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People who have Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (which are all cluster B personality disorders), or who are active addicts and alcoholics with significant anger management issues, make up the majority of abusers in this country. People with these personality disorders are less likely to change how they behave (and they also overwhelmingly show that they don't want to either). Here are some basic reasons why:
*Active addicts and alcoholics: Active alcoholics with anger management issues tend to act narcissistically (see how and why narcissists verbally abuse below). Like narcissists, they cannot handle any criticism and tend to attack people who they think are criticizing them. However, they can be more violent, unpredictable, impulsive and unthinking than narcissists, especially when they are drunk. Addicts will almost always put their drug before any relationship. Ethics usually take a back seat to personal desires and needs. Many addicts sense that if they are being rewarded for being verbally abusive and manipulative, they will use it, especially if the topic includes their drug.
*Unenlightened borderlines cannot take a hint of a complaint or criticism. It is like the end of the world for them where they feel abandoned. They tend to be more verbally abusive (as well as emotionally abusive), than the general population. According to this article by A.J. Mahari: (The) core wound of abandonment, when one is very young and experiences it, is the experience of psychological death. It is intense and arouses the borderline to fight for survival while they experience the sheer terror of feeling like they might actually just die or be killed by what they are feeling. This heightened state of arousal is both psychological and biological – it is physiological. It is a strong drive to survive and rage is at its core. Rage is the most primal feeling generated and the most protective defense that a young infant can muster to try to have the caregiver return to once again provide some sense of being for the infant ... Feelings and reactions of rage are experienced by those who go on to develop BPD so early in life that they precede cognitive and verbal development. This is what makes borderline rage so primal, so intense, and in the case of the borderline so raw and unmanageable in terms of often triggered dysregulated emotion of those with BPD.
*Unenlightened narcissists make up the majority of narcissists because to be enlightened means to be willing to look as deeply within the self as outside the self. True intelligence means being able to honestly assess both. Narcissists cannot assess both. It is unclear whether they are incapable of it, or are unwilling to self reflect. Like borderlines, narcissists also cannot take a hint of a complaint or criticism. They do not try to understand themselves from other people's points of view. They will not admit, even a little, that they could be wrong. So they tend to react childishly to feeling wounded: they vehemently attack other people: they rage, deflect, berate, blame, shame and purposely hurt others. They attack other people's points of view even if they feel they have to lie to do it. They are highly resistant to therapy, anger management classes, couples counseling and family counseling (unless they are praised by a therapist, which is unlikely, given narcissists ruthless behavior). According to this Psychology Today article by Leon Seltzer, PhD, narcissists experience any hint or feeling of criticism as a grave injury to their core selves ("narcissistic injury" is the term for it). They then go into "narcissistic rage" where they attack their target personally, usually using a barrage of criticisms and insults (verbal abuse), and they can be emotionally and physically abusive too. According to the article: (They have) this need to be viewed as perfect, superlative, or infallible that makes them so hypersensitive to criticism. And their typical reaction to criticism, disagreement, challenges-or sometimes even the mere suggestion that they consider doing something differently-can lead to the "narcissistic rage" that is another of their trademarks. To protect their delicate ego in the face of such intensely felt danger, they're decidedly at risk for going ballistic against their perceived adversary ... All of which indicates just how fragile their artificially bloated sense of self really is. Given the enormity of their defenses, they regard themselves not on a par with, but above others. Yet they're mortally threatened when anyone dares question their words or behavior ... they take great pains to devalue or invalidate the person criticizing them. To achieve such dismissal of the threatening other, they'll do everything possible to negate their viewpoint. And this can include much more than blaming or indignantly challenging them. For narcissists, when their position has been exposed as false, arbitrary, or untenable, will suddenly become evasive, articulate half-truths, lie (actually, as much to themselves as others), flat-out contradict themselves (and to a degree that can leave the other person gasping!), and freely rewrite history (literally--and audaciously--making things up as they go along). This is why at such times they don't seem adults so much as six-year-olds ... In short, they often become so brutal, and even dangerous in their abuses, that they are abandoned by others.
