Recovering From the Trauma of Domestic Violence - Free Self-Help

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary

Welcome

This article describes the kinds of distress people can have after having been in an abusive relationship, such as feeling guilty for having stayed in it so long, feeling worthless because they've been convinced they're no good by the abusive person or by themselves, having anxiety problems, and so on; and it gives recommendations on things that can help people get over the distress. It goes on to discuss many reasons women stay in abusive relationships, and explains that people feel trapped into staying by a lot of things they don't have to feel trapped by. It gives advice on assertiveness skills to help people stand up for themselves but still stay calm when people say abusive things to them.

It gives recommendations on what can be done if contact with the abuser can't be avoided. Then it gives advice on how to spot men who are likely to be violent and how to reduce the chances of getting into an abusive relationship again.

There are one or two stories in the article about how it can be understandable that people will miss early warning signs that a man will be abusive and look back afterwards thinking they should have seen them though there are reasons why they didn't, so they don't have to feel as guilty and bad about themselves for staying with the abuser as they do.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and the self-help article.


Things People have Said About Violence and Verbal Abuse, Stress and Other Problems

The man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out.
--Chinese Proverb

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
--Isaac Asimov

Stress is the trash of modern life - we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.
--Danzae Pace

It's not easy taking my problems one at a time when they refuse to get in line.
--Ashleigh Brilliant

Ridicule is generally made use of to laugh men out of virtue and good sense, by attacking everything praiseworthy in human life.
--Joseph Addison

Warning: This article may trigger off bad memories that could be upsetting or cause anxiety. Watch out for signs of anxiety while you're reading this; and if any part of it begins to make you feel upset, it might be as well to skip the bit you're reading or stop reading altogether for a while, or go to the section on relaxation techniques and try some.

The Main Contents

Background Information About This Article

The Self-Help Information in the Article

  1. The Normal Emotional Reactions People Have After Being Abused
  2. Adopting Healthier Attitudes to Life Than you May Have now
  3. Not Holding Onto Anger
  4. Changing Your Attitude to Yourself
  5. Physically Relaxing
  6. Dealing With Guilt
  7. Beliefs About What People are "supposed to" do That Keep People in Abusive Relationships
  8. Being Assertive
  9. If You Have to See the Person who Abused You Again
  10. Exposing Yourself to Harmless Reminders of the Abuse
  11. How to Avoid Getting Involved in an Abusive Relationship Again

Part One
The Normal Emotional Reactions People Have After Being Abused


We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.
--Roderick Thorp, (Rainbow Drive)

Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked.
--Oliver W. Holmes, Sr., The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858

We experience moments absolutely free from worry. These brief respites are called panic.
--Cullen Hightower

A man who is "of sound mind" is one who keeps the inner madman under lock and key.
--Paul Valéry, Mauvaises pensées et autres, 1942

Don't be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin. --Grace Hansen

Thinking

Jenny thinks:

Dawn says she's been a lot more jumpy than she used to be, and she gets upset when she sees violence on the television. But then, I bet a lot of people do that, even if they haven't experienced violence themselves! But I think she gets more upset for having suffered it. I bet all the things she's feeling and things that have happened to her and things she's experienced are common to a lot of people. It would be nice to think things could improve for them all. She said her yucky old husband David accused her of being stupid and insane, telling her it's silly to get upset about violence that isn't real, and laughing at her because she gets startled so easily, saying she's a "mental case". I know she's worried about whether she really is going mad. But this self-help book I've been reading says it's perfectly normal for people to have the problems she's having, and it's reasonable after what's happened. I'll have to tell her.

The Symptoms of Distress it's Common for Women to Suffer After Having Been Abused

Scared

Yes, this book says people don't have to worry that they're abnormal at all, because it's common for people who've been in abusive relationships to have a variety of symptoms, that can include:

And there are other ones.

Maybe I'll ask Dawn if those things are happening to her. Well, I know some of them are.

The author says those things are part of post-traumatic stress disorder, and it's perfectly normal to get that after extreme stress. It doesn't mean the person who gets it is going crazy or anything. It's just what happens to people. The book says that other things that can happen are:

All these things can put people in an emotional state that abusive partners can pick up on and use to accuse them of going out of their minds or something. But they're not really; they're just experiencing symptoms that usually happen to people who've experienced traumatic things.

People can recover though. That's what this book's meant to help with.

The book says that in a way, some of the trauma symptoms are the body's way of protecting people. For instance, feeling on guard all the time and feeling extra jumpy could give people earlier warning of something that's wrong and extra energy to get away; and feeling numb, unable to experience a full range of feelings could protect against experiencing all the emotional hurt the abuse caused. Avoiding situations where anger is expressed or where you have to speak up and express your opinion that might be disagreed with is a way of possibly protecting yourself from the risk of being abused further.

But once out of an abusive relationship and safer, ready to move on with life, there isn't the need for that protection. The body will keep providing it automatically though, unless something's done to change things. Something can be done though. People can learn to feel much better even by changing the way they think about what's happened.

The author says he thinks three of the main things that keep trauma symptoms going are anger, guilt and grief. When those things have been worked through so they're not that troubling any more, trauma symptoms tend to die down.

(I keep thinking of this author as a he, but actually, I've noticed there are three authors, and two are female. I don't know which of them wrote which bit of the book. I'll probably keep thinking of the author as a he though, because his is the name that gets mentioned first.)

What Causes Trauma Symptoms

Horror

The book says trauma symptoms tend to be caused by things that cause extremes of emotion like terror, horror or feelings of helplessness. I once read somewhere that trauma's caused by very stressful things that happen suddenly, especially if they're unforeseen, and make people think a situation's beyond their control. It isn't caused by things that are stressful and distressing but not like that, like divorce or losing a job or something. Things like that can be very stressful but not traumatic.

And the book says that the more harm a person has suffered or witnessed, the more likely they are to be traumatised by it. Likewise, the more often they've been harmed, the more symptoms of trauma they might have, because their distress over the long term will be worse.

Also, something else that can make trauma symptoms worse is if distressing things are perpetrated by someone who was supposed to be a close friend, or if distressing things happen to someone close, such as when children of a battered wife see the violence or become victims of it.

Also, distressing things caused by humans are more likely to cause post traumatic stress disorder than things caused by nature, because you don't assume there's any malice involved when a natural disaster happens; but if it's caused by a human, you can torment yourself a lot by being angry and upset about why they did what they did, and guilty that you associated with them or whatever.

Depressed

The author says he thinks guilt's more important than anger in causing post traumatic stress disorder, because if you feel guilty and ashamed, you'll have low self-esteem, and that'll give you depression, which will make you want to isolate yourself. So you can sit around with distressing thoughts going around and around in your head, instead of getting out and doing things that'll cheer you up. The more you let distressing thoughts and questions about how unfair what happened was and why it had to happen whirl around in your brain, and chide yourself with guilty accusations about how you shouldn't have let it go on for so long, the more upset you'll get about what happened. The more you keep distressing yourself like that, the longer it'll take to get over it.


Part Two
Adopting Healthier Attitudes to Life Than you May Have now


Stress is an ignorant state.  It believes that everything is an emergency.
--Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind

If a man's character is to be abused, say what you will, there's nobody like a relation to do the business.
--William Makepeace Thackery

Looking After Your Needs

The book says a lot of battered women usually put other people's wants above their own needs, and think that to put their own needs first would be rude and selfish and would make them feel guilty. But really, you've got just as much right to get your needs met as anyone else has! And in fact, the better your own needs are met, the more energy and cheerfulness you'll be able to put into caring for other people's needs.

Getting annoyed

I remember someone who liked to be with me because it stopped him feeling so depressed; but he would very often come to see me without warning, so I'd be in the middle of something and have to just stop it immediately, and when I had something important to do, that got really irritating. So I got annoyed with him in the end. But if I'd set limits early on, even though he thought it was unfair to him, and said I'd be happy to see him after a certain time in the day on certain days but not at other times, or something, and he'd kept to that, then I wouldn't have got annoyed with him and we'd have carried on getting on well.

So I think that when we put our own needs first, it can be good for other people as well as ourselves.

Also, the book says when we're thinking about putting our needs first, we need to include long-term needs, like how we're going to be feeling and what might be happening to us in five years' time or so if we do a particular thing. I know some domestic violence sufferers have a lot of pressure put on them by their families, or if they're Christians, even by their churches, who say horrible things to them like that they should stay in the violent relationship because it's so important that families stay together. While it's best that a family that's getting along together or just have fairly minor problems that can be fixed stays together, because it's good for children to have two parents, it's not good for children to see one of their parents being abused, or to often hear violent arguments, so putting your own needs first and getting away will really be putting the children's needs first as well, even if you've been told you're not thinking of their needs if you get away.

Attitudes Towards Women in Abusive Relationships Among Some Christians

Praying

Actually, I read something horrible recently about how some people in churches use the Bible to persuade women they should stay in abusive relationships and let their husbands be the boss. They say Jesus said people should only divorce if their husband or wife's been unfaithful.

But given that Jesus was probably addressing himself to mostly men at the time, I'm sure he left out things he would have mentioned if he was talking to women, like that they need to get away from husbands who batter them. The religious leaders had silly ideas in those days, like that only men were fit to hear about the old Law of Moses, which contained the divorce law Jesus was referring to. And actually, I've heard that the old law of Moses about divorce was written for men. I think only men could divorce their wives by law in those days, not the other way around. So it would hardly be any wonder that Jesus didn't say women can divorce their husbands if they beat them, when that would have been illegal at that time.

I know there are a couple of Bible verses that say wives should be submissive to their husbands; but the verses make it obvious that they also expect a very high standard of behaviour from men!! Since almost the whole New Testament is about how people should be compassionate to each other and how much God cares about people, I can't imagine it could possibly mean women should submit to being abused! It would contradict most of the rest. I read that some church leaders pick out single verses here and there and take them out of context and use them to persuade battered women they should stay in abusive relationships. But you have to take what the whole New Testament says into account, not just pick out little sentences here and there, which might mean different things from what some people think they mean, because some of them were written to address certain problems that had come up at the time when those things were written, that we don't know about. I don't suppose people like the apostle Paul imagined people would still be reading his letters in 2000 years' time! He might have made himself more clear on some things if he had. So it's bad to take little bits of verses here and there and make them sound far more important than the impression you get from reading a whole letter or the whole New Testament, which contradicts the impression you get from the set of out-of-context little verses someone's put together.

So it's important to make your own judgments about what you think is best for you when it comes to an abusive relationship, and not to be swayed by people quoting little Bible verses to persuade you to stay, or by advice you think you ought to follow because you think it's coming from people who know what God wants, when really those people might have their understanding of things all wrong and they're not taking your needs into consideration. Your needs are the most important things, especially when you're in danger.

Being Unassertive and Tolerating Disrespect

The book I've been reading says women with post traumatic stress disorder tend not to like to express their wants to others, and tolerate a lot of disrespectful behaviour from other people.

It says it's important that in the future, you stand up for yourself more, because then, you're more likely to get your needs met. People won't automatically know how you feel and what you want; but if you tell them, then a lot of the time, they might do what you want. There are ways of being assertive and standing up for yourself without being rude or aggressive. You deserve to be respected, and there are ways of letting people know you want respect and that you won't tolerate being unfairly treated any more, without sounding too demanding.

Doing Things Because you Think You're Supposed to

Resigned

The author says women with PTSD often make decisions based on what they believe they're supposed to do or ought to do, based on things they've been taught, that aren't necessarily true. Things like that can often be in the best interests of other people rather than themselves. He says battered women often make decisions on what they believe they're obligated to do, rather than having a rational think about the situation, exploring all the options they can think of, and only then coming up with a conclusion based on what seems best to them. He says a lot of battered women stay in abusive relationships or go back to abusers after having a break from them because they believe it's what they ought to do.

I know that for some time you thought you couldn't leave David because families are supposed to stick together. I think the author's talking about that kind of thing.

Being Careful About Letting Feelings Control You

Also, it's very easy for us to let feelings control us, especially if they're strong. I know someone who said that when she met a man who she thought really cared about her, she behaved as if she was in a trance, not thinking for herself but letting him tell her what to do all the time. Because she was desperate for affection, she clung onto him, and she looked up to him a lot because he seemed cleverer than her and caring, so she just followed along with whatever he wanted her to do. But then she was upset because he wanted the relationship to end.

But this book says we shouldn't let our feelings make us think something's good or bad, or right or wrong or whatever, because even strong feelings can mislead us. So we should make efforts to think through intellectually everything people have told us, and all the feelings we have that make us want to do things, so we can work out whether they really are good ideas or not. The book says important decisions should never be made according to just how we feel about things. They should always be made after we've thought about the evidence for whether they're really in our best interests or not.

The author says that when people are highly distressed, it's much more difficult to think clearly, so any important decisions will be much, much harder to make if we're feeling distressed at the time we want to make them.

Oh yes, I've heard it's the same with anger or any strong emotion.

He says it's important that we don't just make the decision that'll make us feel better straightaway but might not be good for us in the long-term. For instance, if someone was feeling guilty about leaving their husband but thought it might be a really good idea, they might decide to stay despite the fact they knew leaving was a good idea, and it might immediately stop them feeling guilty, so they would feel better for a while, but it might mean they get abused again.

So the author says it's best to do things that'll help us calm down before we make any decision we have to make, like relaxation exercises, or whatever helps us .

Being Unable to Deal With Hostility

Shouting

The author says a lot of battered women find it difficult to deal with verbal abuse, and don't defend themselves but just take it; but they get hurt by it, because they don't question whether it's true but just accept what the person's saying.

Yes, that sounds like you. I remember when that nasty little man we met the other day thought you were stupid just because you were talking about not doing very well at school and you didn't understand what he was saying about politics, and he called you ugly and said people like you don't deserve to be alive because you're not intelligent enough to benefit the gene pool and you should have been aborted, and you didn't say anything like, "That's not nice; I don't deserve to be spoken to like that"; you just put up with it. I told him what I thought of what he said, but you'd just answered him as if you thought that was a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

But just because someone says something horrible to you, it doesn't necessarily mean it's true. They might not even think it's true themselves. Some people just say horrible things for fun, without caring if they're true or not. They just say them because they think it'll be fun to get a reaction from the person, or because they're annoyed about something completely different and want to take out their anger on someone, and having a go at you is just a release for their anger, or things like that.

I know someone who says horrible things, and the more hurt a person seems to be by them, the worse he gets, as if he thinks it's just fun. But the things he says are just nonsense really!

So if someone says something horrible to you, ask yourself whether it's really true, and if it isn't, whether it really needs to bother you. They might not even think it's true themselves! Some people don't care whether what they say is true or not. They just think it'll be a good way of getting their fun or whatever else they want!

Blaming

Arguing

Also, if someone blames you for something, it doesn't mean that you should just accept that it's your fault. Sometimes, when people think about it, they'll know full well that it's not the fault of the person they're blaming. They'll sometimes just be blaming them because they don't want to take any responsibility for what they've done wrong themselves, and they want to put the person they're blaming down because it makes them feel better, because then they won't have to feel bad about doing something wrong and they can feel superior to someone. It's easier to put the blame on someone else than it is to think about where you've gone wrong and make efforts to put it right.

Also, the book says that if you believe you're to blame and keep trying to do things to make things better for the person who keeps blaming you for things, they'll think it's allright to blame you for everything and they might get worse and worse, making unreasonable demands, fooling themselves into believing that if everything isn't just the way they'd like it to be, it's all your fault, so the solution is to have a go at you. But if you believe it really is all your fault and keep doing what you can to make things as perfect for them as it can be, they'll lose the ability to make things better for themselves, because they'll be relying on you so much, they'll forget how to do things themselves. For instance, if a wife's always the one who plays with the children because her husband thinks they're too noisy and thinks he deserves a quiet life, he won't be so good at it if he ever has to do it himself. So pandering to his every wish isn't good for him, as well as not being good for his wife.

Really, every time you get blamed for something, you can point out that blaming doesn't get anyone anywhere, because it just gets people stuck in arguments about what's gone wrong, rather than getting them talking about how to make things better. So you could tell the person blaming you that a better thing to do is for you both to spend the time thinking about and discussing the ways you want things to be better in the future, and what you can both do to make sure things improve, if the problem is something you can control.

Accepting Apologies

Apology

Another thing the author says it's important for battered women to realise is that no matter how much of an apology the abuser makes to them, it doesn't mean they have to go back to him, even if they forgive him. A lot of batterers apologise routinely every time they hurt someone, and then go back to doing exactly the same thing again later!! Just because someone apologises, it doesn't mean they mean it; and even if they do at the time, they can very easily change their minds when the feelings that make them want to be abusive come over them again. Even if they cry when they apologise, it doesn't mean you have to feel sorry for them, because they'll probably quickly get over it, and when the feelings come over them that make them think it would be good to be abusive again, they'll feel completely differently about things. I've heard quite a few times that it's typical for abusive men to get apologetic and seem upset after they've been violent, but then to go back to being abusive again as if they were never sorry. So it's important not to feel pity for them and go back to them because of that, or to think that even though they went back to being abusive after apologising lots of times before, they might really mean they're sorry this time.

I've heard that abusers are well-known for being manipulative, and that often, they say and do things not because they really mean them, but because they think it'll have the effect on you they want to have. It's as if they're just doing those things to control you.

Talking to Yourself Disrespectfully

Dejected

The author says a lot of battered women have thoughts going around and around in their heads that are just as unkind to themselves as the things their abusers say to them are, and that's bound to get them down. He means things like,

"I should have known better. ... I have bad judgment. ... There's something wrong with me. ... I'm stupid. ... I'm a fool. ... I'm a loser. ... I'm worthless. ... I'm stupid. ... I'm never going to be happy. ... My whole life's ruined. ... I may as well give up."

Actually, you do that kind of thing all the time, don't you, Dawn, when you keep saying you're not very bright or smart. And you've said that talking like that depresses you.

The author says that thoughts like that going around and around in a person's head are bound to make them depressed and ashamed all the time, and lead to them having low self-esteem, so they're less likely to get over what happened.

He says you can make yourself feel better by answering thoughts like that with more positive ones. For instance, here's the type of negative thought you might have and the kind of answer you might use:

"I should have known better. I wasted five years of my life with him! I could have prevented all that suffering.
If I start looking to the future instead of getting absorbed in the same old upsetting thoughts about the past, I'll end up a happier person."

The author says when therapy clients he's known started thinking like that, they took charge of their futures and started making plans to do things that would make them happier.

He says a good way to think is that the time we spend mulling over old past injustices done to us by others or the system, or old hurts, is time we're not spending working on ways of improving our lives so we have a better future.

You wouldn't want to say half the things you say to yourself that make you miserable to a best friend of yours who was in the same situation as you, would you. So why are you any less deserving of respect and being treated well than they would be? So you can think of how you'd treat a best friend who was in the same situation as you, and of what you'd say to comfort and encourage them if they said the kinds of things you say to yourself, and say the things you'd say to them to yourself to cheer yourself up and give you hope for the future.

If you do still want to say bad things about yourself, you can still change the way you think about them. You might think you've made a mess of your life. But instead of saying, "I'm a failure", you could change it to, "I've made mistakes in the past". That implies that you might do better in the future, whereas saying you're a failure implies that you're always going to be that way.

So you can rephrase some of the things you say about yourself so they sound as if you're talking about things in the past, rather than talking about them as if they're parts of your personality that you're going to be stuck with your whole life. After all, you can move on and do things better now.

Depressing Thoughts

But you don't have to believe every thought that comes into your mind. For instance, you might think you're a loser, but that doesn't mean it's true.

Very depressed

I knew someone who used to get into terrible depressions all the time. Things would trigger them off like his girlfriend saying she didn't want to see him for a while, and he would get really down and say things like, "My whole life's ruined! I want to go to bed and never wake up!"

When he wasn't depressed, he could see that his whole life wasn't ruined just because she'd said she didn't want to see him for a while, and he could think of ways to try to persuade her to see him more often. He could think of how things could improve in the future, rather than just thinking there was no hope, as he did when he was depressed.

I heard that's how people get when they're depressed - not being able to see any hope for the future when there is some really.

I heard it's because when people get into some kind of emotional state, the brain starts shutting down its intelligent side for a while because it gets so swamped with strong emotional signals that the intelligent side can't function. The reason it gets like that is a part of the brain's design, because it treats the emotional signals the way it would treat danger signals, and when people are in danger, they have to just act by instinct to escape quickly, if they think they've got a chance of escaping, rather than thinking everything through before they act, which might take too long to be safe. It's like if you pick up a baked potato that's just come out of the oven, the body's instinct will be to let go of it before you've even thought about it. The body's programmed to get you to drop it automatically, rather than to get the brain to spend time thinking through whether it's really too hot before you do. When the brain's in an emotional state, it behaves more like that all-round, because it starts behaving as if everything's an emergency that has to be dealt with quickly. But the downside of that is that it starts thinking more simply. It can't think through things that sensibly when people are in an emotional state, because it can mistake all kinds of other emotional states for danger signs, so people are more likely to think in simple terms - either life's wonderful, or it's totally ruined; either something's going to make you happy, or it's going to make you really miserable; either you're going to be able to cope with something well, or you're just not going to be able to cope with it at all. That kind of thing. That's how the brain can make you think when you're in an emotional state.

That's why it's best to try to calm down before making big decisions.

So if an upsetting thought about how life's hopeless or you're just no good or something comes into your mind, it might just be because your brain's in too much of an emotional state to see the full picture, so it's as if it's accidentally fooling you into believing things are worse than they are and they can't improve. Once you're calmer, you'll be able to see the truth better.

Making Sure Thoughts Govern Us Rather Than Feelings

Starting to feel more relaxed

The book says that because feelings can influence the way we think too much sometimes, it can be good to stop when you've had a horrible thought about life or yourself or something, and ask yourself if it's really true, and think through all the evidence you have that the thought is true, and all the evidence you have that it isn't at all.

Also, sometimes, we can have strong feelings and think that the way we feel is the way things really are, when it isn't really. For instance, we might feel overwhelmed sometimes; but we might be able to stop ourselves feeling like that if we think, "Hang on, I feel overwhelmed; but do I think I am? That's what counts. Aren't there things I can do to help myself, when I think about it, perhaps writing down a list of the things I have to do that I now feel are all crowding in on me, putting them in order of importance, and then doing them one by one?"

Or if we think, "I feel a failure", we can stop and think something like, "Yes, but do I really think I'm a failure? Or is it really just that I've made a mistake or two in the past, which in any case I can learn from and move on from?"

Or if we think something like, "I feel obligated to do ..." this or that, we can think to ourselves something like, "Hang on; do I think I'm obligated, when I examine the evidence? Am I really?" Then we can think things through. Our thoughts are what's important.

It's easy to let feelings govern the way we think and what we do, but we shouldn't really, because feelings can be so strong they can make our brains go into that mode where we stop thinking clearly. So it's best if we can calm ourselves down a bit somehow and then think through what we've just thought.

Asking Why? All the Time

The book says another harmful way we can talk to ourselves is if we keep asking why bad things happened to us. It's one thing to explore reasons why abusers become abusers and what makes people more likely to end up in abusive relationships as victims so they know what to avoid doing again; but what's unhealthy is if people keep mulling over a great series of questions about why the specific unfair things that happened to them happened, when they're unlikely to get answers.

The book says sometimes, asking yourself a great series of questions about things you can't change now in any case will just lead to you working yourself up into getting more and more distressed, for instance, if you had a train of thought that went something like:

Sad

"Why did I go out with him? I should have known better! Why did I marry him?! My family warned me against him! Why didn't I listen?! Why didn't I leave sooner? Why didn't I foresee he'd be the way he was? Why did I stay with him so long? Why did he do what he did to me?! How can someone who's supposed to love me hurt me? Why was he so cruel? Why did he keep telling me he loved me only to go and hurt me again? Why did I keep falling for his apologies and keep thinking he was really going to change this time when he never had before so there was no reason to believe he would now?"

That kind of train of thought is like having a go at yourself for not having done things differently, and bringing to mind all the bad feelings associated with the hurt in the relationship all over again, for no good reason, because all you manage to do is upset yourself all over again.

