Breaking Silence

14, August 2011 at 6:17 PM (scapegoated) (, , , , , , , , )

When an abused woman emerges from an abusive relationship, one of the first and most powerful needs she has is to be heard. For however long she has endured her partner’s blaming, shaming, withdrawal, ignoring, dismissiveness, reality-twisting, control, attacks on her sanity and credibility, and isolation, she has been without connection to others, denied the ability to communicate, and thus dehumanised. As evidenced by the great number of personal blogs on the internet describing the writer’s experiences and information-sharing about abuse, it is an abused person’s instinct to communicate what they have been through at the first opportunity they feel free enough to do so. It is also prescribed by all professionals helping victims of abuse that she try, through talking, writing, or art, to process her experiences. The reason for this is twofold: first, it is critical to the processing of traumatic material that the victim learns to be able to describe their experiences, so that these experiences become integrated into long-term memory rather than remain always just “under the surface” of consciousness, resulting in intrusive thoughts, anxiety, panic, depression and fearfulness continuing into present daily life; second, especially if emotional/psychological abuse has been chronic and long-term, involving blame-shifting, gaslighting, crazy-making, and/or abusive withdrawal/silence, the victim has for so long been controlled by and afraid of her partner that even after she is free and safe from him, it is typical for an abused person to feel extremely out of touch with who she was before the relationship and who she is now afterwards; she has lived for so long with his voice in her head arguing, fact-twisting, blaming, dismissing, denying her reality, and silencing her with violence, threats and other forms of dehumanising abuse, that she has quite literally lost her own internal voice. Talking about her experiences, especially in groups with women who have been through similar experiences, writing about it, or expressing herself creatively, is essential to finding her own voice again, and nurturing that until it finally becomes stronger than and more present in her mind than her abuser’s. These two therapies must occur, first for the purpose of coping with the immediate crises, later for the purpose of long-term healing.

For these reasons, like many other women who have endured an abusive partnership, I created this blog. Some women who have survived abuse and trauma also find meaning and purpose in what they have endured by helping others, through story or information sharing, group support, or advocacy. I am one of these, and have been working in all three areas since ending my relationship.

A very common feeling when a woman has freed herself from the nightmare of an abusive relationship is an intense desire to prevent or protect others from having to go through what she has just survived. It is an established fact: abusers are highly unlikely to become non-abusive, even with legal or therapeutic intervention (see also: Signs Your Abuser Isn’t Changing and Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse); there has also been shown a strong tendency for an abuser to become more firmly entrenched in abusive behaviours with each subsequent partnership in which they “failed” to control their partner(s) and/or the outcome of the relationship as they would have liked. This can be a very frightening thing to learn for a woman newly out of an abusive situation, but it is necessary to face the fact that despite what he has told her during the whole relationship, there is nothing the victim can do or could have done to change her partner’s abusive behaviour, there is nothing she could have said or done differently to have been treated more lovingly or respectfully than he was willing or capable of treating her on his own, and his behaviours were and are not her responsibility nor her fault.

But after months or years of being told that she is responsible for his abuse and destructive behaviours, it can take quite a bit of time to reverse with intellectual knowledge the emotional sensation that she could have prevented harm coming to her and/or her children by some means other than simply leaving the man she loved and/or had become dependent upon (emotionally, socially, financially, or all of the above). Once freed from the relationship, some women channel this lingering or residual feeling of responsibility into a desire to prevent harm coming to others (I went through this phase myself and wrote about it in “Feeling Responsible”). It is not vindictiveness or jealousy that worries about the next women becoming victims of his abusiveness, but rather the knowledge that abusers do not change, and over time, tend only to get worse; it is a sympathetic response coming from a place of knowing how it feels and wishing no such suffering come to anyone else on earth while he continues on his path of denial and destruction. To be sure, it is a confused response: the victim of significant abuse, having learned she could not have influenced her partner’s behaviour to be anything other than what it was, for a time grasps at a feeling or belief that she can influence whether or not someone else will be harmed by him. It is akin to feeling like, “There is a killer on the loose and he must be stopped!” In time, of course, this feeling recedes as the victim gains an even greater understanding of how NOT-responsible they truly are for their partner’s abusiveness– just as she is not responsible for the abuse she received, she is not responsible for the abuse the next women will receive– and, when her own healing nears completion, feeling responsible gives way to empathy, compassion, and the acceptance that perhaps the most she can do is bear witness.

