The Abuser’s Toolkit

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Recently, there’s been some discussion of the behavior of a predatory hypnotist in the community – the linked piece was written for FetLife, which deletes posts that name predators, but the author’s since reblogged it to clarify that the person under discussion is Nimja, and I would like it to be absolutely clear that I believe the many well-documented allegations against this person, and I do not believe that he is a safe person to learn from or play with.

But because it’s sadly all too common for someone like this to disappear, only to pop up under a new screen name a few years later once everyone’s forgotten about them, I was thinking about using the well-written piece above as a springboard to write down some of my own thoughts about “red flags” for predatory hypnotists and/or dominants. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of my red flags could be reduced down to a single tactic that had multiple manifestations: Pressure. Human beings don’t make good decisions under pressure, and abusive people (and this is by no means limited to hypnosis, or even kink) use that by creating a pressure-filled situation around all of the decisions you need to make. I’m going to discuss a few examples, but these are all just ways that abusers create that emotionally pressurized atmosphere. The key thing, which I cannot stress enough, is to get used to recognizing that underlying emotional sensation before you wind up in a situation where it becomes important.

One of the most frequent kinds of pressure an abuser applies is time pressure. They will prompt you to make a decision immediately, either with a direct deadline or the implication of a limit on their schedule/patience/whatever, forcing you to accept their terms or lose the opportunity to get hypnotized (or bound, or flogged, or whatever it is they’re offering). They do this because they know that once you’ve said yes to something, it’s going to be that much harder to subsequently back out and change that yes to a no.

That’s because of another major form of pressure, social pressure. We are all, to some extent, socialized to go along with group consensus and do what others are doing. Human beings are social animals, we have adopted this as a survival strategy since we were lemurs, and setting aside all of the evo-psych bullshit that comes along with saying “the brain is hardwired to…”, the human brain really is hardwired to agree with the group. Abusers will try to use this to their advantage by surrounding you with a group that already agrees with them, isolating you from your support network, and presenting you with their opinions in a form that challenges you to disagree. (Gaslighting is basically a one-on-one form of social pressure.)

That challenge can escalate into another distinct form of pressure, what I think of as confrontational pressure. This is where they make it as uncomfortable as possible for you to say no to them – not necessarily with overt threats of violence, although most abusers do eventually escalate to that point, but with displays of temper, verbal expressions of disdain, petulance, and a variety of emotional abuse inflicted on you when you do something that doesn’t accord with their decisions. You may not be the target of this emotional abuse – many abusers threaten self-harm if their dictums aren’t followed. But your refusal to comply will always be suggested as the cause.

(One important thing to remember about this is that the abuser is not likely to respond with proportional intensity. Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful training tool operant conditioning has to offer, and the abuser will use that by reacting with very intense anger to relatively small things, or kindness and “forgiveness” to very big things. The state they want you in is to imagine that any disagreement at all could prompt the next explosion, and to police yourself accordingly.)

A particular danger for the kink community, especially with “big name” hypnotists like Nimja, is competitive pressure. This is as simple as it is cruel; the abuser creates the impression, either implicitly or explicitly, that you’re in competition with others for their favors and that the only way to continue receiving their attention is to abnegate those facets of your personality that don’t suit their desires. It’s especially common among kink celebrities, well-known riggers or convention organizers or the like – they’re able to very easily create an atmosphere where new people in the community feel special for being singled out for their attentions, not realizing that they’re being selected precisely because they’re not integrated into the community well enough to know about the abuser’s patterns of behavior. (This is also a form of social pressure. Many of these overlap and interact.)

Another kind of pressure that has a strong interaction with competitive and social pressure is transactional pressure. This is your basic guilt trip; the abuser provides you with something, usually without asking, and then attempts to extract something from you in exchange for the thing of value they provided. The most obvious example is, “I hypnotized you, but you don’t want to have sex with me?”, but really this is a staple tactic of abusers everywhere because it’s so insidious and plays on people’s sense of fairness. If you have a boss who buys lunch for the office, then a couple days later starts asking people to work through their breaks, you’re seeing transactional pressure at work. (Literally as well as figuratively.)

One other form of pressure I feel like I absolutely have to mention, primarily because a lot of the same people who study “covert hypnosis” tactics also study pick-up artist techniques, is oppositional pressure. This is a form of social pressure, but it’s a little bit more subtle and insidious; instead of presenting a positive group consensus that you’re expected to go along with to gain the approval of the group, the abuser presents a negative stereotype that you’re expected to defy to gain the approval of the group. “When I saw your picture, I really thought you were going to be a huge prude” is the kind of statement that sets out a clear pattern of behavior that the abuser wants you to avoid, in the hopes that you’ll overcompensate by adopting a pattern of behavior more to their liking.

There are almost certainly more – I don’t pretend to be an expert at this, and I honestly kind of hate understanding it as well as I do. But the most important thing to take away is that all of them are trying to create that same feeling, a sense of stress and emotional discomfort with a clear strategy for relief, namely going along with the abuser’s wishes. This is how they operate. This is how they’re going to operate from the very beginning to the very end of your relationship with them. They won’t start out with the dial turned all the way up to 11; the pressure will begin with small things, and only gradually escalate to the big horrible stuff. But it will be there right from the start.

Fortunately, that’s also a good way to recognize them. There’s a famous book, The Gift of Fear, that discusses some specific signs and predictors of physical and emotional violence, but I think that “the gift of stress” is every bit as good a description. If you find that the person you’re talking to is making you anxious and upset when you don’t do what they wanted, if it feels like they’re demanding or critical or strict, if you find yourself worried about what they’ll do if you say “no” to them… that’s a sign. Things are not going to get better from there. It is never too early to back out of an interaction you feel uncomfortable with, and you do not need a reason. (Oh, and there’s another form of pressure right there. “I just want to know why you’ve stopped talking to me!” The answer is never going to be good enough for the abuser. Don’t even bother saying it.)

I know that cutting off contact with an abuser isn’t always an option. If it’s available, though, it’s the best option. It’s certainly the safest. If it’s not available, though… the only thing I can suggest is to try to put the pressure back on them. Use these same tactics against them if you can. Build up a support network of people who won’t let them get away with it, make them as uncomfortable as possible when they challenge you, call them out as an abuser and force them to go against the negative stereotype of the creepy jerk. It probably won’t make them change their behavior, but it may at least make them look for another target. Sometimes, sadly enough, that’s all you can hope for.

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One Response to “The Abuser’s Toolkit”

  1. KeybladeSpirit Says:

    This has helped a lot with contextualizing something that I’ve struggled with from the other side. I’m extremely insecure about the possibility that I’m behaving abusively and tend to cut myself off from people when I feel like I’m doing it to them. I’ve gotten better about it lately, trying to do or say things that immediately take away pressure if I feel I’ve created it, but it’s still a struggle to deal with when I realize too long after the fact that I’ve overstepped my bounds.

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