YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you—as will happen to any abused woman from time to time—he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.
An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he’s not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility, until you feel drained down to nothing.
Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out? Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you? Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did? Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you? Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you? Has he ever threatened to hurt you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent; he already has been.
The abuser’s mood changes are especially perplexing. He can be a different person from day to day, or even from hour to hour. At times he is aggressive and intimidating, his tone harsh, insults spewing from his mouth, ridicule dripping from him like oil from a drum. When he’s in this mode, nothing she says seems to have any impact on him, except to make him even angrier. Her side of the argument counts for nothing in his eyes, and everything is her fault. He twists her words around so that she always ends up on the defensive. As so many partners of my clients have said to me, “I just can’t seem to do anything right.” At other moments, he sounds wounded and lost, hungering for love and for someone to take care of him. When this side of him emerges, he appears open and ready to heal. He seems to let down his guard, his hard exterior softens, and he may take on the quality of a hurt child, difficult and frustrating but lovable. Looking at him in this deflated state, his partner has trouble imagining that the abuser inside of him will ever be back. The beast that takes him over at other times looks completely unrelated to the tender person she now sees. Sooner or later, though, the shadow comes back over him, as if it had a life of its own. Weeks of peace may go by, but eventually she finds herself under assault once again. Then her head spins with the arduous effort of untangling the many threads of his character, until she begins to wonder whether she is the one whose head isn’t quite right.
The abusive man’s high entitlement leads him to have unfair and unreasonable expectations, so that the relationship revolves around his demands. His attitude is: “You owe me.” For each ounce he gives, he wants a pound in return. He wants his partner to devote herself fully to catering to him, even if it means that her own needs—or her children’s—get neglected. You can pour all your energy into keeping your partner content, but if he has this mind-set, he’ll never be satisfied for long. And he will keep feeling that you are controlling him, because he doesn’t believe that you should set any limits on his conduct or insist that he meet his responsibilities.
The woman knows from living with the abusive man that there are no simple answers. Friends say: “He’s mean.” But she knows many ways in which he has been good to her. Friends say: “He treats you that way because he can get away with it. I would never let someone treat me that way.” But she knows that the times when she puts her foot down the most firmly, he responds by becoming his angriest and most intimidating. When she stands up to him, he makes her pay for it—sooner or later. Friends say: “Leave him.” But she knows it won’t be that easy. He will promise to change. He’ll get friends and relatives to feel sorry for him and pressure her to give him another chance. He’ll get severely depressed, causing her to worry whether he’ll be all right. And, depending on what style of abuser he is, she may know that he will become dangerous when she tries to leave him. She may even be concerned that he will try to take her children away from her, as some abusers do.
Now let's move on to the subject of how a real man treats his wife. A real man doesn't slap even a ten-dollar hooker around, if he's got any self respect, much less hurt his own woman. Much less ten times over the mother of his kids. A real man busts his ass to feed his family, fights for them if he has to, dies for them if he has to. And he treats his wife with respect every day of his life, treats her like a queen - the queen of the home she makes for their children.
One of the obstacles to recognizing chronic mistreatment in relationships is that most abusive men simply don’t seem like abusers. They have many good qualities, including times of kindness, warmth, and humor, especially in the early period of a relationship. An abuser’s friends may think the world of him. He may have a successful work life and have no problems with drugs or alcohol. He may simply not fit anyone’s image of a cruel or intimidating person. So when a woman feels her relationship spinning out of control, it is unlikely to occur to her that her partner is an abuser.
I am living in hell from one day to the next. But there is nothing I can do to escape. I don't know where I would go if I did. I feel utterly powerless, and that feeling is my prision. I entered of my own free will, I locked the door, and I threw away the key.
IN ONE IMPORTANT WAY, an abusive man works like a magician: His tricks largely rely on getting you to look off in the wrong direction, distracting your attention so that you won’t notice where the real action is. He draws you into focusing on the turbulent world of his feelings to keep your eyes turned away from the true cause of his abusiveness, which lies in how he thinks. He leads you into a convoluted maze, making your relationship with him a labyrinth of twists and turns. He wants you to puzzle over him, to try to figure him out, as though he were a wonderful but broken machine for which you need only to find and fix the malfunctioning parts to bring it roaring to its full potential. His desire, though he may not admit it even to himself, is that you wrack your brain in this way so that you won’t notice the patterns and logic of his behavior, the consciousness behind the craziness.
Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that’s physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you.
It is fine to commiserate with a man about his bad experience with a previous partner, but the instant he uses her as an excuse to mistreat you, stop believing anything he tells you about that relationship and instead recognize it as a sign that he has problems with relating to women.
When a man starts my program, he often says, “I am here because I lose control of myself sometimes. I need to get a better grip.” I always correct him: "Your problem is not that you lose control of yourself, it’s that you take control of your partner. In order to change, you don’t need to gain control over yourself, you need to let go of control of her.
