behind the masque – the charismatic controller arrives

They seemed to have so much in common.
He was attentive and noticed minute details about her.
Her healing was incomplete, and she was emotionally vulnerable.

It was 1964, he was divorced and fighting for custody of his children. No Name Judge, “Sir, if only you were married, there would be a better chance of winning.” He didn’t really want his children; he just despised his ex-wife, and wanted revenge. Nobody leaves him. Nobody humiliates him. Nobody beats him.

The relentless pursuit of extracting vengeance fueled his heinous search for victim wife #2. At work there was a woman, and he would begin to execute his plan with her.

At first glance they made a handsome, striking couple. He was the cliché of tall, dark and handsome. She was petite and strikingly lovely with midnight black hair that framed her face in waves. He was charming and extremely attentive. She was flattered and felt unworthy. In a weirdly twisted way, he actually was everything my father wasn’t.  The name of her towering abuser – John.

Progressive Stages of Abuse: the challenge

Time is of the essence in an unfolding controlling relationship. Gaining premature trust always begins with gathering information for the purpose of manipulation. He asked probing, thought provoking questions and then listened attentively as she shared her life story. Mom prematurely exposed the broken, buried dreams and wounded places of her heart to one whom was unworthy to hold them. A failed marriage only affirmed and accentuated her insecurities. Identifying and understanding her sorrows, dreams, and insecurities became the ammunition in his trust quest. This knowledge would be used against her to his advantage while he continued his march toward revenge.

Mom is simply a kind, gentle soul. Seldom will she interject or impose her thoughts or desires on others. Even after the indiscretions of her ex-husband, she still inherently believed in the goodness of others. This naiveté to blindly trust others paved the path to several life altering, dangerous decisions that ripple across time to this very day.

John expertly executed his sinister plan. Strategically expressed and often overheard flattering compliments were perceived as attentiveness. The need for extensive knowledge concerning her past experiences and present life activities was perceived as caring. A premature proclamation identifying them as a couple, and references of future plans were perceived as commitment. Suffering physical and emotional abandonment in her first marriage created a vulnerability to any appearance of attentiveness, caring, and commitment. She was a neglected, parched soul desperately desiring a drop of kindness. Desperation is usually the precursor to a faulty decision making process.

Manipulation sounds like –

We’ve similar experiences and identical future desires to blend and create a new loving family. Our past mistakes don’t matter; this will be our fresh start. I will be a father to your girls and you will be a mother to my sons. We are perfect for one another.

He spoke the words her broken heart was desperate to hear, and he knew it. Sadly, after the divorce she viewed herself as damaged goods. After all who would want another man’s rejected wife with two children?  John baited the hook and she desperately wanted to believe the bait was good.

Progressive Stages of Abuse: covert control and manipulation

Doubting your reasoning ability –

His controlling behavior seeped out subtly on their weekly date nights. Before Mom was cognizant of its existence, an uncomfortable pattern emerged, and then repeated itself each time. My grandparents greeted him at the door, then ushered him into the living room to exchange polite pleasantries.  In another room Mom kissed us goodbye and quickly glanced in the mirror one last time.

The first time it happened she was flattered, but the next time it occurred it felt as if he were conducting critical, silent inspection. It was never called an inspection, but that is exactly what it was. His eyes would slowly and meticulously scan her appearance from head to toe as he mentally critiqued every nuance of her. Later, but much too late she would realize that it wasn’t the look of love or appreciation she saw in his eyes. It was something else, could it be an eagerness to discover something amiss? Was there something amiss in her? She pushed that thought away…

The size, fit, style and color selection of every garment was critiqued. Her makeup, perfume, jewelry and shoes came under scrutiny as well. At the end his inspection the result was always the same. He absolutely never affirmed or approved of her appearance. There was always a But, conjoined to a mandatory wardrobe change for her betterment. Initially Mom was flattered by the attention; in light of the inattentive, callous way my father had treated her. Eagerly and then anxiously she acquiesced to his desires to enhance her appearance. She wanted to please him, and he preyed on that wonderful aspect of her kind heart. After all he noticed and cared, so that meant he loved her, right?

