The abuser’s word salad & weird language when he’s working hard at resisting taking responsibility

[December 29, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

When the abuser is pulling out all stops to show that he is right and you / others are wrong, his language sometimes becomes a little weird. I have observed this kind of poor English in the language of many men who abuse their wives. (However, some abusive men are so well educated and verbally skilled that they can use proper English to do all their verbal abuse.)

Sometimes the poor English is like a word salad….or a concept salad. The words and phrases may be normal but they are not strung together logically: there are skips and jumps, the flow of thought is not logically connected. If the abuser is mouthing Christian doctrine, the individual phrases may be okay but the way he connects them logically together is NQR — Not Quite Right. Pay attention when you have that NQR-feeling!

His grammar and syntax might show flaws. Connecting words (conjunctions) may be missing. Verbs may not match their subjects: for example a plural subject might be given a singular verb, or a singular subject might have a plural verb. He might inappropriately switch tenses. Even more uncanny, the words “I” and “you” can be back to front. The abuser might say ‘”you” (or “they”) when he means himself. And he might say “I” when he means you. It can be really creepy when you hear this from your abuser who is lying right next to you in the bed….and I speak from experience.

I suspect this weird language is evidence of how the abuser’s thinking and beliefs are so very distorted. In attempting to mimic the language of people who have functional consciences and good values, abusers have practised how to string phrases together to sound like they are morally upright people. But their stony hearts are evil, so they cannot actually string the phrases together plausibly all the time the way a normal person with a functioning conscience does.

I’ve heard from many victims of abuse and many genuine Christians. They’ve spoken to me face-to-face and by phone, they’ve written emails, they’ve written on this blog, and they’ve sometimes been in severe shock at what their abuser has just done. If they are gushing their story — and especially if I am the first person who has really listened to them non-judgementally — they may not make it clear what person(s) they are referring to when they say “he” or “she” or “they”. (Editors call this is called a “pronoun reference” problem.) And they may miss out bits of the story, or tell bits of the story out of order, so it’s hard for me to piece the story together and I have to ask clarifying questions. But no matter how much genuine Christians may find it hard to verbally communicate what they think and feel, and no matter how much they may be traumatized or gushing, I have never heard them making these weird errors in syntax and grammar that abusers make.

These language errors that abusers make are really distinctive, if you’ve heard enough of them. It’s rather like a parrot who has learned to mimic the language of human beings. When the abuser is desperately trying to regain control and crush the opposition he may not always do the parroting act well. His snakeskin starts to show through his pinstripe suit.

I’ve also noticed that when abusers are writing their responsibility-resistance diatribes, they often make spelling mistakes. Of course, many people make spelling mistakes and we all have made them at times. But I’ve noticed that abusers who use weird syntax and grammar often make many spelling errors as well.

Have any of you noticed these kind of things in the abusers you’ve known?

[December 29, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to December 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to December 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to December 29, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (December 29, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


60 thoughts on “The abuser’s word salad & weird language when he’s working hard at resisting taking responsibility”

  1. Yes, I’ve noticed that they don’t hear what you are saying either, and their responses will be extreme. If you ask them, for example, to please not just walk out but let you know where they are going when they leave the house without notice, they might say, “Oh, so I’m not allowed to go anywhere?” I don’t know if this qualifies as word salad, but I do recall feeling very very confused and overcome once when I had asked my parents for help in dealing with his treatment of me, and they said we should talk things out. But when we talked things out, it wasn’t “talking it out” it was him attacking me with a “circular” type of word-attack in which I felt as though for every phrase I uttered, he came down with an anvil and smashed it.

    Although he had agreed to “talk it out” when my parents were on the phone, as soon as we got off he commenced to shut down everything I said, and accuse me of bringing up the past, saying he just wanted to move forward and start over. I said that I felt I was allowed to voice my hurts and he just stopped me there. I ended up just crying because of how bewildered he made me feel. That moment I sat there, my mouth gaping, as he took me down with words, yet again. He made his immoral actions seem innocent (talking to other women and telling them they are beautiful) by saying “So I’m supposed to be negative and tell them they’re ugly?” The issues never got resolved.

    There were no apologies for all the years he’s treated me badly. He has projected his attributes onto me. He has told me he was tired of all the fighting and was going to leave. Threatening to see other women and have sexual affairs. The list never ends.

      1. Not sure where you’re from or whether or not you’ve ever been abused, but I have seen abusers literally blame their victims for the actions THEY were guilty of (my father blaming my mother, for example, for cheating when he was the adulterer) and calling victims the things THEY actually were, such as cruel, heartless, or calloused. Call it projection, if you like — because in fact that is EXACTLY what they were doing — or make up some other psycho-babble for it. “Scapegoating” doesn’t quite capture it, sorry. Your point is invalid, and not only so, it re-victimizes people like myself and the OP by making it sound like we did not experience what we did. If you’re going to comment, maybe you should give some thought as to whether there is any real or helpful point to your remarks. If you’re just citing references to feel good about your “Internet education”, maybe you should do it in some other place where real victims don’t have to feel like their abuse has been minimized away yet again. What is your point? I experienced my abuser accusing me of the very sins he committed against me when I did NOT do those things — HE DID! He called me names that fit HIS personality — NOT MINE. Anyone who says it didn’t happen clearly has not lived my experiences and is wrong. Your comments are NOT helpful and add nothing to the conversation. I’d never want your “counsel”.