*Sociopaths are highly abusive no matter what the situation. These are not happy people, so they tend to be on the look-out for someone in their lives whom they can hurt. They tend to be abusive on all levels: verbally, emotionally and physically. According to the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, text revision (DSM IV-TR) -- (Wikipedia link), defines antisocial personality disorder (Cluster B):
A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
... failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
*Psychopaths are like sociopaths except they can hold down jobs, pretend to fit in with society and they carefully plan hurtful, evil deeds, which may or may not include verbal abuse. Many studies indicate that psychopaths have a brain disorder, while sociopaths are a product of their environment.
*Some very insecure people are addicted to criticizing others. It makes them feel better about themselves if they can criticize and verbally diminish others. Once they become social outcasts, they are usually more willing to change their behavior than personality disordered human beings.
Abuse can be learned too, especially if the abuser's parent has or had a personality disorder. These are also the kinds of people who can change and are more willing to seek help. The impetus for change is usually the result of wanting to hold onto a personal relationship. The abuser no longer wants to be abusive. For people who want to sacrifice a need for power and control in order to be in intimate loving relationships, therapy can work wonders. Therapists have remarked at how trans-formative the process can be from going to a person who makes threats to a person who listens to others and expresses a desire to have both people's needs met.
But people who have learned abuse, can also be stubborn about wanting to change. How do you tell if someone is stubborn as opposed to open? By listening to their words. These are the kinds of words that tell you they don't want to change:
"I grew up with this kind of behavior and I came out okay."
"I grew up with this behavior and I'm not going to change now."
"I grew up where you had to be tough. So I'm tough. If you're not tough, you get trampled on."
"I am what I am, for better or worse."
"I grew up with this behavior and everyone seems to do it: it's normal! Get over it!"
"Sometimes I go off the deep end and let my temper get the better of me. I'm sorry. Maybe I'll do better next time" -- and then they don't do better next time.
"You're too sensitive. Get some street smarts, for goddsakes! It helps to toughen up!"
"If I went around and got sensitive over every insult, I'd be in the nut-house! You have to be able to take insults and that is all there is to it!"
"I have to insult you because you're a goddamn nutcase!"
"Comedians insult! It's part of our culture! Lump it or leave it!"
"I don't care if you don't like it! I have a right to insult you whenever I want to! And right now you deserve it!"
Victims of verbal abuse often find themselves in one of several roles:
1. Criticizing, insulting or retaliating right back to keep from shutting down in your personal relationship, to keep energized and defending against the abuse by going on the attack. And attacking can be a way to feel strong, invincible, intact. You shout over each other, verbally tear each other to shreds, compare each other to others or turn them into snakes or other lowly creatures, bring out "extras" like what happened in a past argument, educate yourself for your side of the argument or defense. You can also get out your fists if you want to over-power them some more (turning the fight into a domestic violence incident). But you only attack them and insult them if they start verbally tearing you down or insulting you first, right? "Giving it right back" definitely can help you have a sense of autonomy from the one who attacked you by putting you on the same level as they are, like equal weight fighters in a boxing ring. Like lawyers, you can fight for your positions, even persuade a jury, and if all else fails, find some flaw in the other person that you can attack endlessly every time you think you need to win your side of the argument.
The only problem is that fighting fire with fire sets up a situation where your partner gets bruised and you get bruised too. You both go around in pain by what the other person has done. Then soon after that, fear of each other enters the relationship too, creating feelings of avoidance of the other person. It destroys the intimacy little by little and the two people become "indifferent" to each other (for more, read my blog post about how relationships are destroyed: from ego, indifference or abuse).
Why is indifference so bad? It is what divorces and permanent separations are made of. Have you ever studied a relationship where the two people are insulting each other every time they have an argument? They become indifferent to each other's perspectives, right? They shout over each other. They are mostly only interested in attack and/or persuasion, right? They are only interested in their side of the argument.
