Abusive Men and Their Allies

19, May 2011 at 7:10 PM (defeated, scapegoated, trapped) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Various notes on the subject from Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. All italics in the original, bold is mine; my exclusions and comments are in brackets:

Abusive Men and Their Allies
There continues to be social pressure on women to “make the relationship work” and “find a way to hold the family together,” regardless of abuse. Since so many people accept the misconception that the abuse comes from bad relationship dynamics, they see the woman as sharing responsibility equally for “getting things to go better.” Into this context steps the abuser, telling his partner’s friends, “I still really want to work things out, but she isn’t willing to try. I guess it isn’t worth the effort to her. And she’s refusing to look at her part in what went wrong; she puts it all on me.”

[My ex said exactly the same thing to me, my friends, his friends, his family and his therapist!]

What her family and friends may not know is that when an abused woman refuses to “look at her part” in the abuse, she has actually taken a powerful step out of the self-blame and toward emotional recovery. She doesn’t have any responsibility for his actions. Anyone who tries to get her to share responsibility is adopting the abuser’s perspective. [helping him abuse her]

[What he calls his “support network” is often so wildly misinformed and prejudiced in his favour that it functions only to enable him to continue abusing his partner and not feel too bad about it– and that’s just the way he likes it. My partner would argue me to death to try to make me “look at” how “abusive” I was supposedly being to him when I would stick up for myself or defend myself against his abuse. He would get crazy with rage whenever I refused to blame myself for his actions or absorb his abuse with a smile. I knew, just as it says here, that he was responsible for his own actions and that I did not deserve to be treated that way. His rages prove to me that what he hated most of all about me was my unwillingness to give up my entire soul to him and become his emotional slave. No one made him hit, yell, molest, withdraw, throw, slam, punish, scream, disappear, drive recklessly, etc etc but himself. These were HIS choices, NOT MINE. I will never take responsibility for his abusiveness, and I am glad to see Bancroft say here I was right not to.]

The Myth of Neutrality
It is not possible to be truly balanced in one’s views of an abuser and an abused woman. As Dr Judith Herman explains eloquently in her masterwork Trauma and Recovery, “neutrality” actually serves the interests of the perpetrator much more than those of the victim and so is not neutral. Although the abuser prefers to have you wholeheartedly on his side, he will settle contentedly for your decision to take a middle stance. To him, that means you see the couple’s problems as partly her fault and partly his fault, which means it isn’t abuse.

[…]

In reality, to remain neutral is to collude with the abusive man, whether or not that is your goal. If you are aware of chronic or severe mistreatment and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place. Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least forgiveness. To abused women, meanwhile, the silence means that no one will help– just what her partner wants her to believe. Anyone who chooses to quietly look the other way therefore unwittingly becomes the abuser’s ally.

How Society Adopts the Abuser’s Perspective
Almost anyone can become an ally of an abusive man by inadvertently adopting his perspective. People usually don’t even notice that they are supporting abusive thinking, or they wouldn’t do it. Let’s examine some of the most common forms of accidental support:

+ The person who says to the abused woman, “You should show him more compassion even if he has done bad things. Don’t forget he’s a human being too.”

I have almost never worked with an abused woman who overlooked her partner’s humanity. The problem is the reverse: He forgets her humanity. Acknowledging his abusiveness and speaking forcefully and honestly about how he has hurt her is indispensable to her recovery. It is the abuser’s perspective that she is being mean to him by speaking bluntly about the damage he has done. To suggest to her that his need for compassion should come before her right to live free from abuse is consistent with the abuser’s outlook. I have repeatedly seen the tendency among friends and acquaintances of an abused woman to feel that it is their responsibility to make sure she realises what a good person he really is inside— in other words, to stay focused on his needs rather than her own, which is a mistake. People who wish to help an abused woman should instead be telling her what a good person she is.

+ The person who says to her: “You made a commitment, and now you need to stick with it through hard times.”

The abusive man believes that chronic mistreatment, overt disrespect, intimidation, and even violence are not good enough reasons for a woman to want to stay away from a man. When people say to her, “You made your bed, now lie in it,” they’re supporting the abuser’s value system.

[An important and therefore influential friend of mine used to say this to me a lot, that at least he’s not “beating the shit out of me”, and that it’s normal for there to be some discord between couples. I therefore believed my partner and beat myself up inside when he told me I was being too “high-standards” for insisting on being treated non-abusively. My friend now deeply regrets having told me to stick it out, she is even now reading Bancroft’s book because she never wants to make this mistake again.]

+ The person who says to her: “You’re claiming to be a helpless victim.”

