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looking within: am i an abuser or abusive?
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family dysfunction

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Which One is the Abuser?
"He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves & sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper."
Edmund Burke
July 23,2000

Hello, I need to understand something. I'm currently going thru the beginning processes of separation & divorce. I'm sorry... My wife & I fought all of the time. At the beginning of our marriage when we'd argue & tell me that I was a sorry excuse for a husband, that I was worthless & that I was nothing, along with other expressive metaphors, I'd play peacemaker. I'd apologize & try to make it up to her, even though sometimes, I didn't know what "it" was. I thought the tearing into me would stop, but after a few months, when it didn't, I began to fight back. 

Everything that she called me, I called her right back & then some. Oooops! Bad fight-back strategy. I never enjoyed those confrontations & went out of my way to avoid them, but I was determined if she started an argument, I'd either finish it or put up a good front. This backfired on me however.

Even when she clearly starts in on me, when I tell her to leave me alone & that I don't want to fight, she calls me a name & I decide to give a return tongue lashing - she begins to cry & say that I'm verbally abusing her.

You are. But she's also verbally abusing you.

She says that what she says to me is because I made her mad...

NO! She can let you make her mad, but she has to take responsibility for the poor way she handles her anger.

...but that's what I say to her is because I hate her & am a mean person.

She's telling you that she doesn't mean it, while you do. What difference does it make when, in fact, both of you had been behaving abominably.

I never considered myself a mean person, but I never considered myself a wimp either & my conscience is telling me that I'm being cruel to her, but I can't help but to remember that 95% of the fights that we've had started with me being in another room & her coming in calling me names or speaking to me like I had offended her in some way that I knew nothing of.

Good conscience. 

When I'd try to just say I'm sorry & let it go, she starts belittling me, when I try to tell her I don't want to fight & walk away, she blocks the door & steals my keys so I have to stay & listen to the abuse.

None of this is OK & your wife has to understand that. By the same token, perhaps she has reasons why she feels she has to block your exit. Are you "unable" to find the time to talk with her? Do you remain silent (look in right hand column for "silent treatment") & shut her out, etc.

But when I fight back, she would try to argue as long as she could & when she saw that I wouldn't quit until she did, she'd threaten to expose this argument to our community & our church so that they'd know what type of person I "really" was, or she'd cry. I'd feel guilty

Had you "behaved," you'd have no reason to feel guilty!

& she'd apologize because she knew in turn I'd apologize to her, then she'd initiate intimacy. This is a sick way to carry on a relationship.

I'd be left totally confused & feeling down because I was just cruel to someone I said that I loved, but she would be seemingly happy that I had just lost my temper. I said all of that to ask this, Am I an abuser? I don't want to make the excuse that she provoked me because that seems so lame...


....because I could have chosen not to fight back & it would have been over a few minutes later. Even when we weren't fighting, I was constantly trying to think of things to say to counter what she might say in an argument & that doesn't seem healthy.

I've been married for 4 hellish years & it's finally over but before I move on I have to know, is there something wrong with me that could damage someone if I decide to delve into romance again (which won't be for a very long time)?

Help me please, Gary

arguing abusively.... does that make you abusive?

Dear Gary, I can't really tell what's going on here. Your wife is certainly behaving in a verbally abusive manner; so are you. It's clear to me that neither of you know what to do with your anger, or how to express it.

Does that make you an abuser, or for that matter, does that make either of you an abuser? No. You're just both behaving abusively.

Abuse is about control in a relationship where the balance of power is uneven. The balance of power in this relationship seems pretty balanced from what you say. One of the best ways to figure out what's going on in terms of abuse, or anything else really, is to ask both parties to stop acting out.

Even if only one person complies, things become so much clearer... Try it!

Will you "damage" someone in another relationship? I don't know enough to comment. But, do yourself a favor & learn how to speak assertively & express yourself effectively. Insist your partner do same; you'll save yourself a lot of heartache.


Inside the Abusive Mind
Abusive people typically think they're unique, so different from other people that they don't have to follow the same rules as everyone else. But actually, abusers have a lot in common with one another & share a great many thinking patterns & behaviors. These may include:
Success Fantasies: The abuser believes in fantasies of being rich, famous, or extremely successful in other terms if only other people weren't holding her back. They're blocking the way makes the abuser feel justified in getting back at them, including thru abuse. The abuser also puts other people down as a way of building their self up.

