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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Putting It All Together

16, May 2011 at 4:09 AM (sad or sorry for myself) (, , , , , , , , )

[21. May update: I have been thinking about this post, and I feel stupid for it. I won’t remove it, however, because I think it serves to represent just how confused, insecure and unable to know what reality even is anymore when someone exercises gaslighting, withholding and underloading on their partner– and how much I had to rely on deduction, inference, or “filling in the blanks” to try to figure out what was ever going on. I could never know what was true and what wasn’t, I still can’t. I am back to thinking that probably nothing happened between him and his high-school friend, and that I’m just being ridiculous for thinking maybe something did. But that’s just it: this is how things were every day, me going back and forth never being able to know anything, and feeling guilty, stupid or ridiculous whenever I had doubts. What certainly was going on throughout our relationship is that by lying, withholding, manipulating what I could and couldn’t know about him, my partner took control of whether or not there could be any trust or stability in the relationship. He didn’t have to actually cheat on me to make me feel insecure or jealous or even distrustful of my own instincts; by choosing to be always evasive and secretive, he only had to leave open and let me wrestle with the possibility of whether or not he did, would have, or wanted to. Obviously trust and intimacy cannot be created in such a relationship; anyone who, like my ex, would choose to cultivate insecurities, jealousies, distrust and self-doubt in their partner instead of trust, confidence, and stability, is taking abusive control of his partner’s feelings, emotions and ability to make decisions that are right for them.]

From what I have been learning, abusers seem to respond to the final break-up in one of two ways. Some are deeply outraged at their loss of control over their partner and intensify the abuse in an effort to maintain control or get it back. The other type leaves almost in relief: it was getting to be too much work and hassle to control their partner, manipulate their allies, and keep their guilt from overtaking their conscience. Neither outrage nor relief would be the reaction of someone who genuinely loves their partner. Except for one breathless and panicky voice mail message in which he insists I let him come over to talk to me left shortly after he read my break-up letter (he claims there was no connection, that he was just beside himself in a state of incoherence for no reason at all), my former partner falls and remains squarely in the latter category.

One of the things he did from the very beginning and throughout our relationship was lie to me about just about everything. Yet he would argue for hours whenever I confronted him that he was being completely honest even though he understood at the time I asked him something that he was strategically misleading me (“protecting” me from the truth so I “wouldn’t feel bad”, he said).  He can make the claim that he was honest due to extremely very careful and idiosyncratic interpretation known only to him of questions that I asked. Instead of answering the spirit of a question, he would pick out a single word, interpret it in his own private way, and answer accordingly. I could, of course, never know what, exactly, he was answering, and it took a very, very long time to figure out this is what was going on (this is called “Gaslighting”; see also: What is Withholding?).

[Note: the text below has been revised since this was originally posted; I discovered by review of our emails that I did not in fact question my partner on if he was sleeping with someone else, but rather I wondered if he was sleeping somewhere else– a significant difference, which does not make any assumption about whether he was staying with someone male or female, friends, other family or a new partner.  My inquiry only questions his location and not his activities. As shall be seen below, he responded aggressively about where he was staying by introducing himself the possibility he was sleeping with someone. Though he denies it, he does so in the same breath as he suggests it. Not only is this an example of gaslighting, especially because even I myself was led by his response to believe or feel as though I asked something I didn’t, but it looks very much like “confessing by denying”– like the classic “stupid criminals” story of the guy who was standing by a trash can when police officers walked by: when asked what he was doing there, the guy said, “I didn’t throw any drugs in the trash, if that’s what you were thinking!” This unsolicited denial aroused the officers’ suspicions; they then looked in the trash and sure enough, there were drugs and the guy was arrested. Having noticed this oddity today, I take back that it seems far-fetched that he was sleeping with someone within a week of seeing me for the last time, and now feel it appears likely he was– and what this would mean to me is that not only might he have lied to me about the incident itself, but also he lied the last time I saw him about how long he intends to wait (“at least a year”) before considering himself recovered enough from the pain of our relationship not working out before he “could even think about being intimate with another woman.” The bottom line, if it is the case that he lied about these things, for me is this: he suffers absolutely no heartbreak about never being with me again; further, I was not the “love of his life”, but rather an easily replaceable object. 😥 All that said, let us proceed with the story:]