If the abuser could hear these words being spoken to his partner, he would jump for joy. He may have said the very same thing to her. The abuser’s perspective is that the woman exaggerates the hurtfulness of his conduct because she wants the status of the victim, attributing to her the maneuvers that he is actually fond of using himself. When an abused woman tries to tell you how bad things are, listen.

[My ex did indeed tell me I was just “playing the victim” and I have been very afraid– and still am– of coming forward about my experiences because I fear people will think this about me. Of course, he openly claims to be the victim of me being depressed because he was abusing me; of being jealous or insecure because he was abusively neglecting me, withholding, underloading, or just plain rubbing my face in how little he desired or was interested in me compared to other women; of having to listen to me be angry because he was threatening and violating me; of me being “cruel” to him for calling his abuse abusive and asking him to get help– and for this he wins sympathy and support. But telling people what I have experienced and what he did somehow posits me as someone only “playing” the victim. This is very frustrating, and a difficult hurdle to overcome with people. I feel trapped. I worry people think because I have experienced abuse by others in the past, that is somehow me “playing” a victim. But it isn’t my fault these people hit me, or sexually abused me, or anything else like that. And it isn’t a “play”. What I went through was real, and it really hurt me 😥 It does not benefit me in any way to say these have been my experiences, because I do not get the sympathy or support that he gets. I get doubted and looked at like damaged goods. That is not at all how I want to be seen, but I cannot pretend these things didn’t happen, nor do I believe I am supposed to protect his image by staying silent. I need to talk about what happened. I wish I could do that and just be believed that talking about it is not me “wanting to be a victim”, but part of what I need to do to overcome his abuse. I wanted to be loved, I wanted to be respected, I wanted to be cared about. I did not want to be a target for his anger and frustrations!]

+ The person who says: “These abuse activists are anti-male.”

How is it anti-male to be against abuse? Are we supposed to pretend we don’t notice that the overwhelming majority of abusers are male? This accusation parallels the abuser’s words to his partner: “The reason you think I’m abusive is because you have a problem with men!”

[I have a letter from my ex from last year when his abuse became dramatically more extreme and I kicked him out of the house, in which he says over and over that the only reason I have a problem with his treatment of me is because I have “baggage” from other men who have abused me and I therefore have problems with men in general. He goes on and on throughout the letter saying how even though he doesn’t want to do it, he “accepts” and “agrees” to let me break up with him (-!- I’m only allowed to break up with him with his permission, really?!), but that he needs me to understand he never did anything very wrong at all and the “only” reason I think he did is because I have “problems with men.” He is wrong. I do not have “problems with men”, I have problems with all people who abuse others, I don’t care who and I don’t care how. He reveals his own misogyny by blaming me for what others have done, as if I’m somehow being sexist or anti-male because it has been only men who have abused me. How is that my fault? Was I supposed to find and have relationships with abusive women also just to avoid being accused of being sexist? By insisting that the only reason I would find my ex’s abusive behaviour unacceptable is because I’ve been abused by other men also shows a profound inability to take responsibility for his own actions. I’m sorry, but when I feel fear because he leaps toward me with his fist in the air or hits the wall within inches of my head, it is NOT because someone else did something similar; it is because BEING THREATENED WITH BODILY HARM IS FRIGHTENING, INTIMIDATING, AND SCARY NO MATTER WHAT, NO MATTER WHO, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES. He did it. And that isn’t the fault of me or anyone else from my past. HE DID IT, and NO ONE on the receiving end would be ok with that for any reason.]

[…]

Protecting or enabling an abuser is as morally repugnant as the abuse itself. […] Colluding with abuse abandons the abused woman and her children, and ultimately abandons the abuser as well, since it keeps him from ever dealing with his problem. […] If we can erode the ability of abusers to gain allies, they will stand alone, and alone they are easier to stop.

[…]

Much of why an abuser is so able to recruit allies, besides his own manipulativeness and charm, is his skill in playing on people’s ignorance and misconceptions and often on their negative attitudes toward women.

[Just as he probably exercises withholding and underloading with his partner to manipulate her knowledge and ability to consent or make informed decisions about her own life, he is no doubt exercising the same tactic with his allies to manipulate their understanding of what is actually going on within the relationship. He is vague, shifty, leaves things wildly out of context and tells only the parts that benefit him so they will take his side against her and/or at least not tell him what he is doing is dangerous and wrong. He exploits their ignorance to his advantage. What allies don’t seem to appreciate is that he is using the same tactics on them as he uses on the partner he abuses, to win or retain their sympathy, their belief that he’s “changing”, and their opinion that he’s really just a nice guy who is doing his best and who never made any mistake that wasn’t outside the realm of what is “normal.” He lies to his partner, he lies to his allies, too, and for the same exact reasons: to control everyone’s image of him, to justify his actions, and to avoid accountability.]

