It’s often said that “clarifying the issues” is key to resolving healthy conflict. If mature, communication is critical to a good relationship, then constantly confusing conversations without resolve is the catalyst to an unhealthy one. When a person regularly uses stonewalling to avoid authentic communication, it often causes confusion and obstructs meaningful communication and connection. The partner in the relationship is then harmed by this abusive style. Many victims of Covert Emotional Abuse (CEA) experience the damaging effects of what we call The Maze, a tactic wielded by abusers to avoid fulfilling, authentic conversations at every opportunity in exchange for dominating, dead-end communication that causes stress and confusion for the one trying to open up, create connection, or find solutions.
Like all CEA tactics, The Maze can be challenging to clarify and hard to describe, even though its damage to the victim is typically very evident. By clarifying and educating on the reality of CEA tactics and how they manifest, including how abusers try to dismantle their victims by creating a Maze of confusion, victims and first responders become empowered with the tools they need to detect and confront an abusive dynamic.
Putting a name to the CEA behaviors an abuser uses is critical, especially for victims. Without definitions that describe what they are experiencing, many individuals continue to suffer from emotional abuse before realizing that they are in an atypical setting and deserve help. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find resolution in a conversation where CEA tactics are present.
As we consider ways in which Covert Emotional Abusers create confusion, it’s helpful to keep in mind our Maze picture below. The gold arrow running through the middle of The Maze represents a healthy conversation, and every red spot represents different CEA deflections used to ensure that a collaborative solution can’t be reached.
At every point in what should be a healthy conversation, the emotional abuser will find a way to throw off the course of the discussion so that they avoid vulnerability and accountability. One way to help look for signs of CEA is through the visual of The Maze vs. the path of least resistance. The main difference is that the path of least resistance seeks to find mutual understanding, mutual respect, and resolution or even an agreement to disagree. The Maze of Confusion, on the other hand, leads the parties through obstructed paths that cause them to run into communication deadends through the use of diverse manipulative tactics. This scenario often plays out with outbursts of anger in the conversation, lying in order to stonewall discussion, or by shifting the blame on the victim for something the abuser did wrong.
When Covert Emotional Abuse is steering communication, it usually means that the abuser and victim are living in two opposing realities. They each view the relationship and their roles within it differently. The victim exhausts their efforts to find ways to connect authentically while often remaining blind to the tactics being used by their partner. All the while, the abuser views the victim as a mere extension of themselves meant solely to serve their ideals, unable or simply refusing to acknowledge the disparity. These opposing paradigms leave both victim and abuser confused and frustrated by the other’s reaction. The strain from such encounters is exponentially greater on the victim.
The way to know if CEA is taking place is by differentiating motives behind behaviors from the outcome. For example, the abuser who has a distorted emotional language, or none at all, uses CEA tactics to create a Maze of Confusion in order to avoid detection. If the outcome that the abuser achieves is to gain negative control over the victim while the victim is diminished, suppressed, and weakened, then, you can safely deduce that the abuser aimed to achieve those destructive ends and that the relationship is abusive.
Imagine the frustration, invalidation, and pain a conversation brings in which a victim hears, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but you must be mistaken,” or when a supposedly trusted individual says in response to their disclosure of abuse, “I can’t imagine what you are going through, but it’s your problem.”
The dynamic that is taking place in such responses is to shift responsibility onto the victim and away from the abusive partner or first responder who should be helping at that moment.
Now, imagine a conversation in which a victim hears with utmost sincerity: “I’m deeply sorry for hurting you. I will do everything in my power to never to do that again,” that is followed up with supportive actions. Or, from a first responder reacting to the disclosure of abuse: “I can imagine how frightening it must have been to take the chance to tell me what is happening to you. Please, tell me more.” To a victim, such simple statements can be the difference between healing and further harm.
These types of responses allow the vulnerable to know that their feelings are acknowledged and valued. When we offer acceptance of a survivor’s perspective, we validate their personhood, allowing them to safely process the emotional, physical, and psychological damage that may be occurring.
As you interface with victims of abuse, we highly encourage you to keep The Maze in mind and consider showing it to those with whom you are working or ministering to. It could serve as a strong act of validation. For those who are experiencing the effects of The Maze, seeing this picture can bring clarity in an instant after a long time of being confused.
This information comes from our full training and curriculum. If you need training and support in your role as a first responder, The M3ND Project would love to come alongside you and your organization to equip you to bring healing to the families in your care. Click the following link to learn more about our training and how to sign up: https://themendproject.com/i-want-to-help-someone-being-abused/gain-tools-to-respond-to-abuse/
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