The guarantee of safety in a battering relationship can never be based upon a promise from the perpetrator, no matter how heartfelt. Rather, it must be based upon the self-protective capability of the victim. Until the victim has developed a detailed and realistic contingency plan and has demonstrated her ability to carry it out, she remains in danger of repeated abuse.
To make matters worse, everyone she talks to has a different opinion about the nature of his problem and what she should do about it. Her clergyperson may tell her, “Love heals all difficulties. Give him your heart fully, and he will find the spirit of God.” Her therapist speaks a different language, saying, “He triggers strong reactions in you because he reminds you of your father, and you set things off in him because of his relationship with his mother. You each need to work on not pushing each other’s buttons.” A recovering alcoholic friend tells her, “He’s a rage addict. He controls you because he is terrified of his own fears. You need to get him into a twelve-step program.” Her brother may say to her, “He’s a good guy. I know he loses his temper with you sometimes—he does have a short fuse—but you’re no prize yourself with that mouth of yours. You two need to work it out, for the good of the children.” And then, to crown her increasing confusion, she may hear from her mother, or her child’s schoolteacher, or her best friend: “He’s mean and crazy, and he’ll never change. All he wants is to hurt you. Leave him now before he does something even worse.” All of these people are trying to help, and they are all talking about the same abuser. But he looks different from each angle of view.
If you have survived an abuser, and you tried to make things right… If you forgave, and you struggled, and even if the expression of your grief and your anger tumbled out at times in too much rage and too many words… If you spent years hanging on to the concepts of faith, hope, and love, even after you knew in your heart that those intangibles, upon which life is formed and sustained, would fail in the end… And especially, if you stood between your children - or anyone - and him, and took the physical, emotional, and spiritual pummeling in their stead, then you are a hero.
My father was one of those men who sit in a room and you can feel it: the simmer, the sense of some unpredictable force that might, at any moment, break loose, and do something terrible. [Burnside, p. 27]
It is important to note that research has shown that men who have abusive mothers do not tend to develop especially negative attitudes toward females, but men who have abusive fathers do; the disrespect that abusive men show their female partners and their daughters is often absorbed by their sons. So while a small number of abusive men do hate women, the great majority exhibit a more subtle—though often quite pervasive—sense of superiority or contempt toward females, and some don’t show any obvious signs of problems with women at all until they are in a serious relationship.
When a man’s face contorts in bitterness and hatred, he looks a little insane. When his mood changes from elated to assaultive in the time it takes to turn around, his mental stability seems open to question. When he accuses his partner of plotting to harm him, he seems paranoid. It is no wonder that the partner of an abusive man would come to suspect that he was mentally ill. Yet the great majority of my clients over the years have been psychologically “normal.” Their minds work logically; they understand cause and effect; they don’t hallucinate. Their perceptions of most life circumstances are reasonably accurate. They get good reports at work; they do well in school or training programs; and no one other than their partners—and children—thinks that there is anything wrong with them. Their value system is unhealthy, not their psychology.
THE MYTHS ABOUT ABUSERS 1. He was abused as a child. 2. His previous partner hurt him. 3. He abuses those he loves the most. 4. He holds in his feelings too much. 5. He has an aggressive personality. 6. He loses control. 7. He is too angry. 8. He is mentally ill. 9. He hates women. 10. He is afraid of intimacy and abandonment. 11. He has low self-esteem. 12. His boss mistreats him. 13. He has poor skills in communication and conflict resolution. 14. There are as many abusive women as abusive men. 15. His abusiveness is as bad for him as for his partner. 16. He is a victim of racism. 17. He abuses alcohol or drugs.
There certainly are some women who treat their male partners badly, berating them, calling them names, attempting to control them. The negative impact on these men’s lives can be considerable. But do we see men whose self-esteem is gradually destroyed through this process? Do we see men whose progress in school or in their careers grinds to a halt because of the constant criticism and undermining? Where are the men whose partners are forcing them to have unwanted sex? Where are the men who are fleeing to shelters in fear for their lives? How about the ones who try to get to a phone to call for help, but the women block their way or cut the line? The reason we don’t generally see these men is simple: They’re rare. I don’t question how embarrassing it would be for a man to come forward and admit that a woman is abusing him. But don’t underestimate how humiliated a woman feels when she reveals abuse; women crave dignity just as much as men do. If shame stopped people from coming forward, no one would tell.
She serves me a piece of it a few minutes out of the oven. A little steam rises from the slits on top. Sugar and spice - cinnamon - burned into the crust. But she's wearing these dark glasses in the kitchen at ten o'clock in the morning - everything nice - as she watches me break off a piece, bring it to my mouth, and blow on it. My daughter's kitchen, in winter. I fork the pie in and tell myself to stay out of it. She says she loves him. No way could it be worse.
