Thursday, February 11, 2010
The Verbally Abusive Relationship
My counselor gave me this book nearly 8 years ago, when I first began seeing her at the beginning of my relationship with my husband.
I only recently started reading it. I sure wish I would have read it earlier. I suppose I was not ready for it. It was a quick read for me - I absorbed it and felt affirmed by the answers I found within the book.
I never would have put the initial signs together and thought that I was being verbally abused. What I realized after reading this book half-way is that verbal abuse usually starts gradual and it is very covert.
It was easy to acknowledge that calling me a CUNT and a BITCH was verbal abuse. There are a lot of things I can look back on and recognize as sure signs of verbal abuse. But what this book explains is all the little things that led up to that, which I suppose my counselor saw and I was blinded to.
"A child's name calling ("You poo poo!") and an adult's name calling ("You bitch!") both originate witin the same level of emotional development. The child hasn't had time to mature, so we are not disturbed by his name calling. The adult who is still name calling not only is disturbing but also be dangerous." (137)
The book also explains how his reality is completely different than mine, which actually helps a lot.
A favorite book of mine is The Four Agreements. One of the agreements is to "Not take anything personally." Throughout reading this book, I kept thinking about that agreement over and over again. I have taken the abuse by my husband and his family very personally. But this is a generational, family issue with them. This book really explained the dynamics in his family (and mine) that allowed his happen and continue.
"Now, let us look at the origins of the abuser's behavior. The typical abuser also grew up in Reality 1, where Power Over and dominance prevailed, and hence so did verbal abuse. Also, as with the case of the partner, many of his feelings were neither validated nor accepted. However, unlike the partner, he had no compassionate witness to his experience. Without a compassionate witness, he could conclude only that nothing was wrong. If nothing was wrong at all, then all his painful feelings must not exist. Automatically he stopped feeling his painful feelings. He closed them off from awareness as one would close a door. And he did not know what he suffered. In this way he closed the door on a part of himself." (171)
"Without the knowledge of his feelings - of what he had suffered - he could not experience empathy and compassion and so could not cross the threshold into Reality II. This Reality was now behind closed doors.
Since the abuser feels justified in his behavior and seems to have no comprehension of its effects, we can only assume that he is acting out his repressed feelings and is, therefore, acting compulsively. Abusers seek Power Over because they feel helpless. The helpless, painful feelings of childhood that "must not exist" and "must not be felt" do exist and, if not felt, are acted out.
A long time ago in the abuser's childhood, he closed the door on these feelings. To survive in childhood he could do no less. His feeling self, nonetheless, lived on behind closed doors.
The longer the child within is unrecognized, the more enraged it becomes, and consequently, the more rage the abuser acts out. Alice Miller tells us
As long as this child within us is not allowed to become aware of what happened to him or her, part of his or her emotional life will remain frozen, and sensitivity to the humiliations of childhood will therefore be dulled. All appeals to love, solidarity, and compassion will be useless if this crucial prerequisite of sympathy and understanding is missing. (Alice Miller, For your Own Good, 1983, p xv.)
Appeals to the abuser's compassion are fruitless, because the abuser is not empathetic." (172)
"The confirmed abuser can define himself and the interpersonal reality so convincingly that the partner may accept his definitions. Such acceptance and trust increase her confusion...to most people, he's Mr. Nice Guy."...The abuser's loss of his feeling self and consequent feelings of powerlessness usually compel him to increasing self-aggrandizement and correspondingly greater disparagement of his partner. However, he cannot, by abuse, bring his stifled feeling self to life. Since he mistakes excitement for aliveness and triumph for strength, he remains in constant need of bolstering his ideal image. Usually, verbal abusers who become physically abusive do not see themselves as abusive, even when they are arrested. The abuser's denial arises out of the conflict between who he thinks he is and his compulsion to act abusively. The denial is a defense against the shattering of his ideal image and an impending identity crisis. His very identity would be at stake if he were to admit to what he was doing. This is why verbal abusers do not sincerely apologize." (174)
"As time passes, the typical abuser is more and more unwilling to face himself and the pain of his feelings. When they do surface, their source, to him, is his partner. This is projection. Through this projection, he will accuse his partner of all that he does, and blame her for all the abuse that she suffers. She then becomes as he once was, wounded and without a witness to her wounding." (175)
The last thing I want to touch on is that she also states something that really resonates with me. While my husband and I attended the Betty Ford marriage workshop, we were told that we both played a 50% role in the blame for the relationship. My husband likes to pull this out during an arguement, but I have never believed this. Evans explains that for a therapist to even suggest this to someone who has experienced verbal abuse, is to abuse them over again.
After reading this book, I really feel that the majority of problems between both me and my husband and me and my father-in-law revolve around verbal abuse. Alcoholism and addiction seem to be a secondary issue.