commanded to love | performing false emotions for tyrants [cc]


Escaping personal or ideological abusive environments isn’t always a straightforward matter of recognising the situation intellectually and making a logical exit plan. Sometimes, rational rocket thrust alone isn’t enough. Our emotions play a huge part in our ability to navigate daily life, and the distorted emotional responses drilled into us by relentless rehearsal in the abusive environment can disrupt our functioning at the most subtle levels. With this important part of our navigation systems compromised, simple, everyday interactions can become a minefield of self-sabotaging thoughts and conflicted behaviour. Not only does this work to keep us stuck in our situation, it can act like a magnet to other abusive individuals and groups. So, even if we achieve escape velocity from one abusive environment, we might find ourselves repeatedly pulled into the orbit of new ones. People who’ve been subjected to different kinds of abusive environments often show highly convergent themes in their descriptions of their experiences. Years ago, when I began talking in depth with people who’d been recruited by religious and pseudoscientific high-control groups, hearing them recount their experiences was like hearing a gigantic tuning fork resonating at my own pitch. Their observations about life inside a high-control group echoed private observations I’d made about my life inside a narcissistic family. There was the same divisiveness, where loyalty to the dictatorship came before any personal relationship between other members; the same social isolation tactics, trying to sabotage external relationships with friends or lovers, the same attempts to maintain child-like dependence. Parallels have repeatedly been noticed between scriptural tales of vengeful, dictatorial gods and abusive relationships, noting the same threat of dehumanising brutality, the same capriciousness generating erratic, inconsistent demands. the same sense of all-pervading invasion into every aspect of the target’s life, with no boundaries and no privacy. The details of abuse vary from situation to situation, with different levels of intensity or sadism. but the essential underlying mechanics merge. At their core, all abusive environments are about gaining coercive control over others. So, it’s not surprising that abusive individuals and groups of all kinds – religious, political, academic, familial, romantic – converge on the same manipulative tactics to get people to sacrifice their autonomy and authenticity, and submit to fixed roles. Not content with controlling their target’s actions, many abusers also seek to dictate to their targets how they should feel about their enslavement. Having had so much of their existence scripted for them, targets of abuse repeatedly report feeling like actors on a stage, forced not only to perform tasks, but to perform characters created for them by their abusers, who take on the dual role of actor-director in their own production. And we’re not talking Orson Welles. There’s no depth, no emotional insight, no coherent motivation. Not surprising, when you consider that the actor-director’s psychological age is often still in single digits. Certainly in the case of narcissistic abuse, we’re looking at severely arrested development. Next time you see a child playing with toys, making them say and do things to each other, take a good look: you’re watching a model of life with a narcissist. You’re seeing the actor-director inventing characters and motivations, and controlling relationships. And, if you analyse the storylines, you’ll find a good degree of projection going on. Children might punish their toys for being naughty, when they’ve been naughty themselves. In a similar way, adult narcissists repeatedly project their own flaws and transgressions onto their innocent toys: in this case, other human beings. Just like toys, targets are directed to play nonsensical fragmented ciphers with no inner life. They exist as cartoonish props around the central figure of the abuser, who often presents as an unappreciated martyr. Just like toys, their single function is to constantly affirm whatever persona their abuser chooses to adopt at any given time. There might be a succession of different personas, each catering to the abuser’s ever-shifting needs. Each time, history can be reinvented. Leaders of religious high-control groups will update their old literature, editing out failed teachings and prophecies, erasing evidence of past blunders to try and maintain a mask of impenetrable perfection. Targets are expected to treat the new script as if it always existed. Fleeting expressions of confusion might be allowed, if they’re swiftly followed by performances of cheerful acceptance when bogus justifications are supplied. But extended displays of sincere, unresolved confusion aren’t tolerated. Actors who break character unsettle the group and risk ruining the theatrical production. The targets, being repeatedly forced to perform emotions they don’t feel, or, deny the emotions they *do* feel, is a profoundly self-negating act. Treating emotions as mere performances to be selected according to whether they please an audience is a complete perversion of their function as survival tools that help us process our experiences. The psychological burden of managing this disparity between reality and performance can distort and sometimes obliterate our entire emotional landscape. [Music] Emotions can feel wildly volatile and overwhelming to very young children. With the help of healthy reflection, and healthy modeling, they can come to recognise and manage them. Children learn about their feelings when their emotional expressions are consistently and reliably identified and, reflected back in the responses of the people around them. Children also learn by example from seeing the people around them modelling emotional responses appropriate to the situation, and, resolving them in healthy ways. We develop volume dials distinguishing different shades of emotional intensity. So, instead of suddenly flipping into immobilising terror in response to everything from mild to extreme threat, we respond in proportion to threat, moving from feeling unsettled, to vigilant, to afraid, to terrified. We start appreciating emotional combinations, like feeling sadness and anger at the same time, or, sadness and joy. As our emotional vocabulary becomes more nuanced and refined, our feelings become more closely aligned with our experiences which allows us to engage more effectively with the people and situations we encounter, motivating us to avoid danger, exercise self care, and pursue fulfilling goals. In contrast, children born into abusive environments experience all kinds of emotional neglect and chaos. Their emotional expressions might be habitually ignored, misread, or, punished. Instead of having their feelings understood and attended to, young children might be expected to understand and attend to the feelings of their abusers, who exhibit emotional responses wildly out of sync with the situation. These children are crushed under emotional burdens they’re not remotely equipped to handle. Instead of a baseline of emotional neutrality, the child might develop a baseline of active anxiety. Just a few dominant emotions might be recognised, while the rest are suppressed or distorted. If the pursuit of personal happiness is condemned as selfish, it might become merged with guilt. If anger is forbidden, the child might substitute anger with tearfulness. These kinds of distortions can create extreme emotional