The number 1 tool of abusers is isolation. The reason why it is the most used form and usually one of the first forms of abuse is two-fold. First, isolation keeps her feeding off of him. He sets himself up to provide her with her basic needs, emotional needs and define what she should think as well as who she is. Second, isolation keeps the victim from connecting with help. If she can connect with people, read books or in any other way be influenced or educated about abuse, then she will be more likely to leave. By isolating the victim, the abuser reinforces that he is the most important person in the world to her and that she doesn’t need anyone else for any reason.
Isolation can happen in any number of ways. Of course, we all think about isolation as physically moving to a new location. This happens quite often, but there are many forms isolation can take without ever moving the victim from her original location and often, even if she does move, her isolation begins long before physical distance is made.
Step 1: Cause division with family and friends
This begins on an emotional plane. The abuser will question the validity of the victims relationships. He might cast doubt on their intentions, their honesty or even their love toward the victim. Emotional distance is the goal. If she is isolated emotionally, then she will rely on him even more to fill her emotional needs. He often steps in as savior and supports her like nobody else can. He teaches her who she can trust and who she can’t trust; based entirely upon his opinion. He loves her though, and wants what is best for her. She needs to respect him and listen to him because he’s the only one who has her best interest in mind. He’ll listen to her life stories and use those against her by twisting them and explaining then in such a way that her support network all of a sudden begins to crumble. They aren’t trustworthy, she missed how abusive, dishonest and disloyal they’ve been to her all her life. He is right and, since she never saw these things before, she can trust him. She falls deeply in love with him and often without even realizing what is happening, she stops seeing her friends. She stops calling her family. Her mistrust of them, that he has created, separates her from the very people who could help her.
Step 2: Prevent her from making new friends by being jealous
This is successfully done through jealousy. He will tell her how much he loves her and wants to protect her. He will express how much he loves spending time with her but along with that will come anger if she wants to spend time with anyone else; dismay and guilt tripping if she tries to spend time alone. If she takes steps to create some space between him and her, he will become unreasonably angry.
This is a step that escalates quickly. First, you are restricted from making new relationships, simply because you must spend all your time with your abuser. After a time, you’ll find that you are restricted from shaking other peoples hands, especially if they are of the opposite sex. You get into trouble if you look them in the eye. You are accused of flirting if you talk to someone else. You have to be extremely careful not to trigger his displeasure with you when you are in public.
Being jealous of every word you speak or glace you make toward another person isolates the victim and prevents her from even trying to reach out. She spends her time attempting to show him that he has nothing to worry about and that she is totally trustworthy. Staying vigilant so as not to vex him effectively side tracks her so that she doesn’t even pay attention to the real issue, mainly, his control and jealousy.
Isolating the victim from friends, the opposite sex and family also serves to allow him to teach her to ask him before she trusts someone. If she socializes with the wrong person, he will get mad. If she talks to a co-worker, she’ll pay for it.
Step 3: Prevent her from joining her community through intimidation
Abusers can be really scary people. Most of the time they are gentle and kind. When crossed, they turn into intimidating, scary tyrants. Most of the time the tyrant is kept at home, however, sometimes the tyrant will show his face in public. If she does something, or someone approaches her, he may fly off the handle and attack or intimidate the offender. This is very scary. Since the victim has been conditioned to be responsible for the behavior of her abuser, she will take this attack very personally. She learns quickly to keep to herself when out in public. Sometimes she cannot avoid interacting with other people but she sure does try.
Step 4: End her attempts at having a ‘life’
He needs her to stay home and allow him to support her, so now he begins to shut down her life. She is enrolled in school, well that will have to stop. He can support her. He needs her at home to look after him. She goes to church every week? No more! Those religious imposters cannot be trusted. She has to go to his church and she better not talk to anyone or make eye contact with them…remember, only he knows who to trust. Weekly shopping trips are interrupted with frequent phone calls and text messages checking on her progress, telling her what to buy and generally making it too hard for her to do anything but just come home. A night out with the girls? Absolutely not! First, if she leaves the house she has to take the children with her. Second, she has chores to do and if they aren’t done to his specification, then she can’t go. Third, he’ll just make it too hard. He’ll verbally harass her and purposely get her into a fight with him to prevent her from even attempting to leave the house.
Step 4: Physical Isolation
He moves you away from everything you’ve known and loved. He gets a job or just decides that where you are living isn’t any good anymore. What ever the case, she ends up alone and physically removed from her support network, if indeed, she has any support left. He has cut her off emotionally and physically from her family and friends. He has prevented her from reconnecting with people. She isn’t allowed to form new friendships, work, go to school or do anything without his complete oversight. She is effectively isolated and trauma bonded to her abuser. Now is when she is the most emotionally terrified as well as emotionally spent. Life is too hard. Keeping him happy is too difficult. Surviving is exhausting work.
What can you do?
If you have a friend or family member who is being abused and isolated it is vitally important that you leave your door open! She will need you someday. Let her know, as often as you can, that you are there for her. That you will not forsake her as she goes through the journey of figuring out what she is living through. If she has even 1 person who she can identify as an unconditional friend, she is more likely to get out when the time is right.
Educate yourself. Know what resources are available for her in your community. That way, when she does finally call you, reach out to you, you know how best to help. Even knowing the phone number to the Domestic abuse hotline can help her!
Pray! Keep praying for her safety. Pray that she will find the strength to leave sooner rather then later. Pray that her abuser will make better choices.
IF YOU ARE ISOLATED
Make every attempt to stay safe. You know what is required to stay safe in your relationship. Within that parameter, make every attempt to connect with someone. Call the national abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Take every chance you can to someone connect and educate yourself about abuse. If you have someone who has promised to help you, reach out to them. Most importantly, start tuning into your own thoughts, desires and trusting yourself again. Knowing yourself will help to break the chains that are wrapped around your mind. Abuse causes your thinking to become confused, your priorities are mixed up and your ability to tune into your own needs is diminished. The result is that you distrust the world outside of your home and you believe that the abuse you are experiencing is normal. The more you choose to fight the isolation, the less control your abuser will have over you. It is hard. It takes courage. However, You can do this! You can become safe and healthy again!
*Inspired by Clare Murphy’s Power and Control Wheel