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How Do I Divorce My Abusive Wife?

April 26, 2010 159 comments

I received the following email from a man who has finally realized that he is in an abusive marriage and that he needs to divorce. He describes his abusive wife’s behavior and concludes by asking, “How do those of us entrenched in these horrific relationships get out?  What is the first step?” My reply follows:

Hello Dr. Tara

I’m so “happy” to have found your blog “A Shrink for Men” and have, within the last 12 hours, read every single article that you have published so far.

I am sitting at work having just spent the day doing absolutely nothing.  This isn’t because I’ve been moping over my wife’s last screaming and yelling fit, but because during my wife’s last outburst she took my work computer and tossed it to the floor, fatally damaging the disks and losing me many months worth of documents and emails.  Why such an extreme outburst?  I bought her a spiral bound notebook instead of a glued notebook – who would have thought? – and she became quite aggressive: “you cant do anything right!”, “I should have done it myself”, “you just don’t care!”, “you’re an a**hole”.  I made the mistake of telling her that I wasn’t taking this and that I would go upstairs and do some work.  That’s when the bomb went off.

Today, of course, I lied to my boss and said that I had tripped on a child’s toy and the laptop had slipped out of my hand.  How could I admit that my wife had grabbed it off my desk and lobbed it across a room?  There’s quite a bit of stigma attached to “not being able to control one’s own wife” and I’m not taking any risks.  As it is, I don’t think it really matters.  This marriage has put such a strain on me that my once fantastic career is in tatters and within the next few weeks I will be facing the dole queue.  I have watched myself go from being a successful, happy, professional with a lots of friends to a depressed, henpecked, debt-ridden, isolated man.

She is the absolute dictator of my life.  She controls my finances, who I see, what time I come home from work.  I have to take my shower by 10 o’clock, take off my shoes when I come into the house, feed/bathe the baby when I get home from my 12-hour working day, take care of said baby when she decides to go out with friends.  Failure to do any of these things results in insults, silent treatments, screaming, yelling.  Of course the content is usually the same: I am worthless, I do not take responsibility for my family, I am lazy, I am inconsiderate, I do not listen, ad infinitum.  Any decision she makes is final and enforced while all of my decisions are up for debate.

Oh, I didn’t mention that she doesn’t work in any real sense.  Last year she had the idea that she wanted to run a web business, so I helped her set it up (read: I did most of the work).  Our baby is in day-care so that she can work, and I can honestly say that within the last 3 months, I don’t think she has put a single hour into her business.  That’s not to say that she’s not interested in her work as all her friends know that she’s a “business owner” and that she “has an accountant”.  All of this goes to her somewhat self-processed independence.  She hasn’t brought in a penny since the business started.  Of course, I don’t see a penny of my quite significant salary.  It all goes into maintaining the house, our child and whichever whim she’s on (new front door, lumberjack to unnecessarily chop down trees, in-house child minder, groceries for her out of work sister….)

I have let her ride roughshod over me for so long that my finances and support network are gone.  House payments will be due, there is my son to take care of, and I could well be out of work within a few weeks.

So my question is simple.  How do those of us entrenched in these horrific relationships get out?  What is the first step?

Kind regards,
Glen

Hi Glen,

What is the first step to getting out of this kind of relationship? Be very clear about what you want to do and then pursue it clearly, purposefully and strategically. Don’t harbor any illusions about divorcing this kind of woman. A difficult wife equals a difficult divorce. Think of all her worst personality traits and then multiply them by 1,000. The divorce process is designed to be adversarial and will compound her entitlement issues, deceptions, distortions, vindictive streak and general cruelty.

Here’s what I tell my clients who are about to begin the divorce process:

1. Don’t tip your hand. Don’t let your wife know what you’re thinking about doing. Many men make the mistake of trying to be noble and honest. They believe they’re obligated to be up front with their abusive wives and tell them what they’re planning. Big mistake. Huge mistake. Alternatively, many men think telling their abusive wife that they want a divorce will scare her straight. It might get her to be nice to you for a short time, but it won’t last. Plus, that gives her time to make her own plans and or stage a drama and call the police on you.

First, you can’t be straightforward with someone who has no sense of right and wrong other than she’s always right and you’re always wrong. You can’t be open and transparent with someone who deliberately tries to hurt you. If you offer this information to her on a silver platter, she will use it to hurt you. This is a battle for your financial, physical and psychological freedom. Do not underestimate how low she will go just to “make you pay.”

This kind of woman views divorce as the ultimate rejection. It’s a huge narcissistic injury. The primary reaction to a narcissistic injury is rage and violence. The violence may not be physical. However, purposefully setting out to bankrupt you and destroy your relationships with others—including your own children—is an especially cruel form of violence.

You need time to plan without her trying to manipulate and railroad you. I know it’s difficult. It was probably hard for you to set and enforce boundaries with this woman during your marriage. It is imperative that you and your attorney do so during the divorce.

Lastly, don’t talk to mutual friends and family members about this unless you’re absolutely certain that they won’t betray your confidence. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to keep her in the dark during the earliest stages. Don’t think of it as lying; think of it as not volunteering information. Don’t fall into the familiar pattern of being her hapless victim when it comes to divorce.

2. Do your homework. Visit divorce and father’s rights websites. Schedule consultations with attorneys in your area. You want to find a lawyer who:

  • Has experience and is respected in your local family court.
  • Has experience working with high conflict personalities. That’s lawyer talk for crazy Cluster B women and men.
  • Has experience working with negative advocates. Controlling abusive women gravitate toward attorneys who are adversarial (or more adversarial than the norm), drag out the legal process (to inflate fees) and encourage them to make up false abuse allegations. Water seeks its own level, so you want representation that knows how to handle “peers” who engage in what should be illegal law practices.
  • Inspires realistic confidence. How your attorney handles your divorce will impact your quality of life for years to come—including access to your children if applicable. Don’t go for the cheapest representation (by the way, the most expensive attorneys aren’t necessarily the best). If your attorney is incompetent, an appeaser or doesn’t have experience with high conflict personalities, it will end up costing you far more than attorney’s fees in the long run.

3. Documentation. Start keeping a record of abusive incidents—especially if they occur in front of the children. Invest in a small digital recorder to keep on your person. If you do a lot of direct childcare, keep a record of how many days you drive them to school, bathe them, prepare their meals, watch them, attend parent-teacher meetings, etc. This will serve as evidence when your wife later claims that she does most or all of the childcare and should thus have full custody.

