High-Conflict Phases of Abuse, Blame Shifting, Distortion, Rage and Manipulation Diagram

Although this post is published under my name (Dr Tara J. Palmatier) it was actually written by one of my clients who is also a doctor in another health field. A couple weeks ago, he sent a diagram (included below) he created to discuss during our upcoming session. I was blown away. The diagram captures the abuse, blame shifting, distortion, rage and manipulation cycles that he experiences in his marriage week in and week out.

After we discussed the diagram, I asked my client if he would be willing to write a legend for it and he graciously agreed. I am very appreciative that he took the time to document what he experiences in his marriage and suspect that many of you who are reading this will, sadly, find what he describes all too familiar as well. Again, the following post and diagram were respectively written and created by one of my clients who prefers to remain anonymous:

Sorting Out the High Conflict Phases: A Personal Observation

by Anonymous Client

Most likely if you are reading this, you or someone you know is involved with a high-conflict individual and subsequently dealing with a broken or difficult relationship. If you are a guy, you probably just perked up when you read the word “broken.” Let’s face it, if you’re like me, you probably like to fix things. Fixing things can be simultaneously challenging and rewarding. But what can you do when you find yourself in an abusive, illogical and unrepairable relationship?

You could just head for the hills, but that isn’t always possible, especially in the beginning. Things are more complicated than just escaping your self-centered partner. There’s children, family, friends, finances, religious beliefs and numerous other variables involved. Even your own “manipulated” self-mental assessment regarding your accountability for the conflict may keep you from leaving. I mean, the person you thought you knew and trusted is telling you it’s all your fault, right? As a result, many of us are not so quick to leave and, therefore, have to deal with the conflict for a while. We need to seek other options.

I have been involved in health care for over twenty years and I frequently encounter patients who have medical problems that can’t be “fixed.” It is undeniable that some individuals deal with their situations much better than others. Some are in constant turmoil while others seem to have an inner peace about themselves. So the obvious question is, what makes the difference between the two groups?

It has been my observation that individuals who deal with things most effectively are on a journey to learn. They actively seek relevant knowledge regarding their problems. But equally important, they have perspective. They are able to see the bigger picture. This awareness enhances their coping skills. More simply stated, if you know what’s going on and where you might be headed, you feel better. You may not like your circumstances any better, but you feel better internally. Which group would you want to be in?

Psychological War is Hell

Over the last few years, I have read numerous articles regarding abusive relationships. I could relate to the manipulative tactics that high-conflict individuals use to abuse and control their partners. However, I had difficulty seeing the bigger picture. I knew where I had been, but I couldn’t tell where I was going. Or, could I? After reflecting on my own years of adversity, I began to recognize distinct repetitive phases to each conflict in my marriage. Each phase seemed to serve a particular role. With this revelation, I decided to try and add some perspective by analyzing the phases. The result of my efforts is the flow chart described below. If you are prone to flashbacks and nightmares I suggest you stop reading here! (Legend continues below diagram).

Tactics. This is your partner’s weapons arsenal. The list is long. She is clearly a psychological weapons specialist. Just like countries spend vast amounts of resources evaluating the weapons of other countries, you need to do so as well. I will not detail the tactics individually, but take the time to learn the weapons she uses so that you can identify them and thereby counter them more effectively in future conflicts.

The first two phases are knee jerk responses. Your significant other has been the way she is for a long time. When things don’t go her way, she just goes on autopilot and bad things happen. Let’s break it down.

Phase I

Perceived Insult. It is easy to think of this as the “trigger.” Problem is, this is no ordinary trigger. It is a hair-trigger. Anything that portrays her as less than perfect or holds her accountable will trigger her for sure. You need to evaluate what triggers your partner. If you were the one that actually triggered the response, it will be easier to identify. However, sometimes it wasn’t your finger on the trigger. More on that later.

Disproportionate Rage. This phase could easily be labeled “shock and awe.” You will be in awe because in your mind the perceived insult will not warrant the level of rage you receive. If your infraction is deemed serious enough, she is most likely to use nuclear weapons first. Don’t be surprised if you are subjected to flying objects, yelling, divorce threats, and false 911 calls. There will definitely be memories that last a lifetime!

After the mushroom cloud clears, things will de-escalate slowly. This may take hours, days or even weeks sometimes. The significant difference between the knee jerk phases and the remaining ones is that the events and conversations will become very calculated and manipulated on her part. Illogical arguments and distorted views will definitely wreak havoc on your mental faculties.

Phase II

Defensive / Retaliation. This is basically a scaled down, less violent version of the previous phase. Cluster bombing comes to mind. She has done nothing wrong! You are wrong! It’s just that simple. Anything you say is wrong. Even an apology would be wrong. Your recollections of the events are inaccurate. Nobody has ever treated her as poorly as you do.

She claims that all of her friends, doctors, therapists, parents and the mailman agree with her. They all know you are an abusive jerk. She claims she will continue to do whatever she wants. You will pay for your infraction. She is the judge, jury and executioner all in one. You are not able to get a word in edgewise at this point. All you can do is hunker down and let the bombs fall.

Phase III

Playing Nice. Are you willing to surrender? Here is your chance. She will approach you in an eerily calm manner and pretend like nothing ever happened. She will then offer some type of phony apology as well as a dose of blame. The old, “I’m sorry, but. . . it’s really your fault.” Never mind that she has repeated the same actions numerous times. That doesn’t matter. You are suppose to take her at her word that she is genuine this time.

All you have to do is admit that her actions were your fault and you need to change your ways. She will even let you speak at this point. Nothing you say will be correct but at least she will pretend to listen. Offers for make-up sex might even be made to facilitate your compliance with the program.

Secondary Arguments. If you decide to withhold raising the white flag, you will find your battlefronts broadening in scope as you engage in “topic warfare.” The topics of conflict will stray far from the original infraction. Every problem you have encountered since the beginning of your relationship will come up. Any sensitive information you have shared with her will be misconstrued against you. The attacks become very personal in nature.

You don’t make enough money. You’re a lousy lover. Every relationship she has ever had is better than this one. It goes on and on until she gets a very pivotal reaction I call the “nugget.” The nugget is any bad or politically incorrect reaction on your part. Heaven forbid if you defend yourself or call her a name. Unknowingly, you have just been read your Miranda rights. Anything you say can and will be used against you. As soon as she gets the nugget, this theater of operation is over.

Phase IV

Pseudo-Victim Creation. The nugget is the catalyst for the creation of the pseudo-victim. You are now outgunned and dealing with a psychological special operations unit. Her skills at being a professional victim are so well honed that you will even start to doubt yourself. Things get very dramatic.

She will cry, sulk and need to be consoled by friends. The guilt trips she lays on you are very intense. It has always been her, that has fought for the relationship while you have never even cared! What have you ever done for her? How can you be such a jerk? You use her as a beast of burden!

Role Reversal. At this point she has successfully taken the spotlight off of herself and put it on you. Things have come full circle. Her original reactions are completely “off topic.” You now find yourself defending yourself about one of the other issues brought up in the previous phase. You will find yourself shell-shocked and not even knowing what you are really arguing about at this point.

She will continue to repeat the cycles from “playing nice” to the “role reversal” until she is satisfied that she has either won the war or some other “hot topic” comes along and takes precedence.

Phase V

The Cloud. This is basically a cold war phase. If you accepted her phony apology, you may have been able bypass the Secondary Arguments, Pseudo-Victim Creation and Role Reversal and leap frog directly to this phase. There are no direct conflicts in the Cloud, but uncertainties are abound. The underlying hostilities are still there. There is never any real resolution or compromise to the previous situation. There is only pseudo-forgiveness. Even though the prior conflict is not talked about, it will certainly come up again in some other secondary argument phase.

Establishing a demilitarized zone and avoiding each other may provide some degree of normalcy and peace to your life. Like being in a real cloud, the visibility is poor. You have no clue what the next conflict will be about or when it will occur. If you are a veteran, you will learn to be on a mental red alert at all times.