I mentioned above that I have gone through the phase of feeling responsible and wishing to prevent harm from coming to others. I will not say I do not still feel like this somewhat from time to time, but as I recover from the various traumas I experienced during the relationship, I am beginning to let go of that sensation. And, as I began this post, I too needed to be heard as I had not been for two years while with this man, and afterwards when I was left to only imagine how much more he was manipulating his network of allies for sympathy and support than I saw him do during our relationship. After my partner moved out, someone local whose identity was unknown to me and who apparently wasn’t willing to ask me directly for the link to this blog began attempting to find it through various search inquiries. I could tell by their search terms, the person knew my last name and other bits of information about me that meant it is either someone I know personally or someone my ex must have been talking to about me. I wondered if the person might be someone who was a friend but was afraid or unsure of coming forward, perhaps confused by what he or she may have been hearing from my ex. It was at this time that I made this blog findable. About this relationship, I wanted to speak for myself for once, and took my cue from other abuse blogs regarding the legality of using names: it’s allowed, and encouraged– to say this person abused me helps victims identify the abuse with the individual who committed it, rather than with the self or even whole groups of people having attributes similar to the abuser. Further, personalising helps break down dissociation, a problem I was suffering from greatly and needed to address in order to move the worst of my fears out of the present and into the past, where they belong.

It seems that yesterday while on the job my ex ran into someone he knows to be dear to me along with some other people who are friends with acquaintances of my ex. Whether this chance meeting provoked his bad conscience, paranoia, jealousy or just plain narcissism, or whether it is just coincidence that after this encounter he was up all night searching his own name and scouring my blogs (both of which he has taken zero interest in until today), probably no one will ever know. The result, though, is that he has written to demand that I remove his name from this blog and therefore return it to a state of secrecy. He thanks me sarcastically for publishing “personal shit” about him. He displays no sense of irony or awareness of his hypocrisy that not only did his “personal shit” become mine as it equates to his abuse of me, but also that he had no problem throughout our relationship and afterwards violating my privacies to anyone whose ear he could catch, planting distortions, misrepresentations, blatant lies, or whatever it would take to achieve the classic abuser one-two punch of increasing his sense of might and right while isolating me away from getting help, support, gaining confidence or even being heard by anyone at all. Like Judith Herman says in her book, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror:

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”

What is most remarkable about his note, though, is that five months after he moved out and I broke up with him, and three months after I never responded again to any of the many attempts he has made to solicit a response from me– including committing felony forgery through my checking account– this man still thinks he has the ability to control my activity and the right to tell me what to do. He even writes, “you have no reason to be using my name on anything you publish” (emphasis mine), thus revealing a still very strong belief that he may decide for me whether or not I have reasons of my own to do anything.

I could wish that he is finally reading the posts on this blog because he wishes to understand how his abusiveness affected the life of another person, and to develop compassion and empathy for someone he claimed to love, but I know this is not what is occurring. He is angry. Like many abusers, anger is his dominant emotion. I can remove his name from this blog, he will still be angry. Should he choose to retaliate in some way, I will not be surprised. I have given it some thought and decided I will remove his name– but not because he demanded I do so and attempted to scold me for speaking out, but because my once urgent need to be heard and desire to warn others have been mostly fulfilled, and therefore have passed into different realms of the recovery process. But one thing I will not be bullied into changing my mind about is this: How this man abused me is not my fault, therefore not my shame. I am under no moral or legal obligation to co-operate in any way with him for any reason, he who repeatedly verbally, physically and sexually assaulted me. Those things are entirely on him, and if he sleeps ill at night, it is not because his name is/was associated with this blog, but because he committed many crimes. He may have gotten away with them in the moment, but he’s playing a losing game if he thinks his wrong-doings will lie silent forever.