Blaming: The abuser shifts responsibility for certain actions to others, which allows the abuser to be angry at the other person for "causing" the behavior. i.e.: "If you would stay out of it while I am disciplining the kids, I could do it without hitting them."

Excuse Making: Instead of accepting responsibility for certain actions, the abuser tries to justify their behavior with excuses. i.e.,

  • "My parents never loved me." 
  • "My parents beat me." 
  • "I had a bad day & when I walked in & saw this mess I lost my temper." 
  • "I couldn't let him talk to me that way, there was nothing else I could do."

Redefining: The abuser redefines the situation so that the problem lies not with the abuser but with others or the outside world. i.e.: The abuser doesn't come home at 6 p.m. for dinner as prearranged; he or she comes home at 4 a.m. The abuser says,

"You're an awful cook anyway. Why should I come home to eat this stuff? I bet the kids wouldn't even eat it."

Making Fools of Others: The abuser combines tactics to manipulate others. The tactics include lying, upsetting the other person just to watch his reactions & provoking a fight between or among others. She may try to charm the person she wants to manipulate, pretending a great deal of interest in & concern for that person in order to get on his good side.

Assuming: Abusive people often assume they know what others are thinking or feeling. Their assumption allows them to justify their behavior because they "know" what the other person would think or do in a given situation. i.e.:

"I knew you'd be mad because I went out for a drink after work, so I figured I might as well stay out & enjoy myself."

Emotional Dependence: Abusive individuals are usually very emotionally dependent on their spouse. The result of their inner rage at being dependent means that the abuser acts in controlling ways to exert power & to deny their own weakness.

One major symptom is strong jealousy & possessive actions, normally sexual in nature. The abuser will spend a great deal of time monitoring their spouses activities. The abuser lacks supportive relationships. Another sign of dependence is the effect of what happens when the abused person leaves the home because of the abuse. It's common for the abuser to make extraordinary attempts to persuade them to return.

Lying: The abuser manipulates by lying to control information. The abuser may also use lying to keep other people, including the victim, off-balance psychologically. i.e.: The abuser tries to appear truthful when actually lying, or tries to look deceitful when actually telling the truth.

Rigid Application of Traditional Sex Attitudes: Abusive spouses tend to have more inflexible beliefs about roles & functions of their spouses in the marriage. The wife may expect the husband to over fulfill all the financial needs & household / parenting chores.

Drama & Excitement: Abusive people have trouble experiencing close, satisfying relationships. They substitute drama & excitement for closeness. Abusive people find it exciting to watch others become angry, get into fights, or fall into a general uproar. Often, they'll use a combination of tactics to set up an exciting situation.

Closed Channel: The abusive person doesn't tell much about personal details & real feelings. The abuser isn't open to new information about herself either, such as someone else's thoughts about them personally. The abuser is secretive, close-minded & self-righteous. Abusers believe they are right in all situations.

Ownership: The abuser typically is very possessive. Moreover, the abuser believes that anything that is wanted should be owned & that the abuser can do as wanted with anything that is hers. The same attitude applies to people. It justifies controlling others' behavior, physically hurting them & taking things that belong to them.

Poor Anger Management: Individuals who've experienced a violent & abusive childhood are more likely to grow up & become spouse abusers. A person who sees violence as the primary method for settling differences as a child isn't going to have very many alternate ways available to channel anger. A person without an everyday outlet for anger risks exploding toward the people closest to them.

Minimizing: The abuser ducks responsibility for abusive actions by trying to make them seem less important than they are. i.e.:

  • "I didn't hit you that hard."
  • "I only hit one of the kids. I could have done them all."

Fragmentation: The abuser usually keeps the abusive behavior separate from the rest of her life. The separation is physical; i.e., the abuser will beat up family members but not people outside the home. The separation is also psychological; i.e., it isn't uncommon for an abuser to attend church Sunday morning & beat the victim Sunday night.

The abuser sees no inconsistency in this behavior & feels justified in it.

Above the Rules: As mentioned earlier, abusers generally believe they're better than other people & so don't have to follow the rules that ordinary people do.

That attitude is typical of convicted criminals, too. Each inmate usually believes that while all the other inmates are criminals, she is not.

An abuser shows above-the-rules thinking in saying,

  • "I don't need counseling. Nobody knows as much about my life as I do. I can handle my life without help from anybody.

