The Abuser’s Textbook: 13 steps abusers take to trap victims
“It’s like they all have access to the same textbook”.
Every time I hear a new story from victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, I think to myself “It’s like they all have access to the same textbook”. The way that abusers carefully groom their victims to stay silent, manipulate the ways that the victims see their own self-image, and isolate them subtly and slowly is all part of a calculated plan. I’ve chosen to illuminate the Abuser’s Textbook, in hopes that someone trapped in the cycle of abuse reads these steps and realizes the severity of their situation. Part of the great lie is tricking us into believing that nothing is “that bad” and that it’s our fault anyways. If only we were better children, better partners, better people… But I will continue repeating this for the rest of time; it is no longer my shame to carry. It is the abusers who should be ashamed. I will continue to speak loudly about what happened to me, in hopes that 1) Jeff Perez will be held accountable and 2) victims understand that they are being abused and have pathways to get out. For me, it took over two years to recognize what I was experiencing was rape, violence, abuse, and deeply disturbed. The big question is how does someone get wrapped up with someone so evil when it’s so obvious once you’re on the outside?
*Content Warning: disturbing image and abusive text*
How does someone “fall” for the tactics of someone as outright violent as this? Well, it’s all part of the Abuser’s Textbook. It’s a step-by-step guide to break down victims until they believe what the abuser tells them to believe. I present this like it’s for the abuser, but of course that’s not the case. It’s to highlight the absolute ridiculousness of it all; the true evil at play. Wherever you might fall in these horrific manipulative tactics, you are not alone. And you can get out.
1) Find someone vulnerable
Victims are often already victims of other forms of abuse, whether at school or home. They are already people who have learned that they need to change themselves in order to be loved. Maybe it’s insecure body image, or fear of not being liked by others, or neglectful parents who won’t notice more abuse because they blame the child in the first place. The more detached from the abuser’s school/work/friends the easier it will be to control the victim.
2) Convince the victim that their insecurities are warranted, but you can look past them
Now that the victim is established as a vulnerable person with low self worth, the abuser can play off of that to their advantage. In order to trap the victim, the abuser makes sure that the victim knows that those insecurities are warranted, but that the abuser will look past those faults out of the goodness of their heart. This helps to break down the victim’s own self-worth, and also solidifies the abuser as the only person who will be there for such a worthless victim.
3) Make the victim believe that their friends and family are bad for them
The abuser is just looking out for you, right? Here is part of the magic trick. If the abuser can convince the victim to leave their own friends, then the abuser doesn’t have to do any of the work on their own. The abuser points out that they’re worried about the victim hanging around a crowd that doesn’t respect them or care about them (which, referring to Step 1, might even be true). This further solidifies the abuser as the only source of honesty and the authority on social situations.
4) Isolate them from others
If those friends are so bad for the victim, they should give them up right? The abuser may even convince the victim that they’re doing a good thing for their own self-worth; eliminating “toxic” friends and family. At this point, all of the victims worst fears have been confirmed. They feel worthless and like everything in their life is wrong. But now, they have been finally blessed with someone who wants to nurture them and care for them and help them succeed (the abuser). The abuser uses these brilliant tactics to always distract from their own abusive behavior by pointing the victim towards others as the source of their pain.
5) Insist on small rules to help them “improve” their lives
Now that the victim is isolated from others, and has started to trust the abuser as the authority, the abuser can start to introduce some small “rules” to correct undesirable character traits in the victim. Desperate for change and to feel better, the victim will follow the rules even if they feel slighted. “Don’t smile like that in pictures, it makes you look untrustworthy”, “Don’t cry so much, it makes you seem whiny.”, “Don’t eat that, you’ll gain weight”. These tiny rules become beacons of hope for the victim, because they believe the abuser is just trying to help them, and that if they follow the rules they might finally be loved.
“Don’t smile like that in pictures, it makes you look untrustworthy”, “Don’t cry so much, it makes you seem whiny.”, “Don’t eat that, you’ll gain weight”.
6) Keep tabs on them to “help” their public image
Since the abuser is oh-so-generous with “helping” the victim be less of a piece of shit (sorry, I’m bitter and it shows), the abuser can now introduce the idea of helping to manage the victim’s online accounts or hear about what happened while the two are apart. For me and other victims, it manifested as a kind of “confession”, where one of the rules was that I needed to divulge information on everything that happened in a day. If the abuser starts to believe that the victim is talking to someone who will help them, reading books that will inspire them to leave, starting to get the idea of what healthy love should look like… the abuser makes sure to correct those notions as fast as possible and turn the victim against those resources.
7) Tie sex and love together
Sexual violence is an incredibly traumatic and powerful tool that abusers use to shame their victims. It is never about sex but about power. Especially for young girls, there is so much shame tied up in sexual acts that it is a prime tool for warping her entire reality around healthy relationships. The abuser continues with the narrative that they are the only one who can help the victim become a better person; and they need to “teach” the victim about healthy relationships. The abuser begins to tie sex and love together; insisting that if the victim wants to be a good partner they need to demonstrate it with sexual acts. If the victim says no, they clearly aren’t lovable like the abuser thought, and the abuser will threaten to abandon the victim. The abuser relies on the idea of trying to teach the victim; trying to help them become a lovable partner. Introducing sex as this shame technique ensures that the victim won’t tell others.