Interestingly, she never considered the absurdity of someone finding fault with her years of experience executing a subdued classically attractive style. Mom had the gift of style and beauty – for a little while. John’s critical observations and subsequent preferred corrections were, wait for it – always ill fitting and unattractive. Are you surprised?   Don’t be.  He was insanely jealous and didn’t want anyone else to notice her.

His manipulation goal was to infuse small portions of doubt to slowly undermine and erode her judgment, opinions and decision making skills. The eventual conclusion – I don’t see things as clearly as John; so I will acquiesce to what he thinks is best. Eventually over time her appearance would mutate into an unrecognizable woman who was called, Elaine, but looked like a stranger to all who knew her.

Manipulation sounds like –

Are you certain you want to wear that particular blouse tonight? Can’t you see this one is the better choice?
It’s just I love you so much, and I want you to look your best.You want to look your best, don’t you?
You’re such a wonderful mother; I want to make certain others know that by the way your look. I know you don’t want to send the wrong message to others, do you?

Nobody noticed –

In case you are wondering if the evil that lurked just beneath the surface was noticeable to others, it wasn’t. The insidious thing about controlling, manipulative individuals is that those who aren’t controlling find it nearly impossible to believe that anyone else could behave in such a way.  

John was as slick as a slimy snail. Ever the consummate used car salesman, seller of tea to China, and the scientist that discovered the moon was made of cheese. He was capable for albeit brief periods of time, to appear charming; especially since Mom stood silently by his side wearing a painted mannequin smile. Neither family nor friends noticed her growing hesitation to communicate when he was near. Their perception – she was simply content after years of sorrow.  Little did anyone know that post-family gatherings were followed by tortuous sessions of scrutiny of everything spoken.  To minimize his displeasure – she embraced silence.

Rush to seal the deal –

There was a premature proclamation of love, rushed courtship, and quick marriage proposal with barely a breath of an engagement prior to their nuptials. An accelerated timeline is a common characteristic of controlling manipulative relationships, because with enough time the abuse will be exposed; creating a possibility for intervention by loved ones. Only my Grandma sensed something was terribly wrong with him. Grandma cried, begged, and pleaded with her only daughter to post-pone the wedding until the last possible moment. Sadly, Mom didn’t listen.

Manipulation sounds like –

Why should we wait? We both know what we want this time around.
You wouldn’t want my sons to stay with their mother would you?
Our love will rescue my sons.
I will love your daughters as if they were my own.

Vengeance extracted –

After a brief honeymoon, John triumphantly entered the courtroom with his newly captured wife. Taking their seats, the testimony began. Mom listened intently as his first victim (wife #1) attempted to explain through her brokenness the psychological abuse she and her children had suffered. As she shared the abuse occurrences, a singular jolting thought exploded in my mother’s mind while seated next to him – he does that to me. The jolting thought was immediately smothered with the fire extinguisher of denial. Oh if she had lingered there just a moment longer.

The thunderous sound of the gavel echoed throughout the courtroom. Custody of the children was awarded to John. His hysterical ex-wife was taken away to a psychiatric ward pronounced delusional. No one believed her testimony, until a few years later. That individual was not a juror, attorney or judge. The someone was my Mom.

Abuse truth –

Time is your friend; don’t be rushed into a commitment. 
The word love is often used as a “get out of jail free card” to camouflage their intent. Changes in a friend’s accessibility, behavior or appearance are early warning signs of abuse.  Abusers leverage your love and protective nature for others, to gain control.

My random partial list –

I love the melody of buoy bells. I love the fresh smell of rain. I love feather pillows.  I love God.

In closing, sharing something lovely –

In our back yard a stately oak stretches her arms wide beckoning birds, squirrels, childhood forts and shade seekers. Her spring and fall outfits are stunning. In the spring she is dressed in a lovely cloak of lime green that proclaims the newness of life and leaf. However her precariously attached golden yellow sweater of fall is the one that takes my breath away. I often peer out of my window eagerly awaiting the hush of a gentle wind that initiates the flutter dance of leaves destined to cover my lawn in a blanket of golden snow.  There is such beauty in the world…


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