Self-glorification: The abuser usually thinks of herself as strong, superior, independent & self-sufficient. When anyone says or does anything that doesn't fit this glorified self-image, the abuser takes it as an insult.

Inability to express feelings with words: This type of person is rarely capable of true intimacy & may feel very threatened by the prospect of being open & vulnerable. Particularly when frustrated, the abusive person expects instant gratification from their spouse who is expected to "read" their mind & "know" what their mate wants.

When the mate doesn't know what's expected the wife may interpret this as meaning they don't really love them. Therefore with an abusive individual, rejection = violence.

Vagueness: Thinking & speaking vaguely lets the abuser avoid responsibility. Example:

"I'm late because I had to do something on the way home."

About Abusers
Batterers tend to be preoccupied with a "macho" ideal of womanhood. They feel a need to dominate & control men & often expect it as their right & privilege. They may tend to associate some feminine qualities with weakness & fear intimacy as making them vulnerable.

They're frequently characterized as lacking in assertive communication skills & appearing alternatively passive or aggressive in nature. They're more inclined to resolve problems & emotions through violence, as the male sex role stereotype would suggest. This tendency tends to add to the stress many batterers create for themselves & their families.

Batterers have higher levels of hostility than non-batterers. Their range of emotions tend to be reduced to anger, which in-turn is expressed primarily thru violent behavior similar to the same behavior sanctioned by various macho-male subcultures. Emotional tensions are typically suppressed until they finally "explode."

Despite the bravado that many batterers display, they characteristically suffer from lower self-esteem than non-batterers. They often feel that they haven't lived up to the feminine sex role stereotype & consequently overcompensate with hyper-feminine behavior. They become emotionally dependent on their partners & consequently become threatened by the possibility of their departure. This is often evident in excessive jealousy & possessiveness.

Batterers have a higher incidence of alcohol & drug abuse. The alcohol acts as a uninhibitor, intensifying abusive incidents, but it doesn't "cause" the abuse. Many batterers are abusive with or without alcohol & continue their violence even after "drying out."

Some experts consider alcohol & drug abuse to act as a sedative for the emotional distress most batterers bear in response to their abusive childhood, sense of inadequacy & poor communication skills.

The majority of female batterers have experienced or witnessed childhood violence that has left them with low self-esteem, poor role models & sometimes traumatized. Very much like the alcoholic, abusers deny there's a problem & refuse to accept responsibility for their abusive behaviour. She blames everyone else for making her angry, thereby excusing her actions.

 "In violence we forget who we are." 

Mary McCarthy

visit dr. phil's website for an insightful article that shows how fighting between two people, which is normal behavior - can be fair instead of abusive...
what kind of fighting are you apt to be a party to? after reading this article, ask yourself the same question... maybe if you are abusive, you can see it...

read a few articles from the dr. phil website by clicking on these underlined title links!

Can therapy help an abuser?


Courts regularly send offenders to be treated as a condition for reducing their sentences. Yet, most of the programs are laughably short (between 6 to 32 weeks) & involve group therapy - which is useless with abusers who are also narcissists or psychopaths.

Rather than cure him, such workshops seek to "educate" & "reform" the culprit, often by introducing him to the victim's point of view. This is supposed to inculcate in the offender empathy & to rid the habitual batterer of the residues of patriarchal prejudice & control freakery.

Abusers are encouraged to examine gender roles in modern society & by implication, ask themselves if battering one's spouse was proof of virility.

Anger management - made famous by the eponymous film - is a relatively late newcomer, though currently it's all the rage. Offenders are taught to identify the hidden - & real - causes of their rage & learn techniques to control or channel it.

But batterers aren't a homogeneous lot. Sending all of them to the same type of treatment is bound to end up in recidivism. Neither are judges qualified to decide whether a specific abuser requires treatment or can benefit from it. The variety is so great that it's safe to say that - although they share the same misbehavior patterns - no two abusers are alike.

