Let’s say you want to write a villain who doesn’t wear black, doesn’t have a weapon and doesn’t do all the things that typical baddies do. You want an emotionally abusive villain.
Emotionally abusive villains are scarier than the Darth Vader types, in my humble opinion. They can play with a person’s mind, trick them into thinking that they are safe, twist their reality and torture their soul. In real life and in real literature emotionally abusive villains have been responsible for all kinds of evil.
Often emotional abusers are subtle.
They don’t go for the obvious name-calling. Instead, they want to be seen as following the letter of the law. They’ll look good, but inside be crawling with nastiness.
This list is an idea of how you can make your antagonist eviler. You probably have met people like this. (I’m sorry. Here’s a hug.)
They interrupt. Many people interrupt, but abusers interrupt because they hold contempt for the speaker. Their words are the most important and they don’t care who knows it. Your emotionally abusive villain should interrupt constantly.
They take someone’s exact words and throws them back at them. In an argument, an abuser will use anything they can to confuse or frustrate the speaker. Your emotionally abusive villain should always be listening for secret words that they can throw back in your protagonist’s face.
Makes assumptions about your motives. Your emotionally abusive villain should have a twisted sense of reality: they’ll believe that everyone is just as evil as he is.
“It is not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” ―Aisha Mirza
Drones on for hours about problems, talking in circles, wearing you down so you will agree just to get them to stop. Abusers are often illogical and love the sound of their own voice. Your emotionally abusive villain should tie your protagonist up into a web of words that are confusing and baffling.
Redefines words to make them mean what they want them to mean. Abusers believe that they are the authority on certain issues and they will make sure that you are educated. Your emotionally abusive villain should believe in their own “superior” intelligence and demonstrate it at every chance.
One-ups you at every opportunity. Abusers love putting you down. They can outdo nearly everything about your life because the want to be the best. Your emotionally abusive villain should look for chances to show off and then pout if they don’t get one.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ―Plato
Blames you for things that are out of your control. Abusers don’t see that you accidentally fell down the stairs and broke your ankle. Abusers claim it was your klutziness that did it. Your emotionally abusive villain should take advantage of your protagonist’s bad luck and make them feel as bad as they can.
Exercises financial control over you. An abuser will want to have a joint checking account with you. They will want to know how much things cost. They don’t mind loaning you money if they can use the loan to manipulate you later.
Subtly attacks the things you love, like your spouse or your pets. Abusers will sneer at the things that you have the most affection for because they don’t love at all. They really are jealous of the things you’ve opened your heart to. Your emotionally abusive villain should have nothing nice to say about anything.
“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ―Henry James
Ignores your excitement about your passions or preferences. An abuser will often react passively to your good news or your next opportunity. They withhold affection and excitement on purpose because they know they can control you. Your emotionally abusive villain should be cold. Ice cold.
So, I’m really glad I can recognize the emotional abusers in my life. These types of people are no fun at all to know in real life. But in fiction, they can be a great antagonist.
What else can you add to this list to make an emotionally abusive villain real?