< Lesson 2. Understanding the Miracle Principle to Stop Abuse. >

Section 2: The Miracle Principle

Earn your Verbal Abuse Defense Certificate

In Section 2, you learn the difference between an abusive relationship and a bad day, the specific tactics used by abusers on their targets, and about the power of the MIRACLE PRINCIPLE.

Menu for Section One titles G through J

G. Tactics of Abuse
H. You have to admit the problem before you can change
I. No Victims, Only Volunteers
J. The Miracle Principle


Do you thoroughly understand the tactics abusers use? What you are dealing with? Here's a quick review because you need to know what it is you have to stop.


Tactics Used by an Abuser

VERBAL Verbal abuse occurs when one is attacked by words. Tactics used include name-calling, defaming (ex: you're a lousy mother, bad wife, ungrateful son), harassing (ex: repeated disparaging comments about weight, looks, ideas), accusing, embarrassing with words (being put down in public), blaming, blocking further discussion (ex: I shouldn't have to repeat myself), countering (whatever you say, they counter with the opposite), humiliating (ex: telling wife jokes in partner's presence), constant criticism, diverting the subject, lying, berating, taunting, interrogating, accusations, putting down, discounting (ex: partner saying "You're making a big deal out of nothing)." You can read more about verbal abuse on Evan's verbal abuse site.
PSYCHOLOGICAL This type of abuse occurs when a partner's actions, undermining statements, or neglect causes mental anguish. It includes humiliating (ex: being pushed away when trying to give a kiss), embarrassing behavior (ex: partner flirting with others in public), withholding affection, turning the kids against you, withholding sex, ignoring, living in silence, crazy-making (trying to make it look like you are mentally ill), trivializing (ex: I'd love to hear about your promotion, but can we eat first?), defining your reality (ex: no, you're not angry, you're jealous), edifying (ex: taking care of oneself at expense of partner such as making fish for dinner knowing partner hates it), scapgoating (shifting the blame or responsibility), not having any interest in your thoughts and feelings, playing mind games, twisting the facts (rewriting history to make them right and you wrong), passive aggression (ex: forgetting an anniversary), and male privilege, which you can read more about on the Respect-me Rules website in the handouts section.
INTIMIDATION This occurs when words, gestures, looks, or posturing create fear. Abusers use overt threatening (ex: "Don't make me have to hurt you"), covert threatening (ex: "I'll do whatever I have to" while cleaning a gun without actually saying he's going to shoot you), legal threats (ex: "I'll get full custody and you'll never see your kids again."), containment (ex: blocking exit from a room without sayng anything), getting in your face, cruelty to pets or children and destroying household property or things that mean a lot to the victim in retaliation for perceived wrongs), bullying, yelling and raging, hostile subtle gestures or looks (ex: sharpening a knife and smiling while looking directly at you), physically cornering one in a room (note some experts consider this physical violence and it is one of the borderline behaviors between abuse and violence) destroying property, and insinuations of harm that no one else can recognize.
ISOLATION Restricting familial and social contact. The abuser increases isolation by limiting transportation, living in remote areas or a different culture, demanding total loyalty and time go to abuser vs. one's family or outside social contacts, preventing partner from driving, discouraging friendships and close family relations or isolating partner from friends and family, disapproving of getting a job or continuing one's education outside the home, joining a cult, limiting phone calls or visitors, disallowing TV, radio, or internet use.
STALKING Stalking behaviors include harassing, following the target, threatening behavior, showing up in person at inappropriate times and places, unwanted gifts (often followed by demands that you owe them), phone calls, emails, or letters, and innuendos that you might get hurt if caught in the wrong place (often leads to physical or sexual abuse).
SPIRITUAL Using religion to manipulate the partner, ridiculing their beliefs, preventing them from practicing what they believe, using doctrine to over control family thoughts and actions, invoking doctrinal guilt or shame to control, justifying corporal punishment of children against the wishes of partner, forcing the children to be reared in a faith that the spouse does not agree to, male privilege or female subservience and denial of human rights.
SEXUAL ABUSE This involves undesirable sexual activity used as a form of control. Tactics include pressuring someone to participate in sexual activity that makes them uncomfortable, forcing them to view pornography, pressuring one to have sex with other partners, spousal rape, cheating through sexual affairs or the internet, withholding sex as punishment, ridiculing a person's sexual performance and attractiveness, edifying self without satisfying partner.
ECONOMIC Economic abuse involves the use of money and resources for the purpose of control. Tactics inlude limiting economic independence by controlling the finances (paying all the bills, giving a small allowance, making all purchase decisions), limiting or preventing work outside the home, taking work or welfare check, using family resources for themselves, and blocking career upward mobility.