In their article, "A Comparison of Impulsive & Instrumental Subgroups of Batterers", Roger Tweed & Donald Dutton of the Dept. of Psychology of the Univ. of British Columbia, rely on the current typology of offenders which classifies them as:

"... Overcontrolled-dependent, impulsive-borderline
(also called "dysphoric-borderline" - SV) & instrumental-antisocial. The overcontrolled-dependent differ qualitatively from the other two expressive or "undercontrolled" groups in that their violence is, by definition, less frequent & they exhibit less florid psychopathology. (Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart 1994, Hamberger & hastings 1985) ... Hamberger & Hastings (1985,1986) factor analyzed the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory for batterers, yielding 3 factors which they labeled

  • "schizoid/borderline"
    (cf. Impulsive),
  • "narcissistic/antisocial"
  • "passive / dependent / compulsive"

Men, high only on the impulsive Factor, were described as withdrawn, asocial, moody, hypersensitive to perceived slights, volatile & over-reactive, calm & controlled one moment & extremely angry & oppressive the next - a type of "Jekyll & Hyde" personality.

The associated DSM-III diagnosis was Borderline Personality. Men high only on the instrumental factor exhibited narcissistic entitlement & psychopathic manipulativeness. Hesitation by others to respond to their demands produced threats & aggression ..."

But there are other, equally enlightening, typologies (mentioned by the authors). Saunders suggested 13 dimensions of abuser psychology, clustered in 3 behavior patterns:

  • Family Only
  • Emotionally Volatile
  • Generally Violent

Consider these disparities: 1/4 of his sample - those victimized in childhood - showed no signs of depression or anger!

At the other end of the spectrum, 1 of every 6 abusers was violent only in the confines of the family & suffered from high levels of dysphoria & rage.

Impulsive batterers abuse only their family members. Their favorite forms of mistreatment are sexual & psychological. They're dysphoric, emotionally labile, asocial & usually, substance abusers.

Instrumental abusers are violent both at home & outside it - but only when they want to get something done. They're goal-orientated, avoid intimacy & treat people as objects or instruments of gratification.

Still, as Dutton pointed out in a series of acclaimed studies, the "abusive personality" is characterized by a low level of organization, abandonment anxiety (even when it is denied by the abuser), elevated levels of anger & trauma symptoms.

It's clear that each abuser requires individual psychotherapy, tailored to his specific needs - on top of the usual group therapy & marital (or couple) therapy.

At the very least, every offender should be required to undergo these tests to provide a complete picture of his personality & the roots of his unbridled aggression:

  • 1. The Relationship Styles Questionnaire (RSQ)
  • 2. Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-II (MCMI-II)
  • 3. Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS)
  • 4. Multidimensional Anger Inventory (MAI)
  • 5. Borderline Personality Organization Scale (BPO)
  • 6. Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-33)
  • 7. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI)

Another Answer

Like what everyone else has said, only if the abuser legitimately wants assistance in preventing his abusive actions. Most abusers aren't even willing to admit they have a problem, or they are just as likely to blame the abused victim for their anger.

Has the abuser asked for help from his own free will? Or he is suddenly willing to get help, only because you threatened to leave him or report him to the authorities?

In the first scenario, go into this counseling, but be realistic that it might not provide any long term solution. In the second scenario, the abuser is trying to manipulate your sympathy through a confession of his problem. He will go to counseling, not for his problem, but to placate you into giving up your threats.

Another Answer

I am an abuser. I am disheartened by what I read. I do not want to continue being such a person. I can remember when I was not like this. I do not want to be abusive, and know that my wife is not the source of my anger. I myself have found that angermanagment does not work for me. Counting to ten and or trying to refocus it does not work for me either. Hitting my wife does not make sense to me either, and I really don't understand why I did it. I am utterly confused about it. I love her and yet I have violated her trust on more than one occasion.

There has to be more to me than what I have done. There has to be some kind of treatment, something must work. I do not like doing what I have done.

As I do more research, I become more scared that I will continue no matter what I do. I would honestly rather be struck dead than continue to do what I have done.

I have to admit that what made me seek treatment was a protection from abuse order. I am trully scared I will be nothing more than an abuser.

I have admitted to everyone I can think of that I am an abuser, that I have abused my wife.

many times, men & women alike, have been raised in an unhealthy environment themselves. being raised in an unhealthy or/& an abusive environment leads to children growing up to be abusers themselves or victims of abuse. if you have never had a positive & healthy role model - how can you be expected to know what is healthy or what is unhealthy behavior?
this article is from dr. phil's website and it may help clarify the role of men in the family!

Do you read your spouse's emails without permission or without their knowledge? This is another play on power and control. It's a manipulative ploy used to control people. If you are resorting to this habit, things are good for you in your relationship. You may need to consider counseling. Habits such as these, may in fact, be borderline dangerous.