The book says that the war veterans who get over trauma the quickest or have less of it to start with are those who don't go over things in their minds again and again like that, stirring up guilt that they didn't do things differently and anger at the way things happened. It says the ones least affected are the ones who can dismiss the misfortunes they went through in the war as just bad luck, as if they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's partly the guilt and anger that make things so traumatic. So if you work yourself up into a distress of guilt with questions about why you didn't do things differently, and get yourself angry and upset all over again getting your thoughts absorbed in questions about how he could do what he did, it's as if you're traumatising yourself all over again, so it'll take you longer to get over what happened. I'd say it's far better to keep reminding yourself to focus your mind on having a go at planning how you can improve your future.

Starting to Feel More Positive

I think one way you can make yourself feel more positive is by reminding yourself that although you might have been helpless and powerless to control things at the time when you were being abused, you aren't any more, and you now have the opportunity to make improvements in your life, bit by bit, as much as you can cope with at any one time. Even if you feel helpless sometimes, you can remind yourself that it's only a feeling, and you don't have to still think you are helpless. I heard that if someone ties an elephant to a tree when it's a baby, it'll keep trying to get away but won't be able to, so it'll stop trying in the end. Then when it grows up, it could easily just snap the rope and get away if it wanted, but it's so used to feeling helpless to do anything that it won't. It'll just stay stuck there as if it can't break the rope. Some people can be so used to feeling helpless to do anything that they don't do things to improve their lives even when they can. So if you keep reminding yourself that you're not helpless really, and sit down and plan ways you might be able to improve your life, you might end up more hopeful.

The book says focusing your mind on reasons why you can't solve your problems will mean they'll only get solved if you're lucky; but if you focus your mind on possible solutions to your problems, perhaps thinking about the pros and cons of each one, and then deciding what solutions seem best, and then planning how and when to carry them out, then you'll probably end up with a brighter future.

You might not feel as if you deserve to be happy, but you do really. After all, it wasn't as if you were the abuser in the relationship and need to be punished, perhaps by being sent to jail or something. You were the victim! It's about time you had a happier life. You ought to keep reminding yourself of that, I think. You deserve to be happier.

And abusers typically tell their victims a lot of things that aren't true, like that no one else could love them or like them; but often, what they say is just a load of nonsense! They just say it to keep you under their control, to try and stop you going off and looking for someone better than them. So you could keep reminding yourself that you are loveable and likeable really.

In fact, I've heard that some therapists recommend people think of the horrible things the abuser said to them in the past and write out answers to them, about what the truth really is.

So someone who kept being told that no one else could ever want them could write something like:

I can tell some people do still find me attractive. And I know some people like me, because they want to talk to me. I can't think of any reason why I couldn't get into a relationship with someone better.

Or if they told you you haven't got any talents over and over again till you started to believe them, you could think about all the things you are actually good at, or have been in the past so you could be again, and write them down to remind yourself.

And that kind of thing.

Feeling Sorry for the Abuser

Unhappy

I know it can be easy to start feeling sorry for David.

I've heard it's typical for abusers to act in such a way that the women they've just battered start feeling sorry for them. If the women leave, the abusers might beg them to come back, saying they just can't live without them, and even that they'll commit suicide if the women don't come back. They might cry and beg, and promise to change and claim undying love.

I know David's done a few things like that to you and you've been tempted to go back, and you've been surprised to hear that this is just typical behaviour for abusers - loads of them do it. I know you've thought you're the only one this is happening to. But it's really just something a lot of abusers do to get what they want. I think it's a tactic. I know it seems genuine, and you get worried and feel guilty about staying away when he talks about how upset he is. But abusers are typically manipulative; I've heard it's been found that they often just say things and behave in certain ways to get what they want, and then go back to behaving in the same old way again when they've got it. You know it's happened time and time again before, but you always used to believe it would be different this time and then it wasn't again.

But as I said before, even if he really means some of the things he says, you know when the urge to behave in the same old ways he used to comes on him, he just will. If you keep going back to him, he'll think he can always get his way, so he'll never learn to treat women in any other way. Not going back to him could even help him in a way, by making him realise he really does need to change if any relationships he has in the future are going to work. He still might not change though.

I know that at least until recently, you've felt sure that you'd eventually be able to find a way to help him change, and thought you'd be one of the people most likely to be able to help him, because you thought you understood him better than other people, and could see him when he was upset about what he'd done, and you knew the kind of person he could be, because he could be so nice sometimes when he wasn't being abusive. But really, I think all experts would say that the only way people like him will change is if they get serious professional help.

Someone who isn't trained to give the kind of professional help that's been found to have better results than other types of professional help isn't qualified to help them make big changes, and I've heard that staying with an abuser like that often just gets more and more dangerous, because they get more and more abusive, whatever you try to do! And staying with a person like that makes them think it's allright to go on being abusive, because they know they won't be penalized for it.

So as I said, leaving him could actually help him.

But anyway, even if you feel sorry for him, you need to put yourself first. I've heard it's so typical for abusers to just go back to being abusive after they've pleaded and cried and persuaded their wives to go back that I think you'll be ruining your life by carrying on hoping this really will be the time he changes, even though he didn't any of the other times he promised he would and seemed as if he really meant it but then he didn't.

I know staying away from him makes you feel guilty, and it would stop you feeling so guilty if you went back to him. But that would only be till he made you feel guilty again by blaming you for things that aren't really your fault, or by acting all upset after you've had a go at him for something. He needs to learn he can't just get what he wants. It'll be healthier for him in the end. And you need to put your needs and your children's need for a violence-free environment first. I know he sometimes tells you he can only change if you're there to help him, but that's not true. If he wants to change, then he'll be able to do it himself, or get professional help. That's what's most likely to help.

I know you feel like a great big failure for not being able to help him change, and he used to keep telling you himself that if you'd only be nicer to him, he'd be better able to change. So now you think it's at least partly your fault that he hasn't changed and you feel guilty and as if you're a failure. But actually, people who work with abuse victims or abusers will say that he'll only really change if he wants to. And since you're not professionally trained to help abusers, you can't blame yourself for not being able to help him. The longer he can go on blaming you for his behaviour because you believe it's partly your fault he isn't changing so you accept what he says, the longer he'll know he can get away with blaming you while staying just as abusive as ever.

Don't let your feelings make you think you just have to go back. You don't; you're the one in control now, and you know your future is the thing that should count most. You need to put your own needs first. In fact, I've heard that a lot of women who've left their abusers have found it works best if they have absolutely no contact with their former abusers at all, refusing to get into conversations or email exchanges with them and so on. It means the abusers can't work on their emotions and manipulate them into going back. Some women who've got children only have any contact with their former abusers when arrangements need to be made about the children.

Starting the Day With a Positive Attitude

The book says we can feel more optimistic if when we wake up, we can decide each day that as far as it depends on us, we're going to have a good day. It says we're much more likely to have a good day then than we are if we start the day worrying that we won't have a good day if someone says or does something to ruin it. That's a helpless attitude; but we'll feel better with an attitude that makes us feel more in control, like thinking that we're going to do our best to have a good day.


Part Three
Not Holding Onto Anger


A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.
-- Francis Bacon

Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.
--Voltaire

"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget!" "You will, though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it."
--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1872

The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things.
--Bertrand Russell

Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.
-- Buddha

The book says that while anger at the abuse can be a good thing at first, because feeling angry can give you the energy you need to get out of an abusive relationship and then keep you from giving in to going back so easily, it's not healthy to hold on to anger beyond that, even if your anger's perfectly justified and you've had very good reasons to get angry. It just blights your life. Holding onto it can stop you being happy, and keep the traumatic memories fresh in your mind so it takes longer to get over them.

Letting go of the anger doesn't mean you decide the abuser doesn't deserve to be punished any more, or that you stop taking any legal proceedings against him or anything you're doing to protect yourself against him. It just means you focus on moving on with your life towards a brighter future, instead of being stuck angrily ruminating on the past so you might ruin your day by putting yourself in a bad mood.

Expressing the Feelings That Lead to Anger

All that doesn't mean suppressing anger. If you feel under pressure not to express any negative feelings like anger, you'll just end up feeling depressed and tired and hopeless. But feeling angry all the time can get you down, and there are other ways of coping.

For instance, you can express dissatisfaction at something without getting angry about it. In fact, the book says that anger is often a reaction to another emotion, like a need not being met, frustration about something that's happening, and so on. So we can focus on what's bothering us, rather than on being angry, so we can think about changing it. Expressing negative feelings can sometimes be good, for instance if we say to someone something like, "I feel hurt when you do that; please don't do it again", and they change their behaviour because of it.

Making angry accusations

On the other hand, expressing anger with someone rather than hurt or some other feeling that might make people sympathise with us is almost bound to make other people angry in response, because it'll sound like an accusation against them, and they might not think it's justified, and they might say worse things to us. If we just explain what the problem is that's bothering us and maybe suggest some kind of solution, even if it's just something like, "Please don't do that again", then we're more likely to get what we want than we are by saying something that sounds like an angry accusation against them that'll put them on the defensive and make them want to argue.

The book says another reason anger isn't good for us is because it can contribute to health problems. Some people believe it can contribute to heart problems and high blood pressure and things.

One important thing is that when you're angry with someone, it's as if they're still controlling your feelings. It's as if they can still make you feel bad. They're not being affected by your mood. You're the one being made to feel unhappy. It's as if they still have power over you, the power to ruin your mood, when you're angry rather than happy. When you let go of the anger, it can be as if you shake free of their influence.

Choosing to Let Go of Anger

Anger

The author says it's possible to just let go of anger if we want to. He says it's fuelled by thoughts of the wrongs that've been done to us, and perhaps thoughts of how we'd like someone to suffer in return. So if we choose to stop getting absorbed in such thoughts, we can cut down the amount our life is being blighted by anger. He asks if we'd put spending time being angry on a to-do list for the day. If we wouldn't want to do that, then we'll probably think spending part of our day absorbed in angry thoughts isn't worth it.

We're bound not to be able to stop being angry all at once. But once we make a decision to stop mulling over thoughts of the wrongs we've suffered in our minds, we can try to catch ourselves doing it every time we notice ourselves getting absorbed in angry thoughts, and start thinking of other things instead. It'll be like gradually breaking the habit.

One thing you can do is to change the focus of your thoughts to the future. So, for instance, when you start thinking angry thoughts about someone behaving unfairly towards you, it can help if you stop and think, "What am I going to do to change things for the better?" If there's nothing we want to do or feel we can do, then spending time worrying over it and feeling bitter about it is just time we could be spending thinking about things we could change for the better. There's a saying, Living well is the best revenge. In other words, focusing on the future and improving our lives and making a success of things is the best way of showing someone who's tried to keep us down that they haven't succeeded.

Possible Ways to Get Anger Out of Your System

Exercise

You might think feeling angry is the only way to get bad thoughts out of your system. But when you mull over angry thoughts, chances are you'll just make yourself angrier and angrier. And then if that makes you irritable with other people, then that won't be fair to them, and you'll be making them angry by getting angry with them, and when they're angry, they'll say hurtful things to you in their anger, and so you'll end up feeling worse.

Writing things down can sometimes be therapeutic and help to get things out of the system. The trouble is that spending time mulling over what you're writing can get your thoughts absorbed in it and depress you. I know some people write letters they don't post, but that say all the things they'd like to say to their abuser, expressing all their feelings. Then they get rid of them. That helps some people get things out of the system, but not everyone.

I've heard energetic exercise helps some people. The anger's like energy that you can work off doing something energetic. And if it's an exercise you enjoy, it might put you in a better mood.

You could try turning the anger into creative energy to spur you on to improve your future. Anger can stop people thinking clearly; but if it's controlled so it's not too strong, and channelled into something worthwhile, it can give you useful energy for planning and getting out and doing things. Remember that saying, Living well is the best revenge.


Part Four
Changing Your Attitude to Yourself


I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I've met.
--Dwight Moody

If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.
--Thomas Alva Edison

The book says one thing that can keep people feeling bad about themselves is if they keep having critical thoughts about themselves going through their minds. The more you can stop putting yourself down, the better you'll feel. Often, people would like respect from others, but they talk to themselves in a far more disrespectful way than a lot of other people talk to them. The book says that if you can stop being unnecessarily unkind in the way you think about yourself and talk about yourself, you'll recover from the trauma more quickly.

Feeling hopeless

The author gives a sample of what one woman wrote down during a week - the thoughts she caught herself having about herself, or things she said about herself:

"I'm going to lose it ... I should have done it better ... I am so stupid ... I feel overwhelmed . . . Why did I ask him for help? I shouldn't have ... I am so inadequate ... I feel overwhelmed ... I should have cleaned the house instead of going out ... I am so irresponsible ... I should have put the kids' lunch together last night . . . I'm a terrible mom ... I feel like I can't make it ... I feel like I'm going crazy."

By talking to herself like that, the woman would be making herself think all the more that she's no good. So she'd get depressed all the more, and more stressed, just as she might if someone else said those things to her. At least with it being her who's saying them, she'll be able to change the way she talks to herself.

Reasons People Can Think They're No Good

So should you be able to, I expect. You keep saying things to me about how you're not very smart, and how you haven't achieved anything in life, and how you haven't got any hope of making a success of your future, and how you don't do anything worthwhile in life. But I think you're underestimating yourself. Isn't it true that the main reason you think those things is because other people said them to you time and time again when you were little, and your husband kept saying them later, along with a few other people, until you came to think they must be true? And once you started to believe them, you lost your confidence in yourself, so you never had the confidence to go out and prove them wrong. So you couldn't find a reason to stop believing them. You're better than you think you are.

Tearful

Some people say things like that just to be nasty, or because they aren't really thinking about what they're saying. I mean, if a child disappoints his parents once, like getting below-average marks in a school test, his parents might say something like, "You're useless". They might not really mean it. They might just be being careless in the way they talk. they might really only mean they're disappointed about the single test result, but just be expressing themselves thoughtlessly in their frustration. But the child will probably assume they really mean it, and start to wonder if it's true that they're useless at everything.

And then if you get abusive parents who say that kind of thing to their children all the time, their children probably will come to believe they're no good.

And I've heard that a lot of abusive husbands talk like that. Often, it's probably partly the way they learned to talk to others from when they were little and they heard their parents talking like that; but also, I've heard it's a way of keeping their wives under their control. If they know that kind of talk makes people less confident, or they can see it makes their wives less confident, they'll know they can use it to hurt them and manipulate them into doing what they want. I mean, if they're scared their wives will find someone better than them, they'll know that if they keep telling their wives how fat and ugly they are, or criticising them in other ways, their wives will come to believe they really are inadequate, so their husbands will think they won't be so likely to go off with other men.

Nasty

And some other people can be nasty - if they find out that saying something upsets someone, they'll say it deliberately to be hurtful when they want to get at them for some reason, like maybe if the person's just said something critical of them and they want to get revenge. They might not really mean what they're saying at all!

So you're bound to have a low self-esteem and think you're no good after all that.

But also, am I right in thinking that another reason you think those things is because you're finding it difficult to cope at the moment, and you feel sure everyone's coping much better than you? Well, it's no wonder you're finding it difficult to cope at the moment when your mind's clouded by all the emotions going through your head because of all the upsetting things that have happened. But also, I know you're finding things difficult because you've never had to cope on your own before, since you married young, and your husband had control of the money and paid the bills, and told you what to do a lot of the time, so now you have to make a lot more decisions than you ever had to before and learn quite a few new things, like how to organise your money best and things like that. But it's no wonder you're not that good at organising your day when you're so used to having things controlled by someone else so now you have to make a whole load of decisions you never used to have to make. I expect it's bound to take practice before you can get really good at it. But I'm sure the more practice you have, the better you'll get at it. So telling yourself you're no good and things like that isn't fair, because it makes it sound as if you've got no hope of coping and becoming any better at things, when you will really. So I reckon a better thing to think would be something like,

"I'm not as good as I'd like to be at doing this yet, but I'm working on it."

Like I said, when you're depressed or stressed, emotions take over the brain and stop you from being able to think so intelligently, so you can think things are worse than they really are because you're not calm enough to see the full picture. So sometimes, doing something to relax can help you think differently.

Types of Harmful Ways People Can Think About Themselves

Crying

The author says he reckons there are four ways people can make themselves feel worse by the things they say to themselves.

Actually it sounds like five to me:

  1. Going into a series of thoughts asking why bad things happened, when there isn't much hope that an explanation will come to you, so you'll just upset yourself more and more.
  2. Telling yourself you should have done that or you should be doing this, putting pressure on yourself to be better than you can be, or making yourself feel guilty over things you did in the past that you think you should have done differently but which you can't change now. It's one thing to plan how you can do things better in the future, and that's a good thing; but just upsetting yourself by thinking about what you'd like to have done differently in the past doesn't serve a real purpose; it only makes you feel bad. So the book says it's best to remind yourself of that if you catch yourself thinking like that.
  3. Putting your whole personality down, by saying things like, "I'm no good!" "I'm stupid" " I'm so irresponsible" , and that kind of thing. Just because you do one thing wrong, or two or three or four or five or so, it doesn't mean your whole personality's faulty.
  4. Saying things that make you think your feelings are controlling you and you have to do what they seem to be telling you, like saying, "I feel obligated to go back to him." You may feel as if you ought to, but what's really important is what you think, when you really put your mind to examining the pros and cons. Feelings can be misleading. So it's good if you can try and stop yourself when you notice you're thinking like that, and have a real think about what you've just thought when you start a sentence with the words "I feel", but then say something that either isn't a feeling at all, like the word responsible, or is part a feeling and part not one, like the word overwhelmed. If you feel overwhelmed, you can ask yourself whether you really are overwhelmed by circumstances, or whether in reality there are things you can do to make things better. I mean, you could try to think of all the things and people you can turn to, that'll help you out of the situation, and all the things you can do for yourself that'll help. That's what this book's saying. That's far better than giving in to the feeling, which is what you might be tempted to do if you think as if your feelings are governing you so you have to be dictated to by them. Your thoughts are what really counts. If you change your thoughts, your feelings will change as a result.
  5. Apologising all the time, over far more things than it's really necessary to apologise for. Doing that might stop you feeling guilty or anxious about something you did, in the short term, but it's like taking responsibility for things, and when you're taking responsibility for things that aren't even your fault, then it must just make you feel worse about yourself and more of a failure than you need to.

The author says that when people become more conscious of drifting into those types of trains of thought, they often stop thinking in those ways so often. So catching yourself at it can help prevent you absorbing yourself in thoughts that are just going to depress you.

Keeping Notes of Harmful Thoughts to Remind you to Change

The author recommends people write notes when they catch themselves thinking that kind of thing to themselves, for several weeks in a row. He says it'll help to break the habit, not just because it'll help you become more aware you're having thoughts like that, which could otherwise go past so quickly they might depress you and flit past and leave you not realising it was them that depressed you, but also because writing notes will be something you probably won't like doing much, and so it'll be as if you're being mildly punished for thinking those things, which might help put you off thinking them a bit.

Maybe you could carry a notebook around with you for a while, and make a little note of the type of thought you've caught yourself having when you have one, at least a few times a day, for a few weeks.

The author says more about the problems with the types of thinking he says are harmful:

Why it can be Harmful to Keep Thinking you 'Should' Do Things

Unhappy housewife

He says that when we're small, we learn lots of things about the way we're 'supposed to' or we 'should' do things, that might be all very well under normal circumstances, but which can actually be harmful under certain circumstances. For example, people learn that marriage is 'supposed to' be forever, and that people are 'supposed to' forgive wrongs done to them and start again as if nothing bad had ever happened. It's a nice idea, but when a relationship's abusive, a strong belief that you 'should' stay with a husband no matter what, and that you should forgive him and go back to the way things were, thinking that means carrying on as if nothing had happened, because marriages are 'supposed to' be forever, can be harmful. The author says it's far better to think things through, examining all the pros and cons we can think of of doing what we think we 'should' do, and of doing what else we think we could do instead, and then decide for ourselves whether it's a good idea to do what we think we 'should' do or not. It's best if we end up doing what's in our own best interests, even if that goes against what we've learned we 'should' do.

He says the thing that's wrong with using phrases like 'could have' and 'should have' is that they'll often make you feel guilty, because you'll be thinking over how you wish you'd done things differently and blaming yourself for things that might not have really been your fault. Yes, you could probably have done better by behaving differently, but what people often forget when they're making themselves feel bad by going over old memories and telling themselves they should have behaved differently is they could only act on the knowledge they had at the time. It's easy to say what we should have done with the benefit of hindsight. But when we didn't know everything we do now, it would have been more difficult to make the right decision, especially if we were really stressed at the time so we weren't thinking clearly. It's easy to forget what was going on at the time when we did what we regret now.

For instance, it might be that we couldn't possibly have known at the time that doing something we did would lead to a bad thing that happened; but we assume with the benefit of hindsight that we should have been able to tell it would happen, when it wasn't that easy at the time.

He says another reason thinking thoughts like, "I should have done this" or "I could have done this" isn't healthy is that it just makes us feel bad. It lowers our self-esteem, just as it would if someone else kept going on at us about how we should have done things differently. And it just doesn't do us any good. A better train of thought to get ourselves on is, "OK, so how could I do things differently in the future?"

It's the same with things we can say to ourselves that make it sound as if our whole personality's no good, like, "I feel like a nobody"; "There's something wrong with me"; "I feel ugly and dirty"; "I'm stupid", and so on. Thinking like that doesn't make us want to try harder; it's more likely to make us want to hide away and stop even trying. It's better if we can think things like, "How can I learn to do this better?"

Using the Words 'I Feel' When We're Not Talking About Feelings

Feeling defeated

Some things we can say we feel aren't really feelings at all, like if we say, "I feel ugly" or "I feel defeated" or "I feel unsafe". If we catch ourselves thinking like that, the book recommends we ask ourselves whether we really are what we're feeling as if we are, since we're saying we feel something when it's really our thoughts that are getting us down, and it's our thoughts that count. If we feel defeated, but then we ask ourselves whether we really are defeated, we might be able to decide we're not really, and come up with ideas about how to improve things for ourselves, instead of just letting ourselves be pushed around by our feelings, like we would be if we just let ourselves feel defeated.

Or if you feel unsafe, you can think through the situation to decide how unsafe you really are. For instance, important questions you could ponder might be things like:

Do I have locks on my doors and windows at home?
Do I have a burglar alarm?
Do I have a smoke alarm?
Do I carry an attack alarm with me - (you know, one of those things you can carry around within easy reach of your hand when you go out that contains some kind of chemical, and if you press down on the top of the alarm, it somehow makes it give off a really loud high-pitched shriek that'll hopefully put any attacker off and get you attention from passers-by)?
Can I trust my neighbours enough to know I could run to them if I needed help?
Do police patrol my area often?
What's the crime rate in the area where I live like?

So if you feel unsafe, it's worth thinking things through like that to decide whether you really are unsafe.

Or if you feel safe, that can be worse, because you might not really be safe, like if you think it'll be safe to go back to the man who battered you because he's apologised and promised to change, and maybe he's gone to anger management lessons for the first time ever or something. If he does, it still won't mean you're safe with him. If you feel as if you will be, it's worth thinking things through to decide whether you really are, since the anger management lessons might not be working, for all you know. He might say they are to get you back. But he might be lying or wishful thinking. Or he might have gone to so few that they can't possibly have made a difference yet, and he might give them up as soon as you go back to him so they'll never have the chance to work.

So if you feel as if you'll be safe, it's worth having a really good think about that kind of thing, because your feelings might be misleading.

Or if we think, "I feel ugly", we can ask ourselves whether we really are; and if we still think we are, we can try to focus on what we can do about it.

Upset

The book says that a lot of things are part feeling and part thoughts. We might say we feel upset, or guilty, or angry, or a number of other things, and we'll be experiencing a feeling, but it'll be fuelled by thoughts we have.

For instance, if we feel guilty about something, our feeling might be intensified a lot because we're having loads of thoughts about how we shouldn't have done what we did and are so stupid for having made the mistakes we made, and how we're such a bad person for doing what we did, and that kind of thing. It might be that we did the only thing we could have done under the circumstances to survive, or that we did what we did, not knowing how things would turn out, so we couldn't have foreseen that they'd turn out as badly as they did, but we still feel guilty about what happened and keep telling ourselves what a bad person we are for having done it. Once we come to realise we did the only thing we felt we could do under the circumstances and think over the reasons we did what we did, and realise we're not so much to blame as we thought, our thoughts will stop being so condemning, and our guilty feelings will follow along and get much less.

It's similar with a lot of other emotions.