The digital recorder will also come in handy if your wife is the type who likes to call the police. Remember unless you have some record of what goes on behind closed doors, it’s your word against hers. You can be the one with the black eye and cut lip and the cops will still cart you off to the county jail.

4. Protect your ass-ets. Many abusive woman take financial control in their marriages—especially when they don’t actually have a job. This has always mystified me. Nevertheless, if your wife has kept you in the dark regarding your finances, it’s time to get up to speed.

Begin to quietly (i.e., don’t alert her to what you’re doing) gather copies of any and all financial records that you can get your hands on. Scan them and put them on multiple disks or thumbdrives that you can store in a safe place. Create a new email that she can’t access. Get a personal mail box if necessary. If she monitors your calls, get a new pay-as-you-go phone for divorce related communication and keep the phone in a safe place. Don’t surf divorce websites on your home computer if she tracks your internet activities. Use your work computer or go to the public library.

These four steps are just the beginning of the process. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst possible case scenarios. Don’t be duped by your wife. Many of these women claim that they want to amicably separate, but their actions belie their words. You don’t want to be wondering 6 months into the divorce process how she managed to trick you and twist things around just like she did in the marriage. Figure out what leverage you have and then maximize it.

Rest assured, if your wife has shown you little to no empathy, has treated you unfairly and made outrageous demands during your marriage; she will be the same, if not worse, during your divorce. Even if she is the one who initiates the divorce, this kind of woman typically has a seek and destroy attitude. You know too much about her and for that, you must be punished and discredited. If this kind of woman “wins” in the divorce, she takes it as proof that she’s in the “right”—the “injured party”—and you’re the bad guy. Your assets and shared children become her war trophies.

Pretend you’re planning to invade the beaches of Normandy. That’s the degree of thoroughness and secrecy that’s required when trying to free yourself from one of these women. Also, don’t let her push your buttons. If you lose your cool at any time throughout the process, it will be used against you. Negative advocates have been known to coach their female clients on “how to get him to hit you.” It’s sick, it happens and you need to be prepared for anything. The good news is that once you get through the process, you can start to rebuild your life rather than let her stress and torture you into an early grave.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

No Contact Includes Not Keeping Tabs on your Ex Via Facebook, Twitter, Blogs or MySpace

April 9, 2010 184 comments

For those of you who are following the No Contact Rule and have stopped calling, emailing, texting and staging accidental run-ins or have stopped responding to calls, emails, texts and are actively avoiding probable run-ins, congratulations! It’s difficult to remove the hooks of an abusive ex—especially if they’re personality disordered (e.g., narcissistic, borderline, histrionic or sociopathic).

If you’ve recently broken up with a crazy and/or abusive wife or girlfriend, the No Contact Rule is explained in the following articles:

Many readers have shared that while they’ve been able to go no contact and stop telephonic and electronic communication with their exes, they’re still visiting their exes’ Facebook, MySpace and other social network pages, blogs and Twitter feeds. I hate to break it to you, but visiting your ex’s various web pages—even if there’s no interaction—is a form of contact and is just as unhealthy as talking, emailing or texting with her. Stop it, stop it, stop it.

Visiting your ex’s web pages is worse than going through your old scrapbook, photos, letters or emails or mentally revisiting whatever happy moments or infrequent episodes of normalcy that you shared. These events are in the past. Actively remembering them is an unhealthy and masochistic form of nostalgia.

Keeping yourself abreast of her current activities online creates fresh pain for you every time you do it. The same holds true for well-intentioned news updates. If friends, colleagues or family members are carrying tales about her latest misadventures, respectfully and firmly tell them that you prefer not to hear about her anymore. The pain is supposed to stop once the relationship ends. Monitoring your ex’s ongoing shenanigans has several unhealthy and unproductive consequences.

1. Rubbing salt in your wounds. An abusive narcissistic, histrionic, borderline or unspecified crazy ex will use her online presence to:

  • Rub your nose in her brand new, “most amazing boyfriend ever!
  • Rub your nose in her “new found happiness and peace” that she’s never known before.
  • Trash you publicly.
  • Use your old photos, etc., as normalcy props.

Observing these four behaviors or some variation of them will only hurt you and/or make you crazy, so stop taking the bait.

2. Giving you a false sense of connection. When a relationship ends, most people need to go through a distancing period in order to recover from the loss. If your ex wasn’t abusive and your relationship was basically healthy, perhaps you can be friends some day in the future. A relationship with an abusive person is neither healthy nor normal. Therefore, there is no basis for a future friendship.

Perhaps she’ll keep you on a string for future ego boosts or to torment you if she’s bored, but that’s not friendship—it’s more of the same old same old that caused the relationship to unravel in the first place. Keeping tabs on her keeps you connected to her; even if it’s only morbid curiosity. Surely there’s a better way to spend your time that will help you feel good.

3. Giving you new information to ruminate upon. Again, there are better ways to spend your time. If you really want her out of your heart, mind and life, keeping abreast of her most recent train wrecks and distortions is not the way to do it.

4. Falling into the trap of analysis paralysis. This is another form of unproductive rumination. Why is she like this? Why couldn’t she be happy with me? What’s wrong with her? What could I have done differently? How could she move on so quickly with another guy? Why does she still have photos of us together on her profile? Why? Why? Why?

You can torture yourself endlessly with these questions. Over-analyzing her and the relationship is not the way forward. It won’t change anything. Furthermore, if trying to make meaning out of her crazy and meaningless behavior isn’t bringing you peace and closure, you need to knock it off.

There may very well be good reasons why your ex is the way she is. Ultimately, however, the reasons why she is abusive do not matter. What matters is how she treats the people she claims to love. Abuse is wrong no matter the reasons. There’s no excuse for abuse. It’s a slippery slope from finding excuses for her abusive behavior and making excuses and enabling her abusive behavior.

5. Keeping your anger and hurt alive. She’s not worth your sanity and your happiness. You have a right to be angry for the way she treated you. However, nursing your anger by finding new reasons to be upset is not productive. Feel your anger. Express it in healthy ways and then let it and her go.

6. Continuing to feed the beast it’s favorite treat: Attention. Even if you don’t respond to her online attention seeking behavior, you’re still giving her attention by visiting these sites.

