Can this wife abuser change?

Can this wife abuser change? May 22, 2013

Fist punching thru paper creating a torn holeGot this in:

Hello John,

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,

Dear guy:

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 don’t live at all. What you do is fight.

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.

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  • This was a good try, but I need to point out that individual counseling is VERY BAD for abusers and in fact, this entire reply seems to be about this wifebeater and his feelings. But y’know what? Abusers don’t have a problem with their anger, they have a problem with their PARTNERS anger. They don’t need therapy to work on their own feelings and this does MORE HARM because it just makes them even more self centered. Take it from someone who was beaten for seven years, has read every book on earth, run workshops on DV and stayed in refuges more times than I could count and even has a few units of psychology under their belt.

    1) Abusers virtually never change

    2) When they do, it’s because they realize they can no longer get away with their abuse

    3) The only programs that show *lasting improvement* are ones that are run in a group therapy setting that deal with creating empathy for the victim rather than prattling on forever about the abusers feelings.

    You’ve got it backwards. Abusers are VERY well in touch with their feelings and have no trouble breaking down and being vulnerable when it suits them. This has nothing to do with anger, otherwise why wouldn’t they hit their bosses? It’s about an underlying pattern of control and coercion that exists as much during the good periods as it does the bad ones.

    TL;DR: Abusers are already in touch with their feelings and are incredibly self centred. He needs group counseling that focuses on empathizing with their victims and understanding just how harmful it is, not something that indulges his self centredness.

  • Barbara Rice

    “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.”

    John, your answer was spot-on. But….

    I want to believe this guy, but…. I don’t see a lot of self-awareness or culpability. I don’t see sorrow over his wife leaving. The letter is missing something… real. It reads like a letter requesting directions on changing the oil in your car. “I know I’ve been doing it wrong because now the transmission is burned up, but if I could just read how to do it right, I think the transmission might run again!”

    There is a lot of “if I just read this book or look at this website, I can stop being abusive” in the letter. Ten years of being abusive won’t be fixed by reading something on the internet.

    I’m not at all convinced this guy gets the enormity of what he’s done, or what he will have to do to change.

  • Couldn’t have put it better John. The only thing I would add is maybe this person needs to give his wife and kids and himself space while he works on his issues. Give up the control over his family and go get cleaned up. I used to work with youthful offenders a few years ago. Most of them would indeed do to others what had been done to them. The one thing in this letter that gives me hope for this man is this. Back then without exception the worst of the offenders would blame it on others. The rage and the anger was “The staffs fault.” “The therapist fault.” “The mental health workers fault” “The fault of anybody who got in their way, because it made them angry.”

    It sounds like this man at least understands that it’s not his families fault and I hope he can understand that the anger he feels isn’t caused by his wife and kids and friends. It’s as you said. A deep anger and nourished over a lifetime. God Bless this family.

  • Lizzy

    My husband abused me for 15 years. Daily. He continues to rage at me and abuse me in front of the children and in any way he can now that we are divorced. He left after 10 minutes of the one and only counseling session I ever succeeded in dragging him to, squealing his tires in the parking lot. He was always offended, so easily, so dramatically. He cared only that other people thought highly of him and lived in fear that I would “badmouth him” even anonymously, ever. I hold out no hope that a person like this can change, but agree that in order to do so, admitting that he has been a horrible person, full stop, is the only way.

  • I like that you called him on his (99.999% likely) bullshit, and I also agree with the comments I’m reading so far. To me, it seems like this guy just wants an “Okay, read here, do this, and poof! You’re fixed” response. His wife has had it and is moving out. She’s taking the children. It’s the only language he can hear which is the only reason he’s acting, and from my experience I’d say he’ll only hear it for as long as it takes her to move back in for a brief honeymoon period and he’ll be right back where he was.

    Only this time he’ll apologize instantly for a time, ask for more of an opportunity to make changes, which will drag on and on as his wife has even more invested in his recovery…

    I see it because I lived it. I know not every ex is mine, but I also know mine was hardly unique. He was no special snowflake, and this guy isn’t either.

  • Tracy Borchart Peterson

    Powerful advice! Very powerful advice!

  • Bill Curnutt

    This brought tears to my eyes. I am the male victim of a male abuser. I hope the man who wrote you the letter finds a way out of his hell and I honor and applaud his spouse for getting the courage to remove herself and their children from this horrendous situation. I finally got the courage to remove myself but I doubt my ex will ever understand how damaged he is and how much he needs help. He sought help all the while denying that anything was wrong with him – everyone around him was just too ‘sensitive’, which included our daughter, who is now an adult and removing herself from anything to do with him. For all couples who find themselves in this situation, it is as nightmarish as almost anything you can imagine. Thank you for your incredible and potent advice to this man. I hope he takes it to heart.

  • Angie Brown

    Wow, John. This one really stands out as an especially remarkable work on your part. I agree with Tracy’s word choice below; powerful, indeed.

  • Karen Elizabeth Park

    I agree with the advice. I have never seen it taken. Not even a little bit.

  • Rose Jennifer Turk

    I was with you until you excused his behaviors as anger. If he truly was angry about something, even if it was something terrible that happened to him in youth, he would probably have anger directed at many people. He does not talk about that in his letter to you. He writes about the abuse he has dished out to his wife and that she and the children are now leaving. Going on his letter alone, he is purposeful with his behavior- who he unleashes it on. His abuse toward his wife is purposeful. It is based out of keeping that power and control and feeling, living, behaving from a place of entitlement. His abuse is not caused by anger. It is caused by a belief system that violence is ok, that someone has to be in control in a relationship. A belief that men and women should act, dress, live, in the prescribed gender roles that have existed forever in our culture. Yes, he absolutely can change. Yes he cannot do this changing alone. Yes he has to acknowledge this. Are there classes, groups etc. that can assist him? Yes. But dealing with anger alone will not end the abuse. It’s his belief systems that need to be challenged and he has to accept that challenge. Check out Lundy Bancroft’s work… Check out Jackson Katz.

  • Kimberly McGarry

    If he is in Oregon than there is an accountability program called ManKind:

    I’ve volunteered with the women’s recovery program, both for victims and one for abusers, and have heard good things about the men’s program.

    There is a bottom line he must face, though. He has to own it. There are many reasons why someone acts controlling and abusive, but they NEVER have an excuse.

  • J.D. Miller

    Good call John. Abusers are excellent liars. They are often sociopaths too. When dealing with a sociopath don’t worry about hurting their feelings, because they don’t have any. They pretend they have feelings when it suits them. If you are married to one. Runaway now.

  • Rose: I didn’t “excuse” his behavior. I said it had a source, that source was anger, and that it was his responsibility to deal with that anger.

  • Mindy

    My heart is racing, John. Because I am so certain that you are right, and want so much for this man, whoever he may be, to take your advice into his heart and soul and DO IT. To give his wife and children the gift of his real self. To be able to apologize to them, with a completely open heart – to tell them how hurt he was and how he had to fix his heart before he could give it over to them and love them the way they deserve to be loved. To promise them he will be there for them, always, with unconditional love – and then PROVE IT.