        To Broken Not Shattered — it sounds like we were with the same person!! The twisted, crazy-making word games were never-ending.

      2. Better2day, you said,

        I have seen abusers literally blame their victims for the actions THEY were guilty of (my father blaming my mother, for example, for cheating when he was the adulterer) and calling victims the things THEY actually were, such as cruel, heartless, or calloused….I experienced my abuser accusing me of the very sins he committed against me when I did NOT do those things — HE DID! He called me names that fit HIS personality — NOT MINE. Anyone who says it didn’t happen clearly has not lived my experiences and is wrong.

        I have seen that too. And I’ve been subjected to it too, from my first abusive husband. It is awful to be subject to it, as I’m sure you know. And I respect your anger and outrage about the way abusers do this to their victims.

        I’m gathering from your reply that you clicked onto the page I had given a link to in my comment above, which is one of our FAQ pages, and you read the short statement there which said “Abusers don’t use projection. Abusers falsely accuse and scapegoat others.” And you’ve taken offense at that statement and thought my comment was invalidating your experience. And if I was invalidating your experience, I deserve to be reprimanded.

        However, I’d ask you to think a bit more about this. I believe you when you say your abuser accused you of the very sins he committed against you, when you did NOT do those things — HE DID! I believe you that he called you names that fitted HIS personality — NOT YOURS. I am not saying that didn’t happen. It did happen, and it was cruel, wicked and wrong of him to do that to you.

        You found the term ‘scapegoating’ to be too lame to describe what he did to you. But did you notice the other term we used? We also said the abuser falsely accuses his victim. What your abuser did when accusing you of the very sins HE was guilty of was this: he was falsely accusing you. And it was a particularly evil type of false accusation.

        I get the impression that you didn’t click on the link below our statement that “Abusers don’t use projection. Abusers falsely accuse and scapegoat others.” That link we gave there is to a post on this blog titled Projection — A misused and misapplied term. I hope you will take the time to read that post. I am confident it will validate your experience of what your abuser did to you.

        And by the way, I am one of the two leaders of this blog. So welcome to the blog! And we always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      3. And by the way, Better2day, I honour you for the way you have firmly stated what your abuser did to you, and staunchly rejected any notion that he didn’t do those things to you.

    1. BNS, I get this circular attacking too. It drives me crazy. It’s like they truly don’t want anything really resolved and just want to make things worse. I suppose they don’t and instead want to keep their sin.

      1. I get this too. Our “discussions” go round and round in circles until I’m completely confused and can’t seem to keep a point straight in my head. When I have time to sit and think it over, his abuse seems so clear, and it’s so obvious to me what he’s doing. But when we actually talk, he turns everything back on me and tries to prove that I’m doing all the same things to him, until I can’t follow his logic any more and I have to give up talking.

      2. ….which is why we so often encourage our readers to go “no contact” or “as little contact as possible” with their abusers.

        The abuser doesn’t want to have a mutual discussion. The abuser uses every ‘discussion’ as an opportunity to systematically disassemble his victim.

    2. It also sounds like a subtle form of lying because you didn’t say “don’t go anywhere” so he’s lying about what you said. Just like this:

      (Genesis 3:1 [NASB1995]) Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”

      God says don’t eat from ONE tree and the serpent says ANY tree. Sounds like the same method of false accusations as your husband.

  2. Thank you for this post. It was very weird how this jumped off the page at me. And the combination of changing from you and I around. He would send me texts and they were like that. So many spelling errors. I would obsessively go back and read them because I thought….I am just not getting this. After I read this post I thought….be easy on yourself because what I was catching was his abuse and profanity. It is not me. I have been having many “aha” moments these last few weeks. But none quite the same as the last few days….and what a perfect way to end the month.

    I have gone “no contact” with the abuser….have done it a few times. This time is so different. I feel his lies rolling off of me like butter….make sense? They are not so believed. I feel different. I do not know how to explain it. Yet I am vastly different than I was 10 minutes ago.

    I feel loved, because he cannot call me because he is blocked and he has no idea where I live or work. Nor does he know my habits which I have mixed up to be safe. He can text me, yet I will choose to not respond. I will do the things in life that I need to do to be strong and healthy. Despite that in his mind he does not believe this is over. Yet it is. My life has value.

  3. Yes, I’ve also heard it described [Internet Archive link]1 this way:

    When wrong-doers are confronted with their acts (which may be criminal), they show a pattern that can be abbreviated as DARVO. This stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.

    The person thus denies having committed the offence, attacks the accuser and reverses the roles, painting themself as the victim and their actual victim as the actual guilty party.

    Two common types of denial are ‘It didn’t happen’ and (if it cannot be denied) then ‘It wasn’t harmful’.

