By Rev. Renee



          Once upon a time, I used to have a pleasant fantasy.  In it, I would tell my birth-mother that her behavior was upsetting to me.  She would apologize, tell me that she would never dream of continuing to hurt me because she cares for me a great deal, and promise to stop her offensive behavior immediately.  Then, true to her word, she would never do it again, enabling our relationship to be happily restored.  Boy, was I living in la-la land.

          When that never worked, I had a slightly more complicated delusion.  After I complained about her mistreatment, she would continue hurting me anyway.  Since it stressed me out to be in her presence, I would begin to avoid placing myself in that position.  I would begin to feel distant from her.  I might even decide to take a break from the relationship for a few weeks or months, of which I might or might not choose to inform her, to get my thoughts together about what to do next.  Mom, sensing my withdrawal, would realize what she was doing and become concerned about losing the relationship.  Afraid that she might really be driving me away, she would come to her senses, immediately stop her hurtful behavior, and make every effort to be as pleasant to be with as possible.  Her turnabout would enable me to enjoy being with her, and our relationship would be happily restored.  Yeah, right.  What in the world was I thinking?

          If we were talking about normal people who truly do love and care for those who love them, this would really happen.  In fact, the reason we try to talk things out with a loved one who is hurting us is that we are hoping against hope for such a happy ending.  But those of us who have had the misfortune to try and reason with a control freak or an abuser quickly learn that there is almost NO CHANCE that this will actually ever happen in our situations. 

          No matter how calmly and politely we request a change, things will go south fast.  Any attempt we make to have a loving and rational discussion will quickly degenerate into a crazy-making, nasty argument.  We will be left scratching our heads and wondering what on earth went wrong, and why a simple plea for a little consideration had to be blown up into such a big deal.

          On the surface, abusers seem to have absolutely no sensitivity to others at all. But in reality they are acutely sensitive to their victim becoming stronger, beginning to heal, or pulling away from their toxicity.  Control freaks sense instantly when they begin to lose their grip on their victim, which will mean losing their ability to control her.  They are desperate to prevent that from happening, and will pull out all the stops to keep her enmeshed with them.

          An abuser will not allow you any distance, any room to breathe, or any time to think.  Many of us have tried to limit our time with our abusive relatives rather than cut off all contact.  Many of us have decided to take a “vacation”, of several weeks or months, from our relatives to see if we can clear our heads and reconcile the relationship down the road from a fresh perspective.  This can increase our self-esteem, independence, and growth, and it is the last thing an abuser wants.    

          Abusers will not respect our request for a break or for time to think.  They will allow us no more than a few days before intruding on our “sabbatical” with another call or email.  Totally lacking in self-control or any respect for what we might want, they just can’t wait to continue the discussion, add something else to what they’ve already said, or add more fuel to the fire.  When they decide we’ve taken enough time, then time’s up!  They will demand that we hear them out.  They will pressure, hound, and harass us to speak to them again before we are ready.  If, instead of insisting on the time we requested and just cutting them off, we give them an audience, before you know it we will find ourselves right back in the same old argument.

          Some of their tactics are quite obvious, but some are much more subtle.  In this article, we will discuss five very clever strategies designed to manipulate you into staying connected and under your controller’s thumb. 

          These strategies are very deceptive and not at all what they seem to be.  At first glance, they appear to be aimed at driving you further away and daring you to really end the relationship.  It is almost as if your abuser is saying, “You can’t tell me what to do- I’ll show you- if you don’t like it, then get out!” 

          But he actually NEVER expects you to REALLY do that!  Appearing to repulse you even further is really a clever disguise for tightening the noose and reeling you in.  Keep in mind as you read on that, contrary to appearances, these ploys are NOT meant to push you away- THEIR REAL PURPOSE IS TO KEEP YOU CONNECTED TO YOUR ABUSER BY FORCING YOU TO CONTINUE TO RESPOND TO HIM!  His goal is to keep you talking to him, even if the “talk” is an argument.  If he wins, you will still be having the same argument, and therefore still be attached to him, a year from now.








Strategy #1









          Normal people, upon learning they are causing pain, do their best to change  upsetting behaviors immediately.  Most of us would never deliberately hurt another person, especially someone we loved and who loved us.  So we are naturally dumbfounded when our abusive relative does just the opposite. When a control-freak senses you are pulling away or gaining strength, instead of stopping the offensive behavior, she continues, or even escalates it.

          After being rebuked, not only will many abusers not stop their hurtful behavior, they will do it even more!  They’re not going to let you tell them what to do!  It’s as if they are daring you, challenging you, and saying “Oh, yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?” But remember, although they appear to be TRYING to drive you away, they are not.  They are trying to do just the opposite- to keep you connected and arguing with them.

