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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!

Covert Abuse Survivor

Covert Abuse Survivor

From: Alice
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 12:19 PM
Subject: Question

Dr. Irene,

I just found your site this morning and have been on it for 2 hours.  I am still exploring.  I find your advice and insight right on, and extremely helpful, and validating.  Thank you!
Dear Alice,
Thank you! Your letter touched me and I was compelled to write and give you a huge pat on the back!

I have a question.  As I was reading "The Abuser," the verbally abusive partner, when you talk about the abuser's anger, I became confused.  Cannot this exact same behavior be evident without overt anger?  Yes, yes, yes! Take a look at what this survivor has to say... The reason I ask is because this profile fits my husband perfectly, except that he has no overt anger, only and until I have "provoked" him. 

Abuse can be so subtle, it is almost invisible.

We have been married 37 years.  It has taken me this long to identify the real problem, and mainly because he operates without any overt behavior.  It is so subtle and covert, therefore, he has not fit the average, usual profile I've read about.  Everything but this. 

Subtle and covert does fit the pattern; it makes abuse harder to identify. You are describing the withholding type of abuser. Sins of omission rather than sins of commission. It is about control.

I discounted my own inner feelings for years, from using Rx drugs to alcohol, to a suicide attempt.  I've picked myself up, have been clean/sober for over 8 years, and now listen to, and believe in myself. Good for you! I am working on making my way out of this relationship, and at age 56, it is terrifying.  God Bless you and good luck! I was the child of an alcoholic.  I have been a member of all the 12 step groups, learning much in ACoA. The Steps are a wonderful support source. I understand my parents did the best they could, with the skills that they had. Yes.  I have moved on from this. Good. I have seen numerous therapists, most of whom validated my spouse....I had to try harder. Your husband is "good at it... Your experience, unfortunately, is not unusual. I have become abusive because of my rage and anger. This is exactly what are provoked and provoked, until you lose control and rage. You need self control skills, even if you leave. I simply want out.  I do not like my reactive displays of anger, and I know this is not the real me. No, not you. You are unhappy with your partner, but you should consider cultivating these skills for your own sake. To increase your personal power and self-esteem. I need to stay away from these type of people.  You don't have to pick a controlling partner. Yes, I grew up a victim, but no more.  Good! The toughest thing for me has been being invalidated. No one to witness the dynamics in my marriage.  I kept believing it was all me, enough to try and destroy myself. Yes. It occurs behind tightly closed doors.

You have identified one of the saddest as well as most challenging aspects of abuse phenomena. Abuse can be so difficult to detect, and too often, the professionals are fooled, the victim doubts themselves, the victim becomes overtly violent and is seen as the abuser. Your story, unfortunately, is not unusual.  

Now I see me as an imperfect human being just like everyone else, and one who definitely does not deserve to be mistreated. Absolutely not! (Nor do you deserve to mistreat - too much of a toll on your self-esteem!) 

The withholding has hurt terribly.  No sex for years, no emotional intimacy.  And for years I felt pity because he was an abused and neglected child.  So was I!  The difference is, I don't want to be a victim anymore and I don't want to live like this.  I do deserve better! You certainly do.
Despite what you've been through, despite being provoked to rage and substance abuse, you are on the right path now. You are clear, emotionally balanced, and you call a spade a spade. I am glad to see that you have not fallen into the victim's revenge trap... It is too easy, once victimized, to want to extract blood from your abuser. God bless you that you are not on that destructive road. 

I wish you the very best, and I'm glad I was able to be helpful to you. Keep up the good work! -Dr. Irene

Thanks, Alice

From: Alice
Sent: Friday, August 06, 1999 7:42 PM
Subject: Help!

I wrote you the other day and your response lifted my heart untold.  However, I visited with a therapist today and I came away in tears.  Once again I do not feel validated at all.  I told her I wanted help learning assertive skills because I'm either a victim or an aggressor.  She commiserated with my childhood, but that's done and gone.  She said that my spouse "sounds like he is trying."  Really?  I never said that.  She was just trying to make you feel better. Sounds like she doesn't know much about abuse though. Not uncommon. She let me talk ad lib, anything that came to mind, so I was all over the place.  If you remember, I have 37 years in this marriage and much baggage prior to that.  She said I sounded somewhat "dissociative."  Needless to tell you, I came away rather than feeling validated and that I have someone who empathizes (not pity), I have to convince her, too, of my situation.  I am absolutely done in.  I want to numb out so badly.  Don't. Why is it me who hurts so much?  Why is it me who has to make all the changes?  Why is it me who cannot live in this world without any validation of my reality?

And the biggest question of all?  Why would I even want to create this kind of pain in my life?  I was an addict.  I got clean/sober.  I attempted suicide.  I now like who I am, not an option anymore.  I just can't find anyone who will validate my reality and it's enough to push me back.

Is there a place for a woman like me to receive some compassion, understanding, empathy and support?  I've just about let go of the thread I've been hanging on to.  You.

Can you help me? 
Thank you, -Alice

Dear Alice,
Always remember that you are the consumer. This lady does not sound like the therapist for you!
Furthermore, you don't need anybody to validate your reality. Your reality is your reality, though I know that is hard for you to believe in yourself just yet.
Get on the phone and ask friends, relatives, anybody for the name of a good therapist. Get a few names and then go interview them. Most therapists will spend a few minutes on the phone with you prior to making your first appointment. Ask them about their degree, their training, their philosophy, whatever. See if you connect. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with the person you are working with.

Also sounds like you want somebody more active rather than passive. A "consultant" type therapist, like myself will have a cognitive-behavioral orientation rather than a psychodynamic one. We tend to jump in a lot and work with you rather than on you. A cognitive therapist will also know what you are talking about when you talk about "assertion." 

Don't give up; get to work! OK?
Dr. Irene

See Alice's revelation here