by Kristance Harlow
Content warning: Emotional abuse.
I have not watched the presidential debates. I did not watch the GOP debates before that. I do not watch any of Trump’s speeches. I have heard the criticisms about my choice, that I am choosing to be ignore the reality of current national politics or that I’m being stubborn and ignorant. The thing is, while I don’t watch or listen to Trump, I read the transcripts. It isn’t even just that I despise Trump and don’t want to listen to his hateful rhetoric. I get plenty worked up reading the transcripts. I don’t watch him speak because I can’t.
I have never liked Trump. I always thought he was sleazy and completely ridiculous with that “you’re fired” nonsense. I never understood why anyone liked Trump. As long as I’ve known who he was, all I ever heard was that he was a shitty businessman and wannabe celeb whose businesses kept going bankrupt. I didn’t watch his reality show or pay him much attention until his candidacy, because his persona just rubbed me the wrong way. But when he declared his intention to run for president, I had to sit up and pay attention.
I dislike a lot of politicians and am outspoken on my views, but I’ve never felt this before. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I just knew that his speeches made feel immensely uncomfortable. I was not simply annoyed — I felt threatened and unsafe. Then a friend on Facebook shared a story on Everyday Feminism entitled “10 Emotional Abuse Tactics That Trump Blatantly Used in the First Debate.” That’s when it clicked: I can’t watch Trump because he is a manipulator, and his manner of speaking is that of an emotional abuser. That’s why I was finding myself fighting panic and flashbacks when I first tried watching him debate. I was flashing back to my own experience as a victim of abuse. The following is just a tiny sampling of that emotional abuse.
The Tactics of the Abuser
Projecting is a common emotional abuse tactic, and one of the Donald’s favorite things to do. When one of his many faults is put on display, he quickly spins the spotlight and makes it look like the fault is not his but someone else’s. In the second presidential debate, Trump frequently projected and shifted blame. He started the night with this tactic when questioned about the recording of him saying that, since he’s famous, he can just grab women “by the pussy” and that sometimes he doesn’t wait and he just goes in to kiss them. He briefly said, “It was locker room talk. That was locker room talk.” Then he shifted blame to the Clintons, saying, “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse.”
Everyone has projected at some point in their life, but not everyone projects abusively. Abusive projection is used to both shift blame and implant false beliefs. Victims are conditioned to feel as if those projected emotions are their own.
My abuser — let’s call him Jack, because I am not about to tell you his real name — was an expert manipulator. He was so good at it, he would twist the truth and project his internal strife on me and I wore it. He would call me pathetic, a bully, manipulative and a liar. It felt like a betrayal of my trust each time I opened up to him and he would call my feelings tools of manipulation and lies. Here is a section of a real conversation between the two of us:
Me: You can’t keep getting mad at me, like you did last night. [He had berated me for hours, while I cried, for being underemployed].
Jack: I got mad because of your reaction. You’re just blind to it. You don’t want to consider it.
Me: I have considered things you’ve said and try to explain my own perception. I am seeing things I didn’t realize before, and admitting things I wish I’d done and that I didn’t know I was doing. I was trying to get a job and now I have a good one, but it’s part time and I can’t change that.
Jack: You make it seem that I’m heartless and cruel. Why do you want to make me feel like this?
It’s blatantly obvious that Trump doesn’t know how to shut up. He refuses to let Clinton to have the last word and he talked over her in the first debate fifty times. He repeats the same claims over and over again, seemingly incapable of constructing a more complex argument. Abusers use this tactic of speaking over their victim and wearing them down with repetitiveness. It is exhausting to try and reason with someone who does that.
Trump speaking over Clinton and repeating during the second presidential debate:
CLINTON: And the final thing I would say, this is the 10th or 12th time that he’s denied being for the war in Iraq. We have it on tape. The entire press corps has looked at it. It’s been debunked, but it never stops him from saying whatever he wants to say.
TRUMP: That’s not been debunked.
CLINTON: So, please…
TRUMP: That has not been debunked.
CLINTON: … go to HillaryClinton.com and you can see it.
TRUMP: I was against — I was against the war in Iraq. Has not been debunked. And you voted for it. And you shouldn’t have. Well, I just want to say…
Jack did this all the time. He really loved to ask me questions, ignore my answers and then repeat himself until my ears bled. The repetition ensures that the abuser conveys that they do not value their victim’s words, and their responses will not be good enough for the abuser, who will continue to repeat themselves to wear their victim down. It made me feel unheard and unloved. The context of the following conversation is not even important, because this situation happened frequently:
Me: Why do you keep asking me why I do something if you don’t want to listen to the answer?
Jack: You aren’t answering my questions.
Me: I already did.
Jack: But your first reaction is the same every single time, like I explained. Now that can’t just be a coincidence. But your first reaction is the same every single time, like I explained. Now that can’t just be a coincidence.
Me: And you just ask again and again and again.
Jack: But your first reaction is the same every single time, like I explained. Now that can’t just be a coincidence.
Me: And again….
Jack: Answer the question then, why is it the same reaction?
Me: I know you feel that way and you are entitled to your feelings. I am doing introspection and compromising…
Jack: But your first reaction is the same every single time, like I explained. Now that can’t just be a coincidence. But your first reaction is the same every single time, like I explained. Now that can’t just be a coincidence. But your first reaction is the same every single time, like I explained. Now that can’t just be a coincidence.
Me: I just don’t think it is productive to go over and over and over the same question, the same thing over and over and over it is making me crazy. It has to be making you crazy?
Jack: What’s making me crazy is maybe you aren’t who I thought you were.
Trump rules the roost when it comes to making “huge” claims that are clearly exaggerated. His solutions to the woes of the country are, at best, vague generalizations and, at worst, outright lies and displays of pure ignorance. Trump uses fear to manipulate his supporters into believing he is the only one who can help them. That is classic emotional abuse. Abusers use vague generalizations and make unsupported claims to power and knowledge. These tools are used to manipulate already vulnerable people into believing the only person they can rely on is the abuser.
Jack: You’re lazy and your family expects me to pay for everything for you. You are so lazy, it’s pathetic. You expect a man to do everything.
Me: Since my dad died, my depression has been bad and I have been getting better and I am trying really hard.
Jack: Yeah, your family doesn’t like me, because I don’t live in America and have ‘stolen’ you away. They don’t want you to be happy if you aren’t in America. Well, you will never find a person more willing to help structure a financially secure family and one with no debt. But you don’t care.
Me: I do care. I wish I didn’t have debt, but I wanted to go to college.
Jack: Why do have a degree? A lot of good that’s done you.
Body Language and the Abuser
It isn’t just the way Trump speaks that is troubling. His physical presence and body language adds to how uncomfortable he makes me feel. During the second presidential debate, Trump creepily lurked behind Clinton. It was the kind of behavior that appears prior to assaults. I have a deep-seated fear of someone lurking behind me. Jack helped install that button. I was physically abused; it was just enough to keep me living in a constant state of fear. He frequently looked over my shoulder when I was on the computer, and he would pace, reminding me that I needed to carefully walk over the thin ice he had melted.
To see a room cheering a man who was engaging in the same tactics as my abuser was just too much. That’s why I read the debate transcripts rather than watching the events.
Trump’s recent remarks to veteran on post-traumatic stress disorder pushed me over the edge. I was not shocked by those remarks, but I was angry. When he said that people with PTSD “can’t handle it,” I just about lost my shit, which is why I needed to connect the dots to understand the ways in which Trump is just like my abuser. Analyzing the manipulative discourse has helped me to remain present in the face of all the election anxiety, and I will continue to read — and not watch — Trump, because I can handle it.