          This is when we can clearly see that our relative is operating in an adversarial spirit instead of a cooperative spirit.  When you begin to set limits, your abuser will balk at you taking control.  She feels as if you are challenging her for domination or power.  You are growing and becoming stronger, which threatens her.  You are no longer intimidated by her histrionics.  What she is doing no longer works, so instead of stopping, she ups the ante.

          When this happens, you are going to have difficulty comprehending it.  You will be flabbergasted, confused, upset, and maybe even angry, because you approached your relative in the spirit of goodwill to resolve a problem, and she reacted by getting even worse.  After telling her that her behavior is hurtful, to have her continue and do it even more removes all doubt as to whether she was intentionally trying to hurt you or not.  Now you will know that all along, it was deliberate. You have revealed your feelings, and she now knows what gets your goat, so escalating the abuse makes it a very personal and intentional slap in the face.

          You will not want to believe that a person you love and have always treated well is doing this to you.  You will be devastated and appalled.  You will be compelled to express your righteous indignation and to tell her how terrible she is making you feel.  Doing this keeps you communicating with her and connected to her.  Bingo!- she won! 




Strategy #2










          Escalating the argument is another way of protesting that you are growing strong enough to set limits, or to distance yourself. This happens when your relative overreacts to your complaint, no matter how polite and carefully worded it was.  You probably spent time rehearsing how to approach your relative in as respectful a way as possible.  You had high hopes of resolving the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, but you can see now that you needn’t have bothered. 


          What should be so simple to resolve, if everyone involved truly cared for each other, will turn into a huge battle.  No matter how nicely you try to start out, things will go downhill real fast.  There is no reason at all for a big fight, but an abuser will start one out of any perfectly nice attempt to clear the air. Your relative will make a mountain out of a molehill and blow a slight disagreement all up out of proportion. 

          Once again, normal people do not react this way.  How easy it would be for your relative to say, “Oh, sorry. It won’t happen again.”  End of discussion, problem solved, and everybody’s happy.  Now wasn’t that easy?  But, Noooooo……It’s gotta turn into World War III!

          Why?  Again, it’s the adversarial spirit vs. the cooperative spirit.  Abusers regard such discussions as golden opportunities to vent and have temper tantrums. Your abuser isn’t looking for a compromise, a mutual solution, or a relationship in which everyone can be happy. He is looking for POWER and CONTROL.  This isn’t a partnership, he wants to be the BOSS! How dare you? Who do you think you are to speak like this to him?  You are just a bug he can squash under his feet.

          Now, he can’t come right out and tell you that he won’t stand for anything less than total domination.  If he’s honest, you’ll probably run for the hills, and he won’t have you to kick around anymore.  But he can get more and more outrageous and demanding, knowing that you will feel obliged to respond.  He can get all worked up and enraged, knowing that you will probably feel that you must stick around to try to calm him down and reason with him, because it was never your intention to upset him.  As long as you try to explain yourself, justify your position, or even scream and yell back, he has won- because you’re still attached to him.

          When you realize that your attempt to have a calm, rational, respectful discussion is being turned into a nasty, full-blown argument, take control back and END IT.  Just stop talking, hang up the phone, or turn your back and walk away.





Strategy #3







          Putting you on the defensive takes many forms, from voicing a complaint about you to complete character assassination.  Your abuser might claim you are wrong for taking offense at offensive behavior.  She might question your motivations for refusing to continue to be her doormat.  She might that say you deserved whatever was done to you, or that you brought it on yourself.  She might tell you that you are emotionally or mentally defective (“You’re too sensitive.”, “You take everything the wrong way”, “You misunderstood what I said”, “You always make mountains out of molehills”,  etc.)  My birth-mother conveniently forgot all the battles she herself had had with my birth-father, and the life-long parade of fed-up ex-friends and relatives, when she stated, with a perfectly straight face, that I was “THE ONLY ONE who had a problem him.”

          Your relative might make an outrageous accusation or tell a blatant lie- the more outrageous or blatant, the better, because that guarantees you will feel compelled to respond.

          And how many of us wouldn’t feel compelled to respond and defend ourselves when someone is lying about us, or accusing us of something we never did?  Our abusers often know us better than we know ourselves. They know exactly how to push our buttons. They know we are so careful to be kind, nice, good, and righteous.  They know we try our best to be loving and good-hearted.  So they aim right for the personality traits that they know we value the most.  They are counting on us being horrified that anyone might actually think we were not nice.