Keep in mind that the tactics used by abusers may be all, several, or only one of those covered. It is not necessary to use all the above tactics to be an abuser. It only takes one for abuse to occur. Keep in mind though, that an occasional use of the above does not mean you are living with an abuser--, everyone has a bad day and everyone behaves badly at times, including you. Abuse is an ongoing pattern not just a few isolated incidents.

If their behavior seems unrelenting, then it's probably abusive. Abusers will use as many tactics as one allows. If you disallow one abusive behavior, they move on to another. For example, one of the hosts of this stie is a professional writer. Her abuser tried to divert her book royalites from being reinvested in her writing business to buy himself a truck, but she refused to give hm the money. What did her abuser do? He simply moved on to another area of economic abuse in which she was more vulnerable--he attacked her handling of the home finances. When she tried to live within the family means by finding bargains, he attacked her as being cheap and miserly.

Section 2, Pop Quiz: Understanding Abuse Tactics

This exercise is a pop quiz in pdf form.

1) Download the quiz, print it out, and circle the best answer.

2) Download the answers, and grade yourself.

3) Answer the first question on your Completion Form below.

Title H. You have to admit the problem before you can change

Telling abuse storeis and getting out of denial.

Lessons from Kathy

Many of the skills your need for recognizing abuse can be found in the web article Dealing with Domestic Abuse: Lessons from Kathy. As Angie Panos, PhD, author of Lessons from Kathy said, "Without the ability to see reality as a whole, good judgment and decision making cannot occur. It is only when a victim of domestic violence can write a log of all the abuse and see the whole picture in front of her in black and white that she can make good decisions."

Dealing with Domestic Abuse: Lessons from Kathy

  • Read Kathy's Story Now


    Once a target recognizes that they are living in an abusive relationship, they can do something about it. But the surprising thing is, they can't change the abuser, they can only stop being a target. There is only one person each of us has the power to change, and that is ourselves. You may deflect his behavior, but it is unlikely that you will change his heart. Some partners leave the relationship to stop the abuse. That works, for now. Until you get into the next relationship. YOU BRING YOURSELF AND YOUR PATTERNS WITH YOU. So likely, your next relationhsip will be the same. So we suggest that as long as there is no violence, you stay in this realtiionship and learn how to stop the abuse by learning how to stop being a target.

STOP HERE before continuing:

Answer these questions truthfully:

  • I know what domestic abuse is (if yes, proceed)
  • I recognize clear abuse in my relationship (if you don't, then do not proceed. Don't fix a problem you don't know you have)
  • Although I did not cause the abuse, I have allowed it to continue and I want to stop (if you don't see this yet you may proceed, but if it makes you really really angry to hear this, you may not be ready to continue. You are ready when you want to change yourself more than you want to change your partner. The choice is yours.)

Abuse is not easy to understand. The "Why" questions are seldom answered. "Why does he treat me so bad? Why doesn't she understand I love her? Why do I hurt so much?" Answering "why" quesitons lead to blame, guilt and self-pity. Our goal is to stop the abuse, not attack them, ourself or our relationship. 

We suggest in our work Respect-me Rules that you forget the "Why" questions and focus on the "What" and "How" questions. "What is abuse" was answered in Section One. The "How do I change" is covered in the rest of this tutorial.

Title I. No Victims, Only Volunteers

How many times have you heard that there are no victims, only volunteers? Probably a lot. Yet it is hard to fathom why anyone would volunteer for abuse. In reality, the abuse often creeps into relationships so slowly, it is not easily recognized at first. We make so many excuses for our abuser that we blind ourselves. We are taught to accomodate the person we love, to compromise, and do whatever is necessary to make the relationship work. It is easy to think we are being a loving and caring spouse, when in fact we are facilitating the abuse. We have inadvertently opened the floodgates to further abuse by rewarding the abuser's bad behavior when we accomodate their increasing demands.

We expect our partner to behave rationally. If we treat them nice by accomodating them, it should only be fair for them to reciprocate and treat us nice in return. Based upon reason, this should work. But it doesn't. It's crazy but doing the logical thing only serves to make the situation worse when dealing with an abuser. Why is this so? What's wrong with this logic?

Abusers are not rational!

They are so self-absorbed, being fair and recripocating niceness does not compute with them. So what's the moral here? Recognize abuse at the outset and stop it. You cannot appease and accommodate. It only gets worse. <.p>

It seems so unfair, because we are only trying to be a good partner. Targets desperately cling to the notion, "If I can only be good enough for him, he'll finally love me enough to treat me right." One of my patients recently remarked, "When I get my degree, he'll see how good I am and stop telling me I don't amount to anything and not want to cheat on me anymore." In trying to meet their demands and be good enough to please them, we are volunteering for further abuse. You can never be good enough for an abuser, so purge this notion from your mind.

