I am an abusive man. I have found many books and websites for abused women. Could you post some suggestions for any abusers who find your website? I admitted my abuse a couple of months ago. I started counseling just last week. I have also found a life skills course that I am taking. I am hopeful that I can change.
Are there any other suggestions that you can make that would help me? I read your book on the seven reasons why women don’t leave [here], I also read your article on giving women space [here]. They were both very helpful to me.
My wife is taking our children and moving out at the end of this month. I am very ashamed it took me ten years to listen to what she said to me and hear it. Thank you very much for reading and responding to my message. I would be very grateful if you would take time to answer me; it would mean more than you can ever know. I look forward to reading your article. Regards,
I like the sound of this letter; it feels like you’re sincere. But you’re a wife abuser. And when it comes to communicating humble and heartfelt remorse, wife abusers make Academy Award-winning actors look like braying hacks. Baseless calculated emotional manipulation is the stock-in-trade of the domestic abuser; they lie like birds sing. So chances are that your letter is written in ink mixed with bullshit—or, more likely, that you sincerely meant the letter when you wrote it—because your wife is finally leaving you, and that’s really bad for you—but that you are no more likely to actually do the work that it takes to change than an angler fish is likely to use the bright light it dangles over its choppers to help smaller fish find their way in the dark.
But I’m going to assume that you really do want to change. I hope you do. Because of the letter you sent me written by your wife (which I sure the freak hope you sent with her permission), I know that she is a strong, smart woman who, despite you, loves you. It’s up to you to determine whether that love turns out to be a blessing, or continues to be a curse for her and the children who should depend upon you to keep them safe and protected.
If you’re doubting it, please do know that you can utterly, radically, and completely change.
And do you know what it would take for you to become the man whom you and your family need you to become?
It would take two thoughts. That’s it. Two. You have, hold within you, and be willing to explore two thoughts, and the life you now lead begins to dissolve. Two thoughts stand between who you are and who you want to be.
And you’ve already had one of those thoughts! And that thought is this: I’m a monster. I’m an asshole. I’m a cretin. I’m a disgrace. I have failed at life, in every way that matters. I’m a terrible husband, and a reprehensible father. I’m an awful man.
That’s it. That’s the first thought you have to have in order to begin to change. Because that thought is how you objectify who you are. That thought—if you really have it, if you really feel it, if you let it really become the truth for you that it is for your wife and children—creates a separation between your habitual self-serving ideas about yourself—between your lies to yourself about yourself—and the honest, real truth about yourself.
That thought is the moment that your path branches off into a whole new direction. That new path is the one you want to take. But you can’t go to a new place unless you’re first very clear about the place you’re starting from. And the place you’re starting from is rotten. It stinks. A pig would flee it.
So you need that unvarnished, unadorned, unembellished fact about you to be true for you. Get that truth—hold it, own it, believe it, know it—and you’ve got yourself a whole new horizon.
The next thought you need to have—the one you will have if you’re ever going to change, the one thought toward which all of whatever therapy or counseling you get will be leading you—is that you are one angry motherfucker.
You are blind with rage. To your bones you are pissed off. You have been so angry for so long that you don’t even realize how much your entire life—everything you are, everything you think, everything you feel—is processed through that dark filter. Anger is the tap-root from which you draw your sustenance. It’s the air that fills your lungs, the very blood in your veins. Anger informs everything about you. It defines your existence.
You. Are. Fighting. All. The. Freakin’. Time.
You have been fighting all of your life because, when you were much too young to do anything to stop it, someone constantly, persistently, and terribly hurt you.
And as sure as the sun is hot that someone was one or both of your parents, and/or an older sibling.
As a child, and most likely as a baby, you were, in one way or another, tortured. You were threatened. You were beaten. You were always made acutely aware that you were in real and mortal danger.
And because of that you were in shock.
Which means you went into survival mode.
You did what all kids in that horrible circumstance do; you did the only thing you could do. You sublimated.
In response to what was happening to you, you automatically and instinctively split your mind.
You took all the information about your life that you couldn’t handle, and sunk it down beneath all the information about your life that you could handle.
And on top of that terrible foundation you started building the broken house in which you’ve lived ever since.
But at the deepest levels of your consciousness, you never forgot what was beneath the floorboards of that house. You never forgot the unspeakable wrongs done to you.
You know what happened. You know what they did. You know the terror they instilled in you.
Some of it you remember with your mind, yes. But most of it you remember in a more primal, purely emotional way.
And if you believe anything in this world, you better believe that you’re extremely angry about what was done to you. You’ve always been angry about it. You were enraged about it from the moment it started happening. You knew it was wrong. You knew it was evil. You knew you didn’t deserve it.
But you took it. You had to. You had no choice. You were a child.
And now, all these years later, look at you. Look at what you do.
You hit your wife. You probably hit—and you most certainly terrify—your children.
You’re doing to them the same thing that was done to you.
And the only reason you’re doing that is because you’ve forgotten what you probably never consciously knew in the first place, which is that in your basement—at your foundation—is this righteous anger that’s been haunting you probably since before you even had any appreciable consciousness. Your anger is primal to you that way.
Friend: you’re not mad at your wife. You’re not mad at your children. You’re not mad at the world. You’re not mad at yourself.
You’re mad at whomever fucked you when you were a kid.
That anger you must deal with. If you don’t, it will just keep on dealing with you.
And the only hard part about dealing with that anger is in finding it again. That’s it. That’s your whole challenge. You have to tear up those floorboards. You have to pry through that base layer. You have to put on a hard-hat and some thick canvas gloves, get down on your knees, and start digging down beneath your house until you hit that black, thick, hot layer of raw anger that’s long been flowing and percolating beneath everything you are.
And into that stream you must jump. You must let that terrible darkness wash over you. You must swim against it, and trace it back to its source; you must swim with it, and see all that it has done to compromise the quality of your life.
You must, in a word, process all of that anger. You must experience it as an adult in a way that you couldn’t as a child.
You call it what it is.
You give it back to the assholes who gave it to you.
You finally rid yourself of it.
Again, none of this is too difficult. It’s not scary. They don’t own you anymore. You don’t have to fear them anymore.
You will win this. Or, at least, you can if you want to.
To change your life—to make of yourself what you would have become if you hadn’t been raised so unnaturally—the only thing you have to do is go back; find your fear; acknowledge the legitimacy of that fear; register the anger in you that fear engendered; go down and find where for all these years you’ve been keeping that mighty anger; fearlessly walk into that anger; feel that anger; feel all of that anger; and then walk away from the dry ashes it will become once you vaporize it through the power of your simple and concentrated awareness of it.
That’s it. That’s your job. Do that—find a therapist to help you do that—and, if nothing else, you can save yourself.
I wish you all the luck in the world with this. I wish it for you, your wife, and especially for your children. I know that you can become the father to your children that they need you to be. You recover from this—you actually change into the man you were born to be—and you’ll have given them a model that will serve and inspire them for the rest of their lives. You’ll have proven that nothing can prevail against the power of love.