          Once you have fallen into the trap of defending yourself, you are in for a long night.  A skillful abuser will have you justifying every word you have ever said since the year of the flood.   You will find yourself trying to explain the rationale behind every perfectly reasonable thought and every perfectly correct feeling you have ever had. 

          Just remember, your abuser doesn’t really believe what she is accusing you of, anyway. She knows it’s not true, so you don’t have to convince her.  She is not really trying to resolve anything with you, she is simply trying to keep you connected and responding to her.  And she is having a little fun while she’s at it, by getting a rise out of you and seeing that she can make you get all upset and flustered.  When you allow this, you have given her far too much power over you.

          Sister, you do not have to prove yourself to anyone except the Lord. You are never going to satisfy or please critical relatives anyway, no matter how much you try, so you might as well save yourself a lot of time and trouble and just give up. More than once I have had to inform my hypercritical birth-parents that their opinion of me didn’t make any difference anymore.  It was always going to be negative, anyway.  They seemed to have a great deal of difficulty comprehending this.  It’s tough for a control-freak to realize that one of the most effective weapons he once used to control you no longer works, and that whatever he thinks doesn’t matter. When faced with a silly and nonsensical allegation, the best answer is to simply shrug and say, “That’s ridiculous and I’m not even going to justify it with a response.”













 Strategy #4



          I was a witness to an interesting conversation between my friend Rachel and her birth-father, with whom she has had a strained relationship all her life, and especially since her parents’ divorce. Daddy dearest is an arrogant, obnoxious, intimidating, belligerent man who had spent years bullying Rachel and her mother. For some reason, when Rachel turned 30, he suddenly decided it was time to improve his relationship with his daughter, because she was now “old enough to make her own decisions.” (the implication being that his ex-wife, rather than his own behavior,  had turned Rachel against him.)

          So he summoned Rachel to a pow-wow, and she asked me to accompany her for moral support. Although I remained silent for most of the meeting, I did have some insights which I was able to pass on to her later. The most obvious problem to me was that every time Rachel very clearly expressed her thoughts or feelings to her father, he “gaslighted” her by pretending he had no idea what she was talking about.

          For instance, when she told him he had been “mean and cruel” to her mother, he asked her, “WHEN was I mean or cruel?”. If she recalled a specific incident of abuse, instead of acknowledging her accurate memory, taking responsibility for what he had done, and showing some remorse, he would put her on the defensive by asking, with feigned innocence, “WHEN did I do that?”

          NOTICE HE DID NOT OUTRIGHT DENY what she was saying. That might have caused her to become angry, and ended the conversation. He only QUESTIONED what she was saying. This tactic was not only designed to cause her to doubt her perceptions and memories, but also to force her to keep answering him. When she answered, instead of admitting anything, he would ask yet another question, thus prolonging the conversation indefinitely. 

          Whoever is the one asking the questions has taken control of the conversation and the direction in which it is headed. Rachel’s father knew that if he could keep it going long enough, eventually he might be able to lighten things up a little, share a few “good” memories, or an inside joke, and basically soften Rachel up. The point of this strategy is to seduce the “weak-willed” victim into continuing to accept the status quo and maintain a relationship with the abuser without requiring anything of him.

          Questioning you interrupts your train of thought. It literally gets you off the track of what you wanted to discuss. It puts you in the position of answering your relative while getting none of your questions answered, and none of your points addressed. It makes you stop and think, forces you to remember details and to repeat dates, circumstances, etc., to the abuser, even though HE ALREADY KNOWS PERFECTLY WELL WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. It is just a diversion, but a very effective one.

          Rachel was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken, which included many abusive or overbearing tactics and numerous veiled criticisms of her mother. She could see that they weren’t getting anywhere, but every time she tried to disengage and end the discussion, her father kept hammering her with questions and overwhelming her with chatter.  It’s amazing how long a skilled control-freak can drag a discussion out, while still managing to duck all accountability. After three hours, we made a break for it, and he followed us all the way out to the parking lot and kept on talking for another half hour until she finally closed the car door in his face.

          Thinking about it later, Rachel realized that none of the issues she wanted to address were ever resolved. Most hadn’t even been discussed. Her father had totally monopolized the whole conversation with his agenda. Rachel’s goal for this meeting was to give her father a chance to show he had changed, and hopefully to repair the relationship. But her father’s ulterior motive was to seduce or coerce a relationship with Rachel without being accountable in any way for the things he had done to her and her mother, and without committing to any changes. 

