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Below is an Interactive Board sampler. A fuller listing is found in the "Stories" menu above.

4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

3/23 Interactive Board: He's Changing... I'm Not...

3/1 Interactive Board: D/s Lifestyle

1/14 Interactive Board: My Purrrfect Husband

12/12 Interactive Board: What if He Could Have Changed?

10/23 Interactive Board: Quandary Revisited

8/24 Interactive Board: Quandary! What's Going On?

7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

An Impartial Observer's Comments on Abuse

An Impartial Observer's Comments on Abuse

From: Nina
Sent: Sunday, May 23, 1999 8:31 PM
Subject: reply

Hi Dr. Irene,
I search the web constantly researching for things to help me develop instructional design material.  I am a corporate adult trainer with a masters of science. I have never before responded to a column, but felt the need to now.  I have read your entire web site.  I find your web site to be very well organized, extremely pleasing to the eye, with lots of good info on many different aspects and ways of spotting and dealing with verbal abuse. I do not give this compliment lightly, as I know how much time and effort it takes to create a very good web site.

Dear Nina,
I want to thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I also want to reply to and to publish an anonymous version of our correspondence because you bring up some interesting points.

I read the email from Carol who disagreed with you about verbal abusers. She is of the opinion that they do it being fully aware of what they are doing. You do not agree with her on this. Well, I disagree with both of you.  I have come to the conclusion that some people are well aware of
how they behave and why and are abusive deliberately  and others are clueless about the how and why of their behavior.  How did I come to this conclusion?  From my line of work.  I always train on site at many different institutions.  I have trained well over 4,000 people ( I stopped counting long ago). This has given me a fly on the walls perspective on corporate cultures and the many people that work for them. Always being a guest has afforded me the opportunity to observe these people at a distance, and since I'm only there for a short period of time I have very limited emotional attachment and can see things more objectively.

As a matter of fact, I do agree with you! "Some men have more awareness than others, but as a generalization, their stated and usually conscious intent, is contrary to their actions. Jeckyl and Hyde."

It is very interesting to watch peoples bad behavior, the reactions of others to it and then the perpetrators response.  While I have not grown up in a verbally abusive atmosphere, I have been on the receiving end of it from work and just living life.  In the training profession we call them "hecklers".  Some of the techniques used to handle them are the same ones you advise your patients to use. However removing yourself from the situation is not possible.  You can't just walk out on a training session. Instead one must confront it immediately or risk losing all credibility with the class.

I read the emails from the abusers and abused.  It made me very sad, so much unhappiness and misery. I know that you provide people with much needed info, guidance and support. But it did make me cringe reading how the abuser professes to love the one they abuse. In my mind that is an oxymoron.  How can you love what you abuse?...You can't. 

Again, you are correct. Because the angry controller cannot trust, they cannot love in the same way a trusting person can love. Their love is more akin to the dependent "take care of me because I need you to" love of a young child.

I remember years ago when I came of dating age, my father sat me down and explained to me in no uncertain terms that any man that hits a woman or is nasty or is disrespectful of her feelings and claims to love her is full of BS.  And that no matter how sorry they are afterwards or how much they promise to change, they won't. He told me to dump any man like that immediately  because there was only more where that came from. My mother taught me that love is about goodwill towards another and to avoid any man who showed he was jealous of me because it would only bring me misery.  I followed all this advise and ended up with a good husband. But I still had my share of dating lousy men with bad behavior and attitudes. Yes, from experience I learned that mom and dad were right, and that the dating world is a jungle.

Mom and Dad were right and gave you the best advice. You have saved yourself many headaches. Your parents raised a healthy daughter!

Of all the emails I read, the one from George (the abuser) stands out in my mind.  His constant question of "is it to late for me" raises red flags for me. He knew exactly what he was doing, and now he is worried that he will pay the price for his bad behavior, which he really doesn't want to do.  What he really wants is to be forgiven without having to do all the hard work of making restitution.  For two months he claims he has been a very good boy....yeah well, what about all the years he spent being a bad boy, for which he'd like us all to believe he was not all that bad. Mr. wants an instant fix has not learned his lesson, like he claims he has. He's not putting all his energies into implementing solutions, he's very busy trying to get praise and approval and pats on
the back from you, a stranger.  While also looking for constant reassurance of love and acceptance from the one he abused. George is far too needy, self centered and emotionally immature to function in the adult realm successfully. Trainers call this type "the drainer", or
"attention getter". To George, I say wake up and smell the coffee...what you abuse and take for granted you lose.  This is common sense and applies to all of humanity and things earthly and man made. George, gets no sympathy from me because if he was so sincere about mending his ways
and was as enlightened as he claims he is he wouldn't be complaining about how long it's taking since it's only been two months. He would have a much more realistic time frame. George tipped his hand with that comment that one bad dead does an abuser in. You called him on that one, but for me it eerily revealed his true thinking.

Yes. Once again, you are absolutely on target. But, if George could do better, don't you think he would? You are right not to give George your sympathy because he does not deserve it. Yet, George is hurting - he is about to lose the one who has cared for him. He got his wake-up call. (Or rather, the third of many yet to come.) Maybe he is ready to fix it.

George needs to face the consequences of his actions, and he is, since his woman is on her way out. But, then what? Do we dump George out onto the street? Or give him the opportunity to correct himself? If he wants it.