    It WILL be hard, sir. Of that I have no doubt. Your point of view is and always has been the one of the victim. Because of that, you never allowed yourself to really SEE yourself, to see that you’d become the perpetrator instead (until now, if you are being sincere). You convinced yourself, I’m sure, that everything negative in your universe was the fault of someone else – usually your wife or your kids. When in reality it was the fault of, as John says, whoever it was in your own childhood that hurt you, and the residual rage you’ve kept hidden all these years.

    I was not an abused spouse, only an abused fiancee, but I know exactly who you are. And why you are. And what I know now, that I didn’t then, is that no one can fix you but you. I hope you do. I hope you can. I hope you will. If you don’t, then the horrible cretin(s) who hurt you so long ago has won.

    And if that cretin is someone still in your life, I wish you the strength to move them out of it, or put them in the only place they deserve – waaaaay at the back, where they have no view of the future you can build.


  • Gordon

    John, this must have been a hard one to write. It was a hard one to read, not because of you…but because the unvarnished truth is often hard to take. This might go against your Christian philosophy, but I think some things are unforgiveable. And this is one of them.

    I’m not saying I don’t believe someone can change, but I believe that this man – or any person who physically and/or psychologically abuses another – loses the privilege of having that person in their lives. If this guy pulls himself together, digs into the depths of whatever anger, despair, fear and control issues that drives this monstrous behavior, great! As long as it means he never ever hurts another person. But the stats tell me that it is rare for abusers to be “cured” and their behavior often escalates. It seems to me, at least in my own life experience, that abusive behavior – regardless of what its foundation is – is sort of like being an alcoholic. You can stop drinking, but you’re never really “cured.” And for this man’s wife and children, the risk of relapse is just too high! He’s lost the right to be their husband and father.

  • Elizabeth

    Interesting. It’s when John identified the writer’s overwhelming anger that tears came to my eyes. I don’t usually empathize with wife-beaters.

  • Natalie

    I’d like to venture that there’s more than anger going on here. I’ve got an epic anger problem. I would never beat my spouse or anybody for that matter.

  • Elizabeth

    Fair enough. I’ve never hit anyone, either. But… that anger is still destructive. Right?

  • Natalie

    Oh, yes. Very much so.

  • There is nothing more than anger. Anger is everything–because it’s a response to fear. And fear is … the whole enchilada.

  • his letter scared me.

    i am scared for his wife.

  • Nicole

    Um. Wow.

  • I agree with abusers tending to be dealing with anger issues, my ex certainly had that in spades. But I haven’t a clue where he got it from. His family are lovely, gentle people, and he had a good childhood. But he also is an addict, with alcohol his drug of choice all his adult life, and has yet to admit he has a problem, despite losing a wife and his kids. None of us want anything to do with him. He’s gonna blame anybody or anybody for his problems, but himself.

    I don’t think that someone who is an abuser was necessarily abused as a child. Some may have been, but certainly not all. Some are just manipulative and self absorbed on a rather intense scale. Some may have a mental disorder that has gone undiagnosed.

    I hope this letter writer is honest, mostly with himself and that he truly seeks help with his behavior issues, and takes full responsibility for them. I hope his wife makes the best decision for herself and her family. She can’t help him. This is something he’s got to do without her help.

  • Roger McClellan

    I call Bullshit.

    If this guy is sincere, truly sincere; HE would move out, not at the end of the month but immediately. He would continue to pay for the house so his wife and children could be safe and secure. He would refrain from initiating any contact with family and only meet with them with another (preferably an off-duty cop selected by his wife, paid by his wife with monies provided by himself, beforehand) present. He would have no thought of reconciliation; but rather only concern himself with fixing himself.

  • Stephanie

    I disagree that there’s nothing more than anger. Men typically, culturally, process all negative emotion out as anger but that doesn’t mean that’s what it is. Until this man can accept what the true emotions are, deal with the sources of them, and then begin to forgive, heal, and repair, it won’t do him any good. Being angry and acting out in anger is the end of a very long series of mismanagement of emotion. He needs to allow himself to feel more than anger. He needs to feel hurt, betrayal, regret, remorse, sorrow, loss, etc… Each one is separate and must be dealt with accordingly. He has a lot of work to do. Everyone is a work in progress and further, while I love many of your posts, this one smacked a bit of bias and less of the objectivity and encouragement than I think maybe might have been called for. Abusers are first and foremost liars and manipulators, yes, but these folks don’t need to be reminded that they are trash. They don’t need your help with judgment and feeling of worthlessness. They hot there all on their own, without your not-so-subtle reminder. They act out based on a core belief of just such thoughts. They are broken people and reminder of such does nothing, NOTHING to fix it… What actually needs to happen is that they begin to believe they aren’t worthless, helpless or hopeless. That they can change and they are worth the effort. Your public reminder of anything other than that may prove to be counterproductive. And finally, if you can’t respond to such brokenness with even a small amount of diplomacy or compassion, I would suggest you choose not to respond at all.

  • You cursed. I’m telling. (No, but you’re right: that’s much along the lines of some of what I say in “Seven Reasons.”)

  • you couldn’t have read the whole post …

  • Barbara Rice

    ” Abusers are first and foremost liars and manipulators, yes, but these folks don’t need to be reminded that they are trash.”

    But you just did…

  • There is that.

    What do you think, John? Does anger block empathy, or is that just something that is completely missing in some people due to some (genetic?) makeup?

  • Stephanie

    I apologize for my own harshness there. I did read it. Three times actually. And… There’s an abrasiveness that hurts my heart. Maybe it’s what this guy needs to hear, even how he needs to hear it… Who the hell knows? But had I been the one to receive the letter, it wouldn’t have been my choice remind him he’s a cretin, a monster… An asshole, an awful man. Those things he’s believed since the first time he was raped… Everything that’s happened since then is a direct result of his core belief of such things. And, what rubs me wrong about it, is that they’re not true. He’s broken. He’s hurt. He’s been betrayed. He’s enraged. He’s done monstrous things, wicked things… But he’s not a monster. A monster could never change what it is. This man is still a man. A man with a lifetime of work ahead of him, but still just a man.

    You did say he could change. I see that, but it didn’t really seem like you believed he could or would.

  • Barbara Rice

    “Those things he’s believed since the first time he was raped”

    That is NOWHERE in the letter. You’re creating drama and a scenario that simply isn’t there.

  • Christy

    Hey, Gina…

    All that I’ve read points to selfishness/ego blocking compassion/empathy.

  • I think what John said was important, and here’s why:

    While this abuser MAY know he has done a terrible thing, he is not the only one reading this post. It is absolutely imperative that no one on here think that abuse is right, or okay, or something that should be taken lightly. If John had merely been his cheerleader, without pointing out the very negative and destructive effects of his behaviour, then anyone reading this who is in an abusive relationship, or is an abuser themselves, would not be able to understand the full weight of how wrong abuse is and how absolutely unacceptable. The last thing we need is people here thinking, “Oh, we just need to encourage an abuser and they will change as long as they’ve said they want to”, or “Yes, I may have punched my wife in the face but John thinks I can get a handle on that and I don’t have to feel too guilty about it.”