Legitimate Reasons to Keep Social Media Surveillance. There are some legitimate reasons to keep tabs on your ex via the Internet. For example, if you’re gathering evidence for a divorce and/or custody case, if she is making physical threats and you need evidence for a restraining order or if you want to file a libel lawsuit for an online smear campaign/cyberstalking. If you aren’t compiling evidence for an impending court case, to initiate a protective order or because you’re concerned about your children’s welfare, there’s no reason to visit her profiles (including Internet dating profiles), blogs or follow her Tweets.

Outta Sight, Outta Mind.

Perhaps this isn’t true at first, but it’s the ultimate goal. Unless visiting her web pages makes you feel good—i.e., “I’m so glad I’m not with this wingnut anymore“—or you’re gathering evidence for legal purposes, there’s absolutely no reason to do so. Find a buddy to IM, call or hang out with when you feel tempted to click the mouse. Go for a run. Play a video game. Find something to distract yourself with until the urge passes and you feel strong again. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part II

March 17, 2010 237 comments

In Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part I, I discussed the shared characteristics of cult victims and abused men and the similarities between abusive women’s courtship behaviors and cult recruitment. This post explains common techniques cults and emotional predators use to break you down and control you.

Techniques Used by Cults and Abusive Women

1. Isolation. Emotional predators and cult recruiters isolate you from the outside world. They make you totally dependent upon them, which makes you more susceptible to their distorted reality and other abusive behaviors. They “cut [you] off from the outside world. . . to produce intense introspection, confusion, loss of perspective and a distorted sense of reality. The members of the cult become the person’s only social contact and feedback mechanism” (Layton).

Sound familiar?

Abusive intimate partners isolate you in a multitude of ways. For example, they explicitly forbid you from seeing or speaking with your friends and family. They start smear campaigns against them –“Your family is so controlling. They’re dysfunctional. It’s unhealthy for us to be around them. Your friends are a bad influence. They’re disrespectful to me. They’re trying to break us up. It’s me or them.

They schedule activities or plan crises that conflict with holidays or special occasions — e.g., she gets a migraine when you’re supposed to have dinner with your parents or desperately needs your help when you’re supposed to go out with your friends. Spending time with friends and family means you don’t really care about her, don’t respect her, she’s not important to you, you’re a momma’s boy, you’re an immature jerk, blah, blah, blah, blah and blah.

2. Thought Stopping. Cults use methods like chanting, meditating and repetitive activities to induce a state of suggestibility and to help the target shut off their ability to engage in critical thinking. Abusive women use non-stop talking, verbal tirades, rage episodes, chanting and withdrawing in cold silence which causes you to obsessively ruminate about what you did to upset her rather than wondering what the hell is wrong with her.

Thought stopping techniques include anything that gets you to turn off your better judgment, reasoning and any counter narratives such as, “This is nuts and I need to get out of here.”

3. Induced Dependency. “Cults demand absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission. A cult member’s sense of self is systematically destroyed. Ultimately, feelings of worthlessness and “evil” become associated with independence and critical thinking, and feelings of warmth and love become associated with unquestioning submission” (Layton). The same is true of abusive relationships. Taking care of yourself and healthy pursuits are seen as a betrayal to her. Love means control.

Inducing dependency employs several techniques including:

a. Fear and Guilt. This involves sharing secrets, fears and other intimate “confessions.” Abusers use this information to create instant intimacy and to keep their targets in an emotionally vulnerable state by using covert and overt threats and alternating punishment and reward. She accomplishes this by:

  • Punishing you for any doubts, challenges to her “authority” and your ties to friends, family and colleagues through criticism and alienation. They are bad and you are bad if you continue these associations. You are bad if you question, challenge or disagree with her. She turns everything around so that you feel bad for speaking the truth and pointing out the facts of a situation. To quote a client’s wife, “The truth is mean. Facts are mean.” She was saying this in the face of being confronted by her own behavior. I kid you not. I heard the audio recording. You receive “love” or are “rewarded” (or aren’t actively abused) when you renounce your other relationships and your own will.
  • Making you feel bad, embarrassed, worthless, ashamed, guilty or afraid to express any special skills, talents or gifts you have. They’ll punish you for being creative, musical, outgoing, funny, business savvy, competent or any quality you possess that makes you feel good and that she envies. This causes identity confusion and diminishes your self-worth.
  • Alternating love and praise with contempt and punishment to keep you unbalanced and confused. This creates feelings of self-doubt and a desire to “work harder” to please her. It also makes you cling to belief that the kind and loving person is her real self and that the abusive behaviors are an aberration. In reality, the opposite is true.
  • Making you publicly confess your “sins.” This subjects you to public scorn and ridicule, which induces self-doubt, shame and a sense of worthlessness. You are loved again when you publicly commit to devoting yourself to her and her happiness. Several men have told me they were coerced into making public confessions about how they “wronged” or “sinned” against their girlfriend/wife via Facebook and other social media websites. It’s crazy. They did it in a vain attempt to finally prove how much they loved these women. If your partner wants you to publicly shame yourself, you need to end the relationship. This is beyond abusive. A person who really loves you protects you from public scorn; they don’t subject you to it.
  • Putting you in no-win situations. Creating double-binds to ensure that you fail. No matter what you do, you’re wrong. This creates a sense of learned helplessness and increases your dependency.
  • Punishing you for the sins of others. If your mother is disrespectful to her, it’s your fault. If the kids are misbehaving, it’s your fault. If one of the other school mothers snubs her, it’s your fault. If something doesn’t go her way it’s your fault. If anything goes wrong, it’s your fault.
  • Holding you to unrealistic and super-human expectations of perfection. This keeps you in a perpetual state of jumping through hoops in order to make yourself worthy of her. When in reality nothing you ever do will be good enough. You will never measure up.

b. Sensory Overload and Deprivation. She dismantles your self-perceptions, beliefs and values by telling you that you’re wrong, bad, sick, dysfunctional, angry, selfish or evil. She then feeds you her version of reality — how you should feel and how you should act “if you really love me…” or “a real man would…” – in a relentless torrent with little or no chance for critical examination. She accomplishes this by:

  • Making you account for every minute of your time and monopolizing your time. You have no time to yourself or with others. If you’re not actively paying attention to her, you’re performing tasks for her. This leaves you little time to focus on yourself or to engage in effective reality testing.
  • Criticizing everything you do. This includes criticizing what you eat, how you eat, what you wear, how you talk, how you laugh, how you take care of the children, how you drive, how you do the dishes, how you fold the laundry, how much money you make, how undesirable you are, etc.
  • Stripping away your autonomy. She decides where you’ll go on vacation, how to discipline the children and how to spend the money you earn. When she gives you the illusion of choice, it’s usually a set-up for failure or disappointment. Alternatively, she doesn’t offer suggestions. When you ask for guidance, she makes you feel stupid for not intuitively knowing what she wants you to do.
  • Depriving you of sleep, sustenance and other basic physiological and safety needs. This includes sex, money, shelter, stability, material resources and emotional support. This keeps you destabilized and vulnerable.
  • Taking control of your finances including credit cards, bank accounts, stocks and other assets and making you account for every nickel you spend. Taking charge of the finances is another control technique. If she controls the cash or you’re worried about losing your assets, it makes it difficult for you to leave. If you try to hold her financially accountable, she accuses you of being controlling.

4. A Sense of Dread. Once dependency is induced, you develop a persistent sense of dread. You’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and are hyper-vigilant to triggering the displeasure or wrath of your “leader.” If you don’t keep her happy — an impossible task, by the way, she makes your life a living hell.

She rages at you, belittles you, denies you affection or ignores you as if you don’t exist. Because she’s isolated you, you may not feel like there’s anyone you can turn to for support. You probably believe no one else will ever love you and that you couldn’t live without her. You try to “act right” and learn how not to trigger her.

“Indoctrination, or thought reform, is a long process that never really ends. Members are continually subjected to these techniques. . . Some adjust well to it after a period of time, embracing their new role as “group member” and casting aside their old sense of independence. For others, it’s a perpetually stressful existence” (Layton). Many men become desensitized to the abusive behaviors and let the fear of real and imagined punishment keep them stuck. Breaking free of a cult or an abusive relationship can be difficult and often terrifying, but it must be done if you want a chance at health and happiness.

Next week, I’ll explore different ways to “break the spell” and free yourself abusive partner’s control. Meanwhile, I repeat, don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

References:

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

 

Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part I

March 12, 2010 119 comments

My last article, How Abusive Women Brainwash You, examined similar brainwashing techniques used by cults, POW camps, political movements and abusive personalities such as narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic women. It also explored where and how they diverge.

Specifically, cults break down your personality and belief system, then rebuild you and give you a new belief system. Whereas abusive women break you down and keep breaking you down until there’s nothing left. They don’t rebuild you nor do they have an ideology beyond, “It’s all about me and my feelings” and “I’m always right no matter how wrong I am.”

Over the next few weeks, I will publish a series of articles that will explore: a) the shared characteristics of cult victims and abused men; b) the similarities between abusive women’s courtship behaviors and cult recruitment; c) the way cults and emotional predators break you down and control you; and d) different ways to “break the spell” and come come out from under an abusive partner’s control.

Similarities Between Cult Victims and Abuse Victims

Bullies, narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and sociopaths like easy targets. They go after people who are kind, generous, trusting, eager to please, self-reflective, competent, talented or “gifted” and, most importantly, people who have a desire to cooperate or work things out and a non-confrontational personal style (Namie, 2003). Men of the men I work with became involved with their abusers during or after an event in their life that caused them significant distress like a divorce, the death of a loved one, a prolonged illness, etc.

Cults like easy prey, too. They typically target individuals who are in a state of heightened stress.

Much like emotional predators, cults seek individuals who have recently had a destabilizing experience such as a bad break-up, the death of a loved one, being fired or some other significant life stressor such as a young man who’s left for college and is on his own for the first time. During a period of heightened stress, certain people are more susceptible to an individual or group who claims to have all the answers and/or offers instant companionship or instant intimacy. Michael Langone, PhD has compiled a list of cult victim traits that are similar to the traits of abuse victims. The similar traits are:

  • Dependency: An intense desire for a sense of belonging, approval, acceptance and a fear of being alone.
  • Unassertiveness: Non-confrontational, people-pleasers who are reluctant to question authority.
  • Gullibility: A willingness to believe what another person says without critically thinking it through or challenging it.
  • Naive Idealism: The belief that everyone is good, has some redeeming quality or can change for the better.
  • Desire for Spiritual Meaning: The belief that life has a “higher purpose” or that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes people are just abusive jerks and there’s no deeper meaning attached to it, but good targets keep searching for it despite all evidence to the contrary.

The above personality traits and a state of heightened stress aren’t sufficient to brainwash a potential victim. A conscious knowledge or instinctual knowledge of mind control techniques is also required. Margaret Singer, PhD cites 6 conditions necessary for brainwashing or thought reform. Many cult leaders study these principles and know exactly what they’re doing.

Most abusive women have not studied these techniques. They seem to have an instinctual knowledge of them. [Please note: If they are aware of what they're doing it's highly likely that they're full blown sociopaths and you should regard them as dangerous.]

Singer’s 6 conditions for thought reform:

1. “Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how he is being changed one step at a time.” Not a problem since most abusive women are only vaguely aware of what they’re doing or completely unaware.

2. “Control the person’s social and/or physical environment; especially control the person’s time.” She doesn’t want you talking to outsiders who might challenge the “reality” she feeds you or her authority.

3. “Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.” She instills a sense of learned helplessness within you by placing you in no-win situations.

4. “Manipulate a system of rewards and punishments in order to inhibit the person’s natural personality and behavior.” The goal is to break you down and turn you into a hand puppet.

5. “Manipulate a system of rewards and punishments in order to promote the group’s ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors.” In other words, she’s right. She’s always right. Don’t question her. Don’t challenge her. She always comes first. You live to serve.

6. “Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.” The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. “The leader must have verbal ways of never losing” (Singer, M., 1996, p.64-69).

Most abusive women are mental and verbal contortionists/escape artists. They can twist the most obvious set of facts into a Gordian knot or find ways to evade the conversation by changing the subject (derailing and tangenting) or attacking you on a new front.

Similarities Between Abusive Women’s Courtship Behavior and Cult Recruitment Techniques

Cults and abusers create feelings of guilt, covert and overt fear, powerlessness and dependency in their victims in several ways.

