8 Ways Emotional Abusers Can and Will Abuse Polyamory
The intimacy of a Polyamorous relationship is intense. Feelings of adventure, pain, and deep respect are flowing like faucets into the people experiencing them. There’s a heightened rawness of creating new road maps for relationships, making mistakes, and making conscious efforts that bring forth love and connection.
People say love is a battlefield but think of it as a trial arena. You might find yourself practicing love for yourself and others in ways that you weren’t ever shown or don’t want to admit ever existed before you found them.
Furthermore, you open yourself up to more than one person. The ups and downs and passions and complacencies are multiplied. This is fertile ground for self-discovery and development blossoms amazing relationships and painful lessons.
That’s how I’ve experienced Polyamory, mostly.
I’ve also had the beautiful awakening to Polyamory stained and used against me. I’ve seen it destroy people because their gift of openness was unknowingly placed in the wrong hands. The hands of abusers.
Abusers don’t just abuse people. They abuse concepts. Religions, habits, gender roles, societal constructs. The newest of this kin being Polyamory. A resurgence and mainstreaming of nonmonogamy has shown its shadow as abusers take the sacred relationships and turn them into tools to feed their own ends.
This abuse can sometimes take the form of forcing a partner into Polyamory. Imagine having a fine relationship monogamously and then being taken on a whirlwind of being cheated on and made to feel lesser because the person you love is “into Polyamory” all of a sudden.
The other side of the coin is a pair or group of partners taking on the life of Polyamory consensually and then finding that they are not being listened to, appreciated, or respected. In fact, instead of the loving hopes they had, they are being cruelly manipulated by the very love that they set out to cultivate.
Because of my personal obsession with Polyamory and the (probably too optimistic and over the top) love that I have for it, I get sick to my stomach thinking that there are people out there destroying people’s lives with it.
I’ve watched people walk away from nonmonogamy because of how they were treated and I don’t blame them.
Abusers use their status as a parent, their ability to cook, and even their charisma to take away the identities of people and replace it with an altar to their own influence. It only makes sense that Polyamory is added to the list of ways these people hurt others.
They want to see people broken and know that they broke them. Unfortunately, Polyamory is an easy way to do it.
1) Polyamory Gaslighting
Gaslighting can take many forms and often occurs as a way for an abuser to disarm and confuse their victim. They will insist that you are imagining things and try to make it appear as though their abuse isn’t happening when it clearly is.
While gaslighting may sound like a horrible psycho thing that nobody would ever do, I’d like to point out it is happening to an entire country right now.
Gaslighting creates brain fog and confuses people into questioning their own reality. Once a person is questioning their reality, it is easy for an abuser or manipulator to swoop in and construct their own. A reality where they themselves are doing nothing wrong and their partner is inexplicably hurt, jealous, and emotionally exhausted.
In the context of Polyamory Gaslighting, a person can claim the upper hand in constructing reality in the same way. With equal parts “You’re crazy”, “That never happened”, and “If that did happen, it is what you wanted”. It is often far more subtle than that, but in order to see that those are the ideas underlying the incredibly hurtful and confusing things somebody you love is saying, you must first distrust them and access deep intuition. This is not always an option when you are under an abuser’s thumb.
Didn’t you want to be polyamorous?
This is your jealousy talking, I’ve done nothing wrong.
This is what it means to be nonmonogamous.
If any person ever says “this is what you wanted” in reference to something you actually did not want, chances are they are trying to manipulate you.
Gaslighting is already torture. When it is combined with the power of Polyamorous love, it can take a disgusting, life-shattering form. If they tell you something didn’t happen or should not hurt you, remember that you are the perceiver of your reality.
2) Weaponizing Jealousy
I will point out that any person can weaponize jealousy no matter what their relationship orientation. Jealousy is just like any other tool in the kit of a covert narcissist.
It is tricky because jealousy actually occurs. It is a very real, painful, and gross feeling. We all get it, no matter how good we are at dealing with it. Healthy reactions and discussions help manage the jealousy we feel and work through those barriers to connection.
When a manipulator gets hold of this truth, it can be used to create an elaborate scaffolding outside of the home of a relationship to pull out bricks of security and compassion like Jenga blocks.
Jealousy is not the responsibility of anyone except the person that is feeling jealousy. A partner often does emotional labor for the jealous person as an act of love and care.
Simply, to blame another person for one’s own jealousy is not accurate or fair.
Even more disturbing is that it can go both ways. Either a person is blaming you for their intense jealousy to point of abuse or they using your own jealous feelings to abuse you.
