I didn’t rewind the videotape. I made supper, fed the children, cleaned up then sat at the table to eat my meal. He wanted to watch a movie. This was back before DVD’s were popular. Our daughter had been watching Thomas the Tank Engine all week long and we kept replaying the same movie over and over again for her. I was also breastfeeding a very sick baby.
I sat down to eat when I felt the walls rock and something go whistling past my head. Before I had a chance to even look up he slammed his fists into the table next to my plate. Startled, I stared up at him, wide-eyed with surprise. The baby started to cry.
I didn’t know what to expect next. He often flipped tables or hit walls. I sat very still, all the while making eye contact with him.
“Don’t ever leave a tape in the VHS player and don’t take it out without rewinding it.” His voice was low, controlled and menacing. “Ever”
He finished his statement by staring straight into my eyes while overturning a dining room chair. He turned and walked deliberately away from me. I released my breath. I never knew what was going to happen in these situations. I suspected at some point the tossing, throwing and pushing would be me physically but it hadn’t happened yet. I got up from the table, my appetite completely gone. I went to care for the baby.
Webster’s Dictionary defines intimidation as : to make timid or fearful: frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats.
Intimidation can be communicated both verbally and physically. As in the situation above, the primary intimidation tactic was non-verbal and the verbal intimidation was used to just back up the message of impending danger.
Most communication is projected and received through non-verbal cues. This is ever so much more the case with abusers. Body Motions, body stance, looks, glares, and expressions are all ways that a person communicates their mood and intent. Abusers use non-verbal communication to both manipulate and confuse their victim. It works great for them because they can deny a look or a gesture as part of the victim’s imagination while at the same time causing their victim to fear them.
Abusive Intimidation using facial expressions
Whenever we are in a relationship with someone we, of course, get to know them very well. We pride ourselves in being able to look across the room and know what our significant other is thinking. We understand their scowl, their happy face, their love look, their shock or angry face. We recognize when they are being funny, are offended or are bored. The more we know someone, the more accurate we become in deciphering their different facial expressions.
The beauty of a close relationship is this intimate connection; unless that connection creates fear. I remember being able to predict what kind of lecture or silent treatment I’d get on the way home just by looking at his face. I could see the cloud from above his head and know that he had something to say and I’d hear it all.
I remember at bedtime, I’d be rocking my kids and he’d walk past the door to the bedroom. It took just a glance for me to see what I used to call ‘the look of death’. Can you imagine, rocking your children to sleep and seeing a look on your husbands face that is so dark and so menacing that the only words to explain it is ‘the look of death’? (abusive looks and gestures)
Using facial expressions to intimidate is not only scary and confusing, but it’s also abusive.
Abusive intimidation using body language
I think we can all remember getting into trouble with our parents for stomping out of the room or slamming a door when we were growing up? We were expressing our anger or frustration non-verbally and inappropriately. Our parents were right in calling us out on our behavior and hopefully, we learned to express ourselves more effectively as we grew up.
An abuser learned how to effectively express himself too, only his expressions are scary coming from a grown man. Have you ever had someone put their face in yours? Shake/wag their finger in front of your nose? Back you into a corner without ever touching you? Have you been blocked from exiting a room or been scared as he’s shaking his fists? How about when someone gives you the middle finger?
My husband used to use the middle finger a lot! Whenever the children were around and he wanted to swear at me, he’d give me the finger. It became so regular that later after I left him, a driver ‘flipped me off’ and that gesture alone sent me into a panic attack! I had to pull the car over until I could calm down.
Using body gestures and posture to intimidate someone is abuse. It is used to intimidate and control the victim. There is a myriad of ways an abuser can use his body to intimidate his victim and his victim knows these expressions and gestures very well.
Abusive intimidation using objects
As in the story above, an abuser can and does use his body language to indicate his anger. My husband threw things on a regular basis. He could clean sweep a table or desk with one large swipe of his arm. Later, he’d throw things at me even hitting me with what he threw. In the story above, he threw the VHS tape and slammed his fists on the table, then he knocked over the chair. Of course, I always had to clean up these ‘anger messes’ as I called them.
Using a weapon is another form of abusive intimidation. I saw a picture on the internet of a woman who came home to knives sticking into each step leading upstairs. Abusers might leave a gun on the table or bed. He might clean it while angry or just carry it around the house while ranting, striking fear of death and bodily harm into the victim.
Some abusers use their car as a weapon of intimidation. He’s mad so he’ll start to drive recklessly….recklessly doesn’t seem to really capture the sheer terror a victim feels as she is a passenger in an out of control car. If she’s driving he might even reach over and grab the wheel making her swerve or lose control. Abusers have also been known to try to run over their victim or even try to run them off the road.
An abuser might break something that is important to you or to your children. He might break random items in the house or break the house itself by putting holes in the walls and windows. They can throw, break, punch or slam items to intimidate the victim. The message is always the same “This could be you.” This could be you being thrown against the wall. This could be you his fists are slamming. This could be you he pushes over..(Abusive Mind Games..)
When someone uses an object or an item to intimidate you, it’s abusive.
Abusive Intimidation using words
Verbal communication involves more than the words that come out of our mouth. The tone and tempo of our words also communicate the intended message. In the story above, my husband used a controlled, low and menacing tone of voice. I had no doubt regarding his level of anger or that he was threatening me.
Abusive verbal intimidation is terrifying. The verbal words confirm to the confused victim exactly what is in store for them if they don’t tow the line. Verbal intimidation is used to take away the power of the victim and shut down their ability to think or respond clearly. It causes fear, chaotic thinking, and a fight, flight or freeze response in the victim.
Interrupting and talking over; not allowing the victim to respond in order to keep control of the conversation is verbally intimidating. Using verbal attacks instead of open communication is abusive intimidation. Talking in circles and being purposefully ambiguous is using verbal intimidation. Lecturing, explaining endlessly, talking down to are all forms of verbal intimidation that will wear the victim down and prevent her from communicating. Also, calling names, using abusive jokes or humiliation to put a victim in her place is abusive.
My husband used to make beeping sounds when I bent over…as though I was a mac truck. He loved to give me the angry silent treatment to punish me. Although, this is using silence instead of words to intimidate me, it was very effective because I had no way to gauge what he was thinking or feeling. As a victim of ongoing domestic abuse, I was always measuring his abusive temperature and checking his weather so I’d have a chance at keeping myself safe. Silent treatments are abusive verbal intimidation. He’d keep me up late at night talking for hours and hours about a small infraction I’d committed. His particularly favorite thing to do was to deny that he was doing any of this! Denying what he was clearly doing is called ‘gas lighting’ and can make a victim feel like they are sincerely mentally ill.
All of these techniques of abusive intimidation are used to gain and maintain control and power in a relationship. The facial expressions, gestures, body language and verbal language all communicate far more then what can just be seen or heard on the surface. Nobody deserves to be abused in any way. I understand first hand how confusing and harmful the long term effects of living with an abuser can have on a victim. I encourage you to reach out for help. It’s okay to break the silence and refuse the shame of admitting that someone is treating you horribly.
Finding support from a friend, family member or even the domestic violence hotline, will help you feel less confused and less alone. Abusive intimidation is terrifying and when you are also experiencing other forms of domestic abuse, you may very well fear for your physical and mental safety. God does not intend for you to be abused. No matter who you are or who you are married to, he wants you to experience a full life in Him. A life filled with love and peace and safety.
If any part of this blog strikes a place of knowledge in your life please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.