Special Considerations

Covert Route. This happens when you weren’t the one who pulled her trigger. It is essentially a shortcut to the secondary argument phase. An example would be when you experience “topic warfare” minutes after you get home from work. An unknowing partner may think she is just in a bad mood, but in actuality, somebody insulted her during the day and she is taking it out on you to make herself feel better. A clue to confirm this is that she is mad at everybody and not just yourself.

Submissive Route. As previously noted, if you are willing to accept her phony apologies and “drink the Kool-Aid”, you can take a shortcut to the Cloud phase. Just remember, there is no amnesty granted. You still caused her to act poorly in the beginning. You are basically on parole. If you violate your parole, the conflict will immediately pick up where it left off.

Don’t Be a P.O.W.

In a normal relationship, one would be able to eliminate this cycle of conflict through understanding and compromise. However, with high-conflict individuals, this cycle is deeply ingrained within their DNA. As described above, there is no compromise. There is merely a pattern of distortion and manipulation designed to blame you for any lack of responsibility or accountability on their part. Absolute control of the partner is the goal. This is very difficult to identify and understand in the beginning.

Accordingly, it is easy to falsely blame one’s self or to simply justify their bad behaviors. Only through careful observation can one begin to perceive the true intent of your partner’s manipulative actions. In my case, the visualization of a flowchart added a tangible realization as to why the conflicts progressed as they did.

These are, of course, my own personal observations and interpretations. Your personal flow chart could vary from mine. Nevertheless, I suggest you do your own case study and study the trends. Your epiphany might just give you a different perspective. You may not like your circumstances any better, but you may be better able to cope with them until other options are available.

Thanks again to my client for this very insightful diagram and its explanation.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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  1. FreedomAtLast says

    Thank you Dr. Tara,

    ….. for another great article. I am glad your client (healthcare professional) chose to share it with you, and you with us. This site does a great service for which I am personally greatful!

    Freedom At Last In Michigan.

    • Timothytoff says

      hi Guys,

      Talking about nuggets, i may have given my ex the golden nugget when I caved into questioning a year into our relationship and admitted sleeping with another woman 1 month after we got together. I was immature and pretty drunk and regretted it fully. But I kept it to myself for a long time which too was an awfull thing to do on my part!

      I didn’t conciously see the signs but Sub conciously I was amazed and a bit over whelmed at how fast our relationship was progressing emotionally. The thing is I was questioned and accused of many things that I did not do and even accused of thinking in a certain ways in which I didn’t. the argument cycles were practically the same as what I’ve seen here. but I guess I’ll never know if she would have been like that without the cheating. She is always the victim and has never blamed herself or taken back something she said about me. just blamed me for making her feel like that. so it was always my fault she acted in that way.

  2. dietrich says

    Good article. I especially like the concept of the “nugget”! My ex-gf (BPD) was especially skilled at using this tactic.

    After the first few months of our relationship, I began getting paranoid about what information I was willing to share with her about my family, friends, job, childhood, ex-gfs, etc, as she typically used it against me during her meltdowns. My heartfelt confessions about my personal failures, flaws and shortcomings were later used as ammunition against me in order to reinforce her ‘argument’ and further convince me that I was some kind of inhuman monster that I was always WRONG and she was right.

    These sometimes produced negative reactions (“nuggets”) on my part. But near the end, I simply started retaliating with personal insults and character attacks. An eye for an eye. I had enough.

    When I started to retaliate with the same style of verbal/emotional cruelty that she had inflicted on me, I realized that I needed out of the relationship. Being like that is NOT who I am. And it was a “nugget” she used to further devalue me and twist my sense of reality into thinking I truly was some kind of uncaring sub-human.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Hi dietrich,

      I’m glad you realized that your ex was turning you into someone you’re not. What you described is called “defensive mirroring” in psycho-jargon. It can be really frightening to see yourself morph into someone like your ex. This is absolutely a sign that you need to get out and I’m glad you heeded it rather than sinking into the muck any deeper.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  3. SweetJones says

    I also love the diagram, and the concept of the “nugget” blows my mind. I used to liken my ex to a squirrel, and these resentful bits of damaging info her “nuts,” which she would never fail to dig up out of storage and crack open in every argument we had.

    Of course she would always tell me I was the one who hoarded these nuts, even though she frequently stated that she would NEVER admit to ever being wrong for fear that I would use it against her. (Honestly, my memory for such matters always paled in comparison to hers; that woman remembers no favors and forgets no slights.)

    So in her mind, exactly none of my nuts were valid, because she had never admitted to being wrong…While all of hers were, because I often apologized. Mind you, she would occasionally apologize too, but it would INVARIABLY be followed by the inevitable “but you” apology-neutralizer.

    God, I don’t know how I survived 17 years of that mindfuck.

    • fuzzylogic72 says

      She invalidated your nuts? That is inhumane. lol.. But seriously, it was good to read your post; I just broke up with my fiancee yesterday and i’m SO glad I found this article and forum. It’s amazing how they can turn the tables on you regardless of how brutally they have behaved towards you, i.e., the “but you” apology neutralizer (I like that term). “I’m sorry I threw your engagement ring into your drink at the bar, and then had drinks with another guy in front of you the rest of the night… but you drove me to do that out of frustration, and the pain from your hurtful words; you hurt me all the time with your words and you just don’t GET it!”
      …And that’s their ‘apology'; another stab at you.

      • SweetJones says

        “You just don’t get it, do you?” was also a fave of my ex for a couple of years…She retired it for some reason; at any rate, no I did not get it. I didn’t come close to getting it until I got out and Dr. T started putting these articles on the Web.

  4. chris117 says

    I really hope this post helps my friend realize his situation is not his fault. He is so stuck on this issue in his own words he said “I take everything on as my “fault”. I can’t not do that. It’s who I am and how I tick.” He is a very black and white type person, I just hope that this flow chart is “ungrey” enough for him to finially see it. Thank you.

  5. Freedom says

    An absolutely brilliant read!!! You hit it all right on the head. As i told my family members during pretty much all of my conflicts with my ex, “if this were really my fault, then this would all be so easy and it would already be fixed”. but it never gets fixed because its not designed to have an answer.

    they want more… More… MORE from you and what you get in return is more of the same…

    eegads i’m so glad i’m done with all of that!!!

    • fuzzylogic72 says

      That’s SO true! No matter how flexible, patient, humble, communicative you are… no matter how much you do to CHANGE yourself (because of course it’s YOU that has to do the changing; she says, “everyone one thinks I’m so patient with you, or I’m a sucker for staying in this relationship because it’s so destructive to me (yet the previous week called you paranoid for thinking people are judging you…and swears she NEVER talks about her relationships to her friends lol); and I’ve never had these problems in relationships before” (yet she happens to be divorced with two kids, and a personalized ringtone for her ex-husband; “When You See My Face (I Hope It Gives You Hell)”…yeah… THAT indicates a harmonious, emotionally mature woman.
      What amazes me the most is how they seem normal at first (maybe a little self-righteous, bossy, or stubborn, but it’s ‘normal enough’ to get under the radar. Then over time, they wear down your will and self-esteem to the point where you actually start to believe it’s your personal character flaws that are destroying the relationship and and causing her so much torment. How do we get brainbashed into this state. Better question, how can we even lament the loss, or feel badly about the end, after all this manipulation, and emotional/verbal abuse?
      It’s taking all the willpower I have not to avoid thinking about the whole thing through booze. Can’t let her have any more negative impact onmy life than she already has.

      • punchingbag says

        Hi fuzzylogic72
        My ex BPD guy said “I never had these problems in relationships before” yet he talked about his communication problems with his exs. He said he did have the issues with them but it was different with me. I realised for the first 6 months I went along with his stories but when I started to call on his controlling behaviour and all his BPD behaviours then he would get angry and blame me for everything. I think what your ex really means is that she was able to totally control all her exs and they never worked out the truth about her, even after the break up. Where as you worked out all her BS and questioned her and started standing up for yourself. Do not feel bad about ending it with her. Consider yourself lucky you got yourself out of her claws. The good thing is that you will be able to spot these kind of women from miles away even though they are nice at the beginning but if you pay close attention they usually slip up in very small ways even on the first date. They do wear you down and drain you but I still wake up with a smile on my face knowing I do not have to deal with his BS anymore.

