Sunday, June 6, 2010

Perception Is Often Skewed with Abuse

In the following question, you can see that abusive relationships can many times have the "frog in the kettle" effect where it continually escalates over time and people seem to just get used to it or they believe that they are doing the abuser some kind of favor by hiding the abuse. In the long run, that is not a good plan. Abusers need victims in order to abuse and if you refuse to be a victim, the abuse can't go on.

Here is the question:

" Hi. My husband and I have been married just over 1 yr but have been together for nearly 10. We started dating in college at the age of 18. Throughout our relationship there have been instances of physical abuse. The instances range from pushing/shoving, hair pulling, choking, punching holes in walls, breaking things, etc. He has never once hit me. These instances have been spaced out over time, the most recent one happened a month ago. I had a lot of doubts before I married him, which I never voiced to anyone. I never said a word to anyone about his abusive behavior even though it scared me. I didn't want people to have a bad impression of him. Leading up to the most recent incident I have been feeling withdrawn, detached from him and depressed. I've felt trapped. I have lacked the desire to have sex with him for over a year and a half, which I have blamed myself for, chalking it up to hormones or any other excuse I can think of that might be wrong with me. He's very controlling, which he doesn't see. He also doesn't see the things he's done as a form of abuse. I feel like the most recent incident has really put me over the edge and I can't stand to be around him. I'm now seeing a psychologist and after fighting with me, my husband has agreed to go to counseling to try to save our marriage. The problem I'm having is that I don't know if I want to even work on this, I feel empty and as though I've already made up my mind that I don't want to be with him. I have said I will go to marriage counseling with him because I'm guilty for feeling this way, like it owe it to him to try to work things out. Before we spend tons of money on counseling, what are the chances that he will really change and won't ever be physically abusive to me in the future? I have lost that trust and I'm not sure I will get it back. I should add that he also has an addictive personality. He is a successful man but is addicted to smoking pot. He smokes several times a day, every day. This is another thing that concerns me, which he does not feel is reason for concern and says he will not quit doing, ever. Am I a horrible person for wanting get out of this marriage? Do I owe it to him to try to work things out? He has made threats that he will make my life a living hell if I try to leave or divorce him. I feel he has a jeckyl & hyde personality where he gets really angry but then is sweet as can be. Right now he's being overly nice, which is very uncomfortable. He makes me feel like I'm the one that's crazy. Please give me some insight. Thanks."

It always amazes me when I see stories where women have been in a non-marriage relationship with their abusers and still marry them anyway. In this situation, there are quite a few red flags; drug use (which never enhances a relationship), intimidation and bullying, and when I hear people say the phrase "S/He makes me feel like I'm the one that's crazy" I start looking for signs of other mental health concerns that should be assessed.

When you are dealing with a possible mental illness, what scripture says about perishing for lack of knowledge is very accurate. When mental illness is present, the spouse or significant other doesn't have the skill set to help the individual and abuse can go on for years if a person is not aware of what may be an underlying cause for the situation.

The answer I gave this person is below:

"The first thing I want you to know is that this is not your fault and you are not crazy. Abusive relationships are not life giving so therefore, why should it be any big surprise that you have died in this situation? You said he didn't hit you, but what is the difference between hitting and choking, or hitting and shoving, or hitting and hair pulling? His behavior is threatening. Even if all he did was punch holes in walls, the demonstration of violence says, "I could do it to you so watch out."

You are being physically abused, emotionally abused and more than likely verbally abused. You don't feel safe, your emotions have died.....what is there to stay for? He has broken the contract and he has broken the law. He vowed to love, honor and cherish you....has he done that? No. Love doesn't hurt, love is patient, kind, not boastful, not prideful. There is no honor here and honor is what the heart responds to. If you received this kind of treatment from a stranger, what would you do? Call the police? Run away? Never come in contact with the person again? So what makes this any different?