Not Trusting Feelings Too Much

Upset

The book says feelings can mislead us into thinking things are a certain way when they're not. We can think that because our feelings are strong, certain things must be true. But our feelings often come on because of the things we've thought; and if we've been thinking inaccurate things, like thinking something was all our fault when it wasn't, the feelings we get because of that won't be good ways of telling how things really are. When we start thinking differently, our thoughts will change. So no matter how strong our feelings are, it doesn't mean we should rely on them for our opinions about the way things are.

The book says a lot of women who've been battered are so used to feeling helpless that they still feel like that when they can actually do quite a bit more about their situation than they think. Feelings can make you think things that aren't true. They might have come on because those things were true in the past, but they'll still hang around when those things aren't true any more, making you feel a lot worse than you need to.

For instance, you might feel powerless. But you're not really. There might be quite a lot you can do to improve things nowadays. The feelings will probably go away when you start improving things.

I've heard that one thing that can help is acting as if you feel the way you'd like to feel. So even if you feel powerless, if you act as if you don't and try to do things to improve your life, the feelings will probably go away after a while, so you won't feel powerless any more; so you'll stop feeling as if you're just acting as if you don't feel like that after a while. You really will have stopped feeling powerless.

The author says there was a woman who came to him for therapy who'd keep her house doors and car door unlocked. She didn't really know why she did that until she thought about it. It turned out that she'd been severely beaten by a former boyfriend in his pick-up truck and been unable to get away because the door was locked. Her feelings had made her dislike having doors locked ever since, but really, if it was just her in her house or car, it would probably be safer for her to have the doors locked. So her feelings were making her think one thing would be the safest, when really, the opposite was the safest.

The author says there are quite a few examples of how that kind of thing can happen.

He says that when people's feelings are running high, like if we're anxious or angry, we're more likely to make bad decisions than we are if we can think more clearly because we're calmer. He says when people are in bad moods like that, they make decisions based on what will relieve their bad mood in the short term, rather than on what will be in their real best interests. For instance, if a batterer puts on a show of being really sorry about what he did, his wife might decide to go back to him, because she cares about him and feels guilty about not being there for him and wants to relieve her guilt feelings. But going back to him might be dangerous. So what makes people feel better immediately might actually be the worst thing they could do.

So if you ever feel as if you ought to go back to him, or he's putting emotional pressure on you by pleading or anything, think about what'll happen if you do go back. If you do go back, you might feel better at first, because he might be nice for a while, and you won't feel guilty about staying away. But if he hits you with the children watching or beats you so badly you can't look after them properly for a while or something, you'll probably feel far more guilty than you do about not going back to him! The book recommends you think into the future whenever you get the urge to do something important like going back to him, for instance thinking about what life might be like for you in a year's time if you do.

It's difficult to do that in a high state of emotion. So the book advises that big decisions should always be made when you're feeling calm. If you can find ways to feel more relaxed, it's recommended you treat yourself by doing them before making a decision that could affect your future.


Part Five
Physically Relaxing


There can be no high civilization where there is not ample leisure.
--Henry Ward Beecher

If you are losing your leisure, look out; you may be losing your soul.
--Logan P. Smith

He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing.
--Cicero

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.
--Ovid

Loafing needs no explanation and is its own excuse.
--Christopher Morley

The book says there are techniques to relax our muscles, that we can do wherever we are. They involve doing something that sounds very unrelaxing at first, but can lead to relaxation afterwards. The technique involves moving our muscles so we increase the tension in them, and then relaxing them and taking notice of any sensations of relaxation we feel in them. For instance, we could clench a fist and then relax it slowly and feel the tension in it drain out.

The Kinds of Things That Can Increase Tension

The author says when the body's relaxed, the mind tends to relax as well. He says the muscles are always tense when we're angry, anxious, fearful or even depressed. But we can feel a bit better if we relax them.

Anxious

He says sometimes, we can get stressed because of the way we think about things, rather than because they're harmful in themselves. For instance, he says that women who aren't assertive might well find situations where they have to stand up for themselves threatening, whereas women who are used to being assertive might see them as a welcome challenge. And women who've been abused might think of disagreements and raised voices as far more stressful (because of what they remind them of) than women who haven't been abused.

When we're stressed, quite a few things happen physically in the body. Stress hormones get released, and the muscles get tense. I've heard that too much stress can even make us physically ill. Headaches and other pains can sometimes be a sign of stress. Relaxing the muscles can make us feel less stressed, and so it can sometimes improve our physical well-being as well.

Stressed at work

The author says stress can sometimes be caused by a series of little but aggravating things, like going through the day having to deal with kids misbehaving, running out of milk, getting stuck in traffic, losing something, and so on, or by a series of life changes like having to get a new job, having to deal with a parent's illness etc. The more big and little difficulties we have, the more of a build-up of stress he says we'll have, unless we can often do things to relax. He says even when problems are resolved, such as if we're stuck in traffic but then we get through it, our tension will go down, but not all the way back to where it was before. So a series of things that raise our tension that get resolved so we stop being so tense will still leave us feeling more and more stressed throughout the day, because each time our tension rises and then goes down, it won't go back down to where it was before, so it'll still end up higher than it was before each thing happened.

The book says sometimes our muscles can be tense even if we're not particularly stressed, so it's worth doing the muscle relaxation exercises even then. But it says the exercises can be especially valuable if we're stressed.

It says that as the muscles relax and people start to feel less tense, their heart rate goes down to more normal levels and their blood pressure drops - basically relaxation reverses all the physical symptoms associated with stress. The brain stops releasing so many stress hormones, and the breathing becomes calmer. All those things make people feel calmer.

Why a Low Level of Tension is Good

Relaxing

The book recommends people do the relaxation exercises often, saying it's good to have a low level of tension, for a few reasons:

Low levels of tension mean we're calmer, and when we're calm, we can think much more clearly than we can if we're in a high state of emotion, so we can make better decisions.

Also, the book says when we've got a low level of tension, we'll be able to learn how to spot little areas of our bodies that are getting more tense, because we won't be tense all over, so we might be able to notice little bits of ourselves that are getting tense that'll be easier to deal with because they're smaller than our whole body, so it'll be quicker to relax them. So, for instance, one bit we might notice getting tense could be our foreheads, where we might get a headache if they're too tense for a while, and we can just relax those bits.

It also says the lower our tension is, the easier it'll be to get it to levels where we're really relaxed.

Also, the book says that when we're tense, we're more likely to engage in bad habits, like saying horrible things to ourselves about how bad we are, or other things that depress us when we keep repeating them to ourselves.

Another reason a low level of tension is good is that stress weakens the immune system so we're more vulnerable to physical diseases. When we're relaxed, the immune system gets stronger.

Angry

Another reason why the book says it's good for us to have low levels of tension is that the lower our stress levels are, the less likely we are to lose our composure at any time and panic or get tearful, or lose our temper with someone. The book says a lot of battered women feel guilty about losing their tempers with their children over little things, but if you feel really tense to start with because of a build-up of stressful things, it won't take much at all to tip you over the edge into an outburst of anger or some other emotion. That's why it's good to regularly do things to get our tension levels down.

Actually, I overheard someone recently saying he did some really good exercise, and after that, for about twenty minutes, he felt so relaxed, and such a sense of well-being, that someone could have even come along and told him a list of his faults, and he wouldn't have minded.

So it'll be good if we can do things to get ourselves relaxed, both because it'll make us feel good, and because of all those other reasons. The author says a lot of battered women have post-traumatic stress disorder, and that can make people feel tense even some time after the stressful events they suffered. So it'll be good if you can deliberately do things to get your tension levels down.

The Muscle Relaxation Exercise Itself

Yoga

The author says the first step in the process is to sit down in a comfortable chair, or lie on the bed or on a couch.

The first thing in the exercise he recommends is that a person clenches their right fist tightly, and holds it tense for about five to ten seconds.

He recommends you point with a finger on your left hand to where the tension is.

Then, he recommends you very slowly unclench your fist, and get your arm into a comfortable position. All the while, concentrate on how nice it feels to have the tension in your right hand being relieved, and how much nicer it feels now it's relaxing.

Experiment with unclenching it at different speeds, so you find out which one helps you feel the best sensations of relaxation as the tension's draining away from it.

He says we might notice when our right fist's clenched that there's quite a bit of tension in our right fore-arm. He reckons noticing that will give us practice for noticing where else tension is in our muscles.

He recommends we can do the tensing and then relaxing and focusing on the sensations of relaxation thing with all our muscle groups if we want.

So that would mean tensing up each one in turn for about five to ten seconds, and then relaxing it, perhaps focusing on the sensations of relaxation in it for about the same length of time, or longer if we're enjoying it, perhaps a lot longer if we like.

He says though tensing up our muscles will make them tenser than they were before we started, when we relax them, they should end up more relaxed than they were before we started.

There are a whole number of things he says we can do. He suggests a certain order to do them in, but it doesn't matter if we do them in a different order or forget to do some.

He recommends that we could start by clenching both fists and then relaxing them.

Then we could tense up both arms, bending them at the elbows and bringing them towards us, feeling the tension in them before relaxing them and feeling the sensations of relaxation in them.

Then we could tense our arms again, this time by holding them out straight in front of us, as if we're reaching out, before relaxing them.

Then we could raise our eyebrows till we feel tension in our foreheads, and then relax them, smoothing them out.

Then we could shut our eyes tightly till we feel the tension in them, and then relax them slowly and enjoy the sensations of relaxation in them.

Then we could put on a broad grin, and feel the tension in our cheeks and around the corners of the mouth, and then relax them.

Then we could tense our tongue by pushing the tip of it hard against the roof of our mouth, focusing on the tension, before relaxing it and taking notice of the growing sensation of relaxation in it.

Then we could press our lips together, before relaxing them.

He recommends people then put their heads back till they feel tension in their necks, and then roll their heads to the left, then to the right, and then straighten them up and put them forward till their chin's against their chest.

Surely you could get dizzy doing that if you aren't careful! Oh well, I'm sure people can just skip that bit if that happens.

Then the book recommends people tense their chest muscles by taking a deep breath, holding it for a while, and then breathing out, releasing the tension, and noticing how much nicer the growing sensation of relaxation feels than the tension did.

Then it recommends we hunch our shoulders up till they're tense, and then let them relax.

Then it suggests we could tense our stomach muscles by pushing our stomach outwards, and then relax it.

We could tense our stomach muscles again by pulling our stomach in and holding it in, and then relax it.

Perhaps it'll be best not to do that after a big meal though!

Then the author recommends people arch their backs by moving the small of their back inwards so the place feels hollow, and holding that position before relaxing.

I suppose if people have got back ache, they ought to check that things like that are allright with a doctor.

Then he recommends that with our legs straight, we point our toes downwards till they feel tense, before relaxing them.

Then he recommends we point our toes upwards till they feel tense, before relaxing them.


When and Where to Do the Muscle Relaxation Exercises

If we can do those muscle relaxation exercises every day, then we should hopefully notice we're feeling more relaxed quite a bit. I think the key is to notice the sensations of relaxation in our muscles when we release the tension in them.

It might take a while to remember the routine, but it won't matter if we do them in a different order or forget a few now and then.

The author says it can be good to do the relaxation exercises twice a day, perhaps once in bed at night before we fall asleep - the relaxation might help us fall asleep; and also when we first wake up, to help get us ready for the day. But he recommends we choose the times of day that are best for us.

But also, he recommends that at other times of the day, we could do the bits of the relaxation exercise that it's practical to do at the time without sitting or lying somewhere relaxing. We could be out somewhere, perhaps at work, in the car or wherever.

Scared

He recommends that when something particularly stressful happens to us, we do the muscle relaxation exercise straight afterwards. He says a lot of women who were battered by previous partners will have nightmares about the abuse, wake up in a panic, and then feel distressed all day because they keep thinking about them. He says that thinking about them won't do any good; but the distress can be made quite a bit less intense in five or ten minutes if you spend the time focusing on relaxing your muscles. And that goes for other stressful things as well.

He recommends people think about all their groups of muscles to work out which ones are tense, and then tense them up a lot more in turn and relax them as usual, but do it several times till you feel quite a bit more relaxed. He says most often, the most tense muscles will be in the face. And he recommends that after each time of tensing and relaxing the muscles, people think about whether they're relaxed enough or whether they'd like them more relaxed; and if they would, they can tense and relax those muscles again, and repeat the process.

He recommends that if possible, people find a comfortable chair, or somewhere relaxing anyway, to do that, and that just before they think about their muscles, they breathe very slowly and steadily a few times, since breathing slowly can help calm the system as well.

It might be difficult to tell which muscles are the most tense at first, but he says it will probably come easier with practice. But he recommends that as well as checking to see where our tension's highest at the times when we're particularly stressed, we could do it at regular intervals during the day, such as maybe after or before meals, or at set times throughout the day. He recommends that anyone who has a digital watch with an alarm could set it to go off on the hour, and think about their muscles to see if they can work out which ones are tense as soon as possible after that.

He says one reason that could be a good idea is because it can ground people in the present. If they're absorbed in distressing thoughts or something, and then they have to stop to do something else like the relaxation exercises, it can get them out of it.

I know there are quite a lot of ways to relax that this book doesn't mention. It might take a while to get used to the muscle relaxation thing. I think with these things, people sometimes take a while to find out exactly what works best for them and really get into it. So it's worth sticking with it even if you don't get much benefit from it the first time. But if after a while, you find it still doesn't work for you, it might be worth researching other relaxation exercises.


Part Six
Dealing With Guilt


The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.
--Edward Phelps

It is only too easy to compel a sensitive human being to feel guilty about anything.
--Morton Irving Seiden

I have never smuggled anything in my life. Why, then, do I feel an uneasy sense of guilt on approaching a customs barrier?
--John Steinbeck

How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.
--Publilius Syrus

The author says it's common for survivors of trauma to suffer guilt, thinking they're more, or sometimes much more, responsible for what happened than they really were.

He also says their guilt feelings can be a lot more severe than they might be otherwise, because if you're feeling distressed to begin with, even only a little thing you think you did wrong will make you feel really guilty, since guilt is part made up of the feeling of distress.

I know you keep talking about how upset you are that the children were disturbed by seeing you being abused, Dawn, and that you didn't leave sooner, and you wonder how you could have dated and married him in the first place, and other things, and you use phrases like, "It's all my fault". But it isn't really.

The author says a lot of battered women feel like that, as if they just forget the reasons why they did what they did at the time.

Upset

The author gives an example of something like that, saying a woman who'd been sexually abused by her cousin's husband came to him in therapy when she was thirty-eight, feeling guilty because she thought she'd been responsible for the abuse. She'd been twelve at the time, and she'd gone into his room. In hindsight, she thought it was possible that Her behaviour could have been interpreted as flirting. So she felt guilty, thinking the abuse was all her fault because she must have made him think she wanted sex. The therapist was finding it difficult to convince her it wasn't her fault, till he asked her if she had any nieces or nephews who were around twelve years old, and when she said she did, he asked her whether if she molested them they could be in any way to blame. She said of course they wouldn't be to blame! Then she thought for a few seconds, and realised it was as if she was thinking she could have thought like a 38-year-old when she was only 12, when in reality, she'd been young and naive, and when she'd been kidding around with her cousin's husband, anything to do with sex was the furthest thing from her mind!

Then her therapist asked her if she'd have gone to his room if she'd had even the slightest idea that he'd molest her. She said, "Never!" And her therapist then said that that was proof that she can't have known what was going to happen, since she wouldn't have gone to his room if she'd known it would. So she couldn't blame herself. She couldn't have prevented it from happening if she hadn't known it was going to happen.

Bad Choices

Upset

The author says one reason battered women can end up feeling so guilty is that they have choices to make that'll make them feel bad whatever they decide.
For instance, they might decide to call the police, but then feel as if they betrayed their husband by telling on him; but if they don't call the police, they might feel guilty they let their husband get away with doing so much.
If you pressed charges against your husband, you might feel guilty about that, especially if he starts behaving all loving again soon after he abused you, which I've heard is typical abuser behaviour; but if you didn't get him arrested and he went on to do more damage, especially if he hurt the children or they were upset because they saw some of the abuse, you'd feel guilty about that.
You feel guilty about what he's going through now you've left him, and about how the children aren't getting so much money spent on them and they're losing out on a father; but if you'd stayed with him, you'd be feeling guilty about what knowing about the abuse was doing to them, and about how you were just letting him get away with the things he was doing, and other things.

The author says the good news is that once you realise you don't need to feel guilty about two or three of the things you feel guilty about, you'll realise you don't need to feel guilty about the rest, because you'll be feeling guilty because of mistakes in your thinking that make you think things are your fault when they're not, and the same thinking errors will be making you feel guilty about everything, so once you realise you don't need to feel guilty about a few things, you'll realise you don't need to feel guilty about the rest either.

Well, that's the theory anyway.

He goes on to explain the kind of thing he means:

Guilt at Not Having Left for Good Sooner

Upset

The author says he's asked battered women in therapy when they think they should have moved out, and a lot say they think they should have moved out the first time their abuser hit them, or that they shouldn't even have married him, or that they should have moved out before they got pregnant, or when their husband became obviously over-controlling or jealous or possessive. But really, at the time, they couldn't have known what was going to happen in the future. It's easy to say with hindsight that we should have done a certain thing, when at the time, we didn't know how things were going to turn out and hoped they'd get better, and thought we might be able to help turn them around anyway.

And don't forget at the time, there were lots of things that made you think it would be best to stay, like the fact that he could be loving at times so you thought the loving person was the real him, so you were always optimistic that he'd get like that more. And moving out would have involved all the hassle of trying to find somewhere else to stay, and your family being disapproving and critical of you because they thought he was so nice. And then when the children came along, you didn't leave for some time because you thought they needed two parents, and because you knew you wouldn't be able to afford to give them as much stuff as they could have, since he was paying for a lot of their things, and because when they went to school, you thought leaving him might mean you had to change their schools and take them away from their friends, and that kind of thing.

The author says people can feel really guilty about staying and forget all the things like that, so they can think they didn't have good reasons for staying.

The author says when he asks battered women in therapy what they should have known better that should have made them know to leave, they often say they should have known their abuser wasn't going to change or that they wouldn't be able to change him, or that they should have known he'd get violent again and things would just get worse, or that they should have known at the beginning that he might get violent and not have married him, or they should have known how the children would be affected, and things like that. But when they start thinking back to what was going on at the time, they can begin to think of a lot of reasons why things didn't seem as clear as that then. The author says It's usually a long time after the battered women he speaks to in therapy say they think they should have left that they realise they should have left at that time in reality. So he says it's like a woman saying she should have left when she was first hit, even though it didn't occur to her that she should have left then till two years afterwards when she discovered her husband's behaviour was typical of abusers and that such behaviour typically just gets worse and worse. She forgets she didn't know that at the time when he hit her the first time, so she feels guilty about not taking into account the fact that such behaviour is typical of abusers and it usually gets worse and worse, and guilty about not using the knowledge to motivate her to leave when he hit her the first time. That's the kind of thing that can happen when people feel guilty about something. They forget they didn't know various things at the time they made their decisions.

The author says thinking you knew things you didn't so you should have known better is called hind-sight bias. He says it'll be worth remembering that term, so if you catch yourself thinking you should have known better, you could think to yourself, "This is hind-sight bias again."

Upset

The author says people looking back thinking they should have known better when really the issues were much more cloudy than they can remember them being will often say things like:

"There were warning signs ... red flags that signalled what was going to happen ... at some level I knew I was meant to leave ... I was making excuses ... I was fooling myself." It's as if you could have been sure right from the beginning that things wouldn't turn out any other way.

The author asks whether, if you knew with certainty everything that was going to happen, or could be sure things wouldn't work out any other way, you'd have stayed. He says if your answer's no, it's proof that you can't blame yourself and accuse yourself of staying even though you knew what was going to happen.

The author says one woman in therapy insisted that she should have known better than to stay with her husband, saying she should never have married him. She said her family hadn't wanted her to marry him, and her older sister had told her he had a reputation for having a really bad temper, but she'd still gone ahead and married him. She blamed herself for what happened to her afterwards, saying she should have listened to her family, and that if she had, she'd have prevented it all.

The therapist asked her why, if she knew better than to marry him, she had. And she said she'd thought at the time that they'd be happy and she could prove her family wrong about him, because she thought she knew him better than they did. The therapist asked her whether if she'd known before they married that he was going to abuse her, she'd have married him, and she said no. So the therapist said that was proof she hadn't known he was going to abuse her. She'd been thinking she was to blame for the abuse because she hadn't listened to her family, but she'd forgotten that at the time, she hadn't believed her family, so she hadn't realised he was going to get abusive.

I think that's one problem with relying too much on feelings. Feelings like love can be so strong they stop us seeing things clearly, so we can overlook things we shouldn't, because we really want something.

But then, the author says some battered women blame themselves for staying in an abusive relationship because they had a feeling they should have left earlier. They forget all the reasons they didn't leave, and just remember they had the feeling. Or they remember they did think about leaving, but forget all the reasons they decided not to in the end, so they think they didn't have good reasons not to so they have to blame themselves for having stayed. Or they think they knew staying would lead to worse things than leaving would, so they think they're blameworthy for not having left. At the time though, they might have been sure they'd find a way to stop the abuse if only they tried hard enough, or they might have thought there were serious problems with leaving, like finding somewhere to go that they could afford.

The author says sometimes, women still blame themselves for not having left sooner, because some of the things that happened in the relationship were foreseeable, but not the worst things. For instance, he says a woman in therapy said she knew her boyfriend had a really bad temper and had got into fist fights before she moved in with him, but she still did. But she was forgetting that at the time, she was confident that he wouldn't actually turn his violence on her, and she thought he was trying to turn his life around and thought she could help him change.

The author says it can almost be as if people think they actually caused their abuse when they feel sure they could have prevented it but didn't, because they forget all the reasons they didn't leave or got together with the abuser in the first place. But he says one woman in therapy, reflecting on this, said, "You're right. I didn't pull his fist into my face."

Determining How Justified You Were in Staying

Upset

The author says sometimes, people feel bad because they think they should have done something when actually, the option just didn't exist at the time, and they've forgotten that. He gives the example of a woman who was sexually assaulted and came out of it without any physical injuries. She was relieved she'd at least survived, but thought that since she hadn't been injured, she should have fought back, and what happened was at least partly her fault because she hadn't. She'd forgotten for a while that at the time, she probably thought fighting back would be dangerous. She thought that since she'd been uninjured, that meant she would have been able to fight him and remain uninjured. But really, if she had fought, she may well have been hurt.

And there was a woman who'd been in an abusive relationship who felt bad because she thought she should have managed to leave when the children were small. She said she used to day-dream that she'd done it. But at the time, she couldn't think of a way how to. So chiding herself for not doing what she couldn't think of a way to do at the time wasn't doing her any good.

Realising There were Things you Should have Done Later That you Just Didn't Think of at the Time

Upset

The author says you're not being fair on yourself if you feel guilty because you didn't do something when you didn't even think of it at the time. You might think you should have thought of it, but if you didn't, it's not your fault that you didn't do it. And it's especially not your fault if you were under so much stress at the time that you couldn't really think clearly. The more stressed a person is, the less they're able to think with all their logical faculties. I mean, I think when people are really anxious or angry or under the influence of some other strong emotion, the less they can calmly weigh everything up.

The author says there was a story in a journal about a Vietnam veteran who had post-traumatic stress disorder, and he was having the kind of cringe-making "therapy" where you're supposed to relive the bad things that happened to you in great detail.

I've heard there are much better and less painful therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder than that.

Anyway, he was having this therapy, reliving a time when the unit he was in was being over-run and he saw one of his friends get killed. He couldn't protect him because he'd run out of ammunition. During the "therapy", he realised that if he'd picked up the rifle of someone who'd already been killed, he might have been able to use that to protect his friend. He felt so guilty that he hadn't thought of that at the time that he spiralled right down into a suicidal depression. But he shouldn't have blamed himself really. In the heat of battle, under attack with people being killed all around him, he would have been so preoccupied that it's hardly surprising he didn't manage to stop and think of that. If he'd had the slightest idea at the time that he could have picked up a rifle from a dead person and saved his friend, he surely would have done.