+ When people take a neutral stand between you and your abusive partner, they are in effect supporting him and abandoning you, no matter how much they may claim otherwise.

+ The argument that “he is a human being, too, and he deserves emotional support” should not be used as an excuse to support a man’s abusiveness. Our society should not buy into the abusive man’s claim that holding him accountable is an act of cruelty.

[IT ISN’T. My ex said over and over and over I don’t know how many times that I was “abusing” him for saying his behaviour was abusive and for standing up for and defending myself. Just like whites used to say that slaves “must” have a mental illness if they try to run away, an abuser will say the person they’re abusing is “harming” the abuser if they do anything to try to stop, survive, or get away from the abuse.]

Each [abuser] has a mental image of what a “real abuser” is like, and it isn’t him. In his mind, the “real abuser” is more violent and scary than he is and has a partner who is “a nice lady” who doesn’t deserve abuse. Dozens of my clients have said to me: “I’m not like those guys who come home and abuse their partners for no reason, you know.” […]

[My partner’s oldest sister, to whom he was very attached as a young child and called his mother, who all of the family say looked just like an angel– and she did: pretty, blond hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, perfect smile– was strangled to death in front of her four-year old daughter by an abusive ex-partner and a friend of his. My partner’s (and likely all other of his family members’) mental image of what a “real abuser” is like (a murderer), what a “real victim of abuse” is like (an angelic mother), and what an enabler/ally does (accomplice to murder) are therefore very extreme; their bar of what constitutes partner abuse is set very high: anything less than what happened to his sister doesn’t count.]

+ “She really exaggerated what I did.”

His first line of mental defence is to impugn her honesty and accuse her of being calculating: “She told the police I punched her in the face, because she knew that would make me look like a real bad guy. I only slapped her, and no harder than she slaps me.” My response to such statements is to say that just because she remembers the incident differently doesn’t mean her version is wrong and his is right; in fact, abused women typically have memories of what occurred that are clearer and more accurate than that of the abuser, because of the hyperalert manner in which people react to any danger. And even if this time he is technically right that his hand was open, what difference does it make? He obviously hit her hard enough to make her think that she was punched, so he is not a candidate for sympathy.

[That was my ex’s relationship motto: “Well I have a different perspective.” And according to him, of course, mine was always wrong. This just adds abuse to abuse: if you think, feel, or know he almost hit you and he “has a different perspective” and denies that’s what he meant to do, or that’s what ocurred, or that’s how it made you feel, he not only physically threatened you, but now he’s denying your very reality, damaging your ability to trust yourself, and isolating you– and because he does not take responsibility for how his actions affect you, he is also leaving wide open the possibility, which you cannot ignore, that whatever he did can and probably will happen again– thus increasing your anxiety, fear and depression. A non-abusive partner who cares about your comfort and need to feel safe will listen to you and never ever do again what scared you NO MATTER HIS “PERSPECTIVE” OR WHAT HE “MEANT” TO DO. A non-abusive partner will not argue with you and defend himself: if you say something he did hurt or scared you, a non-abusive partner will take you seriously and agree to immediately stop doing what threatens you, period. ONLY AN ABUSER WILL JUSTIFY OR DEFEND HIS “RIGHT” TO CONTINUE THREATENING YOU.]

You cannot get an abuser to change by begging or pleading. The only abusers who change are the ones who become willing to accept the consequences of their actions.

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2 Comments

  1. Paula Boteler said,

    Hi, I have been dealing with the same for 3 horrifying years. I am at the last stage now where this is the 7th breakup. I’ve gotten a PFA order but it is temporary. Meanwhile he is spreading lies about me to the entire neighborhood including saying I’m crazy because of a medical issue I have. When I try to explain to the neighbors the situation, they say they don’t want to hear it. It is very frustrating being on this side and looked at as if you have lost your mind. I’ve decided that it is better to be friendless than to be abused for any second. I will focus on my priorities and continue living. Overall this feels like a battlezone and my life is at stake all the time. Thanks

  2. DianeFliesFree said,

    Excellent post! My divorce from a 37-year marriage to an abuser was final three months ago. I launched a few weeks ago my own blog, telling my story, my observations, and my progress in healing. I am going to list this post as a link on my site, it’s that good! Please keep up the great work. Please keep exposing this cruelty and discrimination for what it is. Please keep screaming loudly enough for those still trapped to hear you!

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