    Attacks can be violent and effectively abusive towards the accuser, with threats of legal action, attacks on credibility and so on. [Emphasis original.]

    1[December 30, 2022: We added the link to a page with the quote Lisa quoted. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

  4. My abuser has a somewhat similar problem. While he was talking what he said sounded good, however as you later processed it it didn’t seem quite right. He has that kind of “used car salesman”-type of charm. He doesn’t want you to think about what he’s saying too hard or you might find holes in it.

    That’s why I always want communication from him in writing. That is a hard boundary I set during our divorce and it has served me well. He doesn’t like it, but I suppose that is because it is harder to manipulate through written text.

  5. Yes! I thought it was just this one weirdo….seriously goes on and on and on….nothing makes any sense. If you try to follow, your head explodes.

  6. Yes, yes, and….yes.

    I know of one abuser who is an attorney, & admits to using “courtroom” tactics to verbally overwhelm his victims — but it is word salad & soup.

    It’s bullying, lying & coercion on steroids.

    This same attorney also writes long letters (10 – 20 pages!) with footnotes & bullet points, in “legalese”, also designed to resist responsibility & regain power & control, twisting Scripture along the way.

    Dr. Simon has said that these kinds of characters are always “at war”, and a word salad in religious & legalese can be a formidable weapon in the hands of an abuser.

    A wise counselor told me any “relationship” letter over 2 pages is suspect.

    Perhaps “word salad & soup” should be added to “red flags”?

  7. I read a true story of illogical thinking (not so much grammar) where the abuser said, “I love you but I have to kill you and I’m sorry but you know it has to happen.” The victim saw the illogic, but wasn’t able to get away. Later she woke up alive and asked him what happened. He said an invisible force pulled his hands away and offered her some orange juice. She assumed that God saved her life and I agree, but I can’t stand the illogic of hate, love, and orange juice all together.

  8. Well I haven’t particularly noticed that but I will say this: I have been a victim and not knowing how to say what I need to say and taking weeks to months to articulate my story, apart from the fact my IQ level needs a little exercise and so does my husband’s. So what you described up there in the first half, I don’t really know exactly what you mean. As a victim I would have loved my abusers to ask me good questions but of course they didn’t want to because they were my abusers trying to pose as innocent. They were afraid to do a careful cross-examination and look into things. I admitted my flaws and shortcomings and that was enough to excuse themselves from any real accountability. I’m talking about the church that abused me.

  9. Yes, Barb, I just read a book [title of book removed by ACFJ Eds]….which said that psychopaths just mirror or copy people like us to make others think they are normal but they are not!!? I would think this would create the ‘word salad’ because they are never being honest so their minds must be all messed up. This book also spoke about triangulation…. One of the most important puzzle pieces for me. If you don’t want to print [the] name of book I totally understand but it’s been extremely helpful.

    I have been [a] good many months away from my husband! Now gonna try “no contact” so prayers would be appreciated. Thanks !!!! Lots of blessings to you all!

    1. Hi, BBGB, we have not read that book, but I’ve decided to publish your comment un-edited anyway. We sometimes do this on a case by case basis. Readers, please don’t take this as an ACFJ endorsement of the book. I’m glad it’s been helpful to you, BBGB, 🙂 and it may be all totally accurate.

      However — and this is to everyone — bear in mind that there are many pop-psychologists who write books and blogs using psychological phrases but a licensed clinical psychologist or psychiatrist might see many flaws in their use of those terms.

    2. Dear Bitter But Getting Better, I have now removed the book title from your post. I should have done this before publishing your post, but thankfully our assistant TWBTC has now reminded me what we found out about that book some time ago.

      The author of that book is a young gay guy who says on his FB page that he “loves cats and Christmas. He….spends most of his free time hiking & taking bubble-baths. You can find him on the….forum, mostly talking about coffee & pink wine these days.”

      Here are various quotes from the Amazon 1 Star reviews and comments on his book:

      Overall, it sounds as though ____’s own hurt pride and eagerness to label himself and others as victims spill out of this book. It felt more like an emotionally-charged journal entry than a positive resource for helping people get over a relationship with a toxic person. So if you choose to read this, take it with a grain of salt; the world is not as one-dimensional as ____ makes it seem. [This book dramatizes victimization [Internet Archive link]]

      Kind of like a Dear Abby on steroids. Absolutely a waste for me. I hope it helps others but too simplistic for me to take it seriously. [Dear Abbey…. [Internet Archive link]]

      This book is very poorly written. After reading books written by psychologists and other professionals, it was like reading the work of a child.

      While I appreciate that the author wanted to help people feel better, this book did not hit the mark for me. I found it disjointed, repetitive, and very short on facts. I’m sorry I purchased it.