It is like building up an army. They have their walls, their trenches, their armor, their ways of defending and ways of attacking, and so do you. The strategy might change over time, but basically every difference or argument is a war.
This is what can happen when dealing with two people who have learned abuse in their childhoods. These relationships and behaviors can change, but only if both people want to change. Therapy can make the process go a little faster because you have a third party picking up on all of the unhealthy ways the two people are relating to each other and making suggestions to change it.
With personality-disordered individuals, the process of asking the disordered person to stop being abusive is practically impossible. They can't even think of other alternatives to the destructive fight fire with fire dance. With borderlines and narcissists, you cannot even hint at a complaint without getting a strong over-reaction. Borderlines have been known to become awash in extremes of emotions over criticism. They often go through a gamut of emotions like anger, rage, retaliation, wailing, breaking or ripping up precious mementos that bring up memories of their beloved and the past they shared together, and feeling suicidal at the end of it all, as though they will shrivel up and die over the criticism. They have also been known to falsify stories and slander their loved ones to win their side of the argument, and that adds a whole other dimension to the jury they seek. Narcissists, on the other hand, react to criticism in a more cold and scheming way. They retaliate wildly at any hint of criticism. Their favorite weapon of choice is a prolonged silent treatment (which is one of the more damaging and nefarious emotional abuses). During their silent treatments away from you, they usually try to hurt you in other ways too: by using the time to have fun (used to provoke the victim: i.e. "I am having fun, and you aren't, and I don't care if you are suffering", a very childish and hurtful kind of reaction to a conflict), through lies and slander, through scheming, by betraying you through cheating on you or becoming intimate with your enemies, by withdrawing all affection, through divide and conquer strategies, through enlisting other bullies to take you down (so that they can blame their co-bully if things go wrong), in addition to insulting you and lecturing you to make sure you understand that they are superior to you (at least in their own minds). They also like to play the victim, accuse you of what they are guilty of.
While normal adults can learn bad behaviors from narcissists, especially if they grew up with them, the difference is that normal adults are usually able to self reflect. Most narcissists are totally inept at self reflection and run away from any situation where they are being asked to use it. Furthermore, they love insulting others because it makes them feel energized, omnipotent, and most importantly, superior (their life goal), while feeding off of the pain and emotions of their victims, which is like food for their unfeeling cold souls.
Borderlines and narcissists are often abandoned because they cannot fight fair, and narcissists have also been known to go in for the kill as much as they can get away with, without breaking the law.
As for the antisocial personality disordered (sociopaths), they don't care what others think or feel, and they don't care if they break the law either, as long as they can inflict harm and damage on their subjects.
Be aware that breaking the law can be as simple as false imprisonment; like barring you from leaving their lecturing/blaming/shaming session, for instance. However, many sociopaths are capable of more criminal behavior than that, and usually escalate criminality and abuse if they don't get what they want.
Usually you can tell the difference between sociopaths and narcissists by how they react when they hurt you.
Narcissists will pretend to care about your hurt feelings down the road (after they have punished you and hurt you enough with their silent treatment). They pretend to care for one reason: to get back into your life for more narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply refers to getting sated by more flattery and enjoying and scheming how to control you via the wheel of abuse.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, hardly ever show care if they hurt you, except as a ruse to lure you into danger, i.e. to abuse you some more, entrap you and ensnare you, and keep you from leaving until they have you under their total control, listening to their demands and ultimatums, using fear and intimidation to get what they want.
Narcissists get off mostly on flattery whereas sociopaths mostly get off on fear. Sociopaths feel increasingly entitled to hurt you the more you resist being lured into their trap to abuse you. Scheming ways to hurt you and get away with it can overwhelm their minds.