From the Abuser's Point of View
I should avoid emotional closeness, because it leaves me vulnerable & open to hurt. I will adopt an attitude of aloofness & indifference to keep my partner from getting a piece of me. Besides, if I let my partner get into my head, I'll be under her rule & will be smothered. I'll lose myself. To prevent this, I'll subconsciously & consciously distance myself from my partner to keep her from overtaking me, while giving her fleeting moments of tenderness to keep her near me.

Here’s how I’ll go about it.
I'll put off her requests for closeness, for talks & for time alone together. I'll interrupt her & dismiss her opinions. I'll show little interest when she wants to share an insight or a story from her day & I'll not share mine. When she hears me share something with someone else & asks. “Why didn’t you tell me that? I will say.” Or “I didn’t think you’d be interested” or “I forgot.”  I'll scoff at her interests as well as her choices & habits.
Also, I'll make sure I don’t miss a chance to point out with a tone of superiority & rightness - how opposite or different her choices & habits are from mine.  This helps prove that any attempts at working on our relationship will likely fail, since we are so different & thereby gives me more reason to distance myself.
I'll spend my time at home on house projects, watching TV, reading magazines or playing with the kids anything & everything to leave no time for us to have a private moment. I'll stay up each night later than her to avoid any closeness when we go to bed, then tell her she needs too much sleep. If I want to have sex, I'll wake her from her sleep & began touching her, knowing she’ll respond because I’ve minimized affection & she’s craving any intimacy I’ll offer. When I'm not at home avoiding her, I'll pursue activities outside the home & not include her or forget to tell her about my activities until the day of the event, thereby leaving little possibility that she can attend with me.
To keep her within arm’s reach, I'll occasionally throw out a “we should do X.”  I may even really mean to do something with her, but I won’t ever make it a priority so that other things I have to do will always come first...  I'll leave my schedule open to attend whatever event I want, work on any project I want, or go out with friends (without considering that I should find a sitter because I know she’ll be home).     
But I'll raise a fuss when she decides to take a night off from the house & the kids without getting my OK.  After all, she always checks with me to see if I’ll be home, so if she doesn’t check, she must be punishing me & I'll call her on it. I'll evade suggestion from her for a night out together or will commit to a night out grudgingly & without any sign of enthusiasm. 
When she stops initiating dates for us & then later complains about our lack of fun time, I'll (with irritation in my tone) remind her that she needs to initiate it I can’t always be the one initiating. 

If she asks that we have a talk, I'll put on my game face of mild irritation at her demand that I shareI'll let her run the talk, not offering much input & not validating her opinions. 
If she pushes ANY buttons or requests any changes in my behavior, I'll unleash my rage & feel it's my entitlement to cut her, criticize, accuse her of riding me & then leave the room or the house, so that she can’t continue talking to me. Her talking is just a cover to get a chance to bitch at me anyway. 
When she sets up a session with a counselor, I'll go so that no one can place blame on me for not going.  Then I'll tell the counselor that the reasons we have problems is that we are very different people so we can’t communicate with each other.
Once in a while, I'll throw her a crumb & share a thought or a hug with her. Or, at the spur of the moment, I'll decide - without asking her first - to take her out to dinner so that she can’t say to her friends or my family. He NEVER spends time alone with me. I'll subvert any attempts from her to talk about us spending more time together during these rare occasions when I do spend a night with her.

I'll show disgust at her lack of confidence & insecurities. Then I'll bring up her tender spots (insecurities) whenever it helps me gain the upper hand or control in an uncomfortable situation. That way, the focus of whatever comes up is shifted away from me & onto her unreasonable insecurities. 
When she reacts to any of this with anger or other high emotions (yelling, getting hysterical, crying, bawling, or walks around joyless & bitter), I'll offer very little comfort, concern, reassurance or attention. 
After all, she's trying to punish me with all her hysterical & depressing emotions & I don’t need the hassle. 
Her anger & emotional reactions provide good reasons to keep distancing myself from such an intentionally hurtful person. I'll make sure I tell my friends & family that her only moods are depressed, hysterical, joyless & bitter & nothing I do is ever enough for her. That way I can make an ironclad case that proves to everyone, including myself, that it's her fault when she leaves me. 

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