Since our breakup, my partner and I have remained distantly in contact over email, mostly him dumping his endless problems with his car and his job on me, and arguing about financial matters. One day he seemed to me to suggest that he wasn’t staying where he said he was staying, and I wondered if he was hinting that he was already sleeping with someone else or at someone else’s house. I wrote him back and told him I really did not need to hear about such things, and stated I felt it was insensitive to imply to me that he had so soon moved on. He replied to everything else in my message except this issue. In fact, he seemed to make it a point to highlight his evasion by beginning his message with, “I guess I’d better clear some things up”– addressing every single thing in my previous message except whether or not I had any cause to be concerned that he was implying he had already moved on only a week after we shared our last kiss. What one doesn’t say is sometimes more revealing than what one does say, so I pointed out that I noticed his omission. He wrote back another ambiguous note that still did not address my concern. Finally, after many messages between us, in a note which makes several totally unfounded accusations distorting my original concern, he said, “If you like just assuming I’m sleeping with someone, go ahead. But I’m not.” Pretty insensitive, isn’t it, to assert I like to think of him sleeping with someone else, or that I would like to believe he had so little feeling for me that he’d have moved on within just a couple weeks.

Tonight I was thinking about just that: how quickly and totally he appeared to be over everything. At no time since we broke up has he ever expressed being sorry, or that he misses me, or that this is hard or in any way an emotional time. He has sent me a list of dumb things to make sure I remember to give back to him and includes a gift I gave him as if it were no more sentimental than anything else on the list, like bottles of vitamins, or unused notebooks. To everything I have said– angry, sad, sentimental, in need of closure, or even just asking him to read a book which might help him understand what went wrong– he has responded with THE WALL OF SILENCE, as if all he saw in those parts of my messages was blank space. I hear from a trusted friend that on facebook he is just exactly the same as he was two years ago, as if he never knew me, and our relationship never happened: his mood is neither up nor down, he’s just the same ol’ guy he always was. Sure, people don’t have to “advertise” their bad relationships online, but I guess what I think I’m seeing here is a guy who hasn’t had a single regret or thought in his head wishing we weren’t broken up or that there was anything he should have done differently to prevent that. I think what I’m seeing here is a guy whose last-relationship demons are already exorcised, who is already over it, and for whom there is no looking back. You know what that usually means: he slept with someone.

But when I wondered if he was sleeping somewhere other than at his parents’ or a friend he intended to move in with, after a great deal of dodging he finally said, “If you like just assuming I’m sleeping with someone, go ahead. But I’m not.” At the time I thought, silly me, yeah, it would seem pretty far-fetched that he found someone to hook up with that fast, but tonight it hit me: the -ING! SleepING with someone. Ah, I get it. In order to understand his answer, passive-aggressively worded no less, I have to interpret the question in the way that he would: sleepING with someone suggests something currently happening and/or ongoing (in fact, this verb tense is called “present continuous”). If he had already slept with someone once or twice and he does not expect it to happen again– he would say, no, I am not sleepING with someone. This is very different than what would be said by a compassionate partner who didn’t sleep with someone; a compassionate partner would not want someone he cares about to worry or feel bad, especially about something that didn’t happen. A person who loves you and cares about being honest with you would answer the spirit of the question directly: “I haven’t slept with anyone.” A person who cared about you might even expand on that to comfort you with something to the effect of, “I am not interested in getting involved with anyone so soon, I have a lot to deal with, etc” or “I told you I loved you and never wanted to be with anyone else, that doesn’t change in a matter of weeks.” But I know the guy I was with, and I know his particular method of lying to me in such a way as to be able to later claim and feel like he’s technically telling the truth: by picking out a single word, interpreting it in his own private way, and answering only that. So it could very well be possible that he had sex with someone else anywhere between the day he left and the day before I wondered if he was sleeping at someone else’s; it could also be possible that he got a blow-job a few times but didn’t have intercourse; it could even be possible that he had sex a few times, got a blow-job a few times, did it upside down standing on his head in the middle of Main Street with five different women in broad daylight, but as long as he didn’t SLEEP with someone (as in catch a few z’s), this guy would say, “If you like just assuming I’m sleeping with someone, go ahead. But I’m not”, and feel 100% confident that he was answering what I wanted to know with the absolute, God’s Honest Truth.

