Twisted Love that Leads to Abuse

When an abuser says “I love you”, what he or she really means is “I want to suck the life out of you.” It took me a long time to come to this understanding.

It is especially harmful when a child is confused about what love is and what love is not. When a child does not know love but only manipulation, that child grows up into an adult who believes that “to love is to control”. It was natural for me to marry someone who made me feel bad about myself. I thought that was normal. Facing my past has been a challenge. And I am not the only one . . .

A friend of mine explained to me that, growing up, her mother would scream at her and belittle her but MADE SURE that they both always said, “I love you, dear” to each other every time they parted or hung up the phone. In the popular Disney movie “Tangled”, Rapunzel’s mother used her daughter on a regular basis to keep herself young, keeping Rapunzel isolated and afraid. After the emotional abuse was finished for the day, this dialogue was repeated:

“I love you, Rapunzel.”

“I love you more, Mother.”

“I love you most.”

Another woman recounts how her sister would buy her and her children expensive gifts whilst controlling all of them. This woman believed her sister loved her because of the gifts but experienced painful PAINFUL confusion over what love is because of the tirades and fits of rage she regularly experienced from her out-of-control-yet-controlling sister. Lundy Bancroft explains this phenomenon of the sinful heart well:

My (abuser) clients say to me, ‘No one else gets me upset like she does.  I just go out of my head sometimes because I have such strong feelings for her.  The things she does really hurt me, and nobody else can get under my skin like that.’  There are reasons not to accept the ‘love causes abuse’ excuse.  First, many people reserve their best behavior and kindest treatment for their loved ones, including their partners.  Should we accept the idea that these people feel love less strongly, or have less passion, than an abuser does?  Nonsense. (Why Does He DO That? [Affiliate link] by Lundy Bancroft, pp 28-30)

This is a twisted, warped concept of love. It is usury wrapped in sugar. It is control with a crumb of goodness. It is the kiss of Judas . . . I am about to destroy you and I am doing it with a common display of affection. Of course, Jesus saw right through it. But, I wonder if Judas normally got away with that abusive behavior? Throwing people off balance with his “I love you’s!” whilst sentencing them to death?

Love is not control. Love gives ultimate freedom. Love and freedom are two strands of the same licorice, all twirled together in perfect goodness. Love does not give a bit while it hurts a lot. Love does not take, then take some more while offering a crumb of hope. Love is extravagant and healing in its generosity. It has been a challenge for me to grasp this. And even more of a challenge to teach this to my children. But, this is how Jesus is and how He behaved when He walked this earth. Never controlling; never twisted. On the contrary . . . offering freedom to the captives then and now.

64 thoughts on “Twisted Love that Leads to Abuse”

  1. P&P loved to run my eldest son though a dialog like the one you described. Is was worse though (if there can be a better or worse) it went like this:
    P&P – who loves you more, Daddy or Mommy?
    Son – Daddy
    P&P – who loves you more, Daddy or Grandma?
    Son – Daddy
    P&P – who loves you more, Daddy or Grandpa?
    Son- Daddy
    P&P – That’s right, E, Daddy loves you best!
    Trying to teach a boy who grew up with this what love is, is not an easy task. All I can do is keep him away from that monster and show him what real love is.

    1. Yes Bethany I understand…..I would lay down my life for my son, as would we all. The MIW would kill to make sure my son thought like him. My biggest fear in my entire life is that the MIW would be alone with my son. The MIW is absolutely entitled to his legacy of malice and destruction! the MIW would literally murder to have his thinking live on through what he views as HIS “”seed”” if my son were to NOT think like him, then in the mind of the MIW and I am quoting “”His Mother has destroyed MY seed!!!” This is the same person that would tell my children that “”your Mother does not love you!!”” and it came out because I had forgotten to give them a napkin at the dinner table. Theres the solid proof!!!

      Seriously, who else wants to vomitt?
      Im so glad that I see this for what it truly is, EVIL.

      1. Memphis — all the more reason your leaving your abuser is so very admirable. You chose not to allow that legacy to continue. I get that. And I watched my ex-FIL talk that way to my ex….”NO ONE loves you more than your parents” (abuse, abuse, abuse), “You will NEVER have anyone love you like me” (abuse, abuse, abuse), and my ex was well on his way to doing the same things to the children. When I left, I was not just choosing to leave out of conviction that I was not created to be used and abused….I had the fact on my mind that, if I leave, I was breaking the cycle for the sake of the children. It has taken a LOT of deprogramming (and continues to). My one regret is that I didn’t leave sooner, as there is much more work to do with the older two. 😦

      2. MeganC in hindsite i bet we all regret not leaving sooner. But we cannot until we can!!!

    2. Oh my gosh! Bethany! R did that, too! He would also run them through the “who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy?”

