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Survive, Transform, Soar! - Issue #49
Perspecticide: Were "You" Erased
By a Controlling, Toxic Partner?
Article by: Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD in SurviveTransformSoar.com | Friday, February 16, 2018
Living with an abusive and controlling partner can feel like being in a cult—except lonelier. Such a toxic relationship causes your own viewpoints, desires and opinions to fade as you are overwhelmed by those of your abusive partner. Over time, the way you see the world can change completely and you may lose a sense that you even have a right to your own perspectives.

This is called perspecticide—the incapacity to know what you know, as a result of abuse (Stark, 2007). It was first used to describe brainwashed prisoners of war and later applied to cult members. It is often part of a strategy of coercive control that may include isolation, manipulation, stalking and possibly physical abuse, leaving you passive and easy to manipulate.

Over time, a controlling partner changes how you think. They define what love is, what is appropriate in terms of monitoring you, what is wrong with you and what you need to do to change it. As a result, you become a prisoner in your own life who is no longer able to process what’s real and what isn’t. The ‘you’ that defined you is gradually replaced by a compliant ‘ghost’ created by your toxic partner.
When 'blending in' becomes the way to survive, "you" disappear.
Because of perspecticide, many people who have been in toxic relationships do not know that they are or were being abused. To help you identify whether perspecticide has been part of one of your relationships, here are some examples of how abusers manipulate the perspectives of their partners using coercive control. (All names have been changed.)

Deciding how you should spend your time
Abusers make their partners narrow their worlds. Once isolated, it is easy to lose your sense of self.

• Doug insisted that Val watch him play video games rather than doing what she wanted. He demanded that he be the center of her attention at all times. Gradually she accepted this as an obligation.

• Corey’s husband only “allowed” her to socialize along with him, with other couples. He did not permit her to leave the house without him, even to shop for food.

• Whenever TeyShawn tried speaking on the phone or seeing friends or family, his boyfriend, Angelo, grew angry with him. After a while, TeyShawn severely curtailed his social life; it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

A controlling partner insists on governing minute aspects of your life. Over time, you internalize the rules and forget what life was like when you were freer to make your own choices.

• Herman drew up an extensive chores chart and insisted that Marta keep a detailed log of her activities.

• Ken gave his partner, Steve, a list of expectations for his diet, workout routine and grooming, and implied that their relationship would be over if he did not comply.

• Richard expected Sara to dress modestly when outside the home, but insisted that she dress sexily when they were alone together. He told her to stop speaking to the cat, reading magazines or sleeping on her back. He chose her makeup, dictated her bedtime and weighed her daily. He meticulously controlled the way their house was organized, down to how towels were folded and food stored on the shelves. To avoid explosive conflict, Sara followed Darnell's demands and began to see them as "normal."
If you were "erased," see it as an opportunity to start anew and create something beautiful and BTB4.
Defining you
Abusers make their partners feel badly about themselves. Because you are isolated, you begin to believe the negative descriptions of yourself and lose self-esteem.

• Imani’s husband told her repeatedly that she was a gloomy, depressed person by nature. He told her that she was selfish to ask for changes in their marriage because she would never be happy anyway. Over time, she stopped asking.

• Lori’s boyfriend told her she was oversexed and that he needed to keep an eye on her or she’d be out of control. He had sex with her at least once on most days, which was more than she wanted, but he told her it was what he needed to do to keep her “honest.” Over time, she stopped protesting the way he monitored and forced himself on her. She accepted the idea that the sex was “for her own good.”

• Clarice’s husband, Doug, did not have a job for the first decade of their marriage. Clarice worked long days and when she returned home he berated her for “choosing work over family.” In front of the children, he defined her as cold, unloving and nonmaternal. Clarice constantly felt obliged to prove that she was a good mother. The children joined their father in blaming Clarice for “not being around much,” as if she was making a deliberate choice to be out of the home for long stretches. In the evening, Doug would take away Clarice’s phone, saying, “Now you’re going to have to pay attention to us.”

Setting the terms of life in a couple
Controlling partners create the expectations. The abuser demands certain acts as proof of love and over time, you give in.

• Kelly’s husband insisted that they share a toothbrush and that they use the same water or wine glass at all meals. He couldn’t seem to tolerate her having anything that was hers alone. Kelly dreamed of being able to close the door when she showered but her husband wanted to be able to see her at all times.

• Lily pushed her boyfriend to share all his social media and email passwords and when he refused, she secretly installed a keystroke logger so she could access them against his will. When he found out and confronted her, she replied, “Loving couples keep no secrets.” He gave up on the idea of Internet privacy.

• Karen told Carmen that she should never say “no” to her; pleasing her should be her Number One and only priority. Carmen tried hard to follow this rule and grew ashamed when she had longings of her own.

If you recognize yourself in any of these examples of perspecticide, it is likely that you blame yourself and may feel despairing and disoriented, even long after the relationship has ended. It can be hard to figure out exactly what is wrong. 
Begin to daydream about the future you want and you will begin to rediscover "you."
Controlling partners serve as a filter for the outside world, gradually forcing you to lose the support of family, friends and coworkers. Isolated and controlled in this way, you probably lost self-esteem and may still have trouble remembering what you once thought, felt and believed.

Through perspecticide, you may have given up religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, desires and ideas, substituting those of your dominating partner.

After leaving a toxic relationship, it’s not uncommon to feel like there’s no ‘you’ left and to have no idea what you want. If this is true for you, be gentle and patient with yourself.

It may take you some time to rediscover your authentic self, but the process can turn into one of delightful discovery. Honor your own right to be who you are and give yourself time, not only chronological time but especially unstructured time and space to be with yourself and to try new things, such as:
     • Art
     • Journaling
     • Meditation
     • Making new friends and reconnecting with old ones
     • Travel
     • Experimenting with different types of exercise
     • Dreaming and planning for the future
     • Trying new activities
     • Encouraging yourself to do things differently than you have before, even simple things like taking a bath instead of a shower, eating at a different time, taking a nap…

To learn more about how to recognize perspecticide and reclaim your sense of self after a controlling, toxic relationship, more information is available in my book, Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.
*  *  *
Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD, teaches at the University Without Walls at the University of Massachusetts and has worked as a family, individual and group psychotherapist, dedicating two decades to making the mental health, social service and criminal justice systems more responsive to culturally diverse people.
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