In the past few months, I have experienced an exponential increase in the number of women seeking help because they are in an abusive relationship. This is both unfortunate and fortunate. Unfortunate because it is happening in greater numbers, but fortunate because they are seeking help. These women have reached their “tipping point”. They have decided the time is now to make a change and leave. Because of this increase, I felt compelled to blog about this very sensitive and difficult topic.
Abuse, whether it is physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal does not discriminate. Although men suffer too, it predominately affects women, regardless of ethnicity, race, and socio economic status. A fine line exists between a physically abusive or a verbally abusive man. They are not as separate as one might think. Physically abusive men are also verbally abusive to their partners. Verbally manipulative and mentally cruel men tend to gravitate towards physical abuse. Both types of abusers are also emotionally abusive using tactics such as emotional blackmail, the silent treatment, subtle and not so subtle coercion, codependence and enmeshment, making unreasonable demands, humiliation and degradation, among others behaviors (Bancroft, 2003).
Abusers have perfected the act of yelling, blaming, name calling, isolating their victim from family and friends, and using control and intimidation to get what they want, when they want it. Over time, the abuser chips away at their victim’s self esteem and self worth. An often slow and insidious progression, their abusive behaviors leave their spouse or partner feeling worthless, dependent, fearful, and trapped.
Its important to recognize that many men who intimidate and use chronic maltreatment do not look like abusers. They have moments of compassion and kindness, warmth, and humor. They may have many good qualities. They may have a successful professional life and may not fit anyone’s image of a cruel person. When a women’s life is spinning out of control, it doesn’t always occur to her that her partner is an abuser. Why? It is the contrast between the moments of terror, manipulation, and intimidation and the kindness and warmth that creates a complex situation (Bancroft, 2003).
Some of the myths associated with abusive and controlling men:
- He was abused as a child.
- He abuses those he loves the most.
- He has an aggressive personality
- He hates women.
- He has low self-esteem.
- He loses control. He is too angry.
- He is afraid of intimacy and abandonment.
- He’s crazy. He’s got some mental illness that he should be medicated for.
But let’s be clear. These are all myths. Abusive men continue to be abusive because they feel they have a right to treat another human being with such disregard and disrespect. It is how they think, how they present their own distorted views on their behaviors, ladled with significant denial and minimization. Most remain wedded to their excuses and continue to blame the victim.
As a clinician, I listen to their stories and they hurt my heart. However, I have learned to embrace my role of an empathic listener and a source of strength and validation. I help them explore their current relationship in a safe environment. I help empower them to make necessary changes and in doing so help them find their voice, as they feel they do not have one. To this end, I remain compassionate about helping women and men leave these abusive and destructive relationships and find solace, peace of mind, quiet, and freedom from abuse.
Are you aware of the cycle of abuse? If not, check out the The cycle of abuse link which explains the abusive cycle in detail.
Are you in an abusive relationship? Do you know what to look for? Read: Signs that you are in an abusive relationship.
References/Resources: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. (Lundy Bancroft, 2003). Great book!