abuse runs rife in expat communities. Why?
and control are the abusers weapons of mass
destruction, easily obtained by removing the victim
from family, friends and social support back home to
a foreign country.
Often, prior to
relocation, emotional abuse is less obvious, and
concealed under the busyness of family, friends, work
and everyday life.
is obvious even intolerable, and the move abroad
is seen as a solution to the ‘problem’.
And in some cases,
there is no apparent abuse until the couple move
abroad and get to know each other and the ‘honeymoon’
period wears off.
people are abused as
targets of expat con artists, manipulators or serial
But in all cases
the abuse is not caused by a new city, country or the
process of relocation.
The bottom line is
abuse is caused by the abuser.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is- constant criticism,
silent treatment, creating self- doubt (gas lighting),
lying, mind-games, control, jealousy, name-calling,
creating confusion, cheating, raging, scapegoating,
triangulating, smear campaigns, future-faking.
As a counsellor and
expat woman living in France, I often hear the following
statements from my expat clients-
We’ve been married
for years, when we moved to France he became more
controlling and jealous of my family and friends.
When we retired
abroad, I thought he’d be less stressed, but the abuse
got worse. He became obsessive about everything, until I
felt I couldn’t do anything right.
I fell pregnant
while studying in Paris, we moved in together, had a
child and now he and his family, make my life a misery.
We met in France
after my wife died. I couldn’t afford to return home and
was glad of her friendship. Little did I know she’d con
me out of my life savings and leave me here with
How expat abusers control and isolate
1. Family contact-
Abuse thrives on isolation. Living thousands of miles
away from family and friends, the emotional abuser
controls contact by timing, monitoring, recording or
listening to Skype/Phone calls. Often abusers
control laptops and mobile devices by checking messages
and recording calls or disrupting the router during
calls, or ensuring insufficient phone credit.
2. Learning the
language-The abuser prevents the partner from attending
language classes or is highly critical of their attempts
to speak, by humiliating in private and public. Being
prevented from speaking the language further isolates
the victim from making meaningful connections in their
control finances by denying their partner a right to
their own money, making them dependent for basic
necessities. By controlling finances the victim is
unable to visit family and friends or have access to
outside support. The abuser may also be the named
person on all legal documents and household accounts,
using the excuse of being more fluent in the
language, rendering the victim without legal
documentation to leave or legally stay in the country.
4. Control of
the victim to sell their family home to buy abroad
and exploiting the use of foreign country law
by placing the title deeds in the abusers name. Or
persuading the victim to use the proceeds of the family
home to buy a joint business, then finding a legal
loop-hole to take full ownership from the victim
5. Control of
drive in a new country takes confidence, time and
practise. The abuser will insist on driving,
criticise the partners driving or deny her access to a
vehicle to further isolate her. She may become
dependent on the abuser for access to airports, trains
and transport to her home country which the abuser may
Social Group- Expat
groups are a great support and often a
close-community, but also a breeding ground for
gossip. The abuser may monitor who the victim spends
time with. or generate a smear campaign to turn people
against them. By isolating the victim from the group,
the abuser is free to have affairs and social contact,
while segregating the victim from the friends, social
and spiritual groups.
Turning children and family against the victim and
threatening to keep the children's passports, making
them unable to go on holiday or leave the country. Guilt
tripping the victim into staying, as leaving would
'break up the family' and 'ruin' the ‘dream life abroad’
or ruin their relationship with foreign grandparents.
Alternatively, the abuser may threaten to leave, taking
the children, leaving the victim alone in a foreign
Can the emotional abuser change?
This is the most
common question clients ask in counselling and sadly the
answer depends on many factors. If the abuser has many
traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder or
Antisocial Personality Disorder, not only will they
not be willing to change but the chances of
change are extremely unlikely, due to their lack of
empathy and self-awareness. Couples counselling is also
ineffective with NPD and ASPD as the abusive partner
manipulates the therapy session or appears to
cooperate only to use the victim’s disclosure as a
further means to increase
NPD and ASPD are
synonymous with emotional abuse, manipulation and
However, not all
emotional abusers are Narcissistic/Antisocial
abusive people can change, providing they become self
–aware, actively work to change their behaviour and
respect their partners boundaries.
What can you do?
You are the expert
in your own life and
only you can decide what the best solution is for you
and your family.
Choosing a trusted
non- judgmental friend or family member you can
talk to, either in your country of residence or back
home is not easy, but can help validate your situation
and make you feel that
you’re not going crazy.
There’s also much
free support, advice and information online in
your own language. Online counselling is also
highly effective with a therapist who understands
emotional abuse and/or personality disorders.