If you fight fire with fire with these kinds of individuals, you can end up dead, injured, your property destroyed, or with debilitating PTSD (robotic, depressed, difficulty functioning simple tasks, isolating yourself, traumatic recurring nightmares, extreme passivity, disassociation, hypervigilence, suicide ideation) or Stockholm Syndrome (loving and/or worshiping an abuser to survive abuse). That is why abandoning them is mostly your only option and it is what most victims prefer anyway, because a life of happiness, fulfillment, and joy does not come from abuse, or even the highs and lows of the cycle of abuse.
As for fighting fire with fire with alcoholics, Alanon strongly advises against this. As I have mentioned before, alcoholics can act narcissistic-ally, plus they are also impaired in their judgement. They often see animosity in others when there isn't any. Attacking back when a loved one is alcohol-impaired and verbally assaulting you is dangerous. They are very unlikely to hear any reason, or to hear you at all. They can take everything you say and any look you give as an act of aggression.
Fighting fire with fire is a mutually abusive relationship. Verbal abuse, belittling, being mean, constant chiding, constant verbal put-downs (even in humor), isn't attractive in either the person who initiated it, or the person who used it to retaliate. Unless you want to live like the Jerry Springer Show in your personal and family relationships, there is no other way than to seek a better solution and way of life either by getting out of the relationship, or by both parties committing to a different non-abusive way of relating to one another.
You don't have any more integrity than your abuser, no matter how many barbs and insults you throw back at your abuser. Nothing is accomplished where neither party is listening to or agreeing with one another and the only thing that matters is scorching your loved one by attacking him or her in defense of yourself.
Additionally, if one of you starts backing down, and closing the other out, or acting passively, or appearing flat and emotion-less, these are signs of PTSD. All of the fighting makes brain chemicals react to the onslaught of constant threat and the stress it creates.
The intimacy is being killed right before your very eyes.
Battlefields do not make for healthy environments.
2. Going along to get along. Say you are being verbally abused on a constant basis and you do not react to it, or almost always try to react reasonably and agreeably to it, then what happens?
One way or another, the road to mutual indifference is still likely to happen.
Sometimes people practice passivity because they do not want to be engaged in conflict. Perhaps it is because they feel disgusted with themselves if they act like abusers and bulldozers after their own agendas. Perhaps they've been brought up to be considerate of others' feelings, to be polite at all times, to appeal to the goodness of all people, to love your enemies.
At any rate, they already know that tearing their loved one down verbally will not garner good results.
So they try their best to appease.
Perhaps they stay in the relationship for the kids, or because they view marriage as an eternal union by their religion, or they've invested so much time and energy into it that they aren't ready to bail even though it has become a nightmare. Or they believe that their partner should come first before all others, no matter how badly they act. Or they appeal to their partner for better treatment, i.e. they try to get their partners to give up the bad habit of insulting them and hurting them. Maybe the abusive partner hears you say that you are hurt by their words and makes efforts to change. Maybe they don't.
Perhaps passivity is a way to feel more holy; i.e. like a good or saintly martyr.
Except being a martyr to the constant onslaught of verbal abuse can create a constant state of suffering and depression. You may get PTSD or C-PTSD whether you react kindly or not to verbal abuse and put-downs. (for more on why being a martyr is bad for you and bad for the verbal abuser go to my posts, If You Are Good and Show Altruism and Magnanimity, Will That Keep You From Being Abused? and Forgiving Abusers: the "You're Better Than That" Family Culture That Expects Victims of Familial Abuse to Make Up With Their Abuser.
Sometimes people who have been scapegoated by their family of origin or brought up by a borderline, narcissistic or sociopath parent learn passivity because fighting back brings extreme forms of punishment. Parents with personality disorders usually punish their children more often and severely. Punishments can range from a child being isolated for long periods of time, toys destroyed, a child's goals sabotaged, precious possessions being taken from them, erroneous guilt trips and punishments (like being reprimanded and disciplined for "that look on your face" for instance), expecting the child to be happy when they are sad, deprivation, neglect, favoritism of a "sycophant golden child" which can set up a situation of sibling abuse (see my blog posts about sibling abuse here and here ... another post about Favoritism in the Family is also relevant). Indeed all manner of emotional or physical abuse can be practiced by a parent. See this post for a list of emotional child abuses.
