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- People in abusive relationships may become victim to something called “perspecticide.” It occurs when their abusive partner has made them believe so many things that aren’t true, they no longer know what is real. They are effectively a prisoner in their own life, not being allowed to do anything or even think on their own terms.
Living with a controlling or abusive partner is confusing and draining. They blame you for things that weren’t your fault, or that you didn’t even do, and you become isolated from your friends and family in an attempt to keep the abuser happy.
The way you see the world can also completely change, because it may be dangerous for you to know the truth.
Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship,” told Business Insider the word for this is “perspecticide.”
She said the word, which basically means “the incapacity to know what you know,” was first used in the literature on the brainwashing of prisoners of war, and has also been applied to people in cults.
“In an abusive or controlling relationship, over time the dominating partner changes how the victim thinks,” Fontes said. “The abuser defines what love is. The abuser defines what is appropriate in terms of monitoring the partner. The abuser defines what is wrong with the victim, and what she needs to do to change it.”
Over time, the victim – or survivor, if that is your preferred term – loses sense of what their own ideas, goals, and thoughts were. Instead, they start taking on those of their dominating partner.
“Through perspecticide, people give up their own opinions, religious affiliations, views of friends, goals in life, etc,” Fontes said. “I am not talking about the natural mutual influencing that occurs in all intimate relationships – this is much more nefarious and one-sided.”
Someone can fall into an abuser’s trap in a number of ways, but it’s often through psychological, emotional, or physical abuse. Once the victim has been hooked and reeled in, their partner starts to bring them down with belittling comments and insults.
However, they often pause the abuse with intermittent periods of kindness and warmth. This means the victim is trauma-bonded to their partner, constantly trying to make them happy, because they believe they deserve to be punished if they don’t.
Victims become prisoners in their own lives.
The controlling partner might cut off resources like money and transportation, practically keeping the victim a prisoner. By living in fear, the victim changes how they view themselves and the world.
Fontes recalled several stories of people who had been controlled by their partners. All her examples were from women who were being abused, but it’s important to note that emotional, psychological, and physical abuse can happen to anyone.
One man convinced his wife she could not have her own toothbrush, because married couples share these things. He also never let her have any privacy – she wasn’t even allowed to close the door when she was using the bathroom.
Another husband slept all day so he could keep his wife up at night. He deliberately didn’t let her sleep, controlled what she ate, and hid her medication, which all made her physically weak. Eventually, she even forgot her age because everything down to the way she walked was managed by someone else.
Other stories involved a woman who believed her partner could read her mind, when really he was spying on her with cameras in her house and trackers in her belongings. Another man actually told his wife he had inserted a microphone into her fillings to monitor where she went all day.
“He was actually monitoring her through other routes, but she believed what he said – she had no other explanation for why he knew everything about her days,” Fontes said. “Of course, anyone who she told this to thought she was crazy. This isolated her further.”
For the victim, their life is overwhelmed with wondering how to appease their controlling partner. Fontes said they may even experience physical signs of stress over time such as changes to eating and sleeping, head or back aches, and digestive problems, because they are too worried about their partner’s wrath.
“A person who is being coercively controlled – even without physical violence – does not feel free to live their own life on their own terms,” she said.