People's Reasons for Staying in Abusive Relationships

Anxious

The author says he asks women who were abused in their previous relationships and who are convinced they should have left at a certain time in the past what all the reasons they stayed were, so they can remember more about why they didn't leave at the time when they now think they should have. He gives a list of some of the reasons women have given:

Actually, I was talking to an old friend of mine whose husband sometimes hits her recently, and she said she won't leave him because he's part of the family and you don't abandon family. I'd have thought family members who harm you don't deserve the same consideration as the rest. She says it's not as if he hits her every day. She's got young children as well and thinks her children would be a lot better off growing up with a father. But I heard on the radio recently that there's been some research that found that though most of the time, it's true that children are a lot better off growing up with two parents, where one's abusive, the children can do better without them.

But the author says that women who remember all the reasons they had for staying at the time will often realise they don't need to feel so guilty they stayed, because staying seemed the best option at the time.

Upset

The author says it's often the case that women stay in abusive relationships because they developed a set of beliefs they were taught as they were growing up that they believed firmly, like that women should stand by their men, keep the family together, be forgiving, put everything they could into making the relationship work, and not break their marital vows. Going against their beliefs when they still had hope that the relationship could work would have led to them feeling guilty and miserable.

Things like that can be forgotten later; but if they're powerful reasons why some women stayed, they're reasons why they shouldn't feel guilty that they stayed.

The author says another thing that needs to be borne in mind is that women in abusive relationships will often be so distressed by what's happening they can't think clearly. Everyone gets like that when they're feeling really emotional.

I know myself that the more emotional I feel, the less easy it is to sit down and weigh everything up logically and make a rational decision about something.

The author says some women feel guilty about not having made the decision to leave before, forgetting that they were so distressed a lot of the time that they just weren't in a fit state to sit down and come to a calm logical conclusion about what the best thing to do would be. He says that can happen to even really intelligent people. Emotions do that to everyone when the emotions are really strong.

Other Things That Cause People to Stay in Abusive Relationships

Tearful

The author says the reasons people stay in abusive relationships won't just have to do with immediate reasons they can think of, since all kinds of things can happen to bring about the final decision, sometimes stretching right back into history.

For instance, someone might stay in an abusive relationship because they're scared their family will disown them if they leave; and the reason they think that is because it's considered shameful in their culture to leave a husband, no matter what, so their family will condemn them for bringing shame on the family; and the reason it's considered shameful in their culture goes back to some time in the past when the tradition of that way of thinking grew up; and the reason it grew up was because perhaps children were being abandoned by some mothers 1500 years ago, or who knows what, and so a tradition grew up of pressuring families to stay together, and it turned into a cultural attitude that it's shameful for a wife to leave her husband no matter what, or something. But all those things will lead up to the decision of the woman to stay in the abusive relationship.

And it might be that if it was just her family who'd have to know about it, her family wouldn't mind; but one reason they would disown her would be because they'd feel they had to take a stand because of what other people in their community thought; and those people might think they would have to speak out because of what other people might think if they didn't, and so on. So all those things might be contributing to pressure on the woman to stay in the abusive relationship, not just her family's attitude.

The author mentions some more things women have told him that led to them staying in abusive relationships, which didn't have to do with the immediate issue of how badly they were being abused and whether that made it more important to leave than stay, but were factors that still led to them deciding to stay. He says some of the contributing reasons women have given, which mean they shouldn't condemn themselves and feel guilty for having stayed, have been:

The author says the more of such things any one person had influencing their decisions, the less they can blame themselves for having stayed in the abusive relationship for so long.

It's likely that any woman at all who was influenced by the same number of factors you were would have done just the same as you did.

Other Things That Can Make People Think They Were More Responsible for Staying in an Abusive Relationship Than They Were

Anxious

The author says some formerly battered women make the mistake of assuming they could have influenced things that were in reality out of their control. He says that anyone who does that is being unfair to themselves, just as someone would be if they were given a job that meant they had to make sure everyone in the company got to work on time and that they didn't leave before they should, and they expected to be able to carry it out. In reality, it would be impossible to make sure everyone was at work whenever they should be all the time. After all, there are so many reasons they might come late or leave early.

So an abuser might blame his wife for the abuse, saying that if she'd only cleaned the house better, or something ridiculous like that, he wouldn't have got angry and hit her. But she might have had no idea he wanted the house cleaned perfectly or he'd hit her. But she might still blame herself for being hit because she didn't clean it perfectly. In reality, the abuser would probably just be making a silly excuse for hitting her, saying that thing about wanting the house cleaned perfectly when it wasn't all that important to him really; he'd be blaming her, to get out of the responsibility of hitting her.

The author says another mistake people can make is thinking that because they feel guilty and responsible for what happened, they really are. But feelings just come on because of things we've thought or done, or things that've happened to us in the past that the brain associates with a current situation so it gives us similar feelings to the ones we had then. They don't always mean anything significant in themselves. For instance, some people might really worry about their children getting ill and start to feel anxious about it; but their anxiety won't mean their children are more likely to be ill; it will have just come on because of all the worrying they've been doing. Once our thoughts about any given thing change, our feelings will usually follow along and change as well.

The author says another thinking mistake people can make is believing that everyone is entirely responsible for their own destiny - that people get themselves into situations and it's entirely their responsibility to get themselves out as efficiently as possible, and not to do so is to be fully responsible for staying in them. He says that doesn't take into account all the reasons outside a person's control that led to them getting into the abusive situation and not getting out when they did. That would include what they were taught in their upbringing, the influence their partner had over them, and so on. The author says it's likely that any woman who had the same learning history and found themselves in the same situation as any one abused woman would behave the same.

Feeling Responsible for Everything That Happened After you Think you Should Have Left the Abusive Relationship

Crying

The author says abused women typically feel guilty for not having left when they thought they should have; but also, since they think they should have left then, they can blame themselves for every bad thing that happened after that point in the relationship. The author says it's important to realise you weren't really to blame, as you might think you were. He gives a list of things that prove you can't have caused the bad things that happened, that women who were abused have told him happened in their relationships, and which they couldn't hold themselves responsible for at all, because they were in reality caused by other people or circumstances outside their control. They're the kinds of things that might have affected a lot of other women:

And so on.

The Feeling You Caused Harm by Staying, for Which you Deserve to Condemn Yourself

The author says a lot of women who've been abused think they did wrong by staying in the abusive relationship and feel really bad about it. But he says that given all the things that influenced them, they're not nearly as guilty as they think. He says wrongdoing is defined as deliberately causing harm. So he asks a couple of questions to prove that the harm that resulted from abused women staying in their relationships can't have been all their fault. He asks:

He says if you answered no to both those questions, you can't condemn yourself for deliberately causing harm by deciding to stay in the relationship.

He says that some people feel guilty and think they did wrong, when actually, whatever choice they made, something would have gone wrong. For instance, it might have been a choice between leaving and so depriving the children of the standard of living they were used to when the father's income was coming into the house, and staying and risking the children being traumatised by seeing the abuse. If you think you did wrong because you chose one of those options, you shouldn't feel guilty in reality, because there was no option where things would have turned out perfectly, so to have chosen the option you thought would cause the least amount of harm would actually have been a moral choice.

The author says there was a woman who felt really guilty because she'd been in court trying to get custody of her two children after her and her husband divorced, and eventually the judge awarded custody of her young daughter to her and custody of her young son to her husband. She knew she could go back to court and appeal to try to get custody of her son as well, but she knew she risked losing both children if she did. So she let things stand as they were. Her son was upset at not being allowed to live with her, and it turned out that her former husband mistreated him. She felt really guilty about not going back to court to try to get custody of both children. But at the time, knowing she could have lost custody of both, she had actually made a moral decision, even though the consequences were bad. It hadn't occurred to her in her guilt that there wasn't a choice available that wasn't risky. But there wasn't a choice at the time where she could have been sure things would have turned out well. Both children did go to live with her in the end though, so it had a happier ending.

The author says another mistake people can make in their thinking that makes them feel much more guilty than they deserve to is thinking that something minor they did wrong that led to an unforeseeable tragic outcome was actually something terribly wrong.

Crying

For instance, he tells the story of someone who felt guilty and condemned herself for years because she'd played truant from school one day, and something bad happened to her when she did. When she'd been a young teen, she'd been infatuated with a boy at school who was five years older than her. He turned out to be a sociopath, but she didn't know that. He one day suggested they play truant together and go and enjoy themselves on the beach. She agreed. On the way, he said he had to get something from his home. She went in with him and he raped her. Even though she couldn't possibly have known that would happen, she felt really guilty for years about playing truant from school, thinking that if only she hadn't, she wouldn't have been hurt. But in reality, playing truant for the day was a minor thing to do and she couldn't possibly have known what would happen. If they really had enjoyed themselves on the beach as he'd deceived her into believing he wanted them to do, she'd have looked back on the day she played truant with fondness, not guilt.

Thinking About Other Issues That Make You Feel Guilty

The author advises that you think through all the issues that will probably make you feel less guilty than you do, while you're thinking of everything you can think of that makes you feel guilty. For instance, if you feel guilty about starting some of the arguments that led to the abuser's violence, you can ask yourself things like how sure you were at the time that saying the things that started those arguments would lead to violence, and whether you knew of a way at the time that you could have brought up the issues you were concerned about that definitely wouldn't lead to violence, and that kind of thing.

Part of the Personal Story

Skip past the personal story if you'd like to keep right on reading about what the book says.

I know this stuff applies to you, Dawn. You're still feeling really down, aren't you, even this long after you've left David. You feel really guilty about having got together with him and that you didn't leave sooner, don't you, because you're upset that the children saw some of the things he did to you, and because of other things. I know you blame yourself for things like that a lot of the time. But I don't think it was your fault.

Worried about going insane

And some of the things he used to taunt you with are still getting to you, aren't they, like that thing about you going insane. I know you feel as if you are sometimes, because you feel as if you can't cope with life when stress catches up with you, don't you, which isn't surprising after what's happened! And you have panic attacks and they give you all sorts of scary symptoms, don't they.

But they don't mean you're going insane. I read about panic attacks in a magazine. It said all the symptoms are actually the body's way of getting you ready to run away or fight, because something, like being over-stressed, triggers off part of the brain that thinks you're in danger and you need to do that, and the brain releases adrenaline into your system which gives you more energy so you can do it better. The brain does it whether you really are in danger or not. It triggers off the symptoms. For example, the reason your heart beats faster is because it's pumping around more blood to the big muscles in the arms and legs to give you more energy. The reason you breathe faster is because the body needs more oxygen to circulate around in the blood to help give you more energy. The reason you get butterflies in the stomach is because the digestive system can shut down for a while while you're in that mode so the blood in the stomach can be pumped away to the big muscles where it'll help you fight or run away most if you need to. And that kind of thing.

Running away

I know you have panic attacks in places that aren't dangerous at all, so you really do start to worry you're going insane. But I read about why people can have panic attacks in places that aren't scary as well. It's because if you're really stressed one day, you might have a panic attack, and the brain stores the memories of what you were doing at the time, because the part of it that deals with emotions thinks you must be in danger if you're that stressed, and that it needs to remember what situation you were in danger in so when you're in the same situation again, it can alert you to the danger and set the symptoms going immediately that'll give you the energy to run away or fight. The thing is that some of the things it remembers will be totally irrelevant to the stress you were under, and yet the brain will still set the panic symptoms off when they happen again. For instance, if you were standing behind someone wearing a fur coat in a supermarket when you had your first panic attack, when you were over-stressed, perhaps because the supermarket was out of something your husband really liked and you knew he was going to get angry if you came home without it, then next time you're standing behind someone wearing a similar fur coat, the part of the brain that deals with emotions rather than logical thinking will register danger because of the situation it remembers you being in before when you were standing behind someone wearing a fur coat, and it'll set the panic symptoms off. But you won't have any idea why it's happening. So you'll start to wonder if you're just going crazy. I've read that it's common for people to think that when they get panic attacks.

I've read that the reason part of the brain sets panic attacks off at the most unlikely things sometimes instead of letting you think through whether the situation really is dangerous, is because it's designed for when people are in real danger, when they have to make a decision about what to do and get more energy into their system really fast, like if they were walking around a safari park and an elephant started chasing them, or something like that. In the old days, people would have been a lot more at risk from being chased by wild beasts, and speed would have been essential for survival. So the part of the brain meant to protect people against that kind of thing kicks in quickly, and gives you all that extra energy. The thing is that it can't distinguish between when you're in real danger and when you're just really stressed, because it has to act fast in case you are in real danger and need protecting, so it kicks in before the logical part of the brain has time to think things through. So it sets off panic attacks sometimes when you're not in real danger but just really anxious.

So that's why you get panic attacks. They don't mean you're going crazy at all! I know that sometimes, when people understand what's going on in a panic attack, they don't get panicked by the symptoms any more and so their panic attacks fade away, because what can make the symptoms a lot worse is when the person who gets them starts to get scared of them, wondering what they mean. So when they're not scared of them any more, the panic attacks don't intensify like they would if the person got scared of them so their fear added to them. So they might start off, but then go away again quickly because you give your brain the signal that you're not in danger after all by keeping calm about them.

I know David didn't understand any of that, and wasn't interested in understanding it, so every time anything like that happened to you, or even if you just disagreed with him, he used to say you were going crazy! It must have been horrible living with him!

Crying

I know you feel really guilty and you're really upset and you think you're really stupid because he used to taunt you about going insane and it really got to you, and you think you should have known it would happen and not even got together with him. You think there were clear warning signs that it would happen, don't you. You're upset, aren't you, because you remember him taunting people about having mental problems before you married him, and you think you should have seen it coming and not moved in with him.

I know you remember the kinds of things he started to say to Jackie - my younger sister Jackie - after she'd disagreed with him one evening and said she thought he was a creep, not long after you first started going out with him. From then on, he used to call her Ohseedy, didn't he, which was a play on the word OCD, the mental illness that makes people worry all the time about whether they've done something wrong or been contaminated or caused something bad to happen, and that kind of thing. She isn't like that at all, is she. But he seemed to have this stupid attitude and taunted her about having mental problems, saying things whenever she said anything he didn't like, like,

An abuser

"Are ya going crazy again?? are ya gonna go off in a corner drooling somewhere, banging your head against the wall?"

That's ignorant for a start, because people with OCD aren't like that!

He even emailed her nasty little messages where he called her that name and asked if she was going crazy, didn't he.

I remember when she accused him of saying things that weren't very nice, like when she said Becky - my and her cousin Becky who was only 14 at the time - had told her about how he'd tried to joke with her about whether she was going to bed with boys yet and whether she had any fantasies about what she'd like to do with them in bed when she did, and whether she'd started wearing sexy panties yet. Jackie told him that proved he was a creep. And then he started saying nasty horrible things to Jackie like,

An abuser

"Now ohseedy, remember how we talked about getting you laid?? Now, Shut your face and kneel before someone, PLEASE!! No, no, not him, he's done nothing for you, a man with a real cock! *There's nothin worse than a woman scorned, oh wait, OHSEEDY!!"

That was a nasty attitude. And I think that by that last bit, he meant it was no wonder she'd been scorned with a condition like that, though of course what he said was just rubbish.

Embarrassed

You're embarrassed that I should bring this up, aren't you. I know you feel really bad now about carrying on going out with him after you heard about the kinds of things he'd said to Becky. I know you wonder how you could have done it after hearing he'd spoken to a child like that. You know I disapproved of you for it. But I think there are reasons why it's understandable that it didn't bother you at the time. Remember when we were at school, some 14-year-olds in our class used to talk about what sexual things they'd done with their boyfriends, and when you were 14, you'd already started having sex yourself, partly since you used to run away from home and some nasty men would give you lifts for miles in return for "favours". I know you're upset because you know now that Becky was much more "innocent" - if that's an appropriate word to use. You know, at that age, sex was probably about the furthest thing from her mind; her hobbies were cute child-like things like playing games where you had to look after cyber-simulated pets on the computer. But remember at the time, you didn't know her all that well. And you were used to 14-year-olds talking about sex, so you didn't think what David had said was anything to worry about. It's easy to look back in hindsight and feel stupid for not doing things differently. But at the time, things were less clear.

I know you thought that in reality, David was understanding and nice, didn't you.

Upset

I no you think you were stupid for thinking he was so nice now, because you remember times like the ones where he taunted my sister Jackie when he said she had a mental problem, and he'd tell her to go off and take her meds, and that kind of thing, whenever she said something disapproving of him. And I remember that evening when she said that those things he said about her after she'd criticized him for what he said about sex to Becky were gross things to say, he told Jackie she had said things to him herself that weren't very nice things to say, so she had nothing to complain about. Never mind that he'd said worse things to her! Then he criticised her for mentioning his behaviour when she wasn't sweetness and light herself sometimes, and said something like,

An abuser

"its nice to see where yer morals are!!

That to me is a little on the sic side, oh wait, OHSEEDY!"

What a nice way to get out of talking about your own behaviour! And he'd carry on taunting her like that.

You've said you remember it too. I think you're being really hard on yourself feeling stupid and guilty about not being able to tell he was going to turn nasty towards you and start saying the same kind of stuff to you about going crazy though, because sometimes, he could seem so caring and sympathetic and understanding towards you, couldn't he! Have a think back.

I remember being out with you and him and a few others when you mentioned that you'd been feeling depressed and distressed about the way things had been going in your life, and he started talking to you about how meditation could be really good for you because it could help get your mind back into balance. I know you thought he was being really sweet and caring and understanding. And I remember he said things you thought made him sound impressively wise, someone to lean on and understand you. I remember this is the kind of thing he used to say, and you thought it made him seem really understanding about things like depression and other mental problems. He would say things when you said you were a bit depressed or stressed like,

An abuser

"Your having an internal problem that is not a problem at all, its a solution you haven't solved yet...you need to meditate!!!!!! The Tibetans believe sickness travels in thought, so to not meditate one would become very ill, mentally, physically etc. So the mind when used properly can create absolute bliss, severed from the horrors of thinking, no?"

I know you thought he must be a spiritual, caring person. I know you were impressed with him, and you were grateful for his attention and advice, and you'd try to do what he said.

You seem to have forgotten all that. You're blaming yourself for not being able to foresee that after you were married, he would get violent, and that he'd just mock you and get nasty when you got upset at his abuse, and that whenever you disagreed with him or got flustered or whatever, he'd start accusing you of going crazy, saying you needed medication and you ought to be in a mental hospital and you were so crazy no one else would ever want you, and that kind of thing. I've read that abusive husbands often say that kind of thing to stop their wives feeling confident enough to look around at other men. I know it really got you down, sometimes worse than being hit. But Now you're punishing yourself by feeling really guilty about having got together with someone like that, as if what he says is all your fault and he had nothing to do with it! You can't feel guilty after the things he said to you before that made him sound really understanding! Maybe most people would fall for that kind of sweet-talk! He really could sound caring and wise sometimes. There's no way you could have known he'd start being nasty to you like that. And I know you're upset because you just let him say what he said to my sister and even thought it was funny at the time. But you're forgetting that at the time, you just shrugged it off as him kidding around and being a bit drunk sometimes. After all that stuff he said to you that made him sound so caring, I'm not surprised you didn't take it that seriously.

Swearing angrily

But I think there's another reason, as well. You've always been very tolerant yourself of abusive things people have said to you - or at least, you don't usually stand up for yourself, and often don't seem to mind that much. I remember not long after we'd left school, this stupid kid we met at a party asked you all about what sexual things you did with your then boyfriend. I would have told him to get lost, but you gave him a bit of detail. And then someone else sitting there shouted and swore at you and said something I thought was really horrid like that you shouldn't talk like that, and you should go and live in the trees like a monkey, and that if you weren't so horribly ugly you wouldn't have to talk about sex in public to get people's interest, and you should go and have sex in front of your mother to spite her for having you. I got angry with him for saying those stupid things and wanted to have a go at him. But you just responded by saying something like,

"Somebody oughtta do something to my mother for havin' me and then makin' my life a total hell to live on earth."

And you said you didn't really care that he'd called you ugly, because you knew how pretty or ugly you were, and that was the important thing.

So when you let people get away with saying horrible things to you, it was no wonder you didn't get to annoyed when they said horrible things to people around you. Especially when it was David, because he could say things that just sounded really sweet to you, and I know you felt sure the sweet-natured side of him was the real him, so you thought anything horrible he said to anyone was just kidding around.

I can think of another reason you thought that. I know sometimes he said things to you that sounded nice in a way but you thought weren't fair, and you did voice your opinion. I mean, I remember once he was talking about what you'd said about being unhappy with life, and he said something like - oh, what was it now? Something really spiritual-sounding to prove you weren't as badly off as you thought, like,

An abuser

"I assume you have all digits, limbs? Do you have cancer, HIV, ebola? Are you starving, cold, dirty? Do you live in somewhat peace with your community, or are you all at war with each other, throwing stones, and blowing each other up?

Everything I can find in my life that went wrong, there is someone out there in a worse predicament, so in essence my job is to take care of that person, no?

Ask yourself, 'Who have I been helping?'

be yourself, try not to harm anything, take responsibility for your own actions, and live in tune with nature or balance if you will.

with this and keeping your eyes "open" you should not have any problems giving, or accepting love."

You thought that was a really sweet, caring thing to say, didn't you. I remember you saying. But you also thought he wasn't being fair because you did help people. So you did speak up, and said you'd appreciate it if he didn't judge you. I remember he said something that sounded really sweet like,

An abuser

"K, if I judged you, you have to let me know how. This is not good on my part, and I need the tools necessary to embrace my problem so I can execute it. I love you, if I judged please, lets talk about it . I'm very sorry."

(It's nice having a good memory!)

I remember you thought that was really nice and understanding and humble. When he seemed so concerned about not judging you wrongly, it's not surprising you wouldn't realise he'd soon stop caring about your feelings and judge you harshly without any hesitation.

I've heard that it's typical for men who go on to abuse their wives to start out seeming really charming, not necessarily in the way David did, but in other ways. And they turn nasty afterwards, and often the abused women will think they should have seen it coming, because their husband was nasty to other people sometimes even while he was being charming to them.

And that reminds me of another thing! I know you feel really guilty because of the way David talks to your children sometimes, not letting them express any opinions, and they hear him talking to you in the way he talks to them, and that upsets them more. I know you blame yourself and think you were really stupid for getting together with him, thinking you knew what he was going to be like. But I don't think you did know really; and it's hardly surprising you didn't realise what he'd turn out to be like after the sweet things he said to you like those things about helping others and not wanting to judge you and caring about your opinion!

Angry

Actually, I've heard the way he speaks to the children myself sometimes, and I know you blame yourself because he spoke to other people in the same way before you were married, and you think you should have known he would end up talking to you and any children you had like that, and you think you're really stupid for not realising he would. But when he said things to you like that stuff about helping other people and being sorry if he judged you, and you really admired him for it, it's understandable how you thought the abusive part of him wasn't his real self, and you'd be able to break him out of the habit of being abusive anyway.

I remember he used to say abusive things to me and others, and even strangers like someone who might come up to him and ask him to move his car, like,

An abuser

"Oh just shut the fuck up. You fuckin stupid ass bitch!"

I know you feel really stupid for thinking he'd never talk like that to you and really mean it, and now you feel really guilty and selfish for bringing him into your life so your children have to suffer being spoken to like that. But actually, don't you remember something you said to me before you were married? I told you I didn't like him because of the horrible things he said. And you told me they weren't all that bad, and the reason I didn't like them so much was because I just wasn't used to them, because people just didn't talk like that in my family, but that he talked like that because of the culture he came from, like being in a gang when he was younger and having been in prison for a while, and having been a drug addict who hung around with other drug addicts. You think you should have known he'd speak to children like that as well. But really, there was no reason to suppose he'd talk to children the way he talked to the adults around him. I don't think it was obvious at all that he'd talk to children like that, especially when he could talk in exactly the opposite way to you.

Have a go at remembering some of the things he said to you in the beginning that made you think he was loving and caring. You thought that was his real self. You were taken in by him, and it's really no wonder. I don't think you're to blame at all. I mean, I remember some of the other things he said that convinced you even more that he was sweet and considerate and caring! I mean, I remember he was once talking about a relationship he'd had with someone else before he met you. He said it broke up in the end because his girlfriend had to move to a different part of the country to look after her parents who were becoming less well able to look after themselves because they were getting older. I bet she ran away from him really! But I remember him advising someone on how to keep a relationship from getting boring, saying something like,

An abuser

"Now I know what you're talking about when you say same ole, same ole. I've been there. It's up to the couple, both partners to come forth and admit to the problem. In doing so you start seeing avenues to help with that, but the majority of people wont entertain the idea, rather blame the other for the inadequacies, we went with avenues, and it can be simple shit, taking up a sport together, acting together in a passion you both share (hey, get your mind out of the gutter) or just a different way of communicating. We do what's called "the flower speaks", its where you take a flower, and who ever is holding it has the floor, we even played this with our friends, a really awesome way to communicate. We didn't raise our voices for years."

