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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

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

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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!

There Really Are "Bad" People

There Really Are "Bad" People

Sent: Wednesday, October 20, 1999 10:50 PM
Subject: I disagree with you...

Hi There Doc,
It's been awhile but I'm the guy who had an E Mail which you titled "Abused Judge" last summer. I looked over your response to me the other day and I found an interesting question. I referred to my abusive spouse as a "bad person". In your response you stated that abusers aren't "bad people".

I really hate to judge others, (no pun intended), but I am slowly finding myself disagreeing with that opinion. Now from a purely clinical point of view, I'm sure a psychiatrist can justify and explain even the most abhorrent behavior without passing judgment. And I'm not trying to insinuate that the truly sad and unfortunate childhood of most of these people doesn't merit at least some level of understanding if not outright pity. But in my line of work I come face to face with just this moral question on a regular basis. What I have come to believe is that the actions of abusive and criminal persons actually answer the questions that you seem loathe to answer. Namely, can people who perpetrate horrible actions be considered "bad people". After 12 years with an abusive wife and numerous years in the criminal justice system I feel quite qualified to engage in this debate. In order to explore this question we must decide whether there is such a creature as a "bad person". My belief is that the basic foundation of a civilized society is the respect for person and property. Therefore, any person who consistently, intentionally, and recklessly violates these principles with malice and aforethought, I consider a "bad person". OK. Now at least we have a working definition.

The first question is about responsibility. Are we all responsible for our actions and more importantly THE RESULTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF OUR ACTIONS!! I say yes. Me too! I believe that as humans, we can choose our actions but we cannot choose the consequences of our actions. When we CHOOSE!! to abuse others, that means we intentionally inflict pain. In abusive situations the results are always intense mental anguish and hurt for the victim and often their families and children. It's also frequently intense pain and anguish for the very children of the abuser. If we accept the premise that the abuser is responsible for their actions and the results. Then clearly that falls into the category of a "Bad Person". OK.

Secondly, the abusers world is based solely upon caring for their own emotional. Usually, and quite often intentionally, to the detriment of others. Especially those closest to them. This self centered attitude, regardless of its origin, consistently produces mental pain and anguish for the victim. Again this places the responsibility of that pain on the abuser. OK.

Lastly and I believe most damning to the abuser, is the fact that these people often appear to get pleasure and even draw their inner power from the pain they inflict. This pain appears to be the visible indicator to an abuser that they are in control. They often do such things as laugh when their victim is brought to tears by their abuse. Yes.

Now don't misinterpret this letter to convey the position that I don't recognize the terrible emotional environments which the abusers have usually suffered through as children to produce their emotional state. But I do believe that someone needs to stand up and say. "I'm not a psychiatrist, I don't give a damn about their past, this world produces good people and bad ones whether we like it or not. It always has and always will."  Somewhere, society has to draw the line and say this is out of bounds. Sometime we have to see life from the eye of the victim. Rapists blame their victims for "being too seductive", killers blame innocent bystanders who get hit by a stray bullet by saying "he shouldn't have been there". I say, "think about it for 25 to life and maybe you'll get a better understanding of their point of view". 

Abusers are full of inner tension and pain. And as cruel as this sounds, I think they are their own judges. Their self destructive actions ultimately produces their sentence for their abuse. Yes. There is no inner peace. And I have no pity for them.  I have learned to understand and overcome in many ways the abuse in my life. I am still with her so I can insure that my daughter not be scarred for life by her twisted delusional attitude. And thankfully I have been quite successful to date. But she knows I don't love her and I know it hurts. I don't think she knows I actually despise her but I have no reason to tell her that. But my understanding of abuse is quite different from yours. I agree with you on virtually every position I've seen you take.... Except one 8-)

I love your website and everything you stand for. I hope you know that your saving peoples lives, both literally and figuratively I'm sure. Keep up the good work. I just thought I'd give you another point of view.

Peace and Love, G......

Dear G,

And I thank you for your point of view. I do not think however that we disagree. Semantics plays a large part in miscommunication. Which is why most shrink-types, myself included, are loath to use value-laden words such as "bad."

 "Bad" means all sorts of different things to different people. However, you defined your use of the word "bad" above. According to your criteria, I agree with you, though I would prefer you make up a word - maybe "dab" - to lessen the semantics overflow.

Interesting stuff you bring up, as usual. I don't know where to draw the line or if there is a line to draw. In my experience, most abusers inflict pain as a byproduct of doing what they feel they have to do to meet their own aims. Most are so into their own experience at this point, they have no clue they are hurting another, or see the pain they inflict as inconsequential given the great pain they feel has been inflicted on them (when the partner has refused to be controlled and do what they want done for them). Coo coo? Yes.

Others seem to intentionally inflict pain, almost as a punishment to pay back wrongs that they feel have been done to them.

And the related variable you highlighted: some abusers truly seem to enjoy the pain they intentionally or unintentionally inflict on other, whether they are aware of this enjoyment or not, admit it or not (the satisfied smile on their face gives them away).   

Where does one draw the line between the intentional infliction of pain and inadvertent infliction of pain as a byproduct of trying to meet one's own twisted needs? Where does enjoyment of inflicted pain fit in? I don't know. Does it matter? Certainly not for the victim. It does matter for the clinician who treats abusers. I find myself wondering about this stuff quite a bit. I also know I would not want to be involved with it in my personal life - in any way, shape or form!  Which is essentially what your definition of "Bad" clarifies: "I don't care whether you are doing it on purpose or not, whether or not you are deriving pleasure from it or not, bottom line is you are hurting me".

The only place I am not sure where we stand is my position on personal responsibility: I see it as the victim's job to stop being a victim and not to allow abuse. I see it as the abuser's job to stop being an abuser and not to allow themselves to abuse. My position stems from my personal belief that we answer ultimately only to ourselves and our Maker and we have control only over ourselves.

Where are you on this? 

Warmest regards,   Dr. Irene