  6. Bogeyman says

    I can totally empathize with Dietrich…tonight I told my gf that her head-games aren’t working on me anymore and of course started denying that she is not playoing head-games with me…whatever…I told her I’m not going to get into it and also told her that I am now going to be taking care of myself now. She is totally therreatened by this Website…she said I turned into a real A*****e over the last couple of weeks…I guess Dr. T. was right in that once you stick up for yourself, they start panicking. She said that I wasn’t allowed to use any of the furniture because she bought it and I should just go sleep at my mother’s from now on…I said fine, but you know what…You take care of the Mortgage payments and all the bills…she then said, “Continue ruining my life”, to which I said, “I’m not going to pay for anything that I’m not using…”

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Hi Bogeyman,

      This is why I recommend NOT showing this site to your abusive wife/gf/ex. You’re not going to get the validation you’re seeking and you make ma a target by doing so. Share the information here with your family and friends, but please do not share it with your abuser. It’s not going to have the desired effect. More than likely, she will turn it around and use it against you.

      Dr T

      • Bogeyman says

        You are so right Dr. T….She is upstairs in the bedroom sulking right now because she didn’t win over me again, thanks to your website…I basically told her…you want to act like a B***ch, I’m going to treat you like a B**ch, you want to treat me with respect, I’m going to treat you with respect back…I guess tonight was my final last chance to see if there was any glimmer of hope, but to no avail…you are right on the point…

      • SweetJones says

        Unfortunately, I have family members who will show, or may already have shown her, this site.

        It could explain my ex’s weird behavior yesterday. Several weeks back I asked if we could switch weekends with the kids for a weekend in early December. She chose not to answer at the time and finally got back to me yesterday morning, asking if I still wanted to swap weekends, and also bringing up our 14 YO’s report card, which is mediocre / bad.

        I answered that a swap would be very helpful — my new wife and I had a wedding to go to 200 miles away. I also offered to let her have the kids for a few hours on Xmas Eve to sweeten the pot and in an attempt to thaw things between us a little bit.

        As for our son’s grades, she has always had a hair-trigger temper. She always yelled, and his grades have stayed mediocre his whole life. I was the same way, a chronic underachiever. Getting yelled at never got me anywhere. I believe more in carrots than sticks, though both are necessary, whereas she thinks she can bludgeon her way through everything. That was another thing we fought about dozens of times.

        Anyway, like I said, sometimes sticks are necessary, and I told her I would be taking away his Xbox on my weekends until he brought up his two D’s to low B’s.

        And then she was Strawberry Shortcake all of a sudden, saying he needed more compassion, and that I was being too harsh, though of course it “was all up to [me].” (I love how they defer decision-making to you, then tell you you’re wrong no matter what choice you make. Reminds me of the fun that would ensue when she would tell me to pick a restaurant.)

        She stressed that this new-found softness of heart was because “he had been through a lot the last few weeks,” referring to my wedding, which took place last weekend. So, you see, his bad grades were all my fault. While I understand that this is a lot for him to handle right now, it would have more impact if she hadn’t been blaming me for his grades since Kindergarten.

        And then there was the swapped weekend. Nine hours after it was offered, it was off the table because she “forgot” she was going to be out of the country between Dec 17 and Dec 26. How that slipped her mind I don’t know; she hasn’t been overseas, where her family lives, in ten years.

        Nor has she seen her family at all; she banned them from visiting her here, for reasons she has never made clear. I think she is either ashamed of them, or fears that my snobby and judgmental family won’t like them, or both. (As to the latter, I fear she is right.)

        In 16 years of marriage, her parents met my non-snobby dad and step-mom but no other members of my large family. And somehow that remains okay with those same nose-in-the-air family members. They just love her, even though she’s thrown her parents and brothers under the bus.

        Anyway, all of this roughly coincided with me sending my aunt (my ex’s good buddy) some links from the site. My aunt never acknowledged reading them, even after I prodded her about it several days after they were originally sent, and then here came these bizarre emails from my ex. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the first time this aunt has told my ex everything I’ve written in a private email, either.

  7. Verbal says

    One of these days when I am feeling creative I will put together a Cluster B Decision Tree. It will include a section with an infinite loop. Once you enter it, you can’t get out. An example being how she can recall every time (both real and imagined) you have affronted her, and recite them all in detail over and over again in a single conversation. The diagram would also include decision gates like, “If one thing is wrong, is everything wrong?” where the only choices are, “Yes” and, “Yes”. The possibilities are endless.

  8. says

    This is verbatim what my husband goes through with his ex to this day. Unfortunately, he cannot cut all ties with her as he shares custody of his two beautiful children. He’s a devoted father and wonderful husband. She continued her emotional haranguing after the divorce to the point that she is court ordered to only contact him via email for parenting matters. This doesn’t stop her, but at least he can take a step back, breathe and formulate a good, appropriate response. I see this cycle. She is sticky sweet – she wants something. She’s polite? She’s setting a trap for him to walk into with no way out. Raging out of control over something petty? Her will was thwarted and she can’t control him. Hammer, Nail, Head – great article

  9. says

    Thats a really good description of the abuse cycle, but understanding the process is not controlling it. How do you ever have any serious discussions and ever get anything resolved if you are always wrong and walking on eggshells.

    I also have to disagree with the suggestion that there is any good reason to stay in such a soul destroying relationship, especially when she threatens the nuclear bomb of “calling 911″.

    The psychological abuse is debilitating and confusing, the physical abuse is absolutely frightening. For me, the final straw was the threat that I would never see my kids again if I divorced her. I had to do it to protect my relationship with my beautiful children and ensure that they would not learn that it is okay to treat Daddy like garbage. I always worry about them.

  10. fuzzylogic72 says

    Telling you you could never see them if you divorced? Your lawyers could have had fun with that one in court; it would be considered a potential threat to the welfare of the children. My best friend just got sole custody his boy after the wife wrote a big letter saying how after the next court date is done, everything will be over and they will be going away and he will never see them again. No he can breathe in his OWN house again, and doesn’t have to be worried about being verbally, emotionally and physically (was stabbed with a fork in the chest)abused in from of his infant son.
    Girls are getting more and more difficult to relate with, and I think there is a rapidly growing trend of men saying screw it; they’re not worth the likely inevitable pain of getting screwed over and out. I wish I could just have a few tv-cuddle friends; nice, intelligent, and good looking of course.

    • says

      I hired the best lawyer in town (supposedly). He wasn’t interested in my journals, he wasn’t interested in her admissions of violence, he wasn’t interested in the children, he was only interested in my money.

  11. manofhonour says

    Great article. I like the use of military and judicial phrases. It reinforces the content in the same way that is always presented by the high-conflicts themselves, i love it!

    • manofhonour says

      I remember “my transition” from Phase 4 to 5. I used to walk around with a digital recorder in my shirt pocket..and during one of the rage episode while i was recording her, it fell to the floor as she pushed me and she saw it and stopped right there for a second (like she was in a movie shoot – CUT!!)…lol, like the author said above, there will be plenty memories. However, this was the lowest point in the relationship. I was actually so hurt from it all, my only salvation was to inform someone outside the whole circus. That is when I made up my mind that from that point on I will share with my family all the drama and details of what is going on in our relationship and I actually sat her down and let her know what I’ve decided – boy did I help myself!! From that day on I became a changed person, for some reason I kept to myself and never took the bait ever! This made matters worse (perhaps better for me), because it escalated the name-calling and eventually, “Mt Vesuvius” erupted and one day she just packed and left with my daughter.

      Before that I was always the fixer and rescuer. I couldn’t identify with what was going on. At one point she spewed a pile of lies about me to our friends, right there in front of me and whereas I was always “protecting” her by not revealing to people what a mess she was behind closed doors. With the help from here I have since had the courage to end the relationship. She tried to persuade me to accept her back while letting me know “how wrong” I was and how I have caused all the “troubles” in the relationship, etc, etc…

      • SweetJones says

        A few days after I left my ex, she told me she would be willing to take me back if I fell to my knees and begged her for forgiveness. This came out of the blue; it wasn’t like I was signaling that I wanted to come back.