People with personality disorders also have a habit of lying to justify their actions and make themselves look better than they really are, an extra challenge for a small child.
Being groomed to take abuse, which is what happens when a child is scapegoated, means the child has learned to react to abuse by either shutting down, cowering, disassociating and living with constant PTSD (C-PTSD). Abusive parents have been known to use the symptoms of PTSD in the child to explain to others that his child is crazy or a little off, thereby justifying more abuse. Disordered parents are notorious for using gaslighting too to cover up their abuses and lies by making the child look like someone who can't decipher or speak about reality. C-PTSD is even more pronounced if there is chronic sibling or sexual abuse. The child's only other choice (and I do mean only) is to become a real-life marionette to his disordered parent.
Scapegoats are less like marionettes than their other siblings however; that is why they are scapegoated.
The golden "favorite" child is the more likely boot-licker and many goldens mimic their parent's disorder (as the highest form of flattery) in order to receive special privilege. Golden children, however, can also be severely punished, because so much more is expected of them. It is hard to be a full time marionette no matter how golden you are, to never slip up on your super-sensitive-to-any-criticism parent, to never be allowed an autonomous thought or action, to sacrifice your spouse or children for the parent, to praise your parent at every turn even when you know they are wrong, to go along with lies and slander, to be quiet when you want to speak up, to be willing to bully and slander others at a moment's notice at their request even if you don't want to, to agree to everything they want at all times, to follow their advice about your own life even when you know they are saying it to sabotage you (a sabotaged child is a weak child, is a more desperate child, is more likely to be a sycophant out of desperation). Golden children are more likely to get Stockholm Syndrome than family scapegoats. But, looking through forums, it is clear the greater majority of golden children abandon their disordered parents like the prior family scapegoats have done, even if they are the last of their siblings to do so.
Why? Because if there aren't any scapegoats left, they become scapegoated too (the parent alternates between scapegoating and idealizing). Goldens aren't used to that, so they can walk away without ever looking back! Many goldens are fellow narcissists and grew up feeling "more entitled" than their siblings. They feel entitled to a privileged life without burdens, and if all of the other siblings are out of the picture, no other sibling is around to protest how the parent is treated or abandoned.
As for reacting to passivity to people with severe personality disorders, as I have said, children of these kinds of parents get C-PTSD, so why would anyone want to voluntarily be in a relationship of this kind? No amount of their being handsome or a beautiful knock-out, no amount of money, no amount of "special privileges", no amount of great sex or family connections, no amount of putting up with abuse is worth it! It is like working for a cult leader or tyrannical boss. Fear, abandoning your dreams, your dignity, your autonomy, your sense of right and wrong, your thoughts, and saying "yes" to many forms of immorality (giving up your soul), living through deafening abusive silent treatments, being willing to put up with someone who enjoys hurting others, is the price of being involved with a severely disordered person.
As for family scapegoats, they can often find themselves in other relationships with disordered individuals as they go through life. Why? Familiarity! Plus they are used to being expected to go along to get along. Their families have groomed them to take abuse and all blame for everything that goes wrong in relationships. Until scapegoats realize they are in a bad pattern of accepting narcissistic and sociopath lovers, spouses and friends in their life, and that abuse isn't their fault, they often feel they can't escape abuse. It just keeps showing up again and again. Additionally, narcissistic and sociopath predators have a way of sniffing out scapegoated prey and family "rejects" as an easy way to get the narcissistic supply they so desperately want. Scapegoats who end up going to a therapist often wake up to what their family has done to them, and find they can break the cycle.
