in overcoming my isolation and my abuse. They were there even though I couldn’t see them.
The very first step in overcoming emotional abuse is building a supportive team around yourself. Whether that includes family or professional resources, you need to find people you can lean on to support you.