        • manofhonour says

          Hi SweetJ
          In their minds, YOU HAVE TO WANT THEM otherwise they are not in control. Even when you leave them or go No Contact. They truly believe their own crap. To them the world is flat but somehow from where they’re standing you are always at the bottom end, lol.

      • MDS says

        I too am the “fixer” using logic and calm tones to do my best to analyze exactly what the issue is. Funny thing is she doesn’t want to discuss or examine anything. Says she doesn’t want to talk. Then the trigger gets hit, and she launches. I’ve tried waiting out the rant to try and get a word edge wise. Nothing really does seem to work until she’s gotten her pound of flesh. I hope my marriage can be saved. We’re approaching 30 years, but the kids are out and doing well, so now it’s only us two. I’m going to keep reading and learning and hoping for the best. I can either become a hermit, or flee. Neither seems fun. We’ll see.

  12. ntcrzy says

    This article does cause “flashbacks”! I could actually use this flow chart and a pen and check off every stage in order! My borderline xwife has mastered this tactic as a way to totally justify everything she says or does and to prove how everything she says or does is all my fault. Thanks for this site.It has truly restored the sanity I slowly lost over the last two years!

  13. finally_free says

    THE NUGGET. I can’t thank you enough for recognizing this and defining it so well.

    In my “previous” relationship with my STBX (soon to be ex), this was not only the tactic but also one of the primary reasons for me staying and continue to try. In each of our arguments, if I ever even raised my voice or even sometimes when I didn’t, this tactic would be employed. “See, you can’t control your temper. You always resort to yelling and calling names. If you were a real man, you could have discussions in a calm and rational manner. etc. etc.” In my mind I could hear Dr. Phil saying something like “Men just don’t know how to communicate with women. If they just learned how to communicate their feelings and tried to understand the feelings of the woman, this would all work.” (I am not sure if Dr. Phil ever said something exactly like that, but it is the type of line I expect from him.)

    Anyway, I would nearly always give her that nugget. That point when my frustration would boil over and I would do something or say something that would 1.) Be used to validate that I was a bad person of bad character and definitely not a man that deserved her respect in any way, and 2.) Validate that she was right since I clearly could not control myself. I did notice somewhere along the way that the only person who I could lose my temper with was my STBX. In a 20+ career in a high stress industry, I NEVER lost my temper so I knew something was strange. Obviously this site helped me understand what was strange.

    I also noticed how calm and quite frankly happy she would become when I gave her the nugget. That moment when she knew she had me and I would move to the “guilt and shame” position. I think I even welcomed this to an extent because I knew subconsciously that the nugget point marked the time when the argument would be coming to a close. It was a relief to an extent to know that the frustration was ending, all I needed to do was apologize for losing my temper and admit all my faults and inadequacies and the argument would end.

    As our relationship came to a close, I leveraged this site to give me the tools to not give her the nugget. And, as your diagram illustrates, if I did not give the nugget, we would move to the “cloud.” I noticed that I felt incredibly stronger and in control and more “like a man” when I stopped giving the nugget. And to Dr. T’s comment about “getting your nuggets back” – quite frankly it was alot like this. By giving her the nugget, I felt I was basically handing over the “nuggets” to her. When I did not hand this over, I KEPT them. And she hated this. It was then that I realized there was nothing in the relationship. It was over and I was able to move on. And i took “my nuggets,” went to a lawyer, worked with the lawyer to serve her with papers and left.

    So anyway, thank you for your article and diagram. It perfect. And to Dr. T – please do the “get your nuggets back” article. We will not only identify with it, but I am sure there are alot of men who need to hear the message.

  14. sh*tshield says

    Wow, this is great, I shared this with my lawyer so he can finally understand why my divorce is taking 2 years. What I want to know, is this, is it possible for an entire family I mean my STBX wives parents to have the same issues. It seems that these people thrive from conflict as much as their daughter does and look for opportunities to create it.

  15. Tdiane says

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve been a reader for some time but this is the first time I’ve posted. Someone close to me is in a relationship just like this that caused us to break up. When he would talk to me about what was going on, many of the situations fit into a point of the diagram. Even the ‘nuggets’ part where she would use things against him to stage a “suicide attempt” because she was unhappy with him (she knows how much personal loss through death hes sustained and would constantly say he would be responisible for her death to guilt trip him). Understanding what men go through in these situations help, but I do ask is there any good points for people to help those dealing with trying to break the cycle. Advice for those they alienated?

    • moundbuilder says

      I have a friend in a similar situation. I don’t post a lot either, mostly just read. I keep hoping to learn how to be a good friend to him. I wish I had some good ideas or some good points to make to help him break the cycle, just as you wish. So far, mostly what I think I can do is keep trying to learn, to listen when he feels like talking and I try to refrain from giving much direct advice. Sometimes if he seems receptive, I’ll share information I’ve come across, but I try to keep that to a minimum.

      Part of what is hard for me to understand, is how he can be subjected to so many years of negative stuff, anger, things like the cycle described in this post, yet he will end up defending her poor behavior toward him and even toward his children. Every now and then, as I read posts here, I can get some vague sense about why he will defend someone who is so negative to him, but mostly it just seems very puzzling.

      I wish I had more advice to offer. At the least, I felt like letting you know that I hear what you are saying, and find it frustrating, too, trying to be a friend to someone who seems willing to tolerate things that shouldn’t be tolerated.

      • luvcats says

        I’m a friend too –
        I don’t know if this helps but
        there is a whole boat load of lies he believes behind that defense of her
        he is believing what she wants him too
        all the garbage she has been feeding him for years and years
        and its like layer after twisted layer and then some more..
        I don’t know if this will help but this seemed to make a difference here
        ***acknowledge what he says****
        (I know this is hard to do – because it sound so ridiculous/abusive/irrational/and at times it can seem like he is playing a game or something stating what she wants not even his own feelings..remember this makes sense to him- it’s totally surreal at times)
        but then ask him how he feels when she does this or that
        ask how does __(your friends name) feel when she does that? or __(abuser) wants to or do/does __(behavior) what does ___(friends name) want..

        you know just something to try to get past him spouting off ONLY the propaganda/defense of her actions that she is feeding him/wants him to believe. Try to get him to *his* feelings *his* wants *his* anything
        if he says I feel ___ but I deserve it because (more lies she is feeding him – shame, guilt, twisted garbage she is feeding him)
        you can tell him those aren’t true
        OK I have NO idea if this is good communication or not so take it with a grain of salt but it seemed to help here –
        mounbuilder if you can google stockholm syndrome it might help you make some sense of it. Hop over the forums too they are very helpful there.

        • moundbuilder says

          Hi luvcats,

          Thanks so much for your reply. I will try some of these things you suggested. I think sometimes I get so aggravated with the things that the way he defends the crazy stuff that I tend to want to counter with something that is a bit more reasoned and confront with something more truthful. But I think you are right, that trying to get him to focus on his own feelings would be better. One thing in particular you said was especially helpful, about some of his defense sometimes making it seem as if he’s playing games. That is exactly what gets confusing to me at times. I’ve sometimes wondered if I end up feeling the confusion that he experiences but maybe can’t quite let himself feel. I’ll try looking at the forums again. I’ve signed in a few times but hadn’t really found threads along the lines of this. Then again, I haven’t spent a lot of time looking, will check in more there. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment. Very helpful and much appreciated.

        • moundbuilder says

          There’s one other thing that is particularly puzzling to me, and maybe this is related to what you said, luvcats, about believing lies he’s been fed for years. The other really puzzling thing is how a man who clearly is managing just about everything in terms of keeping a household running as well as working full-time, has become convinced that he depends on her, that he is her dependent. That is really confusing to me, because to me it seems clear that he’s the one responsible for just about everything and that she depends on him.