From reading forums, it is clear that most scapegoats feel they must sacrifice their families and go off on their own. Narcissistic parents are especially known for punishing and rejecting children who do not completely disclose every aspect of their lives to the narcissistic parent. It doesn't matter if the child is 60! Failure to disclose brings about retaliation. It is impossible to trust a narcissist, so the scapegoat most often will not be willing to disclose which sets up the conflict. Some scapegoats manage a relationship with their narc parent by putting up stringent boundaries: only discussions about gardening, cooking, travel, etc and absolutely NO discussions about personal, financial, professional or health matters. Some narcissists are willing to accept the boundaries just to keep the child on a tentative string (just in case), but most are not.
Breaking the cycle of being in relationships with a series of abusers for a person who has learned to accept abuse via the scapegoat role from his family, means more grieving and severing relationships for a scapegoat. Many scapegoats who are in therapy are willing to go through painful breakups for the sake of a better life and the hope of a better future for their own children. It is like leaving an oppressive tyrannical country as a refugee and making a better life for yourself in a new democratic country. Sometimes you leave abusers with as little as a refugee too, with the clothes on your back.
Statistically, scapegoats endure more poverty than their peers, and certainly more than their other siblings, but they often end up as the most successful in their family of origin if their self esteem has not been totally shattered, because they were the least willing to become controlled and enslaved by a punishing parent. They had more strength to fight for themselves than their siblings did, and they find more strength to fight for a better life than their siblings too. Scapegoats often have no family support at all when they become adults.
The goldens have support, and often a lot of it, but are not so lucky in being the chosen one in other regards. They competed with their siblings to get to "the privileged spot", sometimes by bullying their siblings out of the way, not knowing that in order to be there they would have to please their parent at every turn and at every whim, no matter whether the expectations were reasonable or not. Many give up everything to be in that coveted spot, to take on anything, including the abuse of their parent, just to get something out of the parent, only to find they, too, are discarded along with the scapegoats. Alternatively, they sometimes sacrifice so much for the parent, they find that they are too heavily burdened by that parent, to the point where they cannot have a single autonomous thought or sustain themselves.
Scapegoats in therapy learn not to go along to get along with insults and verbal abuse by either extricating, putting up boundaries, or working with loved ones who are willing to change the dynamic. You can too.
3. "Don't treat me that way." What happens in this instance? You aren't putting up with being verbally abused and being criticized at every turn, and you aren't trying to fight fire with fire; you are letting a verbally abusive person know that you do not want to be treated badly and that they need to change their behavior.
This is fine if the abuser is willing to change their behavior, but be aware that many abusers are not willing to change. Why? Because most abusers have a personality disorder and many personality disorders are rigid and intransigent.
It is worth a try, and if they refuse to treat you better, you can always end the relationship.
"Don't treat me that way" is a much healthier way to react to verbal abuse, and it is the way most people react to abuse. Most people have been raised in loving homes and have been taught good boundaries by their parents. Most people do not put up with abuse.
One reason abused victims get PTSD and C-PTSD is because they are in situations of abuse they cannot effect. They are helpless to the onslaught of abuses and/or violence, so their brain tries to protect itself by reacting in a certain way.
When you say, "Don't treat me that way." "Don't talk to me that way." "You are not to insult me again." "What don't you understand when I say I will not engage with you on that level?" "You are not to go further with these threats and insults." -- it puts the control the abuser wants to take from you back into your hands.
The abuser has one choice: to treat you with respect, dignity, as a fellow human being, with care and concern, with politeness. If he isn't capable of that, then you can go to the next step (which is what healthy, non-co-dependent people usually do who have been brought up to make good boundaries): bailing out on relationships that are abusive.
4. Bailing on the relationship. If you are choosing this way of dealing with someone who is being verbally abusive, or criticizing you ad-nauseum (especially if they are using criticism to control and dominate you or ruin your reputation), make sure you will not feel guilty about it later. Make sure you mean to do it permanently. Do not give the silent treatment, hoping that they will come around as the silent treatment is a relationship-buster and you are just throwing another form of abuse back at them (the silent treatment is one of the worse forms of emotional abuse). Very few relationships survive the silent treatment. See my post about the silent treatment is abuse! for more information.
