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A Violent Victim?

A Violent Victim?

February, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene,

I have been meaning to go online for a while now to see if there was a site based on verbal abuse.  I am so very happy that you have this site.  I have just spend I think 1-2 hours reading through other people's experiences and your advice.  Unfortunately, now I am really confused.  Up until just now I thought I was the victim, but now I am wondering if I am the abuser and I am causing him to treat me the way he does.  I also hope that you get a chance to read this because you are the first person I have actually sought help from.

I don't think labeling one person "victim" and the other "abuser" is helpful.

I met Jack about a year and a half ago.  When we started dating I thought he was the best thing that had ever happened to me and thought, "Yes, this is the one1'  He knew all about my previous verbally abusive boyfriend that I had dated for FOUR years. I finally broke up with him because he ridiculed in
front of his family.

Anyway, I thought Jack was so wonderful because he was not like that.  He was so perfect.  Nobody is perfect! Perfectly imperfect is more like it... But after 3 months we got in our first fight.  It was horrible and I wish I had ended things then.  He said horrible things to me. Later he told me he knew he was wrong, but would not admit it while we were fighting.  He turned the whole fight around on me; the argument was my fault.  He threatened to leave.  I did not want him to go, I loved him...  So instead, I went home with him and and we ignored the fight and moved on.  Since then that type of fight happened more and more frequently until, now we are happily surprised if we spend a day not arguing. One or two fights would not concern me. When a destructive fighting style turns into a pattern, that is a cause for concern.

I don't see a problem in frequent arguments, I feel that is just ironing out your differences.  My problem is how he argues.  The hurtful things he says.  See, I am blaming him, doesn't that make me the abuser? No. Not yet anyway. It makes you self aware and is part of your responsibility to yourself. It is your job to identify things that hurt you. Either you make enough internal adjustments, assuming you can without hurting your self esteem, so his words no longer hurt you, or you ask him to stop. Once or twice. If he won't stop and you are still hurting, what are you still doing there? I feel that he triggers me. Take your power: Nobody just triggers you. You let them! That's one of your "buttons" and you apparently let him push it over and over again. I also tend to forget what we are fighting about while we are fighting. Why? If you would make it your business to stay on topic, you would not forget. Sounds like you have both gotten into very dirty fighting habits.

Recently, which is scaring me, I find I am fighting differently.  Before when we would fight he would get into a horrible yelling screaming rage.  He has thrown things, punched walls, broken his wrist! Ugh. He has NEVER hit me though. Yet, at least. Sometimes I wish he would so I could leave him! Take responsibility. You don't need an excuse to leave!  But now, he no longer yells, instead in a calm voice he says horrible, malicious things. And you sit there and put up with this? Why?  He will turn things around, make me feel the fight is my fault, tell me I am being too sensitive, and call me critical. If you find this unacceptable and he won't stop, what are you doing in this relationship?

When we fight now, Jack will say something, and it sets off a trigger inside of me.  I have always been the calm, rational person when we fight, just trying to get to the heart of the matter and solving it.  I am scared now, because when we fight I am losing self-control. Don't make it sound as though your loss of self-control is just happening. You are allowing yourself to lose it, whether you know it or not. Only you are responsible for your self-control.  I will go off in a crying fit and say HORRIBLE HORRIBLE things to him.  Things I regret later.  I also have been so mad that I have felt that I would want to get violent!  I reached out and grabbed him and shook him I think 3 times so far. Oh boy... Not just a little shake, but a shake where I want to physically hurt him.  As soon as I touch him though, I immediately pull away and start to cry and say, look what you are making me do! Look what YOU are making YOU do!

I am 23 years old, I have never been violent. Yet. I have never hit a person in my life. Yet. I honestly have felt violent like this only once in the 22 years I lived before Jack.  Once my abusive ex boyfriend (the one I dated for 4 years) told me he slept with another woman.  My body began shaking because I wanted to hit him square in the face.  I never did, but I never felt such rage.  I have felt it now 3 times with Jack.  I also am losing control over what I say when I fight with him. You left the old one because he made you feel badly. Why haven't you left Jack yet? What are you waiting for? Violence? Clearly that is the direction you two are headed in...