Manipulation, deception and “love bombing” are how cult recruiters and emotional predators get their foot in the door. They lure you in by misrepresenting themselves, lying, hiding their abusive nature and drugging you with praise and affection. Once they insinuate themselves into your life, the outright abuse ensues. First, let’s look at their seduction and relationship building tactics.

Manipulation and Deception. Both cult recruiters and emotional predators employ manipulation and deception to ensnare their targets. Initially, they hide their true natures and intentions and wear a carefully crafted, too-good-to-be-true persona. “Recruiters identify the specific needs or desires of their targets and play to them. They learn to pick up on a person’s fears and vulnerabilities and portray [themselves] accordingly” (Layton).

Abusive women, particularly histrionics, narcissists, sociopaths and borderlines, are natural chameleons and shape shifters. They intuitively discern what you want—e.g., sexy, sweet, adventurous, sporty, artsy, etc.—and play it and you to the hilt. As soon as they’re secure in your attachment, the facade drops away and the emotional and/or physical abuse starts. These women insidiously misrepresent themselves to their potential partners. Sometimes they’re impossible to detect until you’re in over your head.

Furthermore, most abusers aren’t abusive all the time. If they were nasty the majority of the time, psychologically healthy people would keep their distance. This kind of woman is like the wicked witch in a fairy tale who transforms herself into the beautiful maiden to attract potential lovestruck suitors. Shortly after you pledge your devotion to her, she exposes her inner ugliness. It’s hard for many men to let go of the initial illusion and so they continue to play right into her hands.

The Love Bomb. Cult recruiters and many emotional predators drug you with love, admiration, validation, affection, adoration, flattery, laser beam attention, responsiveness and sexual and non-sexual touching. They hang on your every word and create a sense of instant rapport, connection and intimacy. Margaret Singer (1996) describes the technique:

As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was . . . part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing – or the offer of instant companionship – is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.

Many people are seduced by this kind of behavior. Everyone wants to feel special. Abusers play to your ego needs and then turn the tables on you, which is why it’s so difficult to break away once the abuse begins in earnest. You yearn for her to return to the kind, loving person she was when you first met. You believe that’s the real person and the abusive, hostile, cold, unempathic harpy is the aberration. In reality, the opposite is true.

This is how emotional predators and cults seduce you. They flatter you and make you feel special—at first. Next week, I’ll explore how they break you down and keep you down. Meanwhile, don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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Mind control at photobucket.

Love bomb by soul food on flickr.

How Abusive Women Brainwash You

February 24, 2010 303 comments

How do so many smart men fall for toxic, abusive women? Why do they remain in painfully self-destructive relationships when their higher intelligence knows better? Many men frequently cite, “but I love her.” Do they love these women or have they been brainwashed by abusive personalities? Are they confusing love with dependence on their partner/torturer—a kind of Stockholm Syndrome?

Emotional and physical abuse wears you down over time. It erodes your confidence, independence, sense of efficacy and good judgment. Successful abusers use brainwashing tactics to disassemble your personality and extinguish your natural responses to abuse. In other words, you become numb and submissive instead of fleeing or fighting back in the face of her abuse.

Abusive women establish control over their targets by using “brainwashing tactics similar to those used on prisoners of war, hostages, or members of a cult” (Mega, Mega, Mega & Harris, 2000). Most abusers instinctively know these behaviors. Their behavior is mostly unconscious; they’re natural predators. However, some abusive women know exactly what they’re doing. In such cases, I’d argue that they’re sociopaths.

Brainwashing Techniques

In the 1950s, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton studied POW’s from the Korean War and Chinese prison camps. He concluded that these soldiers “underwent a multi-step process that began with attacks on the prisoner’s sense of self and ended with what appeared to be a change in beliefs” (Layton). Lifton defined 10 brainwashing steps that occur in 3 stages.

Stage I: Breaking Down the Self

1. Assault on Identity. “You are not who you think you are.” This step is comprised of an unrelenting attack on your identity or ego. For example, You’re a jerk. You’re a loser. You’re selfish. You don’t deserve me. You don’t have any friends. Your family doesn’t care about you. You don’t make enough money. These kinds of attacks have a destabilizing effect that breaks your stride and keeps you off kilter. The assault continues until you become “exhausted, confused and disoriented,” which causes your sense of self, beliefs and values to weaken.

2. Guilt. “You are bad.” Once your identity crisis sets in, you’re then criticized for offenses great, small and imaginary. You snore. You’re not sensitive enough. You’re too sensitive. You breathe wrong. You blink too much. You don’t fold the towels correctly. You never do this. You always do that. Why can’t you be more like so and so? The constant arguments and criticisms that cast you as the bad guy make you believe you deserve to be punished and treated badly. You feel a general sense of shame, that you’re wrong and that everything you do, don’t do, say or don’t say is wrong.

Humiliation and shaming tactics destroy your confidence and make you feel bad about yourself, which puts you in a malleable and submissive state. Shame is a form of paralysis. Inducing a sense of shame doesn’t just make you feel bad; it makes you believe that you are bad.

3. Self-Betrayal. “Agree with me that you are bad.” Once you’re disoriented and feeling a pervasive sense of guilt and shame, she can manipulate you into going against your own best interests. You forsake your own needs and make choices that are detrimental to your well-being. This is when an abusive spouse or girlfriend may begin to isolate you and/or get you to turn against friends and family. The betrayal of yourself, your beliefs and the people to whom you were once loyal increases feelings of shame, guilt and loss and also makes you easier to control.

4. Breaking Point. “Who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to do?” You no longer know who you are. You’re confused and disoriented from gaslighting and being fed a distorted version of yourself and reality. You may feel like you’re “the crazy one” and/or feel depressed, anxious, traumatized and a host of other negative emotional and physical symptoms like insomnia, paranoia and digestive problems.

You question your judgment, perceptions and sense of reality. She tells you she loves you yet continues to treat you horribly. You believe she loves you and that you must be a colossal jerk for her to always be so upset. If she’s successfully isolated you or gotten you to isolate yourself, you can’t reality test or receive outside support. By this time, she’s made you totally dependent upon her and solely focused upon pleasing her, gaining her approval and avoiding her wrath or disapproval. You probably feel completely alone. Alternatively, if you’re still in contact with friends and family, you fear that if you tell them what’s going on that they wouldn’t believe you or wouldn’t understand.

