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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Traumatic Bonding

1, May 2011 at 11:21 AM (conflicted, solution-oriented) (, , , , )

From Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft (italics in original, underline mine):

One of the great tragedies of all forms of abuse is that the abused person can become emotionally dependent on the perpetrator through a process called traumatic bonding. The assaults that an abuser makes on the woman’s self-opinion, his undermining of her progress in her life, the wedges he drives between her and other people, the psychological effects left on her when he turns scary– all can combine to cause her to need him more and more. This is a bitter psychological irony. Child abuse works in the same way, in fact, children can become more strongly attached to abusive parents than to nonabusive ones. Survivors of hostage-taking situations or of torture can exhibit similar effects, attempting to protect their tormentors from legal consequences, insisting that the hostage takers actually had their best interests at heart or even describing them as kind and caring individuals– a phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome. […]

Almost no abuser is mean or frightening all the time. At least occasionally he is loving, gentle, and humorous and perhaps even capable of compassion and empathy. This intermittent, and usually unpredictable, kindness is critical to forming traumatic attachments. When a person has suffered harsh, painful treatment over an extended period of time, he or she naturally feels a flood of love and gratitude toward anyone who brings relief, like the surge of affection one might feel for the hand that offers a glass of water on a scorching day. But in situations of abuse, the rescuer and the tormentor are the very same person. When a man stops [abusing his partner], the typical response is to feel grateful to him. […]

Your abusive partner’s cycles of moving in and out of periods of cruelty can cause you to feel very close to him during those times when he is finally kind and loving. You can end up feeling that the nightmare of his abusiveness is an experience the two of you have shared and are escaping from together, a dangerous illusion that trauma can cause. I commonly hear an abused woman say about her partner, “He really knows me,” or “No one understands me the way he does.” This may be true, but the reason he seems to understand you well is that he has studied ways to manipulate your emotions and control your reactions. At times he may seem to grasp how badly he has hurt you, which can make you feel close to him, but it’s another illusion; if he could really be empathetic about the pain he has caused, he would stop abusing you for good.

[…]

The trauma of chronic abuse can also make a woman develop fears of being alone at night, anxiety about her competence to manage her life on her own, and feelings of isolation from other people, especially if the abuser has driven her apart from her friends and family. All of these effects of abuse can make it much more difficult to separate from an abusive partner than a nonabusive one. The pull to reunify can therefore be great. Researchers have found that most abused women leave the abuser multiple times before finally being able to stay away for good. This prolonged process is largely due to the abuser’s ongoing coercion and manipulation but also is caused by the trauma bonds he has engendered in his partner.

One exercise that can help you address this trap involves making a list of all the ways, including emotional ones, in which you feel dependent on your partner, then making another list of the big or small steps you might take to begin to become more independent. These lists can guide you in focusing your energy in the directions you need to go.

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“That’s none of your business.”

9, April 2011 at 2:59 PM (angry or frustrated, defeated, this is madness) (, , , , , , , , )

Blocking and diverting: Blocking and diverting specifically controls interpersonal communication. The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, and withholds information, thereby preventing all possibility of resolving conflicts. Blocking may be accusatory; however, its primary purpose is to prevent discussion, end communication, withhold information, or “win” an argument. Through diversion the topic is changed, often turning the tables on the partner so she must defend herself on an unrelated topic. None of the abuser’s diversions answer the partner’s question or concern in a thoughtful and considerate way. The abuser blocks her attempts to gain information or open communications by diverting her from the issue with accusations and irrelevant comments. Often the partner does not notice that the original topic is no longer the topic. She has been diverted.

Underloading: The ways that RIGHT TO KNOW are violated are when we are not given clear information, as in underloading[.] In underloading, the abusive partner gives us too little information so we are off-balance and have shaky confidence about what we are learning; or the person has left and it is only after they’re gone that we realize we don’t know any more than before we asked them a question. At these times it requires the receiver of the information to assume or draw conclusions about the meaning of the incomplete information. This is also a time when mind-reading comes into play. In order to survive this walking on eggshells, the receiver of the incomplete message or silent treatment must use past references to know what the sender of the message might intend.

Withholding: When a man refuses to empathetically listen, validate, or share information and emotions, he’s destroying the core of what sustains an intimate relationship. He’s withholding. For a relationship to be truly intimate, it requires mutual and empathetic listening, validation, and sharing.


In the 6-page letter my former partner gave me after I terminated our relationship, in which he provides a summary of our relationship and his experiences in it, he has this epiphany: at the times he didn’t want to talk to me or share information about something, he could have-should have exercised his right to say, “That’s none of your business.”