  • That’s exactly right. Thank you

  • Jeannie

    I have to say that I agree with both of your thoughts completely. They certainly ring true for the man who abused me for 10 years.

  • Elizabeth

    I’d like to point out that making anger a male cultural attribute is one of the most sexist things I’ve ever heard. My first thought is Les Liaisons dangereuses, but in any case women are plenty capable of anger. I would even say I process fear first that way. Gender bias cuts both ways.

  • Barbara Rice

    Yes. And there are female abusers – in male-female relationships as well as same-sex relationships, women who abuse their partners and their children.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for this response, Keshia. I truly appreciate the perspective and the succinct, yet polite, way in which it was worded. I do think, perhaps, that this may be the wrong forum for any abuser to find any help in terms of trying to make changes. This site and John’s writing is known as a safe haven and source of information and hope for those who have been abused, and I think the interests are mutually exclusive. Sorry, John. I just do.

    I’ve never commented on this site before, actually, though I’ve been following for about a year now. And, as such, I do want to say that I would in no way condone any sort of abusive behavior or sugar coating of any responsibility of such behavior. As a brief bit of background, my sister was in a 25 year relationship whereby her husband sexually and verbally abused her and her daughter (his own daughter, my niece), which recently ended with him in prison for 19 years, my sister on probation for 5, and myself on the stand to testify against them to aid in exacting justice for my niece. So, I want to make it clear that I would in no way advocate for the excuse of such behavior. I still just disagree with the method, here. But, as I said before, I believe this is just the wrong forum.

  • Susan

    There is one newer form of therapy that, if this guy is for real, I have seen wok miracles, and even heard of hardened a users turning around after sticking to the therapy for several years. The primary therapy is called Spinal Network Analysis. It is a form of body/breathing therapy that I have personally seen work miracles. It is especially effective in conjunction with EFT therapy, which uses pressure points and talk therapy to work through old emotional damages, etc. I have a degree in health research, and went to a LOT of talk therapy before finding and using these two therapies together. And in 3 years of using NSA and EFT together, I’ve gotten better and faster results than 10+ years of “regular” talk therapy alone.

    So I say, hey, if this guy REALLY wants to change, and using just making a grandstand move to keep his wife around until he finds another punching bag, let him find an Network Spinal Analysis and EFT therapist and fork out the actual time/money and GO….and prove that he’s serious about changing.

  • L

    Nah, he doesn’t mean it. He has no idea that his wife/kids even have feelings beyond the fact that she’s leaving. He doesn’t know what his abuse DOES and he doesn’t care. He’s just feeling sorry for himself.

    I’m glad you didn’t suggest they may get back together. I really really hope for the sake of the innocents in this situation they don’t.

  • Stephanie Ehlers

    Stephanie Ehlers This actually made me feel queasy. Thanks for posting it. Gives me a lot to think about.

  • Jude Conklin Craddock

    One can only pray that this guy is sincere.. and really commited to becoming a REAL man. Thanks for the thoughtful and though-provoking anwer, John.

  • Sara MacCalman

    John, You are one brilliant and insightful individual. Thanks for facing the challenge this letter presented. I hope this guy takes it to heart.

  • Sara Antonovich

    Most excellent advice !

  • Ginger

    Completely agree!

  • Elizabeth

    You should comment more. I think you add a strong voice. I only disagree that this is the wrong forum. If not here with Christians and victims, where?

  • Gordon

    Am I the only male on here who finds her first sentence offensive? Not all men process emotions through some prism of anger. Some do, and so do some women.

  • Linda

    Tough love is always good. People need to know that it is not blackmail when a loved one says “if you do ____________ again, I will leave/call the police/change the locks.” Manipulators will tell you that is blackmail when it is just cause and effect, so calling the abuser out on his very common repeated behavior will continue if he doesn’t seek to change and you may have given him the wake up call to continue with help.

    I believe that some people are just born with an extra dose of anger/rage and they never were beat/belittled/tortured which means they can’t blame their parents/siblings/care givers. In fact, I’ve seen parents and teachers struggle with children that are just out-of-control – little children. So, allowing a person to blame others for getting that way, just slows things down — if they need, they can spend time on the psychologist couch when their behavior is under control. I’ve talked to many women that believe the way they talk/dress/sit/stand/exist causes the anger in the abuser and they have been convinced that they are the cause. If I have lung cancer and have never smoked, finding the cause serves no purpose except to help scientists hone their skills. Knowing the cause will not lead to a better life and relationships.

    As you have done so well pointing out the rage, adults need to realize it belongs to them and dealing with it is the beginning. In my many decades of life, I’ve come to the conclusion that for most humans, knowing “what in my life caused this break in my character” isn’t as important and humbling as learning to deal with it in the here in now. Only following the two great commandments each and every moment can some of us deal with the quirks in our behaviors. The beauty of the two great commandments (Matt 22:37-40) is that they are applicable to any believe system.

    John, you have started someone on the humbling process of throwing himself before the Lord with all his foibles. Owning our faults is more important than finding the “cause”.

  • DR

    Physical and sexual abuse almost always manifests as a result of either repeated physical or sexual abuse. The actual act of being hit and or/sexually violated does cause a shock to the brain that is different than emotional abuse alone as well as a protective instinct to lash out physically that is almost reptilan-like. The latter is also incredibly damaging but we do need to make sure we’re allowing for an incredibly important differentiation.

  • DR

    Not necessarily, in situations like these, women are often counseled to get out of the environment completely in order to break whatever patterns and triggers occur there. Women and children often can’t recover in the same environment – even after the abuser leaves – because of the post-traumatic shock. Getting into a new environment, particularly one with family and friends is often an pretty important part of healing for the victims of domestic abuse.

  • DR

    How in the world did you glean any of this from that post? I wonder if you’re inserting a lot of your own narrative here and with all due respect, it’s a crappy thing to do to someone who had the guts to take this on. It’s really clear in the floorboards metaphor how much is underneath the surface. I’m a bit shocked by this comment.

  • DR

    Wow. Speechless. Do you know the hundreds of people that have been helped on this “forum”? Unbelievable.

  • DR

    Thank you, I thought I was losing my mind for a moment. Where in the world was the word “trash” used? It never ceases to amaze me how people read entirely what they want to and it often has nothing to do with what was actually written. That’s why I could never do a blog like this!

  • DR

    With all due respect, I’m a fan of just about anyone posting here, but not when they insert such meaning into the post itself where it doesn’t even come close to what was being suggested. I have a real problem with that.

  • DR

    Stephanie, people are being pretty blunt with you here. If you’re going to enter in to this conversation, you need to perhaps, consider addressing those that you’ve offended, it seems like you’re only choosing to respond to those that you have identified as being polite enough, I hope I’m wrong, I think you could learn a lot by talking a little bit with those who’ve reacted strongly to what you’ve offered.

  • Yes, abusers can change.

    My blog is a chronicle of what that change looks like, how painfully slow and fraught with setbacks it is, and why in the end it is all worth it.