  2. The world tells you constantly “there is a fine line between love and hate”.

    My Mom would say “Your Father loves you! He puts a roof over your head!” At a very young age she would chant that at us, almost as if she were trying to convince herself. I never once believed her, even in second grade I remember thinking she was crackers!

    My Mom would even go as far as to tell ME that I picked my bed (my MIW) and I should lay in it.
    Also she has hinted to her big realization that “I chose the MIW based on my upbringing and that its all I knew” therefore it is what it is.

    But for me, I KNOW that I did NOT know in the initial period of dating that love equaled hate. I was decieved by this monster, and my love was taken from me and used against me. I do remember knowing that love should make you feel joy, not misery….so the love I had I thought would bring joy into the MIW’s misery, in away that if I showed him love, he would no longer be the wounded sad individual he portrayed himself as….when we very first met, he was OVERLY sensitive and attentive….his mission regardless of my past was to decieve and annilate.

    It’s so confusing sometimes, the bottom line is IF they were not abusers wether we confused love or not, we would of been loved in our marriage and not abused. As far as victims go it’s hard for us to comprehend the “why”. Bare with me, I’m just thinking out loud. I’ve had the MIW even use my upbringing against me, as a way to say “she asks for it”, “she accepts it”, “she is still here isn’t she?”, “she is the one who needs therapy”. Yet if HE was not the deciever then I would have been cherished and loved, regardless of my own obstacles as a child.

    Thanks MegC this really got me thinkin. 🙂

    1. The world tells you constantly “There is a fine line between love and hate.”

      We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)

      his mission regardless of my past was to decieve and annihilate”


  3. Meg how long do you think it takes to recover from someone telling you they love you while they do evil things to you.? Do you think it’s wildly different for everyone?
    My youngest two have no memories from those early years, and that has been a blessing.
    I have to believe that it’s enough. And that real love will always conquer the evil, twisted “love” of an abuser.

    1. I am not an expert by any means, Katy. But, it seems to me that it isn’t a matter of time but more a matter of knowledge. I generally believe that, by facing our issues straight on, we increase our chances for quicker healing. So, when I realized I had no clue of what love is, I did a LOT of searching. Asking questions. Gospel-reading….until I found that I was completely out of that old paradigm of believing that love=control. And, boy, I am grateful that I did when I did because my kids were still small. I have a chance to teach them the real deal. And show them, too. This is just how I handled things and, again, I am no expert. God shows us the way and does so in His timing.

      I believe real love will conquer the “twisted love”. You are, indeed, blessed that your two little ones don’t remember. My two little ones don’t, either, but the two older ones do. And, for the first year, it was constant correction. “We don’t drag each other into the other room….I know your papa used to drag you….but WE DON’T DO THAT. THAT is not love. That is taking away someone’s freedom, which is manipulation….” and on and on. It has taken time but we are getting there!

      1. Yes I think I’m lucky that my kids don’t have extensive trauma. For that i am eternally grateful. I think my kids are now struggling with a different issue entirely – wishing that they had a “good dad”. I think they struggle with abandonment and not having a father in their lives, rather than trauma from violence and abuse. Which – honestly. If i had to choose between the two issues, I’d rather be facing the former.

      2. Oh, whew! Thank you for sharing that your children did those kinds of things! I have a hard time sometimes. I really, really, really worry because I see shadows of their dad’s behavior in my children. I’ve worried that it was either genetically ingrained or that the abuse was too bad and went on too long so that they will not be able to throw that monkey off their backs.

    2. ‘how long does it take to recover’ is a good question, Katy. I agree with Meg that by facing our issues straight on, we increase our chances for quicker healing. But it is an individual thing for each of us, and for each of our children. It’s probably important not to compare ourselves too much with others, or we can get stuck in envy or fretful worrying. Facing the emotions and patterns that are problematically before us, at any given time, is what is needed. Burying or avoiding things doesn’t help, in my experience, though taking time out from the gruelling pathway of recovery is sometimes a good thing. (even trauma victims need R & R! — a little holiday from recovery from time to time, eh? )

      It’s also helpful to bear in mind that all personality development is a combination of nature (genes etc) nurture (environment, modelling by others, etc) and individual choice (the inner decision whether to obey one’s conscience or disobey it, with disobedience eventually leading to a seared conscience). As protective parents, we have a lot of influence over our children’s development, but not total influence. We need to be realistic, not setting impossible goals for ourselves or our kids, but neither fretting over the things we may not be able to change. Children are incredibly resilient, and with reasonably consistent discipline and nurture from even just one protective adult who models integrity, there is every hope of them developing good character. But ultimately, what they do with our influence is up to them.

