A phenomenon that victims experience, but don’t always have the words to express, is called Abusive Retaliation or Paybacks. Now, this may automatically leave us thinking about the courts and the retaliation a victim might experience after she reports, leaves or files for protection and yes, this retaliation is a well-documented concern. However, Paybacks go on all throughout an abusive relationship. An abuser will always pay the victim back in order to teach her a lesson. That lesson might be to not ask him for anything, to not become too independent of him or just because he doesn’t like something that happened and he blames her for it. Retaliation rarely comes with communication or an explanation that the abuse is retaliating, however, the victim senses that that is exactly what is happening, even if she doesn’t have the words to express it.
Paybacks/retaliation is usually a passive-aggressive, manipulative technique that is covert and insidious. That means that when you experience paybacks it is really hard, most of the time, to identify and express the mental crazy making it causes. Sometimes, paybacks are not passive aggressive, at all, but clear abusive retaliation that is openly identified by the abuser.
Payback and abusive retaliation can take many forms. Some are passive-aggressive and some are overt abuse. Regardless of what form they take, the abuser expresses his displeasure, unhappiness, resentment, anger and lack of control through aggressive behavior.
- Vagueness: Vagueness, if you can’t nail the abuser down to an exact answer, an exact story or an exact thought or feeling, then you are left guessing as to what they want. Their communication is so vague and so unclear that it creates more questions than answers. Ambiguous actions, words, looks, attitudes, and body language are all effective ways of keeping the victim focused on the abuser, as well as keeping the abuser in control of how much information they are really sharing. Ambiguity can usually lead to more than one interpretation of what was said and, no matter what interpretation the victim chooses, she will be wrong.
- Backdoor Conversation: This is a very annoying ploy for me personally. It happens when the abuser is making his point, but instead of saying what he means, they say what they DON’T mean and set a verbal trap for you to fall into. They want to refute their inference that you don’t want to be with them. They get offended if you accept that they want to break up with you instead of begging them to stay. A friend of mine’s abuser grabbed her by the shoulders and shouted “Now, you’re going to leave me!” as a way of manipulating her into promising to stay. Later, when she was ready to leave him, she had that promise hanging over her head and it made her pause. If you are a person, like I am, who takes people at their word, then this ambiguity is really hard to follow. It is a mind game, a trap, a way for the abuser to increase his self-esteem, causing you to beg, refute and try to make them feel better about the imagined offense. You’ll keep guessing as to the real intent of their statement, question or action. Instead of authentic, upfront communication, the abuser tricks you into saying or doing exactly what they wanted all along. Its like they are a thief and they sneak into the conversation by the back door, high-jacking your honest attempts at communication.
- Blaming: All abusers blame their behavior on the victim. They are incapable of taking personal responsibility for anything. If it isn’t the victim’s fault, then its someone else’s fault. If you or someone does hold them accountable, they’ll become easily offended, as a way to heap on the guilt. Their boss, their teacher, the driver next to them…They use blame as a reason to retaliate against you and correct your many wrongs.
- Denying Sex or Forcing Sex: Either one is wrong. You messed up, so either you don’t get any when you want it or you get it when you don’t want it. He uses sex to teach you a lesson. This is one of the worst paybacks and with society’s willingness to victim blame ie. what were you wearing? it can be an effective way for the abuser to get out of being blamed for hurting you.
- Emotional Shutdown: Sometimes an abuser will pay you back by pretending to shut down their emotions about everything. You failed to respect, listen to them or rub their feet, so they no longer care about anything that has to do with you. He’ll refuse to give an opinion. He’ll neither smile, laugh, get angry or show any emotional response whatsoever. The message may even be that he doesn’t need you, doesn’t want to be around you and he could care less if he’s in a relationship with you. He may be super accommodating and at the same time become so distant that you begin to doubt the relationship. He might also give you the silent treatment, as though you aren’t worth talking to or that you don’t exist. Once you express your doubts, he’ll let you know that the whole emotional shutdown was your fault, to begin with, or deny he’s done it at all and accuse you of being “too sensitive”. You have to give him exactly what he wants in order to keep him engaged.