      Shortly after my own terrible experience with a sociopath, I read The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout. That book was extremely helpful…. [Emphasis original. Disappointing [Internet Archive link]]

      I have started to read this book and, as someone in school training to become a mental health professional, I’m hesitant to continue. The reason is that it seems the author is no kind of mental health professional (so it would seem), and it seems very little research outside of anecdotal (experiential) evidence went into the making of the book. There are many “red flags” for me in the first few chapters that show that this book is somewhat dangerous in how it present[s] the author’s opinions as fact, and his experiences as universal. At no time are any references or citations used, even in the basic task of defining what a psychopath means. There is no lack of research done on how to recover from abusive relationships, and as a survivor myself I recommend evidence-based approaches by mental health professionals, not “make you feel good for now” approaches by fellow survivors…. [and as a survivor myself I recommend evidence-based approaches by mental health professionals [Internet Archive link]]

      BTW, we do recommend and endorse Martha Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door [Affiliate link]. It is on our Recommended Books list. You might want to browse our recommended books list before you spend more money on books. 🙂

      I hope you don’t mind me responding to you like this, BBGB. I don’t want to embarrass you, but since I first published your commented unedited I have to take responsibility for my mistake and give this info to all our readers.

      1. Barb, thanks for finding that triangulation item. It is full of helpful info. I have read so many things trying to educate myself about abuse and have never seen that term before. My ex is a serial adulterer (the world says he’s a “sex addict” but I refuse to use that term). He used that technique with every person I interacted with and was one of the reasons it took 40 years to get away from him….I never knew who to trust. In the end I trusted no one and thankfully have finally gotten free. Thanks again!!!

  10. You reminded me of something very early in my marriage….he was court ordered to attend an anger management course, which of course made him angry especially since he was forced to pay for it, and of course it was my fault the court ordered him….BUT!! My point being they made him write these letters of things he had done. (In retrospect what a joke these courses are.) Their first mistake was the assumption he was actually sorry because they believed truly that a written apology was somehow binding. ANYHOW!!! These letters were nuts!!! He would write “I should of never tapped you on your forehead to get your attention.” Code for….”There is no way in hell I am going to admit I punched you in the face, and I would not of had to do it if you were LISTENING????”

    Oh good gravies!!!! The years of church counseling sessions….it’s laughable to me now.

    An abuser segues from one topic to another when he is put on the spot to make up his quick version of what happened. They generally are not even related….they have to put God’s words on their tongues at the most stupid moments. This MIW (Monster In Wedlock) could quote anything, then he would try to make it sound as if it was his original thought….he had no soul but God’s words were in his mind at all times, so just when he needed them he could pull them out and wave them around like a flag in a parade. When he spoke it was as if all his words were one dimensional and in black and white. Pastors seemed so impressed with his lip service, specially if he combined it with tear action, if that did not get them to blame me, he would explode and then they would pacify him with “Poor guy, he is so frustrated, so angry, let’s all join hands, we will prey”….ooops, I meant pray!

  11. I have noticed this from time to time.

    My own wondering would be if — in addition to the many excellent points you make — some of this is caused by an over-crowded brain. What I mean is, if the abuser is keeping up lies, inventing imposters / aliases / masks, always applying one or more tactics to find the advantage….plus live a life (job, home, leisure, friends, etc.) without letting on what he truly is….then how crowded and overly complicated is his mind to begin with?! Quite.

    Whereas, the normal neurotic has so much less “noise” and threads to keep straight. I don’t have to remember who I lied to or what lie I told when and to whom, what personality / alias I am supposed to be with each individual in my circle, nor do I have to stay on my toes to seek an advantage in every interaction — applying tactics, listening for crevices where I can jab, seeking out opportunities to polish my image, etc. All I have is the truth. I have me — the REAL me, and I am the same regardless of where I’m at or who I’m with. I don’t hide or maneuver.

    Although my brain may get crowded with life (job, home, leisure, friends, etc.) — it is much, much cleaner without all the other “voices” or complications the abuser has made for himself. Thus, when someone catches on to them or they get stressed….language / grammar may be the first thing that lapses and becomes (maybe) a “tell.” It’s a sign their brain, their story, is becoming undone in sections and they are working overtime to keep all the threads from unraveling. When we hear word salad, perhaps we know they are struggling and scrambling — on the inside. What a mess!

  12. Wow, that’s really interesting, Barbara. My abuser is the kind you mentioned that is so well-educated and gifted with words that he doesn’t generally fit the description you gave — but he constantly spells the children’s names wrong in his emails! I could never understand it and wondered whether he was deliberately doing it to upset me, but that didn’t really make sense since his aim is to devalue me while showing what a great parent he is to the children….

  13. It’s my experience that you’re describing seems characteristic of temper in general. If someone gets angry and responds in that emotion, things like misspellings and switched words will generally result, even if the anger is genuinely warranted, especially if the party involved has a learning disability. (It’s worth noting, for the sake of non-writers, that anger is not the only possible cause of such spelling issues and the like.)

    Anyway, as far as “Abuser!” flags go, I find it more telling and consistent to watch for the “weird English” in the syntax, where it’s often exacerbated by a combination of word redefinition and logical fallacies. This can be intentional — steamrolling another person and keeping them off-kilter by saying things that aren’t quite right is an actual tactic used in comedy, propaganda, marketing, brainwashing, etc.