    My husband started out with Life Skills Int’l, then private therapy with EMDR. It took a couple tries to get a helpful therapist, one who didn’t want to just be his buddy. His first therapist tried to pin an incident on me, because after all, he had met my husband and my husband seemed like such a nice guy. Duh.

    My husband gets the credit for moving on from that therapist. His next therapist was good for him, but she actually started out my EMDR therapist. She had an affinity for people with my husband’s background, though. So I got a new therapist and he kept seeing her. That was for two years.

    I’m out of therapy now, but he is still going. There is still more to uncover. But things are so, so, so, so, so much better. My EMDR helped me to stop reacting to his abuse, and the EMDR he is under-going is giving him the ability to stop living in DEFCON 1 status.

    Back when things were scariest for me, when he was his most volatile and scariest, he hated me because he felt so threatened and unsafe all the time. That had nothing to do with me, though he blamed it on me, and everything to do with his childhood.

    The thing about finding healing, admitting the child abuse (so hard for my husband as he was an MK/PK fundamentalist trained to be thankful for spankings and to praise his parents as heroic for abandoning him) and re-arranging the synapses of your brain through EMDR, is that whether or not your wife returns or goes, you will be happier than you have ever been!

    Imagine a life where you have peace and contentment every day, not because religion preaches you should, but real, intrinsic, unmanufactured peace and contentment. That is what all the hard work my husband has done in therapy has accomplished for him. It is completely guilt-free, religion-free happiness. It is real.

    It helps tremendously to have a wife who holds you accountable, but you have to agree to BE accountable. Life Skills can help with that, but mostly YOU will have to stop yourself from listening to those feelings of being unsafe, persecuted, and attacked. YOU will have to deal with those in therapy, and learn to separate those feelings from your current situation. They have nothing to do with you current life.

    Cause John Shore got that right: the feelings of being unsafe and in danger are the bottom line in an abuser’s heart. The abuser feels like he/she is being victimized by the partner or child (untrue!) and so you attack, fully justified in your own mind because you feel threatened emotionally. Your feelings are real. You are just processing them in error and it is causing you to lose all that is precious and dear to you. Your feelings are left over from past abuse that you need to deal with in therapy, and then and only then can you truly “get over it”.

    I hope you persevere in healing and learning to love. My husband is a one in a million gem for doing so, and he is still on that path. I hope you make it too. I strongly recommend EMDR for the whole family, each with separate therapists, as well as other types of therapy for dealing with childhood abuse. It has truly given us new lives, like being born again in a real way, not a theological abstraction.

  • DR

    Much love to you.

  • I disagree, Linda. I think we are all born with brains, and in response to what happens to us, our brains lay down synapses. In response to danger, our brains lay synapses straight to our amygdala and activate our sympathetic nervous system. Everything we are sensing is freeze-framed, so that when we smell that smell again, or experience that setting again, or see things in the same light even, the danger synapse is reactivated, and the blood pressure goes up, the adrenaline is released, the anger and fear emotional response is triggered. It is straight up biology, and the more this synapse is activated, the stronger the brain works to protect it and keep it in good working order.

    It is a survival adaptation, and regardless of your religion or philosophy, your biology works that way. But I do agree with you that understanding what initially laid that synapse down is not always necessary.

    EMDR is the first and only therapy I have tried that gave real results. It uses biology to rewire the ‘danger alert’ synapses, and remembering the incident is not necessary to the process. Just make sure you choose a qualified and trained EMDR therapist who is also trained as a professional counselor ( to find a therapist). There are untrained people out there these days, and I wouldn’t recommend them.

    The beauty of EMDR is that it goes beyond learning to manage yourself when those danger synapses are incidentally reactivated by innocuous situations. It removes the connections, so they can’t be reactivated!! I love being me so much more now that I have don’t have to fight to control my PTSD. I just don’t experience PTSD. So. Much. Better.

  • What is a degree in health research? Are you a therapist yourself? Just curious.

    Are either of these therapies endorsed by medical associations or covered by insurance? I have heard of EFT as a sort of poor man’s EMDR, that is a “do-it-yourself, learn it in a one-day seminar” substitute for EMDR. I have never heard of any spinal analysis. Interesting.

  • DR

    That really bothered me as well. Ugh. OK, moving on. 🙂

  • Lizzy

    Amen, L.

  • No one but the woman herself can know what is best for her. Abused women get all kinds of shaming from society no matter what they choose to do. Some stay and ask their husbands to leave. Others leave themselves. I did neither, but my situation is unique.

    The most important thing for her is that she take charge of her own life and start making her own decisions, based on her own best interests. The rest of us should applaud her for having the courage to do just that. <3

  • Emotional abuse hurts just as much as physical abuse, you just can’t see it on the outside.

  • Reptilian-like is a good description. However emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, verbal abuse also put down the exact same hotline to the amygdala. All abuse hurts and all abuse causes our brains to activate the sympathetic nervous system.

    The only people I have ever heard claim that physical abuse is worse are people who are refraining from physical abuse and instead lash out with verbal, emotional and spiritual abuse instead. I am not saying that is what YOU are doing, I am just speaking from my experience.

    Also, spanking causes the same biological reactions that a stranger acting out violently causes in our brain. When Americans finally give up their reliance on physical domination and causing pain and suffering to children as a teaching tool, then we will see a drop in adults who abuse. (I am guilty too!) As long as we call that normal, we will have adults with PTSD and anger issues who will adamantly say they never suffered child abuse, and they don’t know why they have this problem.

  • Jill

    That’s a good point, Gina. I can say it seems to in myself. I’ve got the temper of both my parents, yet I can thankfully step past it quickly. But when I’m in it, those few moments, my brain seems to have blocked out everything else, including someone else’s feelings. I’m lucky to have learned better management skills so as not to harm someone, but I can also see how people could get addicted to the rush. You can feel very powerful, especially if life has made you feel small.

  • Stephanie

    Most of these conversations took place in the wee AM hours of my time zone. I have 2 small children to care for and could not respond to them all. Additionally, unlike with my first post, I’m trying to formulate and choose my words more carefully, especially in addressing the ones where people were offended. I don’t need further admonishment from you and further, some of the things I’ve been waiting to respond to seem less productive and more like the makings for picking a fight, which… I neither have time for nor want to engage in.

  • Elizabeth

    Seconded. She made an effort, though, and I believe her response was genuine if off-base. I’ve been known to make ridiculous statements trying to wrap my head around topics here.

  • Jill

    What an amazing story of your family’s healing journey, shadowspring. Incredibly empowering. Many of us out here, I think, don’t know abusers who make this shift. It is an overwhelmingly hard road to muster the courage needed to do what your husband has.

    Even those domineering types (not sure if that fit your husband’s description) that ‘mellow’ as they get older aren’t necessarily making the shift toward objectively seeing the damage they have caused. It takes self-awareness to get it, the road less traveled.

