How to get Dr. Irene's Advice: Look here!

Ask The Doc Board Archives

The CatBox Archives

Stories Archives


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!

I Lost My Love

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here I Lost My Love

April 19, 2005

Dear Dr. Irene,

I am 34 years old. I was married once before but we didn't have any children.  I met my girlfriend at work, and I fell for her quickly. I knew I loved her and told her within 2 months. Well, we had been together since Valentine's Day 2004. We both felt each other was "the one". I wanted to show her how much I loved her by romancing her with trips to Catalina island and Hawaii. We worked in the same field so when we got back from our trips we discussed trying to find jobs in Hawaii.

After we were together for five months, we moved to Hawaii.  Before then, we were about living with each other, sometimes at her place and sometimes at my place, in a nearby city. We moved to Maui, then things started to change: I started to verbally abuse my girlfriend, Rena.

I don't know what it was for sure that changed for me that made me feel more insecure. I got a job at a military base and I think that maybe the stress of being on military property got to me. You see I had incurred some burns and disfigurement earlier in the military. Since the accident I had become ashamed of my form and didn't show my scars in public. After Rena came into my life I began to try. Well, that's excellent! Stuff happens in life that we can't control and often has nothing to do with us. The healthiest choice we can make is to accept whatever it is and getting on with life. But Mark didn't say anything more about the accident, and it was clear that it related to his issues.

I emailed Mark to explain more about this accident. It was somewhat difficult for him to discuss, but he did. This is an abbreviated version of his reply:

I was burned in a massive explosion. I was with the military and had to conduct demolition exercises before deploying for combat. We trained with live demolitions. We detonated the charges, but unfortunately not all of them went off.  We were ordered out to the field and were handling the explosives when they suddenly went off. Two of my team members died from the blast and thirteen were injured. I was the third closest to the blast and was the worst injured of the survivors.

I received 2nd and 3rd degrees burns over 40 percent of my body. My ear drums were shattered from the tremendous blast. I suffered internal ear damage and my ears scream with a continuous piercing pitch every second I am awake. This occurred in 1994.

There should have been a range safety officer present. For whatever reason, he was not present. I was flown to the hospital for stabilization, then flown to a burn unit for surgeries. I have ugly keloid scarring wrapping around my torso from midline to midline. Both my hands took the brunt of the blast and they are just as scarred. I have raised scars also on the entire front of both thighs were they took skin to cover the burns.

I am very self-conscious of my scars. I get various reactions to them from very inquisitive to absolute fright. I am very uncomfortable with them. I know I should be over it but I think I am not. I am told not to focus on the burns and memories, and instead be happy to have survived. I try but sometimes it is just not that easy. The scars and screaming tinnitus constantly remind me.


I showed my ugly scars in public. But I still had issues. I'm not surprised! What you described is Big. Big enough to give anybody PTSD! And PTSD and it's symptoms can certainly impact on your thoughts, feelings and behavior!

I fit many of the symptoms of a verbal abuser. Yes; I guess you already know that taking your frustrations out (because of the disfigurement - or anything else!) on your girlfriend made about as much sense as holding her personally responsible for the accident...

I was saying things about the television shows she enjoyed and different styles of things she liked because of my insecurities. The good news is that you now understand that you were doing that. I thought that her interests in the sexy shows and ideas were going to influence her that my scarred body was repulsive and that she would leave me. So I put them down with untrue reasons. I understand. I guess you realize in retrospect, the best thing you could have done was to discuss your insecurities with her. Of course, her reassurances wouldn't fix your insecurities, but she would know you better. Then, you would have had to deal internally with your feelings. I certainly hope you address those issues now!

I didn't realize why I was doing it. I was controlling her by telling her although she can watch them, I won't watch them with her and that she should watch them with the volume down low so that i won't have to hear it. Those are just some examples of my controlling behavior. I understand. I also understand how painful it must have been knowing she's watching these "perfect" men on TV, while you were internally comparing yourself to them. Please understand that YOU were doing the comparison! The unscarred body problem was in YOUR imagination, not hers. In fact, it sounds as though she accepted your body far better than you did! You are confusing your scars with your self-worth - and you need to work on that!

Rena would give in and turn down the shows. She would agree to set time apart just to watch them without me so I wouldn't act out. We discussed it and both agreed that we both wished she had stood up to my demands and refused. It seems like hind sight is always clearer. Ain't that the truth!

I am ashamed of my actions and feelings. Well, OK to be ashamed of your actions, but please don't be ashamed of your feelings!  It's very important to separate your feelings from your behavior. Just because you feel badly does not mean you have to behave badly.

Feelings just are what they are. The good news is that behavior is pretty easy to change. And I am particularly glad you are writing about all these things here because one of the best ways to overcome shame is to stop hiding what you are hiding and let it out!