          • luvcats says

            It’s extremely difficult ~ you are a great friend!!! :)

            It does feel like they are playing games and it gets better then worse and repeat at times..which makes it even more confusing. I’ts real to him. Maybe try to find out what she says..what does ****he believe she does for him.*** And this will be like so twisted and it gets more twisted..seriously its like unreal. They twist everything. Also he may even filter things around him to fit that.
            Like if you say well I’m a woman too I understand some days are difficult due to__(hormones, fatigue, etc) but there is no excuse for rage, – he might sort of only hear the first part – “like you said its difficult for women….”and he uses that to support some garbage she has fed him. I learned this the hard way – I don’t say ANYTHING like that now. But for sure try ask him what he believes he depends on her for.. what does she do for him (what does she say she does at least)

            Sometimes I just have to pray and give my hurt feelings and confusion to God and just keep being there for him. A few times I could not respond (email) until I had some time to pray and sleep. I remember again he is not playing a game..he is responding to an awful situation and I see his actions differently. Like for example times when the control of time has gotten worse for him – its like viewing what he does do to communicate as reaching out vs instead of thinking he was rude for not replying.. I don’t if that is the best illustation or not. I *try to remember* he is doing the best he can..any reaching out is a big deal and I only see glimpses of his living nightmare..all they do is in response to that.

            Last week I watched a few episodes of Law & Order on netflix (they always have the gf/bf/ of the PD criminal that is brainwashed) I was able to see brainwashing/ emotional dependence on screen.

            I was so confused too about how he can function so well at work and in other parts. I asked someone worked psych for a long time – she said people have different parts to them. There is a book called A Sisters Hope by Brundstetter. Towards the end it shows someone that functions normally in one area but then a part of them in like a child. You could probably get it from interlibrary loan as it’s a popular book in church libraries. When I read that part – it opened my eyes to “see it.”

            It doesn’t show it in an intimate relationship but there is a National Geographic documentary on N Korea on Netflix.. watch that if you can and look at the way these seemingly normal mothers and fathers and grandmothers!!! are like KimJongIl this and that – they are isolated and have been fed it. :(

            Even if he comes to see more lies – he is getting everything from her. He may need to hear he is important, he is special, his feelings matter, just like we tell little children over and over again. Emotional isolation is a horrible thing.

          • luvcats says

            I apoplogize if my above post sounded like I dismissed what you posted about the confusion feeling by saying that I just had to pray. I meant it is SO confusing at times. I do understand – it’s very difficult – I cannot even reply right away to him at times.

        • TheGirlInside says


          I’ve been struggling with a similar issue. The man I’m friends with has also been told so many lies about how worthless he is…he used to call himself ‘stupid’ all the time (which reminded me of how I talked about myself years ago with an AXH)…so I asked him, “Is that true?” and “Can you prove it?” Then, “What evidence do you have to the contrary?” Asking questions rather than tellig him allows him to think through it and come to his own conclusion.

          I’ve learned some about empathic listening, which I think could be really helpful to get him to make sense of things on his own…it’s when you do as lvucats suggested, meaning echo back what he is telling you, then ask: “How do you feel about that?” My friend often answers, “I don’t know,” (which makes my heart go out; she’s created a false reality where his thoughts must mirror hers or be considered ‘wrong’). Then you mirror what you think he’s feeling…like, “You feel trapped because you want to leave, but feel obligations to your children.” “Or, you feel hurt, but don’t want to tell her because she might cry, and keep you up late discussing it.”

          I’m still trying to help / avoid offering advice, especially!! AVOID saying anything negative about her, as that will only trigger his need to defend her. Remember; SO MANY things are considered slights by her, that he’s been taught that he MUST come running to her defense, or _There_WILL_Be_Repercussions_. It’s more a defense / survival skill than true loyalty.

          God Bless you both for trying to make a difference…I pray that your steadfast loving friendship will help them see the light and save themselves. If you’re the praying kind, please pray for my friend, too. If not, maybe just send him some positive energy (it will know where to find him). Thank you!!!

          Take care,

          • TheGirlInside says

            P.S. Just to add, from my own experiences and also from things I’ve read, the ONE thing people who have been abused want is to be heard, and have someone believe them, without pity or judgment. That makes a world of difference.

          • moundbuilder says

            I thank you for your thoughts and will be happy to keep you and your friend in my thoughts. I hope our friends will save themselves and get themselves out of their difficult situations.

            I did have another thought, wanted to share it. I think the feeling my friend has often, and doesn’t want to feel, is anger. I think he tries to avoid anger about how he is treated and about the responsibilities he carries as a result of her dysfunction. It doesn’t seem to be a partnership where both people carry a more or less equal share of household and family responsibilities. In some ways, I can’t blame him for not wanting to feel his own anger; anger is not an especially pleasant feeling. But justifiable anger can be a way to stay motivated to take the steps one needs to take in order to get out. I think, but can’t be certain, that in my friend’s case, he not only wants to feel his own anger, but I think he is actively discouraged by her and by a marriage counselor from feeling that feeling. I think one of the twists in that relationship is that he has taken on the idea that he has a real anger problem and that he needs to extinguish anger. And I think it is true that he has felt anger but as I can hear it, the anger seems justified. I wonder if one of the important steps in figuring out how to get out of a bad situation is the capacity to feel that particular feeling, anger, without feeling consumed entirely by it. And of learning the difference between out-of-control unreasonable anger and anger that is justified. I think if one of the issues a person in a high conflict relationship experiences from the high conflict person in their life is excessive anger, then I can see why the non-HCP wants to distance himself from that, because it may feel as if he is the problem and may reinforce the position the HCP holds, that is that there is something wrong with him and with his anger. If anyone wants to offer thoughts about appropriate anger in the context of a relationship with an HCP I would be glad to hear it.

          • never again says

            Moundbuilder, anger is a natural emotion, and when confronted with the barrage of crap heaped on you by one of these personalities, a perfectly understandable one.

            OTOH, in my case, it didn’t matter if I was angry or not, my NPD claimed I was, as then it justified her treatment of me. Whenever I tried to discuss our problems, the first words out of her mouth were “Stop yelling”. I’m a big guy, and I know I have a big voice, but I wasn’t yelling. However, the discussion would then morph into whether I was yelling or not, rather than addressing the real issue.

            She even pulled it once when we saw a counsellor, and the counsellor told her right out that I wasn’t yelling. Didn’t make any difference.

            In my case, the anger centred around two issues. I could deal with the high maintenance, I could deal with the over-spending, I could deal with the extra housework load. What I couldn’t deal with was her refusal to present a united front when the kids needed discipline (she was absolutely useless when it came to consequences), and her emotional and physical withdrawal from me, which was a 180 degree turn from when she was love bombing me.

            Suppressing the anger made no difference, because it just manifests itself in other ways, like major stress. I finally had to go to the dr. for Valium, just to be able to walk in the door at night. That’s when I realized that I had to get out.

            So, Yes, your friend can and should feel his anger, but then he has to make it work for him, by motivating him to do things for himself, if not just helping him out the door.

          • SweetJones says

            It never ceases to amaze me how so many of these women use the same bag of tricks. “Stop yelling” was a fave of my ex’s too. On the somewhat rare occasions I really would yell, she would occasionally punch me in the mouth. She busted my lip twice, and excused it by saying I “bellowed” at her, which in her mind was ample excuse to throw a little haymaker at my face. (Like you, I am a big guy with a deep voice, but I know when I am yelling and when I am not. And while her little fists didn’t do much damage to my size 8 head, with domestic violence, it’s the thought that counts.)

            Now she is saying one of the main reasons I left her is that I had “rage issues” stemming from childhood.

            Excuse me? I was not the one swearing and yelling at other drivers just about every time I got behind the wheel. I was not the one stomping around the house, slamming doors and drawers, two or three times a week on the flimsiest of pretexts. I was not the one screeching at the kids for misdeeds real and imagined, minor and major.

            And now some members of my family parrot her garbage. Not only am I a rage-a-holic, but she also has convinced some of them that I am a “raging narcissist” and a “master manipulator.” Project much?

          • luvcats says

            I have kept all of of us and our friends in my prayers since I read your post. It’s so frigtening to see them suffer like this.

            Thanks for the advice on mirroring and offering evidence- I never knew to do those things.

