By Maeve O’Keeffe
On the 21st and 22nd of February, UCC’s WiSTEM society hosted a workshop as part of Women’s Aid’s “Too Into You” campaign, followed by a talk with Mary Hayes, Project Leader of the “Too Into You” campaign. While some of the topics covered in Mary Hayes’s pertinent and insightful talk have been touched upon in previous issues of this section, she also highlighted some commonly overlooked red flags that can precede other abusive behaviours in relationships. Given what Hayes described as the “insidious” nature of abuse, what may initially seem like romantic or passionate gestures at the beginning of a relationship can actually be indicators of possessiveness or manipulation by one’s partner.
Love-bombing is a particularly pernicious manipulation tactic used in the early stages of dating or relationships, because it can be irresistibly alluring. Essentially, love-bombing is when one partner “lavishes the other with their time, praise, and gifts” early on. This can involve excessive compliments, expensive gifts, spending lots and lots of time together, and indicating a desire to make the relationship serious or exclusive very quickly. Though these may seem like extravagant displays of romance, Hayes warns that this showering of affection and attention can actually operate as a “smoke-screen for abusive behaviour later on” in the relationship.
Love-bombing functions on the principle of reciprocity. If someone appears to be excessively loving and caring towards us, it is natural for us to feel like we owe them something in return. The love-bomber creates the illusion that they are the perfect partner. If you’ve been searching for love, when suddenly you encounter a partner who tells you that they’ve never met anyone like you before, and that they think you might be their soulmate, all while lavishing you with flattery and gifts, it is not surprising that you would be taken in by them. One might feel overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and longed-for validation. And while these acts may indeed be reflective of sincere romance, they are often the actions of narcissists who manipulate their partners and make them feel totally dependent on them.
For instance, love-bombing can precede coercive control, or the insidious isolation of the victim from their support units. When the love-bomber waxes lyrical about how they want to spend all of their time with their partner, the victim of love-bombing may find themselves cut off from the friends they used to rely on, and if the behaviour escalates and becomes more abusive, the victim may feel like they have no other option but to stay in the abusive relationship. Equally, the love-bomber may use their excessive gestures of affection to make demands of their partner, Hayes explained, giving the example of how the love-bomber might feel entitled to sex after buying their partner a nice dinner or expensive jewellery.
Negging is another form of emotional manipulation that is very easily dismissed as “slagging” or “banter.” Hayes described negging as back-handed compliments that undermine the receiver’s self-esteem, increasing their need to earn the approval of the manipulator. Hayes used screenshots of messages on dating apps to illustrate the issue of negging, with messages like, “You’re actually quite bright for a blonde,” and “I don’t normally like fat girls, but you’re actually pretty,” among the examples she gave the audience.
Like other forms of abuse, negging may seem harmless initially, but persistent insults masquerading as compliments can really damage the victim’s self-esteem, rendering them even more vulnerable to other forms of abuse in the relationship.
Gaslighting has become a commonly used word in our modern vernacular, but many are not sure exactly what it means. Hayes described gaslighting as “an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that makes the victim question their own perceptions and judgement.” The abuser misleads the victim, creating the false narrative that the victim is being melodramatic, or is unreliable, unstable, or crazy, when challenged about their behaviour. The gas-lighter will deny any wrongdoing, and can even depict themselves as the victim, even when the evidence directly contradicts their version of events.
Gaslighting can involve making comments like, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” “You were so drunk, you definitely can’t remember what actually happened,” “You’re always twisting things,” or “I would never do that, why are you saying I would do that?” Gaslighting behaviour can vary from undermining the experiences of the victim, to claiming that the victim is mistaken, and that their perceptions and recollections are deceiving them. Sometimes the abuser might even deliberately hide their partner’s belongings, in an attempt to corroborate their false narrative that their partner is crazy or unable to account for themselves. This erodes the victim’s self of sense. As well as having an abrasive effect on the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth, and making them doubt their entire reality, gas-lighting can also inhibit victims from reporting their abuser, for fears that they will not be believed.
Although we must all strive to be vigilant to red flags like these, it is important to remember only to intervene if it does not put anybody at risk. Too Into You offer a 24 hour helpline service which you can contact by phoning 1800 341 900 if you are concerned that you or someone you know might be a victim of intimate relationship abuse. As well as this, there is an instant messaging service that can be accessed via the Too Into You website – https://toointoyou.ie/. Women’s Aid will be launching their #YesItsAbuse campaign in coming days, so follow their social media channels for more insight into these issues and resources for victims.