Well, that flower thing sounds like a good idea! But I think now that what he said about using it himself must have just been a great pile of nonsense! Otherwise, surely he'd have wanted to behave with you like that. I don't think he was interested in that flower thing at all after you were married, was he! He just swore and shouted at you when you said something he didn't like. Or at least, that's the impression I've got from what you used to say. And as for all that stuff about doing things together, that was probably nonsense as well, just said to impress you, I would guess, since his only hobbies after you were married seemed to be sex and beer, and ordering you around!

But it's no wonder that with all that talk, you didn't take it that seriously when he was nasty to other people when you were just going out with him. You thought the nice considerate him was the real him, didn't you.

And I remember when he said nasty things to other people, you sometimes thought it was amusing, didn't you. I didn't like it, and told you what I thought of him. I know you feel guilty now because you didn't listen to me. But I don't really think you should feel guilty, because at the time, you were convinced he was a better person, weren't you. And it's no wonder you were, with all that nice talk. I don't think you need to feel guilty for not realising that after you married, he wouldn't have any interest in that flower thing he was so keen to impress you with before, and would just stop you talking if he didn't like what you were saying by shouting nasty abusive things. I remember you said he'd say horrible things to you after you were married like,

An abuser

"Eat a dick bitch! Ohhhhhh just shut the fuck up you stupid bitch. I'm tired of yer whining. Eat a dick or lick a cunt. Or better yet, go croak!"

You've told me you got to hate being spoken to like that. And I know you think you're really selfish and uncaring, because before you were married, when he spoke like that to other people, you'd sometimes laugh about it. The thing is that I bet a lot of people find things funny when they happen to other people that they don't find funny when they happen to themselves, because they don't realise what kind of impact they might be having on the person they're being said to until they're on the receiving end of the same stuff themselves. There's a quote from a famous person that says something like, "Everything is funny as long as it's happening to someone else."

I know you feel stupid for laughing at what he said and not realising he'd turn his nastiness on you. But after all the nice things he said, I don't think it's any wonder you didn't take it that seriously. I know you say you should have done, given that your mother used to say nasty abusive things to you so you know what it's like to be on the receiving end of verbal cruelty, but remember you thought of the things David was saying as more playful at the time, especially since he convinced you that the nice part of him was the real him.

And remember he used to say he was involved in charity work, and that that was far more important than the things he said. He said the things he did were the opposite of the nasty things he said, so you thought the nasty things were just on the surface really. I remember him even saying to someone who had a go at him for some nasty things he was saying to someone that if he knew about his charity works, he'd hate himself for the horrible things he was saying.

A house

I remember once being out with you and him and some others when he started talking about some work he did for the charity Habitat for Humanity, that builds homes. You were saying you wished you could move out of your parents' house where you were treated cruelly, and he said he wished the charity could build a home for you, and he'd love to hand over the keys to you. I remember you thought that was really nice.

It's interesting that you say you didn't see him doing much charity work at all after you were married! When you were going out together, I thought it was as if He glorified his charity work into this great big noble thing that was the real him, and so good he ought to be able to get away with saying anything he wanted because the charity work cancelled it all out, when actually, he probably only did it to help himself, I would guess, since I've heard that on some drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes, the leaders tell the clients to go and do some good work for their community so it'll focus their minds outwards onto something good, so they're getting satisfaction from helping others and not selfishly focusing inward so often on their own wants and how they want more of the substance they've been taking. It's supposed to help with their recovery. So I would guess that's why he did it. Anyway, he soon seemed to lose interest!

I said I thought he seemed like a bit of a phoney when you were going out together, didn't I, and you thought I was being unfair to him. You think you're silly now for not seeing through him yourself; but actually, if he hadn't been so unpleasant to me, I might have been impressed by what he said as much as you were.

I know one of the reasons you feel guilty about moving in with him and having children with him who would go on to be traumatised and distressed by seeing his abuse of you and the horrible things he said to them is that one reason you put up with the nasty things he said to other people and hearing about his violence towards other people was because you really wanted to move in with him, because it would get you away from your abusive mother. I know you feel as if you're really selfish for not caring about other people enough to think more about what he was like towards them because you wanted to be with him because you thought he could get you away from a bad situation. But remember how cruel your mother was!! Well, I can't imagine you ever forgetting! But think about it for a minute. Again, I don't think you can blame yourself for ignoring what you didn't even realise were warning signs about David's abusive behaviour because you really wanted to get away from your parents. Just think back to how abusive your mother was to you for a moment. I remember you often coming to school with bruises, and you told me about some of the violent things your mother did to you. You feel stupid for swapping one violent situation for another. But remember you couldn't have known at the time that David was going to become violent. I mean, I don't suppose everyone who talks like he does gets violent.

And you knew he was violent towards other people, but remember you thought he'd only be violent to other men, mainly men who were bigger than him.

And I remember something else he said to convince you he was really a nice person. I remember someone was talking about their problems once and he said something about how they should learn to love themselves and other people more, and you said you didn't think it was that simple. He said something like,

An abuser

"simple? do you know what that entails? it would be much easier to be a prick, but what would that give me? a shit life. the only thing I know is how to love, and the only way to do it, is to do it."

I bet there are a lot of battered women who feel really guilty about getting together with the man who abused them who wouldn't feel nearly so bad if they thought back to things their abuser said in the beginning that made them sound caring. They might be nothing like what David said to you, but they must have been things they thought were nice. After all, no one would go out with someone they thought was pure, unadulterated evil, would they. Or not many people!

I know you remember one time when David was going on about how loving he was, and you feel bad, because only a few minutes later, he was joking around with one of his friends about violent films they'd seen. I know he said something I thought sounded really horrible, joking around about Bruce Lee hitting and kicking people. I thought it was quite creepy that he should do that so soon after he was talking about how he loved everybody. I think you were so impressed by the things he'd said about love that you overlooked it, thinking it couldn't possibly mean anything that bad. You remember that not long after that, I said I didn't understand how people could watch violent films. We were out with people from David's work at the time, remember, and one of them said he was sure I only thought violent films were bad to watch because I'd been taught that. He said he bet I didn't have any good reasons for thinking it. Then he talked about a series on television he'd liked that had a lot of violence in it, but it was half a comedy really, and it had some really good technological effects, and he said they were mainly what he liked it for, so it wasn't as if everyone who liked violent films liked them because they were violent people and just wanted to watch pure violence. Then it led to a conversation about violence on television, and most people seemed to think I was just a wimp because I disapproved of it.

Scared of what's on television

I know you remember that, because you've told me. You've said that every time some violence comes on the television without warning, you get distressed by it, because it reminds you of the violence in your relationship with David. And you've said you remember me disapproving of David laughing and joking about the violence in the Bruce Lee films that time, and you feel stupid for not realising that if he was like that, he probably wouldn't think much of hitting you. But remember the rest of the conversation that happened at the time. Most people didn't seem to see anything wrong with it. So why should you have done? And lots and lots more people like violent films than are violent themselves, remember. So I don't think you're being fair on yourself to look back on the time he laughed about Bruce Lee hitting and kicking people and say you should have known he would get violent with you and you're stupid for not knowing better than to get involved with him.

And don't forget, at the time, you used that argument about how I shouldn't be so sensitive, because I should recognise that David came from a different culture where violence was more common, so he'd be bound to have a different attitude to watching it. You really believed you were right, so it wasn't as if you thought I was right to be concerned about him because you thought there really was something to worry about but you moved in with him anyway.

And I remember you did say in the conversation we had at the time about TV violence that you thought women wouldn't be attracted to men who acted out the violence they saw on television, and David said something to you about how he knew if men were violent it put women off them, so he knew not to be like violent TV characters. He said something like - what was it now? - something like,

An abuser

"I used to be a real bad boy, but noticed just what you said, I guess it scared, or bored women too much. Once I matured, I hooked up with people like you and its been history since. But you are very much complete; if I was still a bad boy like I was (one can never fully extinguish the fire of badness) I would most likely be alone right now."

So that helped to convince you that he'd really turned his life around and wouldn't ever behave in a violent way towards you because he thought he'd have too much to lose, didn't it. I know you thought it was really sweet of him to say that.

That might be one reason you used to tolerate the violent talk he used to come out with sometimes. You thought he didn't really mean it. I remember he kept responding to people who disagreed with things he said by saying things like,

An abuser

"Shut up ya son of a bitch, I'll punch ya in da head!!"

I remember you didn't think he was being serious, partly because he put on that voice as if he was pretending to be some gangster rapper or something. And also, remember he used to say that kind of thing to his best friend sometimes, and then straight afterwards, he'd sometimes say something nice. So it would be like,

An abuser

"Listen mister,

You keep antagonizing me and I'm liable to punch you in da face

I love ya man!"

And then sometimes, he'd clap him on the back, and they'd go on chatting away as if he hadn't meant it at all. I know you feel stupid and guilty now because you think that kind of talk was a warning sign of how David might really get so you should have known better than to move in with him. But remember you didn't think that at the time. You thought he was just play-threatening. I remember you telling me.

Feeling silly

I know you feel stupid and you blame yourself as well because he actually did get violent with some people before you married him, and he even used to boast and laugh about it, such as when he got involved in bar-room brawls at weekends and then told his friends all about them. And he hit other men sometimes in other places. I know you feel really stupid and blame yourself because you think that was such an obvious warning sign that he'd get violent towards you that it must have been the height of stupidity to have missed it, and that you must be a worthless idiot if you can have missed it. That's the kind of thing you've said to me before. But remember you only thought he hit men at the time. And remember that he made it seem as if they always wanted to fight him and most of them were bigger than him. He never talked about hitting a woman, and I remember you assumed he'd only ever hit men who were bigger than him and who wanted to fight.

I remember we were out one evening, and he once said something like,

An abuser

"by the time I reached high school, I had drug charges, tattoos, piercings , and a really fuckin bad attitude, I enjoyed beating the shit (literally) out of the tough guys. We would meet up at clubs on Friday nights and 'game on'"

I remember you admired him for fighting older aggressive boys who thought they were tough. That's the kind of person you thought he was, remember - someone who'd be protective of women and wouldn't be afraid to fight men who were bigger than he was if it came down to it. I remember you liked him because you thought he'd be protective of you, especially after what your parents were like, especially your violent mother. You thought you could do with a nice strong protector, remember? I think the idea that he'd actually hit women just never occurred to you.

You knew I didn't like him, and I actually said to you not long after you announced your engagement plans that I was concerned, because what if he turned his violence on you? I know you're upset now because you think that if I could spot that that might happen, you should have been able to as well, so you feel stupid because you didn't. But I think love stops people from seeing the full picture about things. Any strong emotion does, I think. I've heard that strong emotions cloud people's judgments and stop them thinking clearly because they swamp the brain with so many chemical emotional signals that the intelligent part of it can't function properly for a while. I read somewhere that you can tell that strong emotion clouds people's thinking, because when someone's angry, for example, it's very difficult to reason with them. They just shout and make demands and won't listen. They can only see one side of things, because they can't think clearly. I think love does that to people as well. If you really want something and feel as if something's going to be good for you, the feelings can take over and sway you into doing things you'd never do if you didn't have the feelings and just thought about whether to do those things. I think most people want to feel good; so if something makes you feel as if you're going to feel good if you go along with it, I think those feelings can be powerful and sway you into going along with them, even if your logical mind would tell you not to if you really thought about it.

And you desperately wanted to get out of your parents' house as well, didn't you. And since you thought David would be protective of you, you thought that might even help you if your parents came visiting and started threatening you or anything. So you thought you had good reasons for marrying him and he'd be good for you.

But I remember now, he actually said he didn't think much of men who beat their wives. Remember we actually heard him talking to a woman whose husband hit her about what a low-life he must be for doing that, and how she ought to get out of the relationship. And then he discussed it with one of his best friends, and said something about why he thought men hit women like,

An abuser

"Coz they're pussy boy pretty faces!

They know men break teeth, noses, jaws, arms, etc.

So they'd rather hit someone who wont mess up their pretty little face.

Pussies really.

If you see it happening, go up and thump the guy in the chin a few times and watch him run to mommy.

I shit you not."

It's hardly any wonder you didn't believe he'd ever get violent towards you after all that!

In love

But I know you seemed to be madly in love with him, and I think that swayed your decisions a lot. I think part of the reason for that was because you had a lot of fun in bed together at the time. At least, I remember you flirting with him and talking about sex with him in public, without even a slight bit of embarrassment. Again, I think you know, don't you, that I found some of the things he used to say to you a bit creepy, but they didn't bother you at all. You just played along with them. I mean, we could be out having a meal in public, and he'd say something to you like,

An abuser

"Hey lets start talkin about yer panties again!

You woke up with wet panties again didn't you?

Then take off yer panties and climb into bed."

Then you two would start laughing and flirting, talking about what you'd like to do to each other. I thought there was a note of violence in his sex talk sometimes. But you didn't seem to notice or mind. I know you look back on that and see it too now, and think you were stupid not to have seen it before, given what's happened since, but I don't think you can blame yourself. After all, he talked to his best friends in a way that sounded abusive, so you just thought that was the way he talked to people he liked, didn't you. I mean, he used to say things to his best friends like,

An abuser

"Oh you fuckin bastard,

Hey I resent that

You evil cum sucking bastard

Fuck you!"

And then they'd laugh and joke together.

So it's no wonder you thought that was just the way he talked to people, and played along with him when there was something I thought was controlling or demeaning in his sex talk, and didn't mind it. And I remember once, I heard him say something like,

An abuser

"Women don't seem to understand the importance of shutting the fuck up!

Joke, jokes, all jokes."

He often said he was joking after he said something abusive. So you believed that when he said abusive things, he was joking most of the time. I know you believed he was just fooling around and that his real self was considerate and kind, because of the caring-sounding things he said sometimes. And besides, you've been used to being spoken to abusively all your life, haven't you; so you just accept it and think it's just normal, whereas I don't like it, because people usually spoke to each other quite a bit more politely in my family, so I haven't got used to it. So you'd naturally not see it as necessarily being a danger sign, and you don't have to get upset because I told you I thought it was and yet you didn't listen, as if you think that if I knew, you should have been sensible enough to have known as well. He was a lot nicer to you than he was to me anyway, don't forget, so the niceness would have made you think he was good for you as well.

I know you're being harsh with yourself because he used to say some horrible things to people like me who criticized him in front of you, and you think you should have known he'd end up getting that nasty to you. I mean, remember he used to say horrible things to me when I disagreed with him like,

An abuser

"go eat a million cocks infected with syphilis, like i said, it'll do ya good!"

I know you feel silly because it never occurred to you that he'd say things that bad to you. But remember all those nice things he said to you! You were convinced all the nasty things he said were just on the surface, and the real him was caring and considerate.

I mean, I remember we were in a restaurant once, and he asked you what gives you an orgasm best, and you were talking to him about what you liked, and someone on the next table heard it and objected to you talking that way in public. And David said to him that he didn't see why he should object, saying something like,

An abuser

"In today's time, when women express their sexual desires I think its really important for the men to listen up. We've used their bodies for our sexual pleasure for centuries, now its their turn."

And then he started having a conversation with you about how to make female orgasms as intense and pleasurable as possible. So it really is no wonder you thought that nasty stuff he said was just fooling around and not important.

And a lot of the nice things he said to you that weren't about sex made you think he was gentle and caring deep down as well, didn't they. I mean, for one, I remember when you told him you were training to be a care worker, and he sounded really caring and supportive, saying something like,

An abuser

"Home care work with the elderly, children, mentally handicapped?

Yes you will get satisfaction out of that, there is no greater purpose than the humble service to others."

I think anyone might have been deceived by his supposedly caring attitude.

Tired and fed up

But he wasn't so supportive after you married and you'd actually got the job, was he! I remember you telling me you would come home tired and stressed after a day working long hours with ill people who were getting worse, where you were doing dirty jobs like changing incontinence pads and soiled bed sheets, and listening to family members pouring out their problems about how it was getting more difficult to cope, and all you wanted to do was sit in front of some mindless television programme with a cup of tea and relax. But he'd often try to bully you into bed with him, taunting you about being frigid or no fun any more if you didn't want to go along with him. He even made you cut down on your working hours, didn't he, hoping it would make you more willing to jump into bed with him when you got home. But by then, he was violent and verbally cruel, and you really didn't feel like having sex with him a lot of the time, did you. But that just made him even nastier, didn't it.

I remember you saying you were upset because before you were married and for a little while afterwards, he used to give you so many compliments about how sexy you were and how good in bed you were, and he would talk about how much he cared about making you happy. But you said that when you stopped feeling like going to bed with him because you were exhausted after a stressful day at work, and because you didn't want him to be that close to you any more because of his violence and the way he'd belittle you, he started taunting you, pouring out abuse like,

An abuser

"Oh well, they don't make enough KY for that wrinkly, dried up, roast beefy, iron anvil you call a pussy for me to slide in anyway!"

You said he never ever accepted that he might have any responsibility for the way you'd started to feel about having sex with him.

I know you feel stupid and uncaring now, because you say you should have known better than to get together with someone like that, thinking you should have seen his attitude coming, because he used to talk like that to any woman who refused to talk sex talk with him before you were married. I remember I was surprised that at the time, even though you were going out with him, you didn't mind him trying to get other women to have flirty conversations about sex with him, even while you were there. You just seemed to laugh about it and say you obviously hadn't been paying him enough attention, and then you'd try to get him talking like that with you. I thought it was strange at the time, but you seemed confident in what you were doing, so I thought you must know what you were doing and didn't comment. I know now you criticise yourself for having allowed him to flirt with other women like that, and how you didn't mind him trying to get them to talk about their panties or what they liked in bed with him, and that kind of thing, because you think it was a sign that he'd be unfaithful to you after you were married, like he was. But don't forget, you didn't think of it as a sign at the time. You can't condemn yourself because you think you should have known something might be a danger sign when it just never occurred to you at the time that it might be. It's not as if you knew it was a danger sign but got together with him anyway. You didn't know, did you, and after he seemed so considerate towards you sometimes, it's not surprising you didn't think there would ever be any more to it than you saw.

And I know you feel the same way about what used to happen if a woman refused to talk about sex with him, because he used to turn on her and say exactly the kinds of nasty things he started saying to you after you started being unwilling to have sex with him, didn't he. He would say horrible abusive things to them like,

An abuser

"Go eat a million cocks infected with syphilis. Go on. Eat a dick bitch! Why don't you drop to yer knees and lick all the yellow puss off all the 1 million infected cocks I ordered you to eat!"

I know you feel as if you must have been really selfish and uncaring to have got together with him so we'd have to spend time around him even though he was like that to some of us, and you feel really guilty and worthless because you think you must be a terrible person if you could have done that. But don't forget that at the time, all the women he said that kind of thing to would have a go at him in return and really put him in his place. So you didn't see it as women being victimised, remember. You thought the whole thing was just amusing. What he said didn't sound anywhere as nasty as it might have done if those women were getting upset by it and didn't say anything while he carried on being abusive. It wasn't as if you could see they were being upset but you were happy for it to happen anyway.

And also, you never saw it getting as bad as it could get, because remember you used to be able to stop him saying abusive things to them by caressing him and saying something seductive to him, and that would divert his attention away from being nasty to them onto flirting with you. So you never saw it at its worst, when some of us really got fed up with him and said so, and he got even more abusive. So I think you're feeling far worse about it than you need to.

And I know you feel bad because you should have thought it was a warning sign of the way he'd behave towards you. I remember I recently told you about that article I found on the Internet about warning signs that you're dating an abuser, and one of the things it said was that if he's nasty to people around you, sooner or later, he'll turn that nastiness on you. I know you feel stupid for not realising that would happen. But don't forget, you married him some time before I found the article. He could talk so lovingly towards you that I'm not really surprised you didn't realise he'd turn nasty towards you.

Also, since you knew you could stop him being abusive to other women at the time by caressing him and talking seductively to him, if anything, you probably assumed you'd always be able to stop him, even if he started being abusive to you. Your method stopped working not long after you were married, didn't it. But you couldn't have known that would happen.

And you probably couldn't have imagined a time when you wouldn't want to have sex with him anyway, so it's no wonder if it didn't cross your mind to wonder if he'd turn nasty to you like he did with the other women who refused to sex-chat with him. You can't really blame yourself because you didn't know something I'd only read in an article years later, that thing about abusive men ending up behaving towards their girlfriends and wives the way they'd behaved towards other women months earlier.

I wouldn't have been interested in a man who behaved like that towards other women myself. But then, I know the other pressures you were under, like the pressure to get out of the house where your violent mother was still being cruel to you. And like I said, since you've always been a lot more tolerant of people saying abusive things to you than I would be if they said them to me, I don't think you can condemn yourself for being tolerant of David when he said abusive things to other people. I know you hate being spoken to like that now because his taunts got so malicious, and so you remember it being just as hateful when he spoke to other people like that before you were married so you condemn yourself because you remember yourself as not caring, because you didn't do anything at the time. But you're forgetting that at the time, you were more tolerant of being spoken to like that yourself, and didn't mind what he said so much, because it hadn't yet got to the point where he wore you down by going on and on about how inadequate he thought you were every day, and he meant it to be really hurtful like he did with you later, so that's a good reason why you wouldn't have got as angry as I would when he spoke to other women like that.

Things just got worse after he started talking to you like that, didn't they.

Feeling unwell

I remember you telling me about that time when you were upset, because he'd gone out for the evening and you thought you'd go and find him to see if you could persuade him to come home before he got too drunk, and you ended up sitting drinking with him. You told me you thought at least you wouldn't be lonely that way. But something bad happened. I remember you saying he started going on about how you were so worthless as a wife you didn't want sex with him any more, and you were lousy in bed anyway; and then he started asking his friends if they'd like to have sex with you, since he was getting bored of you but it was time you had sex with someone! You told me he shouted nasty upsetting things across the bar to his friends, in his silly imitation gangster rapper voice, or whatever it was, that you used to think was playful, like,

An abuser

"Dawn needs a fat dick between her legs and I'm nominating Jimmy to do so. Jimmy yer 'blessed' anyways, so the job is yers. But be careful. That pussy hasn't seen a dick for weeks! Yeah, Dawn's no good any more!

But face it Jimmy, ya got skillz

Maybe you'd like to do it doggy style?

You could do a lot of us a favor by bustin the back outta that ho."

Your friends probably thought it was just a bit of drunken fun, and were just too numbskullish to think or care about what impact it might have on you. But I know you were a bit upset by it and thought the atmosphere in there was getting scary.

You said Jim fairly politely declined the offer, but started asking other people if they'd like to have sex with you. And David started mouthing off again to his other friends, saying things like,

An abuser

"I was begging jimmy to hit it but he was all like,

"Nah, niggy who you think I am, sum crazy motha fucka er dat desperate? Don't be tryin me."

So I let it alone.

We really should though, as a public service, and try our best to find some gullible schmuck to stick his wing-wang into her woo-woo and get this shit over with!"

And his friends started laughing and joking about it, till some nice man stood up and told them they were all pathetic and didn't deserve to have the respect of any woman. Then they shut up about it and started talking about other things.

But you said you'd felt intimidated and humiliated by their behaviour, and you'd started getting as drunk as you could to try to block it out.

I know you started drinking a lot after that. And that was one of the things David criticized you about when he started calling you crazy and worthless. It's a pity you believed what he said and worried you really were going insane and started thinking you really were no good. I think David's just a bully, and he probably doesn't even believe most of the things he says himself! I think bullies often don't. They just say things, not caring about whether they're true or not, because they know they'll be hurtful, or they think it's fun to get a reaction. It makes them feel like tough guys, big and strong and powerful! You know I think David's pathetic, don't you.

Crying

But I remember you were even more upset when not long after that, he just vanished for a few days without telling you where he was going, and then he came back and said he'd been to a bikers' get-together. I remember it was your birthday a couple of days later, and quite a few of us went out for a drink together. Some time into the evening, he mentioned this bikers' get-together he'd just been on, and someone asked him what it was like. He said the main attraction was the naked ladies, and he started almost drooling while he went on about their sexy bodies and how he'd enjoyed taking drugs and having sex with them. He said stuff like,

An abuser

"This one chick, had this tight fuckin body

And all she had on was paint

Purple top that kinda faded into a black bottom

But YES! you could see her big round titties, her six-pack, her little 'landing strip', nice thighs

Goooood GAWD!!

