Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

Seeing Through the Charms of an Illusionist

Are you being fooled?

"Bill is such a great guy!"

Carly smiled and made some sort of neutral comment. It did absolutely no good to dispute the evidence of Bill's obvious charm. He was engaging, witty, energetic, and charismatic. People liked him. She knew the feeling. When Carly first met Bill, she was overwhelmed by his outgoing nature. His gestures were larger than life, outlandish even. But to a young woman being courted, he seemed the walking incarnation of romance. She was being wooed. What she didn't realize was that while she was being wooed by Bill, she and everyone else were being fooled. Bill's grand gestures and protestations of care and love were for general audiences only. In the intimacy of the private viewing area called home, Bill turned out to be someone quite different.

At first Carly just put up with Bill's moodiness, nastiness, and withdrawing into himself. She figured he would snap out of it. It didn't take her long to learn that Bill's negative private behavior could turn in an instant if someone came over to the apartment. Finally, she mentioned to Bill her concern over the way he treated her at home as opposed to the way he treated her in front of others.

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Bill's reaction was astonishment. He acted as if he had no idea what she was talking about. Every incident she brought up was countered with a rush of excuses, reasons, and outright denials as Bill fought to maintain the illusion of himself as the compassionate lover, the life of the party, the perfect soul mate. It struck Carly that Bill needed her only as long as she continued to mirror the reflection of himself he so needed to see.

Illlusionists are generally highly intelligent, charismatic people who thrive on being seen well by others. As long as there is an audience, they are "on." Because it takes a great deal of energy to be "on," their "off" persona may be the exact opposite. In public they are witty and humorous; in private they are sarcastic and cutting. In public they are deferential and attentive; in private they are hostile and distant. In public they are happy and easygoing; in private they are sullen and angry.

Being in a relationship with an illusionist can cause you to doubt your own judgment. Because illusionists are generally highly intelligent, they are able to convince you, even in the face of contrary evidence, that the concerns you have are invalid. If there is a problem, you are always portrayed as the source. Feigning confusion, they appear shocked that you find their behavior unusual. If you ask other people, people who have seen only the carefully constructed illusion, you may not get the validation of your concerns. Instead, you may hear a reiteration of how wonderful the illusionist is. Highly persuasive, the illusionist is very adept at creating and maintaining a positive image.

What is most important to illusionists is the maintenance of the illusion of who they are. You are valuable to them only when you are helping them to maintain this illusion. You become a danger to them if you question the illusion they have created. Because the illusion is more important to them than you are, the truth is never acknowledged. Your reality of events and circumstances is consistently denied, downplayed, explained away, rejected. This is a pernicious form of emotional abuse in that it causes the abused to second-guess his or her own assessment of the relationship and the circumstances surrounding the relationship. As such, many will stay in the relationship for an extended period of time until their ability to help their abuser maintain the illusion demands too great an emotional toll. At this point, the abused person will leave but with his or her sense of self seriously tattered. After all, how could anyone leave such a great person? Because others have not seen through his illusion, the abused person who leaves can appear to be in the wrong. Not only does the abused lose the relationship, but he or she may lose any friends made during the relationship.

If you are in a relationship with an illusionist, or have been in the past, what has this relationship taught you about the world and how it works?

What have you learned that you believe is true? What have you learned that you believe is a lie?

What negative messages do you carry around today because of their abusive words and actions? What positive messages can you counter them with?

2009 Healing the Scares of Emotional Abuse, Gregory L. Jantz, Revell

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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