This leads to wondering if it would even be possible for him to find a new partner so fast. But then I remembered when he left another time last year, he told me he had gotten together socially with his high-school friend Becky, a girl he reported having a crush on and wanting to sleep with for years. She was going through some difficulties with her boyfriend at the time, and was considering an estrangement or break-up also. After their meeting, I saw a message she wrote him about “renewing vows” with him. I asked him what that meant, he said he had no idea. That to me sounds pretty hard to believe, such a strong sentiment from one of his oldest friends, someone he had long and lingering feelings for, something that references some kind of special or meaningful pact or agreement he made with her at some time in their past. But, he claimed, he had no idea what she was talking about. She also invited him on a road trip somewhere, somewhere which would involve staying overnight together. I asked him why she would think it’s appropriate to invite him to stay with her somewhere overnight when he supposedly has a girlfriend (whom she never met, besides). Again, he said he had no idea what her intentions may have been or why she would invite him to go somewhere and stay overnight with her. He said because he hasn’t a clue what any of it was about, he was just going to ignore her messages, so I shouldn’t be worried. Though I found it kind of odd that he would just ignore his oldest friend like that rather than give her an answer to her invitation or try to find out what she meant by “renewing their vows” (if he really didn’t know what this meant, which I seriously doubt), I had so many other things to worry about with him I took his advice and forgot about it.

Well now, I must admit, this stuff worries me. Was he leaving me and going to her and talking to her about things and in some certain way that gave her the impression that he was available? Perhaps this shouldn’t matter now, but when I look at how fast this guy (who always and even at the end claimed he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me) seems to be without a regret or care in the world that he shall never lay eyes on me or hear my voice again, I wish, I really, really wish, I knew what was really going on then. I just want to understand what was happening in my relationship. And if he was mincing words when he answered my supposition that he was sleeping somewhere other than where he said he was at the time, I wish, I really, really wish I knew that too. Not because I have any “claim” to him anymore, and not so I can torture myself about it, but so I can finally put to rest the question of whether this guy, who never showed love for me a day in his life but could (and often did!) argue to the contrary for 6, 8, 10 uninterrupted hours if I said I didn’t feel cared about, could this guy have possibly loved me, did he ever even like me, or was everything a lie? Because I’d have to say, if he was flirting with his friend while we were together, if he slept (in any of that word’s connotations) with her or someone else since we broke up, that would explain a great deal: about the speed and ease with which he appears to have gotten over me, about why he will never acknowledge or deal with what he did, about why he isn’t sorry, about why isn’t sad, about why he isn’t even fucking curious about how I’m doing personally (what kind of guy wants to spend the rest of his life with a girl he doesn’t even care to ask, “How have you been?” when he writes her two months after not seeing her anymore?), about why he can go around smiling and joking with people, same ol’ guy he always was, while two months after he moved out I’m still wrecked with grief, loss, and the physical and emotional effects of his abuse on me and my son.

Maybe it is is a far-fetched explanation to suppose the reason he’s over everything as quickly and completely as he appears is because he has already consummated a long-developing affair with his high-school crush with whom he had taken some kind of secret personal vows. The simpler explanation is: he is an abuser, and abusers don’t give a goddamn about anything that isn’t providing direct benefit to themselves. Most especially do they not give a damn about their partners’ need and right to hear the truth about what he did, why he did it, and what, if anything, he is willing to do about it to help her recover from the damage he caused.

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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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