And there was this hardcore blonde, about 45 yrs old, a little chunky, but cute, runnin around with none other than crotchless panties!

Woooohoooo."

I know you were upset about that, especially since he'd said it so publicly, and on your birthday as well. You used to think it was fun when he'd spoken to his friends about you being sexy in public before you were married. But you were upset that he'd want to have sex with other women. Soon afterwards, you said you'd caught him having cybersex with strangers, bantering with them in the way he'd done with you when you first met. And you said you were upset by that, but he blamed you for it, saying that if only you had more sex with him and hadn't turned into a frigid dried-up old hag - or something horrid like that - he wouldn't have to look elsewhere. Never mind that the reason you didn't want sex with him was because he put you off with his violence and cruelty and bullying behaviour! No! According to him, it was all your fault! Stupid man!

I think maybe the main reason you keep blaming yourself for everything that went wrong is that he kept blaming you. You told me he used to say things to you like that he wouldn't have to hit you or drink so much or curse you or whatever if you'd only have sex with him more, or make his dinner as soon as you got home - never mind that you were exhausted from a day of care work - or if you'd only keep the house cleaner, or be more fun to be around, and a whole lot of other things. He was always blaming you for every nasty thing he did, wasn't he! At least, that's the impression I've got from what you've told me. he said he just wouldn't have to do those things if you were better at this and better at that, or didn't do this, and didn't do that, till your whole life was arranged around trying to please him as best you could. But it still didn't work - he was still as nasty as ever, wasn't he! So that proves it wasn't really your fault at all.

He just wasn't being fair. As if he had no control over his behaviour and it could have been all your fault! I think maybe you've got into the habit of thinking he must have been right and blaming yourself now, when he was just a bully who probably didn't really even believe most of what he was saying.

I've heard that a lot of abusive men blame their wives for everything because their wives know most about their faults, and that makes them feel under threat from them, because the abusive men hate to admit they have faults. So to make themselves feel less threatened, they continually kid themselves into believing everything that goes wrong is their wife's fault, so they don't have to feel bad about their faults, and they blame her all the time.

But really, David had control over his behaviour. He's bound to have done, even though he tried to make you believe he didn't. He could have behaved differently if he'd wanted to.

I think blaming yourself might be a habit for you now, because you're so used to being blamed for things, that you've come to believe you really are responsible for them. I expect you'd like to get out of the habit really. It would probably be as well not to keep thinking about this stuff really, because I know people like psychologists say it would be a much better use of people's time if instead of getting engrossed in thoughts that make them unhappy about how if only they'd done this and that, things would have been different, they can think about how they can try to make the future better for themselves and their children. They say there's nothing you can do about the past, so there isn't any point in getting engrossed in thoughts about it that only make you miserable; it's far better to focus your thoughts on how to do the best you can for yourself and the kids in the future. I know it's much easier said than done. But if you try, you might find it easier and easier as time goes on. I know some psychologists say that if whenever you catch yourself getting absorbed in misery-making thoughts about how things could have been so different if only you'd made different choices, you remind yourself to think about the future instead, it can help you get out of the habit of making yourself miserable about the past.

And there might be lots of improvements you could make to your life and your children's lives in the future when you're feeling a bit better. Perhaps we could have a sit down and think of some sometime.

Maybe the best way of looking at all those things you feel guilty about is to think of them as experiences that'll at least help you know better next time you're thinking of going out with someone. And maybe you could use them to warn anyone you meet who you worry might make the same mistakes. Maybe you could help warn them off a dangerous relationship.

Anyway, I hope I've helped you think of lots of reasons why you shouldn't blame yourself for the things that went wrong now.


Part Seven
Beliefs About What People are "supposed to" do That Keep People in Abusive Relationships


Don't think you're on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.
--Author Unknown

Just because something is tradition doesn't make it right.
--Anthony J. D'Angelo, The College Blue Book

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it - even if I have said it - unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
--Buddha

The author of this book talks about how when we're growing up, we're brought up with a set of beliefs about how we're supposed to behave. For instance, we might be taught that we're supposed to be polite and nice to people and forgiving, and be unselfish enough to put other people's needs before our own. So we come to accept those things as standards of behaviour that really make up part of who we are. So we might think of ourselves as polite people, so if we're impolite, we think we've let ourselves down.

The book says all that's fair enough in itself. The problem comes when people think it's so important to live up to those standards that they think they have to do that even if it means not protecting or defending themselves, for instance if they don't speak up when someone says nasty things to them, and they feel much more guilty when they don't live up to those standards than they deserve to, and that guilt keeps them from taking further steps to protect or defend themselves.

The author brings up several beliefs people can be taught as they're growing up and might just accept without question, to ask if it's really healthy to accept them without question, or whether actually, these things are far better viewed as ideals which it can be nice to try to live up to as long as they don't conflict with our interests, but when they do, they shouldn't be seen as rules that shouldn't be broken, but just as guidelines that aren't as important as what we feel we need to do at the time. Our own well-being is the most important thing.

He looks at typical beliefs people are brought up with one by one:

The Belief That Promises Should Never be Broken

Upset

The author says a lot of women stay in abusive relationships because they promised they'd stay with their partner for better or worse, or something like that, and they believe people have a duty to always keep promises and would feel really guilty if they didn't.

But he says that the idea that promises should never be broken is an ideal, not something people should think they have to abide by no matter what. After all, when most of those women made those promises, they probably thought their abuser was someone different, someone who wouldn't be violent and was even caring and considerate. So it's really as if they made their promise to someone different. He wasn't the person they thought he was. Because they didn't know all they needed to know about him when they made the promise, because they didn't have all the information, it's as if their promise turned out to be a mistake, so taking it back would be reasonable and even sensible.

The author says a lot of abused women say they ought to stay with their abusers because they think, "A promise is a promise". But he says that's just like repeating the old saying, You made your bed so now you have to lie in it. He says that's a silly saying really, as if once someone's made a decision, they can't change their minds, even if they get new information that convinces them the decision they made was wrong!

He says that saying is no more than a cliché, and you can find clichés that are the opposite of each other, like, Absence makes the heart grow fonder and Out of sight, out of mind. clichés are generalisations, not hard-and-fast rules, just like the idea that people should always keep promises. If you discover there was something wrong with the promise you made, you've always got the right to break it.

The Belief That You Should Never Break Your Marriage Vows/Marriage Is Forever

A contract

The author says a lot of people believe that; but he asks if people should still believe it even if their marriage partner broke their part of the marriage contract over and over and over again. He says that with a marriage contract, just as with any contract, the contract is for two people to agree to, and they both have to fulfil their part of the bargain, or it becomes null and void. He says if you signed a contract with someone for them to come in and do some work on your house, for example, and you agreed to pay them a set amount of money every month till the work was done, and you paid them for six months, but they didn't even bother getting started on the work, would you keep paying them? He says you wouldn't, would you. So it's the same with a marriage contract. Two people are making the agreement, and if one doesn't make any efforts to fulfil their part, it's as if the contract can't really be valid.

He says true and honest marriage vows between a woman and an abuser might be as if the woman says she promises to love and cherish the man in sickness and in health till death parts them, but the abuser says he promises to do whatever he feels like, lying, cheating, getting violent, whatever he likes. The author says no woman would sign a contract like that! So the one she did sign, where the man promised to love and cherish her, turned out to be a false one. So the marriage could have been invalidated really. She doesn't have to be committed to a contract that turned out to be an invalid one because her marriage partner continually violated it and probably never really intended to keep it in the first place deep down.

The Belief That If you Feel Sorry for Him, you Have to Stay/Go Back to Him

Picking a fight

The author says it's common for abused women to think they ought to stay with or go back to their abuser because they feel sorry for him; but they're not being fair to themselves by doing that, because putting his supposed needs before their own will be putting them in danger. And they'll be making themselves unhappy in the long term, even though they'll be making themselves feel better for a little while by doing what they think they should.

Actually, I remember hearing someone on the television once saying she'd recently left her abusive boyfriend, and for a while afterwards, she'd missed him and wanted to go back to him. She stopped herself giving into the temptation to go back to him by writing several little messages about the horrible things he'd done, to remind herself, and she stuck them on the wall where she'd read them often, so whenever she wanted to go back, she could remind herself it wasn't a good idea.

The author says that if you feel sorry for your abusive partner, you'll be feeling sorry for him because of problems he has that it's his responsibility to put right, not yours. If you go back to him or stay with him because you feel sorry for him, he'll learn that he can stay in the same state he's in now, always going back to his abusive ways, because he can get what he wants without changing. Leaving him will be helping him to realise he has to genuinely change if he wants women to stay with him in future. See, you're not being hard and cruel by refusing to go back to him. You could actually be helping to set him on the road to genuinely starting to make an effort to change, if you're firm about staying away and don't go back to him the minute he shows the first signs of changing, since going back would cause him to lose the incentive to change, because he'll think he can get what he wants without really changing after all.

The Belief That You Should be Resigned to Your Fate

A marriage sentence

The author says some people believe they have to stick with the bad situation they're in, because getting out of it would cause too many problems, whether that be family disapproval or whatever. But saying you should just resign yourself to your fate is like saying you don't deserve to be happy. And that's hardly fair! And looking for a way out of things might turn out to be easier than you think at first.

The Belief That If He Apologised, It's Your Duty to Go Back to Him and Start Afresh

The author says that's like saying you can't accept someone's apology and still choose to have nothing more to do with him because you know it wouldn't be in your best interests to go back.

He says even millions of women have returned to abusive relationships because their husbands apologised, and they'd been taught they should accept apologies and always make a fresh start with the person who'd apologised.

That's depressing!

Going back to husbands is all very well if they haven't done something that's putting you in danger, or if there's actually a high likelihood that they will change and not do what they've done wrong again. But I've heard over and over again, and the author says it too, that apologising to someone only to go back to being abusive again is just typical abuser behaviour. Any abused woman who thinks their situation's unique and their own husband isn't like that will probably be wrong, because every abuser probably apologises, only to go back to being violent or otherwise abusive again. At least, it's so well-known as abuser behaviour that it's often mentioned on radio and television programmes to do with abusers as typical abuser behaviour. It's as if abusers either just don't mean it when they apologise and just apologise to get their way and to manipulate their victims into accepting them again, or they do mean it for the time being, but the pleasure of being abusive is so strong that after the feelings of being sorry have died down, as soon as they anticipate being abusive again, the feelings of pleasure at the thought of being abusive are so much stronger than any regrets they still have that the regrets just don't count for anything any more.

So when it's been found so many times that abusers' apologies, no matter how emotional, and no matter how much they cry and promise to change, aren't worth taking seriously, you can tell it'll just be dangerous for you to go back to your abuser, and you'll just be being fooled by his apology if you believe it. You really don't have any duty to go back to an abuser because he apologised if it'll only risk putting you in more danger. You need to think about your safety. That's the most important thing.

And you can accept your abuser's apology and even forgive him, without going back to him. Some women think the saying Turn the other cheek means doing what the other person wants or appeasing them. But it was never meant to apply to situations as serious as when someone was being battered.

The Belief That If You Only Try Hard Enough, He'll Change, so You Should Stay and Try

Banging your head against a brick wall

The author says some women who've been abused seem to be sure it's up to them to do everything they can to get their abuser to change, and that if he doesn't, it means they're a failure. But he says that's like expecting to do the impossible, because some men are just incapable of having a respectful intimate relationship with anybody.

He says a lot of women stay in abusive relationships or go back to their abusers because they think divorce would mark them down as a failure. He says one therapy client told him she'd stayed in an abusive relationship because she'd already failed at two marriages and didn't want to fail at another.

Rabbit

He says a lot of abusers don't even have a good relationship with animals, let alone women. He says it's been estimated that half of all batterers either mistreat or threaten to mistreat family pets.

What about the ones who live in families that don't have pets, I wonder. How did they fit into the survey. They can't all live in families with pets! Perhaps even more would mistreat their pets if more had pets. Or maybe the survey was only done among people with pets.

The Belief That It's Your Responsibility to Make the Relationship Work

Banging your head against a brick wall more

The author says one person can't take on all the responsibility to make a relationship work, because if the other one keeps sabotaging their efforts by their behaviour, the efforts of the one trying to make it work won't get the relationship anywhere, no matter how hard they try.

He says one woman with an especially cruel partner said she felt sure she'd be able to fix her marriage if she tried hard enough, since it must be like repairing a flat tyre on the car - once you knew how, you could do it. Her therapist told her to imagine there was really a flat tyre on the car, and that she thought that if she got a tyre repair manual, it would be easy to repair the flat tyre. She was asked to imagine she did get one and started repairing the tyre, but then her husband came out and started beating her up and ripping pages out of the repair manual. The therapist asked how easy it would be to repair the tyre while that was going on! It's impossible to fix a relationship if one person doesn't actually want it fixed, even if they claim they do.

The Belief That the Children Need Their Father so you Have to Stay or Go Back

Child having its blood pressure taken

The author asks people to consider whether children really do need a biological father who mistreats them, or whether it would actually be better to have a single parent who at least loves them.

He says women are often under pressure from society to stay with their husbands because it's thought their children need a father. One reason people think that is because it's good for children to have an adult male role model. But he says an abusive man is hardly a good male role model for children, when he'll be modelling all kinds of behaviours it would be better if the children never saw or heard!

It's Your Duty to Keep the Family Together

The author says it's true that the best situation for children to grow up in is one where there are two parents, where the parents show them healthy ways of resolving conflict and doing other things. But in an abusive relationship, the children will be exposed to so many things that aren't healthy to learn about, and which may give them unhealthy attitudes about things themselves, that it can be better to distance yourself from family members who are a bad influence. After all, it may be that staying in an abusive relationship will teach female children that women are supposed to stay in abusive relationships and that's all you can expect from a relationship; and male children might learn that it's OK to be abusive, since dad was, and mum let him get away with it. And none of the children are learning skills to help them resolve conflict better themselves.

Thinking Things Through

The author says that basically, people should be unwilling to just accept what other people tell them, and think through the evidence as to whether it's a good thing to do themselves. When people are growing up, they tend to just accept what adults tell them, because they assume that adults know best. That actually helps children survive, because it means, for instance, that when an adult tells a child that it's dangerous to cross the road when there's traffic coming, they'll just assume it's true and be protected from doing that. But not everything adults tell children will be for the best. So it's as well to think through beliefs we've taken for granted because we first learned them when we were young, to decide for ourselves whether they really are worth holding. And then when anyone else says we have to or ought to do something, it'll be worth thinking through the evidence for whether what they're saying really is a good idea, and to not just accept it, whoever they are.


Part Eight
Being Assertive


The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others.
--Sharon Anthony

Too many of us fail to fulfill our needs because we say no rather than yes, or perhaps later in life, yes when we should say no.
--William Glasser

The author says assertiveness is all about expressing needs and feelings in a way that won't antagonise other people, while at the same time clearly getting our point across. It's about refusing to tolerate disrespect from others, but doing so in a way that won't make them angry as easily as aggression will. He says assertiveness is different from aggressiveness, which may get the point across, but it does it by being nasty so it's more likely to provoke conflict than solve anything.

He says being too passive and just putting up with things doesn't move a relationship forward either, because if you don't express your feelings and needs, the other person won't know what you want, so you can't make improvements as well as you'd like to.

He says some women assume it's unladylike or bitchy to be assertive, because they've been brought up to think that. But actually, it isn't. Assertiveness isn't like aggression, where someone might yell and scream and say nasty things, and make accusations and backbite, and that kind of thing. Assertiveness means you make your point, but you do it with respect, respecting the feelings and opinions of other people. Being aggressive means not caring about the feelings of others but trying to impose your will on them whatever they want. It isn't just being violent or using obviously bad language; it's trying to get your way regardless of the other person's needs or feelings. Assertiveness is taking the other person's needs into consideration, but still stating clearly what you want.

Verbal Aggression

Being Insulting

The author says there are common standards of behaviour that mean most people expect to be spoken to with respect, and believe no one deserves to be spoken to with disrespect, and you can tell when someone's being spoken to disrespectfully.

When someone says something insulting to another person, it actually says more about the person doing the talking than it does about the person being insulted. It shows them up as loutish or nasty or uncaring. What they say can be less hurtful if you recognise it as those things and realise you don't deserve to be spoken to like that, and then assert your right not to be spoken to like that, not by responding with aggression, but by respectfully protesting. Then you won't be so hurt by what they say, and it might help resolve the situation calmly.

It's not as if some families or some cultures naturally speak to each other more aggressively so that makes it allright. Everyone can probably tell when someone's speaking angrily or scornfully or in some other nasty way, so that proves it's not just acceptable and natural to speak like that in some places. And you don't deserve to be spoken to with disrespect, as if your feelings don't matter.

The author says some aggression is masked deceptively in nice words that begin the sentence making you think the person has good intentions when they haven't really. They might think that if they start the sentence off nicely, they can get away with what they say and you'll think they're still nice whatever they say. For instance, they might say something like,

"I think it would be nice if we were to share our feelings with one another so we understand each other better. So I'd like to tell you how I'm thinking and feeling. I think you're a fat lazy slob and you never use your brains."

If they said something like that, you'd have a right to be angry, and research has found most people get angry when they're spoken to like that, even more angry than if someone were to say something like,

"I'm fed up with you."

Ways of Talking to People who Say Nasty Things

The author says he recommends that when someone talks to you in an unpleasant way, you don't respond to what they actually said, but to the style in which they said it. Sometimes, they'll just be saying it to be hurtful and won't really mean it anyway so there'll be no point in talking about it. But at other times, if they really want to get their point across, they'll mention what they want to say again in a non-aggressive way after you've said you don't like the aggressive style of the way they said it before.

So, he says that for instance, if someone were to say to you, "You don't know what you're talking about!", that would be an aggressive thing to say, because it would be a put-down. It wouldn't be designed to solve any problem or to helpfully move the conversation forward. It would just be designed to be nasty. So you don't deserve to be spoken to like that. So instead of getting involved in an argument about whether you do know what you're talking about or not, which won't do any good if they just want to argue and be nasty, because it'll encourage them to say worse things, you can focus on the way they said what they said and say something, as calmly as you can, like,

"I don't deserve to be spoken to like that", or, "Telling me I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about", or, "Don't take that aggressive tone with me, please", or, "That isn't very nice."

Or that kind of thing.

The author says that type of response often puts an end to conversations where someone's just trying to be nasty. And it'll stop you feeling so hurt by what they say if you know you don't deserve to be spoken to like that and say so.

The thing is though, it's best to phrase things in such a way as to keep the focus of attention on you, rather than on blaming them for what they've said. For instance, if you said, "You're nasty for saying that", that would come across to them as aggressive and accusing and make them angry, because they wouldn't like being called nasty, so they'd respond angrily to you and it would start an argument. But if you just focus on what they said and how you don't deserve to be spoken to like that, or how it wasn't a nice thing to say, or that kind of thing, it'll sometimes just end the conversation.

Responding to Aggressive Questions

Heated conversation

The author says a lot of people find it difficult to handle aggressive questions. He says examples of aggressive questions might include things like,

"Why are you so defensive?"
"Why are you in such a bitchy mood?"
"Why are you such a wimp?"
"Why are you so over-sensitive?"

The author says people often don't answer questions like that very skilfully, because their answers often antagonise the other person accidentally or give them an excuse to say more hurtful things. He says people often either respond to aggressive questions they're asked defensively or aggressively. An example of a defensive response would be, "I'm not overly-sensitive!", to which the person who made the accusation might respond, "Oh yes you are!", and an argument might well start. Or the person might respond to an aggressive question aggressively, such as saying something like, "You can talk!", and the other person might then argue with them about whether they're really as bad as them, or something like that.

The author says there is a way to respond to questions like that that's more likely to avoid arguments.

He says questions like that are just accusations in disguise. And accusations like that will often be at least partly unfair. For instance, if someone says, "Why are you so immature?" what they're really saying is they think you're immature; and you don't need to give them a reasoned explanation of why you might not be the most mature person alive, or assume that if they think it, it must be true. They might be exaggerating things, or even just saying something in a moment of anger that they'll realise later they didn't really mean. Sometimes, people say things that make it sound as if another person's whole character is a certain way, when really, they're just annoyed because the person's just done one thing that was like that. So questions like that don't have to be taken that seriously.

So the author recommends people again respond to them by focusing on the disrespectful style of the question, rather than what the person actually said. So you could respond by saying things like,

"That's not a nice thing to say", or, "I don't deserve to be spoken to like that", or, "Because you think I am, it doesn't mean I am". And that kind of thing.

So even though you were asked a question, the idea is that you still respond as if it was an accusation.

Responding to Insensitive Comments Meant to be Helpful

Crying

The author says it's common for friends and families of battered women and even for a lot of healthcare professionals to not understand why the women are taking so long to get over what happened, and to make comments and ask questions in frustration or whatever that sound crass, when some of them are really well-meant. He says people can talk as if getting over the trauma of having been abused is a simple thing and you can just snap out of it or something.

He gives a list of the kinds of insensitive comments women who've left abusive relationships have had to put up with from friends, family and even therapists!:

  • You should be over it by now.
  • You need to focus on today and move on with your life.
  • You're not going to be able to get on with your life if you don't put it behind you.
  • What's the matter with you? You've got to let go and quit talking about it.
  • You've got to snap out of it.
  • You need to start beginning a new life and pretty much forget about it.
  • Don't think about it. If you stop thinking about it, it will go away.
  • You're just hanging on to this and being morbid.
  • It's almost as if you don't want to get over it.
  • Do you enjoy being upset all the time?
  • You have to stop wallowing in self-pity.
  • You shouldn't feel that way.

The author suggests ways of responding to questions and comments like that, in ways that will calm the situation down rather than antagonising the people who say things like that, as you might be tempted to do. He suggests people say things like:

  • I know you mean well. But it doesn't help for you to say that.
  • I would appreciate it if you don't ever say that again. It doesn't help and I know you want to help.
  • If you never say that again, we'll have a better relationship.

The Importance of Not Tolerating Disrespect

The author says that although we can't stop people talking to us in aggressive and disrespectful ways in the first place, we can control our exposure to what they say. A lot of the time, we'll be able to end the conversation, leave the situation, or end a relationship with someone who keeps talking to us disrespectfully.

He says we should make it a rule to only put up with being spoken to disrespectfully two or three times in a conversation where we've responded assertively to each instance where they did it, before we tell them we're going to end the conversation if they do it again.

Rehearsing Speaking Assertively to People

Talking

The author recommends that anyone not used to speaking assertively to people in the way he's just recommended could rehearse responding to aggressive statements with a friend or relative. First, the friend or relative could pretend to be the one making aggressive comments or asking aggressive questions, and you could practice responding calmly in the ways the author recommends. Then you could make the aggressive comments, and they could have a go at responding assertively. They might come up with answers that might give you more ideas for things to say. And you could keep swapping until you feel confident about talking to people assertively like that for real.

The author gives a list of the kinds of assertive things we could say when people say horrible things to us:

  • That's not a very nice thing to say, and it hurts my feelings.
  • Your saying that I'm (a certain way) doesn't mean it's true.
  • I don't deserve to be talked to that way.
  • That's an unkind thing to say.
  • That's a hurtful thing to say.
  • That's a nasty thing to say.
  • I would appreciate it if you didn't talk to me that way.
  • If you're going to continue to talk to me this way, I'm going to end this conversation.
  • I would appreciate it if you could say that in a nicer way.
  • Could you please say that another way?
  • If you never say that again, I'll be better off, and you and I will have a better relationship.
  • I know you mean well. But it does not help for you to say that.

It sounds as if we could say those things, and if the person responds with something abusive like, "Ooh, aren't you self-important", or anything like that, we can take no notice of the actual accusation they made to be nasty, and just say something again about the style of what they said.

The author says therapy clients have told him they've managed to stop conversations escalating into arguments that would have just made them feel bad by talking like that.

The Problem of Responding to People With Verbal Aggression

Arguing

The author says that most people probably get aggressive when someone says something argumentative to them. If someone says something angry to another person, it'll make them angry in response, so they'll respond angrily, and an argument will usually start.