The key to trying to identify the lines between healthy and toxic is found in words. Many will say that words don’t matter and they are all very wrong. Words matter so much.
For example, identifying what is under the jealousy can help you express it in the right way. Asking your partner to join you in that habit will hopefully prevent jealousy from becoming the blanket term that can be manipulated and used to manipulate.
Instead of just, “I feel jealous,” try to find out why you are jealous.
I feel insecure.
I feel like I’m missing out.
I feel like I’m being forgotten.
I feel like I’m not enough
From there, a real conversation can begin and chances of using the term “jealousy” as a form of control decrease.
That being said, the elaborations aren’t a cure for an abusive person. If a partner is refusing to elaborate or uses the explanations of their jealousy to shame or hurt you, the conversation is over. Leave.
3) Boundary Blasphemy
In Polyamory, boundaries are often rewritten and compromised to find the loving center for all of the people involved. There are lots of discussions about what is and isn’t okay with the idea of reaching a place where every person has the freedom to pursue their love and attraction but has a firm grasp on what might hurt or betray their partner.
Polyamorous relationships are also less likely to follow the relationship escalator. This means that not only the terms of partnering up are different, but sometimes the progression or growth of their relationship can go in a different order. Without the binds of a relationship escalator, people involved in uncharted and customized relationship paths have conversations and make decisions about their intentional relationships.
This beautiful negotiation process can take anywhere from a couple of dates to a couple of years and has the potential to lead to strong relationships full of life, intimacy, and adventure. Monogamy has built-in boundaries that help partners mostly know what is expected from the get-go. This is also cool.
But uncertainty is still possible and is particularly unstable in a relationship with an abusive partner. In a complex negotiation, the manipulation of boundaries starts before they are even formed.
The enemy of abuse is a firm, immovable boundary. If an abuser cannot penetrate, abolish, or step over the boundary then they have lost.
4) Covert Word Salad
Victims of abuse might already know the pain, brain fog, and frustration that comes with Word Salad. This tactic is an exhausting force of communication that holds victims socially and emotionally hostage.
The term itself is based on the nonsensical linking of unrelated words that are sometimes indications of severe mental health issues.
Word Salad from a coherent narcissist or sociopath is a cyclical conversation that has no point or solution. The aim of the tactic is for the manipulator to feel really important for a long period of time. Often, they are really committed to talking without interruption until the person listening simply cannot follow their words.
It might already be obvious how Polyamory is a playground for sociopathic or narcissistic Word Salad. In a relationship style that boasts “communication is key”, this form of abuse can slip under the radar.
It is often the case that the manipulator with start with seemingly real concerns about the relationship and then slip in and out of insulting their listener’s insecurities, criticizing their past behavior, or projecting guilt and shame onto them.
Communication may be key but if it isn’t healthy communication in the first place… find a different door.
Isolating a person is a trademark sign of abuse and can be incredibly dangerous. It prevents a victim from reaching out or seeing other examples of relationships that might wake them up to their situation.
While it might seem hard to imagine how this can happen in Polyamory, it certainly does. Abusers will ask for exclusivity, set unrealistic and hurtful boundaries, or insist on other partners being taken out of the picture.
Ultimatums are often a sign of an attempt to control. If the ultimatum brings you further from your community or polycule, it is probably an attempt to isolate you.
I have made the choice to be monogamous for many partners. Some of them abusive, some of them totally not. The difference between the two was clear.
In the totally healthy case, I was willing and choosing to try Monogamy for people in much the same way loving Monogamous people had been willing to try Polyamory with me. In the toxic case, I was shamed for my abilities and preferences. I was manipulated into being with the person that I thought loved me despite my omniloving and sweet, slutty nature.
With Monogamy being treated like the default relationship style, it is easy for a little manipulation to break a nonmonogamous person down. They can use the excuse the Polyamory is not normal or socially acceptable and they are ready to “settle down”.
Discern the difference in your own life. What I want is to be seen and loved for who I am. Anyone who considers being with me a compromise is not invited.
“Supply” is a term used to describe how abusers (particularly narcissists) use people to feed their ego and needs selfishly and without consideration. Supplies can be friends, family, or romantic partners but are often more commonly the latter.
For a Polyamorous narcissistic abuser, there is an opportunity to carry and juggle more than one supply at a time. Unlike actual, loving, Polyamorous dating, this rotating and overlapping of supplies is to create tons of drama, pit people against each other, and feed the self-esteem of the abuser.