    (Notice that the steamrolling and keeping someone off-kilter is not innately evil. I’ve seen skits by John Branyan where he uses the tactic to barrel through audience confusion to get back on track with amusing them, and his John Branyon – Three Little Pigs skit is a great example of “off-kilter” used in a positive way.)

    Such warping of syntax can be unintentional, courtesy of unaddressed assumptions or due to instruction or training by abusers, but the use by victims or oblivious persons versus the use by abusers will have a significant difference:

    Trained warping of English syntax will be rigid. If a particular mangle is confronted or disproved well, that counter-argument will startle the hearer and possibly confuse them, where they’ll have trouble responding or even understanding the counter-argument. It won’t compute very well.

    Abuser warping of English syntax will be fluid. It might be rigid in the sense of they might seek to browbeat you with your argument, ignoring your counter-argument a few times, but they’ll ultimately shift tacks. The more witting or socially adept they are, the faster they’ll be at this. (In situations where there’s a theater of abusers all working together, the puppetmaster(s) will probably be the fastest and most adept at it, while the lackeys take longer.)

    As a simple example of what I mean by warping of syntax, you may have heard it said that 1 Peter 3:7 [Internet Archive link] proves that women are the weaker vessel.

    Problem: You have to change words and ignore the sentence structure in order to make the verse say that.

    Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with (your wives) according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. [Emphasis done and the words in parentheses added by the commenter.]

    Now, the “your wives” bit is actually a pronoun, with the definition indicated by context, but first notice that the context is specifically referring to husbands. It’s speaking in the context of husbands and wives, not men and women.

    Second factor: Husbands are to dwell with their wives as if they are weaker vessels. That’s simile, not a definition. Just as you treat fragile containers with care, treat your wives with care, guys.

    This could be referring to anything from physical strength to emotional respect to bedroom behavior. Any and all those applications fit, and you can extrapolate from it to conclude that, if husbands should treat their wives with care, men should also treat women with care.

    But the verse in no way says that women = weaker vessel. It can’t. That little comparative word “as” precludes any possibility of it saying that.

    I’ve noticed that false equivalence of a simile with a definition seems to be standard procedure among abusers.

    If you are familiar with grammar, or especially if you can diagram sentences, then you know that the order in which you use words often matters, and the type of conjunction or connection words used will affect the significance of what is said. A major flag of a toxic person is that they will grab segments of what you say, shift terms or trim context or some such thing that your text did not actually say, and they may tie in an assumption of taking things personally.

    —“I reported the people in the yellow house for violating noise ordinances.”
    “Those people in the yellow house had no right to bother me!” (and that is what they respond to, as if [it] was said).

    —“It’s my conviction that I should do this thing.”
    “This thing should be done by everyone!” (and that is what they respond to, as if [it] was said).

    —“It took me a year to get this contract from the contributor, so the project I wanted to publish could move forward.”
    “It took a year for me to get what I wanted. Wah!” (and the commenter then scoffed at her for thinking the contributor was obligated to cater to her wants, for this example is a reworded conversation trail I encountered just yesterday).

    Some of these conversions are just applying what the abuser would mean if they said what you had said, but more involve mangling of context. If someone is plucking partial phrases out of context and treating them as if they were the core points that are being conveyed, it’s probably a good idea to disengage and get away.

    Part of the confusion when understanding such persons is they speak as if those unspoken translations or transitions are blatantly obvious and clear. This can be out of intent / malice or delusion / ignorance. Either way, it’s still toxic and extremely confusing, even if you know that’s what they’re doing. After all, you have to identify what they chose to mangle in order to figure out the skipped transition — and even if you figure out what it is, an abusive person will often just switch to mangling something else.

    That’s one reason it’s often a good idea to keep all communication with toxics short — it gives them less material that they can grab and warp, which also reduces what they can use to confuse you.

    (There are some other tactics that can be used to counter toxics, which generally involve giving them easy openings to ridicule you so they dismiss you as a threat and don’t notice that you are working against or around them. BBC’s Robin Hood [Internet Archive link]1 makes fantastic use of this. Note: Do not seek to imitate it to handle your own abuser. Doing so can be dangerous. If you have a personality to suit this method and your situation warrants its use, you’re already doing it.)

    Word redefinition, though common among toxics, I think is less of a “tell”, because it’s also characteristic of victims raised in the environment. Consider the word “selfish”. Abusers often define it as anything not catering to their wishes. Victims can easily end up with a belief that anything and everything that they want or even need to do for themselves is necessarily “selfish”. So I don’t think that’s a good flag to warn “Abuser!”

    So….that’s my experience and observation on this mess. My experience of abuse was not in the spouse dynamic, though. 🙂

    P.S. Sorry if this has coherence issues. My allergies are acting up and interfering with my hand muscles, so I’m having some trouble typing.

    1[December 31, 2022: We added the link to Wikipedia’s page Robin Hood (2006 TV series) – the series produced by the BBC. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    1. Word redefinition, though common among toxics, I think is less of a “tell”, because it’s also characteristic of victims raised in the environment. Consider the word “selfish”. Abusers often define it as anything not catering to their wishes. Victims can easily end up with a belief that anything and everything that they want or even need to do for themselves is necessarily “selfish”.

