Countering occurs when your abuser expresses the near opposite of what you say no matter if
- your statement is your personal feeling on a matter, or
- you are expressing your opinion, or
- you are holding the proof of your statement in your hand as evidence, or
- the abuser just said the same thing and you were agreeing.
In the context of verbal abuse, countering is not the same as disagreeing. It is normal for people to disagree and hold differing opinions. Countering involves irrationality and a degree of anger because you have thoughts and feelings. An abuser tends to get upset when you have an opinion whether you disagree with them or not.
Countering makes more sense when you look at it through the eyes of an abusive person.
Your abuser considers almost everyone to be their enemy, especially you, the one closest to them. “Your” goal is to render the abuser powerless, helpless, and weak. The abuser must control you so you cannot control them.
When you voice an opinion (which comes from a personal space inside of you that your abuser cannot control), your abuser feels attacked. Your abuser feels that you should not offer an opinion because they tell you what to think and when. When you speak up “out of turn” the abuser takes it as a sign that you are gaining power, and quickly goes on the offensive to discredit you.
Fear can cause seemingly irrational reactions. Countering can come across as completely irrational because it is. Countering is like throwing a grenade with eyes closed and hoping the shrapnel hits the enemy (you) somewhere vulnerable. Countering occurs because your abuser is fearful that you are gaining power.
How My Husband Uses Countering
Here’s an example of countering that happened when Will and I were shopping for a new living room set:
Me: That set is a horrible shade of gray. Or brown. Ugh! Is that gray or brown? Yuck.
Him: It’s green.
Me: This tag says it is ‘taupe’.
Him: You just said you hated green and now that some tag says that green is taupe, you love the set! You’re impossible! I’m going to the truck. I’m done.
Everything Will said during that exchange was a lie. However, they’re lies he’s happy to live in because he felt more in control of me.
It doesn’t really matter what I say. I could say a shirt was peach and he’d insist it was yellow. I could agree with him that the light was too bright, and suddenly he wouldn’t be bothered by it anymore.
How to React to Countering
Countering is not about understanding your views or helping you to understand your abuser’s views. Countering halts all conversation because there can be no relating to a person who does not tell the truth. They violate the first law of conversation by lying, and therefore whatever else they say cannot be trusted.
Patricia Evans offers this advice in The Verbally Abusive Relationship:
- As soon as you know your abuser is countering you, say “Stop! Pay attention,” and then repeat what you said without explaining what you meant. Ms. Evans says if you do this often enough, your abuser may stop countering you.
- If your abuser says something and you repeat it back so they know you understand them, but then counter what they just said because you said it, then stop the conversation. Ms. Evans advises that you say something like, “Cut it out!” or “Stop countering me! or “So you say.”
- If your abuser says something like “You can’t prove it,” then you could simply say, “No” and then walk away or disengage from the conversation.
In my opinion, countering deserves no response. I feel that responding to countering only continues the likelihood that my husband will find other ways to abuse my thoughts and feelings. It feels like he wants me to stand there and accept his irrationality as reality. I’ve tried to understand and accept his irrationality for almost two decades. Because I’ve done that for so long, I am afraid that he will succeed in drawing me back into his warped world.
For me, walking away and/or disengaging from the conversation at the first sign of countering helps me to feel better and more empowered. Denying Will his “audience” upsets him, but continuing with the nonsense or using one of Ms. Evans’ techniques upsets him too. I choose to take care of my own psyche first and let him deal with the fall-out of his nonsense by leaving the conversation completely.
Remember that these statements are to help you feel better and detach from your abuser’s antics. They do not guarantee that your abuser will stop abusing you, nor do they protect you from further abuse. You should fill out a safety plan so you know what you will do if things get out of hand.
Based on the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003 and my experiences with verbal abuse.