One thing that you might do is check out a website at and check out these symptoms. The reason I refer you there is that you are talking about self destructive behavior, mood swings, threatening behavior, control, and you feel as though you are the crazy one. When taken all together in an ongoing pattern, these symptoms speak to a picture of a possible mental illness, but even as I say that, I must tell you that I see warning signs and am not diagnosing him in any way, only someone on site could do that. The drugs add another dimension to the situation. If after researching this website, you believe there is an appropriate amount of evident to conclude that you may be dealing with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, there are several options. You may want to consider discussing this with him and having him go to a competent psychologist for assessment, or if you believe that would be unsafe for you, you may want to consider leaving the situation. Personality disorders are not curable, but if the individual is willing to do a significant amount of work over a long period of time, they can become manageable.

On the other hand, I would recommend abuse counseling for you. Having been in this relationship as long as you have, you have been changed by it and are, in ways, enabling his behavior. Shoving, hair pulling, choking etc is assault and should have been reported to the police. Do you realize that in a choke hold, it only takes 11 lbs of pressure for 8 seconds to kill you? Choking is very, very far up the violence scale.

In regard to the guilt you feel, it is an emotion that is a response to manipulation and is perpetuated by low self esteem. You owe this man nothing. He has abused you and continues to abuse you. I would not be surprised if the abuse is also blamed on you. He is not safe and you are not a bad person for leaving, should you choose that plan of action. Leaving the relationship is the normal consequence for this kind of thing.

What you need is a plan and a support network and a good attorney. Make sure you decide what you are going to do if and when he "makes your life a living hell". If he stalks you, there are laws against that. Since he has made that threat, your attorney should know that. I would encourage you to contact your local Women's Center or domestic violence organization. They can provide you the support you need, court advocates, counseling and anything you need for little to no cost. Take your life it up to an abuser is of little value and you are worth more than that."

In leaving these types of situations, the woman needs a plan and needs a support network. The most dangerous time for a woman leaving an abusive relationship is at the time she leaves so support for her and having a safe place to go is huge in giving her the courage to face the situation. When physical abuse is present, this fact alone escalates the danger many times. The good news is that in most states if a woman needs help leaving a situation like this, she can call on the police and have them there while she is leaving. The laws may be different from state to state here in the US, so it is wise to check out what is available beforehand. Most Women's Centers have court advocates and abuse counselors who work with this kind of thing daily and are current on the laws and rights of individuals with respect to these situations.


Anonymous said...

I identify with the writer of that letter, although I did not live with my husband before marriage and we are married for over 20 years. (Also, my husband does not and has never abused any substances.) Due to unbearable pscyhological abuse where he keeps punishing me for bringing up grievances and manipulates the family by playing the victim, we have just separated, but he is hopeful of reconciling because he is highly dependent on us.

The warning signals were there before we married, but I found it hardgoing every time I broke up with him, because he pressured me and wooed me each time. I was an international student and I didn't have the energy to study, complete my course, think of my future in my home country and stand up to him. My parents were not with me.

I have also thought that my husband could be BPD, but his psychologist doesn't see it. Does the presence of such disorders make change/healing even more unlikely? He keeps asking me what he needs to do to change as he does not have a clue but keeps saying sorry, have patience, he is slowly changing. Apart from getting into a batterers intervention group (which he has completed anyway), should I suggest he also seek therapy for BPD?

Gr8mochas said...

Borderline Personality Disorder is often a diagnosis that therapists are hesitant to label a person with. By definition, an individual must have 5 out of the 9 criteria to be diagnosed. If the person truly does have this disorder, the chances that anything will change are reduced dramatically. In very recent history, there are several PhD level therapists who have developed therapies that they are attaching the word "cure" to, but that still remains to be seen. Historically, personality disorders have only been able to reach a manageable level and that after 6-10 years of intensive therapy, 2 to 3 times per week. The reason therapists are reluctant to label individuals with that kind of label is because it is a difficult label to overcome once others know about it. The positive side is that once diagnosed, both therapist and client know what they are dealing with and can begin to separate what is real and not real, what treatment approaches to use and can discuss openly the problems associated with the disorder.