Here are the main issues as I see them:

bulletNot to let your feelings influence your behavior
bulletTo accept your feelings, whatever they are, like them or not
bulletMost important: To stop equating your scars with your self-worth

You need to deal with your feelings, whatever they may be. Now and in the future. My girlfriend Rena took it from me because she loved me. I admit my abuse. I know that there is no excuse. I know you feel awful and guilty about it because you keep bringing up about admitting your abuse and it's inexcusability constantly! I even erased a few! Let's move on.

What there is no excuse about is what you did to yourSelf! So please don't compound things by beating yourself up over what you did. You were abusive. You see it. OK, now we go on from here. Let's stop wasting so much energy on self-recrimination because beating yourself up will not help you and will just make you miserable.

With Rena, as you identified yourself, you began to pin your bad feelings you had about yourself onto your body, even though Rena accepted the whole of you. Then you went around acting out your displeasure. According to your line of thinking, somebody who is disfigured, too fat, too ugly, too short, too tall, crippled, not-too-bright, etc. is not worthy! According to you, all individuals falling into those categories are not deserving of being loved by another! They are especially not deserving of love if the partner is less "imperfect" than they are!  How then would you explain that many very "imperfect" people are indeed loved? You can't!

What you do to yourself, which is the real not-OK part, and from which most of the rest of this flows, is to equate your scars with your your worth as a Human Being! You are not your scars! Your body has scars. And while that is unfortunate, it is not your fault and it makes you no less a Human Being that you were before you had them.

You still bring the same assets and liabilities to the relationship table. If a woman is looking for Mr. Gorgeous Body, she likely won't look your way. But lucky you, many women will.

Understand that your physical imperfection and its concomitant self-hatred is a state of mind. Your state of mind. The good news is that since it is your state of mind, it is yours to change.

Understand that even if you do hate yourself for being imperfect/disfigured, the decision to act out over it is a separate issue. So this gives you two separate plans of attack already.

But the main thing you need to work on is your self-acceptance. Then, whatever is wrong with you doesn't feel so bad.

Rena brought it to my attention that I was abusive. I did not realize it. I even thought that my problem was my just aggressiveness and jealousy. It doesn't really matter why you felt the way you felt. The disfigurement and it's concomitant PTSD symptomology just added a huge load to the camel's back. My guess is that the central issue is your insecurity about yourself per se and how you think you should be in order to be loveable.

Sure the disfigurement set off an abuse issue, but if the insecurity didn't come out over one issue, it would have come out over another. Key Word: self-acceptance.

Look at it this way: if you can accept that you have issues with insecurity, jealousy, etc., you can begin to understand that the only person who views those issues with as much disgust as you do - is you! And you don't have to go there.

I began to read more and more and saw that I fit the symptoms and descriptions to a tee. Rena told me I was abusive and now I see it and know it. I really don't want to be that way. I am a gentle man but I hide that side of me with a false bravado. Better to accept that those issues are your Human imperfections and deal with it with humility. Who (outside of most film stars) do you know who is so perfect? Well, Rena left when I was away on a trip. I understand she was doing what was best for her, the safest way out of my abuse. I respect her distance but I feel so sad without her light in my life. Ouchhh! The good news is that she gave you a much-needed wake-up call! And the even better news is that you took her up on it! Good for you!

Rena also complained that I was antisocial. She said she had given me ample opportunities to socialize with her co-workers and friends. I was afraid. I was ashamed that they knew about me and my abuse towards her. That's understandable; I'm seeing lots and lots of shame here. I'm so glad you're talking about it! I should have faced it. Yes, with humility and acceptance. I should have seen she really loved me in her own way. Yes; she was much more accepting of the whole of you than you are. Instead I wanted her to show me in my selfish ways. And we all know that that never works...

You may also have been isolating out of depression or anxiety, both very common aspects of PTSD. Talk to your doc about this.

Is it possible to love someone but verbally abuse them? Of course it is. You did!  I have restarted therapy again because I have to fix myself. Excellent, excellent, excellent! I had been diagnosed with PTSD from my military service.  With PTSD there are certain places in your psyche/memory that you are loath to go. Learning to become more comfortable with all these areas, including your wounds will help you overall. Print this board out and bring it to your therapist, which I think you implied you wanted to do anyway in one of your emails.

My verbal abuse problem was never so magnified and clear as it is now. Excellent! Because until you see something clearly, you are helpless to fix it. I am hoping it is not too late. Nope. Not too late. Never too late! I have begun facing my fears head on by seeking professional help again. I had seen a therapist but I stopped going because I was uncomfortable with opening up and facing my fears and insecurities with her. I wish I had said something. I'm glad you said something now! Writing here is a big step in the process of acceptance and de-shaming! Let the demon out of the dark closet - and watch the demon shrink! I'm glad you have a new therapist.