The goal of the target is to move the focus from "How badly they treat me" to "how badly will I allow myself to be treated?" In other words, how much tolerance for pain do you have? How low will you allow your self-esteem to be pummeled? Are you ready to set the boundaries that your partner cannot cross? The greatest obstacle to ending abuse in relationships is the lack of knowledge on the target's part as to how much power they have to stop it.

Read these comments from our participants and see if you can tell if they are victims or a volunteers.

From "My Space"
You guys think an abuser refusing to share his money is bad?? This guy makes you support him. He told me he would never marry me unless I was able to fully support him. He said I needed to start paying his bills right now in order to show him that I deserved to marry him ... Jerry P is his name, be careful on MySpace.

From JD

In my relationship I think what hurts me the most is that I have allowed him to control everything I do or do not do. He has told me where I could work and where I could not. If a man worked there, forget it. I am working in an office all by myself, boring no fun, no one to talk to. And he still questions and accuses me of things, it is sad, but I am reading and learning more about it so that when I do leave I will not go back this time.

Title J. The Miracle Principle

You must dance together or the dance ends.

The Miracle Principle is simply this

You must dance together or the dance ends.

Emotional abuse cannot occur in a vacuum. For abuse to exist, there has to be a partner willing to engage with the abuser. 

Here is an example of this principle applied to Kiley's (a client of ours) addiction:

When I was young andbvery very sick in my addiction, I heard this at a meeting, "If you don't take a drink, you won't get drunk." WOW--what a concept. I couldn't believe that my addiction could be so easily stopped--don't pick up a drug or a drink and I won't get high or drunk!

Could it be that simple? YES. Stopping the self-abuse was exactly that simple. Now, developing a pattern of making healthy choices was not easy for Kiley. It was a function of her working the 12 Steps, but stopping the immediate addiction was as simple as putting down the drink and drugs. This is a variation of the Miracle Principle: You must drink in order to get drunk.

As strange as it seems, the victim must give a type of consent to be abused. As Richard Mayer explains in Conflict Management

A common example of victim behavior is the person who complains that his boss or spouse "walks all over me." The victim, or "agressee," refuses to recognize that such behavior {physical violence is not considered here} is possible only with his cooperation--he must "lie down" so the "aggressor" can "walk on" him. They must dance together or the dance would end."


You can only be abused by someone to the degree that you allow it. You have to "let them" call you names, put you down, and criticize you. You have to give away your power and let your partner control you to be put into a victim role. Few of us in abusive situations want to believe this, but if you want to stop abuse and start making healthy choices, you must come to understand the Miracle Principle.

Here is a quote from one of our workshop participants regarding the Miracle Principle:

Charity Girl
During my emotionally abusive relationship, I always felt I was doing some sick dance or on an emotional rollercoaster. Instead of doing the responsible thing of getting out of the relationship, I fed into the sickness of the relationship by being available for abuse and extended my boundaries each time one was crossed. I knew the reaction my partner would expect from the put-downs, accusations and other mind games and I gave him exactly what he wanted despite my plans to do otherwise. I never insisted on an apology. I just allowed him to come back to me and pretend the offense never happened. I would edit my words to appease him and allowed him to express himself freely without contradiction while suppressing my thoughts and feelings. I was held hostage emotionally -- too scared to leave,yet too afraid to stand up for myself. I was miserable but I stayed. The fear was a DIRECT result of the abuse and lack of self-confidence. So as the old saying goes, "It takes two to tango." I was dancing as fast as I could until he left me... dancing alone.

Exercise: It takes two to dance or the dance ends

Go to Verbally Abusive Relationships and read the answers to question 4 and 5 under "How should you respond to verbal abuse?". Does this make sense to you that it takes two participants for emotional abuse to continue? Write a paragraph in your completion form below explaining why or why not.


Stopping abuse means having respect for yourself and taking responsibility for how you allow people to treat you. Maybe the pattern started when you were seven years old and did not have the power or wisdom to stop it, but today is different. You are not seven anymore and you don't have to give away your power. Richard Mayer, in his book Conflict Management puts it this way:

"...the person who experiences {abuse} must take some action. This requires taking full, personal responsibility at the moment. It requires us to acknowledge our reaction--our thoughts, assumptions, and feelings. We cannot adopt a "victim" attitude: blame the other person and wait for some rescuer."

Completion Form for Section Two

Note: You may save this form and review the Titles above before continuing--submit the form when you are done.

For Sections 3 & 4 we refer to pages from the book Respect-Me Rules.

You do not need the book to finish the tutorial, but the book and its companion workbook will teach you exactly how to apply the program in your relationship. This tutorial prepares you for the real work to learn new skills found in Respect-Me Rules Individual & Group Workbook, Verbal Abuse Defense