Remember: rejecting others is permanent. Even in the best case scenario, where the other person returns after therapy and a good attitude about treating you better (with respect), they will probably always carry some resentment and distrust when it comes to you.
Rejecting others because their behavior is so bad, so abusive, and so unchangeable is a good option though, and you should definitely be open to it.
But there are some other options you can try before you get to the point where you permanently get the verbal abuser out of your life.
Ultimatums about behavior can sometimes work such as:
"I suspect your verbal abuse is coming out of your alcohol addiction. When you are completely dry and have been in treatment, give me a call, and perhaps we can pick up then."
"I will not be verbally abused any longer. If you go to therapy and go to some anger management classes, perhaps we can pick up the relationship at that point."
"I cannot be in a verbally abusive relationship. If you would like to change your behavior, give me a call then."
"I would like to work with you, but I feel you are criticizing me over too many things. I can only respond to one request at a time (and I hope these are requests, not demands, not a permanent state of being criticized continually). If you are willing to work with me on a solution that will be beneficial for both of us, give me a call at that time."
"I suspect your verbal abuse is learned behavior. If you have any desire to change this behavior, give me a call and we'll both try to hammer out a solution."
There is also going "low contact" (LC): seeing each other a couple of times a year, not getting into heavy subjects, just giving one sentence answers when they ask how you are doing, keeping to uncontroversial subjects.
If that fails, there is "very low contact" (VLC): not seeing them unless it is absolutely necessary, keeping phone calls short, maybe a card or two once or twice a year, refusing to discuss any personal subjects.
LC and VLC are often used by many survivors of narcissistic parents. You may have to be in situations where you have contact with them, even if you don't want to see them. You also realize they cannot change. "Low contact" is a way to avoid them mostly, and ensures that subjects where they can construe or misconstrue criticism out of what you are saying cannot easily happen. You just keep to conversations to subjects like nature, cooking, decorating and travel. Many therapists recommend to patients of narcissistic abuse that they adopt VLC or LC. This makes family get-togethers possible, and where they are not so likely to attack you because the subjects are so banal and uninteresting (gray rock discussions). Narcissists like to be praised, so you can always tell them how nice they look and they might feel satisfied with that enough to leave you alone. Remember to ask those family members you are close to not to transfer information to the narcissists who have hurt you in the past, as many narcissists like to use information for nefarious purposes.
Other phrases that are either verbally abusive or that border on verbal abuse:
"You make my skin crawl."
"You drive me crazy."
"Your cooking sucks."
"I'm not in the mood to take shit from you."
"I really don't care what you think."
"I can't stand you right now."
"All I need is some peace from you."
"I hate you when you wear that dress."
"You drive me crazy with that music! Can't you play anything right?"
"I hate you when you do that! You are sooooo irritating!"
"I'm not in the mood for you. Leave me the fuck alone!"
"I don't want to discuss this!" on a consistent basis, especially if there is no history of abuse in the relationship.
"I don't have time for this! I need this done! Now! I can't deal with your problems! Figure out how to deal with your own problems! I have enough of my own!"
Always and never statements on a consistent basis:
"You are always late no matter what. Can't you get your shit together?"
"You never can function. You're always sick. I get sick and tired of this."
"You always start arguments after sex. Can't you ever just cuddle afterwards like normal married couples do?"
"You always forget!"
"Why can you never do things right?"
"It looks like I'll always have to live with you doing this" or "like this."
"It looks like you'll never change your habits."
"You always make a big deal out of nothing."
"You never want to please me; all you care about is yourself."
"You always were bad; now you've proven it for good."
"You can never do anything I ask you to do."
"I'm tired of you always thinking about that!"
