Dear Dr. Irene,
First, many thanks are in order!!! Because of your wonderfully
comprehensive website, I have identified "the problem" with my
nine year marriage. Understanding the dynamics that make the abusive cycle "work", gave me an option
I never knew I had: namely to stop allowing my husband to control
and abuse me any more!
When I realized I was responsible
for protecting myself and our two young children from this, I had some
hard choices to make. I had to take action and stop hiding behind my anger
and hurt feelings and instead use them to motivate and guide me to better,
healthier choices!!!!! In short, I had to ask my abuser to leave and
prepare myself to leave if he refused. Pretty scary stuff! It was very
painful and frightening to face the truth and decide to do whatever it
took to provide a safe and sane home for me and my kids. And I also
realized this might be his only chance to see the consequences of his
abuse and make a choice to change himself. He agreed to leave after many
attempts to change my mind, the worst being, "How can you destroy our
family?" I had to be clear on what I wanted and what I could do to
change it. I had to tell him his abuse of our family is the reason for the
separation, and he has to look in the mirror and finally see how his
choices affect others. He cried, he pleaded, he manipulated. But I stood
firm! The only way to stop this cycle is to refuse to participate in it
and seek help for myself.
I come from an abusive home (big
shocker, huh?) where my mother and father married young. By the age of 23
my mom was widowed with two young children. My father killed himself (the
ultimate act of selfishness and rage). Mom was an alcoholic and drug
addict. She raised me and my sister (or should I say we raised ourselves)
in an extremely chaotic environment of anger, shame, emotional and
physical abuse. She was very neglectful and given to outbursts of rage
when we needed her in any way. This left us to fend for ourselves in many
overwhelming, frightening ways and exposed us to predatory abusive men who
sexually molested us. Needless to say, I had to do a tremendous amount of
work to survive this childhood with my sanity intact. And I did. I
survived by being creative and resourceful and knowing deep down that I
deserved much better (a divine gift!). Yes.
By the time I met my husband, I had
done a lot of living and was determined to choose a spouse wisely. He
by contrast, came from a conservative, well-educated European family that
seemed very close and healthy. I guess anything would have looked good
compared to my home life - and he seemed wonderfully supportive of me.
Yet, I had warnings in my feelings about him, but the good codependent I
was, I ignored them. Everything about him just LOOKED so good! I had
learned to question so much of my internal world (part of why I survived
in the first place), I chalked my insecurities up to being afraid to be
happy! He more than encouraged me in that direction. He would speak of
wanting to protect me and take care of me, and LOVE me as I had never been
loved before. Yet his actions were making me uncomfortable.
On the surface things looked great
- all my girlfriends wanted to know if he had a brother! He was extremely
charming and thoughtful in ways that impressed me. He showered me with
gifts and attention. But, he seemed to want his own way in many things and
was insistent I comply. I remember sleeping with him the first time
because he persisted and persisted until I allowed him to do it. It didn't
feel good. It felt bad. But I was still unhealthy enough to think I had to
give him what he wanted in order to be loved. He was controlling in ways
that made me feel belittled and child-like. He didn't listen to my wants
or needs, but told me I had been in such a screwed up family, that I
couldn't know what was best for myself. It angered me to be so discounted,
but I was afraid he was right. Here was this handsome, older, successful
man, with no addictions and a nice family background wanting ME! Still, I
often felt a lack of connection to him. He became cool and removed,
working long hours and berating me for my lack of appreciation. He was
demanding and self absorbed. He felt himself to be a superior person, able
to make up his own rules as he went along, and I went with him. I remember
wanting to run away on the night before our wedding. I felt so anxious and
afraid. My mother told me it was nonsense, and seemed to think it was just
jitters. She didn't want to listen to me, she wanted me off her hands and
married to this successful man, so she could feel she had done her job
well as a mother.
So, I married him. I cried on the
honeymoon and felt terribly depressed. He was annoyed and angry that I
didn't respect him enough to enjoy all the relatives we stayed with in
Europe. I was unhappy. But when I returned home everyone thought we had to
have had the most marvelous time, and I went along with the ruse. Life
became increasingly more difficult as he did things that resulted in my
feeling very insecure and fearful. He would go on business trips and stay
out all night and not call when he said he would. My anger and unhappiness
with any action of his was "ridiculous!" He seemed to go out of
his way to encourage the very feelings he claimed to be so suffocated by.
I was really confused!
