This kind of conversation is a major red flag:
- Bob: I’m going to go to the mall.
- Stan: Don’t go to the mall. I want you to stay home.
- Bob: Um, why not? I need new trousers.
- Stan: Why are you taking that tone?! Are you saying I’m abusive? You wouldn’t be upset if I wasn’t abusive, so you must think I’m abusing you. I’d never abuse anyone! How dare you?!
- Bob: Could you not make jokes about my weight? It makes me feel bad.
- Stan: I would never do anything to hurt you! How dare you call this bullying!
It’s especially bad when:
- It happens every time Stan and Bob want different things.
- Because it gets to the point where it’s impossible for Bob to say no without accusing Stan of being abusive
- Or where Bob can’t express a preference that conflicts with Stan’s.
- This means that Bob has to always do what Stan wants, or else call Stan a bad person
- This is an awful way to live
In a mutually respectful relationship:
- People want different things from time to time
- People hurt each other in minor ways
- People make mistakes, and need to be told about them
- Everyone understands this, and can accept that their friend/partner/whatever wants something different, or is upset about something they did
- They understand that wanting different things, or being upset about something, is not an accusation of abuse.
If someone close to you claims that you’re accusing them of being abusive every time you have a conflict with them, they probably are, in fact, being abusive.
A variation of this is when the other person doesn’t get offended/angry so much as immediately turns the situation so that you are in the position to assure them that they are good people. For example, as a child it was always my job to reassure my abusive mother that she was, in fact, a good mother. I was not even allowed to think that she might not be. In fact it didn’t even occur to me to consider wether or not her behaviour hurt me or not, because she always displayed a weird kind of fragility and I always had to focus on her self esteem or make it so she didn’t have to feel guilty/ like a bad person.
It’s difficult to explain because she was such a master at manipulation and gaslighting. But she always turned any topic that was about my wellbeing as influenced by her around immediately so that it was about her and her guilt and insecurities and how she always “tried her hardest to be a good mom" etc and even if I didn’t accuse her of anything she would start crying and I would have to comfort her, even though the start of the conversation was about how certain of her behaviours might be harmful for me.
Oh, yes, this.. Weaponized fragility is definitely a variant on this. And it can be a lot harder to notice.
I’d say one thing that’s a red flag is that if you *always* end up apologizing and offering comfort whenever you have a conflict with that person, something is probably wrong.
Yet another variant: As soon as you give them any sort of criticism on how they are treating you, they leap right into “I am a HORRIBLE person I’m sorry you’re absolutely right please tell me how I should behave.“
This is designed to make it look like you were overreacting. Apologizing to them and saying that it wasn’t that bad and they’re blowing it out of proportion gives them power again. It tells them their behaviour isn’t an issue.
Basically, anything that makes you come running to them saying “Oh no it’s okay I’m here I’m trying to be friends please don’t leave.”
I usually call them on being emotionally manipulative and laying out the expectations of the situation, but that isn’t always possible.
I actually wrote a post about that variant a while back.
ah look, a series of posts that perfectly sums up my mother
The saddest part of all is that those who accuse others of accusing them of abuse whenever the other asks for regard and consideration (or who use weaponized fragility, or who derail any addressing of others’ needs by requiring constant reassurance that they are good and loving) are often past victims of abuse themselves, and very likely learned this strategy from their own abusers. It’s a dreadful, crippling pattern in which those who wish to offer them love are thwarted, and they themselves are trapped in the injustice of their past pain, transposed into a projected injustice of being accused or found wanting. Oh, what a tangled web the soul weaves. Oh, what economy of threads are used.
~ In memoriam
Yes, that’s true. I think probably most people who do those things have been abused. This can be really, really hard to unlearn.
That doesn’t mean other people should tolerate this kind of behavior, though.
Someone’s abusive behavior may well have been learned from people who abused them. This doesn’t mean you have to let them abuse you.