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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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Telling the Truth is Not Abuse

21, April 2011 at 11:53 PM (angry or frustrated, scapegoated) (, , , , , , )

It is widely established and confirmed and written about everywhere that one of the most classic things an abuser does is claim to be themselves abused by the person they are abusing. This is blame-shifting, manipulative, diverting and crazymaking. My ex was no exception to the employment of this tactic to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions. Toward the end, one of the things he brought up a few times and wrote in his final summation of our relationship as an example of how much I hurt him was that I had early in our relationship made the statement, “You were fucking jerking off to porn!” (He says I stated it, that I did not yell, but yet he added the italics and exclamation point.) He says I made a disgusted face while I said it. This is probably true, because I am disgusted by men who look at porn. I am even more disgusted by men who look at porn frequently, in lieu of having real interactions with real people. I am even more disgusted by men who save collections of porn on their computers. But I am probably most disgusted by my ex, who knew when he asked me out that he was looking at porn at least once and up to (he claims) three times daily, had built many collections of hundreds of photos and videos on his computer, and was well aware in advance of asking me out that I had very strong and outspoken oppositions to the sexual exploitation and abuse of anyone. It is something I put out there, on the table for everyone to see right away, in order to not get involved with and especially not asked out by people who engage in or support the sexual exploitation of others.

Whenever I asked how he could have been so dishonest with me about this, or why he would even ask someone like me out when there are plenty of other potential girlfriends out there who might not feel as strongly as I do about the subject, he said he expected me to be more tolerant, more forgiving, more patient, and more understanding. There we have again further blame-shifting, diversion and, probably worst of all, a sense of entitlement. When I asserted that it was wrong for him to have been dishonest with himself and me by knowingly getting involved with someone who had a moral opposition to how he spent his time alone, and withholding that fact from me until after we were already involved, suddenly the Great Big Concern shifts to the many ways in which I have failed to be a Good Person and Loving Partner (um, excuse me, but was he being a Good Person and Loving Partner to begin with?): in his view, the only reason his use of porn– and, I would later find out: strip clubs, attendance at bachelor parties with hired women, having as a best friend a guy who worked at a porn magazine (and hanging out at his workplace), helping his friend pick out porn videos to rent (he claims he did not rent any himself), seeking out and streaming the most pornographic movies he could find on netflix for masturbating to, going to a 3-D porn movie on campus, scrutinising and studying naked women for the sake of “making art”, taking the opportunity when his girlfriends weren’t around to masturbate to sex scenes in mainstream movies or downloaded porn videos, working at a live theatre and signing up for cabaret shows involving women having to take their clothes off purely for spectacle, taking screen shots to masturbate to from dvds played on his computer of people making out in tv shows, drawing sexual pictures for himself to masturbate to (is anyone else noticing a pattern here? because he says it’s just me only seeing what I “want to”; I wonder what his friends, family, therapist, and future girlfriend(s) would see if they had full knowledge of this guy’s history! [and I must assume that he hasn’t told me about everything])– he claims the only reason all of this continued to be a controversy in our relationship is because I am intolerant, unforgiving, impatient, and stubbornly ignorant– that is what he didn’t know about me, that is what I allegedly failed to reveal about myself before he asked me out, that is what should have compelled me to decline his invitation (because I was supposed to be a mind-reader?); not only was he, by virtue of being a man, entitled to use women for his own sexual gratification (and as long as he felt bad about it, he was paying “penance” and could therefore keep doing it), he expected (was entitled) to never be called to task for it– he deserved (believed himself entitled) to date whomever he chose regardless of her personal beliefs, and having chose me, he expected (felt entitled to get) a much better girlfriend out of me than that! And thus I find myself in the defensive position, and we are no longer talking about his dishonesty, betrayal, and manipulation of my feelings and choices, nor are we talking about his sexual abuse of others (and later, of me). Sly trickery, that.  Abuser’s name removed. By their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:16