Stage II: The Possibility of Salvation

5. Leniency. “I can help you.” This is what I like to call the tyranny of small mercies. Periodically, this kind of woman will offer you some small kindness or you’ll have a “fun” afternoon together in which she appears normal. Because your perception has been so warped, the tiniest act of kindness or absence of overt hostility and/or icy withdrawal fosters gratitude, relief and a sense of adoration within you. In reality, she’s not kind and she’s not normal.

The disparity between her bad behavior and good/neutral behavior is so great that the simple act of heating up a can of soup for you makes her seem like Lady Benevolence. Her minuscule and infrequent acts of normalcy cause you to romanticize her. “This is why I love her. She can be so sweet.” It also causes you to experience a destructive sense of false hope. “If only she could be this way all the time. Maybe she will if I just try harder to please her.” The only way you can please this kind of woman is by continuing to allow her to harm you, that is, until she starts to resent you for becoming a doormat that she demanded you be.

6. Compulsion to Confess. “You can help yourself.” You’re so grateful for the small kindnesses she bestows in between periods of covert and overt abuse that you agree with her criticisms and devaluations. For example, you agree that your friends are bad for you and that your family is controlling and dysfunctional (um, hello, pot meet kettle). You promise to be more attentive and sensitive to her needs and see your needs as evidence of your selfishness.

Alternatively, you agree with her just to make the rages, derision and accusations stop. By the way, this is why torture techniques don’t work for intelligence purposes. People will say anything to make the torture stop. By this time, your personality has changed. You’re hypervigilant to her moods and ego gratification  demands and wishes.

You’re overwhelmed and confused by her accusations and criticisms. Subsequently, you feel a compounded sense of shame. However, you’re so disoriented that you don’t know what you’re guilty of anymore. You just feel wrong.

The Goal: Pointless Control with No End to the Abuse

Individuals or groups who use brainwashing techniques are deliberately trying to convert followers, change political allegiance or get people to buy their brand of soda. The ultimate goal is to breakdown your identity and replace your belief system with their doctrines in order to make you an obedient follower. Once they achieve their aims, the psychological torture stops because you’ve become a faithful acolyte.

Unlike professional terrorists, cult leaders and prison camp commandants, most abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic wives and girlfriends don’t have an end goal for their brainwashing techniques. They don’t know what they want. They just know that they want to control you in order to feel in control of themselves. This is why they don’t progress past the sixth brainwashing step and complete the process through the third stage, Rebuilding the Self.

By keeping you stuck in the Possibility of Salvation stage, you become locked into perpetual hoop jumping mode. She says if you do x, y and z she’ll finally be happy. You do x, y and z and then she either has a new set of expectations, demands and requirements or tells you that you didn’t do x, y and z to her satisfaction or that you only did it to make her happy not because you wanted to do it. You’re caught in a maddening cycle of trying to please her and not being able to please her with no relief or “salvation” in sight.

Oftentimes, abusive borderline, narcissistic and histrionic women’s moods, beliefs and realities change from day to day and, in extreme cases, minute to minute. They want whatever their current mood or insecurity dictates and change their beliefs, demands and perceptions accordingly. The only doctrine they offer is, “You’re wrong and bad” and “It’s all about me, my needs and my feelings” and “you need to fight for me” or “you need to fight for this relationship” (never mind that she is the one who is destroying it). This keeps you destabilized and in a perpetual state of guilt, shame, hypervigilance and confusion.

She puts you into no-win situations, double binds and keeps raising the bar of her expectations for as long as you let her. You never get to reach the third stage of a new identity that brings some relief. She keeps you stuck in the cycle of abuse where she will psychologically torture you until there’s nothing left of you.

Next week, I will discuss other aspects and techniques of brainwashing and how you can deprogram yourself.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

References:

Mega LT, Mega JL, Mega BT & Harris BM. Brainwashing and battering fatigue: Psychological abuse in domestic violence.  NC Med J. 2000, Sep-Oct; 61(5): 260-265.

Layton, J. How brainwashing works. HowStuffWorks.

What to Do When your Abusive Ex-Wife or Girlfriend Tries to Maintain Contact with your Family and Friends After the Break-Up or Divorce

February 2, 2010 52 comments

So you finally had the courage to end your marriage or relationship, are moving on with your life and discover that your abusive ex is now trying to maintain or strengthen her relationship with your family of origin after years of trashing them and trying to cut them out of your life. Why?

When you’re in a significant relationship your social and family circles grow to include your partner’s friends and family. Some of her friends become your friends. Some of your friends become her friends and you both, hopefully, develop relationships with each others’ families. What happens when you break-up or divorce? Who gets custody of friends and family members?

The Best of Circumstances

When a relationship dissolves between two healthy adults, especially if they’ve been together for a considerable length of time and/or share children, the separation can be just as difficult for family and friends. Psychologically mature individuals don’t take sides or get in the middle and understand that the nature of their former relationships with the ex will change. The couple and the people who have been in relationships with the couple all experience a sense of loss and go through a kind of grieving process.

The Worst of Circumstances

When one member of the couple is dysfunctional, abusive and/or has a personality disorder, friends and family become just another mechanism by which to control and hurt the non-abusive/non-disordered partner. Abusive women often view friends and family (including their own children) as war trophies, human shields and weapons during and after a break-up or divorce.

The irony is that most abusive women try to isolate their partners from family and friends during the relationship. This kind of woman does this in order to consolidate her power and control over you and to suck up every ounce of your attention. She deeply resents her in-laws and your friends. If she’s not overtly rude and disrespectful to their faces, she’ll put on a sweet face in their presence and gun them down behind their backs.

After the relationship ends, many of these women try to cozy up to the same people they spent years vilifying. This is extremely confusing for most men since their wives or girlfriends incessantly complained about and trashed their friends and family while together and created crazy drama whenever a visit, trip or family/friend event loomed on the horizon.

Here are some possible scenarios after ending a relationship with an abusive woman:

1. The relationship ends and she leaves your family and friends in peace. Although, she may make it difficult for your family to see your child(ren). If this is the case, count your blessings and find a good attorney to help you work out a fair custody arrangement.

2. She demonizes both you and your family. This is fine when you don’t share children. Let her spew her venom and stay as far away from her as possible and ask your family to do the same. However, if you share kid(s), this is highly destructive and understandably painful for you, your family and the child(ren). This is a case of blatant Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAS) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), in which case you should find out your parental rights in your state and pursue swift and strong legal recourse.