- Financial payments – The abuser may stop paying for anything, their part of the bills, your support, for the children. If you get a job, he’ll start charging you for your portion of the bills and bill you for things he had given you before you started working. My ex called it ‘my debt to the family’. He’ll make it very difficult for you to get a job, keep a job or keep your money. He’ll always find a way to take your money and ‘pay him back’. My ex also refused to pay for our minivan and for any child support after I left him. He wanted me to pay him for the van payments.
- Forgetfulness/Lateness: Is a very convenient way of paying someone back. Did he promise to pick you up at work but this weekend you got into a fight about how many hours you are away from home? He pays you back by forgetting to come and get you. He tries to make his point by explaining that your hours are so long and irregular, how is he supposed to keep up with them? My ex used to rush us all into the car before church and make us sit there for up to an hour, while he sat at his desk to pay tithe saying that we were too loud for him to concentrate. If we went somewhere as a family, and it was my idea, we’d always show up late, usually so late that the event was ending when we arrived. I learned not to suggest outings for our family.
- Impending Doom: The abuser uses facial expressions, body language and attitudes to clearly give you the message that you are going to pay. You don’t know when and you don’t know how but the knot in your stomach and the ache in your head warns you that something unpleasant is coming.
- Obstructionism/procrastinating/Ineptness: Do you want something from your abuser? You won’t get it. He will promise it. Talk about it. Make plans for it. You’ll either hear every excuse as a reason you aren’t getting what you agreed upon or he’ll just never follow through. Another thing an abuser will do to pay you back for asking is to do what you asked but in a shoddy, inept way. This forces you to complain or redo it yourself or just choose to ‘let it go’. My friend’s ex promised to do the dishes if she sat in the kitchen to talk to him, then berated and verbally abused her the entire time. If you call them on their inept actions, you’ll be told not to complain because at least they are ‘trying’. They put forth the effort, if you are going to complain, then they won’t even TRY! In the end, no matter if they obstruct, procrastinate or become inept, you’ll be waiting forever. As the saying goes, “Don’t tie your horse to someone else’s wagon.”
- Physical Violence: He may be physically intimidating to scare you. He may physically hold you down, lock you in, throw things at you, spit at your or even threaten to do so. He may hit the wall, crash the car or flip over furniture. He may hit you, punch, pinch, slap or push/throw you. He may hurt your animals or break your belongings. He may threaten or hurt the children.
- Stubbornness/Argumentative/ Sulky/ Hostile: Unfortunately it is common for an abuser to pay you back by being stubborn, digging in their heals and making it impossible to communicate or complete a project. They may do this by arguing about everything. They’ll challenge you at every turn, making your life miserable. If that doesn’t work, they’ll sulk. They’ll have a little pity party, go off by themselves and act like the victim. Finally, if you still don’t respond, they’ll become openly hostile. They’ll call names and/or become verbally or physically violent.
No matter what kind of payback or retaliation your abuser uses, You Do Not Deserve It. They do these things to as a way of controlling you, knowing that these actions will eventually make their victim feel crazy. The Abusers enjoy watching their victim suffer emotionally. Their paybacks discourage trust, discourage mutual respect, discourage relational give and take. Retaliation sets the abuser up to only receive what they want and releases them from having to give their victim anything in return. Feeling the need to pay someone back for a slight or wrong, real or imagined, is immature. Those attitudes express entitlement and selfishness. A mature person will not give in to these desires.
In a grown-up, healthy relationship, adults are supposed to be able to communicate clearly and honestly with one another. Clear and Honest communication reinforces feelings of trust and love. Being in a trusting and loving relationship encourages healthy, emotional bonding. If our relationships are healthy and based on mutual respect and good intent for each other, imagine how our children will view the world as they grow up. They will learn about effective communication. They’ll have healthy bonds with both parents. They’ll engage with the world in respectful, insightful and healthy ways.
If this blog post has resonated with you; if you have a story about one or more of these types of paybacks/retaliation, please share in the comments! We’d love to engage in healthy conversation and respectful discussion about our abusive experiences!!
PLEASE PRESS THE LIKE BUTTON BELOW IF YOU LIKED WHAT YOU READ