dysregulation, and overload the child with unmanageable feelings. On the flip side, the child might experience a flattening of affect, where the emotions shut down completely. The system breaks. The spark is snuffed out. The individual becomes a cold, analytic spectator, untouched, and unmoved. All of this turmoil and destruction is invisible to abusers, who view targets as playthings, and expect instant, fully-formed emotional responses, tailor made to fit the abuser’s own needs. One of the ironies of coercing targets into performing false emotions is that their abusers are often aware that these performances aren’t real. Abusers might lack empathy, but it doesn’t mean they’re unable to accurately gauge emotion. Their lack of empathy just reflects the fact that their targets’ emotions only have value if they serve the abuser’s needs. Abusers can be extremely perceptive regarding the authenticity of emotion. picking up on the tiniest conflicting cues. And targets are often repeatedly tested to assess their authenticity. Of course, abusers won’t tolerate being tested themselves. If they realise their targets are performing false emotions, the emotional payoff the abusers are seeking is lost. They want to eat their cake and have it. They want to direct someone to feel the specific emotions they decide, but also want those emotions to be spontaneous and real. They can’t have both. In trying to have both, they become the source of their own frustration. Another irony is that of course, these abusers are performing, too. The perfect image they hope to present to the world is just a cardboard cutout of a functioning adult, behind which often hides a child, constantly overwhelmed with rage, fear, and shame. They demand true emotions from others in order to sustain their own false self. What we have is a process of self replication. Abusers who are split into an emotionally-dysregulated hidden self, and a false-performing self, act in such a way as to split the people around them into emotionally-dysregulated hidden selves and false-performing selves. The extent to which targets lose themselves in in their abuser’s theatrical production will depend on various factors including an intensity of abuse, presence or absence of support, the resilience and adaptiveness of the target’s psychological defences, and, the ability of targets to fully acknowledge the tyranny in their midst. [Music] As a young child, every year I’d be asked to sign birthday cards to a mysterious elderly aunt who lived far away. I never met her, never spoke to her, never saw any photos, never got any cards in return, nothing. I was just told a few stories by a relative. For all I knew, she was a piece of fiction. But, I was repeatedly asked, “Do you love your aunt Julia?” If I didn’t follow the script and answer, “Yes,” faces would drop. It was a weird and creepy pretence. How could I love someone I couldn’t distinguish from fiction? Like millions of people, I was directed to perform the same weird and creepy pretence of meaningless, unearned love for another figure I never experienced: a being called, “God,” which, by His nature, was rendered inaccessible. As with the absent aunt, I was told stories about this absent “God,” but these stories were different: started out sweet, but soon descended into tales of sadistic love tests, genocide, and unending torture. To recoil from this kind of horror is a healthy response, but followers are expected to somehow overcome any appropriate feelings of revulsion, squash them down inside, forget about them, even feel ashamed for having them. And instead, magically conjure feelings of love. As a child, I was commanded to love the Biblical tyrant with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind. Unlike the absent aunt, it was claimed this absent “God” could read my mind, and judge whether my love was real. I didn’t have a clue how I was supposed to perform this miracle of emotional transubstantiation, turning horror into love. The idea of loving this maniacal figure evoked a sickening, nightmarish feeling, that I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe. I later found a word for it: masochism. Not the narrow sense of deriving pleasure from physical pain, but the broader sense described by German analyst Karen Horney: the feeling of being putty in the master’s hand, being devoid of all will, of all power, of being absolutely subjected to another’s domination. To me, it seemed like death. Catholic nun Mother Teresa explicitly promoted both the narrow and broader senses of masochism. She repeatedly glorified pain and suffering as divine gifts. She saw beauty in the misery of the poor, and encouraged people to view themselves as empty spaces, waiting to be filled. Savage and callous as these sentiments are, they express very precisely what it means to fully embrace a capricious tyrannical dictator, of which the Christian god character Yahweh is a fine example. It means embracing suffering as eagerly as pleasure. It means embracing psychological chaos. Like the god characters of all the Abrahamic religions, Yahweh personifies chaos. He commands universal peace and love in one breath, and tribal war and the slaughter of infants in the next. Targets of mass infanticide include the Midianites and the Babylonians, and the people of Jabesh-Gilead, who were punished for refusing to go to war. He commands people not to test him, but lavishes favor and status on Gideon, who tells Yahweh to perform some very specific stunts to prove his power. Yahweh complies. He commands devotion, but victimises his most devoted followers, like Abraham and Job. He tortures as casually as he rewards. Human beings have an extremely hard time dealing with chaos. We look for order and structure, for consistent patterns and rules. These things allow us to figure out how to survive in a given environment. As children, we’re quick to learn the rules of the culture into which we’re randomly born, however bizarre those rules might be. But tyrants who constantly change the rules generate chaos. When the same behaviours are inconsistently rewarded and punished, we have no way of consistently protecting ourselves. Whatever we do could backfire on us. In this chaotic environment drive by perpetually-elevated fear and anxiety, some individuals descend into neurotic thought and behaviour. Masochists cope with this chaos by giving in to it; their self-protective instincts are dulled. They give up control and autonomy. and surrender to the tyrant’s mayhem. Of course, because none of the Abrahamic god characters actually manifest themselves, all the tyrannical religious mayhem we experience on this planet is created exclusively by human beings. who enact all the chaotic behaviours sanctioned in religious scripture. The first time I was aware of being in the presence of this kind of masochist was in my teens, when my brother and I had a series of weekly discussions with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve never experienced individuals who displayed such highly-scripted behaviour. Instead of thoughtful, spontaneous reflections, they seemed to give fixed, push-button speeches. When they were taken off script, they often sank into lengthy silences, before eventually rebooting, and pledging to get the answers from their spiritual leaders, called elders. The following week, they’d return, updated with new rehearsed lines to regurgitate. At first, this odd behaviour was amusing, but, it became increasingly disturbing. They were like shells, with their personalities scooped out, and replaced with brittle parchment. I commented later that it was