An abusive and controlling partner is often so skilled at manipulation, their victims don’t even realize how little agency they truly have. These types of people have a way of shifting the opinions, desires, and viewpoints of those they subject to their will until their victims give up the right to their own perspective — without ever realizing it.
This coercive strategy is called perspecticide. According to University of Massachusetts Amherst psychology researcher Lisa Aronson Fontes, perspecticide describes “the incapacity to know what you know” and was “first used in the literature on the brainwashing of prisoners of war” as well as when discussing members of cults.
“In an abusive or controlling relationship, over time the dominating partner changes how the victim thinks,” Fontes told Business Insider. “The abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what it appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what she needs to do to change it.”
As a result, the victim loses all sense of self and adapts the traits, goals, and opinions of their partner. Fontes explains: “Through perspecticide, people give up their own opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, etc. I am not talking about the natural mutual influencing that occurs in all intimate relationships — this is much more nefarious and one-sided.”
Of course, once an individual has been hooked and effectively brainwashed by their domineering partner, they have a difficult time seeing themselves as the victim they are. Here are the signs perspecticide is happening to you or someone you know:
They intersperse belittling comments with occasional kindness
One of the manipulative tactics of the abuser relies on showing kindness every once in a while. In doing so, they show their victims that they could be made happy, but their partner simply isn’t working hard enough to do so.
By trauma-bonding themselves to their partner, the abuser tricks their victim into constantly exerting energy to make them happy.
They decide how you should spend your time
This generally doesn’t happen all at once, which is why it can be difficult to detect. The manipulator gradually convinces their victim that it is far more valuable to spend time on the activities they enjoy, eventually causing their partner to abandon the hobbies or passions they used to devote their time to. The victim actually begins to believe their partner’s use of time is wiser than their own.
They micromanage you
A manipulative partner feels the obsessive need to control just about every aspect of their victims’ life down to the hour. They will often dictate what their partner is allowed to wear and eat, who they are allowed to speak to and spend time with, where they work, when it is time for bed, etc.
But this doesn’t merely include scheduling out their partner’s life. An abuser will also often make unsolicited comments about their partner’s habits, outfits, or body, forcing them to doubt their self in a very fundamental way.
They define you
On a basic level, abusers make their partners feel bad about themselves. Destroying the self and agency of an individual allows a manipulator to easily control their victims’ thoughts and behaviors. Isolation only reinforces the negative thought patterns about the self the abuser will stamp onto their partner’s soul.
The more isolated the victim becomes, the more they begin to believe the terrible things their abuser says about them.
They define the rules of the relationship
A manipulative individual does not reconcile, negotiate, or attempt to see things from a different point of view. They set the (often unreasonable) rules of the relationship that if broken are met with swift (and often unreasonable) punishment.
These rules are often demands on their partner to “prove” their love. Fontes recalls the behaviors of several of such manipulators: “One man convinced his wife she could not have her own toothbrush, because married couples share these things. He also never let her have any privacy — she wasn’t even allowed to close the door when she was using the bathroom.”
They cause physical signs of distress
Fontes recounts how one husband “slept all day so he could keep his wife up at night. He deliberately didn’t let her sleep, controlled what she ate, and hid her medication, which all made her physically weak. Eventually, she even forgot her age because everything down to the way she walked was managed by someone else.”
Though this is certainly an extreme, lesser symptoms of stress brought on by the relationship are still utterly unacceptable. These stressors, uninterrupted, can seriously affect the mental, emotional, and physical health of an individual, ranging from changes in eating and sleeping habits to headaches and stomach aches, digestive issues, and even hair loss.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of any kind of abuse, do not hesitate to seek help. Difficult as it may be, the first step is to cut off contact from the manipulator. Contact organizations such as Women’s Health and Day One to start your healing journey.