I don’t know if this is yet another bit of bad advice from his mom or his seemingly inept therapist, or if this is a discovery he came up with on his own; either way, asserting it as a “solution” to his discomfort with talking about certain things, sharing, or otherwise revealing more about himself than he is used to shows me not only how far away he really is from acknowledging how his choices and behaviours destroyed this relationship, but also how much more abusive he could have become had I not ended things when I did.

Now, he’s not wrong: he does indeed have the right to say, “That’s none of your business.” Sounds good in theory, but there are a number of things here he is failing to follow up on regarding how that would play out in practice:

1. “That’s none of your business” is a statement people use to quickly shut someone else out;
2. It violates my right to know;
3. It denies and rejects my interests or concerns;
4. It lacks empathy;
5. It steals power: he takes authority over me to decide for me what is or is not my business;
6. It is a conversational shut-down technique, which thwarts communication;
7. It functions not as an emotional boundary, but a wall;
8. It expresses hostility: the other is an enemy or threat;
9 a. It is underloading, which is abusive: I do not learn anything and have to operate on assumptions;
9 b. This immediately turns into attacking me for “jumping to conclusions”, “filling in the blanks”, “making assumptions”, “being judgmental”, “putting words in his mouth”, etc (which is blame-shifting and diverting);
10 a. It is blocking, which is abusive: he controls communication, and therefore prevents conflict resolution;
10 b. Continuing to make attempts to resolve the conflict immediately turns into attacking me for “not letting things go”, “dragging things on forever”, “never giving him a break”, “wearing him out”, etc (which is blame-shifting and diverting);
11 a. It is diverting, which is abusive: what and why I wanted to know something becomes the controversy and puts me on the defense;
11 b. This immediately turns into attacking me for “being so defensive”, “not letting things go”, “asking too many questions”, “having irrelevant interests/concerns”, “changing the subject”, “failing to make him comfortable opening up”, etc (which is blame-shifting and diverting heaped on blame-shifting and diverting)
12 a. It is withholding, which is abusive: it destroys trust and prevents intimacy, the relationship cannot survive;
12 b. This immediately turns into attacking the relationship itself for “being unhealthy”, “being toxic”, “being bad”, “it should have ended earlier”, “he wants to leave”, “he can’t handle this”, “there are too many problems”, etc (which is diverting and coercive);
13. It arouses greater suspicion: what is he trying to hide?
14. It prevents me from being able to make informed decisions for myself;
15. It manipulates to what I can or cannot give informed consent;
16. It prevents me from getting to know him (a ha, we may be onto something….);
17. It forgets that I can say, fine, I think it is my business, so if you don’t like that you’re better off with someone who doesn’t care about this as much as I do.

Off the top of my head, these are only some of the many consequences launching a statement like “That’s none of your business” can have in the context of an intimate relationship, but let’s pause on those last few for a moment. Clearly every of these consequences relates to control; but preventing me from getting to know him prevents me from being able to decide for myself not only if he is someone I even want to be with at all, but in what ways and how much I am willing or not willing to compromise, negotiate, or make any of the other usual efforts to sustain a romantic relationship. And preventing all that is seriously manipulative, and seriously abusive of power. In some ways, I’m in awe, really, that he would make any kind of argument in favour of being more controlling, more withholding, more abusive– but of course, this is not what he thinks he is doing. My guess is he thinks he’s asserting his boundaries. Everyone is allowed to have them, fine. I don’t care about that. But something akin to “I’m just not telling you, nyah-nyah-nyah” does not contribute to growing a healthy, mature, intimate or even enjoyable relationship. He has had his girlfriends who didn’t care to know his business, and there are plenty more out there who wouldn’t just the same; there was and still is no need for him to demand of any relationship that it provide him with the sensation of being known without having to tell. And when you get into an area like sex, which I will tell my readers now is what this is all about in our case, it just plain and simple isn’t right– yes it’s capital-w Wrong– to decide for someone else what they do and do not have a right to know before becoming and while being involved with you. Remember I said I agreed he does have the right to say, “That’s none of your business”; moreover I’ll even add that he has a moral obligation to say it if that’s what he truly believes. But someone who says to me, “That’s none of your business”, especially about subjects relating to my/our sexual life, has to be willing to hear me reply, “Well then, see ya later pal, cuz I don’t do relationships like that.”