It scares because I don't want to be an abusive person!!!  I always recognize that what I am saying is abusive and apologize to Jack later, and always tell him we should not be together, we bring out the very best and the very WORST in each other and I can't stand it!  Also, I am becoming physically abusive.  I have not hurt him, but sometimes he says such horrible things that I want to physically hurt him in the worst way.  I feel that my words are not enough and he does not understand how badly he is hurting me.  But I get in such a rage that the only way to make him realize he is hurting me and to make him stop is to physically hurt him. You should be scared. This is a frightening situation.

The other thing that I am afraid of is that these changes in MY personality are going to sit within me and come out on other people or future men that I may date (once I get out of this relationship!!). Then, you'd better start dealing with it.  I am afraid this rage and this physically and emotionally abusive behavior I am now demonstrating may continue!!  I am so scared of that. Good. You should be scared. We can say I can recognize it, but what if I feel out of control again and I turn to violence? Yeah? What if you turn to violence? Your choice lady. And the sad part is that you don't have to go there...

So I guess it is apparent that I am both the victim and the abuser. I think most hurtful relationships have 2 victims and 2 abusers... Behaviorally at least (I am not talking about psychological stuff, a whole different story!)  Now I just want to fix it. Then fix it. First fix yourself then insist he clean up his act. If he won't, don't hang around to watch him repeat the same old stuff.  Is it possible for both of us to change and stay together? Anything is possible. He does recognize that he has a rage/anger problem.  He has tried to fix it, he has promised therapy.  He went to about 3 sessions of therapy, and our relationship got worse!  The therapist totally empowered him, and made him feel what he would do to me was fine! I think you both need therapy.

I should also mention that he is divorced.  He was separated 6 months before we began dating.  He did not want the divorce.  He said she fell out of love with him because he did not have a lot of money, a failed business ruined the marriage...  They have a 3 year old and joint custody.  She is with us 3 1/2 days a week.  Sometimes I see the way he treats her is parallel to how he treats me and I can't believe I am considering having children with him.  He threatens to throw her toys away and gets into power struggles with a 3 year old!  He does the same thing with me. 

When we are fighting, sometimes he will refuse to see my point.  He will walk out on a fight, he usually does.  He will threaten to go home at family events because he doesn't want to stay while we are mad at each other - like ten minutes before dinner he will threaten me, "I am just going to go home."  He will tell me I am losing my mind.  I am being too critical (which I agree with sometimes).

Is this fixable?  I am not asking whether we should break up, or maybe I am. I love the person he is when we are not fighting.  He is absolutely wonderful, fun, funny affectionate, caring.  But when he gets in a mood, he is like the beast. Apparently he is both. You cannot have one side without the other. He admits is too, but is there any way to get out of this?  Should I just start all over.

I am sorry this is so long.  But it was so wonderful to hear of a doctor who understood this kind of situation.  And even if you tell me I am the abuser, you have a way that explains it so the person does not feel blamed or bad about themselves, and that the person can make it better.  I thank you so much for reading this and if you respond I will be even more grateful!!

Thanks again for this site and your help, Mandy

Dear Mandy,

This is one of those (many) times I hate labeling who is the victim and who is the abuser - because it is not helpful. Each of you is behaving very, very badly. If this relationship continues in the direction it is going, it is likely to result in violence. Ugh!

If you find yourself behaving in a way that hurts your self esteem, fix it. Control your behavior. If you cannot control your behavior, you owe it to yourself to remove yourself from a situation you apparently cannot handle.  It is up to your boyfriend to do same for himself, yet neither of you are taking care of yourselves.

You are both behaving like abusers. That's not OK. Who is the "real" abuser? The one with the most fear of intimacy in the present relationship. This is the person most likely to stir up the trouble to begin with. I don't have enough information to determine which of you is "more abusive," though at this point I would suspect it is your boyfriend. But that's neither here nor there. 

It doesn't matter who is who. What does matter is that you take responsibility for yourself, your behavior, and  your self-esteem - and in one way or another stop behaving in a way that makes you feel badly about yourself! 

I'd like to read others' comments.