They say that you can know a person by their actions, not their words. That is very true. Someone may say they want to help you move, but if they don’t actually take action to help you move, how real are they being? Their inactivity is a fairer answer than their unfulfilled promise, even if their intention may have been genuine. When it comes to toxic personalities, like narcissists and sociopaths, this principle of words and actions not lining up goes into overdrive. Pretty much everything they say is a lie at some level, or at the very least a well considered manipulation of their target. It is how they gaslight you, and drive you insane. It is how they make you stay, and even care for them. The duality of meaning in everything that an abuser says is their ultimate power play.
Learning to recognize the hidden message in abusive communication is paramount when you are trying to free yourself from a toxic person’s influence.
The Abuse Dictionary
So let’s look at a few phrases and their underlying meaning
Can’t you take a joke? : Yes, I know I just made you feel 2-inches tall, but why are you calling me out on that?
I am your mother! : Why are you questioning my right to abuse you 24/7?
I was just trying to help. : I was manipulating you, but that’s not the point
He is crazy : He is starting to tell people the truth about me, better discredit him.
She is taking advantage of you : She is helping you see the truth about me, better remove her from your life.
I never said that : Of course I did, but maybe I can make you forget…?
You must have misunderstood : You got me, I meant every word!
Can we move past that? : Seriously, can we get back to me abusing you some more?
There you go, blaming me again. Why don’t you take a good look at yourself? : I know this is my fault, but let’s make sure you blame yourself.
I don’t know what you mean! : I know exactly what you are talking about, but let’s see if I can convince you it never happened.
The Translation Tool
This list of course is by no means complete, I doubt it could be done. There is so much lying and manipulating going on in a toxic dynamic that the abuser needs to come up with new ways to get them past you. Instead of making a longer list, we will just give you the translation tool. Not only will that help you in dealing with toxic people that are in your life now, or that you will meet in the future, it will also help you reevaluate your interactions with an abuser from your past.
So here is the rule to translating the abuser’s words:
Whatever the abuser says, is designed to deny, deflect, or distract from the truth.
Step 1: Deny, Deny, Deny
When we listed the 20 traits of emotional abusers, the very first one was about stone cold denial. Everything the abuser does is deniable. In fact, even if it isn’t they will still deny it. I once had a boss who denied giving me the instructions I followed (he was chewing me out over doing what he had told me to do) even when I showed him the note, in his hand writing, asking me to do exactly what I had done. Even in the face of this evidence he kept saying: I would never have asked you to do this! (In case you are wondering, I had updated a list of addresses, and had kept the original list save, too).
Step 2: Deflect
Just denying is step one, like the ‘I never said that’ above. It is the easiest strategy, and has the lovely benefit that the target will begin to doubt their own memories and recollections. If denial does not work, however, they can always follow it up with a deflection of the blame. Like “you must have misunderstood” or “yeah, but remember when you did xyz?”
Deflection gives the abuser the perfect tool to instill blame and responsibility in you for the abuse they are dishing out. All of a sudden you are the one with the problem, you are the cause, and you need to go away and work on yourself.
Step 3: Distract
If the first 2 steps fail, or are not useful, the abuser will try to distract you from the truth. It is like shining a laser on the wall to get your cat to move away from the couch (or something like that).
Distraction can be as easy as changing the topic, but it also often takes the form of gossip. This not only takes your focus away from the abuser, it also allows them to manipulate your opinions and feelings toward other people. This is how they can manipulate the toxic dynamic in the family, or how they can steer you away from positive influences (people who may be able to help you see the truth of the abuse).