How Flattery Can Be Abusive
It’s easy to identify bullying, intimidation, physical restraint, or molestation as abusive. But what about other, more subtle forms of abuse that seem on the surface to be kind and generous, then are not. Think of it as a mask of deception used to control, manipulate, and eventually abuse. To the outside world the mask may appear to be attractive, but to the person on the receiving end it feels like a hidden form of torture.
To be clear, this is not about a compliment, it is about flattery. The difference is quite significant. A compliment is an unconditional gift of praise, whereas flattery is excessive and insincere praise given to win favor. On the surface the praise could look innocent, but in time the deception of flattery is revealed.
What does this type of flattery look like? Here are a couple of examples:
- Flattery on the rocks – “As a wise person, you can see the wisdom in my idea.” This implies that a person is only wise as long as they see the idea as good.
- Flattery straight-up – “You look marvelous.” This is a flat statement with no obvious deception initially. However, later the statement might be more like, “You looked marvelous before.” The implication is that the person no longer looks good now and should change.
- Flattery with a twist – “You whole face lights up when you see them, it’s not like you.” The implication is that a person is not normally happy. This is a passive-aggressive insult added to the flattery.
- Mixed flattery – “You would be smart not to piss me off.” This statement incorporates flattery with a threat. The key to the level of threat is which word has the most emphasis: smart or piss.
- Watered-down flattery – “I can’t remember your birthday because you look younger every year.” Basically this statement incorporates flattery with an excuse by blaming the other person.
- Double shot of flattery – “You are so beautiful and smart. I can’t believe how amazing you are.” This is excessive flattery signals the other person that something hurtful is on the horizon.
- Hot toddy flattery – “You look angelic when you are angry.” This is flattery mixed with an anger inducing comment. It is designed to be directly hurtful and provoking.
- Flattery chased with a mixer– “You are so kind. Let’s have sex.” This flattering statement is quickly followed with a selfish request.
The difficult part of these statements is that on the surface they can be rather innocent or even enticing. But in the case of abuse, these comments are usually followed by verbal assaults, physical violence or manipulation. Done often enough, it generates a conditioned response where it only takes a small flattering statement to bring on intense anxiety or even a panic attack. The flattery becomes a warning of sorts that the abuse is imminent.
The key to knowing if this is happening in a relationship is to observe the person receiving the flattering remark. Do they immediately stiffen up, take a deep breath, or look downward? If so, they might be secretly abused. Usually a person in this situation responds well to demonstrations of care and concern that are void of any type of flattering remarks. It is hard for them to trust anyone who engages in flattery when abuse has been the outcome. Be kind to them, they are hurting and in need of support.
Christine Hammond is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Certified Couselor who lives in Orlando and is the award-winning author of The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook.
Hammond, C. (2017). How Flattery Can Be Abusive. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2017, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2017/01/how-flattery-can-be-abusive/