He became completely selfish after
the birth of our first child, almost like a rebellion against the
neediness of our baby. He wouldn't help me at all, and threatened he would
take away our baby if I couldn't handle it. I became so depressed, I
thought of committing suicide and sought professional help. My therapist
never recognized my abuse and saw my problems as a result of my childhood,
further validating my husband's explanation that the problem was all in my
head. I thought I would go insane, and just getting through each day was a
challenge. His angry outbursts escalated, and he withdrew all affection
and support unless I behaved as he thought I should. He accused me of
trying to control him often, when I was really just trying to find out
when he'd be home for dinner. He took away my credit cards and debit card
because he said I was ruining us financially with my spending (hard not to
spend money when you have a family to clothe and feed!) and generally made
my life hell.
I discovered at that time that he
was lying to me about a number of things, namely his spending and
whereabouts. I was devastated and confronted him. He lied even when I
begged him for my sanity's sake to tell me the truth. We became,
unexpectedly, pregnant again. I felt really trapped at that point. He was
terrible to me throughout that pregnancy, and didn't seem to care about me
at all. My tears didn't move him; he would ignore me and be annoyed that I
was upset AGAIN. He began to use physical force to get me to comply with
his wishes, holding me down, blocking my path and raising his fist to me.
He would agitate me to the point that I would explode with anger and say
terrible things to him. He told me I was abusive to him - and I agreed!
I read, "The
Intimate Dance of Anger" and learned to express myself more
clearly. I changed the way I responded, and was careful to not use my
anger as a weapon against him - but, surprise - it didn't make things any
better! His behavior became more brutal and cruel. He began humiliating me
in front of the children, screaming curse words and foul names. He
withdrew from me sexually and told me I was too fat and ugly to be wanted.
Any small thing could set him off. He made mean "jokes" about
me, threw things and hit me "by accident" and a whole host of
rotten, inhuman behaviors. Meanwhile, he became more and more successful
in the business world. He treated me so well in the company of folks he
wanted to impress. He bragged about my success as an pianist (don't even
ask me how I managed to perform! 'cause I sure don't know!) and was proud
to appear as "the family man".
We had a terrific life from the
outside: beautiful, smart kids, a lovely home, exotic trips to islands,
all the stuff that looks good. But inside I was dying. I began to hate him
and wish any plane he was on would just explode. I dreaded the
dinner hour and any time we spent together. I despised him for exploiting
me, and had fantasies of dying to show him how much he would regret what
he did to me. I began to do things I knew would anger him (smoking
cigarettes, spending time with friends, spending money), and just didn't
care anymore. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't, so I figured I
might as well enjoy my life.
I lied to him to avoid
confrontations, I hid purchases and distanced myself emotionally in every
way I knew how. I struggled to keep up the facade, be a good mom to my
kids and have a life of my own. I never let him see me cry, and felt I was
living with a stranger. He would explode with rage over trivial things,
and used the children to manipulate and control me. At that point I'd had
enough. I'd had enough of his pathetic self-centeredness, his control and
his tantrums. I didn't want to live like that.
Despite all I'd done to please him
and make him treat me lovingly, his actions and words told me over and
over again how much contempt and hatred he had for me. He hated me for
needing him, but couldn't resent me if I didn't need him. He hated my new
"selfishness," but couldn't feel sorry for himself without it.
He actually enjoyed making me suffer, seemingly getting high off of my
misery. There was not a single area of my life or my person that he hadn't
sought to use for his own means: to exploit, to destroy.
After surviving the hell of my
childhood, I was in hell again. That's what tipped me off to what was
really happening. I felt just as I'd felt as a kid; enraged, shamed,
blamed, powerless, helpless, hurt and unhappy. I prayed for help, to know
and understand why this had "happened" and how I could make it
Then I found your site, Dr. Irene.
I sat in front of the computer, dumbfounded by what I was reading. I
joined the online support group and began to tell others how I felt. I
read about my husband in their posts. I got mad as hell! Mad at him for
abusing me (now I could call it by it's proper name), mad at me for taking
A new idea began to grow in my
cramped brain - freedom!!! I could set myself free. I called my local
shelter and made an appointment to see a counselor. I told him to get help
or get out. I went to see a lawyer. And I got my hands on every book I
could find that dealt with abuse. (see some books
I was so scared. I felt
overcome by emotions of grief and sadness at the loss of my dream with
him. When I faced the truth, it tore me up so badly I wasn't sure I could
make it. I felt so fragile and afraid. Yet, a new feeling was taking root
for the first time in my life: I could make it on my own! I didn't need to
stay with an abuser to survive, I needed to get away! I knew deep down
that it was time to live my life on my own terms. Time to find out what
that meant for me and what I needed to do to get there. Time to take back
my dignity, my self-respect, and give myself the love I deserve!!!!