      1. Thank you for this right here, Barb:

        But ultimately, what they do with our influence is up to them.

  4. My spouse even passed a lie detector stating that he does indeed love me. He really really believes that what he is doing is love. How can you prove that someone is sucking the life out of you? By the time you have something concrete to point to he’s offering you candy and telling you what you saw didn’t actually exist. Aaaaaannnd then when you don’t want the candy you are sinful for not forgiving.
    I guess this post touched a nerve!

      1. To them “love” just means, ” I like the way you reflect me when I can control you”. or ” I like the me I see in you when you are responding correctly to my manipulations.” Loving us is just more self -love for them.

      2. Yes- and I do sense some different definitions of love running around.

        My ex’s definition of love revolved around a romance-novel view of being the damsel in distress rescued by a knight in shining armor. And what love does the story book damsel give? What does the woman stranded in the tower do to gain the affection of her rescuer? In the movies and novels, she simply needs rescuing- so love is about being in need and having those needs met. In fact, that’s what the damsel is entitled to, and if she doesn’t get it, then life simply isn’t worth living.

        Her “love” was defined by her roles. She had a son, so she was a loving mother. She had a husband, so she was a loving wife. She really wanted to have those things, so that made it love. But actually plugging in and participating was not required, and if our needs conflicted, well the damsel was the one who was supposed to be rescued and have her needs met. That’s love.

      3. Very good, Jeff S. So insightful. You’ve explained about your ex quite a few times, but I think this is the best description, it puts it all in a nutshell, complete with classic imagery from literature.

  5. Memphis,
    That is sooooo true. We may have recieved misconceptions about what love is, but our abuser still chose abuse. It’s not our fault.

  6. I have not read all the comments, so if I am duplicating someone else’s thoughts here, forgive me. I have to say that the “I love you” statement really means to me, that “I love to control you and own you and have someone who is so afraid of me, that they will cower to me and do whatever I ask them to do; that IS love to me, which is why I can tell you that I love you”. It is acutely sick and demented, but the abuser really has no idea that this is what he is really saying when he says “I love you”. I have found that some abusers like this, are just as apt to come from homes where they were not abused, nor controlled by their parents, but actually catered to or given their way or that they in fact, have behaved this way since they were very small children. Almost as if they were born with an “entitled” way of thinking. I know some abusers were abused, but I also know that not all abusers were previously abused in their own lives.

  7. I have too many people in my life, including the ex, who are not happy until they have reduced me to tears and if possible, hysteria. Then I can see that look of satisfaction on their faces-and afterward, they are all loving and talking about how everything will be fine, etc. They have no comprehension why I would still be upset.

    1. I get this, Jodi. My ex used to do this cycle one me: Drive me to hysteria and then point his finger at how crazy I am. After I left, I NEVER dealt with that kind of behavior again. It reminds me too much of the Enemy: Tempt, accuse, tempt, accuse….control, control, control. So very twisted.

      1. MeganC- absolutely. I remember one time telling a friend just a tiny bit of what I was going through (something really minor comparatively) and she said ” do you ever cry in front of him?” I was like “what?!” and she said “well, if he sees you cry and realizes how much he hurt you, then that will cause him tochange.” I thought she was nuts. Of course I cried in front of him- I could not convince her that not only did crying not help, I could see him actually grow colder and more hostile towards me. He never really called me crazy, but he implied it in many ways.

  8. My ex came from an Asian country where his family sacrificed absolutely everything to bring him to America. He was a prince – they sacrificed their lives, family relationships, careers – everything. Once they got here they worked like dogs in minimum wage jobs that were far beneath their education levels, and then his father couldn’t get authorized to stay so he had to go back. So they even sacrificed their marriage to give him an opportunity here. His mother was working around the clock, and they were barely surviving, my ex was left to “raise himself”. I think this is partly why he turned out to be such an entitled evil man. He had never known what it was like to sacrifice his own wants or needs for anyone else. Everyone in his universe always existed to service him.

    He only told me he loved me after he made me cry. Whenever he had finally tortured me to the point where I would say “you’re right. I’m not worthy of love” and be sobbing, then all of the sudden he would calm down, and say (deadpan) “I love you”. It was totally sick.

    1. Katy- It is totally sick! and exactly what P&P (Plunge and Pestilence) would do! He would tell other people that he loved me in order to look good, but he never told me until I admitted that I was worthless and undeserving of any love.

