By Anthony Perez, contributor Erzsebet Helmeczy
As in most cases of domestic and dating violence, the enforcement of power and control always play a role. Whether physical, emotional, financial or verbal abuse, the abuser aims to dominate and push their victim to submission. At times it may be difficult to recognize manipulation. Tactics of emotional abuse such as ghosting, benching, gaslighting, and recently-coined “lovebombing” have been haunting people from relationship to relationship. It’s easy to mistake some of these behaviors as signs of affection, thus important to distinguish their characteristics in order to avoid partners that use them.
Have you ever found yourself in a wild romance where your partner showers you with gifts, tells you everything you want to hear, relates to you in almost every way…and next thing you know, and in little time at all, you two are moving in together? You may want to slow down and be cautious. Not to knock off true love, but this is a scenario often used by sociopaths, narcissists, and manipulators to take advantage of their partners. The term “lovebombing” trends from situations where an abuser bombards their partner with presents, attention, affection, and compliments. This may entail extensive texting, emails, messages on social media, phone calls, constant flirting, and love notes to the point that victims are overwhelmed by the attention, but also drawn to it. The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing is giving their partner everything they want in a relationship; things only seen or heard of in romance films. However, as the manipulation continues, the victim loses track of what’s happening. The relationship moves quickly, and the more time the victim spends with their partner, the less they spend with others. They may lose their independence and agency, and thus the abuser maintains power and control.
The victim may not realize they are being manipulated, especially since the relationship feels so comfortable. However, just like any honeymoon or “honeymoon phase” of a new relationship, the feeling eventually comes to an end. The victim may still be emotionally attached to the abuser, but once they want to start applying attention elsewhere, the abuser shows their true colors. They might become angry and overly jealous, enforcing outrageous demands such as spending all their time with their partner, which may further distance the victim’s friends and family. Abusers will often use these tactics on people who tend to feel lonely, or those who feel they need an intimate relationship with another person and are counting on it. After spending so much time with the abuser, and so little time with other people, the victim may become emotionally dependent. They will do as the abuser says in order to maintain the company and affection of their partner.
Next, we will discuss gaslighting. This term references a stage play in the 1930s titled “Gas Light”. In the play, a husband who is trying to get rid of his wife attempts to make her think that she is going slowly mad by making subtle changes to her environment (e.g. slightly dimming the flame on the gas lamp). Dr. George Simons, who has specialized in personality and character disturbances for almost 25 years, defines gaslighting as a “sophisticated manipulation tactic which certain types of personalities use to create doubt in the minds of others.” Though this is a ploy that can be used outside of the realm of dating and relationships, abusers can also use this to get what they want from their partners.
Gaslighting can be achieved through several different methods. In some situations, the manipulator could profess something so intensely, firm and with confidence that they provoke the victim to doubt their own perspective and gut feeling. A popular example of this is when a speaker backs their argument with seemingly accurate historical facts, but distort or omit certain pieces of crucial information in order to skew an image in their favor. Fiercely denying something could also be a form of gaslighting, which is a method used often by cheaters. They make their partners believe that their suspicions are just paranoia. They evoke deep doubt, and the victim loses faith in their own intuition and may begin to believe that they are just overthinking things, that they are crazy, or that they should calm down and trust their abuser.
With the use of technology on the rise, the online dating culture has influenced modern relationships and the issues that single people face. One such issue is benching. Though this existed long before technology, online dating has encouraged the practise of benching. Apps like Tinder, Bumble and Grindr have made finding a new partner fairly easy so that with just one swipe, we can begin chatting with a completely different and new person. Thus, this feeling that there is always someone better lingers in our minds and causes us to avoid commitment. Benchers keep their “options open” in order to not make a wrong choice.
While this behavior is becoming normalized in our dating culture, it still plays a toll on the victim. Benchers keep their partners at disposal in order to not feel alone. Yet, benchers refrain from taking things seriously just in case they meet someone better. The victim feels they are being toyed with and just when they are at the point of giving up and moving on, the bencher reappears to keep them interested. This gives a false sense of hope to the victim, who may be looking for something more serious or long term. The best thing to do in this situation is have an honest conversation about expectations and terms of the relationship, come to a decision, and hold one another accountable for following through on the promises. In this situation, “actions speak louder than words”.
Ghosting is similar to benching. However, while benching keeps various partners on standby, ghosting completely cuts off the connection with no intent of speaking again. The reasoning behind ghosting is that the person being ghosted will eventually realize that there is no more interest and just move on, but that may not always be the case. People dislike having to let someone down so they just avoid communication altogether; however, just like any problem, avoiding communication is never the solution. People who are ghosted are shocked by the sudden up-and-leave which leaves them confused about where it all went wrong. It is actually a form of emotional cruelty as the victim is now dealing with feelings of social rejection. Disappointing someone does not leave a good feeling in their stomach, but ghosting leaves a heavier, longer-term impact on those affected.
Some people are unaware of the harm they bring when they lovebomb, gaslight, bench, or ghost people, though these are often tactics used by sociopaths, narcissists, and manipulators to obtain power and control over their partners. Regardless if intentional or not, these are forms of manipulation and therefore forms of emotional abuse. Keeping an awareness of abusive tactics is crucial for recognizing patterns that raise red flags marking unhealthy relationships. It’s important to understand and spread awareness about abusive relationships so that we can both escape abusive situations and avoid being the manipulator ourselves.