          If fences had truly been mended and a happy reconciliation had taken place, both parties involved would now feel joy and peace about their relationship. But Rachel came away from this discussion feeling stressed, unsettled, and uncomfortable, because she realized that nothing had changed and she still could not have a relationship with this man. She was exhausted, drained and felt like she had spent three hours being browbeaten.

          What upset her the most was knowing that down the road, her conniving father would use this whole episode against her, claiming that he couldn’t understand why she still didn’t want to see him after they spent such a “nice” afternoon together, cleared the air, and parted on such “friendly” terms. He would never look to himself, but would either claim that her mother had turned her against him again, or that Rachel must have some kind of mental problem to still be “carrying a grudge”. And she was right. A few weeks later, that’s exactly what he did.

          When I was in the real estate business, lawyers would often call me to negotiate deals at 11 PM or midnight, claiming they were “tied up in court all day”. Eventually I realized that this was a strategy they used to catch me when I was not at my best. If I was tired or sleepy, I would not be thinking clearly, and they might get me to slip up and make a mistake, or make a concession I wouldn’t normally agree to. When I realized what was going on, I began turning my phone off at 9 PM. There was nothing so urgent that it couldn’t wait till morning, when I was refreshed and clear-headed.

          An abuser who keeps hounding you long after you have tired of the discussion is using this same strategy. He is trying to WEAR YOU DOWN. He is trying to exhaust or confuse you until you are no longer thinking straight, so you will either give up on holding him accountable, or be convinced to concede some of his points and “see things his way.”

          Sometimes, you think the argument is over, that everything is settled, or even that the relationship has ended. Then, the next thing you know, your abuser is back on the phone starting the whole thing up again. This is because she does not feel she “won” the first time around, so now it’s time for round two. But just because the donkey brays doesn’t mean you have to answer him!

          When the conversation is just going around in circles and nothing is ever getting settled, it’s time to say, “We’re not getting anywhere with this” and END IT. Enough is enough. You can always revisit it later if you see any indication that further discussion might actually accomplish something.


Strategy #5



          Out of all the tactics utilized to keep you enmeshed with her, being disowned by your abuser is my personal favorite. It is inherently fascinating just because it is so contradictory. It’s like the oxymoron of abusive artillery.

          Disowning is a threat, or an implied threat, that is rarely carried out, although it might be, which in most cases would be a blessing. It ranges from pouting, to hanging up on you, to refusing to speak to you, to shunning you from the family, to cutting you out of the will. It is telling you that if you don’t toe the line, you’re out. It is blatant emotional blackmail.

          Disowning is often threatened or alluded to, but rarely carried out simply because the abuser does not really want the relationship to end. After all, if she loses you, she also loses the ability to control you, which is what she lives for. Also, if you are out of her life, who is she going to have to use and abuse? Let’s face it, all this time your relationship was unbalanced at best, one-way at worst- with you doing the giving and her doing the taking. What idiot would want to give that up? Your abuser doesn’t really want to set you free (you might actually like that!), she only wants to keep you in line, hence the threat to cut you off.

          Occasionally, an abuser really does carry out her threat and stops speaking to you. When she senses that you are growing stronger and distancing yourself from her anyway, this is often the last-ditch effort of a control freak to remain in control, by dumping you before you can dump her. Of course, actually changing her ways in order to make a pleasant relationship possible is out of the question in an abuser’s mind. Treating you with love and respect is simply not an option. Somebody dumping somebody is the only alternative as far as she is concerned.          

          It’s a matter of pride. No way is she going to let you take control and make this decision. She wants to end the relationship before you do, just to prove that she’s still calling the shots (But be prepared for her to lie to the rest of the family about what really happened). She is going to control the path of your relationship right down to the bitter end, and sometimes even from the grave!

          When your abuser disowns you, or threatens to, the last thing she expects is for you to shrug, say “Okay, if that’s what you really want”, and let her go. She has watched one too many soap operas. What you are supposed to do is start crying and begging her not to leave. You are supposed to hang on to her ankles, screaming “No, please stay! I’ll do anything you want!”, as she drags you to the door. Then, when you have properly humbled and humiliated yourself, she can forgive you and agree to stay, but only after making YOU promise to change YOUR ways!

          Thankfully, this tactic usually backfires on abusers. Many victims are relieved and only too happy to let their abusers go, and can then move on with a clear conscience- knowing it was the abuser’s decision to end the relationship even though the victim was willing to try and make it better.