      1. “but he never told me until I admitted that I was worthless and undeserving of any love.”
        amazing. they are the same man in different bodies. Did he ever laugh or smile at you once he made you cry? Like it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen? (i think i need to read that book on sociopaths, the more I read here)

      2. Over the years it got harder and harder to make me cry (I refused to give him the satisfaction) so he took that on as a challenge. It was a game to see what it would take to bring me to tears. I can still see his evil smirk as I’m writing this…

      3. Oh, Bethany….that is awful (understatement). 😦 One of my sisters did that. She would tear me down….and if I didn’t react, she would tell me how “cold” or “heartless” I was. My ex did it, too. I near believed I was heartless, just because I wouldn’t let them see me break.

      4. Thank you Megan! You are anything but heartless 🙂 I know very few people with a heart as big as yours.

      5. For me it was the opposite – I’m not an overly emotional person and I don’t cry too easily… so in the beginning I took his abuse without hysteria…but as time went on, either my personality started to break from all the pressure or – not sure. But towards the end he could drive me to hysterical wailing. But by that time I also had small children that he could threaten, which may have been my breaking point.

      6. My husband told the counselor, “she won’t cry!”. I had determined not to let him break me anymore. Big difference between crying and having someone breaking you. The counselor turned and looked at me and said, “You really need to cry. It is healing”, but his response showed that he had no idea how abuse works. He’s right, we need to cry, but that is not what the abuser is after.

      7. That counselor is not very wise. I had admonishments for not crying, as well. At least, not crying “in his arms” or where he could see me. I cried plenty. Cried in the closet, muffled cries alone in the bathroom, in the middle of the night….

    2. Oh, wow, I can relate to all of this! Mine used to promise that the abuse would stop if I would just break down and cry. He would say it with the most calm and pleading voice, like he was asking something so reasonable.

      1. ANFL – that is so insane! I saw a program once on Domestic violence where the victim claimed that her husband gave her a shotgun and ordered her to kill herself by the end of the week. She had been living with him for so long that she was actually trying to get up the guts to follow through with his command! ( in the end she turned the gun on him instead.) It’s really true that the psychological stuff is worse than the physical 😦

  9. Like any normal person, it was early in the relationship that I felt confused about his profession of love not matching his unloving behavior. What kept me from recognizing the evil was the responses of friends, counselors or pastors. They would ask him, “Do you love her?” or “What do you think love is?” and he would give all the right answers, and all, bar none, would turn to me and try to convince me that he really loved me. So like children who are brainwashed by a parent into thinking that they are loved, I believed that I was loved.

    I think part of the problem is that in Christian circles, the spoken testimony is given great weight. After all, confession is a major part of the Christian life. We are encouraged to confess our sins; we are saved by the confession of our mouth; we confess our faith in the Word of God, etc. So the smart abuser knows that all he has to do is speak the right words to be let off the hook.

    To be fair to my ex, he really does believe that he loves me. He has been given a lot of counsel about loving his wife and kids, so he thinks he is doing the right thing by trying harder to love, but if control equates to love in his world, then all he is doing is controlling us more!

    1. Anon….this is incredibly insightful. Your observation about how confession is a routine part of the Christian life….and how that can be exploited by an abuser is brilliant. Thank you!!

    2. Anonymous:- I remember asking my ex many times why he loved me- he would get really frustrated with me for asking and never had a good answer. If he ever complimented me on anything other than my looks, it felt really patronizing and at times, hostile.

  10. Megan, I also just have to say that I found it a little funny, in an ironic sort of way, that you made reference to Rapunzel. I don’t like to watch cartoons with my kids at all. Perhaps because my abuser would sit and watch cartoons over and over again, and his immaturity repulsed me. Maybe it’s just because I’m just not big on movies at all. Anyway, when my youngest got Rapunzel as a gift I could not stop watching it! It reminded me SO MUCH OF MY MOTHER. I even found myself acting out parts of it jokingly. I would scream, “You will never leave this trailer, ever!” as Mother Gothel yelled, “You will never leave this tower, ever!” Creepy, but it all felt strangely therapeutic!

    1. ANFL,
      I think that “Tangled” was clearly written by someone with an understanding of emotional abuse. The scene where Rapunzel is flipping between the extremes of “I’m free” and “I’m a horrible person” is a dead giveaway on this point.

      And mother Gothel’s tool is her emotional abuse, which is more insidious than any other Disney villain. How they were able to make this movie lighthearted while dealing with such a difficult subject is beyond me, but they did.