But wait– he was jerking off to porn. That’s a fact, one admitted to by him. Me saying so is not abusive. It’s no more abusive than if someone told me, “You fucking took the bus downtown!” If I had indeed taken the bus downtown I would have to say, yes, that’s right, I did. It is also not abusive to make a grossed-out, angry, or otherwise ugly face while speaking of something that grosses you out, makes you angry, or is a very ugly subject. In addition to all his physical and emotional abuses of me (and, with his self-centered moodiness, rages, physical and verbal threats and violence, he abused his co-workers and a great many random people on the street as well), my ex also sexually abused me (forced unwanted sexual contact) AND contributed to the sexual abuse of tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of women, and he has the audacity to say I hurt him because I made a true statement? Denial is a powerful thing. But his guilt and shame for his own actions does not belong to me, and it is not my fault, and it is not my responsibility. He made the choices he did, not I, and so I was never under any obligation to account for them, accept them, or in any way have feelings about them other than what I had. And I had every right to speak of it. And I had every right to be angry about it, not trust him as much as I had before, and feel violated and betrayed. And I had every right to say what was true.

I also had every right to terminate our relationship. But of course, he did not come out with all of this at once, and as I slowly learned more and more, the more and more I had by then become emotionally and financially entangled with him (see also: Traumatic Bonding). At the end, he would even shift the blame onto me for not leaving him sooner. In other words, by staying in the relationship as long as I did, any feeling of being abused I “brought” upon myself and “therefore” I can’t complain about him. This is a fancy way of blaming the victim, and avoiding taking responsibility for having treated me abusively. Goodness, does he really believe he is entitled to abuse? And any woman who tries for any reason and for any length of time to love, understand, or encourage him to change is just asking for it? abusing herself by proxy? giving him permission to abuse her in the meantime? This is a very disturbing attitude, but unfortunately this way of thinking is a defining characteristic of an abuser. It says, the abuser is allowed to continue to be abusive, the abused person is responsible for stopping the abuse. It almost sounds valid to say, “The onus was on you to leave me sooner”, but the reality is that this would not stop him from being abusive to me (even if I left him, as I am still experiencing, because emotional and psychological abuse can still be done from a distance) or to others; nor does leaving him erase or excuse the fact that he abused me. The onus always was and always will be entirely on him to stop treating others abusively.

Being angry, or disgusted by something, or wildly confused in the face of your partner’s dishonesty, and telling the truth about what they did and how it makes you feel– none of this is abusive, even if it makes your partner feel bad. If they did something dishonest, if they did something wrong, if they did something which violates you or others, they should feel bad. It’s called having a conscience; it is not anywhere called being abused by the person whose trust, feelings and boundaries they violated, exploited, disregarded or sought to control. Nowhere can they find support for such an absurd claim, except in the twisted recesses of their own ego-protecting minds. Please understand that if you are with such a person, you cannot get in there and change their minds. If their conscience is hurting them, they will call it abuse. There is nothing you can do. Just leave them alone with their distortions. If you can, just leave before they can do you any more harm.

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The Abuser in Therapy

20, April 2011 at 12:58 PM (trapped) (, , , , , , , )

Excerpt from the book Why Does He DO That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft. All emphases are in the original:

The Abusive Man in Individual Therapy
The more psychotherapy a client of mine has participated in, the more impossible I usually find it is to work with him. The highly “therapised” abuser tends to be slick, condescending, and manipulative. He uses the psychological concepts he has learned to dissect his partner’s flaws and dismiss her perceptions of abuse. He takes responsibility for nothing that he does; he moves in a world where there are only unfortunate dynamics, miscommunications, symbolic acts. He expects to be rewarded for his emotional openness, handled gingerly because of his “vulnerability”, colluded with in skirting the damage he has done, and congratulated for his insight. Many years ago, a violent abuser in my program shared the following with us: “From working in therapy on my issues about anger toward my mother, I realised that when I punched my wife, it wasn’t really her I was hitting. It was my mother!” He sat back, ready for us to express our approval of his self-awareness. My colleague peered through his glasses at the man, unimpressed by his revelation. “No,” he said, “you were hitting your wife.”

I have yet to meet an abuser who has made any meaningful and lasting changes in his behaviour toward female partners through therapy, regardless of how much “insight”– most of it false– that he may have gained. The fact is that if an abuser finds a particularly skilled therapist and if the therapy is especially successful, when he is finished he will be a happy, well-adjusted abuser– good news for him, perhaps, but not such good news for his partner. Psychotherapy can be very valuable for the issues it is devised to address, but partner abuse is not one of them; an abusive man needs to be in a specialised program[.]

The Abuser in Couples Therapy
Attempting to address abuse through couples therapy is like wrenching a nut the wrong way; it just gets even harder to undo that it was before. Couples therapy is designed to tackle issues that are mutual. It can be effective for overcoming barriers to communication, for untangling the childhood issues that each partner brings to a relationship, or for building intimacy. But you can’t accomplish any of these goals in the context of abuse. There can be no positive communication when one person doesn’t respect the other and strives to avoid equality. You can’t take the leaps of vulnerability involved in working through early emotional injuries while you are feeling emotionally unsafe– because you are emotionally unsafe. And if you succeed in achieving greater intimacy with your abusive partner, you will soon get hurt even worse than before because greater closeness means greater vulnerability for you.

Couples counseling sends both the abuser and the abused woman the wrong message. The abuser learns that his partner is “pushing his buttons” and “touching him off” and that she needs to adjust her behaviour to avoid getting him so upset. This is precisely what he has been claiming all along. Change in abusers comes only from the reverse process, from completely stepping out of the notion that his partner plays any role in causing his abuse of her. An abuser also has to stop focusing on his feelings and his partner’s behaviour, and look instead at her feelings and his abusive behaviour. Couples counseling allows him to stay stuck in the former. In fact, to some therapists, feelings are all that matters, and reality is more or less irrelevant. In this context, a therapist may turn to you and say, “But he feels abused by you, too.” Unfortunately, the more an abusive man is convinced that his grievances are more or less equal to yours, the less that he will ever overcome his attitudes.

The message to you from couples counseling is: “You can make your abusive partner behave better toward you by changing how you behave toward him.” Such a message is, frankly, fraudulent. Abuse is not caused by bad relationship dynamics. You can’t manage your partner’s abusiveness by changing your behaviour, but he wants you to think you can. He says, or leads you to believe, that “if you stop doing the things that upset me, and take better care of my needs, I will become a nonabusive partner.” It never materialises. And even if it worked, even if you could stop his abusiveness by catering to his every whim, is that a healthy way to live? If the way you behave in the relationship is a response to the threat of abuse, are you a voluntary participant? If you have issues you would like to work on with a couples counselor, wait until your partner has been completely abuse-free for two years. Then you might be able to work on some of the problems that truly are mutual ones.

A professional book I recently read offers a powerful example of how couples therapy works with an abuser. The therapist made an agreement with the couple that the man would avoid his scary behaviours and in return the woman would stop making her friends such an important part of her life “because her friendships were causing so much tension in the marriage.” The therapist had, in effect, assisted the man in using the threat of violence to get his way, cutting his partner off from social connections and sources of support that were important to her. What the therapist portrayed as a voluntary agreement was essentially coercion, although the authors of the book showed no signs of realising this.

Couples counseling can end up being a big setback for the abused woman. The more she insists that her partner’s cruelty or intimidation needs to be addressed, the more she may find the therapist looking down at her, saying, “It seems like you are determined to put all the blame on him and are refusing to look at your part in this.” The therapist thereby inadvertently echoes the abuser’s attitude, and the woman is forced to deal with yet another context in which she has to defend herself, which is the last thing she needs. I have been involved in many cases where the therapist and the abuser ended up as a sort of tag team, and the abused woman limped away from yet another psychological assault. Most therapists in such circumstances are well intentioned but fail to understand the dynamics of abuse and allow the abuser to shape their perceptions.

The therapist’s reassuring presence in the room can give you the courage to open up to your partner in ways that you wouldn’t normally feel safe to do so. But this isn’t necessarily positive; an abuser can retaliate for a woman’s frank statements during couples sessions. Later, when he is screaming at you, “You humiliated me in front of the therapist, you made me look like the bad guy, you told things that were too private!” and delivering a nonstop diatribe, you may regret the decision to open up.

Irene, an abused woman who tells her own story in public and has appeared on several panels with me, shares the following account: She had been in couples counseling for about six months with her husband, Quentin, when one day the therapist decided it was time to get the ball rolling. He said, “These sessions have gradually stopped going anywhere, and I think I know why. Irene, you’re not opening up very much, and I think you need to take more emotional risks.” Irene felt the therapist was right; she had been exposing very little week to week. So she decided to take the plunge. She told the therapist about Quentin’s abuse of her, which included considerable physical violence and the downward emotional spiral she had been in as a result. Quentin appeared moved and shaken, his eyes reddening as if he might cry at any moment. “I have really been in denial about my violence,” he told the therapist, “and I haven’t been facing how badly it has been affecting Irene.” The therapist felt that a crucial barrier to progress had been overcome. “Now,” he declared, “I think your couples work can begin to yield results for you.”

On the drive home from the session, Quentin kept one hand on the steering wheel. In the other hand he clutched a large handful of Irene’s hair as he repeatedly slammed her head into the dashboard, screaming, “I told you to never fucking talk to anyone about that, you bitch! You promised me! You’re a fucking liar!” and similar insults in a nonstop rant. After hearing Irene’s account, I was careful to never again underestimate the risk to an abused woman of conjoint therapy.

If couples counseling is the only type of help your partner is willing to get– because he wants to make sure that he can blame the problem on you– you may think, Well, it’s better than not getting any counseling at all. And maybe the therapist will see the things he does and convince him to get help. But even if the therapist were to confront him, which is uncommon, he would just say: “You turned the therapist against me”– the same way he handles any other challenges.

Some couples therapists have said to me: “Before I work with a couple whose relationship has involved abuse, I insist on clear agreements that there won’t be any abuse while they are in therapy with me and no paybacks for anything that gets said in a session.” Such agreements are meaningless, unfortunately, because abusers feel no obligation to honour them; virtually every abuser I’ve ever worked with feels entitled to break his word if he has a “good enough reason,” which includes any time that he is really upset by his partner. Increasingly, therapists across the United States and Canada are refusing to engage in couples or family sessions with an abuser, which is the responsible course of action.

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Why Couples Counseling in Abusive Relationships Doesn’t Work, pt 2

17, April 2011 at 1:14 PM (scapegoated, trapped) (, , , , , , )

Here is what is written at escapeabuse.com about couples counseling and abusive relationships. There is nothing about my ex nor my experiences with him and couples counseling that deviates one bit from what is described below. Some of the insight and advice below is from the book Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft, an excerpt of which I will provide in my next post. All bold and italics are in the original, I underlined the parts especially relevant to my situation:

Several people have asked about this and we’d like to address it in case any one of them – or anyone — is ever faced with this — or knows anyone who is faced with it:

If you are in any type of intimate relationship where there is abuse: verbal, emotional, psychological (ie: gaslighting, crazymaking), sexual, or physical — and the abuser suggests “couples” or “partners” counseling as a means to try to “work things out” or as an ultimatum to stay in the relationship – DON’T fall for it.

Couples counseling does NOT work where there is abuse in a relationship because it does not address the issue. Get your own individual, separate counseling to help deal with the abuse. If there is abuse, then abuse is the ONLY issue — not “communication” problems or any other type of mutual interaction problem, so couples counseling will not address this situation properly — and may in fact make it worse.

I had someone suggest this in a prior abusive relationship and soon realized that the reason he wanted couples counseling was ONLY because he wanted the counselor to FIX ME. In his opinion, nothing was wrong with HIM. He felt (and stated) that he was blameless, not responsible for his abusive behavior, flawless — and I was the one who was “messed up” and who had caused all or most of the issues in the relationship. He denied and minimized his abuse. Many abusers are very narcissistic in this way, viewing themselves as special, above reproach, incapable of making mistakes, and flawless – regardless what they’ve done or said to their partner. They think they should bear no responsibility for their behavior, or for how it affects others. A complete lack of empathy for their partner is usually very marked.

In my situation, the counselor was fairly well-versed in abusive relationships and saw through this. I had spoken with her about this alone prior to signup. This is a good thing to check ahead of time – ask them directly if they are experienced with counseling people in abusive relationships, and if they’re familiar with the tactics of abusive partners.

She soon began confronting him with some of his abuse and lo and behold, he railed and bailed. He minimized, blamed, denied – even blamed the counselor for “twisting things around” when actually she was UNTWISTING things. She was trying to get beyond his minimization, avoidance, projection, and denial about his abusive behavior to get to what was really behind it (anger and resentment, among other things and whatever was behind that). Having been confronted and not wanting to take responsibility or face himself, he ended it right then and there (which I fully expected having researched this – but it still hurt a lot at the time).

Most abusers would rather end a relationship – no matter what the situation is – than take responsibility for their abusive behavior once confronted with it. It’s rare that they ever do anything to change, or look at themselves as being whatsoever at fault in driving their relationships to destruction.

The problem is, an abusive person will only look at THEIR feelings and SOMEONE ELSE’S behavior — instead of looking at SOMEONE ELSE’S feelings and THEIR behavior[.]

When confronted, one of two things will usually happen: They will escalate their abuse – or they will end it – claiming that their partner(s) are being “unreasonable”, “too sensitive” or “twisting things around”. They will claim THEMSELVES to be the victim.

The abusive person will claim that *other* people are trying to make them “walk on eggshells” (projection) if they’re asked to recognize or respect anyone else’s feelings or needs. But, it is actually the abuser who chronically causes others to feel that way – with their constant criticism, name-calling, insults, condescension, humiliation, and blame. No one in their relationship(s) can do anything right in their eyes except them, and others will often try to modify their behavior in order to try to avoid the abuser’s constant devaluation and criticism. This is an exercise in futility, however.

“Walking on eggshells” is how an abuser often describes any request to recognize or respect someone else’s feelings besides his/her own. (ie: “I’m not going to walk on eggshells around you!”) For most people who posses the ability to empathize normally, empathy isn’t an issue. For an abuser, it’s a lot of work because it’s not something they’re used to having to do — and it’s a skill they aren’t much interested in. When their partners express hurt because of the abuser’s behavior, the abuser will claim the partner is just “oversensitive”. The fact is, the abuser is the one who needs to develop some sensitivity.

As I stated earlier, this is very narcissistic behavior. Abusers are often narcissists or sociopaths or simply have very strong narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies, primarily marked by a complete lack of empathy towards their partners (beyond the initial romance stage), or at least a marked inability or unwillingness to recognize or respect anyone’s feelings or needs other than their own.

And this goes far beyond any “communication” problem or “incompatibility” issue. The issue – is the abuse.

When abusive people go to couples therapy they simply learn to be more skilled abusers and many of them are quite skilled to begin with. Most are highly intelligent[.]

Couples therapy often will only reinforce abusive behavior and they become even more slick and condescending and manipulative with their tactics. That’s because couples therapy typically deals with abuse as if it were a mutual or communications issue – and it isn’t.

[…]

*An abuser should go into a specialized abuser program and the target/victim should seek his/her own separate counseling. *I’ll warn that most abusers won’t stoop to such a thing – it would mean they have to admit they have personality problems/faults that have destroyed many of their relationships, and they’d have to be willing to undergo YEARS of tough self-evaluation and work to change — and chances of that are slim to none.

It’s much easier for them to just find another target for their abuse.

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