Medication does not help, which separates this disorder from others such as Bi-Polar Disorder or Schizophrenia. One of the many reasons that BPD is so hard to treat is that individuals have a very difficult time holding on to their healing. Their perceptions are very skewed and their ability to hear what another person is saying to them without reading other things into it is very difficult. We all lean on our intuition and discernment when we communicate with others, but in their case, these abilities betray them and they have to learn not to depend on them. They live in a world of pain, self created many times, and they are not able to get out of it without much help. Relationships seldom last due to the anger, judgmentalism and manipulation. Bottom line for most individuals with this disorder are abandonment issues, so whenever they perceive abandonment it is a huge trigger - the operative word there is "they perceive".

The decision to stay or leave when a person with this disorder is willing to work hard and consistently on their problems becomes one of determining whether you can maintain your mental health and well being during the long recovery time. If you can't, there is nothing wrong with admitting that. For individuals who are not willing to work on their issues or even acknowledge them, then the pattern will repeat over and over until the relationship is so irretrievably broken that someone ends up leaving.

I truly wish you well as you work through these difficult issues.

Anonymous said...

My husband definitely has 5 out of 9 symptoms. What he does not have is self-mutilation and addiction.

Since he doesn't seem to know what he has done wrong, is it worth telling him about BPD? Maybe once he hears about it, he can acknowledge his abusive behaviour? But on the hand, if his pscyhologist does not think so, then he will probably reject it.

You see, I not only feel sorry for him - he is feeling so abandoned and hurt by the people he depends on the most - I am also sorry for him that he not even been properly diagnosed, so how can he get the treatment he needs, with or without the support of his family?

He has gone round and round in circles with different counselors throughout the years, but nobody seems to be able to get to the bottom of it. I think I am the most accurate with what I think (because I have lived with him) but even when I present my thoughts to counselors or psychologists, they don't seem to take me that seriously.

I just can't understand why he has completed a batterers program, constantly takes notes at counseling sessions, tells me he is trying so hard to change, yet cannot seem to stop himself being abusive when feeling stressed or threatened. Then after that he is super-nice and almost creepy with his actions and wonders why I am so nasty not to respond in kind. He tells friends he is so confused as to why he is always "rejected" and why I don't find him "acceptable" or "worthy of respect". No amount of assurance that he is a worthy person and loved by God satisfies him - instead, it provokes him to anger because it sounds trite. And when I tell him not to worry about how to impress me because I am not God, he glares and says it really messes up his mind. He keeps worrying about doing things to please me that I don't ask him for, yet he can't see that he is verbally and emotionally abusive, or he realises it after the fact and apologises profusely, beating himself over it.

Gr8mochas said...

There is a great difference between changing behavior and changing the beliefs that propel the behavior. That is the place where victims of abuse tend to lose their way when working with their abusers. Behavior can change for short periods of time, however that change can't last forever unless there is a heart change to go with it.

When we operate from heart felt beliefs that cloud our ability to be able to see what is really true, our behavior and actions tend to follow. Individuals who have fears such as abandonment and rejection tend to behave in ways that fulfill their deepest fears. They believe that people will leave them so they control or manipulate to keep that from happening, which puts people in their lives off and causes the rift in the relationships which tend to get larger over time.

The thing that I believe so strongly about relationships is that if you have to fundamentally change who you are in order to be with someone, then that relationship is not a good fit for either individual. The best place for you and your husband to be is to determine who you are as people. These are fundamental identity issues and if you can operate from a strong, basic knowledge of who you are, you can determine whether the two of you can be happy together, whether you can compromise over the areas of conflict or if those areas are just too large to overcome. This may be a large task for your husband, but it has to start there. You are first people with personal likes, dislikes, gifts, talents and values. If those things are incompatible, that is something that needs to be looked at. If there is BPD involved in the mix, that task becomes much harder.