  • Jill

    well said, Keshia

  • Stephanie

    Thanks Elizabeth. I’m wondering why you think I should comment more because I really wish I hadn’t even started any of this. In fact, 99% of me wants to just give up on this discussion altogether because people have already made judgments of how they’re going to take anything I say from here on out. It really won’t do much good for me to try to explain myself further. However, in an attempt to answer your “where?” question, though, there are other, separate places in which abusers can be helped. Support groups. Anger management classes, individualized therapy etc… In a forum like this one, where people are trying to find safety and light after leaving horrible situations or while contemplating trying to leave horrible situations, it is difficult to adequately address the needs of the abusers that put them there.

    I would never presume to argue that this site and these words haven’t helped countless numbers of people. Myself included. But a person, a minister, a therapist, a counselor, a guide (pick your word) like John, can not be all things to all people. It’s neither possible, responsible nor ethical. In fact, after some research, reading and googling of other sites this morning, none of the other help sites that I came across which sought to help abusers to stop abusing, were as brash or abrasive as this original post was.

  • Stephanie

    Thank you for pointing this out Elizabeth. I do understand what you’re saying here about it being a sexist statement. I need to examine that idea further, actually. It’s a thought that I’ve just accepted as truth because my own personal experience, group therapy, various male confidants, as well as three separate individual therapists and marriage counselors have suggested it as such. Not ALL men are that way. I didn’t say that, and I wasn’t suggesting that women weren’t capable of anger, either. However, culturally, we tend to nurture males to exhibit strong emotions and hide the more “vulnerable” feelings of sadness, hurt, and the like behind a stronger emotion, like anger or rage. I disagree with such nurturing. I refuse to do it with my own children, but that doesn’t mean that such nurturing (and the products of such nurturing) doesn’t exist. (I even have to fight against it with my own parents when they’re dealing with my son.) It’s a wide-spread, commonly perpetuated societal problem.

  • Jill

    Stephanie, I’m so very sorry to hear what you and your family endured at the hands of a perpetrator. It is a horrifying tragedy.

    Personally I am deeply grateful for John’s innate ability to channel his pained upbringing into putting better options into the world. Yes, we discuss religion, Christ, trust, grace, free will, suffering, abuse, grief, loss, the list goes on, and it is a tribute to John’s strength of character and *willingness* to facilitate this with us and guide it that people make inner shifts, little bit by little bit, along the way. We share the deep stuff of life, baring deeply held things, and that’s how we purge the junk that hides our light. And John, most of all, understands this.

    For me, he spoke to an abuser with the voice of a survivor, some of us never had that chance to say this. An abuser in my life died last week. I’m glad John said what I couldn’t. Peace to you.

  • Stephanie

    Barbara, that part of my post was meant to address the place where John responded to this man by saying, “You’re mad at whomever fucked you when you were a kid.” I thought that was a literal, “fucked.” Perhaps John meant it more in a figurative sense. The response John gave suggested to me that he knew something of the particulars, here, and was responding accordingly.

    Further, I’d like to suggest that you know nothing of me to accuse me of “creating drama.” As I mentioned in another response, this is my first time (and likely, last time) commenting here. You could know nothing of my personality to suggest such a thing. And, I was neither seeking nor creating drama. Just because my opinion and the manner with which I believe this post should be handled is different than others, doesn’t mean I’m trying to create drama. It means I have a different perspective.

  • Jill

    DR, I have to respectfully disagree with the assessment that we should split this particular hair. As my therapist would say, it’s not the type of abuse, how severe it was, or how often, but the impact it made. Please correct me if I misunderstood your point.

    As a kid seeing my mother beat the daylights out of my sister, while shoving her out the front door onto a brick staircase was not a physical threat to me, but it sure felt like my world might be coming to an end. Primal fears were in full swing.

  • Stephanie: I’m not going to not answer such a letter, okay? This is the “forum” for this, because this is where I work, and answering letters from people that I think it’s important to answer is what I do. I answered this particular letter the way that doing this publicly for 13 years (I used to run a print advice column) has taught me to. I wasn’t “brash,” and I was exactly and as carefully “abrasive” as I felt it necessary to be. When I write these things, I do not worry about how anyone but the letter writer will take it; I focus on the letter I got, and block out everything else. Often there are communications I’ve had with the letter writer outside of the blog, because I always ask whomever writes me for permission to publish their letter. So of course that too is on my mind when I begin writing my answer to that person.

    I’m sorry you didn’t like what I wrote. I do this knowing that some people will like what I write, and some won’t. And I sure know that addressing a wife-abuser at all is going to bring out all kinds of crazy. That’s fine; I accept that. Again, it’s just part and parcel of what I do.

    In my years of doing this–and if you follow this blog at all, you know I’ve answered a lot of questions from readers facing a lot of unbelievable problems–I’ve not once had anything but a positive response back from a person whose letter I’ve answered. With every answer I expect the person to come railing back at me about how I ruined their life, or made thing worse, or something. And I’m sure one day that will happen; how can it not? But so far it hasn’t happened one single time. So far I’ve received back from the letter writer nothing but (at the very least) thanks. That’s a track record even I can’t believe.

    Of course I can’t be all things to all people. But so far (as far as I know) I’ve been whomever I need to be to be of some help to every person whose letter I’ve answered on this blog.

    I try to give people the best advice/input I can, because that’s what they’ve asked me to. And then I just … hope it does them, and anyone else who might be facing anything like what they’re going through, any good. Then I move on to the next thing I feel I need to write.

    In the meantime, I monitor the comments on this blog, to keep out the crazies and those who clearly mean nothing productive by whatever they’ve written.

    I’m sorry you have such problems with my answer to this guy; I’m sorry you find me “irresponsible and unethical.” But let it go now.

    P.S. The letter writer of this letter just now responded to me. He wrote (in part; obviously I can’t share his whole letter to me): “I saw your post this morning. There is alot of truth there. Thanks for not holding back. … You are correct about me being self centered. … Thanks for taking the time to address my question, I expected a very sharp & harsh response, and that is what I need & deserve. … I thought of responding in the comments, but I think your response stands well without any clarification or comments from me.”

  • Stephanie

    More than happy to let it go, John. Thanks for the response.

  • Thank you for bringing up alternate therapies. I know that hypnotherapy was the door that opened the cure to my PTSD-incurred fibromyalgia.

    Have you had any experiences with hypnotherapy for empathy-related issues?

  • Elizabeth

    John knows this subject really well. 7 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships was written way before he blew up on gay rights and went all HuffPo on us. It’s probably helped more people—mainly women—then everything else he’s written combined. The thing is, they don’t tend to speak up. Frankly, I love it when John is harsh. He nails righteous anger. Any comment here is wading into the fray. That’s a challenge to grow your understanding, not stop.

    And yes, support groups, anger management classes, therapy are all good ideas. Sometimes people get the nudge in unexpected places.

  • Elizabeth

    Sorry for stepping on your toes, John.

  • Stephanie: see the end of my last response to you for an update: the letter writer of this letter just now responded to me.

  • Jill

    Yeah Elizab. (I cannot stop calling you that now…you started it.)

  • No, of course not. I appreciate it.