            Thank you for the encouragement too. You are a great friend to him. :)

          • TheGirlInside says

            Thank you all and you are welcome.

            On anger: HCPs / Cluster Bs / Abusers in general are so filled with anger themselves and so well-versed at denial and projection, that as the men have said, they will constantly tell their posession (SO for the rest of us) “Stop being so angry!” My AXH used to say I was “freaking out” every time I dared to utter ‘no’ or ‘I disagree.’

            It got to where I didn’t know what angry was. I began feeling what I describe, though as rage: that deep voice, (perhaps from repressed anger?), rising up from deep inside me, through clenched teeth, saying “Never Again.” I would see myself standing behind him, weielding a knife over my head and had to shake my head to get that image out of my mind.

            When you’ve been told you are not allowed to express anger in a normal way, like being upset that someone didn’t do what they said that would do, without disproportionate repercussion (hours-long lectures), you repress your anger…but it does come out, eventually, soemtimes in hostility towards the abuser, for which I have also been guilty (AXH_NPD).

            I read somewhere that depression is repressed anger turned inward (being in an abusive relationship, we don’t dare turn it outward). Repressed anger can lead to depression, physical ailments such as stomach problems, high blood pressure, stress-related illnesses, and an extreme loss of ‘desire’ – the touch you once begged for now repulses you. In wishing that tonight, their car won’t make it in the drive, and instead you’ll get a call from the state trooper’s office.
            Then you feel guilty for thinking these things, and that’s where the depression sets in. Also, from that feeling of being ‘trapped’ because you don’t want to hurt / devastate them as they’ve been claiming you would if you ever left.

            You won’t hurt them – you’ll merely anger them / get their nose out of joint (“Lowly little worthless YOU rejected high and mighty ME?!? HOW DARE YOU!!!”)

            One sure sign that an abused is finally, thankfully feeling the anger that they have been denied for so long, is when they finally stop giving a damn. The manipulation, tears, raging and getting crap thrown at their heads no longer has an effect. All you do is stand there wondering, “What did I possibly find attractive about __________ in the first place?” You roll your eyes at yet one more outrageous denial / accusation, one more crying jag, one more time of getting hung up on or left alone.

            As much as I wish I could help my friends move on, I must learn to accept that we all move at our own pace. The best I can do is be here, and willing to listen without trying to figure it out for him / her, or give him The Answer. I don’t have The Answer for anyone. We all have our own Answer inside us. Helping him remember how to think for himself (which I believe he’s long been denied) and come to his own conclusion is maybe the best gift we ‘on the outside’ can offer.

            I’ll be here for you…no matter what. Even if you decide to stay and subject yourself to xx more years of abuse and torture.
            If you’re lost and you look, you will find me
            time after time
            If you fall I will catch you, oh, I’ll be waiting
            time after time

            It sucks – just as it did for my friends who watched me slowly ‘disappear’ until I finally woke up and remembered.

          • moundbuilder says


            What you’ve written is stated well and I think is oh so true, about anger and repressing or suppressing it, of having the other person insist that you can’t express anger in a normal way, that you aren’t allowed to have angry feelings. Or that if you explode in reaction to what is unreasonable you are cited as the one with the problem.

            I’ve also heard that, about depression being suppressed anger. I mentioned that to my therapist years ago and he said that something else that causes depression is a sense of helplessness, a feeling that one is trapped in one’s circumstances and that there is no way out. I think that’s referred to as “learned helplessness” and can be the result of trying to deal with an HCP.

            Seems like a good idea to consider that depression my be a clear symptom both of anger that isn’t being dealt with and may be reasonable anger to feel and express; and that depression may also be a clear sign of feeling helpless, as if there is no way out.

          • TheGirlInside says


            I just about started crying while reading your most recent reply. He’s told me that – he feels trapped, suffocated.

            It’s a damn crying shame watching a Good Man Go to Waste. I pray he finds his answer sooner rather than later. He’s suffering.

  16. dietrich says


    I would also notice a positive reaction when I gave her (ex-gf, BPD) the “nugget”.

    She would literally smile sarcastically and sometimes laugh out loud if I snapped at her unexpectedly or threw my pen in frustration. I think it was her little celebration and renewed sense of feeling in control of me. Ugh…

  17. Utkatasana says

    I’d like to say that this doesn’t apply just to wives/girlfriends. This seems to be the same “script” that my mother uses. She’s working really hard on her smear campaign as well as the victim creation and role reversal. We have gone NC with her because of her abusive attacks, manipulation, denial, minimization, etc. But, in her last email (where 95% of the email was her berating us for how abusive and disgusting our behavior was because she “simply disagreed with us”), this whole situation is apparently the fault of me and my wife, and my mother said she has said that she’s willing to talk to us if we can talk to her without attacks and abusive language.

  18. dozer123 says

    So I haven’t read anything about this scenario: My wife has put ME in all the boxes of this flowchart. So in order to blame me, somehow I had a trigger, and I had a rage and somehow she explains to me and everyone else how I am trapped in the cycle that is explained in this flowchart. But I’m not. As the Dr. points out, I’ve always been able to deal with conflicts by keeping the big picture in mind. I don’t sweat the small stuff. But somehow, I have been labled the high conflict personality. By doing this, my wife then justifies all her rage and anxiety as being my fault, not hers.

    Anyone have thoughts on that?

    • ac007 says


      Your wife is basically using “projection” whereby she accuses you of everything she is actually doing herself. This is designed to keep you in a defensive situation and thereby keep the spotlight off of herself. She is a victim of your “made up” abuse and she doesn’t have to take any responsibility for her own actions because everything is your fault.

  19. luvcats says

    With the Phase I Rage
    and Phase II – letting the bombs fall
    Why not remove yourself from the situation then, call 911, whatever but set your own limit against verbal/physical abuse at that point?

    I understand “not being quick to leave” but setting a limit is not the same as abandoning the relationship. There is a big jump between “not being quick to leave” and not tolerating abusive behavior like not remaining in the presence of someone verbally abusing you or calling 911 after they hit you.

    I printed this off for a friend and this the part I don’t understand.
    I’m not in a relationship myself but I am trying to understand why this is the response..to hunker down like it’s an uncontrollable situation (like a hurricane) we have no choice but to endure. I am sincerely trying to understand this from the victim’s POV – thank you for any comments. :)

  20. 23skidoo23 says

    I cannot tell you how much help and strength reading this site is giving me since I discovered it yesterday.

    My wife exhibits every one of the behaviours listed here and over the years I have changed from an outgoing, strong, leader type with a large number of friends to an introverted person with no self confidence and virtually no friends that aren’t approved by her.

    This is the 23rd year of the relationship, I’m 48 years old and we have kids aged 21, 15 and 9. My eldest (daughter) and I have both suffered depression directly due to my wife’s behaviour, I’m really concerned now that my 15 year old son will end up the same way and then my 9 year old once he’s old enough to question her “authority”.

    Over the years I’ve had so much counselling, instigated mainly by my wife, I genuinely believed it was all my fault, my failing.

    I’ve covered up for her, not spoken to my family, facilitated her in every way.

    I am only now finally realising that for my own mental health I have to leave her (even then it was her who actually said that she wanted to end the relationship, one of her usual weapons) – I am going to send this site to my brother and sister, my only close family members apart from the kids, take a deep breath and go.

    But… she says I must stay until my 15 year old exams are over because the upset will be too much for him. Part of me thinks yes but most of me screams no. But my kids should come first shouldn’t they?

    As for me, well, she’s already convinced most of our friends I’m a crazy abusive psycho so what have I got to lose?

      • never again says

        23skidoo23, I’ve been where you are, though thankfully for a lot shorter time. My NPD had a Masters in Psychology, and her first husband was a PHD in Psychology and university professor. She was a Master (I’d say Mistress, but that has a vampy connotation, which she definitely was not after the “change”) at psychological abuse, as well.

        Stay strong. If your kids know her like you think they do, they’ll thank you later.

    • TheGirlInside says

      To answer your question about children coming first – no. YOU should come first. Now, conventional wisdom says this is selfish, but coming from a past of abuse myself, it’s not. People confuse that with you being the only one on your list, rather than the first item on your list.

