Avoiding Your Abuser - II. The Conflictive Posture

Abusers are predators who are psychologically attuned to their victims. Here are psychological tools for dealing with an abuser.

There is nothing special about the body language or behavior patterns of the abuser. If your abuser is a narcissist, his pathology is evident on first sight (read "How to Recognize a Narcissist"). But not all abusers are narcissists. Regrettably, most victims find themselves trapped long before they have become aware of any warning sign.

Remember that abuse is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is a poisonous cocktail of control-freakery, conforming to social and cultural norms, and latent sadism. The abuser seeks to subjugate his victims and "look good" or "save face" in front of family and peers. Many abusers also enjoy inflicting pain on helpless victims.

But, even assuming that you want to stay with your abuser and to maintain the relationship, maltreatment can, to some extent, be avoided. We have discussed the Submissive Posture elsewhere.

II. The Conflictive Posture

Contrary to its name, the conflictive posture is actually about avoiding conflict by minimizing contact and insisting on boundaries. It is about refusal to accept abusive behavior by demanding reasonably predictable and rational actions and reactions. It is about respect for you and for your predilections, preferences, emotions, needs, and priorities.

A healthy relationship requires justice and proportionality. Reject or ignore unjust and capricious behavior. Conflicts are inevitable even in the most loving and mature bonds - but the rules of engagement are different in an abusive liaison. There, you must react in kind and let him taste some of his own medicine.

Abusers are predators, attuned to the subtlest emotional cues of their prey. Never show your abuser that you are afraid or that you are less than resolute. The willingness to negotiate is perceived as a weakness by bullies. Violent offenders are insatiable. Do not succumb to blackmail or emotional extortion - once you start compromising, you won't see the end of it.


The abuser creates a "shared psychosis" (folie a deux) with his victim, an overwhelming feeling of "the two of us against the whole world". Don't buy into it. Feel free to threaten him (with legal measures), to disengage if things get rough- or to involve law enforcement officers, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

Here are a few counterintuitive guidelines:

The abused feel ashamed, somehow responsible, guilty, and blameworthy for their maltreatment. The abuser is adept at instilling these erroneous notions in his victims ("Look what you made me do!"). So, above all, do not keep your abuse a secret. Secrecy is the abuser's weapon. Share your story with friends, colleagues, neighbors, social workers, the police, the media, your minister, and anyone else who will listen.

Don't make excuses for him. Don't try to understand him. Do not empathize with him - he, surely, does not empathize with you. He has no mercy on you - you, in return, do not harbor misplaced pity for him. Never give him a second chance. React with your full arsenal to the first transgression. Teach him a lesson he is unlikely to forget. Make him go elsewhere for his sadistic pursuits or to offload his frustrations.

Often the abuser's proxies are unaware of their role. Expose him. Inform them. Demonstrate to them how they are being abused, misused, and plain used by the abuser. Trap your abuser. Treat him as he treats you. Involve others. Bring it into the open. Nothing like sunshine to disinfest abuse.

There are a few techniques which work wonders with abusers. Some psychologists recommend to treat repeat offenders as one would toddlers. The abuser is, indeed, an immature brat - though a dangerous one, endowed as he is with the privileges and capabilities of an adult. Sometimes ignoring his temper tantrums until it is over is a wise policy. But not very often - and, definitely not as a rule.

Here is a recap from previous articles:

(1) Mirror His Behavior

Mirror his actions and repeat his words.

If, for instance, he is having a rage attack - rage back. If he threatens - threaten back and credibly try to use the same language and content. If he leaves the house - leave it as well, disappear on him. If he is suspicious - act suspicious. Be critical, denigrating, humiliating, go down to his level.

(1c) Frighten Him

Identify the vulnerabilities and susceptibilities of the narcissist and strike repeated, escalating blows at them.

If a narcissist has a secret or something he wishes to conceal - use your knowledge of it to threaten him. Drop cryptic hints that there are mysterious witnesses to the events and recently revealed evidence. Do it cleverly, noncommittally, gradually, in an escalating manner.



Let his imagination do the rest. You don't have to do much except utter a vague reference, make an ominous allusion, delineate a possible turn of events.

Needless to add that all these activities have to be pursued legally, preferably through the good services of law offices and in broad daylight. If done in the wrong way - they might constitute extortion or blackmail, harassment and a host of other criminal offences.

(1d) Lure Him

Offer him continued Narcissistic Supply. You can make a narcissist do anything by offering, withholding, or threatening to withhold Narcissistic Supply (adulation, admiration, attention, sex, awe, subservience, etc.).

(1e) Play on his Fear of Abandonment

If nothing else works, explicitly threaten to abandon him.

You can condition the threat ("If you don't do something or if you do it - I will desert you").

The narcissists perceives the following as threats of abandonment, even if they are not meant as such:

  • Confrontation, fundamental disagreement, and protracted criticism
  • When completely ignored
  • When you insist on respect for your boundaries, needs, emotions, choices, preferences
  • When you retaliate (for instance, shout back at him).

(IIc) Refuse All Contact

    • Be sure to maintain as much contact with your abuser as the courts, counsellors, mediators, guardians, or law enforcement officials mandate.
    • Do NOT contravene the decisions of the system. Work from the inside to change judgments, evaluations, or rulings - but NEVER rebel against them or ignore them. You will only turn the system against you and your interests.
    • But with the exception of the minimum mandated by the courts - decline any and all gratuitous contact with the narcissist.
    • Do not respond to his pleading, romantic, nostalgic, flattering, or threatening e-mail messages.
    • Return all gifts he sends you.
    • Refuse him entry to your premises. Do not even respond to the intercom.
    • Do not talk to him on the phone. Hang up the minute you hear his voice while making clear to him, in a single, polite but firm, sentence, that you are determined not to talk to him.
    • Do not answer his letters.
    • Do not visit him on special occasions, or in emergencies.
    • Do not respond to questions, requests, or pleas forwarded to you through third parties.
    • Disconnect from third parties whom you know are spying on you at his behest.
    • Do not discuss him with your children.
    • Do not gossip about him.
    • Do not ask him for anything, even if you are in dire need.
    • When you are forced to meet him, do not discuss your personal affairs - or his.
    • Relegate any inevitable contact with him - when and where possible - to professionals: your lawyer, or your accountant.
    • But is there anything you can do to avoid abusers and narcissists to start with? Are there any warning signs, any identifying marks, rules of thumbs to shield you from the harrowing and traumatic experience of an abusive relationship?

This is the subject of the next article.


next: The Tocsins of Abuse - How to Spot an Abuser on Your First Date

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 1). Avoiding Your Abuser - II. The Conflictive Posture, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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