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        Again, Welcome!

  14. Yeap I see the parsing of words too in conjunction with the typical double-standard that comes with it all. Take for example, this one is from the “denying responsibility” stage after umpteen attempts at logical conclusions:

    The self-righteous man is trying to prove his piety through proving unreasonableness of his wife and when asked if he’s prayed for his wife and prayed to God to show him how to love his wife, the answer is “yes” (and of course there’s no capability of elaboration and no loving his wife because it’s not true etc.). A few hours later however on a different topic of what he has been studying, says he hasn’t been focusing on the wife nor the Scriptures relating and has just been focusing on two other books of the Bible in regards to himself and of course in attempts to trump up charges against wife he’s cheated on and lied to for two decades and trying to prove he loves. So he wants credit for being in the word and the former was and is a lie. NOT to the self-righteous man, nope, now he claims power over by being abused by being called a liar. He DID pray, can flippantly name off Ephesians and 1 Cor (forget the Lord never answered him) as it pertains to marriage so wife, quit calling him a liar because SHE is blocking communication. :/

    Same thing here: Wife needs new promises as he’s broken all the others. Husband offers up “I’ll do better than before, be more loving” (when he wasn’t at all let alone Godly), “I’ll be more understanding” (never was) type [of] crap, forget it’s waaaay lower standard than all of the first ones he broke of PROMISING “faithfulness”, “love in vows”, etc. Wife says lower standards aren’t Biblically acceptable and then the husband says it was never meant to be a “proposal” but should be considered good anyway. Word craft and it’s illogical conclusion: Promises someone won’t break to be considered for marriage does not equal a marriage proposal after purporting it is, then wasn’t, then is. Now back to the ignoring stage. Three week cycle says….(carry the one)…”she better look out on….tomorrow.”

    They also do this. Very similar to Genesis. Notice God says don’t eat from the tree or you’ll die. Eve tells Satan God said don’t eat from the tree OR touch it or you’ll die. Uh….God never said don’t touch. She ADDS something to what God says that should solicit a “no that’s surely not true” that once she gets it without discrepancy from Satan, she can apply to the part that it is true that she doesn’t like. I’ve seen this countless times as the self-righteous will not only add negatives to apply to all, but positives however it fits for them. They speak in extremes too, “always” “never” for the enemies have no mercy in their own deflective efforts to look like victims and blind themselves to their own evils.

  15. Yes, I saw a great deal of “always” and “nevers” and “if you would only” in my abuser’s writings.

    But the “tell all” was in how he would sign his name. I could avoid reading all that he wrote if I first would simply scroll down and see his name marked with a period. He doesn’t realize it, but it denotes when he is in a state of incredible arrogance. When we were together, I can still see him taking his index finger to pound that period (.)-key as if to say “take that! You peon.” And he is oblivious to this. Even his kids are onto this.

    And yet, when he would write by hand, he would not do this. Such a curious thing.

    1. Yes. “Always” and “never”. He lifted me up in counseling though so he could save face, look good and broken. But behind closed doors he was tearing me down to the same people? It’s beyond comprehension how the pastors never caught on to what he was doing. It’s as if they had private conversations directing him to say this or that….Step one – “hold her hand and look pitiful and deflated.” Step two – “Drop a few crocodile tears.” Step three – “Set the stage to make her look bad for being so dramatic and unforgiving.” Step four – “Ask forgiveness but just be general, not specific. Remember not to admit fault.” Step five – “Wrap things up quickly because we only have 30 minutes to get her onboard.”

      I mean? His words were always the same? They said that it was mandatory to always counsel together putting me at risk all the time. Every time he abused us he would take off to church as if to beat me there, they always spoke with him in private. But when it came to me and my children we were only aloud [allowed] to speak in front of them when he was there also….

      They most likely liked the same dressing on their salads.

  16. My anti-husband has for years had a problem with sentences that have no subject. He would just literally start with the verb when he didn’t want to take responsibility. It’s hard to describe, but it was so awkward. Sometimes he could actually make it seem like he was talking about somebody else who dropped the ball or didn’t take care of something by just dropping the subject when the only logical subject for the sentence was “I” (as in him when he was speaking). So weird. Sometimes I would call him on it, but it didn’t matter.

  17. Thanks, Barbara, this is very valuable information to keep in mind.

    I have experienced something similar. My emotionally abusive husband is very intelligent, very sharp, so much so that I am often baffled sometimes that during these times when he is being abusive, or denying what he said and so on, that his language and reasoning is almost reduced to that of a child. It has never made sense to me….like his intelligence takes a raincheck. Not always though, when he still feels in control his words and statements are very eloquent, for want of a better word; brutal and laser shot targeted….it seems to be more when he knows he has been exposed in some way.

    1. I should also add, as an addition to my first comment, that he does this to me in reverse too. For example if I am trying to make a point, and mispronounce a word because I am so emotionally upset, he will stop the important discussion mid-sentence and sarcastically and patronisingly repeat how it is correctly pronounced, as if I am an idiot.

