Smoke and Mirrors Fighting the Abuser’s Proxy Narrative

Think back to primary school or middle grades. There was that one kid, maybe you, who was targeted. A stronger or more charismatic kid (the bully) would create a totally fictitious story about that kid and recruit a few close “friends” to help give the story credibility. You see, this type of person will have a few people fooled, but not many. Those few people, however, give the story legs and repeat it to anyone available. It only takes one cursory glance at today’s political climate in the United States to see how something does not have to be true, it just has to be repeated. This is the essential premise of the advertising industry.

It’s almost impossible to defend against a lie. How exactly does a young girl prove that no, she didn’t have sex with four boys at once? There is no actual proof, but because people are repeating it it is assumed to be true. All it takes is one source with at least a few credible secondary participants who believe anything the source says to be true. Those secondary participants are called proxies.

The Adult Bully Does The Same Thing

Now fast forward a decade or two, and apply this dynamic to an abuser of any sort. Whether it be parent or partner, boss or supposed friend, there is a percentage of the population who will aim other people at their chosen target. This gang mentality is a way to rationalize the abuse since it isn’t being delivered directly. It also has the side benefit of allowing the abuser to portray himself/herself as a victim. If you haven’t personally experienced this, imagine that this is being played out in family court where your abuser is telling complete fantasy tales about you—and getting away with it because he/she has intentionally surrounded themselves with credible people; attorneys, GALs, “experts”.

There is no more powerless feeling on earth than having someone create a persona of you that is the polar opposite of who you truly are. But isn’t that the entire abuse system? The abuser spends endless energy on creating a fictitious image of you in your own head so he/she can exercise control. When you no longer believe that image and you escape the relationship, the only way the abuser can fulfill this pathological need is by moving on to create this same fictitious image of you for others. What if your estranged parent is exacting punishment by telling people you are “crazy” or “ungrateful”, or “on drugs?”  What if your ex-spouse is telling people you are beating your children or having crazy sex parties with the children around? What if your abuser then has recruited this gang of “credible reporters” to give these lies legs? What can you possibly do to counter these horrible, vicious stories that are then carried forward by others?

Only one thing: live. Just live.

How Do You Fight The Proxy Narrative

If you are standing in your truth and moving forward with your life, in spite of what proxies are saying about you, then you have already won. Why? Because they can say anything they want to and it will never, ever make it true. I once confronted one of my ex-husband’s proxies and point-blank asked him, “Exactly what proof has been presented to you to show you this is true?” He couldn’t answer. I said, “Then perhaps you should consider whether you are being used as part of the abuse against me and my children.”

From a practical standpoint, I know that dealing with proxies can be much harder than just the question of whether they have ever seen proof. But what I want you to take away is the following: if you must use any energy to counteract the actions of proxies, spend your effort challenging them instead of defending yourself. Usually, when pushed in the right direction, they will be forced to admit that they don’t know facts. They only know the narrative provided by the abuser. It is very hard to not be on the defensive because our natural instinct is to be shocked that someone would not only believe but repeat blatant lies—especially lies which could be horrifically damaging. But keeping you on the defensive is just what the abuser wants. Don’t provide that supply.

Here are a few phrases you can use in broken record technique fashion to deal with proxies

“Well…isn’t that interesting…”

“Wow, you make my life sound so much more newsworthy than it is!”

“Geez, if I had known I was going to be this cool, I would have divorced him long ago.”

“Man! Maybe they’ll buy my story for a Lifetime Movie!”

“I guess my kids will have some awesome grandma stories to tell one day.”

Yes, I’ve used all of these, and you can create your own. But you see the point, right?

By refusing to engage in a war of illusion and innuendo, you put it back on them and move on. Why? Because they will say and do whatever they are willing to say and do—regardless of you.

Doesn’t make it true.

Never will.

Put another way? Not my circus, not my monkeys.

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Aubrey Cole

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