"You'll never amount to anything; you have always been a failure." (destructive, abusive)
"Are you ever going to snap out of this? I'm tired of you always being out of it."
"I always take care of you! You have no right to complain!"
"You always put others before me! What about me?"
"You'll never fix that wall! I guess I'll have to do it! Thanks!"
"Why do you always put the heat up when I want it down? Don't you know you are ruining the environment with this energy consumption? Get with the program! I've said this a million times!"
Any combination of these on a regular, constant basis (every day or every other day) can anesthetize your partner against your perspectives and concerns because they are an onslaught of insensitivity: either outright mean or border-line mean.
Always and never statements on a constant basis are what many personality disordered people use as they are typically black and white thinkers. They don't weigh things. They don't investigate thoroughly. They tend to go with how they feel when they judge situations or people rather than by facts and research. They think something or someone is all good or all bad, all or nothing, all your fault and not my fault at all, all your doing and I didn't contribute to it at all, it's got to be all my agenda and not your agenda at all, my perspectives are all important and yours aren't at all. Some of us may have learned to use always-never phrases by growing up with a parent who used them. If we are willing to self reflect and see how and why we use these phrases, and make steps to remove them from our present dialogue, then we can make our relationships better too.
As for complaining, why is constant complaining detrimental to our relationships? Because most people can only deal with one complaint at a time, or a week. They have to spend time processing the complaint and think about how they are going to address it (which means either fixing it, ignoring it, putting it aside to take care of bigger problems, or deciding it is not worth fixing at all).
For instance, if everything in a vehicle needs fixing, the vehicle is flawed; it is hardly worth the time and energy to fix it. If you are rattling off a hundred complaints, and you are not giving your mechanic time to write it all down, he will think of you as someone who likes to complain, rather than as a someone who has legitimate issues that need addressing.
Too much complaining about hundreds of issues, especially if the complaints are directed personally towards a partner you live with can make your partner shut down. It can also effect the self esteem of your partner. Lack of self esteem does not produce a can-do attitude in them. This is true especially if the complaining is severe, and much more prevalent than the praising. Alternatively, sometimes partners of complainers keep their self esteem intact by taking their partner's constant complaining with a grain of salt, through avoidance. They half-hear their partner rattling off the complaint-of-the-day, for instance. In that case they might feel that the constant complaining is an irritant they feel they need to put up with, but which they don't feel is in dire need of addressing. The lesson? Use complaints wisely, without overwhelming your partner.
Complaining, being mean, using too many always and never phrases can kill the intimacy, and may even kill the relationship. Even if you are in a committed relationship, it can make your relationship seem like you are roommates rather than two people who love each other and enjoy being around each another.
Research and links:
Patricia Evans has written extensively on verbal abuse. Her books on verbal abuse and controlling relationships on Amazon are HERE. She also has videos on You Tube HERE.
If You’re Saying These 5 Things, You’re Hurting Your Kid -- Psych Central article by Peg Streep
What are signs that the verbal abuse is escalating to physical abuse -- Help Guide
What are signs that the verbal abuse is escalating to physical abuse? -- Yahoo answers
Signs you are verbally abused: part two
Some ideas on how to shush a constant fault-finder
Dr. Phil: are you a fault-finder? -- he also discusses "always and never" phrases
Oprah Winfrey: Verbal Abuse: How to Save Yourself
Ways to handle criticism
Why are People Mean? -- Psychology Today article
Always and Never Phrasing -- from Out of the Fog Website
The Cumulative Effect of Narcissistic Abuse -- by Lenora Thompson (talks about the cumulative effect of digs, insults, shaming on children of abusive narcissistic parents)
Why Narcissists Need You to Feel Bad About Yourself -- a study reveals that people with high self esteem usually perceive others favorably, but those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder compare others negatively to themselves, often using insults and focusing on flaws.
I found this on facebook and thought it was powerful. It is a drawing by Jenna Simon.