The PTSD part kept you from being able to talk about this stuff in the past. That you are dealing with it now is excellent and puts you on the road to recovery.

I feel like I really need to open up finally and say what I have been hiding about the accident I was in and how I have felt about myself since then. Yes, yes, YES! I am depressed and anxious. That's understandable and predictable. Just remember, nobody thinks this is as awful as you think it is! Depending on your symptoms, your doc may advise meds.

I still have much guilt over the accident and the death of my friends. Of course you do. That's also PTSD, even though the accident wasn't your fault. My ears scream constantly because of the damage done to them from the tremendous explosion. I feel edgy from the constant bombardment of noise. Now Rena is gone and I really feel like I am ready to face what I have been hiding from since the accident. I even began to watch the shows she enjoyed. Wow! You have made a running start in dealing with all these issues! You can certainly thank her for nudging you out of hiding, painful as it is. (And, it's always more painful as long as it's hidden.) Now you can begin to deal with it; to understand that this whole mess is not your fault. That you didn't set out to hurt anybody, that you are simply a Human Being, that you are far from perfect (like every Human), that stuff happens, that mistakes and accidents are part of life, and that the best we can do is learn from the past and get on with Life. Because Life is too short for so much pain...

Sadly, all the things I said about them were untrue and I have found myself enjoying them, and cried at the fact that I was so insecure about them and controlled Rena. That's OK. All of this is part of the recovery process. You are letting your feelings out. Good for you. I am not saying I have fixed the problem by identifying a reason why I verbally controlled her. I am so ashamed of myself because I am a grown man and I have acted so immaturely. And next you can go onto the stuff about accepting that you are a grown man who can act immaturely at times.

As of now, Rena is keeping a safe distance from me. I understand why and I respect her wishes for it. Excellent. She told me she still loves me. I know she does but I realize she can no longer keep herself in an unsafe place, unsure if I am going to snap the next time. I said at first I didn't understand it because I knew where I was coming from. I know it is not about my confidence that I wouldn't be physical with her, but her lack of confidence in my words because I have confused her so much with who I am. Because you are confused yourself over who you are (and how awful you think that is, which by the way isn't awful at all) and who you think you should be (which is silly because we all are who we are, like it or not. I like to tell people that God doesn't make mistakes (so you are inherently OK), but he does give us challenges that we can overcome.)

She said she is done hearing my negativity and finished with my controlling words. Good for her! Can you tell me if I can change? You have already begun to change. That is very evident from your writing. Can a verbal abuser wake up and see what they are doing and permanently change for the better? Yes. I hear around 20 or 30% just "change." Some help is really preferable though, especially because of the PSTD. I really have to because I know I will never have a love like Rena's again if I don't.  People can be verbally abusive for a large number of reasons. Some people need to learn assertion skills. Some need to learn anger management. Some need to deal with an underlying disorder like anxiety, depression, and certainly PTSD. That you have so many of these issues is good prognostically because much of this is fixable. The people who have the most difficult prognoses are those with underlying character disorders like narcissism and sociopathy who see no need to change. They think they don't really do anything wrong, or resentfully agree to change to keep the partner. So, it's hard for me to answer your question because I don't know enough about you. But I find what you are talking about very encouraging.

When I met Rena, I knew after a short time that she was the one for me. I had found what I couldn't find in others before. I felt so lucky. I felt so in love. She was so pretty to me. And, apparently, you were "pretty" to her! Don't ever forget that again!

She is so vibrant and independent. She has a way about her that was is so warm and sincere. She always sees the good side of everyone and everything. I was proud to be with her. She always has positive things to say. Rena has a dignity about herself that I admire deeply. She accepted me with my scars. She was so trusting. She understood what I told her about my feelings about my body. I found the woman I hoped for in my life. I dreamed that we would have children who would grow up just like her. I now see I have destroyed what I had and am so sad. I was so wrong. OK, now you know better. That's excellent!

I was so selfish. I didn't show her the love I really have for her. I put my ego before Rena and I. I hope that she can remember the gentler side of me Become that person again; accept your body instead of the mean abusive man that I showed her and one day give me a chance to show her again that I really know how wrong I was and that I have so much better in me than what I have given her. Please tell me that there are people that have realized what they had done and really changed. Yes, some abusive people can really change. I am going to be one of those guys. Yeah!

I have to be.  Mark. Mark, it's those people like yourself, who would rather die than stay the way they are who are most likely to change.  Just keep at it: one day at a time and one foot in front of the other. Expect icky days, they are part of the process, including those days when you just want to scream! And then keep going. The trick is to stay with it, no matter how frustrating it seems. And if you give up for a day, go back the next. Do whatever it takes. That is how to get success.

And,  I'm glad you are getting professional help. Guidance is invaluable!

I'll be back next week to reply to your comments, so feel free to post. God bless you Mark. Dr. Irene

While you can no longer post, you can read the posts.