  • And btw, Stephanie: I don’t want you to stop commenting here. I’d like you to stop bitching about me now, but you’ve got a good, thoughtful way about you. I like your comments. If I didn’t they wouldn’t still be up, and you’d be blocked.

  • Meghan

    I was 25 years old before I realized that I qualified as a survivor of four different kinds of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, sexual). For 25 years, I truly believed that all of it had been my fault, that other families were the same way, that that was just how things were, that there was nothing to be mad about. I had my first inkling that there might be something lurking in the shadows of my memory when, in order to get my teacher certification, I had to take a class on recognizing child abuse, and as we were going through checklists of behaviors and signs to look for, and the definitions and examples of child abuse, a little whisper in my head said, “Wow, really? But I had all of those.” Even then, though, I didn’t think about it too hard, because I didn’t want to, because the pain had been safely (I thought) buried for so long. It wasn’t until I started watching myself lose it in the classroom that I started to think maybe I had a problem, and it wasn’t until I became a Christian and prayed for humility that God really opened my eyes – and John’s right. The process is two-fold.

    First I was unutterably HORRIFIED at the way I had behaved in the classroom up until that point (I worked in a neighborhood that was so bad that they’d had 13 vacancies in the middle of the school year the year I was hired; they couldn’t keep teachers longer than a year or two because conditions were so bad, and the administration itself was highly abusive of both teachers and students, which is why they didn’t notice my indiscretions). I spent a lot of time (months and months) feeling wretched about myself and crying to God about what a horrible person I was. If you’re not desperate on your knees, yet, letter writer, pray for the grace to get there. Pray for God to let you understand, REALLY understand the violence and pain you are causing.

    And second, I slowly became aware of the flaming ball of hatred toward my father that I kept under the floorboards. I became aware of how it warped every interaction I had, how it had bled into my friendships, my relationships, my dealings with bosses and students and teachers and everyone else, including myself. I became aware that what was done to me as a child was also horrific – that there was no excuse for it, just as there was no excuse for me repeating it to my students. What was done to me was not my fault, but it was my responsibility to process it as an adult; what I did to my students WAS my fault, and it was my responsibility to make amends, and to work on myself so that I did not continue to perpetuate it. It was REALLY intense to feel all that anger. John says it’s not too hard, and it’s not, but it WAS really scary to put myself back in the emotional position of being utterly powerless while awful things were being done to me. It hurt like a motherfucker. It possibly hurt worse than the original abuse, because it had been festering for so long. But that’s where I had to go to get free of it. But I got free. It took a long time, and I still pray for healing for the students who had to deal with me while I was still in process. I knew I had turned a corner when I started having parent-teacher conferences that weren’t about damage control anymore (damage control – that’s that lying and manipulation everyone is accusing you of) because the parents were coming to thank me for making the classroom experience so welcoming and safe for their child. I had a teaching artist come for a year-long residency who said that my class was her favorite because there was such a positive, nurturing atmosphere. The change can be THAT radical if you really want it. But you have to really want it, and you have to be willing to slog through that swamp of hatred, anger, and shame, and not give up until you get to the other side.

    So to the LW, if you’re serious, and it’s entirely possible that you’re merely a sociopath looking for a quick fix, but if you’re serious, by all means find a therapist who really helps you. I’ve heard good things about EMDR. I’ve had a lot of good experiences myself with various kinds of experiential processing (art therapy, dance therapy, mindfulness, etc.), because John’s right again – a lot of the shit you’re carrying (if you’re carrying shit and are not just a sociopath) isn’t intellectual – you’re probably carrying it in your muscles, in your amygdala, in all kinds of non-conscious ways, and sometimes the experiential stuff can help you access it better than talk-therapy.

    So -the process is simple, but don’t think that it’s easy. If it were easy, everyone would succeed, and you wouldn’t find so many stories in the comments of abusers who never learned. Simple, difficult, and COMPLETELY WORTH IT. When you get to the other side, you won’t believe how light you feel. It’s like you’re weightless, and loved, and the universe is benevolent in a way that it has never been, and you can be kind to everyone, including yourself. Sometimes people still accidentally stomp on your triggers, but your triggers don’t have the same power over you, and you recognize them for what they are (scar tissue), so you don’t have to attack anymore. Life gets unbelievably beautiful. I don’t know how sincere you are, letter writer, but that’s the best I can hope for you and your family.

  • thanks for this. 🙂

  • Linda

    Shadow Spring, Sorry to hear you’ve had to suffer through PTSD. That is so real and often such a sad part of our society that it is caused by events we have no control over.

    I understand I think what you are saying – I interpret it like smoking. I know if I were a smoker for years, my brain would lay down brain things to want me to keep smoking forever until I die. Something has to change and most people that were smokers spend their lives craving a smoke when in certain situations – memories of good times and stressful times.

    As an old granny, I see grandchildren from the same family that are polar opposites. I observe the parents many times a week and see the boys being treated similarly. But the one is just obstinate and sometimes he can be physically hurtful. His parents are getting help and have been for over 18 months (he is 4). So, he came into this world more different than me or his brother. I know this is just a single observation, but when I taught preschool in the 70s I’d regularly saw children from the same family with very different view from their tiny little lives. Like my grandson, most of these children were not abused at home – they just had different wiring. So that was where I was coming from when I felt that some of us are just born different and maybe “no one made us this way through abuse”.

    I’m dyslexic and I struggled through school being told I was lazy, stupid, stubborn (still am) and retarded. None of that squashed my spirit, but I was born with a God given drive to learn – so even with flawed programming, I’ve found ways to get my brain around things. I understand that reprogramming is important and am glad you found help.

    My big concern is that as a community we must help those who can’t help themselves or see ways to help themselves and as an individual I will always take personal responsibility for my actions and help those I mentor understand the value of personal responsibility. Dyslexics of the world UNTIE and spell checking is so awesome!

  • spinning2heads

    Agreed, getting back together should not even be a goal on the table. If he’s serious, he should work to get to a healthier place, for himself and for the people who are around him. But as long as he’s trying to keep people (such as his soon-to-be ex) around he’s going to be trying to manipulate, not trying to actually change.

  • spinning2heads

    Perhaps in a situation where the abused is the one who leaves the shared home, the abuser could help defray the costs of her new living arrangements to the best of his abilities? But actually, were I the abused in this story, I think (I can’t know as I’ve never been in this situation) that I would rather not owe anything to the abuser, and would therefore turn down the rent money.

  • mike moore

    good call.

  • a lucky one.

    As I read through the comments, I’m taken aback by the terrible number of people, here at John Shore, who have lived in abusive homes.

    This leads me to believe there are many people reading these comments who still live in a violent home. This is my request of you: please leave, or please have your abuser arrested and fully prosecuted.

    I am one of the lucky ones. As my biological father learned, one only hits my Mom once.

    In the deep South in 1961, when good girls and good Jr. League wives were supposed to keep these matters private, and when divorce was anathema, she refused to give him a second chance. She waited until he was gone, threw our clothes in suitcase, and left. Later in life, she told me she knew she could forgive him, but also knew that she would never feel safe, nor would she ever feel I was safe, living with such a man.