      It’s like the SCUBA diver, who takes a breath from the oxygen tank first before giving it to his rescue victim. The diver wouldn’t have the strength to save the person drowning if he hadn’t take the oxygen first. Would anyone dare call that selfish?

      Take the oxygen. Get strong and healthy. Show your children that people can and do recover from abuse. Give them a parent who is recovering, getting healthier with each passing day, rather than slowly dying, one little piece of your sould at a time. Show them the difference. Buy a notebook and a pen and start writing everything you can remember about how poorly you’ve been treated over the years. Keep it hidden, if need be, but close – as a reminder.

      Congratulations on your awakening. Like that silly song in the old Santa Claus stop-action movie…just put one foot in front of the other…

  21. 23skidoo23 says

    Thanks guys… right now she’s telling all her friends how I’m abusive to her and how badly I’m treating her (surprise surprise). I was out running just now – I try to get out for 6 or so miles every day very theraputic – and had this moment of clarity that actually made me laugh out loud. I’m leaving her, but she says I’m the abuser… surely abusers to everything they can to keep their victim with them? They don’t get up and go leaving them in peace?

    • never again says

      I’ve had the same point of clarity. The only time abusers leave is when they’re forced out. I left on my own, although almost in a panic.

      Think about it, though. What else is she going to tell her friends? “He left me because I’m a frigid, narcissistic shrew”? “I threw him out because he gave me everything I ever wanted, but I didn’t want to give him what he needed”? lol lol lol

      • frustrated403 says

        23SD23 and NA: I like your points about abusers not leaving voluntarily but only being forced out. Do you think the court will buy that argument? I am the one who saw the lawyers first and told her I wanted a divorce. Hopefully this works in my favour.

        I was reading a file that a social worker dealing with my family had written earlier today. My STBX said that while I had stopped being verbally abusive to her (I stopped yelling at her awhile ago . . . basically when I stopped giving a shit about her) I had started to become psychologically abusive by claiming that she had a personality disorder. I believe I have told her this twice. Once when I sent her a letter explaining why I wanted to separate, saying I believed she was NPD and should consider help for the sake of the children. Another time via e-mai when she was projecting and I e-mailed back and said that she should seek help and I told her that I said that with all the kindness that I could given the situation. These are examples of psychological abuse? Just can’t win. I wonder what kind of abuse she’ll be claiming next?

  22. Bogeyman says

    Just remember, everything is your fault…we’re breaking up but waiting for the house to sell…I told her that when I cancel the Life Insurance on the kids on Monday (Not my kids, her kids), is she going to totally freak out like she did last time. At first, she denied knowing that I had Life Insurance on the kids and then she said the Life Insurance is for her because she is the Beneficiary (Wow, how her memory lapses back to normal so fast).

    It is all lies, distortions and delusions…how many chances does one have to give a person like this and for them not to pick up the ball (Hello?)

  23. onerob says

    is there a place where i could email you discreetly. I am currently in a very complex relationship that has some of these signs and would like to privately confirm that.

    I am in college and she goes to my school but I have some issues and so does she and I would really like to email my story and get your opinion.


  24. MDS says

    Well the Christmas decoration argument was started. However, thanks to this article I was able to recognize the evolution. About the time the missiles were launched I decided to duck. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m sure this would’ve denigrated into the typical yada, yada, yada. Because I have come to realize 1. that I do have triggers and some of the triggers are dangerous and 2. NOBODY WINS IN AN ARGUMENT!

    GREAT NEWS! The cloud was reached in record time. It may be possible to not simply put up the decorations it may be fun and laughing and living. Respond to this post if you want more details on how everything went down.

    • MDS says

      Update – We had a wonderful time putting the tree up together. Then I went outside and did the lights while she did the other stuff around the house. Totally amazing turn around. She seems upbeat and happy and enjoying herself more. All thanks to me understanding the diagram and realizing it was moving towards the Nuggets and spiraling downward. This site has been wonderful. I will definitely check back often for reinforcements.

    • Lazlo says

      Good show. At least I think. I only came to hear about bpd a few months ago but it sure put out 10+ year marraige in perspective. AND, like you, ducking, working hard on myself no to let my buttons get pushed, has got me quickly to a cold war / cloud phase. She’s now just generally distant, but sometimes not, usually smug. Maybe she is regrouping.

      Nonetheless at least I have more respect for myself and I’m no longer so completely baffled by her behavior as somehow “normal”.

  25. carbenez says

    Ahhh yesss…..the “nugget”…I remember how she would rage at me, curse at me…and if I did anything to take up for myself or argue my point, she would instantly pull out the victim card. One classic example – her teenage daughter was flunking out of school, and yet when I’d try to help she would scream at me “I’ve raised her for 15 years without you – I didn’t need you then and I don’t need you now…” After hearing this multiple times, I finally snapped and told her to pack her shit and leave if she didn’t need me…. and of course, it came back to me as “see how abusive you are? See how threatening you are? I move out of my house to come live with you and now you’re kicking me out…” Never mind that I was paying all the bills; she even turned that into a nugget – she said that was evidence that I was a controlling SOB….yet would she ever give me any money for the mortgage? Pay the phone bill??? Hell no!!! If I asked for help she would rail against me saying that how dare I rub it in her face that she didn’t make as much money as I did and after all if i was a real man i would support her anyway….this after calling me a control freak for paying all the bills. I can’t believe it in retrospect; that I allowed myself to be controlled so totally by this person that abused me to such an extent emotionally…

    • Lazlo says

      Yes the “nugget.” There should also be a loop for R&D, my BPD wife seems adept at discovering my buttons (things I care about) then pushing them, or in her case needling then sticking the knife in and twisting. There should also be a name for the some like a pretense when in the cold war phase, any mistake (you know you forget somethigng simple make a mistatement like something in at 2pm when you know it was 2:30pm) and you get the withering look, and/or demeaning/smug tone that say, see you are an f’up and thus wrong about everything.

      Maybe this is a specialty of high functioning BPD types.

      I’ve only been able to read a handful of the comments, but will surely read them all.

      Stay strong brothers. And my advice, if you don’t have kids with this women there is no reason to put yourself through this, get out, but get out smart. Once there is children, they have hostages.

      • never again says

        Ahhh, the “withering look”. Enough to shrivel your soul. :(

        And my NPD absolutely recalls the one and only time I EVER called her a name. In a moment of extreme frustration, I called her a “frigid shrew”. For her, it was full justification for continuing to be a frigid shrew. Never mind considering why I would ever make the comment in the first place, or that it might actually be true. I said it, and I had to pay for it.

  26. 23skidoo23 says

    Six months before I found this site and long before I’d heard of NPD or BPD. I sent STBX this after a particularly bad period stemming from her appalling selfish behaviour on our son’s 15th birthday. Needless to say she took one look and called it the pathetic ramblings of a personality disordered individual. I’m posting it here, I suppose, to see if others think I was being as crazy as she still says I was or maybe, just maybe, this was the cry of pain I needed to get out after so many years:

    I’ve thought a great deal about the conversation we had on Sunday night and I agree, my depression stems from my home life.

    Believe me I know myself pretty well, I’ve had lots of counselling! And I know exactly why I behave the way I do and am pretty sure how to stop the bad bits.

    So, I’ve been analysing exactly why I feel that way about things and have come to these conclusions. Please note I’m not saying I’m great at all of this myself.

    Starting at [our son’s] Birthday:

    There seems to be some confusion between doing stuff and caring. Action does not equal affection, this is what Jack was trying to get across to you. This is not just applicable to that situation.

    Considering the above, sometimes you do need to apologise unequivocally and take responsibility for a mistake. Apologising is not a sign of weakness. You are able to do it, honestly and you will be respected for it.

    Also an apology made to you is an apology. End of. There is absolutely no need to insist it is repeated over and over until the offender has totally debased themselves before you.

    When someone attempts to tell you how they feel, they are not crazy or “out of control”. They are upset and attempting to explain why and you owe them the chance to do that without shouting them down, belittling them or turning it back around to you.