like witnessing the Turing test in reverse. The Turing test, proposed by computer scientist Alan Turing, assesses whether a machine can display intelligence indistinguishable from human intelligence, typically by giving responses that show spontaneity, creativity, flexibility, adaptability, originality. The JWs automated responses pointed in the opposite direction, becoming more indistinguishable from machines. It was deeply unsettling. What makes it difficult to empathise with ideological masochists is their tendency to pull others down, too. When I broached the barbarity of the Biblical God, one of them, a young woman called Penny, commented flatly that we were all unworthy sinners who deserved death. I remember feeling simultaneously sad for her, that she had so little self-worth, and affronted that she included me in her statement. Although it wasn’t as extreme as the JW’s, in hindsight, I recognised this generalised masochism in my father, who not only submitted to the chaotic script of my narcissist mother, but tried to make my brother and I submit to it, too. Similarly, masochist and abusive social and political groups, who degrade themselves to sustain their membership, might try to drag fellow members and even non-members into degradation with them. This unattractive quality can discourage potential sources of support, compounding the masochist’s isolation. The masochist’s response of self-negating submission is just one way of coping with chaos. There are others. And the ones we adopt play a significant part in determining the kind of roles we take in the tyrant’s theater. Self-righteous zealots defend themselves from the tyrant by aligning themselves with it. Like prisoners play-acting as prison guards, they promote themselves to the position of the tyrant’s personal mouthpiece, and proceed to abuse and dehumanise other people with pseudo-divine authority. While the masochist declares, “we’re all worthless,” the self-righteous zealot declares, “you’re all worthless.” In the context of abusive families, this position might manifest as a child who merges with the abusive parent and takes on the role of an abusive pseudo-parent towards the other offspring. Apologists wear rose-tinted glasses. They take refuge in the idea there must be reasonable explanations for the tyrant’s destructive acts. They reframe the tyrant’s abuse in various ways. In religious contexts, they often suggest that acts of divine barbarity actually represent a divine benevolence so complex we can’t understand it. In high-control groups, abuse by tyrannical leaders is similarity attributed with a level of enlightenment inaccessible to ordinary members. If profound goodness and wisdom are unworkable suggestions, other excuses are offered. In families, tyrannical abuse might be falsely framed as a spurious physical illness, like dementia, absolving the abuser of responsibility. In all cases, apologists, who have no trouble recognising abuse in any other context, clutch at any straw to prevent themselves recognising abuse from the tyrant. Sometimes the denial is more immersive. Instead of offering excuses for it, the tyrant’s abuse is blocked out altogether. To this day, I continue to receive personal messages from followers of the Abrahamic religions who flat-out deny any punitive qualities in the gods of their scriptures. This kind of blanket denial can sometimes result from the maladaptive defence mechanism called “splitting.” Splitting divides unmanageable complexity, contradiction, or chaos into simplistic dichotomies: positive or negative. right or wrong always or never, us or them. Faced with a chaotic tyrant, the negative parts may be blocked out completely, leaving only the positive. Of course, denial can also arise from simple unawareness and inexperience. Some people have never investigated the Abrahamic scriptures. Some have been actively sheltered from their contents. What’s clear from all these positions is that none of them have anything to do with love. What kind of love pushes individuals into maladaptive defence strategies designed to clock out unbearable threat? What kind of love relies on the perpetual ignorance of atrocities? These positions are theatrical roles, all of which serve the function of affirming, excusing, and enabling the tyrant. With our emotions in healthy working order, rejecting these false roles would be a pretty straightforward matter. We’d experience situationally-appropriate disgust at the scriptural depictions of these divine tyrants. We’d also feel no fear of them. We’d recognize they were no more dangerous to us than any other literary tyrant, from Nurse Ratched to Jame Gumb. We have no reason to fear being lobotomised on the orders of Nurse Ratched, or being abducted and skinned by Jame Gumb. Or, being eternally tortured by any Abrahamic gods. Literary characters represent no threat, and if our emotions were in alignment with our experience, that’s where the story would end. Religious scriptures would hold the same value to us as any other literary work: we’d reflect on the choices of the characters depicted in their stories, integrate any useful insights, and move on to the next book. As we do with all other ancient literature, we’d recognise that any accounts of outlandish transformations and characters with superpowers reflected the primitive magical thinking of the time. But, as followers of Abrahamic religions, we have all that crucial context ripped away by our indoctrinators, who push our emotions completely out of alignment with our experience by abusively compelling us to accept their ancient literature as fact. We can imagine the damaging effects of presenting some of our most tragic poetic literature as fact to children. Violating the important distinction between fantasy and reality turns mythical monsters into terrifying threats that children are not psychologically equipped to face. But, millions of children are expected to face them with smiles plastered on their faces. As a child faced with the tyrannical Yahweh character, I avoided succumbing to the masochist position by immersing myself in denial. In my case, I learned to focus exclusively on Yahweh’s human persona, Jesus, who was presented as an unappreciated martyr. Concentrating on Jesus allowed me to block out Yahweh’s atrocities. In my teens, when I allowed myself to take a good hard look at the Yahweh character, it became clear there was no supreme intelligence here. Even by human standards, this was, in every sense – morally, intellectually, emotionally – an underdeveloped intelligence. In fact, what came to mind was the character of Charlie X from an old Star Trek adventure. Charlie X was an alien teenager who tyrannised the crew of the USS Enterprise using his psychokinetic powers to disfigure people, or even think them out of existence. One of his victims was a crewmember he became infatuated with, who wasn’t attracted to him. Like the Biblical God, Charlie X was a fragile, needy character, who commanded love, expected it to be magically conjured up from nothing by his targets, and threatened annihilation if he didn’t get it. Unlike Charlie X, the Biblical God was claimed to be the all-knowing creator; an all-knowing creator who didn’t know how human emotions like love and trust worked. Before they could be switched on like a light. It was too stupid for words. Love is earned, not commanded, and, in order to earn it, you have to make an appearance at some point. Even when it comes to absent humans, like the elusive Aunt Julia, to coerce children into performing love they don’t feel teaches them that their love is not their own