          In my case, when my mother disowned me, I made the decision to leave well enough alone and simply do nothing further.   BUT IF THE UNBELIEVER LEAVES, LET HIM DO SO. A BELIEVING MAN OR WOMAN IS NOT BOUND IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES; GOD HAS CALLED US TO LIVE IN PEACE….1 Corinthians 7:15. I felt very strongly that the Lord had removed me from a very toxic situation that he no longer wanted me to be a part of. So I did not call her or make any attempts to get back together. I figured that she had been the one to end our relationship- if she had a change of heart, then she needed to be the one to restore it. I was heartbroken at first, but eventually I became at peace with it. And after a while, I felt relief, joy, and profound gratitude.   I understood that my Father was protecting me, and that he loved me so much that he had taken this burden from me. This testimony helped me write the article “Who’s Your Daddy?” in the Our Real Father section on our site.




          Let’s be honest. When everyone is acting in love, asking for a favor (such as a positive change that will improve your relationship) and coming to an agreement, should take all of five or ten minutes, at most. When it starts to drag out longer than that, it is only because somebody is being stubborn. When it goes on for hours, days, or weeks, then someone is refusing to cooperate and is intentionally obstructing a resolution. That person is deliberately preventing the confrontation from ending. Abusers are not interested having constructive conversations that result in nice solutions. They are only interested in WINNING.

          Because we are so predictable, our abuser knows we are going to react the same way all the time. This is how we wind up repeating the same patterns and getting dragged into the same arguments over and over again. In order to free ourselves, we need to start being unpredictable. Our relative manipulates confrontations to keep us engaged and force us to respond to her. The only way for us to fight this is to do just the opposite of what she is trying to get us to do- which is to DISENGAGE and STOP RESPONDING.

          After all, you wouldn’t spend time arguing with the patients in a mental asylum, would you? It is just as futile to continue arguing with an unreasonable, hostile abuser who says nonsensical, preposterous things and acts in crazy, irrational ways. We need to let go of the need to set the record straight, defend ourselves, and get things resolved, and embrace the need to just have a little peace and quiet!

          As long as we continue to respond to a control-freak’s nonsense, she wins. When we stop responding and LEAVE, we win! The idea is to DETACH, leaving her no one to argue with. If we disappear when the same old arguments start, she will be left all alone with no one to listen to her and plenty of time to think over her mistakes and change her attitude. 

          No matter how hard you try, you are never going to convince an UNWILLING person to start treating you with love and respect. We need to train ourselves to recognize the point at which further discussion ceases to be productive.  A general rule of thumb is that this point has been reached when you find yourself REPEATING OR REPHRASING YOUR REQUEST FOR THE THIRD TIME.

          That is when we need to STOP, pick one of the following statements, say it, and WALK OUT:

          “We’re just going around in circles. I’ve had enough.”

          “We already discussed this, I’m not going to keep rehashing it.”

          “I’m going to take that as a “No”. I’ll just have to go ahead and take other measures to protect myself.”

          “I’m not going to waste any more time on this. These are my terms. Take it or leave it.”

          “I’ve made up my mind and I’m not going to discuss it anymore.”

          “We’re not getting anywhere with this. I’m leaving.”

          “I’m not going to repeat myself again. If we’re going to see each other anymore, then this is the way it has to be.”

          “This discussion is going nowhere, so I’m ending it. I’m hanging up now. Don’t call me again until you agree with what I’m asking of you.”

          “I told you what I need from you and it’s non-negotiable. You’re either going to do what I ask, or not. When you let me know your decision, I’ll let you know my decision about continuing this relationship.”

          “I can’t explain it any better than I already have. If you refuse to get my point, then there’s no point in continuing to discuss it.”

          “I can see we’re not going to agree on this. Let me know when you’re ready to do what I’m asking of you.”

          “I’ve made myself perfectly clear. I have nothing more to say.”


          What is the bottom line here? Basically, control freaks want attention. They have nothing positive to offer, like kindness or love, that would persuade you stick around and pay attention to them, so they manipulate you into sticking around and paying attention to them by picking a fight. They maneuver you into repeating your pleas over and over. They upset you, and manipulate you into asking why they are doing this to you, so that they can involve you in an endless, pointless discussion. They have exasperated you so many times before, but you always stuck around and tried to resolve it, and that’s the reaction they’re counting on this time, as well.

          So this time we need to spring a little surprise of our own. We need to break the old pattern, be tough, and let them know firmly that enough is enough!   We need to say, “Okay, I tried. I’m outta here. Bye!” And then REFUSE TO DISCUSS IT ANYMORE, DISCONNECT, DISENGAGE, LEAVE, HANG UP THAT PHONE, WALK OUT THAT DOOR, END IT! If, sometime down the road, our relative decides to honor our request for a change in behavior, she can always let us know. Showing your abuser that you mean business is the only way to get through to her.