What are you going to do? Are you going to live in the dark, locked in here? Afraid to look out, answer the door, leave? Yes, he's out there, and he's clearly not going to leave you alone until one of three things happens: he hurts you and gets arrested, or he makes a mistake and gets arrested, or you stop him.
The confusion of love with abuse is what allows abusers who kill their partners to make the absurd claim that they were driven by the depths of their loving feelings. The news media regrettably often accept the aggressors’ view of these acts, describing them as “crimes of passion.” But what could more thoroughly prove that a man did not love his partner? If a mother were to kill one of her children, would we ever accept the claim that she did it because she was overwhelmed by how much she cared? Not for an instant. Nor should we. Genuine love means respecting the humanity of the other person, wanting what is best for him or her, and supporting the other person’s self-esteem and independence. This kind of love is incompatible with abuse and coercion.
Alcohol does not a change a person’s fundamental value system. People’s personalities when intoxicated, even though somewhat altered, still bear some relationship to who they are when sober. When you are drunk you may behave in ways that are silly or embarrassing; you might be overly familiar or tactlessly honest, or perhaps careless or forgetful. But do you knock over little old ladies for a laugh? Probably not. Do you sexually assault the clerk at the convenience store? Unlikely. People’s conduct while intoxicated continues to be governed by their core foundation of beliefs and attitudes, even though there is some loosening of the structure. Alcohol encourages people to let loose what they have simmering below the surface. ABUSERS MAKE CONSCIOUS CHOICES EVEN WHILE INTOXICATED
When people conclude that anger causes abuse, they are confusing cause and effect. Ray was not abusive because he was angry; he was angry because he was abusive. Abusers carry attitudes that produce fury.
It isn't very nice to admit, but domestic violence has its uses. So raw and unleashed, it tears away the veil of civilization that comes between us as much as it makes life possible. A poor substitute for the sort of passion we like to extol perhaps, but real love shares more in common with hatred and rage than it does with geniality or politeness.
Why Does He Do That? That's the number one question, isn't it? Maybe it's his drinking, you say. Maybe it's his learning disabilities. It's his job; he hates it. He's stressed. I think he's bipolar. It's his mother's fault; she spoiled him rotten. It's the drugs. If only he didn't use. It's his temper. He's selfish. It's the pornography; he's obsessed. The list could go on and on. You could spend many years trying to pinpoint it and never get a definite answer. The fact is, many people have these problems and they aren't abusive. Just because someone is an alcoholic doesn't mean he is abusive. Men hate their jobs all the time and aren't abusive. Bipolar? Okay. Stressed? Who isn't! Do you see where I am going with this? Off the subject a bit, when someone commits a violent crime, they always report in the news about his possible motive. As human beings, we need to somehow make sense of things. If someone murders someone, do you think it makes the family of the victim feel better to know the murderer's motive? No. Except for self-defense, there really is no excuse for murder. Motive, if there is any, is irrelevant. The same is true of abuse. You could spend your whole life going round and round trying to figure out why. The truth is, the why doesn't matter. There are only two reasons why men commit abuse—because they want to do so and because they can. You want to know why. In many ways, you might feel like you need to know. But, if you could come up with a reason or a motive, it wouldn't help you. Maybe you believe that if you did this or that differently, he wouldn't have abused you. That is faulty thinking and won't help you get better. You didn't do anything to cause the abuse. No matter what you said, no matter what you did, you didn't deserve to be abused. You are the victim and it won't help you to know why he supposedly abused you. No matter what his reason, there is no excuse for abuse. You are not to blame.
The underlying attitude comes bursting out of his words: He believes his wife is keeping something of his away from him when she doesn’t want intimate contact. He sees sexual rights to a woman as akin to mineral rights to land—and he owns them.
It's never ok to hit a girl. Never. Not even if she cheats on you. A girl is not your property. She's a human being. She is just as important as you. She is your equal. And her wishes and feelings are just as valid as yours. All you can do is treat her nice, and hope she wants to be with you. If she chooses to be with you, great! If not, or if she chooses to leave you at some point, you have to let her go. You have no right to stop her. You don't own her, and you don't have the right to tell her what to do. She's your partner. Not your servant, not your sex slave, and not your punching bag.
But I’m not the one digging her grave; I didn’t open her hole in the earth when I drove away that night or when I couldn’t make her come with us. My dad dug it years ago; he forced her to lie down in it and kept her there by fear and beatings. And when she tried to get out, he stomped her back in. She has been lying there for twenty-five years. Her muscles have atrophied, her joints have stiffened, and she can’t see anything except him and the tight little space she calls home. I don’t know how she’ll get out; I can tug and pull and yank, but it won’t make any difference. She was right: she’s gotta solve it her own way.