He says it's very tempting to respond to aggressive comments with aggressive comments of your own. But to reduce the temptation, you can ask yourself what you want to gain from the conversation. If you just want to say something angry to try to upset the person who spoke aggressively to you, then being aggressive will be the way to do it; but when people are feeling antagonised, they're unlikely to do something you want, or stop doing something you don't want them to do; they're more likely to just argue with you and you'll end up getting nowhere. So if you want to influence them in any way, it's best not to use verbal aggression, and to respond in a way that won't antagonise them, so they're more likely to calm down. If you directly accuse them of something, they'll get indignant, because they won't like being accused of it. So they'll start an argument about it. But if you phrase things in such a way that the attention is focused on you and the way you feel about things rather than on them, they're more likely to listen. They won't necessarily, but they're more likely to.

Saying No to Things

Unsure of oneself

The author says a lot of women have difficulty saying no to requests and demands, even when the requests and demands are very unreasonable.

He says there are at least two reasons why battered women have difficulty saying no to things:

The first is that they say they don't want to hurt other people's feelings. But he says it's not really a case of them not wanting to hurt other people's feelings in itself, but a fear that if they do, there will be unpleasant consequences for them, for instance if the person gets angry with them.

The author says there was a woman in therapy who was very unassertive and scared to say no to anyone, and one day, a friend asked her if she'd like to go down to the beach with her. She didn't want to go, but she lied and said she'd like to. The therapist asked her if she did go, and she said she just hadn't turned up. She said that next time she saw her friend, she was going to make up an excuse about why she hadn't gone and say she was very sorry. She justified her behaviour as not wanting to hurt her friend's feelings, but actually, her friend was far more upset that she'd said she'd go and then didn't turn up than she would have been if she'd said in the first place that she didn't want to go. Perhaps all she would have needed to say was something like, "Sorry, I don't feel like it today". She got immediate relief from her worries by saying she'd go, but the relationship suffered for it.

Actually, I know someone like that. She said she's even done things like asking a friend to do some work in her house, and then changed her mind about wanting it done, but not told her friend, thinking she was worried she'd hurt his feelings or about what would happen if she did; so her friend took several measurements and planned how to do things, and only afterwards did she say she didn't want the work done, and her friend had far more of a go at her than he would have done if she told him she'd changed her mind when she first did.

The author says the other reason battered women are often afraid to say no is that they'd feel selfish or rude, and that would make them feel guilty.

I heard about someone who would never say no when people in her church group and relatives asked her to do something, like cook for them, but she was angry at feeling she had to do things like that when she didn't want to, so she would get quite emotional in private and have panic attacks.

I think you pretend to want to do a lot of the things you'll say you'll do, when you'd rather not really.

The author says that everyone has the right to refuse to spend time with people they don't want to spend time with, and to refuse to spend time doing things for others they'd rather not do. After all, you're just as important as anyone else, and your needs are just as important as theirs. And when it comes to things they just want rather than need, it's perfectly reasonable to put your needs for privacy, relaxation, to get your own things done, and so on, first.

How You Can Say No Without Giving Reasons Why

Disagreeing

The author says it's important for people to be able to say no without giving reasons why if they don't want to, because it could save arguments where someone's trying to persuade you your reasons for saying no aren't very good and you give in in the end when you'd rather not.

Oh yes, that reminds me; I remember hearing someone saying they didn't like just coming out and saying no to things, so they'd make up excuses for why they couldn't do things. But it sounded bad. For instance, they said they might be asked if they wanted to go to a party, and instead of just politely saying no or just giving one reason why they couldn't go, they'd give one excuse, and then another, and then another, and then another, trying to think of as many as they could so they'd look as if they had a good enough reason for not going. But what really happened was that the other person might have accepted the first reason, but by the time they'd come out with about four, it was obvious they were just thinking up excuses, so they sounded bad.

Turning Down a Request For a Date

Romantic dinner

The author suggests that if someone asks you to go out with them and you don't want to, you could simply say something like, "It's nice of you to ask, but no thanks."

He suggests that if the person asks you why you won't go out with him or starts trying to persuade you, you could just say something similar again, like, "I can't; but thanks anyway."

He says if they still try to persuade you, you could say something that sounds firmer, like,

"I'm not available to go out with you, and I have to go. Goodbye."

He advises that if you're on the phone, you hang up then; and if you're face to face, you say something like, "Excuse me", and walk away.

But it's important to sound firm and authoritative, not flustered, because if you sound authoritative, it'll sound as if you mean to have the last word on the matter; but if you sound flustered, it'll make them feel like arguing more. Perhaps you could practice a firm tone of voice in private.

Turning Down Requests From Friends and Family

The author says a lot of battered women feel awkward about refusing requests from friends and family members, especially since they often try to talk them out of the reasons they've given for saying no. But the author says that just giving simple refusals might be a lot easier than you think, and a lot easier than making excuses and then having to discuss them.

He says one client in therapy felt sure that if she said what her therapist recommended to her and told her mother, "I can't make it", her mother would get angry and stop speaking to her. But a couple of weeks later, her mother asked her to do something at the weekend, and she said, "I can't this weekend". Her mother just said, "OK". The woman was amazed at how easy it had been, and at her next therapy session, she said it had made her feel really empowered.

Turning Down Requests That You Buy Something

On the phone

The author says when we're turning down door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers, it's important that we keep the conversation as brief as possible.

He says that when they phone us up, as soon as we realise it's a sales call, we could just say something like,

"I'm not interested thanks, but have a nice day. Goodbye."

He suggests other phrases like that, like,

"I'm not interested in buying anything. I don't want to take any of your valuable time. Goodbye."

Actually, when one of them phones me up, I just say something like,

"I'm not interested thanks."

And if they try to insist they're only doing a survey, not selling something, or something like that, I just say again, "Yes, but I'm not interested, thanks; bye." Then I put the phone down.

The author suggests another thing you could say is,

"I don't have time for this call. Goodbye."

He says that might sound rude, but it's best to tell them straight, because it'll be wasting their time as well as your own if you keep them on the phone when all along you don't want what they're selling.

He says it is possible to get on a list of people who don't want to be called that gets sent round to marketing companies.

Refusing to Talk About Something You'd Rather Keep to Yourself

The author says some formerly battered women think that if someone asks them something, they have to tell them what they said they wanted to know. But really, you don't. He says what's in your mind belongs to you and you have the choice as to whether to reveal it to anyone else or not. He says you can get out of saying anything about it by saying things like,

"I'd prefer not to talk about that. Can we change the subject please?"

He says that's similar to saying no without giving reasons why. Other people don't need to know the reasons. The reasons are your business, and you don't have to give them if you don't want to.

Saying No After You Said Yes

The author says sometimes, people say yes to something, but then realise they'd really rather do something else they need to do or want to do. He says it's perfectly reasonable to change your mind after you've considered new information you didn't think of at the time, just as he said it was when he was talking about breaking promises to husbands.

He gives the example of if you agree to help someone with something over the weekend, but then decide you need or really want to do something else instead that you won't have time for if you help them. He suggests you contact them, and tell them without beating around the bush, something like,

"I know I said I'd help you at the weekend, but I didn't realise how much I have to do. I won't be able to help you after all. Sorry."

Or he says you could say something like,

"I'm not going to be able to make it after all, sorry; I've got some other things I need to do."

Talking About Feelings and Wants

Talking

The author says it's important that if we want other people to do something for us or behave in a certain way, we tell them how we feel and what we'd like them to do, or they won't know. Some people might behave in ways we don't want them to, simply because they don't know what we want.

O Yes. I remember someone saying she would always hint that she wanted things, and then feel hurt because her husband didn't take any notice. Then she realised she wasn't being clear enough about what she wanted; he couldn't be expected to understand that when she said something looked nice in a shop, for example, she meant she wanted him to buy it for her.

Talking About Feelings

The author says that when we're talking about unpleasant feelings we have, it's best to talk about them in terms of being upset rather than angry. Anger often comes on because we're upset anyway. He says it's best to talk about being hurt or upset or something like that, rather than to talk about being angry, because when people think someone's feeling hurt, they'll often feel caring towards them and want to help, whereas if you say you're angry with someone, they'll often go on the defensive and get angry back.

So he suggests people use phrases like,

"I'm upset ...", "My feelings are hurt ...", "I'm feeling anxious ...", "I'm feeling sad ...", and "I'm disappointed ...". That kind of thing.

Talking About Our Wants

The author recommends that to be sure we're making ourselves understood, we're clear about what we want. So, for example, we might say things like,

"I think it would be nice if we could go and see a film I like tonight."

"I'd prefer it if you didn't call me after 8:00 PM on week nights."

"I'd appreciate you not borrowing my belongings without my permission."

"It would be nice if you could pick me up today after work."

"I'd appreciate it if you could keep your voices down."

The author says talking like that gives the other person the impression that they can please you by doing what you want, and they might like to think they can do that, so it might make it more likely that they'll do what you want. But he says you do have to be clear about what you want.

He suggests other phrases that give the impression that someone can please you by doing what you want:

  • It would really please me if ...
  • You'd make my day if you would ...
  • It would really make me happy if you would ...
  • You'd be doing me a big favour if ...
  • I'd be grateful if ...

The Mistake of Phrasing Requests Like Questions

The author says a lot of people phrase requests as if what they're really doing is asking questions, and it can even damage marriages if they often communicate like that, because the other person will keep thinking they're just asking a question, and so they give their opinion, and it might be an answer the person asking the question doesn't like, so they think the one who answered the question is being unkind, when really, the person who answered just didn't realise the one who asked the question was saying they wanted something.

For instance, a person might say, "Do you feel like having pizza tonight for tea?" and the person they say it to might say, "Not particularly", and the person who asked the question might be disappointed and think the other person's refusing to do what they want and have pizza, when really, the other person didn't realise they meant they really wanted pizza, and if they'd said, "I think it would be nice if we had pizza tonight" instead, the one they said it to might have said, "Allright then", and been happy to have pizza.

When Someone Doesn't Do What You Want

The author says that when people don't do what you want, there are ways of telling them what the consequences will be or asking for what you want again, where you sound firm, but not angry.

He says what you say could be phrased something like,

"If you don't ... then I will have no choice but to ..."

or perhaps, "If you won't ... then I'm going to ..."

He gives the example of if you want someone you're disagreeing with to speak more quietly, and they won't after you've asked them to. You could say something like,

"If you won't lower your voice, I'm going to end this conversation." Then he says you should end the conversation if they won't. You shouldn't make threats you don't intend to keep, or they'll stop believing what you say and ignore it in future, until you start keeping them.

But he says it would be too harsh to say you're going to end the conversation before you've even said you'd like them to soften their voice once yet.

Being Assertive When Children Won't Do What you Say

Angry Child

The author says if children won't do what you say after you've asked them nicely and then been a bit more firm with them, it's perfectly reasonable to enforce penalties against them, that you decide on beforehand. For instance, you could have a rule that if they don't pick up their toys after they've been asked nicely and then firmly, they don't watch television till they've picked them up; or if they don't do what you say in everyday things, they get sent to their room or have to go and sit in the corner for five minutes.

Actually, I've heard quite a few childcare experts recommending people send children to sit in the corner or to their rooms for the same number of minutes as they are years old; so, for example, if a three-year-old misbehaved and wouldn't stop, you'd put them in the corner for three minutes, and if it was a four-year-old it would be four minutes, and so on. I think there are some good websites with parenting advice on the Internet if you ever want any.

The author recommends you could use phrases to children like, "If you do that again, then you're going to have to ...", or, "If you don't ... then ...".

So, for example, you might say things like,

"If you talk to me that way again, you're going to have to go to your room for five minutes."

But that would usually be after you've asked them nicely to stop talking like that.

Actually, I was watching a television programme once about a childcare expert advising parents, and she said the tone of the voice is important as well. She said the voice has more authority if you don't shout as if you're beginning to lose control, but instead you lower your voice and speak firmly.

When People in the Workplace Won't Do What you Want

Boring office

The author says conflict in the workplace can cause stress that goes on for so long that some people leave, or some people go to the supervisor without telling the person they're having the arguments with that they're planning to do that, and that damages the relationship with them. He says there are stress management techniques that can cut down a lot of the aggravation that conflict causes and help resolve arguments.

He suggests that if someone's being a nuisance, and you've tried to sort the matter out with them before but they won't listen, you could perhaps say something firm like,

"As I said before, I'd really like to sort this problem out, just between the two of us. But if we can't work it out, I'll have no choice but to go to see the supervisor."

The author says threatening to go to the supervisor at the first signs of conflict might be a bit extreme; but if they show no signs of wanting to work the problem out, then it's reasonable.

Sexual or Other Kinds of Harassment

The author says a lot of unassertive women don't say much if anything at all when they hear comments they think are sexually inappropriate. But he says there has been research that's found that if you don't comment, it often gets worse, and can sometimes lead to actual victimisation.

He recommends that if someone makes a remark we find sexually offensive, but that might not necessarily have been meant to be, we could perhaps ignore it the first time if we don't think it's likely to happen again, or we could say something fairly tame like, "I'd appreciate you not using that kind of language", or, "I found that remark offensive. I hope you never say anything like it again."

But he says if it's obviously meant to be malicious or very disrespectful, he advises people to refuse to put up with it altogether, perhaps saying something like,

"That is sexual harassment. I will not tolerate someone saying that. If you ever say something like that again, I will have no choice but to report it immediately. I mean it."

The author says you should respond like that if someone touches you inappropriately as well.

Being Assertive With Boyfriends or Husbands

The author gives an example of how you could be assertive if the other person isn't taking your wishes into account enough.

Eating pizza

He says one woman was in therapy who went out with her boyfriend after a therapy session on assertiveness. He wasn't abusive as such, but he wasn't a very attractive character. They went for a pizza, and he wanted a combination one. She agreed, but asked if they could just have the pepperoni on one side, since she didn't like it.

He said, "What's the big deal? You can just pick it off!"

She said, "You're right, it's not a big deal to pick off the pepperoni. It's also not a big deal to have the pepperoni on one side of the pizza."

She asked him if he'd rather have pizza with her, or whether he'd rather she went home.

They ended up enjoying the night out, having the pizza the way she wanted it.

The author says being assertive can increase self-confidence and cut down stress because we can cope with situations better. So he says it can cut down trauma symptoms because you're coping better with the stress.


Part Nine
If You Have to See the Person who Abused You Again


Fortune knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.
--Author Unknown

For some reason, we see divorce as a signal of failure, despite the fact that each of us has a right, and an obligation, to rectify any other mistake we make in life.
--Joyce Brothers

The author says you don't have to feel as if you're the only one going through anxiety at the thought of meeting your husband - a lot of women who were battered are really anxious about the thought of meeting their ex-partner again or him phoning them up.

He recommends that women avoid getting into arguments with their former abuser if their relationship with them is well-and-truly over, by just stating if he contacts them that the relationship's over and there's nothing to talk about, no matter what the abuser says. He might try to persuade you to reconcile with him, or argue with you about your reasons for leaving the relationship; but if you're determined it's over, arguing about it will be bound to just stress you out. Since you're not going to change your mind, you don't need to allow him to get you into arguments. All he needs to know is that the relationship's over and there's nothing to talk about.

But the author says abusers tend to be really manipulative. He says it's common for abusers to try one thing and then another and then another to get what they want. He says they might, for instance, start off by being really complimentary; and then if that doesn't work, they might say they just can't live without you, playing on the feelings you have for them; and if that doesn't work, they might try to make you feel guilty about deserting them or depriving the children of a father or things; and if that doesn't work, they might raise their voice or become verbally abusive.

He recommends some things women can do so they're less likely to have to go through all that. The things might be easier said than done, but it sounds as if they're worth trying:

  • Plan and rehearse what you'd like to say to your ex-partner so you'll be prepared if you do have the misfortune to meet, even if you don't think it's that likely you will. And if he does contact you, stick to saying what you rehearsed, and don't say any more.
  • If and when he does contact you, keep the conversation as brief as you can, even aiming for it to last seconds rather than minutes.
  • Speak softly and slowly in a matter-of-fact way. That way, your voice will sound authoritative, so he's less likely to think he's getting to you. If you meet face to face, look him straight in the eye.
  • Say the same things over and over again, no matter what he says, and no matter why he says he's contacting you.

The Types of Things You Can Say to Ex-Partners Who Contact You

The author recommends you use those assertiveness techniques he was talking about, and says remember that the way you spend your time is up to you, and no one else has the right to manipulate you into using your time in a way you'd prefer not to.

He says the most important thing is that you refuse to tolerate disrespect, and that you keep unwanted communication between yourself and your ex-partner extremely brief.

Face-to-Face Communication

Nervous

The author recommends that if your abuser comes up to you, you say something like,

"Our relationship's over. There's nothing to discuss. Please excuse me". And then walk away.

He says if your ex-partner follows you and tries to keep talking to you, say something like,

"If you don't leave, I will have no choice but to ..." and then say what seems most appropriate, whether that be "call a manager" or security guard, or scream, or tell the police he violated his restraining order, or whatever.

Communication by Phone

The author recommends that if your ex-partner phones you up, you say the same type of thing he recommends you say if you meet him face-to-face. So he says you could say something like,

"Our relationship is over. There is nothing to discuss. Please don't call again. I have to go. Goodbye."

Then hang up.

Again, he recommends you try to speak in a matter-of-fact way, slowly, without raising your voice.

The author says sometimes ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends keep phoning back even though the woman keeps saying she has nothing to say. He says if yours does that, he recommends that the next time he phones, you say something like,

"I have nothing more to say. Please don't phone me any more. If you do and I hear your voice, I'm going to put the phone down without speaking to you."

He recommends that you answer all calls after that in a cheerful voice, and if you hear it's him, just softly put the phone down without saying anything.

What You Can Do If You Have to Speak to him Because of the Children

Unhappy

The author says some battered women have to speak to their ex-husbands because their husbands are allowed to see the children or they have joint custody with them. He says the communication the ex-husband and wife have is most often by phone, and the ex-husbands often use the opportunity to say hurtful and abusive things to their ex-wives, making accusations against them, or trying to make them feel small by saying things like, "You're too needy", or, "You're a bad mother", or, "You're crazy", or other abusive things like that.

The author says that if they start going on like that, you say to them something like,

"You have a relationship with the children, but you do not have a relationship with me. If you bring up anything other than something important to do with the children, I'm going to say goodbye. Also, if you criticize me or put me down, I'm going to say goodbye."

He recommends that if the calls are mainly for the purpose of speaking to the children, you just say hello, and then immediately call the children, simply saying something like, "Your father's on the phone", and then pass it over straightaway without saying another word to him.

Role-Playing Speaking to Him

The author says that because meeting him or speaking to him unexpectedly might make you feel really anxious, and when people are feeling really anxious, it's much more difficult to think straight and behave in an authoritative way, because you might freeze up or do the first thing that comes into your head and forget everything you'd planned to do, it can help if you get used to behaving in the way you'd like to by acting out conversations you can imagine having with him with friends and family members who are sympathetic. That way, if he phones or you meet him unexpectedly, coming across the way you'd like to will come more naturally, because you'll be more used to it.

So what you could do is pretend you're your ex-husband phoning up, and your friend's you being firm with you, saying they have nothing to say to you, whatever you say to them. You could practice that for a while, and then you could swap roles, and your friend could be your ex-husband while you're imagining you're yourself talking to him and being firm with him, saying you're not going to speak to him any more. You could do that till you feel comfortable with it.

Hey Dawn, we could do that together.


Part Ten
Exposing Yourself to Harmless Reminders of the Abuse


Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.
Dorothy Thompson

Fear is a tyrant and a despot, more terrible than the rack, more potent than the snake.
--Edgar Wallace, The Clue of the Twisted Candle 1916

Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it.
--Lt. John B. Putnam Jr. (1921-1944)

The author says a lot of women avoid things that remind them of their abuse, and it can get so they're not doing a lot of the things they used to enjoy, which is a shame, and it also keeps them feeling fearful, because every time they might be at risk of having to face a reminder of the abuse, they feel anxious. For instance, he says some women used to love going to the beach, but one day their abuser assaulted them on the beach, and now they hate going there and feel anxious near the beach. He says in therapy, women are often given a questionnaire asking what they avoid, and after they've filled it in, they're often really surprised at the realisation of just how many things they avoid, and they think it's really blighting their life, so they want to get over it.

He says a way to get used to doing those things again and so not feeling fearful around them any more, and starting to enjoy things you used to enjoy again that you were put off doing because they started reminding you of the abuse, is to start gradually exposing yourself to more and more harmless things that remind you of the abuse, till you get more used to doing them and can do more things that remind you of the abuse without it making you anxious, because the brain will stop thinking it needs to set off anxiety/danger signals whenever you do or hear or see those things and other things like them, because you will have trained it to think of them as harmless by getting used to the harmless reminders of your abuse you're exposing yourself to. You do that gradually, so it doesn't set off so many anxiety signals in the brain when you start that you can't cope with them. It might set off a few, but they'll probably die down once the brain knows it's a false alarm.

Looking at Pictures of Your Abuser

Hiding under a chair

Do you have any pictures of him? It won't be surprising if you don't.

The author says a lot of women tear up pictures of their former partner because they remind them of the abuse. But if you do have some, and looking at them makes your brain set off the alarm signals that make you anxious, then the book recommends you look at them for a short time every day, till looking at them without anything bad happening has convinced the part of your brain that sets the alarm signals off that it's allright to do that, so doing that doesn't make you anxious any more.

The book recommends that women who used to be in abusive relationships look at pictures of their abusers for five minutes a day, until they can do that without feeling anxious about it.

Actually, I don't see why you couldn't work up to that in stages if you want, so on the first day, you look at them for thirty seconds, perhaps, and you do that for a few days till you've stopped being so bothered by it; and then you move on to looking at them for a minute each day for a few days till that stops bothering you so much; and then you move on to looking at them for two minutes each day till that stops bothering you; and then you move on to looking at them for four minutes for several days till that stops bothering you; and then you can move up to the five minutes till that doesn't bother you any more.

Setting a Time to Look at The Pictures

A clock

The author recommends you set a time which will be your 'Looking at pictures of your former abuser' time every day, some time you can be fairly sure you won't be interrupted.

He suggests the bathroom could be a good place to go for some private time, because you're more likely to be able to be uninterrupted there. But he says that wouldn't be a good thing for anyone who had a bad experience there, so they could choose somewhere else.

Setting a time of day when you'll look at the pictures each day will mean you don't keep anxiously thinking of how you must look at them later and then just not get around to it, which would be easy to do otherwise.

The author says that within three or four weeks, you may well be able to look at pictures of him without feeling any anxiety. And then, if you meet him for real, you'll hopefully feel less anxious as well.

The Benefits of Looking at Pictures of Him

The author says that once you've got used to looking at pictures of your former abuser without it making you anxious, then seeing him for real won't make you so anxious. That way you'll be able to keep a clearer head when you're deciding what to do if you meet him unexpectedly.

Just Imagining Looking at Your Ex-Partner

The author says it's also a good exercise to imagine you're looking at your ex-partner, for the same number of minutes as you look at his pictures for, just afterwards. You could do that by Closing your eyes and just imagining him standing in front of you not doing anything. (When you open your eyes, at any time you like, you can at least be reassured that he isn't really there and you're free to do what you want).

The author says it's best to try to imagine him as vividly as possible. Again, if you do that and get used to it, you're less likely to panic if you ever meet him for real.

The author says it can help if anyone who hasn't got any pictures of their ex-partner just imagines they're looking at him for twice as long, so it's the same amount of time as it would be if they're looking at pictures and then just imagining looking at him.

Introducing Sounds and Smells That Remind You of Your Former Abuser to Make Imagining Him More Realistic

Scared

The author says imagining him every day for a few minutes will cut down your anxiety most in the end if you imagine him as realistically as you can, including reminding yourself of other things about him as well, so you end up getting desensitised to looking at what's as close as possible to the real thing.

Maybe you could start off for a few days just looking at the pictures and imagining him. Then, when you're not feeling so anxious about the idea, perhaps you could introduce other things.

The author suggests you could get something that reminds you of what he smelled like. So for instance, if he used to wear some kind of after-shave or other scent a lot, you could maybe buy a little bottle of that and sniff it while you're looking at his pictures. Or if he often used to smell of drink, you could perhaps buy a little bottle of the type he liked and pour some on a towel and sniff it while you're looking at the pictures or imagining him, as long as that won't make you want some. You could always stop whenever you want if it makes you feel too anxious. Then you can start again when you've calmed down a bit. In fact, you could calm yourself down a bit before you continue if you like by breathing really slowly for a few minutes, maybe with your mouth closed to make it slower, or doing a bit of that muscle relaxation, like clenching your fists several times, holding them clenched for a while, and then slowly relaxing them.

