There are three key categories of emotional abusers.
There are those who know exactly the damage they are causing in an effort to control and diminish you and don’t care what you think and feel about it. Let’s call these the Torturers. They know what they are doing and have rationalized it.
The second type emotionally abuses but doesn’t think that they are doing anything wrong. They also displace blame on the victim or claim, “this is normal behavior.”
Often they learned it at the feet of their parents. Lets’ call them the Inheritors.
As British Poet Laureate Philip Larkin says in his classic poem, “This Be the Verse”:
They f*ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were f*cked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf…
There is hope for this type, because they can be shown there is a different “language” than that which they absorbed from their own parents.
Then there is the third type; those who know perfectly well that they are causing damage. Yet because they also know deep inside that there is something cruel about what they are doing, something wrong, twisted, hurtful while salving some need of their own, they B.S. their way through by any means necessary.
They deny they are trying to control and diminish you. They actively try to confuse you and make you doubt your good senses and ignore the huge relationship red flags. They manipulate and place the blame on you for feeling hurt or diminished. Let’s call these the BS-ers.
Torturers should be left early and decisively. As Naomi Judd famously said, “You only get to be a victim once. After that, you’re a volunteer.” If they know what they’re doing and don’t care, you will remain a victim-volunteer forever.
Inheritors, as I mentioned, can be taught, and can re-learn behavior.
And as for BS-ers?
Well, in his short book On Bullsh*t (originally written in 1986), philosopher and Princeton professor Harry Frankfurt distinguished the unique problem of BS – and why it’s different from an outright lie.
The liar, says Frankfurt, knows about the truth, perhaps even cares about the truth, but deliberately misleads us. However, the B.S-er does not give a whit about the truth. The B.S-er is a grandstander only seeks to affect or impress the listener.
In other words, the B.S-er is a pure manipulator. They will generate whatever verbiage or tactic they need to in order to create an effect. They will lie. They will self-contradict. They will threaten. They will plead. They will cry their eyes out – whatever it takes to keep the B.S. alive as the master narrative of truth.
B.S-ers create a whirlwind of rhetoric and emotion to keep you off-kilter, which is the whole point. It makes it not only difficult to counter them point-by-point and put yourself on solid ground.
And the reason for that is what Italian programmer named the “B.S. asymmetry principle” which states…
“The amount of energy necessary to refute
B.S. is an order of magnitude bigger
than to produce it.”
We see this with some political candidates and some TV talk show hosts who generate so much B.S. so quickly that fact checkers are always left panting, trying to keep up. But while the guardians of truth are busy detailing how the B.S-er has lied or stretched the truth or contradicted himself, the BS-er has already moved on to create the next big, outrageous dose of B.S.
If you have been in an emotionally abusive relationship with this kind of manipulative type – the BS -er – you may now understand why you have found yourself so frustrated at being able to establish a real conversation.
As the “B.S. asymmetry principle” demonstrates – you can’t catch up. You can only step outside the discussion and re-establish your own foundations of reality as you understand it.
So if you are in a relationship with a champion B.S-er, you can find some solace in that you are not alone. You have probably felt lost on the shifting ground of words and emotions and claims and counterclaims that the BS-er-abuser spins at will. It feels as if you have left the world of rational people and rational thinkers – because you have.
It’s the corollary of George Carlin’s great piece of advice, “Never argue with an idiot. They’ll only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
So too the manipulator-BS-er whose only goal is to create a counter-factual world of illusion in which they are trying to force you to life.
Don’t argue. The energy you expend trying to “catch up” will exhaust you and lead you to despair.
Get a grip on what is true and what it not by exposing everything you can to your trusted friends and family and getting their perspective.
And if they all seem to agree that you are being spun around and around by a spider web of B.S., trust them and trust your gut.
Know that your argumentation will never win because in the land of illusion that the BS-er creates and sustains, “they will beat you with experience.”
Say simply, “I’m not going to fight with you.”
Lock the doors and keep that person out.
Create your own reality.
And live a life where there is symmetry between truth and non-truths, where reason and mutual honoring can bring about new understandings and growth, even in the midst of conflict.
And where the energy you expend can finally produce the results you want – happiness, peace, self-respect and love.