The central attitudes driving the Drill Sergeant are: I need to control your every move or you will do it wrong. I know the exact way that everything should be done. You shouldn’t have anyone else — or any thing else — in your life besides me. I am going to watch you like a hawk to keep you from developing strength or independence. I love you more than anyone in the world, but you disgust me. (!!)
It was never the poverty that deterred me, never the disease, unsanitary conditions, bugs or garbage, those things were never even a thought in my head as a reason for not staying. I kept looking for the good and always found it each day. I was happy on the reservation. It would have all worked out if Chief could have been a little nicer to me. The only thing I was missing was love and respect from my partner. Maybe he had changed.
For the Wife Beater's Wife With blue irises her face is blossomed. Blue Circling to yellow, circling to brown on her cheeks. The long bone of her jaw untracked She hides in our kitchen. He sleeps it off next door. Her chicken legs tucked under her She's frantic with lies, animated Before the swirling smoke. On her cigarette she leaves red prints, red Like a cut on the white cup. Like a skin she pulls her sweater around her. She's cold, She brings the cold in with her. In our kitchen she hides. He sleeps it off next door, his great Belly heaving with booze. Again and again she tells the story As if the details ever changed, As if blows to the face were somehow Different beating to beating. We reach for her but can't help. She retreats into her cold love of him And looks across the table at us As if across a sea. Next door he claws out of sleep. She says she thinks she'll do something After all, with her hair tonight.
It was too familiar to Cody. He placed his arms around his wife trying somehow to shelter her from the reality she was facing. There was another reason for his closeness; his desperation to show her he was not one of them, that the tribes of cruel men did not recognize him as one of their own, and to show his wife that his promise to create a safe place for her was a promise she need not fear would be broken. In the innermost part of him, from the secret child that lives within all men, was a scared cry, Please don’t think I’m bad too. From the other innermost part of him, the secret animal that prowls in some men was a raging wolf ready to kill. The battle line within the man had been drawn. The boundaries of faith rose up around the rage, warning the soul against righteous anger morphing to blood lust.
When we hear these kinds of excuses from a drunk, we assume they are exactly that—excuses. We don’t consider an active alcoholic a reliable source of insight. So why should we let an angry and controlling man be the authority on partner abuse?
I used to pray you know, pray to God that He would somehow stop it. All the nights of listening to my mother scream and things breaking. Of holding my brother and sister and listening to them cry and begging me to stop it.' My voice is slow and steady like a freight train at night. 'I was too young, and we were always told that they'd put us in foster homes where people would rape us if we ever said anything. So we explained away the bruises and my mom wore big sunglasses whenever she left the house. And we invented car accidents if the bruising was too bad to cover with make-up.
What does a woman feel when she is hit? My mother slapped me when I was a child - on two occasions, to the point of pure hysteria; I never liked it. Those who are humiliated in such a way learn to disintegrate – that is, they become once removed from pain. This is the most direct route to psychic ruin.
I recognized the words "domestic violence" because the Japanese use the same words, only with blockier pronunciation. " Domesuchikku baiorensu". I think it's weird they use the same word; I'm pretty sure they invented domestic violence independently of us English-speakers, at the same time we were inventing it independently of them.
And there’s one other matter I must raise. The epidemic of domestic sexual violence that lacerates the soul of South Africa is mirrored in the pattern of grotesque raping in areas of outright conflict from Darfur to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in areas of contested electoral turbulence from Kenya to Zimbabwe. Inevitably, a certain percentage of the rapes transmits the AIDS virus. We don’t know how high that percentage is. We know only that women are subjected to the most dreadful double jeopardy. The point must also be made that there’s no such thing as the enjoyment of good health for women who live in constant fear of rape. Countless strong women survive the sexual assaults that occur in the millions every year, but every rape leaves a scar; no one ever fully heals. This business of discrimination against and oppression of women is the world’s most poisonous curse. Nowhere is it felt with greater catastrophic force than in the AIDS pandemic. This audience knows the statistics full well: you’ve chronicled them, you’ve measured them, the epidemiologists amongst you have disaggregated them. What has to happen, with one unified voice, is that the scientific community tells the political community that it must understand one incontrovertible fact of health: bringing an end to sexual violence is a vital component in bringing an end to AIDS. The brave groups of women who dare to speak up on the ground, in country after country, should not have to wage this fight in despairing and lonely isolation. They should hear the voices of scientific thunder. You understand the connections between violence against women and vulnerability to the virus. No one can challenge your understanding. Use it, I beg you, use it.
In the process of my evolution, I became a victim of domestic war, an emotional casualty for a major portion of my life, entwined, entrapped and emotionally involved, until I learned how to become free. Sara Niles Torn From the Inside Out