to give to the people they choose, but a mere commodity that others can give away on the children’s behalf without consent. It’s no one else’s place to dictate to us who to love, or trust, or find physically attractive, or experience any other feeling for. We’re each the master of our own emotions. [Music] In my first few years working as a therapist, I saw a client who would recount the most horrific experiences in a strikingly incongruent singsong voice. Her mother had recently died and she’d come to therapy to address difficulties in the grieving process. She’d become convinced her mother was haunting her, because whenever she thought about her, she’d get the sense of something terrifying looming over her. Over time, as we explored what this unseen terror might be, it became clear she had a chronic aversion to expressing anger towards her mother, who, it gradually emerged, had subjected her to extreme physical and psychological abuse, resulting in severe emotional disconnection. As we worked on her emotional rehabilitation, there was a breakthrough insight: the looming terror wasn’t the ghost of her abuser, but her own suppressed anger, fighting to come to the surface and find expression. Releasing this pent-up anger for the first time felt frightening, sometimes almost unbearable. But, as she began to let herself feel it, we both noticed the transformative effect: Her face started to relax from its constant ingratiating smile. The singsong voice she used to recount her abuse deepened to an adult register. Several other suppressed emotions emerged, including sadness and joy. And, she was finally able to hold her mother to account with genuine emotion. Sometimes it’s just a couple of key emotions that are missing and their reemergence can be a catalyst for change. Another of my therapy clients, who was in an emotionally-abusive marriage, would switch between anxiety and depression as she described her joyless life of restriction and isolation. But any attempts to explore ways of stepping outside of the script her husband had handed her were quickly shut down with excuses and deflections. This emotional gridlock continued for many weeks, until, one session, there was a significant shift. She expressed annoyance at her husband. He’d taken her car unexpectedly, and she’d had to rush to find public transport that would get her to the session in time. We both recognised his attempt to sabotage her therapy, but I reflected that this was the first time I’d seen her express any degree of anger towards him. It was a pivotal emotional moment. She spoke about how important therapy had become to her: it was one hour in the week that belonged completely to her, and it was something she would fight to protect. Over the following weeks, she began to take her life back. Sometimes, when emotions come back, we’re not ready to feel them. In my teens, after years of religious and family abuse, my long-suppressed anger returned. Like my aforementioned clients, it played a crucial role in ending my abuse, as I finally stood my ground. But I wasn’t prepared for the relentless white-hot thoughts and feelings that continued to erupt inside me. I had no experience with dealing with this kind of anger, and, no emotional mentors who modeled healthy ways of dealing with it. So, I dealt with it the way I’d been trained to deal with emotion: I blocked it out. Whenever I felt it rising up inside me, I turned my body to stone. And, as a result of this perpetual suppression, eventually, I turned to stone completely. All of my emotions, from happiness, to sorrow, to fear, to anger, faded to indistinguishable grey. I felt nothing. And, that’s how things stayed for several years. The irony isn’t lost on me that I’d done exactly what my abusers had done: I’d forbidden myself to feel. No surprise that I damaged myself in the process. It was only in my 20’s, years after moving out of the mad house, that my feelings came back. Having forgotten what emotion felt like, I was unprepared for the intensity of colour they injected. Experiencing that colour taught me the true value of emotion. Emotion mobilised me, motivated me, protected me, engaged me with the world. Without that spark, I had drifted out of sync with my surroundings. Trivial choices had become paralysing. I felt no drive to initiate or sustain action. I’d just been going through the motions on empty, watching my life like a detached spectator. Finally, I was feeling my life. Wen my emotions returned, they didn’t arrive fully-formed and nuanced. It was like returning to factory settings. Just primary and secondary colours. It took time and patience to master them. But this time, I let myself feel everything. Abusive environments pull our emotions out of alignment with our experience by pushing us out of spontaneity and authenticity into artificial, theatrical roles, scripted by our abusers. Reclaiming our lives means throwing the operation into reverse, dropping our performances, and moving back into spontaneity and authenticity. It doesn’t require any feats of logical reasoning, there are no intellectual conundrums to solve, it’s purely about becoming aware of what we’re really feeling and learning to separate it from various emotional masks we’ve become accustomed to wearing. For example, in situations where we feel a desire to please someone, we might learn to determine whether our desire is healthy or unhealthy by identifying the emotion driving it. Are we happy to please, or anxious to please? Kickstarting this emotional rehabilitation can be slow. For folks who’ve become substantially disconnected from their emotions, it can be a challenge to recognise a specific feeling. Even deciding between the most basic categories of feeling good or feeling bad might be a struggle at the start. But, gradually, our emotional vocabulary expands, and our emotions become ever more closely aligned with our experience. Just as they would have done if we’d been raised in psychological health from the start. It’s crucial that targets of abuse allow themselves to feel all of their emotions. Abusive environments teach us that emotions have to be pleasing but emotions aren’t there to please people. Not our abusers, and not ourselves. In good emotional health, we reject the roles of the masochist, who embraces abuse; the zealot, who conspires with abusers; the apologist, who excuses abuse; and the denier, who blocks out abuse. Instead, we resist abuse. Here, there’s no performance, no distortion of reality, no split. It’s a position of congruence and authenticity, and there’s no space for that on the abuser’s stage. When we leave, some of the other actors might leave, too. It’s funny how often we work through these situations thinking we’re alone, only to find that others around us have been wrestling with the same stuff. Sadly, sometimes the actors will stay, and whatever feelings we have about that, we need to let ourselves feel them. In many cases, after we’ve left, something peculiar will happen. Even though we’re no longer there, an empty role will be played for us in our absence: the role of the scapegoat, or, in religious terms, the apostate. Without an actor to breathe life into it, the lines of this ventriloquist dummy villain will be spoken by our abusers. The dialogue will be the same vapid drivel it always was, the motivations will be just as caricaturish and incoherent, but, we’ll be enjoying real life somewhere else. And, with our emotions in good working order, we won’t be wasting our precious time inside any more of these dismal theatrical productions.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