3. The relationship ends and all of a sudden your ex spends more time with your family than she did when you were together. Why? It’s not as if some miracle occurred and she suddenly realized how wonderful your family is. She’s desperately trying to retain control over you by staying involved with your family. This kind of woman is especially likely to do this if you’ve begun a new relationship. She wants your family to like her more than you or your new love interest and/or she wants your family to take her side to show the world she’s “right” (whatever that means) and that you’re “wrong.”

She also does this to portray herself as the victim and you as the bad guy. She wants to try to turn your own family against you. She makes up egregious lies. Some of these women will even go so far as to claim you abused her and the children. For example, “He’s crazy. He’s changed. He’s having a mid-life crisis. You have no idea what I put up with all these years. How could he abandon the children and me?” The projections never stop.

I call it the Crocodile Tears and Sympathy Tour. It’s just more of her manipulative and controlling nonsense. She’s in a much better position to do this if there’s a child or children involved. She pretends she’s spending time with your family so they can see their niece/nephew/son/grandson all the while distorting the truth and playing upon your family’s sympathy. Bottom line: You should be the one who takes the kid(s) to visit your side of the family.

In a relatively healthy relationship/marriage, it’s natural to want to maintain relationships with people who became your family through your intimate relationship. A relationship with an abusive woman is not a normal relationship. It’s like a cancer you need to cut from your body, your psyche, your life and your family of origin. You shouldn’t try to maintain a “friendship” with her and neither should your family because it allows her to continue to hurt you. Keep contact to a minimum and make it brief, civil and business-like. Give your family links to this website if they have a difficult time understanding the situation.

Why Some Families Go Along with It

1. Fear. If kids are involved, your family is probably afraid they won’t get to see them if they explain to your ex that it’s not really appropriate to cry on their shoulders or accompany the children to family get-togethers. She needs to use her own family (if she’s on speaking terms with them) and friends (if she has any) for support or hire a professional with whom to spin her tale of woe and victimhood.

2. To be nice and get along with everyone. This is commendable, but it doesn’t allow all parties involved to grieve the end of the relationship/marriage and move on. It also allows her to continue her manipulations and abuse, which need to end.

3. Cluelessness. Your family has no idea what your ex was like behind closed doors. They think they’re being supportive of you by allowing your ex to cling onto them. They think they’re being “big-hearted” when, in reality, they’re allowing your ex to manipulate them and hurt you, their own family member.

4. Dysfunctionality. Well, you were probably attracted to your ex for a reason and it would seem that your family is it. In which case, you need to mourn your relationship with your family in addition to your significant relationship/marriage, so that you don’t make the same poor relationship choices in the future.  This may require that you put some emotional and/or physical distance between you and your family while you work through it and get some therapy.

What You Can Do About It

1. Tell your family exactly what’s going on. Educate your family. If you kept your mouth shut about the abuse you suffered out of misplaced loyalty, shame and embarrassment or because you wanted to “protect” the mother of your children you need to speak up now. If your family doesn’t know what happened behind closed doors, it will make your ex’s smear campaign more effective because the break-up will seem out of the blue when the reality is it was a long time coming.

Tell your family all the nasty things your ex said about them over the years. Explain how much she hurt you. Tell them about the abuse. Ask them to support you in this. You don’t want to badmouth her? Telling the truth isn’t badmouthing if it’s the truth. The best way to stop abuse is to bring it to light. Rest assured, your ex is badmouthing you to anyone who will listen. If you didn’t stand up to her during the course of your marriage you need to do so now. This type of individual’s behavior is wrong and destructive, so don’t sugarcoat it and don’t let her get away with it anymore. Those days are over.

2. Ask them to invite you and your child to family events; not your ex and the child(ren). Abusive borderlines, narcissists, histrionics, etc., don’t respect boundaries nor will they accept that the rules of common decency, consideration and civility apply to them. Therefore, you need to create the boundaries within your immediate and extended family. This kind of woman will continue to push everything to the max for as long you let her.

3. If your family won’t respect your boundaries and actually believes her nonsense, you need to disengage. It’s yet another painful letting go process to contend with, but it may be a necessary one. Furthermore, these women are like small children; the more they know a specific behavior is getting to you the more they do it. Therefore, try to let it roll off your back and focus on the things that make you happy and bring you fulfillment. Your abusive ex will probably escalate her desperate and pathetic attempts for attention and to screw you over, but if you resolve not to give her that satisfaction she’ll ultimately frustrate herself; not you.

Endings are painful, but the longer you allow her to play her  shenanigans with you and your family and friends, the longer it will take for you to heal from this relationship and move on. Additionally, if you starve her of these sources of attention, she’ll be forced to look elsewhere for it, i.e., her next victim.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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More on Emotional Detachment: Surviving Ongoing Abusive Relationships

January 20, 2010 63 comments

Emotionally detaching from an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult. Many men believe they still love their abusive wives, girlfriends and exes. Therefore, developing indifference and detaching from their abusers—even when they’re a consistent source of pain—seems antithetical.

Nevertheless, learning to detach is vital if you ever hope to regain your health, happiness, sanity and sense of Self. This also applies to people who have divorced or broken up with their abusive spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, but have to maintain some degree of contact because of shared children, working for the same company or attending the same school.

Emotionally detaching requires that you change many of your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Detaching is not about enabling your abuser; it’s about disarming your abuser by eradicating her or his ability to hurt you. It’s not about changing your behavior so that you don’t trigger your wife or girlfriend. In fact, if you successfully detach it will probably provoke your her to become even more nasty and controlling for awhile.

