Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.


Woman with hand out, palm facing you, obscuring her face somewhat as if using denial emphatically

Denial Is Lying Meant to Control

Denial is the same as lying, and some verbal abusers are mistaken for “pathological liars” because they use denial as a form of control so often. Lying to control others is different from lying out of habit or any other pathological reason. For example, pathological liars lie to everyone, all the time, for no reason, but an abuser’s lies focus on the people they try to control.

Pay attention to your abuser:

  • Do others think they are a wonderful person?
  • Or do they laugh behind their back knowing the latest tale is a downright lie?

Most abusers are seen as honest, hard-working, and above reproach in the community (but not all! yours could be an exception). Abusers use their false face in the community to discredit you. The only lies they may tell to their friends are ones about how horrible you are.

Beware! If you convince yourself that your abuser is, in fact, a pathological liar, you may come to view this as another reason to stay in the relationship. The Internet is full of advice on how to help a pathological liar: do not be tempted to love your abuser out of their lying nature. Chances are that “denial” is not the only type of abuse you’ve come to understand. Do not discount your abuse by boiling it down to your poor abuser’s psychological problems.

Verbal abusers flat-out deny almost anything, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so! The idea is to make you doubt your perceptions because the more abuse you accept from them, the easier it is to control you. They’ll deny drinking the last bit of OJ when you saw them do it. Abusers will deny that they had a flat tire even as you are showing them the bill from roadside assistance. They’ll deny abusing you, too. Even if you show them proof that what they say is abusive, they’ll deny being abusive. Perhaps they’ll claim the author will say anything to make a buck (like my husband does). Then he’ll deny that those words ever came out of his mouth, or say that I didn’t hear him correctly. When he’s feeling spunky, my abuser will say that I’m too sensitive because he was joking, not being “abusive”.

Commonly, and probably most hurtfully to your perception of reality, abusers lie about what they said and what you did or didn’t say. Verbal abusers love to make you repeat a conversation verbatim. They then take those words out of context as they “explain” what you meant to say. Denying your motive or the true meaning of your words is brainwashing and crazymaking!

“Forgetting” Is a Co-Conspirator

Walking hand-in-hand, forgetting and denial work together to cause an atmosphere of abuse. Forgetting important events, promises, or anything else is a denial that the abuser remembered it.

If someone forgets something, there’s not much you can do about it. Abusers “forget” things like birthdays, special nights you’ve planned for weeks, or the fact you asked them to do something simple.

How My Husband Uses Denial

In my house, it is supposed to be my responsibility to remind Will of everything from birthdays to school events. I post them on the calendar, give a verbal reminder a day before and the morning of, and still he “forgets.”

This year, despite my request that he and I go out to dinner for my birthday, Will “forgot” my birthday. He scheduled the tree-removal guy to spend the day at the house. Of course, there was nothing I could do about it. The tree removal went on until past dark and past the time Will requested that I feed him something for dinner.

Will typically combines denial with diversion and blocking or brainwashing.

Recently I told Will that he was verbally abusive and listed the ways in which he abused me. He went to the computer and printed out a list of the effects of rape. He yelled, “Here. This is YOU. This is your problem.” By denying the issues I want to discuss, attempting to divert my attention, and using abusive anger, Will can pretend that nothing changes.

I don’t change, the situation doesn’t change, and nothing changes unless HE changes it. There are no surprises for him, just for me. He is in control.

Will seems to love conversations that last over an hour (up to 8 hours in my experience!). During these “conversations,” Will lectures me on what

  • he said,
  • I said, and
  • what we agreed to do about the topic (finances usually).

If I repeat back to him what he just said, he’ll say, “Almost – but not quite…” and then subtly attempt to change the meaning of his words. By the end of these conversations, I felt so confused that I didn’t even care what I agreed to anymore.

How to React When Your Abuser Denies or Lies

Trying to explain how you know your abuser is lying is pointless.

You’ve probably been here before: the more you try to explain and gain your abuser’s understanding, the more they resist and deny your perception and belief. They even deny cold hard proof. Their denial can quickly turn to anger, and you’re left wondering how to calm them down instead of explaining how you know they’re lying.

The worst case scenario is that your abuser succeeds in their attempt to make you believe you misunderstood the whole thing. When this happens, you once again deny your own truth and put the abuser’s sick version of reality ahead of your own. You give them the power over you they long for.

I think one statement Patricia Evans recommends is the very best reaction to denial. Say “I don’t believe you and I don’t want it to happen again” or simply, “I don’t believe you.” Then say nothing else. Walk away if you have to make sure you say nothing else.

Your abuser will not like this and may seek to convince you of their nonsense. But if you are not there to listen, the abuser cannot suck you back into their world of illusion and control.

*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: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003, and my experiences with verbal abuse.

Featured image by Isaiah Rustad, from Unsplash