      Just all in all, trying to have mature, truth-filled discussions with abusers is impossible because they make it so.

  18. Hi, Barbara, I have heard a lot of NQR and got a lot of ‘you’re literal, I’m concept’, ‘only someone anally-retentive like you would point that out’ etc. from my [highly qualified counselor & educator] soon-to-be former husband. I have tried twice to comment on different posts, but don’t think I managed it properly. I’ll try again when I have more time.

    I have finished your book, thank you very much. What can I DO to add to the voice trying to re-educate the church about domestic violence, while continuing to study counselling? I have asked for another appointment with the pastor. I’ll lend him your book and give him some [local State-based denominational] material on emotional abuse as it is a [denomination redacted] church. They are accepting of one and all, so I’ve had any ‘easy’ time, but there is no validation either.

    My ‘husband’ left, so no option for church discipline even if they would. I feel a good part ‘recovered’, but mindful to go slowly. I don’t however wish to rest on my hands, content to study for the next few years and do nothing else if there is something else I can do. In addition to being able to counsel effectively, I want to do all God would have me do to forward a better understanding of marriage, abuse, divorce etc. Any guidance would be appreciated.

    1. Hi dear sister, for your safety’s sake I edited your comment and changed your screen name to GoingSlowly.

      Congrats for submitting a comment to this blog so that we received it.

      I strongly urge you to read our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      What I edited in your comment were the details that you’d given which could have identified you to your abuser and his allies, if they happened to read this blog. That New Users’ page will explain to you how you can disidentify your own comments.

      Also, when you are commenting in future, I suggest you write the name GoingSlowly into the ‘name’ field in the comments form. And if your phone or device automatically inputs another name there, you will have to change the name manually before you hit the ‘submit’ button.

      And if you are commenting on your phone, I suggest you remove the bit at the bottom of the message which says “sent from my [brandname]phone”.

    2. What can I DO to add to the voice trying to re-educate the church about domestic violence, while continuing to study counselling?

      How can I help spread the word? — this page which is one of our FAQ pages gives suggestions for how you can help spread the word and thus help others become more equipped to respond wisely to domestic abuse.

      And also I suggest you dig into our FAQ page. There are so many things there which you might like to share with other people, as well as read yourself.

  19. I don’t recall my ex ever making any grammatical errors in either his speech or his writing. Everything is always calculated, fluent and faultless. He never falters or shows any sign of anxiety about his many lies. I would never underestimate him. His deceit is seamless. That’s why almost everyone still believes him and he is a scary and dangerous person.

    1. I called my ex on a very big lie and he gave the most blase apology ever and then said he lied because he ‘wanted me to like him’. What???

      1. Yeah, I get that from my ex too….only slightly differently. He’ll write: “I lied because I knew something I did would hurt you and I didn’t want to hurt you.”

        Okay….so does this make lying OK? Or are you saying it’s MY FAULT that you lied? Or are you trying to get me to believe that you actually cared for me?

        I am SO confused.

  20. Really well written!!! Last year my nearly-three-decades marriage ended and it was about time. I struggled with emotional or psychological abuse for far too long not understanding why life was always so up and down. I hope you don’t mind that I shared your blog on my page, I’m fairly new to blogging and saw the “Share” icons as I think that your blog describes perfectly the war with words from an abuser and yes my ex was also supposed to be ‘Christian’….

    1. Hi, and welcome to the blog!

      We are fine with anyone sharing our posts so long as you attribute the source. (See Our publishing policy.)

      I changed your screen name to Decades, as the screen name you gave when submitting your comment could have identified you to your abuser and his allies.

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  21. I haven’t read all of the comments, but the word salad and circular words were so real. It is so frustrating when “Christian” counselors or teachers suggest the woman is partly to blame for letting them do that. How in the world do you stop it?

  22. This phenomenon was something that occurred with me and my ex several times, not verbally but written. One email in particular was sent to a group of people on a ministry team he had been leading but he was being forced to step down. My ex used strange wording and weird syntax as well as spelling errors and almost no punctuation. That has also happened in personal texts to me. All were difficult to decipher the meaning. Until your post, I did not know this was common among abusers when the heat is on, so to speak.

    What jumped out at me that was spot on for my situation was the fact that this can occur when the abuser is trying to regain control and crush the opposition. Every instance that this happened was when he was losing total control over an aspect of his life due to consequences imposed by others, or losing control over my personal decisions that affected him. Thank you for adding a piece to the puzzle explaining some of the why’s.

    1. Hi, I changed your screen name to SoToSpeak. Welcome to the blog! And thanks for sharing. 🙂

      If you comment again on this blog, I suggest you make sure that the ‘name’ field in the comments form does not show a name that might identify you. You may have to manually correct the name that your device automatically inputs into the ‘name’ field. If you want help with how to do this, email our faithful assistant, TWBTC —

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  23. Oh yes, the strange language. My abusive father is probably the most extreme case.

    My dad had his very own “nonsense” language!