100 thoughts on “commanded to love | performing false emotions for tyrants [cc]”

  1. KuShuna Rodriguez says:

    Jesus: “you’re tearing me apart! Oh, hi Mark…Matthew, Luke, and John!”

    …ok, I’ll see myself out😋

  2. sylvan slater says:

    Thank you. Amazingly well described. The groups like this are sickeningly terrifying. I know. I got out, because something true in me could not be what they wanted. When I left, they destroyed my life, and hurt my family horribly. We are all scarred, but we are going on to wellness. But there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of it. It was a protracted cruelty. Most of the nightmares–PTSD–have ebbed, though not yet gone.

  3. Vi Rose La Bianca says:

    Beautifully articulated and compellingly constructed, as always. Listening to your analyses of religious and interpersonal emotional abuse helps me feel grounded, justified in my own choices. Thanks for all you do <3

  4. Uri Golomb says:

    God is not really an abuser, because (as acknowledged in this video) he doesn't really exist. I have to wonder about the people who created Him, though. I can understand a writer creating someone like God as a villain. But God is not portrayed as a villain in the Bible; the Biblical authors clearly put him there as a positive figure, to be admired, venerated and worshipped. They were the ones who created the "You must love me" command.
    Other gods had similarly malevolent features, but they were not presented as the images of perfection like the Biblical God. One has to wonder about the motivation of a society that would centre around such an abusive divine figurehead.

  5. Water says:

    Cloud daddy is bossy.

  6. nox fox says:

    I really wish there would be French subtitles, because I know a lot of French people who could benefit from watching this, but they don't understand English… This is such good video. I was in a relationship with a narcissist, and had to put up a denier mask although I always was conscious of the abuse. I actively tried to "reprogram" myself to deliver expected responses, and was indeed told, using that exact word, that I'd lost all my spontaneity. I said I didn't know how to get it back and that it might just be gone forever. When I eventually broke up and left, I wrote a letter to explain my vision of the relationship, telling that it hadn't been a relationship for years, if ever, because I wasn't the person my partner loved: "you were in love with an idea that only existed in your head; of course I could never please you, and that's why it's better to end this insanity," is what I wrote. I was so messed up that I hadn't even realized that it was a break-up letter.
    It's funny how she cried so much, turned on the emotional blackmail again… but I just left. And one week later, all that dramatic sadness she'd displayed had been replaced by scorn, spite and pettiness. I wasn't even surprised, but as it allowed me to let out some of my repressed anger, I was terrified by the strength of it. It took time to heal, but eventually I did. I now have a radar to detect narcissists — not a bad thing, in a way.

  7. Andrew Shaw says:

    hahaha I absolutely love that you put in Tommy Wiseau as a cameo XD

    I can see how he'd be seen as a narcissist, a terrible acting one at that 😛

  8. Realraven2000 says:

    "Commanded to Love" – bet it's about the new hate speech laws?