      1. I SO agree with you, Jeff S. And, ANFL — when I first watched “Tangled”, I was floored! I was going through those exact emotional extremes that Rapunzel was going through….and the fear over leaving….it was absolutely on target.

      2. My Life, as told by Disney [Internet Archive link]

        A few months ago I ran across the above blog post by someone who came out of the “Stay At Home Daughter” movement comparing her journey with the movie. It was a very healing movie for her.

        Of course, a little googling and you can also find people criticizing the movie for glamorizing parental disobedience and lack of submission.


      3. WOW Jeff thank you for posting this article! I love the movie Tangled. It is on my list with Les Mes. As being a healing movie.

  11. It’s amazing what the abusers can get away with. They are crafty beyond belief, and they know this. My 2bx would play a game with me. He would start an argument in a very sneaky way, then when he got me upset, he would smirk and laugh. He would actually enjoy watching me suffer. In time I just learned to pretend he didn’t bother me any more.
    I can still see his offensive, self-satisfied smile and hear his scornful laugh.

    1. Absolutely true Now Free: The last really big “argument” I had with my ex- I saw that smirk and said ” you are really enjoying this aren’t you?” the look of shock on his face was quick but priceless as he knew I was finally on to him. Of course he denied it-but we both knew. I would have never seen that for what it was if I hadn’t been educated at that point about Sociopaths and their ways. And I also agree that they get you embroiled in a circular argument before you even know what’s going on. You don’t even see it coming-which is why I refuse to speak to my ex unless absolutely necessary. I only text or email when I have something I have to say.

      1. Jodi, that is very wise to not contact your ex unless absolutely necessary. Since I left my 2bx almost 15 months ago, there has been NO CONTACT at all. No e-mails, no text. It all goes through the lawyers and no unnecessary back and forth either. Our children are grown, no contact necessary.

      2. Jodi, that’s what I try, but he refuses to respond to texts or emails. He will only communicate in person, and tries to have a conversation every time there is handover.

  12. When an abuser says “I love you”, what he or she really means is “I want to suck the life out of you.” It took me a long time to come to this understanding.

    Megan this first paragraph of yours was really relevant in my case. Thanks for a very insightful post.

  13. Mine always said he loved me, that he worshipped me. And I think that was part of the problem. He worshipped me, the 16 yo blonde ideal of me that never disagreed with him or wanted to pay bills rather than have him get his new game. He put that idol of me before God. From the beginning I thought that was wrong but he was supposedly “new in his rededication to the Lord” so I thought God would show him his sin and he would change, like I do when God reveals an area in my life that needs work. His ideas of love and God are so skewed. He had a constant need to be told” I love you “ and thought if he said “ I love you “ it covered over everything and was true. Even when showed his actions did not match his words his first defense was that his intentions were good and then he would re-write history that the errant actions never occurred or were justified because of some made-up thing I did.

    1. Yes, good intentions with no follow through is not love. Intentions can be passionate, intense, and real without ever going below the surface.

      And the idolatry thing is difficult, as fun as it is in the beginning. It is hard work trying to live up to the image of perfection.

      1. Little things about his idealization..I was naturally blonde until 18. After that my hair got gradually darker. He wanted me to have really light blonde hair but wouldn’t provide the money to have it done regularly nor watch the kids for the time involved to do it and if I tried to do it myself it was never good enough. That should have been a clue. Something fully out of my control and I was blamed for it.

  14. Still Scared…I can relate so much. With my husband, he claims undyiing love all the time and when I don’t receive it as love, or challenge his behavior which is not loving, he claims its my issue for not being able to recieve love due to my abandonment issues or whatever he would like to pin it on that given day. I freely accept I have abandonment issues and have come a long way in healing that area of my life. But he does not accept that his behavior would be received as abusive whether I had abandonment issues or not. I know, he just cannot accept responsibility. It just so frustrating.
    And Jeff….thanks for the comment on intentions. This is something i’ve heard over and over (It was not my “intention” to hurt you, you assume the worst of me and find it hurtfull …because of your ‘stuff’ but its not my intention”) I’ll hang on to your quote Jeff…”good intentions with no follow through is not love…” Thank you.

  15. Thank you! I really thought it was just me. I have health issues and have been trying ‘ to get my ducks in a row’ for over a year now. Too many times I’ve heard my 7 yr old being told mommy doesn’t love her. I hope to soon be able to pull my life together, I just hope its not too late.

    1. Are you able to get good professional help, Michelle?
      I doubt it will be too late. Sooner or later your daughter will see thru her abusive father; abusers cannot hide their true colours forever.

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