Anyway, hopefully you'll soon be able to look at the pictures without needing to calm down. Things will hopefully get better after a bit of an anxious start.

Another thing the author recommends is that you listen to your former abuser's favourite music or a song he particularly liked, or that reminds you of him, while you're looking at his pictures. Again, maybe you could start off by just looking at them. And then start listening to his favourite music while you're looking at them after a few days. And again, if it starts to make you feel anxious, you could always turn it off, calm yourself down a bit and then carry on. You'll have total control over it, and over the amount of time you spend looking at the pictures and thinking of him.

Things You Can Do to Control Your Anxiety Levels During the Time You're Imagining Your Former Abuser

Worried

Apart from slowing your breathing right down, and thinking about where your body might be tense, and relaxing any muscles that seem particularly tense by tensing them up hard for several seconds and then slowly relaxing them while taking notice of any sensations of relaxation you can feel in them, there are other things you can do to control your anxiety levels:

The author recommends you be very aware of the thoughts passing through your head, and don't start dragging yourself down by thinking thoughts that make you feel guilty or stupid or worthless, or that depress you in some other way. Remember the types of things you can say to yourself to contradict those types of thoughts if you do start getting them.

Also, he recommends you try not to think any bad things about your abuser while you're looking at his pictures that'll just get you angry and might ruin the rest of your day. For instance, if you started thinking, "He's got an evil look on his face. He was a complete sociopath; perhaps he even had a serial killer mentality", or things like that, you might get more and more angry till it ruins your day. So it's best if you can think about the way he looked without getting absorbed in angry thoughts.

You probably won't get really really upset, but if you do start feeling really distressed while you're looking at the pictures, it might be as well to stop doing the exposure sessions for a while, and maybe to call a friend for support. There are crisis lines you can ring if you feel that bad as well. You can probably find some numbers on the Internet.

Doing Activities That Remind You of the Abuse

Doing a sport

The author says a lot of women who've been battered avoid doing things or going to places that remind them of the abuse or their abuser. He says things women he's spoken to in therapy have avoided have included:

Exercising; watching sports on TV; reading articles on violence; watching the news or TV programs that depict violence; eating certain kinds of food; and wearing makeup, jewellery, or certain kinds of clothes.

He says examples of places women who've spoken to him and other therapists he knows have avoided include beaches, parks, restaurants, and shopping centres.

He recommends you think of all the places and activities you avoid nowadays because they remind you of the abuse, and gradually start going to them and doing them again.

Remember I was telling you about what causes panic attacks?

If a panic attack starts to come on in one of those places, remember all the physical symptoms are just your body getting ready to run away or fight, increasing its oxygen supply and sending blood to the big muscles, because something in the brain has set alarm signals in motion that make the body start preparing to run away or fight. The brain can do that because part of it can think there's danger when really you're just feeling anxious because you've been worrying so much, or it recognises somewhere where you were once in danger, and just in case you're in danger there again, it immediately sets the alarm signals off again in case you need the energy from the adrenaline boost it gives you to run away or fight, before you have time to think about whether you need it or not. So if you start having a panic attack in one of those places, that'll be what's going on.

If you just feel anxious, it'll still be your brain setting off alarm signals when it doesn't really need to, if your ex-partner's nowhere around. The brain can do that because it associates the places or things with the abuse and sets them off before you have time to think, or because you've been worrying so much about doing those things or going to those places that you've made yourself really anxious.

But the more you do those things and go to those places and find there's no danger in them after all, the less anxious you'll probably be about going there and doing them. Brains get used to the idea that those things aren't dangerous after all and stop sending out the alarm signals.

The author says some people have ended up enjoying the things again that they used to enjoy but stopped doing because they reminded them of the abuse.


Part Eleven
How to Avoid Getting Involved in an Abusive Relationship Again


Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
--Oscar Wilde

The author says there are several ways you can spot men who are likely to be abusive long before you get romantically involved with them, so you can learn how to spot them and weed them out before you get attached to them, so you don't have to be scared of getting into another relationship in the future in case it's abusive.

Signs That a Man is Likely to Turn Out to Be Abusive

The author describes twenty early signs that a man's likely to become abusive:

  1. Possessiveness: The author says a man who might well get abusive in the future might be very possessive and over-controlling. A girlfriend of his might feel as if he thinks he owns her. He might want to keep her all to himself and try to control when and where she spends her time. He might want to do everything with just the two of them. He might want you to stop doing activities that you do without him. He might want you to stop spending time with close friends and family even.

    He might insist you tell him exactly where you're going and when, and keep checking up on you to find out whether you're where you said you would be.

    The author says receiving several phone calls a day from a man might be seen as quite flattering at first by a lot of women. They might think it means he must really like them. But even if the calls seem loving, repeated calls like that border on stalking. It's just as unhealthy if he persuades you to phone him all the time. Continually wanting to know where you are and what you're doing is a sign of an unhealthy desire to control you. It'll still mean he wants to do that even if he sounds loving at first, saying things like,

    "Hey honey, I called you at three o'clock and you didn't answer. Where were you?"

  2. Jealousy: The author says jealousy is a huge warning sign. He says if someone you're thinking of having as a boyfriend is even slightly jealous, you should forget the idea! He says jealous men are insecure, tend to be very possessive and controlling, and are at high risk for becoming abusive.
  3. Dislike of your family or friends: The author says a man who's likely to become abusive will often find fault with or otherwise bad-mouth your friends or family. It can be quite a warning sign, since if he starts to put pressure on you to see less and less of them, you could end up isolated from them. That way, you'll be isolated from people who could support you and help you out of the relationship, or give opinions of him that might help you see him for what he really is. After that, you'll be more vulnerable to his abuse, and more likely to come to believe any horrible things he says about you, since you won't have supportive people around you who can convince you they're not true.
  4. In a hurry to get romantically involved: The author says it's common for abusive men to try to sweep women off their feet and rush them into romantic relationships. And they'll often try early on to get commitments from women to not go out with anyone else but them. He says they rush women into sexual relationships, rush women into moving in with them, and rush women into marriage. He says one woman who went through his therapy program had had four abusive husbands, and she married every one of them within two months of having met them.

    He says rushing a woman into a relationship is a bit like stalking or obsessively checking up on them, because, if a man's spending lots of time with a woman, he always knows where she is and knows she can't be spending time with other men.

  5. Lying: The author says lying is another big warning sign. He says if you catch a possible boyfriend in even the smallest lie, you should drop him like a hot coal. He says predatory men are pathological liars, and even lie when there is no reason to lie. He says an example of a conversation with one might go something like this:

    Woman: Why did you say you weren't at the shopping centre yesterday?
    Man: Because I wasn't there.
    Woman: My sister saw you there!
    Man: Your sister's nuts.

  6. Secretiveness: The author says an abusive man will often be secretive about his activities or where he's going. There can often be big gaps in his time when you don't know where he was. And there will often be certain things he doesn't want to talk about, like his previous relationships with women. He might often talk on the phone with people and not tell you who they are. That can sometimes mean he's involved in some kind of illegal activity, such as using or dealing drugs. The author says some women don't find out until well into a relationship with an abusive man that he was using drugs or was a drug dealer.
  7. Imposition of his opinions or beliefs: The author says abusive men will often try to force you to adopt their opinions or worldviews. He says abusive men are opinionated, often with traditional sex-role beliefs conveniently favouring the dominance and authority of men in relationships with women.
  8. Belittling of your opinions or beliefs The author says abusive men will often belittle your opinions in even subtle ways, for instance, saying things like, "You're so naive. Where have you been for the last twenty years? You really don't know what you're talking about."
  9. Oh yes, I think a common one is, "You're going crazy; you obviously have mental problems", isn't it!

  10. A bad temper: The author says a lot of abusive men are "explosive". Abusive men might have a bad temper, even if most of the time they seem to be happy-go-lucky or mellow.
  11. Physical aggression with someone else: You might well see an abusive man - or hear stories about him - being physically aggressive with someone else. The author says Abusive men who are violent outside the relationship as well as with their girlfriends or wives are as a group the most violent in their marriages.
  12. Verbal mistreatment of other people: The author says if someone you're thinking of going out with is being nice to you, but you see or hear him being verbally abusive to someone else, such as an employee or relative, it's a cause for concern. Even though he might be loving to you at the time, the time will come when he turns that verbal abusiveness on you.
  13. Blames others for his problems or mistakes: The author says abusive men will often blame others, such as their boss, you, or other people, for their own mistakes or problems of their own making. If something goes wrong, it's always somebody else's fault.
  14. "Playful" use of force during sex: The author says some abusive men get unduly rough during sex in the name of "fun." They might throw their wives/girlfriends down, and/or hold them down against their will during sex.
  15. A regular or past heavy user of alcohol or drugs: The author says it's been discovered that a lot of men with histories of heavy alcohol or drug abuse are sociopathic, and will often get abusive with their wives. He says about the only place that is more risky for meeting a batterer than a bar is an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
  16. Reputation as a womaniser: The author says if a possible boyfriend has a reputation as a womaniser, or if you know he has cheated on someone in the past, think of it as a potential danger sign. He says another thing to do is that if he's been married before, ask him if he wore a wedding ring, since a lot of abusive men don't wear wedding rings, because they don't want women they flirt and try to get sexually involved with to know they're married.
  17. Unreliability: The author says a lot of abusive men are irresponsible and extremely unreliable, breaking their word all the time. He might promise to ring at a certain time over and over again, and never do it. He might keep assuring you he'll give you a lift when you ask him to, and keep not turning up. There might be a number of things he keeps saying he'll do, but he never does them when he says he will.
  18. Acts differently when you are alone than when you are with others: The author says an abuser might be sweet and loving towards you when the two of you are alone, but seems distant when you're with other people, especially your female friends or other women. He might well be behaving like that because he might not want other women to know he's in a relationship with another woman, so he can get flirty with them and they won't object on the grounds that they know he's already with someone. The author says he knew a battered woman in therapy whose husband's friends and colleagues didn't even know she and her husband were married.
  19. Invasion of your privacy: The author says a lot of abusive men have no scruples about invading the privacy of their girlfriends and wives, and they might even accuse their girlfriends and wives of "making a big deal over nothing" if they complain about it. He might open your letters or look at your emails. He might want to look through any phone messages left for you. He might look through your purse, and through your clothes and other things.
  20. Cruelty to animals or children: The author says abusive men will often mistreat animals. Also, they can often expect children to do things that are way beyond their ability to do. They might tease a child until he or she cries.
  21. Charm or charisma: The author says a lot of predatory men can be extremely charming, witty, and fun to be with. He says they can also seem to be very caring or understanding when a woman tells them about problems in her past, and some can even cry on demand.

    He says charm or charisma certainly isn't a definite sign that a man's going to become abusive, but abusive men as a group are probably far more charming than men who are not going to abuse their girlfriends or wives. He says one of the reasons many abusive men are capable of being so charming is probably that they might have no trouble giving women compliments that are exaggerations or lies. So he advises that women should be suspicious if a man is extremely complimentary, for example, if he tells you how absolutely wonderful you are before he really knows you.

This book has quite a few tips in it about how people can cut down the risk of being fooled into another disastrous relationship:

Things You Can Do to Identify a Potential Abuser Early On

The author of this book says it's common for women who were abused in former relationships to be anxious when they're starting a new relationship, because the man's on his best behaviour and they're not confident they're going to be able to tell if he's the type of man who's going to get abusive or not. He says there are things you can do early on to provoke a possible boyfriend into revealing his true nature so you can tell better.

Arguing

He says sociopathic, controlling men are not skilled at resolving conflict in a friendly way and have no interest in learning how to. They're selfish and just want to impose their own wishes on people, not to take into account the other person's point of view and find a respectful way to solve the disagreements. He says you can often tell in marriage counselling that isn't working that one partner just isn't interested in resolving problems in a peaceful way.

He says abusive men can be very charming and fool a lot of people into thinking they're really nice when things are going well for them; but they're very self-centred and controlling, and will get abusive when people won't let them have their way. Then, you'll be able to tell what they're really like!

He says it's important that you do things that help you find out he's like that early on in the relationship, before you get emotionally involved with him, so you can dump him without it making you feel bad.

I know you hate the idea of provoking people in case they get nasty.

But the author says doing it early on in the relationship won't be dangerous, since before a man's got you emotionally involved, he'll know any real nastiness will put you off him and you'll stop going out with him.

The author says most women don't become really emotionally involved or get really committed to make a relationship work with a man until there has been some kind of sexual intimacy. Often a woman might not get emotionally attached to him till they're married or they've moved in together or she gets pregnant. He says abusive men rarely abuse the women they're in a relationship with till they've had sex (or at least till he feels sure he's going to get it, whether she thinks so or not) or till she's moved in with him or is otherwise seriously involved with him. He says a lot of women are first battered on their wedding day or soon afterwards!

So he says provoking conflict right at the beginning of a relationship won't have the same risks.

You could always provoke him over the phone, or in a public place, or by email or something, anyway, maybe.

Crying

The author says it's common for people who've been in violent relationships to avoid conflict, both because arguments and raised voices bring back horrible reminders of the arguments that led to violence in the past, and because they're worried that arguments and raised voices will spark off violence again. But he says you'll be protecting yourself from possible abusers by provoking arguments very early on in the relationship, because then you can find out how a possible boyfriend handles conflict. If he handles it well, you can be more sure he'd make a good partner. If he doesn't, you can dump him before you've got attached to him.

Ways You Can Provoke Conflict to Find Out What Kind of Person he Is

Disagree and Be Supposedly Selfish

Disagreeing

The author recommends that women disagree and be "selfish" early on in a relationship with a possible new boyfriend. He means you should Argue your viewpoints when they're different from his, and disagree out loud with him when you have a different opinion. He advises that you make a point of disagreeing with the man about anything you can disagree on - politics, sports, what television programmes you prefer, and anything else where your opinions are different from his.

He recommends you insist on getting your wants met in the relationship, as well as on engaging in activities you enjoy as well as those he enjoys. He says you shouldn't be so nice that you're willing to do anything he wants to do. For example, you might say, "We've been out to two places you wanted to go to, and haven't been somewhere I've chosen to go yet. This Saturday evening, I'd like us to go to a place of my choosing."

The author says that if you say something like that on the second or third date, and the man says something like, "What are you, a feminist?" you can say something like, "Nice knowing you", and not go out with him again.

The author says a lot of formerly battered women don't like feeling as if they're "making a fuss over little things". But he says that's just what he's advising you to do, so you can detect the warning signs of possible abusive behaviour and get out of the relationship if it turns out not to be worth being in.

He says for women with children, a good thing to do would be to insist that every other time you get together with the man, the children are there and you do a family-type thing. He says a lot of abusive men won't like that, because they'd prefer getting together with just the two of you so they can influence you more.

He says one of their therapy clients narrowly avoided getting involved with an abuser after she accidentally provoked conflict with him on their second date. They were driving to a restaurant when he saw something out of the corner of his eye and said, "Don't turn around." People would usually turn around on reflex if someone said that to them, before they thought about what they were doing. And she did. The man started verbally abusing her, hurling obscenities and insults. When they got to the restaurant, she asked him to take her home, and she never went out with him again.

The author says some abusive men who think you're the kind of woman who wants equality in a relationship won't even call back for a second date. So it's as if they're weeding themselves out!

Postpone Sexual Intimacy, and Give Him an Ultimatum on the Discussion of Sex

The author recommends firstly that on your first date with a man, you tell him up front that you have zero tolerance for abuse. For example, you might say something like,

"I have no idea whether you and I have any future together, but I want to tell you something. I have been in an abusive relationship, and I want you to know that I will never be in an abusive relationship again. I don't want to get into details about what happened. But if you ever think about getting physically abusive with me, I want you to know that if you do, the first time will be the last time. I will end the relationship right then and there. I also want you to know that if you ever start verbally abusing me - for example, swearing at me or calling me dirty names - it'll be like inviting me to end the relationship."

Since abusive men will want to get sexually involved as soon as they can, the author recommends that you also tell him you're planning to postpone sexual intimacy. He says that for example, you might say something like,

"I've learned from mistakes in the past, and now I am not going to get sexual with anyone until I know them really, really well. I just want to tell you that up front so you won't have any false expectations."

The author says that if the man then asks, "How long is that going to take?" you can tell him something like, "I don't have any idea." The author says if the man's only interested in sex, your decision not to have sex will be a good indirect way to provoke conflict, so you can tell what kind of person he is and dump him before things go any further if he's abusive. If he generally enjoys your company, he'll stick around and not keep pressuring you for sex.

The author recommends that if a man pressures you for sex, you tell him you want him to stop bringing up sex, and tell him something like, "If and when I'm ready for sex, I'll let you know." If he carries on pressuring you, tell him that if he won't change the subject, you're going to end the conversation and go home. Then, if he brings up the subject again, end the conversation and go home. Also tell him that you will not continue to date someone who continues to pressure you for sex. The author suggests you could say something like, "If you want to keep dating me, you're going to have to stop talking about sex." Then if he keeps bringing up sex, he recommends that you end the relationship.

Do Not Be Rushed into a Relationship

The author recommends you go slow. In other words, for the first several months of a relationship, you be unwilling to get together more than once a week. He says don't let the man rush you or pressure you to get together more often. He says abusive men are impatient and will probably break off the relationship if a woman sticks to her resolve and only gets together with him once a week or less, and without sex.

Tell Him You Are Going to Continue Dating Other People

The author recommends you tell a man when you start going out with him that you're going to continue to date other people, and you don't think you'll date only one person until you're in love and are thinking of becoming committed to someone.

And he recommends that after you've gone out for a while, you program in a date or night out with someone else (even if it's just a male friend you have no romantic interest in).

Insist on Reliability

The author recommends that On the first or second date, you tell a possible boyfriend that his reliability is important to you. He suggests that for example, you might say something like, "Do you want to know what I'm looking for in a man? I'm looking for a man I can count on - someone who's reliable. I'm looking for someone who phones me when he says he's going to. Someone who picks me up when he says he's going to pick me up. Someone who does what he says he will when he says he's going to do it."

He recommends that after that, if the man says he's going to do something and then doesn't do it, you remind him of what you're looking for in a man. Then, you could tell him, "I will not continue to go out with someone I can't count on", and perhaps postpone your next date with him for at least a week. For instance, you might say, "I'm not available next Saturday. How about a week from Saturday?"

Program in an Unexplained Refusal to Get Together

The author says even after you're going out with a man regularly, program in an unexplained refusal to get together with him. For instance, if he asks you out next week, tell him, "I can't make it next week "( without an explanation); "How about the week after?" If he asks you why you can't make it, repeat that you're not available. If he keeps on pressuring you for a reason, tell him you want to change the subject. If he carries on, ask him if he wants to go out with you in two weeks, saying that if he continues to ask why you can't go out with him next week, you're not going to go out with him in two weeks.

If he gets abusive and says that in that case, he doesn't want to go out with you at all, you'll be well rid of him!

Find Out about His Previous Relationships

The author says you'll probably want to know about a new boyfriend's previous relationships, but an abusive man won't feel comfortable telling you about them. So a good way of finding out what kind of person he is might be to ask him about them. For instance, you could insist on asking him questions like:

How many girlfriends and wives have you had?
What did you argue or disagree about?
How did you resolve your differences?
What differences didn't you resolve?
Why did you break up?

He says abusive men will be threatened by this line of questioning and might go on the offensive, quite possibly becoming angry or accusing you of being insecure. He says if your new boyfriend accuses you of something like that, you could answer by saying something like, "That's not a nice thing to say", or, "You don't have to tell me, but if you don't tell me, I'm not going to go out with you again."

The author says then, the man might accuse you of being a hypocrite, because you won't talk to him about your abuse history. He says if the man does that, say they're two different subjects. Say that if he doesn't want to date you anymore because you're not willing to talk about your past, that is his right and his choice. You're simply telling him the conditions under which you'll be willing to continue to see him.

Look Into His Background

The author says you should take a few tips from employers when you're weighing up whether a new boyfriend's worth being with. He says in the workplace, employers investigate job applicants' references before they make important hiring decisions. It's just good business. And making a romantic commitment to a man has more significance for a woman's well-being than if she were to hire an important employee for a business she had. He says one example of that is that you can always fire an employee if he turns out not to be good for the company. It's much more complicated getting out of a bad marriage.

So he says if you get to the point where you're considering having sexual intercourse with a man, or you're thinking of moving in with him or accepting his proposal of marriage, it's advisable that you check out his background.

He says he recommends that you tell your boyfriend you want to speak privately to his ex-girlfriend(s) or ex-wife, and that you ask for their phone numbers. He says if the man gets upset, you can tell him something like,

"This doesn't have anything to do with you. I intended to do this before we ever met. If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about."

He says if the man breaks off the relationship over it, you can be certain he has something to hide. So you'll have a lucky escape.

He says in some places, it's possible to do a search of a person's criminal record. He says if a boyfriend has a criminal record you didn't know about, he's a "bad bet for a good relationship".


I hope you feel more confident now about finding someone else who won't be abusive.

And I hope you feel better about everything else as well.


Notes

This article is written slightly differently to most articles. It comes with a very short fictional story about someone finding out information to try to help a friend recover from the trauma of having been in a violent relationship, - not a real person but a representative of others, - and it's presented as if it's what she's found out and what she's thinking of saying to her friend. Imagine you're somehow listening in on her thoughts as she's planning what to say.

This article is really for people who've already left abusive relationships, rather than for those still in one, for whom some of the suggestions, like learning to be more assertive, could cause trouble if practised on an abuser. However, a lot of the information could still be useful for people in violent relationships to read, if they can read it safely without the abuser finding out.

If after browsing this article you'd like more detail on similar topics, try looking at the related articles on this website.

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Since this article's almost certainly too long to read all in one go, if you like the parts of it you do browse, feel free to add it to your favourites and read it bit by bit over the coming days or weeks as you choose, since it's really designed to be taken in as a step-by-step process anyway rather than a one-off. It'll also make it handy to read bits of it again and again, since it's normal for people to forget most of what they read the first time.


The Story

The Way Things Are Before They Begin to Improve

Upset

Jenny has been friends since her schooldays with someone who still lives near her, Dawn. Dawn got married a few years ago, to a man called David who Jenny never liked. But Dawn used to always want to think the best of him. But soon after the marriage, Dawn started looking more unhappy sometimes, and Jenny noticed she sometimes had bruises on her face. Dawn would say she'd just hit her head on cupboards or other things like that. But after a while, Jenny started to get suspicious that Dawn's husband David might be beating her up.

She got more worried when Dawn started making excuses not to talk to her, because she wondered if David was trying to stop her. She met Dawn's sister one day who told her Dawn didn't speak to her much any more either.

Crying

One day, when she did get to meet Dawn, she questioned Dawn about what her marriage was really like. After a while, Dawn started crying and told her what was really going on.

Jenny really wanted to help Dawn. She offered to let her stay with her for a while if she left David, until Dawn could find somewhere where it would be more difficult for David to find her. She gave Dawn the phone numbers of some refuges for battered women.

After a while, Dawn found a place of her own with Jenny's help, and left her husband, without telling him she was going, in case he got in a rage when she did. It was made more difficult because she's got two small children, and she knew she might have to cope with having to find new schools for them, and do other things that would take some organisation.

Dawn sees Jenny more after that, but still seems upset a lot of the time, and wonders if leaving was the right thing to do. Jenny wants to help more, but isn't sure how.

But then she goes to the library to see if she can find any self-help books that might help. She finds one, and looks through it.

It seems quite good, so she decides to tell Dawn all about what it says. She goes through it, thinking through what to say.

She does discuss it with Dawn after that, and over the next few weeks and months, Dawn's life improves.



The End


Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.

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Disclaimer:
The articles are written in such a way as to convey the impression that they are not written by an expert, so as to make it clear that the advice should not be followed without question.

The author has a qualification endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry and has led a group for people recovering from anxiety disorders and done other such things; yet she is not an expert on people's problems, and has simply taken information from books and articles that do come from people more expert in the field.

There is no guarantee that the solutions the people in the articles hope will help them will work for everybody, and you should consider yourself the best judge of whether to follow their example in trying them out.


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