Because most good, decent people tend to treat others like they would themselves, they allow small boundaries to be pushed without thinking too hard about it. In a normal relationship there is wiggle room for mistakes. However, with an abuser, pushing boundaries is part of their game, and is designed to get the victim to unknowingly lower their standards. This boundary pushing is called “managing down expectations”. They start off with erratically pushing smaller boundaries until new and slightly lower standards are created. Meaning, they rarely push the same boundaries over and over. Instead, they are pushing a little in every direction to allow for all boundaries to be continually pushed.
When the victim objects to a boundary push, the abuser does four things:
1. Avoids responsibility by either playing stupid (“it’s not my fault”), or evokes guilt/insecurity (“it’s all your fault”–aka, “look at what you made me do”).
2. Appeals to the victim’s sense of hope that their behavior will change.
3. Appeals to the victim’s sense of pity/forgiveness for them.
4. Avoids responsibility again by blaming to the victim and the relationship–makes his issue “their” issue.
A common example of a more extreme boundary push would be if a man cheats on his wife and gets caught. He might tell her that the other woman threw herself at him (it’s not my fault), and that he wouldn’t have been tempted by her had the wife paid more attention to him (look at what you made me do), and that he’s sorry (hope of change) and he loves her very much and it will never happen again–that they need to work on their marriage (my behavior is now “our” problem).
This plays out as the abuser pushing a boundary, then the victim then finds herself explaining the obvious to a grown man, to which he then tells her he didn’t realize he was doing this very obvious thing(playing stupid), or someone else made him do this very obviously thing (“she threw herself at me”), and will change (appealing to hope), and to please forgive him (appeal to pity).
The behavior might change, but only long enough to allow for enough time to go by so that the initial shock of the behavior wears off. Then the abuser starts up with (or becomes more obvious with) the behavior again. The victim isn’t as shocked or disturbed, is generally frustrated and angered about it, but reluctantly accepts it as his new “normal” behavior. This continues until the victim is putting up with more and more outrageous and ridiculous behavior which she stops sharing with friends and family because she is embarrassed by what she’s putting up with, which creates more shame for herself, which further isolates her from her support system, to which she leans more and more on her partner for love, understanding, listening–all the things that she’d normally get from friends and family (and is continually let down as the cycle continues) and goes into therapy, reads self help books and works on herself in hopes that she can be a better significant other so that his Jekyll and Hyde behavior will eventually stop and that he will be the good man that she initially fell in love with.
Victims need to see these boundary pushes early on as the major warning flags that they are. If someone has no regard for your boundaries, they have no regard for you, and things won’t get better–they just get worse.
My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
Latest posts by Dana (see all)
- Episode 55: How Do I Stop My Addiction to the Narcissist? - August 23, 2017
- Episode 53: Strategies to Help Prevent Your Child from Being Manipulated by a Narcissistic Parent - August 21, 2017
- Episode 54: How can we handle victim blaming and revictimization? - August 18, 2017