Abuse Tactics: Mind Games

Also known as “gaslighting”, playing mind games is all about confusion – making you feel mad, bad, and sad: the more confused you are, the less conviction you’ll have in your own beliefs, and the more likely you are to give in to what the abuser wants. This goes hand-in-hand with isolation, preventing you from getting the balance of other people’s views or warnings about the abuse. Confusion is compounded by the fact that the abuser always seems so sure of him/herself, and that everything s/he says is right, so you begin to wonder if maybe you are wrong after all. In your heart you know you’re not wrong, but you never manage to convince him/her of that or get him/her to see it from your point of view. You feel worthless. Ultimately, this can lead to depression, self-harm, and suicidal feelings.

It’s very unlikely that any one abuser would use all these tactics, and there will be many ways of isolating you not mentioned here. So, don’t feel you’re overreacting if you don’t see all these particular tactics – you’re not. Every situation is different.

Examples of Mind Games
  • Says, “you’re so unreasonable,” or “I don’t know what’s going on with you recently,” or “you’re so over-sensitive” whenever you stand up for yourself.
  • Says, “I was only joking,” or “You have no sense of humour,” or “you can’t take a joke,” when you object to insults/insinuation.
  • Says, “I think you need to see a doctor,” or otherwise insinuates there’s something wrong with you.
  • Pretends to forget what s/he’s previous said, or what you said. Accuses you of “nitpicking” if you call him out.
  • Accuses you of saying things you haven’t said, or doing things you haven’t done. (Particularly things you would never say or do.)
  • Moves / hides your stuff, but denies it. Says “you’re always losing everything.”
  • Buys you a cookery book, kitchen/cleaning equipment, or some other housework-related gift for your birthday. Expects you to be grateful. (crosses over with lording it).
  • Buys you the one thing you said you didn’t want for your birthday. Expects you to be grateful.
  • Doesn’t introduce you to people you meet when you’re out together (crosses over with lording it).
  • Never uses your name, but calls you Babe / Princess / Beautiful, or Fatty / Fave Bitch / Dog Face in a way that makes it sound like it’s supposed to be a compliment, or only uses your full name (when you use a shortened version), or calls you Mrs [whatever his surname is].
  • Passes judgemental comments about your clothes / hair / looks / house / friends / table manners / taste in films, books, magazines, etc.
  • Never openly asks/tells you to do anything, but makes statements about what s/he does and does expect, leaving you to work out how to behave accordingly (this is a particularly insidious form of abuse): I hate being poor = don’t spend any money, or you’re spending too much money (even if you’re spending nothing). The house is always a tip = you have to tidy up more. What’s for dinner = you should be doing the meal planning/shopping/cooking. Are you wearing that? = you look like a tramp / frump.
  • Says, “Who would want you? You’re depressed / autistic / worthless, etc.” if you ever talk about leaving.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to add a mind-games tactic.

Please DON’T challenge an abuser, or try to leave a relationship, without getting help first.
There are organisations that can help you work out what to do, and help to keep you (and your children) safe from further physical and/or psychological harm. If you are in the UK, please see the Where to Get Help page for more information. If you are outside the UK, Google your country’s abuse charities – there will be people to help you.

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3 thoughts on “Abuse Tactics: Mind Games”

  1. This is different from friendly banter, joking around, harmless teasing, and the like, because during emotional abuse these “jokes” are always at your expense and you don’t find them funny.

  2. … forgot to say – I deeply believe I have at least strong autistic traits and my sister is very very controlling (showing strong autistic tendencies as well)….

  3. This is very painful to read for me, as I have this in my life since I was very little (I am an 38 year old female). It is from my sister who is 10 years older than me. Some days I believe she is deeply unhappy, but not aware of it and I feel sorry for her (these days are rare I must admit) … Other days I think she is just a very nasty person and I’m angry with her, but can’t help the situation. I’m not an assertive person, get very muddled up and when I try to stand up for myself I get it wrong. Then I’m again perceived as the person who is in the wrong (in fact I’m always wrong in her eyes, so nothing new there) and not being herself etc … We live very far away from each other (different countries), but she still manages to make me feel very worthless :(

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