When your wife or girlfriend takes an ugly turn into consistent abuse and other controlling behaviors, attaching your self-worth to how she treats you and placing all your effort into her and the relationship guarantees exploitation and self-destruction. For your psychological survival in this kind of relationship, you need to develop and feel indifference and emotional detachment. Before you can begin to detach, you need to accept the following:

  • Love does not conquer all. What you’re experiencing in your relationship probably isn’t love; it’s a distorted, twisted version of it.
  • You can’t fix or rescue someone from being abusive, sick, dysfunctional and lost in their own highly distorted reality. In fact, trying to rescue an abuser—particularly if she’s a borderline, a narcissist, a histrionic or a sociopath—is akin to trying to rescue to drowning person who’s crying for help and then holds you under water until you begin to drown. The more you try to rescue her, the more she’ll drag you under.
  • You give your abusive spouse or partner the power to hurt you.
  • You can survive and thrive without your abusive relationship. You don’t “need” her or him. You had a life before this person and eventually you’ll have a much better life post Ms. or Mr. Crazypants.
  • You’re not responsible for your spouse’s, partner’s or ex’s happiness, failures, shortcomings or bad behaviors.
  • The person who you want your spouse or partner to be is in conflict with the person she or he is in reality.
  • Continuing to hope for the best from someone who consistently gives you the worst is a set-up for more pain and disillusionment.
  • You are not helpless, powerless and incompetent. The relationship with your abusive spouse or partner causes you to feel that way, which is why it’s often so difficult to take care of yourself and break free.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need to walk away from a relationship that’s destructive and toxic. It’s vital that you begin to develop a rational perspective and distance yourself from an ongoing hurtful relationship that you can neither control nor change. Many people remain in abusive relationships well beyond a point of personal pain and devastation that defies reason. You need to come back to your senses and see your partner for who she is and your part in it.

Here are some detachment techniques:

1. Make yourself solely responsible for your own well-being and happiness. Catch yourself when you begin to utter, “If only she could . . . If only she would . . .” and knock it off. Coulda, woulda, shoulda is the language of regret and pipe dreams. Keeping you in a beaten down and depressive state makes it easier for an abuser to control you. Feline predators don’t target the swiftest and strongest impala in the herd; the one with the limp usually becomes lion lunch. Take back the control you gave her over your feelings, happiness and well-being and start meeting your own needs by making different choices and acting on them.

2. Accept that you can’t fix, change, rescue, save, make someone else happy or love someone enough to make them be nice to you. Don’t just pay lip service to this. Really wrap your brain around the fact that no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. Understand that no matter how much you do for her; she’ll always expect and demand more. Acknowledge that the more you appease, compromise and forgo your own needs; the more entitled, demanding and ungrateful she’ll be. She’s like the Iraqui War; you’re throwing good energy after bad with no victory or end in sight.

3. Eliminate the hooks of your abuser. A hook is typically an emotional, psychological or physical stake that you have in the other person and the relationship. For example, GUILT is a big hook that keeps many men in abusive relationships with destructive narcissistic, borderline and histrionic partners.

“I don’t how she’d take care of herself. What would she do without me? I’d feel guilty if I left because of the kids.” The flip side of guilt is EGO. If you leave an abusive woman, I hate to break it to you, but she’ll do just fine without you. She’ll probably try to suck you dry financially while lining up her next target to control and abuse. It’s not personal—especially if your wife or girlfriend is BPD, NPD, HPD and/or APD. These personalities view others as objects to be used. She’ll simply replace you with another object and do the same damn thing to the next guy. Guilt is a control device she uses to keep you in line.

Other hooks include shame (e.g., of failing or not being strong enough), loss of status (e.g., being perceived as a nice or good guy), loss of material assets or access to children, perfectionism and your own need to control others, situations and outcomes.

4. Learn to control your body language. Your body language and facial expressions can betray what you’re feeling and thinking on the inside without you saying a word. Since your wife’s/girlfriend’s covert and overt attacks are designed to elicit a reaction, you need to learn how not to give her the reaction she’s seeking. It doesn’t matter if you don’t yell back. Seeing the pain flicker in your eyes, your face wince and your shoulders slump in dejection is often reward enough.

Stand in front of a mirror and think of some of the nastiest and most hurtful things your wife or girlfriend has said or done to you. Maintain eye contact and practice a calm, blank facial expression or a knowing, slightly amused smile. Practice slow, steady and relaxed breathing. Lower the tone of your voice (higher pitched voices reveal anxiety and agitation). Your shoulders, arms and hands should hang loose. Keep practicing relaxed and detached body language until you actually feel indifferent and unruffled by her barbs, jabs and eye rolls. In other words, fake it ’til you make it.

5. Lower your expectations. Ordinarily, I encourage people to expect the best from others to create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. However, expecting the best from an abusive woman will result in you feeling broadsided, perpetually disappointed and hurt most of the time.

For all their crocodile tears and hyper-sensitivity, abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and sociopathic women are emotional predators and bullies. If you stay in the relationship, the best you can expect is more of the same. You may achieve some periods of “peace” if you can learn how not to trigger her (remember, she’s not responsible for her behavior; you’re responsible for her behavior and your behavior and all the other problems in the universe), how not to take her attacks personally (even though they’re extremely personal in nature) and how to maintain your boundaries through implementing behavioral consequences.

“Happiness reflects the difference between what you expect versus what you actually get in life—so if you keep expecting good things to happen, but they never do or take a turn for the worse, you will suffer constant unhappiness.” (Sutton, 2007, p. 134) Your wife/girlfriend is abusive. She probably has significant characterological pathology and is unlikely to change. Therefore, keep your expectations for her behavior low, but continue to believe that you will be okay once you remove yourself from the situation and/or stop giving her the power to hurt you.

6. Do something that removes you from the abuse and centers you. Meditate or whatever your version of meditation is—reading, walking, woodworking, painting, music—anything that’s restorative. Find pockets of sanity and safety with friends and family or physical spaces like your office, the gym, the pub or social/professional organizations. Find activities that will take you out of the line of fire and minimize your exposure to her and the abuse. Find a hobby or activity that makes you feel good about your self and restores your confidence and esteem. Ignore her when she becomes jealous or puts down these new activities and friendships. She does so because she sees them as threats to her control.

7. See the big picture and don’t get distracted by her minutiae. The ultimate goal is to not let her abusive behavior effect you anymore and to end the relationship. Expect her to hit even harder—emotionally and/or physically—when you stop reacting to her tried and true button pushing. It seems counter-intuitive, but if she becomes nastier in response to you setting boundaries and detaching, it means your new behavioral strategies are working because she’s fighting harder to retain her control. By detaching, you’re taking back the power that you ceded to her.

These new behaviors will take time for you to learn and perfect. It takes a while to develop indifference. It runs counter to our fundamental beliefs about love and relationships. However, if you’re in a relationship with someone who verbally and/or physically attacks you, devalues you, makes you feel less than and who raises herself up at your expense, you must learn how to make yourself less vulnerable and eventually immune to her. Abusive personalities have no soul and they will destroy your soul if you let them.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

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