My husband is now in therapy and
living in a hotel. He says he's a changed man (overnight no less!) and is
All the Time". He is finally seeing the damage he has done, and
is not blaming me. He wants to come home, but it's early on in the
process, and that is unacceptable to me.
I want him to get the help he needs
so he can be a loving father to our children, and have a life he can feel.
I am struggling with guilt over wanting to end our marriage, even if he
gets better. I don't know if I can ever feel loving towards him again, or
trust him at all. I fear he is pathologically unable to perceive needs and
wants other than his own. I feel that he "acquired" me to
experience emotions he couldn't generate on his own and that his ability
to be honest with himself is seriously disabled. He is so emotionally and
spiritually handicapped, I can't imagine his recovery (if he can sustain
it) lasting less than the rest of his life. Even if he really wants it
(and I have no way of knowing if he really does or is just trying to win
me back), can he ever have anything to offer me that I would want? Could
he be sociopathic and able to function in the outside world as well as he
has? Are some abusers incapable of empathy? These questions trouble me
greatly as I have the well being of my children to protect, and do not
want them growing up in a divorced home unless absolutely necessary.
I am also fearful of seeking legal separation because I don't want to
incite him at this critical time. Maybe I just don't know what I want!
Maybe I still want to have hope that this could become a success story and
not end in divorce. What do you think?
Thank you so much for reading this
long story - and for any response you can give! Christina
What do I think? I
think that you are no less than a truly amazing woman. I thank you
for writing me; it is hearing about accounts like yours that make my hours
working on this site so overwhelmingly fulfilling.
Now, what do I
think about your situation and your husband? I think you don't yet know
what to do!
You have every
right to feel exactly the way you feel. You do not trust his recovery, and
you should not trust his recovery. He needs to earn your trust. Maybe he
will get OK, and maybe he won't. Time will tell. You will know.
About sociopathy: I
cannot make any comments regarding your husband and sociopathic traits or
tendencies. Clinicians recognize that antisocial personality disorder is
very difficult to treat. Angry individuals vary in
their degree of sociopathy. In general, the more sociopathic the
individual, the worse the prognosis.
The angry people I
work with are clearly selfish. They are also ordinarily compassionate and
well-meaning. I have yet to meet one who was not. The problem arises when
the angry person believes the partner is not meeting a perceived need/want
the angry person rightly or wrongly (usually wrongly) feels should
be met. Flip! All reason, all empathy goes out the window. All that exists
anger. The partner deserves to be punished for withholding:
"Hurt the horrible partner for hurting me," or so the irrational
thinking goes. Other times, the intent is less to hurt the partner than it
is to hole up to lick one's wounds. Their self-absorbed withdrawal however
hurts those around them - a byproduct of wound licking.
is workable. Like anything else, the more ingrained the
thinking style, the more time and effort it takes to dislodge. But it is
do-able - when the individual is highly motivated. (Look what you did when
On sociopathy: I've never met a person truly without
conscience. I've met many who have no conscience when angry. I've
met people who pretend not to have remorse when questioned because
they don't want to admit to a "weak" feeling. But, I've
never met anyone without any remorse. So, I don't know if these
awful, ice-cold people exist, or if they just spend most of their time
being very, very angry. Perhaps I am naive. Or, perhaps the angry people
in my practice (who have to put up with me) are self-selected, i.e., I
scare off the more pathological candidates. Or, as I suspect, it could be
that sociopathy, when viewed from the surface, is different from
sociopathy when viewed from the context of a more trusting
I am printing an
excerpt from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on antisocial personality disorder.
("Antisocial" is the newer technical term for sociopathy.) Make up your own mind on your husband's sociopathy. For the record, most
of my angry people meet these criteria. That's really funny, since I don't
never met a "real" sociopath, whatever that is! For the record, a really, really good
antisocial person is successful at whatever he or she does and - does
not get caught!
Keep up the
wonderful work. Though I suspect at this point, you cannot do anything
regards, -Dr. Irene
See Christina's March 2000 update here!