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Talking About Talking: On manipulation & abuse

In talking about talking, it is important to talk about when talking is hurtful. Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario:


Your friend sits down at dinner and it seems like there is something slightly off about them, so you ask what’s up.

“I’m fine,” they say. “My partner and I are fighting right now,” they say.

You ask what they are fighting about.

“They got mad that I wanna study abroad in an opposite semester from them,” they say.

Or maybe they say, “It was really dumb, they thought I need a haircut.”

Or, “They thought I wanted to cheat on them because my ex texted me.”

Or even, “I didn’t want to study with them and they got mad.”

You say, “Why don’t you dump them? It seems like they make you unhappy a lot.”

Your friend says, “I’d never dump them! They love me. Plus, we have so many plans together that I’m excited about. We’re gonna have fun. We just fight sometimes.”

Image of columnist Kelly Page

It’s difficult to know sometimes when you are in an unhealthy, or even an abusive relationship. All of these reasons for a “fight,” according to, are warning signs of manipulation and abuse: possessiveness, constantly criticizing one’s partner, extreme unreasonable suspicion, and even the fact that the friend does not want to leave their partner because they “fight

often and it always gets better.”

Other warning signs of emotional abuse which the article lists:

  1. Humiliating or embarrassing you.
  2. Constant put-downs.
  3. Hypercriticism.
  4. Refusing to communicate.
  5. Ignoring or excluding you.
  6. Extramarital affairs.
  7. Provocative behavior with opposite sex.
  8. Use of sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
  9. Unreasonable jealousy.
  10. Extreme moodiness.
  11. Mean jokes or constantly making fun of you.
  12. Saying “I love you but…”
  13. Saying things like “If you don’t _____, I will_____.”
  14. Domination and control.
  15. Withdrawal of affection.
  16. Guilt trips.
  17. Making everything your fault.
  18. Isolating you from friends and family.
  19. Using money to control.
  20. Constant calling or texting when you are not with him/her.
  21. Threatening to commit suicide if you leave.

Abuse, whether verbal, psychological or physical, often happens in a cycle. The cycle goes like this: first, tensions build and “the victim becomes fearful and feels the need to placate the abuser,” according to Wikipedia. Then an incident occurs: this can be either verbal, emotional or physical. It can be an “argument” that looks more like the abuser telling the victim how unworthy they appear to them. It can be use of physical aggression to control them. It can be an extreme bout of gaslighting. The reason abuse happ

ens in a cycle (and the reason it can be hard to leave an abusive relationship) is that after the abusive incident it always gets better. You’re in love again. You can forgive.

According to Wikipedia, “Verbal abuse is a maladaptive mechanism that anyone can display occasionally, such as during times of high stress or physical discomfort. For some people, it is a pattern of behaviors used intentionally to control or manipulate others or to get revenge.” That’s right, anyone can display signs of verbal abuse. Anyone.

When abuse takes place cyclically in a relationship, the abuser is acting a certain way to control their partner to

make sure that their own needs are being met. In an article for Thought Catalog, psychologist Emily Kazina writes “emotionally-abusive partners consciously and deliberately set out to hurt, humiliate and control their partners.  They see that as the best way to go about satisfying their own emotional needs.  They see what they do as creating a relationship that satisfies their need for power and control over another human being…When women ask, “’Do emotionally abusive men know they are abusive?” they blind themselves to the reality. Emotionally abusive men don’t care.”

That’s why, when a relationship is abusive, it’s best to just end it. Communication should never be a means of control.

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