    And also:

    Constant criticism and negative attention without any positive affirmation will always cause a negative reaction. With children and adults.

    A person who only receives negative attention and never any spontaneous affection from their partner will begin to feel unaffectionate and angry towards them.

    It is OK to show affection in a physical manner now and then.
    Hugging is something one does to and for another, not to make oneself feel better.

    I do have a right to be involved in a situation that affects one of my children (but not to shout and act like an idiot). I am their father.
    As above I am their father and always will be, this gives me certain rights.

    You do not automatically have the final say on things. I have equal input.

    If you have had a bad day, you do not have the right to foment an argument with a family member in order to let off steam. Often, they will have had a good day and if you slot into that, you never know, you might feel a great deal better about your lot. And yes, I’m sure you’ll call me a chauvinist for saying this but this goes for PMT too. Sorry.

    If someone is ill, they are not shirking. Also, it is unlikely they can snap out of it just like that. You may be impatient with them but illness, be it flu, virus or depression has to run it’s course.
    You do not have the right to go into my Facebook account and delete my friends. You want a friend deleted? We’ll discuss it. Who knows, I might well agree.

    I like to run, sometimes in the evenings during the week. It is OK for me to do that, maybe even every day sometimes. The ironing may need to done but it really is fine if I run first and do it afterwards. (this does not just apply to ironing and running).

    I like films, [our son] likes films, sitting and watching a film together can be a good thing. It’s something he and I enjoy, and something that we can do together. Sometimes it is even educational. If we wish to watch a film (remember the “banned” film club?) that’s actually a good thing not to be sneered at.

    I wholeheartedly agree that I need to have more input and more responsibility for family life. This however should not be made into an assault course. We could just sit down and discuss how I could be integrated into the running of things.

    Being rude and vindictive towards me in front of your friends isn’t funny and doesn’t make them think well of you.
    Some people might do things in a different way from you. This is ok if their way works.

    Some things just aren’t a big deal. The size of a piece of salmon on your scrambled eggs or spread on a slice of toast not being just so really isn’t worth a huge strop and shouting. It doesn’t mean the person who made them for you wishes to live in “a world of shit”.

    You are good at science, that’s great and we’re all really proud of you whatever you may think. However some of us might want to do other things, even if we have a great interest in say, physics. That’s ok too.

    Punishment should be discussion between the two of us, as above I am an equal parent.

    Standing up for yourself and refusing to back down is not being abusive, intimidating or bullying, even if the person making a stand is male. They just truly believe they are right, this should become a discussion.

    It is really ok to empathise with people. Sometimes to see another’s point of view can be extremely illuminating and does not mean that you are losing control of the situation.

    On the subject of control. Sometimes you may not have it. It’s all right.

    Neither of us should undermine or belittle each other in front of the children, I totally agree.

    I could go on, I’m sure but that’s the gist. I suppose it really makes not a jot of difference because you’ve said it’s game over but better to say it than leave it unsaid.

    Then again, maybe we could work together on this and your thoughts and make the world a better place… who knows?

    • TheGirlInside says

      If someone I loved gave me something like that, I would be devastated…not out of anger, but to realize “OMG – have I really treated you that way? What the h*** is the matter with me?”

      Maybe that’s too far on the other end of the spectrum, Idk.

      IMO, it is a very rational letter trying to make the best of an irrational situation…
      …which reminds me of the day when I realized that I can’t have a rational conversation with someone who is irrational (A-NPD-XH).

      • 23skidoo23 says

        Unfortunately TheGirlInside all it caused was fury and was just considered to be proof that I’m an irrational lunatic who desperately needs psychological help. I think that’s called irony! Ah well. Thanks for your comment though, makes me feel better.

  27. Peter says

    Thanks again Dr. T for posting this helpful, insightful article! A valuable road map indeed for us escaped prisoners of war on our bid for freedom!


    In modern war there are formal Rules of Engagement. I once worked at an army base and remember reading a copy of the Rules – a large ringbound file with responses to every escalating level of threat. In my marriage there were no rules of engagement that I could discern – it was a dirty civil war that made no sense to me, and she could never say what she wanted or didn’t want.

    So I studied her behaviour until I had some understanding of what I was dealing with and yes, at times “cluster bombing” was pretty close to the mark.

    Many of the verbal bombs she threw were just to stun me and disorientate me or maybe they were to create more emotional distance if we had gotten too close by being physically intimate. In the early days of the war, I was too busy trying to make sense of the senseless rubbish she hurled at me and I didn’t realise that perhaps it was really just “shock and awe” tactics. Trying to be rational or seeking to find some understanding or agreement can be a handicap in the dirty hand-to-hand combat of some marriages. Being kind or understanding is no use against the expert deployment of the FOG of War (Fear, Obligation & Guilt).

    What I found was a pattern – 80% of the personal attacks occured in the early hours of the morning when I was half asleep or I was ambushed just as I was leaving the house to go to work. Eventually I came to to see this as her separation anxiety that was triggered every time I was about to leave the house.

    [Note: BPDs have little concept of “object constancy” and cannot understand that when they can’t see or hear you (because you’re at work making a living) you still exist}.

    Later I learnt to sneak out of the house to go to work while she was in the shower and she couldn’t launch a surprise verbal attack on me.

    Other attacks came when her blood sugar level was low, just before she ate her evening meal. I learnt to avoid the kitchen area until she had cooked and partially digested some food.

    I love the nugget idea too and the role reversal model. One golden nugget was when i finally said (just once, without emotion) that she was behaving like a “bitch”. That was the reaction that she wanted and had tried to hard to provoke. It proved to her that I was abusive.

    After all the years of being held hostage and suffering psychological abuse in my own home, we will permanently separate in 3 weeks after selling the house. It has been a long, draining ordeal, physically, emotionally and financially. She will move in with her parents who have recently sold their home. Now her parents have bought a new house to accommodate themselves (the grandparents), the BPD former wife and my children. The prisoner exchange has already taken place (I have effectively escaped but she has taken her parents hostage now).

    I feel sad about this but just so relieved to get out and find my freedom again after so long. Financially and emotionally I have taken a huge hit but I am grateful to escape with my life and sanity bruised and hurt but still intact.

    This site and these sorts of articles are a “lifesaver”. Thank you again Dr T. for shining a light onto this dark area of behaviour.

  28. sanity1 says

    “The Nugget”…wow….why do none of the counselors that I go to for the past 17 years trying to save my bad marriage with an un pleasable control freak have any clue to these concepts? These are exactly what I’ve been trying to explain.

    Here is something my WIfe frequently says:

    A Generalization:

    She Says….”I just want you to not get upset when I say/ do Something wrong…”

    Ok, I’ve tried to explain that demanding your own way without respecting the other persons views or trying to find compromise…cannot be compared to saying or doing “Something” wrong! It’s not just something…it is a specific command or demand.

    I can say please, no generalizing, be specific…for the next 100 years….she will just continue in the same pattern.

    So sad, so sad…

    All the kings horses and all the kings men (Counselors) , could put our marriage back together again.


    Such a waste….

  29. hairyserb says

    Wow. Thank you. While not exactly the same as the cycle I experience, it is pretty close. I totally agree that if you can understand what is going on and where you can be headed, you feel better even though things haven’t changed.

    I suspect my (second) wife is on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder scale. At the very least with whatever damage my first wife did to me, instead of helping to heal me, my wife has taken it to a whole new level. Her Narcissistic rages always confused me. Now I see them as a wonderful control mechanism for her. She gets to shut down the issue and make me wary of raising another one. Leaving me as the evil doer and always on probation. I am constantly waiting for the second shoe to drop.

    For me, I am currently choosing to stay. I know it will be difficult, and I may not be successful in us being together. However, I am ‘jumping on a train to take me to a new station, she can come with me if she wants, but if she doesn’t then that is her problem’. It does make me feel sad that she is throwing away a wonderful man, husband, and father. But at least I am realising that this is her problem and not mine. If she chooses to become a lonely, bitter, angry hag, then so be it.

    Thank you again for your insight and willingness to share. Thank you also to this website.

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