8) Introduce harsher rules
Now the victim is much more isolated and convinced that they must do everything their abuser tells them to do. Part of the fear that keeps victims trapped is that they truly believe the abuser is helping them out of their insecurities. If only the victim can learn to perform love better, maybe they wouldn’t feel like shit all the time. Now the abuser has more leeway in how harsh they can be, because the victim is mostly cemented in. Now the abuser can start to indulge their sick power fantasies; I personally had rules like “you can’t eat Italian dressing”, “you can’t wear the color purple”, “you need to shave your legs every day”, “you can’t play sports”. These were in addition to more disgusting rules about my body, not telling anyone about what was happening, insulting myself for him to listen to and laugh, and needing to report to him every day for coerced and secret sex. But remember, at this point, the abuser is all the victim has. And there is a part of the victim that very much believes that if they follow the rules, life will get better.
9) Remind the victim you are doing them a favor by being with them
When the victim inevitably starts to get fed up with the abuse, the abuser reminds the victim that it is out of the goodness of their heart that they are helping the victim and staying with them. The victim looks around at their life, seeing that there is no one left but the abuser. They already feel like they are dirty, disgusting, and unlovable. So the abuser must be telling the truth. No one else would want the victim because they are so socially inept, ugly, needy, and stupid, right? The abuser plays off of their own creation, solidifying the rose colored glasses that they branded to the victim’s face.
10) Leverage some kind of blackmail over them
Just in case the victim is a feisty one (you bet I was), the abuser needs to have a backup plan. For me it was naked pictures that he threatened to post publicly, and eventually did. Maybe the blackmail is texts you sent talking about people rudely behind their backs, or complaining about your job, or maybe you did something illegal and the abuser threatens to tell the police on you for your own good. Maybe it’s not even something real, but the abuser threatens to tell a fake embarrassing sexual story or lie to someone in authority about you. At the blackmail stage, the victim is both entirely cemented in the abuser’s clutches and at the tipping point of getting away. The abuser knows the victim is coming to their senses, which is why they start to take harsher measures.
11) If they start to get away, love bomb them
If the victim starts to mention leaving, or trying to get away, there is a tactic called love bombing. This tactic is a part of the cycle of abuse that occurs when the abuser has stepped a bit too far, and the victim sees a chance to leave. The abuser makes sure to turn on as much charm as possible; gifts, compliments, treats; they may even break one of their own rules to show the victim that everything is “fine” and the rules weren’t that serious anyways. The victim is faced with the daunting choice between leaving and staying; and leaving seems so much harder than staying, especially when the abuser is being nice again. Victims hope each and every time that the love bombing is real, to save them the pain of escaping and possibly getting more hurt.
12) Rely on trauma bonding to keep them trapped
The love bombing need not last long, because there is also something called trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is when a victim has learned that they need to be “good” in order to receive love. This often happens with neglected and abused children, as they begin to learn that love and abuse go hand in hand. In order to receive the care they need, they need to perform for it by taking care of the angry/neglectful parent or by conforming to their expectations. This is the same thing that happens in intimate partner violence cases. Given all the steps above, the victim starts to learn that they will receive inklings of love if they behave well enough; if they contort themselves enough and follow the rules then they will eventually get some of the love they are craving. This bond keeps the victim believing that the abuse is a signal that they will soon get some of that love. The abuse is sort of like a precursor or payment for the feelings of love.
13) If they finally get away, don’t worry you’ll find another (probably younger and more vulnerable) one
Again, these rules are written as if they are for the abuser but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s an exaggeration to demonstrate the true ridiculousness of all of this. And while it may be ridiculous, I fell into it and so have many amazing victims that I know. I had no idea that I wouldn’t be the last victim of my abuser. There was a huge part of me that still believed I endured the abuse because I deserved it and needed to be taught how to be different. I didn’t believe there was anyone else out there who was as gullible, pathetic, and vulnerable as me to fall for his tricks. I didn’t believe that he could get away with this with the several victims who followed me. I haven’t spoken out publicly until this year, over a decade after the abuse first happened. Now I know that he used me, and each of us, to learn from. To hone his tactics and craft the perfect plan for the next one.
A Frog In Boiling Water
Something that has been getting me through is the reference to a frog in boiling water. Apparently, if you put a frog into lukewarm water and slowly bring it to a boil, the frog will stay in the water until it is boiled alive. This is opposed to if you put the frog in boiling water to begin with, they jump out and escape. Now, I don’t condone any kind of animal violence and I wish there was a nicer way of putting it. But I was a frog put in slowly boiling water, and most victims are. I hope that this horrific list of manipulative tactics reaches someone who needs to see the truth. Maybe your friend is trapped, or you got out of a relationship you didn’t realize was on this trajectory. The less shame we carry, and the more we put out into the world, the higher chances that we can get out and live to grow into thriving individuals. You are never alone, and none of this is okay. None of this is love. Love and abuse cannot coexist.