    I can never thank her enough for her courage to defy her husband, her family, his family, and most of her friends. Over the years they all apologized, of course, as my bio-dad abused two more wives before ending up alone.

  • Elizabeth

    I can see how watching someone you loved being beaten is the same. As someone who went through primarily psychological intimidation—the 24/7 threat but not the actual fact of physical violence before I got out—I cede DR’s point. Considering the PTSD I went through, I can only imagine what actual fight-or-flight survival would look like.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi, lucky one. One of the reasons I’m so (over)vocal here is because I’m the last person anyone would expect to be in that position. I’m from an upper-middle-class background; my parents, while divorced, are loving and supportive; I attended the best schools and aced feminist studies. No one ever suspected.

    “Please leave” is harder than you think. People from all walks face it. As a woman who takes responsibility for her own role—face it, I ain’t no walk in the park—prosecution is an awfully big step to just throw out there.

  • Jill

    ***I’m hugging you right now, Elizabeth*** 🙁

  • a lucky one.

    Hi Elizabeth (you’re not too vocal, btw, great comments)

    I know how hard leaving is, and I apologize if my words didn’t express that. I know my Mom was socially shunned for what family and friends saw as her “over-reaction.” In many ways, leaving was the easy part. Life after leaving was the real challenge.

    Even so, I have to say to those living in abusive situations, please leave.

    And, please, strongly consider prosecution. Don’t think of prosecution as something you’re doing to the abuser, and don’t think of it as ruining the abuser’s life. Instead, recognize that you’re working to protect others from the same violence you’ve had to live through.

    About 10 years ago (in my 40’s) I met my half-brother. I heard about his youth growing up in bio-dad’s house. It was a living nightmare. I can’t help but think, “if only those women had known whom they were marrying.”

  • anakin mcfly

    Thanks for this comment.

  • Matt

    I understand very much where you’re coming from, lucky one. We all wish we could make the pain stop. But when entire families are abusive–deeply dysfunctional, deeply wounding, in complex and varied ways–the dynamics can make it all-but-impossible to even think of prosecution or leaving.

    My role in my family has always been secret-keeper. As the youngest child, I have witnessed and overheard just about everything that has gone on behind closed doors. Yes, the things that I know and have experienced could send at least one person to jail. But ultimately, I know it’s not worth it. To spend months being interrogated, questioned, have my actions put under a microscope? And for what? So the rest of my family will turn against me? They already know what happened, they’ve known for years, and they haven’t done a single thing about it.

    What I can do as a young adult is get the hell outta Dodge. I’m working towards that right now, little by little. My consolation prize? They have live with what they did. I’ll don’t. I’ll process it and it’ll be done.

  • anakin mcfly

    Just a note to say that the abuse might not have been visible or even intended. I came from a completely stable, loving family of wonderful people who cared about me a lot. They were, however, also consevative Christians and vocally anti-LGBT, and at a young age I fearfully came to realize that I was one of those people they spoke so horribly about. It really messed with me, keeping that part of my identity secret because I didn’t want to hurt my parents who had always been nothing but good to me. And apparently various problems I have now with PTSD and the anger issues John mentions (I’m frequently disturbed by the violent thoughts I get sometimes) are similar to that experienced by individuals from conventionally abusive homes, but I’m loathe to associate myself with them because my childhood family situation was heaven compared to so much of what those people went through.

  • anakin mcfly

    Perhaps that’s the case for some abusers, but for others you’d be dealing with the symptoms, not the cause.

    I haven’t abused anyone in a major way (I’ve been limited to rants on the Internet), but I do have a lot of anger issues and the one thing that helped me most was not empathising with the people I targeted, which often made it worse, in fact, because when the anger had faded I would get overwhelmed with guilt, apologise profuselyand try to make it up to them by letting them walk all over me (and then remembering that later would just make me angry again); what did help was the day when a friend pointed out that he thinks all this stemmed from my own past hurts, which had previously not occurred to me in that context, and it was that revelation which provided the road to actual recovery.

  • Matt

    Wow. Beyond wow. Thank you for this comment.

  • DR

    Stephanie, look at all the conversation your thoughts generated! I didn’t like a lot of what you said but I respect that you were brave enough to offer a counter view, that’s awfully hard to do. We all seem to learn from one another here, I certainly do. You’re no exception.

  • usingmyvoicewell

    Barbara, I’m with you. I’m coming into this conversation a day late, and have only managed to scan the various comments, but one word keeps coming to mind: Narcissist. Like you, I also think there is “something missing”, something “real”.

    As for John’s response, I applaud it. All of it. He told the truth. Abusers (and the abused) need to hear the truth, nothing more, nothing less.

    I still have “Narcissist” ringing in my head…

  • Matt

    Anakin: Don’t worry about lumping yourself in with the rest of us, so to speak. You’re hardly stepping on anyone’s toes. We all respond to things in different ways. And what you went through was especially isolating (as I well know) because not only would you have to face your family, but also the rest of the whole freaking world who, as you know, is not kind to folks like us. That doesn’t sound like heaven to me, although I’m glad that you have a family that you can ultimately fall back on.

  • DR


  • DR

    Me too. 😀

  • DR

    Stephanie, people have different styles here, you said you’ve been reading for quite some time so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Some are gentle and kind, some are more abrupt and direct. You seem to be reading into quite a bit as well as personalizing it, I wonder how that’s serving you? No one is “picking a fight”, it might feel that way to you but you’re choosing that perception. You said some stuff that provoked some strong reaction and you got a few gentle slaps for it that may have woken up some perspective? That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Anyway, good luck with your kids!

  • DR

    Point taken! I read a bunch of stuff on physical abuse that I’m referencing but I’m definitely not an expert on the subject.

  • DR

    No you didn’t, I was differentiating physical abuse but I only know a little about it. Certainly could be wrong!

  • Matt

    DR: This is simply my take, but having experienced the whole gamut of abuse–physical abuse hurts extremely in the moment. But with emotional abuse, a person can reach really deep down, far beyond where they can physically go. At that level, it doesn’t take much to leave you reeling.

  • anakin mcfly


    Sometimes I just feel that I'm not being grateful enough for what I had, you know? In a comment thread elsewhere, another trans guy wrote about one time when he was ill and his mother locked him in the bathroom so she wouldn't have to deal with it. And that really horrified me, just to know that parents like that *exist* (especially with other people sharing their stories of parental/family abuse), and made me realise how sheltered a life I had in comparison that such things were completely unthinkable to me, or at least were things that I thought happened very rarely and only in extreme circumstances. But it turns out to be more common than I'd thought, and I realise how lucky I am to actually have parents who love me. I used to think it was the norm for parents to love their kids or at least treat them with basic human decency, but the more I hear from other people, the more it's starting to look like the exception. :/

  • Marie Austin

    Great response to the abuser, the simple fact is it seems as if he didn’t get it until his wife decided to leave, a bit like a thief apologising once they are caught. So is he getting help so she and the kids stay, or is he getting help because he recognises he,s been a Prat.