  9. Zo says:

    I'd read your books if you wrote any

  10. Pipno says:

    Such good animation can't be found that often.

    Anyways I completely fit in the bugged out emotions range. Mainly my anger- and my guilty+.

  11. immovableobjectify says:

    I haven't seen the whole thing yet, but as soon as the cult leader is described as a immature narcissistic personality, Trump's control of the Republican party came to mind..His lying, projection, attempts to rewrite history, demands of blind loyalty, and abusive nature fit the bill.

  12. Till Tronje says:

    Will you be writing a book by any chance? These topics and their explanations are pure genius, very well presented and very helpful to many people

  13. Mystic Mind Analysis says:

    Recently, a 17-year-old girl joined my friend's Discord server. She is transgender, and has talked a lot about how her mother continuously rants about how terrible LGBTQ+ people are, how she must go to church, and how her mother would send her to therapy and put them in a religious school if she found out she is trans.

    Even through text I can feel how frustrated she is. I can see the conflict as she tries to excuse this behaviour, acting surprised that this is not, in fact, how a normal family dynamic should work. I am no professional counsellor, so there's a limit to what I can do.

    But I'll share this video with her and hopefully, once she turns 18, she can escape her abusive household and stop playing the role her mother insists she must act out.

  14. Brad Spencer says:

    I see so much of my upbringing and indoctrination in Mormonism in your vids. Thanks for showing from a non-apologist perspective what it is they do and did to me for 25 years.

  15. Robert Kortus says:

    Man, this video hit close to home. As someone who grew up in a Fundamentalist Christian home, this evaluation of the relationship dynamics were spot on. Kids who grow up in this environment face a two-fronted assault – from parents at home and from the church that affirms and encourages the emotionally abuse behavior.

  16. Marie K. says:

    "What an almighty cringefest" has to become a t-shirt.

  17. Brenda Williams says:

    As always : made me think deeply about the subject and my self. Good job.

  18. Today’s the Day says:

    Another stellar breakdown. Great content. Shared.

  19. ImaginaryMdA says:

    Wow, your observation of the reverse Turing test is so enlightening!

  20. Biological Engine of Love says:

    Thank you for this incredibly insightful yet gentle video, it has to be one of the best I've seen. Exploring the psychological framework and underpinnings of religious faith, and its' similarities to emotional abuse, really sheds light on how we operate and how these ideas affect us.

  21. Maria Nunes says:

    You do know that there is a possibility that the universe is very complicated, and that our wish for order may be an effort to deny that complication, where chaos and order are always facing eachother, right?

  22. Desync says:

    I really enjoyed this one! It was fun to see Tommy the director =)

  23. Reason1717 says:

    Theramin Trees, if your car broke down on the side of the road and I a stranger were to fix it for free and with a smile, you would honestly thank me. So in that spirit I thank you, for your message and clear craftsmanship in this video. Really thank you sir.

  24. Pip Santos says:

    The best antidote to toxic relationship is to not be ashamed to be selfish. A natural inclination. Your life, property and time are yours to dispose as you see fit. Just as others also have that freedom.

  25. WWZenaDo says:

    If "Aunt Julia" really did exist, I'd bet she was also scratching her head over the bizarre ritual you were being asked to perform.

  26. Watcher WLC says:

    like 1984 (Orwell) "it has always been this way"

  27. David Renwick says:

    I recognised you talking about about repressing anger, which was the natural and human response, then the relief when we expressed it. Trying to comply with an abuser's exhortation to maintain "self-control" in the face of their abuse is so repressive. I've seen this in one former relationship. If you feel angry then I'd assume there's a valid reason for it. What comes next is critical.

  28. billyjoejimbob75 says:

    "What kind of love relies on the perpetual ignorance of atrocities?" That's some deep shit right there.

  29. Juju Norman says:

    To be honest, I came to this channel for atheist content. But I now understand what manipulative abuse is. This channel has done a lot for me.

  30. definitivamente no-malo says:

    Wow, didn't know Tommy Wiseau was a cult leader D:

  31. daniel n. schabauer says:

    What a beautiful episode!
    It is really good for me to hear about the experience you had even if it is also very sad at the same time. Its givs so much comfort to know that one is not alone in having this conflicts about loyalty, sense and logic.

  32. locolo Kuromanhs says:

    Your videos are amazing thank you for being here

  33. Goner Kid says:


  34. Goner Kid says:


  35. Goner Kid says:


  36. Goner Kid says:


  37. Hazel Greene says:

    Thank you so much for this. I had some unexpected moments of recognizing myself in your descriptions. Your insights are, as always, amazing and apropos. ❤️

  38. Kartissa says:

    26:40 Technically, Charlie was human, but was given powers by aliens because that was the only way they knew how to keep him alive after a disaster.

  39. Florin Teo says:

    TheraminTrees. How can a individual find his own emotions? To identify, as you help your pacients to find theyr emotional states or what emotions they avoid or simply can't feel?
    In other words, I need a compas for my emotions!

  40. Cameron Vadnais says:

    I love your videos. I find them very insightful.

    Hail Satan.

  41. Gnug215 says:

    That animated character in the thumbnail really does look like Tommy Wiseau.