The problem is that far too many "drainers" stay stuck in spending their energy manipulating others and getting sympathy. George might go this way, or he may not. Or, he may start out manipulative and get to work later. Or whatever. Only time will tell if George emotionally grows up. Remember that George never learned to think in ways that are natural for a healthier person. Yet, that is no excuse or reason to allow him to continue to hurt those he loves. Ultimately, what George does or doesn't do is George's responsibility.  (His partner is the only one who can decide if she wants to deal with it - in the event that he does not change, a distinct possibility. She is also the only one who can decide if she wants to stick around during the long, bumpy road of the recovery process.)

I think what you do not see as a person who doesn't stick around over the long haul is the progress that some of these people make; they can transform their lives if they are serious.

Trainers need to constantly upgrade their skills.  Going to conventions and seminars over many years has allowed me to hear many stories of how people behave.  I've also met many teachers of all different kinds. From being exposed to people all day long and others who deal with people all day long, I have learned that the whys and hows of people's behavior falls mainly into many shades of gray.  Carol thinks all behavioral problems are genetic and you think they are all learned.  I think that sometimes it is genetic, and sometimes it is learned and sometimes it is a combination of both, with widely varying contribution percentages.

Not true. Nowhere do I say this is all learned. While I focus on the learned aspects since my field is psychology, I am solidly in the "Nature/Nurture" camp." Current thinking in the field (backed by some anecdotal and experimental evidence) strongly suggests an interaction between nature and nurture. Specifically, an abusive or neglectful environment imposed on the genetically-prone infant is thought to predispose to problems of this nature.

My hope in sending this is that maybe one day your profession will see the many different shades of gray and not just the black and white and design a curriculum that can be taught to people so that they can avoid getting into abusive relationships in the first place.  The old saying  "an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure" comes to mind here. And I would like to see that these classes be mandatory starting in junior high.

So would I - though I think Junior High is much too late. I vote for starting in preschool!   - Dr. Irene

A web surfer.


From: Nina

Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 1999 9:48 PM

Dr. Irene,

Would George do better if he could?  I don't know enough about him to make that accurate a judgment call.  But from the little I do know about him I would say no.  Why? Because George wants what he wants, and  he doesn't want to work for it, he wants it served to him. George is one
of those, who thinks the world and those in it owe him something. 

Now, he does. You gotta start somewhere...

Too bad verbally abusive men do not come with a warning label attached to them. While it would be very drastic to tattoo misogynist on their foreheads, it would certainly save many women lots of unnecessary grief and aggravation.

Yes! (Same with the abusers who are women.)

I also want to bring up another point.  I don't agree with you that all recipients of verbal abuse are co-dependent.  A stranger can do this to you, and they have no idea what you are all about. Road rage is a good example. For an even better example, one only needs to ride the subways of NYC.  That's a real eye opening experience. 

That is just plain old unmitigated anger, poor manners, and disrespect! 

You bring up the point that I do not stick around over the long haul for the people I train.  This is true, but minimal short term bonding happens, if it happens at all. Therefore, it is not necessary to be in it for the long haul.  Unlike your profession, where much bonding occurs for the long term and it is necessary to be in it for the long haul.

Exactly my point. If you are not around for the long haul, you cannot watch people make changes before your very eyes!

I stand corrected.  I checked, and you are right, no where did you say that you believe all behavior is learned. Personally I think the nature vs. nurture percentage can fall anywhere along the percentage line, ie, 90/10, 20/80 etc.  In addition, I also think there is another realm as  well, and that is that some people are just plain evil. 

Again, we're on the same page with the percentage stuff. I don't have much to say about the evil people hypothesis; I don't know; no experience with this crowd.

I agree with you that it is a long bumpy road one travels when one is with a spouse who has to change abusive behavior.  And I also think it is a risky gamble. 


And then at best they will always be a recovered  abuser, who could revert back to the old ways at any given moment.

Only if they haven't really grown. Now I'm going to say something really unpopular, but here goes anyway - kind of like the recovering alcoholic who populates the AA rooms for 20 years falling on and off the wagon. No growth.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they shouldn't be given the opportunity to redeem themselves. It's just that there is a lot at stake in giving them this opportunity -  your emotional well being, which is linked with your physical well being. 


Absolutely! I advise my young women clients from getting involved with this type to begin with, suggesting they find another loving codependent type, like themselves. It is sad how too many younger women don't appreciate the "nice guy" until later in life - after they've been bopped on the head a few times. But, once they are involved and have a history together or children together, it is a different story and there are strong mitigating factors. Now the victims have to make tough choices - though some abusers are so bad, they make the choices easy.

I still think junior high is a good time to teach dating 101, because then they would have the cognitive skills necessary to process the information. And then there should be mandatory parenting class. After all, you have to get a license to drive a car and fly a plane, yet everyone is left to their own devices when it comes to learning how to be a good parent and how to pick the right mate for life. Of course then you would have a lot of unhappy practicing family law lawyers running around trying to put gag orders on the advocates of such

The reason I think preschool is late enough is that children acquire basic trust/mistrust by age 1, according to Ericson. This is real early stuff, though lots of opportunity exists later to modify it. Maybe the family law attorneys can run around with pacifier restraints!

Have a good Memorial Day Weekend. -A web surfer

You too! -Dr. Irene