    When he did not want to answer questions, did not want to participate in a discussion, or wanted to mock someone’s statement or situation, he would break out into his exclusive “tongue” language. (BTW, my dad was not a Christian, he was an atheist.) He would do this with a “dopey” facial expression, with half-closed eyes and a slack mouth.

    He was very adept at this, speaking with full sentences of gibberish words. It was always very fluent and expressive like he was speaking in a regular language; it just rolled off his tongue very naturally. The best I can describe the language….very like the words in the first verses of the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll.

    This made it impossible to communicate with him, he effectively shut down any conversation he did not want to participate in by unleashing the “Tower of Babel” effect.

    Weird, huh?

    And the crazy thing is, he was very successful in his career; reaching a very prominent, authoritative position. If the public and his colleagues knew how he acted in private, they would have been very shocked. (He also owned weapons, killed pets, raged and smashed things, choked, kicked, punched his family, was into porn, was a pathological liar and did many other evils things.)

  24. This word salad reminds me of two severely character-disordered individuals I know fairly well. Both of them are white-collar criminals; at least one of them is also physically violent. Neither has a trace of conscience, and both are potentially dangerous.

    While their speech may also be incoherent at times, their writing is particularly peculiar. Not only do they make up spelling and grammar rules as they go, but at least part of their writing is so incoherent as to not make any sense at all (even though one of them is highly intelligent and has a good education). I assume they would qualify as dyslexics.

    When researching a possible connection between their character disorder and their weird way of writing, I found that according to a scientific paper a whopping 100% of individuals with anti-social personality disorder had shown dyslexia as youths. Scientists put it down to brain functioning, of course. But how could a brain work properly after having had to reverse reality for a lifetime? One of the two individuals mentioned above often inadvertently says the opposite of what she meant to say, like “black” instead of “white” or “up” instead of “down”. That’s what pathological lying can do to someone’s brain.

    In addition, severely character-disordered people have a profound disdain for both rules and other people. To their mind, rules exist to be broken. And why should they proofread a text they have written (or even just use a simple spell-checker) to make sure it’s intelligible to people they despise anyhow? If you don’t understand what they meant to say, they will tell you that YOU have a brain dysfunction!

    1. The following quote from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass [Internet Archive link]1 illustrates abusers’ attitudes quite well:

      ‘And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’
      ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.
      Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
      ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.
      ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’
      ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’
      ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master— that’s all.’

      Abusers are masters, even of words.

      1[April 19, 2022: Editor’s note. We added the link to the quote in ACON’s comment. The Internet Archive link we added is to a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. The quote is in chapter 6 of the Internet Archive copy.]

  25. Yes!!!!!!! They also say things that have double meanings!!!!! The cruel one is how they really feel, but they know you believe the other. It’s extremely covert and cruel.

    1. G’day, Heather — welcome to the blog! 🙂

      If you want your screen name here to be something other than Heather, just email (our assistant) and tell her what you would like your name changed to.

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  26. Wow. I never thought of that before, but it makes so much sense. There’s a guy I know who’s very manipulative and controlling, and when he emails or blogs, it’s — weird. He doesn’t make complete sense, and he frequently responds to just small portions of what I and others say. I had figured he was just sloppy, because sometimes it’s hard to write clearly, but now that you mention it, it is different from normal carelessness or lack of skill.

  27. Yes! My abuser would start to use very strange language. He would take something small and start to use very dramatic dialogue and a lot of capital letters. He would try to use large words to sound even more convincing but they wouldn’t usually fit or they would sound out of place.

  28. I found it was like he was breaking all the logic rules on purpose in order to confuse me. Fallacy after fallacy. At first I thought he just needed an education in logic or a good read in fallacies and logic but then I noticed that there was a pattern in his fallacy-making statements almost like mathematics as far as being complicated. For instance if I would say “It hurts me when you look at provocative women on social media.” he’d reply “but they do not claim to be Christian women so it’s okay.” Or “but you are Facebook friends with that female relative of yours who flaunts herself same thing so I can look at what I want”, or “I am only looking, I don’t lust for them”. UGH. He was making fallacies on purpose to get away with this and other wretched stuff because he did not want to take responsibility.

  29. With the leading of the Holy Spirit, the help of Barb, and the Don Hennessy series, I have found another piece of my emotional boundary “blank spot”.

    I found bits and pieces of the original post and the comments generated resonated with me….but, not consistently and not with the same abuser. And I catch the “oddities” more quickly in the written word.

    My big “AHA” came from Charis comment:

    Although my brain may get crowded with life (job, home, leisure, friends, etc.) — it is much, much cleaner without all the other “voices” or complications the abuser has made for himself.

    I have subconsciously heard “not me voices” in my head since I was an infant. These were the voices of my abusers, a “personalized” word salad. Oddly enough, although the “not me voices” were subconscious and inaudible, I’ve always been aware of “their” presence. (I assumed everyone had their own “set”.)

    And although the “not me voices” were subconscious and inaudible, I could identify whose “unheard voice” I “heard”. (I feel like I’m creating a word salad explanation to describe a word salad.)

    The “not me voices” can be eliminated. The emotional boundary “blank spot” will remain.

    Maybe I can gain a belief in security….

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