    I do believe people can change and some do change. Having said that there are consequences for behaviour. He may have to start again with working toward reconciling with his wife, it may not ever happen and that’s the consequence. Good luck

  • Elizabeth

    Peace to you, Jill. You and the abuser you still care enough about to remember. Girl crush: solid.

  • Matt

    It’s hard to say whether you’re an exception, exactly. Families are complicated. I think the culture at large tends to show only two kinds of families–the always-loving, always-full-of-light kind, and the incredibly dark, always-abusive kind.

    While I’m sure that both exist, there is plenty of room for the in-between. It’s up the individual person if living in a shades-of-grey family is worth it for their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.

  • I lived next door to my former inlaws for a long time and the only “abuse” I ever could decipher was being overindulgent to their oldest. After I married, I learned all they had turned a blind eye to, now many times he”d had run ins with the law because of alcohol or drugs. They never, to my knowledge, insisted he seek council or treatment.

    He was close to his parents and his siblings. But he was and still an unstable person, which has only worsened over time..

  • Jill

    Totally agree with Matt, anakin. Families are complex dynamics. We see the ‘ideal’ in advertising, and we see the twisted varieties on the news and reality tv.

    It’s always ok to honor what positive things you’ve had while grieving what wasn’t positive. You’re not ungrateful for processing your feelings, all of them as they are. You’re human, just like all the rest of us stumbling around out here… 🙂

  • Jill

    I’m glad he’s now in the hands of a Higher Power, maybe he can do on the other side of the veil what he couldn’t do over here: get it right.

  • Jill

    Hi Mindy! Reading you always makes me smile.

  • Jill

    voice, that word beginning with the letter N has big meaning to me too. Did a hefty amount of research on the subject about three summers ago, joined discussion groups, tracked my extended family connections with narcissism. Read that we all have traits and capacity toward some level of self-absorption, but the clinical variety is its own hell of self-delusion and denial, while still keeping narcissists culpable for their harmful behavior.

    It helped me, among other things, to find sympathy for those who are that checked out. It’s as if they are incapable of experiencing self-love.

  • vj

    Well, their failure to hold him to account over an extended period of time is tantamount to abuse/neglect/not caring enough to address his issues… maybe that fed into the issues you encountered with him?

  • It is possible vj. I know they did him no favors by continually bailing him out, or turning a blind eye. It bothered me, but at the time I had three small kids and their helping with groceries at times, helped us survive…Oh yeah, he went through a long period of self-induced unemployment, and I couldn’t find anything but part time, or short term work. I should have left long before I did.

  • vj

    Leaving after the first assault is much easier than trying to leave after years of abuse – bravo to your mom! About 15 year ago a friend of mine did the same thing – her husband of about 6 months struck her once. She waited until he was away on a business trip, then got a restraining order, changed the locks and got all his things out of the home (he had moved into what had been her apartment, so I guess that made it easier). Then she took a friend with her to the airport when her husband returned, and told him that she was filing for divorce. I was (and still am) so proud of her for not falling into the terribly familiar pattern of an abuser being all remorseful and then abusing again… She is still single to this day, but she is SAFE and HAPPY and lives a fulfilling, independent life.

  • Beth Schwartz

    Domestic violence is not about anger. It is about control. Abusers seek out intimate partners whom they can isolate and manipulate and control, and manipulating others in order to get away with it. Abusers do not choose to harm their colleagues, friends, teammates, fellow congregants – they choose to abuse those they “love.” anger is an excuse. Domestic violence is totalitarianism in miniature. Those friends, congregants, teammates, and colleagues have to hold abusers accountable for their actions. As a society, we have to protect the victims of domestic violence and help then to survive and recover, but we also have to stop giving men a pass, stop sexualizing little girls, and really practice equality in education, employment, religious life, sports, economics – all of it.

  • Of course hitting someone is about anger; it is an act of anger. It’s not simple anger; it’s not conditional or situational anger; it’s often not even felt as anger by the abuser. But it’s primal, sublimated, ultimately irrepressible fury just the same.

  • a lucky one.

    It sounds like you have made a very good decision, and I do see the gigantic difference between leaving early v. leaving after years of abuse, and I had not thought of that before, so thank you for widening my perspective.

    As to knowledge of jail-able offenses, I (tentatively) agree with you, if it no longer serves any real purpose. (I assume the criminal to whom you refer no longer has the ability to harm others in the same way.)

  • re abusers feeling unsafe and in danger: I’ve long thot this explains the motives behind every tyrant and despot

  • n.

    i think he was getting at how the person got to be control freak about the ones they love. definitely that can be from anger/fear. the way to make sure whatever happened that screwed you up never happens again, is to control every single thing and person that you can. well, not the useful way, but it’s something that happens in people.

  • n.

    should have said “love” in quotes. a person that messed up maybe doesn’t know how to really love. but some can learn.

  • SugarMags

    That’s what I did (move out, let him have the house, turn down his money). But the fact that he didn’t really give me much choice spoke volumes to me about his true intent. Had he said, “I will move out, you stay here with the kids, no pressure, ever,” and then actually followed through on that, things might have turned out differently. But instead, he moved out for less than a month, then told me to move out (800 miles away to my dad’s house) so he could move back in. He promised me money, then when the kids and I got to my dad’s house, he took me off the checking account and said everything would be fine if I just came back home. That’s when I knew for sure there was no hope of change, and began trying to figure out how to safely extract myself from the marriage *without* using his money. I accepted child support when he would send it (we had four children), but I never accepted a penny of his money for myself. I got a job, got an apartment, got a better job, got a raise….I once borrowed money from my dad, but never from him. In our divorce agreement, I intentionally gave up all rights to spousal support.

  • Owyn

    As the product of an abusive household (physical/verbal to wife and sons, physical/verbal/sexual to daughters), I can state with some empathic understanding that anger and control are inseparable in an abuser. The anger is sublimated and is expressed in control/manipulation, the anger then also rears its ugly head in the physical abuse if/when the abused rebel (or are perceived to rebel) against the control of the abuser.

    To separate Anger and Familial Totalitarianism is a red herring, they cannot be divorced, instead they must be understood as a polar dialogue.

  • InaCat

    I inherited a tradition of violence, coercion, and manipulation from my family, along with talents in arts and science, and received years, and years of training in all those subjects.

    Why I am not you? I can only attribute to my reading habits, an awareness that some of what my family did was anything but loving, and a promise I made to myself… that I would not marry or bear children until I had beaten the addiction to win by force or cunning.

    Alice Miller can help – when I say she wrote the book on ‘why’? I mean it. For Your Own Good is that book.

    Andrew Vachss can help…he understands, and lays out in black and white, the pathetic nature of evil….and offers ‘Another Chance to Get it Right’.

    Charles DeLint, Sheri Tepper, and Mercedes Lackey can teach you what it means to be human, instead of monster…how to grieve both for what you have done, and what you have suffered.

    Spider Robinson, and Robert Anton Wilson (especially ‘Prometheus Rising) can teach you how to become something you are only slowly learning to understand.

    it can be done – it is the work of a lifetime, but it can be done.