[Making Friends with the Intended Target: Part 1 here]
Sometimes the only reason a covert abuser offers you their friendship is to mess with your head. Their hatred no secret, they suddenly present you with a smiling face, a friendly gesture with no explanation or attempt for resolution — just a total and sudden change in behavior — which you’re supposed to accept at face value.
Your confusion and disorientation may be the prize they seek. Or perhaps throwing you off balance makes it easier to knock you over. Whatever the reason, for the covert abuser/relational aggressor acting like a friend does not actually involve being a friend.
To be on the receiving end of such game playing is very disconcerting. The weirdness, the “HUH?” factor, if you will, can be mind blowing.
In writing this series of articles, I’ve had the opportunity to contemplate my own experiences with relational aggression. The impact of covert abuse in the form of relational aggression was particularly long-lasting, however, it was this aspect of disparate behavior that really rocked me. The more sudden and stark the on/off switch, the more disorientating and disconcerting.
It is starting to dawn on me as I write that what I perceived as striking contradictions in behavior were really quite congruous in purpose and motive.
While I sensed that my relational aggressor was never sincere in her intermittent offers of friendship or reconciliation, I never truly understood how much those offers were actually consistent with what I knew of her.
The weapons of covert abuse are meant to diminish you, to manipulate your vulnerabilities, to control by disarming you, to erode your ability to discern or trust your senses, to cut you down and cause you to doubt yourself and perhaps even your worth and value.
One effective way to do this is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a term used to describe acts designed to cause you to doubt yourself to the point of making you feel crazy. They are deliberate acts of deception and involve denying reality.
Coming across as a friend is a kind of gaslighting. It is characteristic behavior of a covert abuser, not an out-of-character anomaly or the phenomenon of a person who likes you and then doesn’t like you and then likes you again.
It is not an on/off switch to real emotions. That it may change color does not change its nature. It is still a laser beam of malice meant to blind and maim.
Let me illustrate.
Some years ago, I entered a store when I heard someone calling out my name. Hearing the sound of happiness in her voice I expected to see a friend, but when I turned around I found myself face to face with a person from my past who, with no reservation, hated me and worked hard to inflict no small amount of harm upon me. Now here she was smiling and greeting me as if she had just found a long lost friend.
In mid response with my own happy return greeting I froze. To say I was disoriented and thrown off balance would be an understatement. My eyes recognized her features but my brain could not register she was the person my eyes insisted she was. I kept thinking I was mistaken. Who was this person…really?
I struggled to regain my composure. I didn’t want to appear rude and I didn’t want to appear stupid with what I’m sure had to have been a comical look of confusion on my face.
But it was she, the one who had targeted me with lies and assaulted me on so many levels now acting as if none of that had ever happened, inquiring about my family, wishing them well and telling me her latest news. She chatted happily, offering me her number and invited me to call her some time, like it was the most natural thing in the world, like we had always been friends.
With my initial disorientation subsiding I had the wherewithal to remember who I was actually dealing with, despite the invites and the smiles. Time had passed but not that much and not to the degree where we could pick up…where we had never been.
I listened as long as I could, at one point attempting to have a more authentic conversation which was quickly squashed by her, and at the first polite moment, excused myself. I stopped myself from running out of the store. I walked.
A day or so later, a trusted friend asked if I was aware that this same individual was lamenting to others about her recent experience with me. I learned that she was telling others that I had spied her in a store, called out to her name and greeted her like she was a long lost friend and then attempted to force my number on her!
“How long will this last?” my friend told me she was asking in exasperation. “When will I ever be able to move on?”
I was dumbfounded. But I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
The fact is her friendliness wasn’t something real, a divergence from her normal behavior, that she took back a couple days later. The intent to abuse was always there, just camouflaged behind the smiles and friendly chatter — the covert characteristic of covert abuse.
Had there been witnesses at our store encounter I know the scenario would have been very different. If she had been with her friends, she would have used her more recognizable method of abuse — feigned fear, a fear we both knew was not real, any more than this latest show of friendship was real. She would have scuttled away from me in terror so they could see how traumatized she was by my presence. That she was my victim was the accusation she used to instigate and sustain the relational aggression that ebbed and flowed over a number of years.
However, with no one was watching, she was free to use another method. Instead of feigning fear, she could feign friendship. Equally deceptive and equally abusive.
She could seemingly switch from one to another with great ease, because nothing had really changed except the delivery method. The offer of friendship was just a new vehicle for the continuation of manipulative abuse she had been inflicting all along.
There was no contradiction. There was no on again/off again. The intent to be abusive was always on. When I understood this there was no confusion.
It’s hard to comprehend when we are used to keeping our behavior inline with our motives. We assume this about others and become confused when someone we know doesn’t like us suddenly acts like they do. Mixed messages.
But not mixed intent. If I had been more knowledgeable about this dynamic I could have spotted the red flags immediately, the crucial elements that were missing to signify that this offer of friendship was real, to alert me right away what was going on. Luckily, I relied on my instincts although intellectually I was downright confused, and even felt some temptation to give in and accept her friendliness on face value. I’m glad I didn’t.
If we can see past the shifting smokescreen we can realize there’s a lot more cohesiveness than meets the eye. We can then act or make our decisions accordingly. My next post I want to explore making friends with the intended target specifically for an audience, as well as essential elements that are found in any genuine offer of friendship.
Be well, be aware and be empowered!
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