Language Matters: 

A Survivor's Vocabulary Guide for Dummies

By Dovie Yoana King

Our Latest Blog Entry

March 15, 2017

One of the first steps survivors of domestic violence take in our healing process is psychoeducation about narcissism and emotional abuse. Many of us are beset with post traumatic stress symptoms and by understanding the tactics employed upon us by our abusers, we equip ourselves to reduce the impact of the trauma. With this, comes a new language of empowerment. Here is a sampler of vocabulary words commonly used by survivors in our daily vernacular. 


"Flying monkey" is a phrase used to describe  individuals who surround the perpetrator of abuse and do his dirty work . They are the abuser's closest allies,  helping him carry out his vicious agenda against the victim. Flying monkeys are on the side of the abuser, part of his team, and they actively participate in damaging the victim by smearing, discrediting and re-traumatizing her. Pure and simple, they engage in victim-blaming. A flying monkey can be anyone, the abuser's current partner, family member, friend, colleague, pastor and/or prominent member of the community. Because flying monkeys refuse to believe the victim, they lack insight into the abuser's conduct. In reality, they are dangerous enablers of abuse, providing the abuser cover, protection and a lack of accountability. 


Love bombing is a brutal and dangerous tactic used by abusers to seduce and control women from day one. It typically occurs early in the dating relationship whereby the abuser showers his new partner with affection, attention, gifts and dreamy promises about the future.  A whirlwind romance progresses quickly and the rush of having a new lover blinds the victim in her tracks. She is infatuated with his charm and loses sight of the red flags appearing along the way. It just seems "too good to be true" to her. The honeymoon feeling doesn’t last long, however, and as soon as the abuser knows he has his partner under control, he reveals his true colors and the abuse begins. This commonly happens when the couple gets engaged or married, moves in together or has a child. The domestic violence can quickly escalate. Note: this type of abuser is often a narcissist or sociopath.


Hoovering is a technique that is named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner, and is when the abuser tries to get his former partner to reengage with him after the relationship has ended. In effect, he is trying to gain control over the victim by sucking her back into contact. The hoovering can either be positive attention by the abuser, or negative attention intended to engage the victim in an argument and ongoing conflict. One way abusers effectively hoover their victims is by using the legal system to force their former partners into having contact with them. With enough financial resources at their disposal, some abusers have the ability to interact with their former partners in divorce and custody litigation for many years. In the process, the victim is emotionally, economically and psychologically depleted, and hindered from moving on with her life. It is the ultimate move for power and control.


Gaslighting is a term that comes from the 1938 stage play, Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy. Gaslighting is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question her memory, sanity, instincts and feelings. There are a variety of gaslighting techniques an abuser might use:

1. He pretends not to understand (“What? You are making no sense.);

2. He constantly questions the victim’s recollection of events (“Are you sure I said that? You have a bad memory.”);

3. He changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts (“It’s all in your head. You are tired and not thinking clearly right now.”);

4. He trivializes the victim's feelings and makes her feel unimportant ("You are too sensitive. You get angry over every little thing.");

5. He repeatedly denies things or seems to forget ("I never hit you! You’re making things up again.").

Once an abuser has broken down the victim’s ability to trust her own perceptions, she is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship. This gives the abuser power and control over his victim.

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