What Is Blocking and Diverting and Why Do Abusers Use It?
Blocking and diverting is basically changing the topic of a conversation or refusing to participate in it to gain control. Changing a normal conversation into one that shocks and hurts you is a control tactic designed to disorient and confuse you. A confused person is easier to control than a clear-headed one.
Diverting in this way allows the abuser to build on their past attempts to control you. The abuser may say, “See? You’re always confused!” or another statement that “proves” their evaluation of you is correct.
When my husband switches topics to divert or block the conversation, he reveals that he doesn’t see me as a rational person who would notice that the conversation no longer makes sense. Or, as author Patricia Evans says, he refuses to act like a rational person. You can’t tell him that though!
How My Husband Uses Blocking and Diverting
Sometimes he acts like he does not hear my voice at all. He just keeps on working, fiddling with whatever is in his hands. I know better than to disturb him with important issues while he’s working – the conversations I’m referring to are about dinner or returning a phone call. I’ll stand there a good long time – plenty of time for him to notice me. I’ll repeat what I said and still, he doesn’t acknowledge me.
I’d say this was more like deprivation or withholding, but as soon as I turn to walk away, he answers me or asks a question about what I said. His behavior is irrational.
At times, he successfully blocks the conversation by accusing me of some nonsense and I try to defend myself instead of staying on topic. At other times, Will simply refuses to talk about my concern. I’ve learned from experience that pushing the issue ends up with him acting out of control and angry.
Examples of Blocking and Diverting
Me: “Will, I’d really like for us to go to dinner with my sister and her husband tomorrow.”
Him: “What about the kids? Are you even thinking about them? I can go hungry, but you shouldn’t let the kids starve.”
Me: “When have I not thought about our kids?!” or “Why in the world would you go hungry?!” (and the conversation deteriorates from here)
Me: “Where is that screwdriver you used yesterday?”
Him: “As if you know how to use it anyway. You always want me to do your work for you! As if I don’t have enough to do around here. Stop being so damn lazy!”
Me: “I do know how to use it, I don’t want you to do anything for me, and I am NOT lazy!” (at which point Will begins to counter me on all points, and the conversation deteriorates.)
When you experience this tactic during a more frivolous conversation, it has the potential to become a brou-ha-ha that leaves you wondering, “How did we go from discussing the weather to how gross I look in shorts?!”
How to React to Blocking and Diverting
Reacting to blocking and diverting requires you to stay on your toes. The tactic works so well, it can be hard to recognize this type of abuse immediately. Abusers block and divert during important conversations and frivolous ones.
The best way to react to blocking and diverting is to stay on track by
- remembering what it is you want to know, and
- keeping control of your thoughts and emotions no matter what your abuser says to you.
Both are easier said than done. Your abuser knows what buttons to push to throw you off-track, and they will use them indiscriminately.
You may only want to know where a screwdriver is, but for some reason, your abuser may come back at you with the most hurtful statement in their arsenal. In my experience, there is no rhyme or reason to why my abuser chooses the weapons he chooses. Nevertheless, you must keep your bearings about you.
Be persistent if you need to know something very important to you (like where his wedding ring went, why attorneys are contacting her, or anything else you consider important). When you notice your abuser attempting to divert the conversation, say something like,
- “What does that have to do with your missing ring?” or
- “I need to know what happened to your ring first” (but do not go back and address his diversions later!) or
- “Look at me! What happened to your ring?” or
- “Answer my question. What happened to your ring?” or
- “Stop trying to divert me! What happened to your ring?”
and repeat it until they
- give you the answer you need, or
- says, “I am not going to answer that” (although disappointing, this answer is a valid answer), or
- you sense the conversation or abuse is escalating to an unsafe level (your physical wellbeing is worth more than knowing the answer).
Follow your instincts in all cases!
If the answer to your question isn’t that important or the conversation is a frivolous one gone wild, use your discretion in choosing how to address it.
If my question isn’t all that important, such as, “What do you want for dinner?” and Will doesn’t answer me, I probably won’t confront the abuse. I’ll cook something of my own choosing and deal with any repercussions if they happen.
Conversations gone wild seem tougher to address because it is hard to recognize the turning point. It feels like one minute you’re talking about the dog and the next he’s going on about how flaky you are. The important thing here is to address the abuse as soon as you notice it.
Again, use your discretion in how you want to address it, if at all. By the time you notice your abuser is insulting you, they may already be onto another tactic (abusive anger, accusing & blaming, judging & criticizing, etc.). Address the abuse you recognize when you recognize it. Don’t worry about backtracking to point out how the conversation got to that point. Your abuser will probably counter you anyway.
*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.
What does diversion do in the long run? Read ‘You Hate Men!’ Is Diversion . . . and Retraumatization
Based on the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003, and my experiences with verbal abuse.
Featured photo by Yoann Boyer