In a newly opened-up or fresh Polyam relationship, it can be hard to tell if how you are being treated is “right” or “acceptable”. While nonmonogamy is not all candy butterfly rainbow group sex, there is room to check in and see if you are happy with how you are being treated by your partner when you have those feelings.
If you notice that you are being hurt by the way your partner is with other partners, do not ignore it. If you are seeing signs of love bombing, lying, or unnecessarily hiding of details about other relationships, it might be a good idea to see why that is.
Do they brush your concern off and call it jealousy?
Do they spend time with other partners on special occasions or when you request their time?
Do they listen when you express concern about these things or do they defend their own behavior when you bring it up?
Do they gaslight you about the other partner?
Do they disrespect the boundaries you’ve set about the other partner(s) around children, family, and friends?
These could be indications of a person using their other “supply” to manipulate your relationship to yourself and to others. It might even be that you are just seeing a relationship from the outside and noticing abuse you might not otherwise see. In that case, the narcs desprate need for supply has worked in your favor by showing you that you need to get out.
7) The One Penis Policy
I have a huge aversion to this common rule in Polyamory. It makes me queasy because it implies a lot of things about sex, gender, and self-esteem that are not true.
I will say this: A woman’s value is not decreased by having a penis inside of her.
Believing that is an insult to the penis and a tool of oppression used against particularly women.
Some people do not realize that The One Penis policy is just internalized sexism manifesting itself in Polyamory. Some people do know that and don’t care.
Being able to remain a confident person when a person you love experiences another penis does wonders for connection. Not all people that have penises are men, but people that are socialized as men have been conditioned and teased into having penis hang-ups since childhood.
It is not easy for a man to overcome these insecurities if they have never had to examine them. The one penis policy ensures that they never have to examine them at all.
A very specific isolation occurs when an abuser uses this popular boundary to control their partner. Not only does it prevent connections with people that have penises- people that may be masculine or protective- it also opens the door to slut shaming.
Agreeing to The One Penis Policy is sometimes a way to protect a relationship during its early stages. Imagine a heteronormative partner-style relationship “opening up” to Polyamory with the condition that the woman in the relationship only sleeps with other women.
By doing this, everyone involved is admitting that there is something wrong with a woman wanting to have sex with other men. That piece right there can be used as a weapon in every realm of the relationship. Controlling a woman’s sexuality is the core of male partnership abuse in monogamous relationships, Polyamorous relationships, and society as a whole.
While men roping women into this policy isn’t the only way this rule happens, it is an easy trap to fall into because it is common and normalized in the community.
If it does not feel fair or right to be held a standard that you’d be happier without, bounce and go get all the penises you want.
8) Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
This rule is by far the most commonly thrown around in early Polyamory. The idea is that a happy nonmonogamous relationship can be achieved with each partner only giving out information when asked about it.
It almost never works and I don’t condone it.
However, it’s popularity means that the trap can be laid from the get-go by manipulators and abusers. Keeping their partner in the dark about other lovers and interactions makes it harder for boundaries to be set. It also gives them the opportunity to use deception or the illusion of deception to shame or gaslight pretty easily.
Openness and honesty are part of the fabric of Polyamorous love. No matter the abuse level of and open relationship, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will lead a relationship away from communal joy and into avoidable hurt and risks.
In the face of all these abuse tactics, it is important to remember that any person can do the things that are listed here.
A perfectly happy, healthy person can be struck with jealousy and desperately manipulate their lover to get control back.
A victim of childhood abuse can accidentally gaslight to protect their own ego.
A scared partner can overstep a boundary in order to retain a sense of importance in a relationship.
That person can unexpectedly become you.
There are sociopaths and narcissists and out-right aggressive abuser to watch out for, but we must also know what abuse it and truly eradicate it from our own behavior as well. In the midst of an abusive relationship, it will be hard to see when things go from “perfectly normal reactions” to “this person is abusing me constantly”.
One key component of most abuse types is that the intermediately laced with passionate, close, connected love. Often the best sex you’ve ever had. Often the most seen you’ve ever felt. Inside of that storm, it will be hard to admit that you are in love with a person that would do to this you.
So, ask yourself: Do I feel safe talking to my partner about this?
If the answer is “No” or “I don’t want to go through having to bring it up to them because of X, Y, or Z,” I invite you to realize that those answers are the same thing.
Polyamory opens us up to a vulnerability unlike that of Monogamy for many people. Do not give the reins to a person who will abuse that privilege.
Sources and More: