Yep, Abuse Is Depressing!

21, May 2011 at 4:09 PM (this is madness, trapped) (, , , , , , , , )

This is not the most focused thing I could have written on the subject. I still find it difficult to describe or impress upon people what a horror show so much of this was, and to some degree I am still experiencing cognitive disassociation, which I was deeply in the habit of exercising during my relationship in an effort to survive it day-to-day. The really important thing I’m trying to get at is that chronic abuse results inevitably in anxiety, depression and stress disorders, and that an abuser only heaps abuse upon abuse when they fault their victim for responding like any person would under such pressure and duress, and worse still justify it by claiming to be the victim of the abused partner’s reactions to being abused. It’s so sick, it’s so frustrating, I still can’t really wrap my mind around how such people can believe their behaviour is acceptable, within the realm of normal treatment of another. I still can’t really wrap my mind around how such people live with themselves. My conscience compels me to act, change, fix if I’ve done something wrong. If an abuser has a conscience, it seems the only thing it does is cause them to do everything in their power to ignore, deceive, and deny– to themselves and everyone around them, including the victim– so they will never have to face their guilt or shame at what they have done.

From Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, “Is the Way He’s Treating Me Abuse?” (italics in the original, I have bolded and underlined the parts which speak to me especially):

“An abuse counselor says of an abusive client: ‘When he looks at himself in the morning and sees a dirty face, he sets about washing the mirror.’ In other words, he becomes upset and accusatory when his partner exhibits the predictable effects of chronic mistreatment, and then he adds insult to injury by ridiculing her for feeling hurt by him. He even uses her emotional injuries as excuses to mistreat her further. […] If she is increasingly mistrustful of him because of his mistreatment of her, he says that her lack of trust is causing her to perceive him as abusive, reversing cause and effect in a mind-twisting way. If she is depressed or weepy one morning because he tore her apart the night before, he says, ‘If you’re going to be such a drag today, why don’t you just go back to bed so I won’t have to look at you?’

If your partner criticises or puts you down for being badly affected by his mistreatment, that’s abuse. Similarly, it’s abuse when he uses the effects of his cruelty as an excuse, like a client I had who drove his partner away with verbal assaults and then told her that her emotional distancing was causing his abuse, thus reversing cause and effect. He is kicking you when you’re already down, and he knows it. Seek help for yourself quickly, as this kind of psychological assault can cause your emotional state to rapidly decline.”

I remember one morning shortly after waking up, my partner asked me what I was thinking about. Well, I made the mistake of telling him (please note in a relationship with a normal person who is kind and loving, this would never be a mistake). Because of the hours- and hours-long argument the night before about his expressed lack of desire and attraction for me, during which he described parts of my body as “flawed”, “strange”, “weird”, “not like anyone he’s ever seen before” (and he has seen an excessive lot!) and as “having an unattractive quality”, I said, simply, “I’m thinking of how unattractive I am.” I said nothing more, and nothing less.

Instantly, he sat up and he was MAD. And this set off eight hours of non-stop arguing, me trying to defend myself the entire time for simply answering his question, and for why I was thinking about that because of what he said the night before (and for what he showed me our whole relationship, really). For eight hours he sat on or stood next to the bed verbally berating me without pause and punching the bed, himself, and the wall. It was horrifying. By 5.30pm I was curled in a ball on the bed, bawling my eyes out and begging desperately, “Please stop, please! You win, ok? Please stop now!” and still he would not. I couldn’t take it anymore. In addition to feeling indescribably confused, constantly scared and frequently depressed by this relationship, I was mourning from the recent deaths of two feline family members I’d had for almost twenty years since birth, neither of whom I was allowed to grieve because my attention had to be always and only on my partner; the loss of a friendship I had since childhood and other isolations (all due to my partner’s direct interference and manipulation of these relationships); and his non-stop assaults on my ego and personhood. I suggested out loud maybe I should just die. I did not say I wanted to kill myself, I did not say I was going to kill myself, I said, “Well I guess I just have to die.” I guess those were the magic words to make him stop, for instantly he ran from the room, made a phone call, and disappeared out of the house. I later found out he went to a walk-in counseling center, as well as called my childhood friend and another mutual friend of ours. To all of these people he pretended to be concerned about my well-being, and claimed to be the victim of my suicidal threats. He left out the parts about him treating me our entire first year together with neglect, disgust and disdain. He left out the part about how he lied to me and my friends and our mutual friends about how I was supposedly treating him, and what we all “really” think of each other, so that I would have no one to turn to for help or support and was thus left totally isolated and dependent on him and our relationship. And he left out the parts about tearing me apart until 4am all the night before and for eight hours that day literally trapping me in bed with non-stop verbal and physical threats and assaults.

What he left out was that my desperate emotional state was the direct and predictable result his chronic mistreatment. I’ve tried to see this with his eyes, and I just can’t comprehend the cruelty one must have in their heart to look at someone they claim to love, curled up in a fetal position and crying for hours because of the things he was saying to me non-stop all morning, afternoon and into the evening, and keep going, keep ranting, keep blaming, keep yelling, keep leaping up aggressively and punching things, keep digging and digging into her, on, and on, and on, and when she naturally supposes there is no way out except to die, instantly run away from her, lie to others about the whole thing and blame her for all of it in order to solicit sympathy for himself. I can’t see it with his eyes, because I could never that severely lack compassion that I would emotionally and physically torture someone until they were so beaten down and desperate that they didn’t know what else to say except that if they couldn’t get out of the relationship, they feel they have to get out of life. I just can’t fathom the inhumanity, and frankly, I don’t want to.

He rang up a $500 phone bill that month talking to everyone who would listen to him and give him sympathy and advice on how to “deal with me”. To my knowledge– which shocks and disappoints me, actually– not a single person asked, “What’s going on, what is making her feel so upset?” Certainly after talking to him, no one thought perhaps they should call me and ask me directly what was going on with me. Everyone relied entirely on his word, and so no one heard about his abuse. Because no one knew about it, no one told him that he must deal with and change his abusive behaviour, because, as abusive partners typically do, he portrayed himself as the victim of me and “our unhealthy dynamic”. In this way, he ruined friendships I had with people (though my partner insists he portrayed the situation to others accurately, one person was yet influenced to say about me– the one curled up and crying as a result of my partner’s constant barrage of verbal and physical violence– “what a bitch!”), he further isolated me, strained our financial situation, and gained support for his damaging behaviour which, as a result, continually increased in severity and frequency after every contact with his “support” network (see: Abusive Men and Their Allies)– little do they know what they were really supporting. To this day, he claims that he would not have “had to” do those things if I wouldn’t have been depressed and argumentative (abusive partners always say their mistreatment was justified, that if the victim had not done XYZ, he would not have “had to” behave abusively: if I was not depressed, he would not have “had to” ruin my friendships, isolate me, strain our finances, and seek support for his behaviour; notice that what caused me to become depressed– chronic mistreatment and abuse– is totally erased, “reversing cause and effect in a mind-twisting way”). To this day he claims he had no other choice in his course of action. I maintain he had a choice: he could have chosen not to abuse me.

For eight months I continued to make payments on this bill. Every month I still felt angry, frustrated and resentful about it because the issues that led up to and surrounded it never got resolved (and in fact only got worse the more enabled, entitled, and justified he felt he was). He never acknowledged he was treating me in any way abusively, or even poorly; he wouldn’t even acknowledge that I felt mistreated. He continues to the present day to use my normal responses to being treated abusively as leverage in turning or keeping people away from me and focused on his experience and needs. To show just how incapable he is of having even the slightest understanding of how traumatised I was/am by his behaviour and actions throughout our relationship, to this day he claims he is damaged by the phrase, “You spent $500 to talk shit behind my back”–  this was my phrase (and it’s plenty of other people’s too) for someone who calls other people and misrepresents, lies about or discredits someone else, in order to seek attention and sympathy from others while turning them against the person they’re badmouthing. He complains and provides as evidence of my “damaging mistreatment” of him that this phrase about a phone bill will be “forever burned into his brain” (one should note that he does not accuse T-Mobile of damaging him for saying he made these calls, nor does he accuse T-Mobile of abusing him by expecting him to pay for it)– I envy his complaint. What is forever burned into my brain is his abuse and emotional cruelty, being kicked while I was already down, being blamed for his behaviour and choices, the reality-twisting (he did ring up a $500 phone bill, there is no way of denying that!), the neglect, the violence, the untold hours spent defending myself, sticking up for myself, and trying and failing to get him to see me as a human being who does not deserve to be treated with abuse. I would like it very much if all that was burned into my brain was a factual statement about something I did indeed do.

But he wants to compare his experience with mine, compete about who had it worse, whose emotions are most negatively affected by which of us said what. I admit I said “he spent $500 to talk shit behind my back”, I have never denied that. I said it in anger, I said it in frustration and resentment. The statement does not attack his character nor does it threaten his emotional or bodily safety, or even our relationship. The statement does not make him feel like he has to die to escape hearing it. He admits nothing: he does not admit he said things about how I look to him which impact my confidence and self-esteem; he does not admit physically threatening me; he does not admit trapping me, verbally berating me and wearing me down; he does not admit withholding support or comfort for the deaths of my two cats; he does not admit interfering with my relationships with friends or isolating me; he does not even admit that $500 to T-Mobile was a waste of money. He admits nothing. He looked at me begging for relief from his attacks and kept on and on with them until I felt like the only escape was to die, and sees nothing whatever wrong with having pushed me there. He firmly believes my anxiety, depression and desperation were the result of my personal flaws and weaknesses and since there was nothing in the world he did wrong, there’s nothing in the world he need have done differently (I have a letter which says so). I believe this extreme inability to empathise with or have compassion for another person is called “psychopathic”, but it is little comfort to me to understand this relationship in terms of the possibility that there might be in him a serious mental illness at play.

One of the last times we were in bed together, after yet another several weeks like the day I describe above, he asked me to put my arms around him. I hesitated. I said I wanted to, but I don’t trust him, I don’t know what he’s going to “do” with a gesture of affection from me. He said I should not think about later, I should just think about the present moment. I felt so weak, I felt so lonely and hurt, so I did as he asked. He was happy and he said, “I need this.” I asked him what “this” meant and what he needed it for. He needs my affection, he said, “in order to feel connected” to me. That scared me. I thought back to all the days like the one I described above. It sounded like he was hinting: if I don’t give him affection, he’ll disconnect– and I already know, if he disconnects, he will cease to see me or treat me like a human being with feelings; so if I don’t give him affection, he’ll abusively dehumanise me to the point where I’d rather be dead than be treated that way another minute. Perhaps when I was feeling unattractive because he told me I was, treated me like I was, perhaps the instant he got mad, I should have turned and given him my affection? So he could feel “connected to me”? Is that what it would have taken for him to see me as a real, live, and suffering human being, and not continue to abuse me? I don’t function that way, I’m not going to hug someone who spent all night telling me how unattractive and undesirable I am, and certainly I cannot hug someone who is abusing me, even if it would stop them– nor should I have to.

And all the hours and all the days and all the nights and months I saw nothing but the back of his head because without my affection he “couldn’t connect to” me… since I found it impossible to be affectionate with someone who was abusing me, he punished me with total withdrawal, always threatening our relationship (and therefore my and my son’s food and shelter since I was by that time so wrecked with anxiety and depression that I had become financially dependent on him) by living with one foot out the door, in his mind it’s all my fault because I didn’t hug him enough, really? I will never get over his sense of entitlement (cuz hey, why wouldn’t a woman shower him with affection, for no apparent reason, regardless of his treatment of her?). When he said, “I need this… in order to feel connected to you” it sounded like a threat: “Hug me or else I’ll ignore you in every conceivable way”, “Agree with me or else I’ll throw things and punch everything around you”, “Praise me or else I’ll verbally attack everything you believe in and like about yourself”, “Love me without question or hesitation or else I’ll destroy everything you have until you have nothing and no one and nowhere to go except to me.”

What a nightmare it was living with him.

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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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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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Signs He Isn’t Changing

10, April 2011 at 12:30 AM (defeated, this is madness, trapped) (, , , , , , , , , )

If you would like to print out a version without my comments, please see the page Signs Your Abuser Isn’t Changing.

I found this on youarenotcrazy.com, a good site I discovered this week. Unfortunately, the site design is such that I cannot link to the section I want to talk about, so I have to manually re-type the relevant parts here. My ex did every single one of these things.

List of clear signs he isn’t changing:

He says something to the effect of: “I’ll change, but only if you change, too.”
Or, he uses the same argument to defend past behaviour: “With my ex, I would have treated her a lot better if she would’ve just grown up (done what I wanted her to).” This shows he still believes that men are not responsible for their abusive behaviour if provoked. He still believes he is entitled to being abusive– he can give himself permission if she “steps out of bounds.”

— In my case, this was said often as a blame-shifting tactic: he will only acknowledge his abusiveness if I admit I was abusive to him (this is manipulative and coercive). He also said this to excuse physical aggression: though he would admit he has no right to become physically aggressive, still he claimed he wouldn’t have become aggressive if I wouldn’t have said something, or if I would have said something in a different way. This makes me “responsible” for his aggression and the fear I had of being hit. I was also told I should just “know” he won’t hit me, and “knowing” he won’t hit me I would not be afraid; my fear of him was posited as irrational and the result not of his aggression but a character flaw in me: I was being “too sensitive” because people have hit me in the past. In other words, I should recognise it is not he who is making me afraid, but my experiences with others in the past; change my sensitivity and his aggression will “change” from scary to not-scary. Or: change my attitude or knowledge and recognise though he lunges at me he will stop and hit himself or something nearby instead, and again, his aggression will “change” from scary to not-scary. Though he never stopped being physically aggressive, and it became more frequent and unpredictable in where it would be released, I think he did get to the point where he admitted it is never justified under any circumstances, and that my fear was real, valid, and in response to his actions and not others’.

He claims he needs your help to change, he can’t do it alone.
This tactic is controlling and manipulative- it’s generally a way of tricking you into “working on the relationship” when you really just want out. This attitude is prevalent in men who refuse to accept responsibility. In his perspective, his abusive explosions are a result of you having the nerve to stand up to him, your refusal to be bullied, or you insisting on your own identity, including a life that doesn’t revolve entirely around (or interfere with) his desires.

— He always, always “had a different perspective”, and mine was always, always wrong. He would avoid taking responsibility by giving me endless reasons and explanations why he did what he did– this diverted the focus away from what he did and how it made me feel or what effect it was having on our relationship and put the focus on my capacity to be understanding, patient, etc. (and of course, I was never understanding, patient, etc. enough for him, because I refused to make why he was hurting me or damaging our relationship my primary concern and insisted that what he was doing was more concerning to me). I felt bullied, a lot, into having to discuss what was supposedly behind his destructive behaviours; this way, I could never discuss the effect his behaviours were having on me. I was always “working on the relationship”, even after he left the last time, still coming up with ideas and proposals and solutions, still writing them down, still trying to discuss them. He always had other ideas about what was wrong, and I did my best to accommodate– if he thought the “real” problem was he didn’t have enough time alone, I left him alone more; if he thought the “real” problem was he wasn’t getting enough affection, I tried to be more affectionate; if he thought the “real” problem was I didn’t “give him a few days off to recuperate from an argument”, I layed low for a few days; if he thought the “real” problem was he was working too much, I figured out a budget so he could take days off. And of course, no matter how many times or in what ways I accommodated him or capitulated to his needs, it never satisfied him and he always had a new “real” problem whenever I tried to bring up the problems which were real to me. To him the “real” problem was never his abusive behaviour, it was always “ours”. Closest he got to that was asking me to go to couple’s counseling “with him”– as if this was something he could go to alone but he needed my help. I was too confused by this request, and suspicious of his agenda (he was telling me at the time that my character was so “deeply flawed” that I wasn’t seeing how I’m really partially to blame for his behaviour and by not taking responsibility I’m only hurting myself); not until the very end did I agree to couple’s counseling, only when I was very, very desperate that someone hear my side of things. He backed out of the relationship almost immediately.

He brings up that you haven’t recognised and appreciated how much he’s changed.
This shows he doesn’t appreciate or recognise how much pain he’s inflicted on you, or learned to empathise. Once prisoners are released, their tormentors are not deserving of thank you notes or awards banquets. If he understood the pain he put you through, really faced it, he would comprehend how indebted he is to you for putting up with him. If he learned to empathise in this way, and took responsibility for his actions, his guilt would motivate him to reward you, not ask for reward. He clearly doesn’t understand the pain he has caused.

— This section really hits me hard. This was something I always felt or suspected, but never had the right words for. He did often remind me that he learned this or that from some book and I should look at how well he’s putting something into practice, and I always felt like, um? Not hurting someone is supposed to be the default, so I don’t get why I’m supposed to praise you? I could also never wrap my mind around how he could treat me so bad and neglect me so much and have so many complaints about me when really I thought if he just thought about it for a second, he would realise he’s got the love of a good woman who has stuck by him through everything, why couldn’t I get even the tiniest word of appreciation for that? (My theory: the guy hates himself, he’s hated himself since way before he ever met me [there are written records of this], so deep down maybe he can’t take seriously, and certainly he can’t respect, anyone who would love, stand by or up for him.)

He’s in a therapy program that has not contacted his abusees.
Abusive men simply can’t change unless they have accepted responsibility, and the only way to do this is by hearing her truth. Abusive men manipulate and lie. Period. It’s foundational to maintaining their abusive mindset. Only the women know the truth and live with the fallout, and unless the women are heard, his therapist doesn’t know the truth.

— YES. For the longest time, I thought he was getting help for his issues by being in counseling. He admitted his therapist never challenged him, and that the therapist probably had such a distorted picture of our relationship from the time when my ex was using therapy to “vent” and get validation that if anything the therapist was probably enabling him. We discussed getting a new therapist, which he eventually did. I hoped he was taking a more responsible approach, I was assured he was dealing with his issues. Nothing changed. He came back every time distant, standoffish, and sometimes with new ideas about how his needs weren’t being met well enough by me and this relationship. I suspected the same dynamic had been created with his second counselor as existed with his first. I always thought, now how can she possibly know what to counsel, if she’s only getting his side (which is probably extremely biased in his favour)? I resented his therapy/therapist incredibly, because as I saw it, it was only contributing to an escalation in his abusive behaviours and actions. He faulted me an incredible lot for not supporting his “therapy”, and I felt very guilty all the time about it. I know he told others I gave him a hard time about it, and that made me feel like I was being portrayed as a monster. But what was ever happening which could be considered therapeutic? Nothing ever changed, everything just got worse. It couldn’t even start out in right direction. For instance, I was uncomfortable with his therapy because of the way things went with his first therapist. Wouldn’t a loving partner go in the first day and ask, “How can I help my partner at home feel more comfortable with the fact that I’m here?” This never happened, even though I asked him to ask her that. Since my partner has left, he has admitted his second counselor has been just like the first, and only asks him every week what he is doing to take care of himself. You see, no one asks him what he is doing to address his abusiveness and heal the damage it has caused. It’s not hard to see why the question is always, “But what are you doing to take care of yourself?” Because he goes in there and reports that he’s a victim. “Abusive men manipulate and lie. Period […] unless the women are heard, his therapist doesn’t know the truth.” And that is why I finally agreed to go to couple’s counseling, and I told him this: I needed someone to know the truth. He spent two sessions talking about whether he wants to stay in the relationship or not (as if the counselor can help him figure that out? And then why do I need to be there?) In both sessions, but more directly in the second, he was called on his aggression. Before it was over, he decided he wanted to instead use counseling for “closure”. Clearly this guy wasn’t interested in facing what he has done and was going to bolt. I told him there was no need to come to a third. So now he will stay with his individual counselor and she’ll keep sympathising with his pain and the abuse gets swept under the rug.

He criticises you for being distrustful of his ability to stay non-abusive for good.
Again, he’s not taking responsibility for all the things he’s done to earn your distrust. If you told him a dozen times a month that you’d “never do something again” and then did it a dozen times that next month, do you think he would trust you? He believes he’s entitled to your forgiveness as a reward for going to therapy or a stretch of good days, not because he’s actually changed. This type of criticism is like asking, “When exactly can I abuse you again? I’ve earned it.”

— I got this a lot. I had to defend over and over why I asked something or said something, kept bringing something up, supposed or wondered if he was doing or was going to do something again. He would say he can’t recover or heal or change or progress if I didn’t trust him (sounds like “he needs my help to change”, above), and I’d argue that he abused my trust and it’s not something I can just “put back”– especially not without any real apology or display on his part that he’ll never do that thing again! And allow me to add here that distrust of his ability to stay non-abusive for good includes not only abuse inflicted on me, but his abuse of others too.

He says something like, “You know I’d never do such a thing” when theres undisputed proof he’s done “such a thing” in the past. This is denial and crazymaking, and clearly abusive. Why exactly does he feel entitled to act “above reproach” in the face of his very own history? Well sometimes, in his mind, abuse is necessary to “getting along” . This comment shows he feels entitled to break any and all promises if he has “a good reason”.

— He always had “good reasons” for breaking promises. He was being idealistic, I was asking too much, he misunderstood, he forgot (even if it was written down, he forgot to check), etc etc. I’m not quite sure what the “getting along” part is supposed to mean, but sometimes I did wonder if he argued so much because that was the only way for him to interact with me. I have a vague recollection of him saying something in his blog or on facebook about negativity(?) being the only way he can connect(?) with people? I did not know that would someday mean the only way to feel connected to me was to argue with me for six hours at a time. 😦 He did often say “You know I’d never do such a thing” or if I suspected him of “doing such a thing” he’d get extremely very angry and blame me for “making him feel guilty”. I admit I was sometimes provoking, but I guess I needed two things: first I needed to know he was not doing that thing; and second I needed to know he did not see himself as “above reproach”, especially when the rest of the time he walked around acting like he’d never done anything wrong in his life and I needed to just get over everything. I’d always say, “But you did do this thing, and I can’t just sweep it under the rug”. I was faulted and criticised and blamed for staying on his case, or trying to hold him accountable for something he did to me, or testing the waters to see if his attitude had ever changed, as if my distrusts were the “real” problem and not any of the things which created them. I felt the crazymaking then, and could only say over and over, “But I didn’t do anything to you?” I couldn’t understand how I came to be the guilty party. I was just supposed to take him at his word– no matter how much he lied to me or how many broken promises there were– “You know I’d never do such a thing!” “Do I? No, I don’t know that, actually. Why would I know that?”

He reminds you, “You know that’s one of my triggers, but see how calm I’m acting? I’ve learned to control myself now.”
This amounts to a subtle threat. He’s reminding you that he still has the power to abuse you, but he’s lobbing softballs “cause he’s such a good guy now.” A good guy that has changed does not want you to remember the monster he was. This is why prisoners don’t get parole with this “good behaviour” argument; only accepting responsibility works. Again, you don’t get rewarded for not committing a crime; unless you feel entitled to commit crime and see yourself as nobly choosing not to. (I could have murdered her, but I chose not to. Sounds pretty foolish eh?)

— Toward the end, he did this often. I did not know what it was I felt uncomfortable with when he did this, until I read it here. I wish I had read this before, because I thought he was just being more communicative or more “mindful” of his feelings/behaviours in some way that still seemed kind of eerie to me. I blamed myself for thinking there was something wrong about it. If he pointed out how he feels like hitting but he’s not doing it, he still communicated his desire to hit. I asked him about this once, he said he was just letting me know where he’s at. That sounded… fair? People should be able to say how they feel? I wasn’t sure, but something rubbed me the wrong way, because I still felt like I was being threatened: “I want to hit something, so be very careful what you say next!” He also started doing this a lot whenever I brought something up or was trying to express how I feel. He told me how normally he’d get into a big argument with me, but this time he’s going to stay calm and just “absorb it.” I guess it did “work” because I got to say what I wanted to and get it out of my system, but certainly I never felt heard or like anything I said was taken to heart or would be addressed. He was just controlling his desire to argue with me, he wasn’t actively listening. I see now that the arguing had become so traumatic that I was just grateful to be promised a lack of argument, even if he wasn’t going to do anything more than absorb the sound of my voice. It was an exercise in meditation, not in being a compassionate person.

He says “I’m changing a lot, I swear” but he’s done any of the things above.
Run far, run fast.

— Yeah, I heard that a lot too. He has all sorts of epiphanies and ideas in his car while at work, but I never see any evidence of all his alleged change.

The majority of men do not become nonabusive men even in the highest quality abuser programs.
The guys that do change and become capable of a truly loving relationship all have the following things in common:
1. His social circle recognises he is abusive and tells him he needs to deal with it. They sympathise with the abused woman, and don’t back up his justifications for abuse or validate his overblown sense of entitlement.
2. He’s not irretrievably self-centered. He has some empathy and awareness of the pain he’s caused, regardless if he tends to run away from it.
3. He joins a high-quality abuser program and stays with it: two years is minimum.
4. His partner gets wholehearted, unrelenting support from the community. The more she gets the message that it’s not her fault, the less he can shirk responsibility.

— My ex is a total fail on #1. I guess I would have needed to witness him admit his problem to his family and a few certain friends as described in the “Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse” in order to feel like #1 had been accomplished. #2 is tricky for me, because if I give him the benefit of the doubt here, I’m not sure if it’s because he truly is aware, or if I’m just being a typical victim and wanting to believe the best about him. I am inclined to say he is not irretrievably self-centered, but I think that hangs on a couple things: first, the word “irretrievably”– yes, he is the most self-centered individual I have ever encountered, but no I don’t think he is irretrievably so. I think he has the capacity to empathise, though it is not strong or automatic for him. Second, I have noticed a pattern: he gets most aggressive/wanting to hit something when I speak some truth about how much something hurt me; this to me hints at the possibility that he DID just hear how much something hurt, he IS aware how much something hurt (his reaction is totally wrong, but he is aware) and his guilt is so strong it comes out as violent. On the other end of the spectrum, the only times I have seen him burst out in tears, he says always, “I loved you so much” and some variation of “and I completely fucked it up” or “I never meant to hurt you.” I think he is aware of the pain he’s caused, yes. Sometimes I even think all this abusiveness and everything he describes as his torment in this relationship might just be a defence mechanism to prevent him from seeing how much he’s hurt me; swept up in his own hurt, he doesn’t have to face me, right? I think he hurts and feels chaos because he hurt me, he’s just not seeing how hurting me kept him hurting himself the same way. I don’t know if that made any sense. Not treating me well equates to treating himself badly too. Something like that. Anyways, I think he satisfies #2. #3, I guess I don’t know exactly what that would be, but I suppose we could have figured it out if he would have ever admitted to his abusiveness. #4, I also don’t know how supportive his friends and family would have been or what their attitude would have been until #1 occurred, so I guess it’s irrelevant. I agree with it though and I like the idea. All told, I guess if he had ever wanted to accept responsibility, I think things could have worked with us.

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In the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe

8, April 2011 at 4:24 PM (conflicted, defeated, this is madness, trapped) (, , , , , , , , , )

One of the things I struggled with most during this relationship was trying to pretend various things: pretend I didn’t know what I did, pretend I don’t think the things I do, pretend I didn’t feel the way I did, pretend things weren’t happening the way they were, pretend I didn’t have things on my mind that I did, pretend he cared more than he was showing me, pretend he hadn’t told me so many lies or broken so many promises, pretend I forgot things I couldn’t, pretend he didn’t just say that, pretend I could get over something I couldn’t, pretend I didn’t have desires, pretend I could live without affection, appreciation or praise, pretend I’m someone I’m not, the list goes on and on. I value and strive for honesty, perhaps above all other things, and that includes being honest with myself. I am not very good at pretending; I cannot do it for very long, and even if I’m trying, I cannot do it completely. So here too I was no good at it, and the only thing it resulted in was tremendous and near-constant internal conflict. I knew every time I expressed how I was feeling or said what was on my mind or tried to get to the bottom of something, I’d get arguments, hours and hours of arguments; I also knew if the arguments went on too long or happened too often, his unhappiness and displeasure would trump all other subjects and all he’d want to do is leave. Another double-bind: either pretend everything inside and out is fine– and in order for me to be able to do that, I’d have to learn how to believe things which weren’t real or true– or get left. For me, that’s a lose-lose situation. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know that.

From his point of view, which was oblivious to and of me most of the time, things probably seemed like they came sometimes out of nowhere– gently-expressed suggestions, requests, reminders or concerns were never heard, things I told him about myself and my life either never took hold in his memory or were discarded from it. In an attempt to bring levity or humour to this situation, I often said it was like being in “Groundhog Day”: he was like the characters who started every day the same brand-new, having no idea anything was out of the ordinary, and I was Bill Murray not able to figure out what was going on and wanting to throw myself under a bus. I can’t function in that universe. Unlike Bill Murray, I do not nor do I desire to get to the point where, after I have learned and can anticipate everyone’s response, I can manipulate everything to my own personal advantage. This gets dull even to Bill Murray after awhile, because he can’t pretend there’s any truth in his interactions with others. In the back of his mind, he still knows it’s just pretend, and pretending isn’t stopping the maddening tape-loop. So to my former partner, I’m sure I sometimes looked just as irrational as Bill Murray did to the other characters, who couldn’t understand what he was yelling about or why.

I was suffering in every sense of the word, trying to reconcile what I knew with how I felt with how he wanted things to be with how I needed things to be with how things actually were, and all the while doubting the validity of my feelings, my needs, my thoughts, my concerns and even my reality or existence. Madness. All I wanted was a little truth. But with all the lies, contradictions and broken promises, my confidence, my ego, my boundaries and my ability to trust even myself were in tatters. I didn’t want to end the relationship, I wanted it to get better. But what constituted “better” just kept getting more and more watered-down, until finally I just started looking for some way to cope.

One day I found this quote from Fred Rogers:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”

I was blown away by the insight, sympathy and wisdom of it. At the time I found it, my partner happened to be in a phase of reflecting upon his life-long inability to make substantial emotional connections with people, his difficulties with articulating his feelings, his dissatisfaction with life, his inability to open up, and his problems with how he expresses anger and frustration. So not only did I think the quote described him exactly, I thought he would be receptive to the spirit of what Mr. Rogers was getting at with it. I added the quote to goodreads.com, a social-networking site organised around reading and books that my former partner and I are on, hoping he would see it and think about it (and yay! 11 users have liked it so far and added it to their profiles too!). Maybe we could even talk about it. Maybe there’s a new way of looking at what was going on. Maybe I could cope with our relationship difficulties better if just saw him differently– not as someone who was treating me or behaving as he did out of ignorance, carelessness or meanness, but as someone who can’t help it or who doesn’t know any other way, and who can’t simply “get up out of his chair and walk” just because our relationship needs him to. I don’t mean to give the impression that this new perspective would have made me think I should just learn to live with poor treatment, but rather that maybe I/we were going at the problems from the wrong angle and with the wrong attitude. Maybe some kind of emotional therapy was needed, and with that, more time because progress would be slow, and more patience, because success would be measured in baby-steps.

Well, I probably thought that because all that was being drilled into me our whole relationship was that I wasn’t patient/understanding/tolerant/supportive/etc, enough. 🙄 So, go figure.

After reading glowing reviews about the book this quote came from, The World According to Mister Rogers, I ordered the book for my partner and gave it to him for Christmas. He was reading a lot of self-help books at the time, and this was just a tiny book of quotes about life and love and people and relationships that takes an hour or less to read. I figured he could fit an hour in somewhere, or just look at it now and then. I figured it would give us some things to think about, maybe even provide talking-points about ourselves, what we want from our lives and this relationship, or what we can and cannot do about what was going on. I also gave him a calendar with his favourite animal on it (raccoons), so he could better keep track of and communicate his schedule (which was getting busier as he was adding more days he wanted to “do things for himself alone”); a raccoon sticker to put on his new car; a raccoon pin for his new book bag (his previous one got stolen from his old car); a stainless-steel water bottle (with a raccoon on it, of course) so he didn’t have to use plastic anymore (coincidentally his other had just broken, too); and a blank journal (his old one also stolen) with an opossum on it, for his drawings, the million little notes he makes for himself, or whatever he wants to put in it. From him I got a cutting board. Which I gave him the money for that I’d saved out of my tax return so we could all buy each other Christmas presents. I’m such an idiot.

Abuse experts identify caretaking nurturers, “fixers”, givers and optimist-idealists as the most likely victims, the most obvious targets, or the longest-suffering enablers of abusive or controlling men. Hey me, way to go.

Last I asked, and even though I’ve mentioned it several times, he said he still had not seen the quote on my goodreads page. He barely used the journal (he decided to start using index cards bound by a rubber band instead), and he never used the calendar or the sticker. I half-wonder if he’d even be using the water bottle if water weren’t necessary for survival. He broke the pin in an angry fit while grabbing his bag in a hurry to leave me again. And of course he never read the book.

So at least something I did spoke to 11 strangers on a website, but no matter what I tried I could never get through to the one in my house who said he loved me. 😳

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