  42. Arrcenio says:

    I just saw your new video pop up in my feed (right as I'm headed to bed)! Not watching it right now though. Going to do it when I have a clear mind so I can truly absorb and analyze the content. Your videos have helped me so much in the past few months, seeing a new one always makes me happy!

  43. Michael Rupp says:


  44. almighty zay says:

    so uh, what software do you use do make those animations and 3d models lol.

  45. james panciotti says:

    your videos are brilliant and I thank you so much for them. I have learned so much about myself and my family from them. I have found the videos very helpful.

  46. prophetofdoom says:

    TT, I'm so happy you're back. You inspire me.

  47. Claudia Easton says:

    Thank you for your work! You clearly put into words what so many thought & questioned as w do what is expected!

  48. My Name says:

    so much better than tik tok.

  49. Ian Corral says:

    The bit about nothingness from mother theresa sounds like the BUddhist notion of emptiness.

  50. Thorpenator says:

    I worked for a narcissist female lesbian in a government job, it was a nightmare. I often thought about choking the crap out of her to teach her that her abusive tongue comes with consequence. I did outlast her, and was able to get my pension, not without the occasional panic attack.

  51. raichutoyou says:

    Thank you for making these.

  52. Jan Martin Ulvåg says:

    I have been through all this

  53. Peter Michael says:

    Argument falls apart immediately. You equate human relationship with a human/ God relationship. A great God who created the entire universe SHOULD NOT care whether any of us as individuals find him fashionable. That doesn't logically work. Additionally, you compare God to a child telling his toys what to say and do. I ask you, what has God forced you to do?

  54. Peter Michael says:

    Yes, I believe God prefers our fear before our love. He is God. You would equate him to another person. You judge him on your own human scale. He desires my success but thinking I know better, turn away from him to my own demise.

    You speak of such a miserable, terrible tyrant. What abuse does God desire for you?

    We all naturally rebel against God in the same way a child rebels against a good parent. The parent wants to help but the rebelious child just fights for the sake of fighting any control.

  55. Karl Perra says:


    I just realized I've spent the better part of a decade suppressing my emotions whenever I'm around my family.

    Thank you so, so much.

  56. Kolzi says:

    While I don't think I can relate to the depth of what you describe, perhaps because my family was different, I did find myself reflecting on this sort of expected feeling of love and devotion a bit recently. My mother became ordained as a deacon in the Anglican church last week. Though I haven't considered myself Christian for a decade, I of course went there to support her in what is a pretty big moment of her life. I've always liked the rituals of the Anglican church even if I lacked the belief that is supposed to underscore them, but as I stood in the pews and sang the hymns or repeated the prayers, I really just found it hammered home how much I did NOT feel these feelings that people within the congregation were proclaiming. I simply do not believe in a god, and while I was okay uttering the words of devotion as a way of offering solidarity with my mother in that instance, it overall just felt very weird to me.

    I found myself considering the words and looking back at my childhood and even the teenage years, the latter of which during which I never really cared much about the religion but still identified as a Christian. In retrospect, I don't think I ever really believed in a god and I certainly never felt any of these feelings of adoration or a desire to worship. I honestly cannot help but wonder if anyone really does feel that, because the very concept when you analyze it seems so foreign to me. Are these utterances of devotion nothing but an attempt to get something else out of life through acting?

    My father is a Buddhist now but used to be Christian as well, and I remember her (she's trans) talking once at dinner with another Buddhist about what I think must have been her time in bible college. While I don't remember it perfectly, she said that a number of the people who were preaching confessed in private that what they preached was not true, but felt it was justified in order to impart what they viewed as worthwhile moral lessons. I have to wonder how widespread this view or understanding is, not just among those preaching but the congregation too.

  57. Stevo Devo says:

    SORRY!! But @4:50 (Who's been a naughty monkey?) Well, seems like It's time to spank the monkey then.

  58. choralbari says:

    I used to like these videos, but I stopped watching just a few minutes into this one. It feels like an endless string of claims (e.g., about the affect of children from abusive relationships) not tied to whatever underlying research it might be grounded in. As such it is (for me) bland and (generally) unverifiable.

  59. Dan Blackburn says:

    Agnes of Albania farmed the sick to make money for the church and did nothing what-so-ever to alleviate any suffering.

  60. Sparkbomber says:

    Theramin Trees is back! Damn youtube for de-belling. I can't thank you enough for this video though.

  61. gimmeumoney says:

    Eat their cake and have it too 🙂

  62. Skywise says:

    Ive had to listen several times. Its just eerie…change the name and the story is told of me.

  63. Stefan Maritz says:

    I think this is the important video on the internet.

  64. ProjectEchoshadow says:

    How do I know if I'm a narcissist?

  65. Lilac flower says:

    imagining god in a dominatrix costume wasn't what I was hoping to do today, but fine

  66. Morahman7vnNo2 says:

    You're tearing me apart LISA!

  67. CaityReads says:

    How do you feel your emotions without just breaking down?

  68. peter evans says:


  69. flaze3 says:

    Fascinating stuff!

  70. Gabriele Eichel says:

    I love this channel. Your voice is so relaxing!

  71. Mister B says:

    Love your content.

  72. Brazul Blint says:

    It's not like having a kid requires dedication and sacrifice or anything.

  73. Angelkitty 777 says:

    This makes so much sense…


    Excellent, thankyou !

  75. elijah caballero says:

    Meaning is a resource that religion provides. You won't convince anyone to leave unless you provide it. Most people that leave religion have a damaged relationship to meaning including myself.

