Rhoberta Shaler offers insight into why your romantic partner treats you poorly.
Do you live on edge, knowing that at any minute you could suffer from a stinger, a snide comment, or a cold shoulder from your partner?
Are disdain and disapproval always waiting in the wings?
Are you generally on-guard and waiting for the other shoe to drop?
If this sounds like your life, you may be with a chronically difficult person, or the type of person I call a Hijackal™. I define Hijackals as “people who hijack relationships for their own purposes, while relentlessly scavenging them for power, status, and control.”
If your answer is “Yes” to these, your relationship is in Hijackal territory:
- Are you always wrong, no matter how caring, factual, or accurate you are?
- Are you caught in an endless cycle of trying to please someone who makes it their mission never to be pleased?
- Does your partner justify his/her behavior, no matter how outrageous, thoughtless, and self-centered it is?
- Is your partner taking advantage of you—while likely saying you are weak, useless, and uninteresting—because you are reliable, responsible, and resilient?
You are most likely not incapable, inconsiderate, or incompetent, but you are treated as if that is your basic nature. When that is so, more frequently than not, you are with a person who has Hijackal tendencies:
Hijackals are crazy-making, yet appealing. They are masters of manipulation and exploitation. And, they prey on people who will turn themselves into a pretzel to please them.
A full-blown Hijackal needs to feel in control and in charge at all times. It is a need: she is hugely anxious when not feeling in control. And, he will up the ante in a heartbeat to regain and maintain control.
My client, John, was well beaten down when he first came to see me, beaten down by his ex, Ellen, by her therapist, by her attorney, and by the courts. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. Hijackals hoodwink too many professionals, and the courts don’t recognize Hijackal hijinks for what they are.
John and Ellen had one son, a child she never wanted, and he adored. A few months after their son’s birth, Ellen was fed up with being “tied down to a baby and home.” She was “too young not to have fun,” even though she was in her mid-thirties and had partied hardy most of her life. John raised their son virtually alone as Ellen partied, returning home drunk, sick, and wasted. John did everything he could to create a sense of family. Finally, they divorced.
Ellen was still consistently acting out. She was a self-professed substance and alcohol abuser, a fact she put in the court record one day when she was trying to prove she was a fit mother. (Go figure! Hijackals will do anything to win in the moment, and sometimes, they shoot themselves in the foot like this.)
Eventually, Ellen remarried and turned her attention away from her ex and son. The new man was the focus. She continued her abusive, partying ways once he was on the hook. Soon, he was suffering from her sharp tongue, irrational behavior, and complete disregard for him or the relationship. He could not believe how he had been sucked in, swallowed, and spit out. They divorced. (Is this sounding at all familiar?)
So, single again with no winning in sight, Ellen once again turned her attention to John and how she could destroy him … and his healthy relationship with their son. (Remember, that need to win prevails!) She employed anything she could to tear him down, rip things apart, and upset everyone. Then, the fight really began.
In true Hijackal form, Ellen did everything in her power—and from her Dad’s bottomless pockets—to make the court think that John was an unfit parent. She had her attorney file one ex parte motion after another. (P.S. When you divorce a Hijackal AND you have children, court can begin to seem like your second home.)
Ellen made allegations about John to Child Protective Services. All were deemed unfounded. On the other hand, Ellen was reported to CPS several times and many were substantiated. A minor detail in her irrational thought pattern!
And, that fight continues.
To a Hijackal, divorce falls into the category of “not winning,” and a Hijackal finds that unacceptable. It doesn’t matter to the Hijackal if his or her behavior is/was extreme, unethical, immoral, or just self-centered, self-absorbed, and selfish. S/he must win—and must win in every moment. That’s where the need for control lies. That’s also what keeps the courts overflowing!
Hijackals are attracted to people they think they can manipulate, seduce, and exploit. They have radar for that. They can sense the insecurities in even the most outwardly powerful and successful people. They are acutely attuned to their fears, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. And, once they have lured you into their lairs with their chameleon-like abilities to be whomever you want or need them to be, they begin to dismantle your sense of self.
Once raked, raped—emotionally, if not physically—and ridiculed by a Hijackal, you can be left constantly second-guessing yourself, and questioning your sanity. You’ve likely turned yourself into a pretzel for a long time trying to please a person whose mission is never to be pleased!
Ellen (or the person in your life she may resemble) is a Hijackal because:
- She had to win and was willing to go to any lengths to do so, including damaging John’s reputation with repeated, false CPS allegations and endless court accusations.
- She flip-flopped constantly between being sweet to John to get what she wanted, and viciously turning on him when she didn’t. Unable to win, she gave up sweet and went for his money, well-being, relationship with his son…and his life blood.
- She blamed John for everything that made her unhappy. Nothing he did was ever good enough. Even her alcohol and drug use came up as his fault. After all, he trapped her into being a mother, and a girl has to have fun!
- She doesn’t know another way of being. Life threatens her and she responds by lashing out, alienating herself from everyone who resists her control. She must be front and center … and obeyed … or she will make your life a living hell.
- She chose a man who would love her in spite of her outbursts, irrational behavior, demands and threats. John was predisposed by his life experiences to cater to her needs and whims. He did not want to believe that anyone could be as heartless, cruel, and punishing. Therefore, he held out hope for the relationship long past its stale date.
Strange as it sounds, Hijackals don’t sit up at night trying to think how to rake you over the coals and make you feel not good enough. They learned early on that the world is a very unsafe place and that they need to be both offensive and defensive if they are going to survive. That’s a difficult way to live, and it deserves our compassion, however, it is absolutely imperative that you neither condone or enable their behavior. You’ll need new insights, skills, and strategies to do this.
Hijackals need—and feed on—control, power, and status. They are invested in keeping you down, controlled, and powerless. It is what they think and feel they need to do to stay alive! (Sad, but true!)
If you are or were in a relationship with a Hijackal, you may well be left thinking and feeling that nothing you do is ever right. You feel you are neither enough, or good enough. Disempowering—and untrue.
Tempting as it may be, leaving is not the best first step. Learning is. If you don’t learn, you’ll attract the same relationship and repeat the experience.
If all this is sounding too familiar and you’re worn down and worn out, it’s time for a new plan. Speak up consistently. Create and maintain your boundaries. Tell the truth. Reject the blame. Stick to your guns, and get help immediately.
And, if you’re dating someone who fits the Hijackal description, see the red flags, stop, step away, turn, and run!