So the ironic thing is, I wish he did say, “That’s none of your business” from the very start, on every subject he truly felt he didn’t want to talk about, and I wish he would have repeated it as often as necessary until the day I would stop trying to gently explain to him why I feel something is my business (in the beginning, I used to do this), or why being in a relationship is all about sharing your business with someone else (I used to do this, too), because then I could have said not just you’d be better off with someone who doesn’t care about this as much as I do— because he’d argue and argue in disagreement whenever I said that– but I’m better off with someone who doesn’t block and withhold. I guess I always knew that deep down inside, but the crumbs I was thrown here and there made me keep trying. It looks to me now like that’s what he was going for: he wanted to be with me, he wanted us to have a relationship, he just wanted it without the costs and risks of opening up his whole self, and without me having the confidence and power to leave him if I decided he wasn’t the right person for me. Had he said, “That’s none of your business” every time he wanted to or felt like he “should”, I would have decided (and not just supposed) right-quick he is not my guy, no way, no how!

(But that’s what power and control is about, isn’t it. Getting the most of what you want for the least expense and trying to keep it as long as possible. Emotional capitalist-consumerism. Yuck.)

Really, it’s just sad. He didn’t want to lose me, so he did everything in the book to try to “keep” me, which is exactly what is written in the book on how to lose me. I’m just very, very sorry that the lesson he learned from it all was not how to build a relationship better, but how to destroy it faster; not how to become a more trusting and trustworthy person, but how to become more closed and suspicious; not how to become more transparent, but more opaque; not how to become an intimate partner, but how to remain an enigma.

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On Trial – Preamble

6, April 2011 at 5:01 AM (scapegoated) (, , , , , )

It is my belief that a partner has an obligation to talk to the other, especially about those issues with which the other is most concerned. That partner cannot tell the other they have no right to have concerns, or that they have no right to ask about anything, or that their concerns have been sufficiently addressed, or that they have been concerned about something too long, or for the wrong reasons, or anything else of this sort.

In the letter which inspired this blog (see About), my former partner stated that he feels “put on trial” when I ask him questions about things which are concerns to me. This is called blame-shifting, diversion, and trivialising. Instead of owning that he does not talk to me and acknowledging that I have a right to know and ask about things which concern me, instead of understanding that with every instance or threat of further or more intensified withholding/underloading, he shifts the blame for everyone’s bad feelings onto me for asking too many questions, and diverts attention away from his behaviour by changing the subject to what a great big questioner I am. Further, he trivialises my increasing (and increasingly frustrated) attempts to get information about what concerns me by mocking my purposes for asking (that is, I am not actually a person with concerns which are being always resisted, rejected, and/or constantly left un-adressed, but rather I am taking upon myself the role of a lawyer or judge seeking to convict a criminal. Why? Not sure. Because I’m just irrational, or power-trippy, or I enjoy everyone feeling like crap at the end of the day? His letter doesn’t say).

One of the most frustrating and infuriating things abusive people do is blame-shift about the abuse itself. When their partner tries to confront them about their behaviour, they turn it around right back on them and accuse the confronting person of being the abuser for calling their behaviour abusive– wait, does that sentence make any sense? Neither does this kind of blame-shifting. It would make me feel completely crazy. And defensive. And defeated. And disappointed in my partner. I came to him hoping he would care and get help or work with me to make things right. Instead he took all the words out of my mouth and put them (inaccurately) in his own.

Recently I used the word “coercive” to describe how he forces my compliance with or deference to his needs or point of view by threatening to leave the relationship– which would also mean I would be thrown suddenly into a situation where I would not know where my son’s or my next meal would come from, nor would we know for how long we could live in our apartment if I couldn’t find a really well-paid full time job within two weeks or less. See, in order to coerce, one must have some kind of power with which to intimidate another. It is not difficult to understand that the power to cause someone and their child to become hungry or homeless could be used to intimidate another.  Now I have been informed in a six-page typewritten statement of near-innocence and near-total victimisation that it is actually I, who has nothing over this guy, who has been coercing him. With what power, I’d really like to know. But no doubt the word sounded good to him, and now that he’s been introduced to the concept of coercion as an abusive tactic, he immediately posits himself as the victim of it.

So fine, let’s put myself and his coercion statement on trial. My alleged crime, which to begin with can plainly be identified as a statement of blame (“You guilted me into doing something I didn’t want to do!” vs. “I have feelings of guilt when I talk to you, so I avoid talking to you in an attempt to avoid feeling guilty.”), is a perfect example of him taking a recent expression of my feelings about his power in the relationship and re-directing it at me– without ever, ever discussing at all my original complaint, of course. And thus he slithers away without having to connect his own guilt with his own actions. Classic.

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