  76. Sofia Paakkonen says:

    Teaching that love is a commodity that can be traded is a twisted lesson. Thank you, incredible video

  77. J Jimenez says:


  78. norman bates says:

    Coincidence that the actor/director/abuser looks like tommy wiseau?

  79. Mercury Dime says:

    I can’t thank you enough for these incredible and insightful videos. They have been so very helpful for me! I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I can relate so well to what you are saying. The disturbing acts of the supposedly loving God that I was commanded to love were always disturbing. Then came the years of spiritual abuse by elders who expected me to give everything to the organization and constantly humiliated me and taught me that I was worthless by not allowing me to express any real, valid concerns about how I was being treated or the way others were suffering under unjust treatment. I went through times of denial and apologetics, but finally woke up. My family is on the verge of shunning me–some have already started doing so. My father is trying to escape as well, but can’t imagine living life without his wife (my mother). My mother has called him an apostate, which is worse than a murderer or pedophile according to witnesses. Never mind that he has been a wonderful husband, a loving father, and a hard-working, moral person all of his life. No, never mind that. The only thing that matters is being a worshipful follower of the leadership of the organization. My father has been contemplating suicide. He wants to get therapy, but only when my mother comes to the sessions, and my mother refuses to support that.

  80. xray437 says:

    When you started talking about yourself turning to stone I basically mentally freaked out, I could never figure out why I've seemingly shut down all of my emotions and it's hard to feel anything…and then when I do feel a little bit of something I don't even know what it is. My father has been the cause of this seeing as I was always the one to have to please his emotional and occasionally physical abuse, it's a struggle understanding anything that goes on in my head so much so that a lot of the time it doesn't feel like anything's going through there…kinda like a puppet. I really appreciate all of your videos, thank you for what you've done and what you're currently doing it means a lot to me and lets me know that I'm not alone in this feeling.

    (And for anyone wondering, yes he's out of the house now. And he won't be coming back)

  81. Helena Constantine says:

    I wonder why he made the resister to abuse, the hero of the piece, resemble Agent Cooper's evil doppelganger from Twin Peaks?

  82. Tony Midyett says:

    Have you been reading my diary? Wow! This video hits home.

    Thank you.

  83. BiteYerBumHard says:

    As an ex Jehovah's Witness I can see you've crystallised some of the processes which occur slowly and by degrees so that it's creeping into and eventual effect on your life is gradual and imperceptible. I can only hope that my relatives who are still within might wake up, but they give the same response I did when I was in the thrall.

    As a songwriter, I put these feelings into a video which many ex witnesses relate to.

  84. AgeingBoyPsychic says:

    3:54 "Oh hi, Mark!"

  85. Red Pillaging says:

    The sooner the Western world rejects Christianity as a whole, the better. It has no place in our midst. Keep those Abrahamic religions where they belong: in the Middle East.

  86. Inu Yasha says:

    You playing emotions – you are unhappy
    You aren't playing emotions – you are still unhappy
    A fucking paradox

  87. Suzie Lou says:

    Who's here from Spartan? Enjoying this so far.

  88. kpk1958 says:

    Another gem from TheraminTrees. Thank you. This should be required watching for high school aged kids.

  89. Morgan Williams says:

    This resonates very strongly with me. I grew up with an emotionally abusive mother – she never intended to be abusive, never meant to hurt me, but she did, and I've had to learn to recover from that. One emotion that was nearly always punished was anger. Dare I express anger or even annoyance at her and I'd be yelled at for disrespect, etc. So I had to learn to suppress it. When I moved out and into college, I started having these outbursts, where I would get intensely, irrationally angry over things that didn't seem like that big a deal, such as wifi acting weird or food I didn't like being served at dinner. It took me a while to realize that the reason was because I was finally in an environment where I could express my anger without punishment, and as such, even small amounts of annoyance would burst out of me as white-hot rage. I had no practice with regulating anger-based emotions, so they were wild and uncontrolled. To be honest, it's been years and I'm still learning to control these moments of rage, though luckily they're almost never directed at a person, and I'm lucky to have amazing friends who are understanding and help me work through it. But recognizing where it was coming from was a huge step forward.

  90. Zara Polden says:

    Woweezeees, this is so eloquently put, thank you.

  91. Amanda Long says:

    My partner and I each come from different types of abusive upbringings. We've both spent the past several years working on ourselves to become healthy and distance ourselves from the sources of abuse, though not entirely disconnected. I think the hardest thing, for us, is seeing the damage that was done show up in the form of our insecurities. Because we've both been damaged, we both have to be conscious of not only our own fears, but those of the other partner as well. It's a struggle to always communicate freely and to be understanding and supportive, but we're both trying desperately to break the cycles of our families. Your videos have helped me navigate much of my darkness, but this video in particular has helped me piece together so much about my partner and also my parents. Please don't stop making these videos. They help to put puzzles in place.

  92. astronomie amatori says:

    Oh shit

  93. astronomie amatori says:

    Who is this man ?:))

  94. Zara Polden says:

    This is really good quality content, I'm finding this so helpful, thank you to Richie G for recommending it and to Theramin Trees for your valuable work.

  95. The Tubbe says:

    Why is Weird Al telling me to hide my depression?

  96. Grandma Tempo says:

    Damn I needed this video.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *