The Doc Answers 2

The Doc's Answers 2


Date: Friday, February 23, 2001
Time: 10:12 PM


I just broke off - again - my relationship with my abuser. We have broken up and gotten back together several times. Recently, I had talked to him about his verbal abuse. He read, at my request, The Road Less Traveled and parts of the Verbally Abusive Relationship. However, we were still fighting intensively. He feels that I "set him up" and intentionally hurt him by having him read the books. Oh boy... He says he won't let me hurt him this way. He won't let me dump him. He's threatening "retribution" although he won't specify how or when. How seriously should I take his threats? Threats are threats and are not OK. Even if he has never hurt you and has no intent to hurt you, he is trying to intimidate you at the very least. He has a high-paying job that he loves that would be jeopardized by any legal action. Why are you feeling compelled to protect his job by taking on the burden of possible harm? Even if he's never ever hurt you in the past, you cannot permit anybody to make threats against you! That's how you participate in the abuse cycle.  If he wants to jeopardize his job, that's his burden. Don't make it yours. I'd like to think that that would prevent him from doing anything too crazy. Is that right? Or would this really cause him to go off the deep end? He sounds as though he is already off the deep end: You set him up and hurt him by having him read books and the threats he is making. Escalation is not unusual when you begin standing up to him. Now, follow through and do what you have to do. Go to the police and protect yourself. Don't warn him, don't tell him, just go. You owe this man no explanations. If you are frightened , spend some time with a friend, change your phone number, go to a shelter, etc. Do not contact him. Let him deal with the consequences of his own actions. 

Get yourself some counseling and support. Make sure you don't go back with him or anybody like him again. Without intervention, history is the best predictor of future behavior. Get help. 

Please I need help soon! I don't know exactly how I should respond. I hope this helps. Dr, Irene



B1: Submit
Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2001
Time: 09:59 PM


Dear Irene,

I spoke to you last October, from far away down under and I took heed of what advice you gave and you were correct. Hi again! Now that time has moved on and my ex is no longer in the picture and has established another relationship, I thought things would be better. But no, he still tries to control me and continues to verbally abuse me; he abused me my by email. This meant that I could threaten him with a court order and he is no longer able to abuse me by mail, in the presence of others or alone, or he will have a restraining order. Since then he still is covertly abusive and still has control over me by the way of money. He has been told by the court that he has to pay me x until we settle but he will not negotiate a settlement and so the process of separating property continues. That he is dragging the process out is not under your control. Yet, you have a choice: you can make the best of it, or you can dwell in how awful he's making your life. Pick one. I am much better at distancing from him :) (Practice makes purrrfect!) and am relieved he took heed of my threat of the restraining order. But it is hard when you have children, one 16 and the other 10 years old. 

He is not really abusive to them, but does expect a lot from them. When he expects lots, they are rude and refuse to play along with him. You don't think laying on the expectations is emotional abuse? Why would they be rude if he wasn't hurting them? Re-evaluate your definition of abuse! He is so afraid of loosing them and their respect that he gives in to them constantly. He blames me for their behaviour (of course) Let him. You won't change his mind, and who cares what he thinks! but they are not like this with me. Bingo! 

What I really want to know is how to keep things calm as I still have to deal with him constantly. I get exhausted sometimes as it seems this man will never stop. You must be internally telling yourself something along the lines that "this will never stop" and "this is awful..." Pay attention to what's going on in the back of your mind. If you are telling yourself awful stuff, stop! The reality is that it was horrible, but now it's just a nuisance. Just an example: he is divorcing me on my birthday. When I heard I laughed because it is just so awful that someone could be so callous, but other times it makes me sad. Stop taking his attacks personally. You forget that his hurtful actions have absolutely nothing to do with you and absolutely everything to do with him. The sad times are much less frequent but anyone who has to constantly put up with abuse, breaks. Yes. Aren't you lucky you are no longer in that place? The thing is I have realised every opportunity he has he will bully me. I am getting better, as just today he asked me to mind my little girl on his weekend. I started to resent this as he is always doing this so I said...I was unavailable. Yippeee! It hurts to lie to my daughter but I need the break and I do go out on these nights. Please knock off the guilt. When you care for yourSelf, you will be a better mom to her. Care for you, and you teach her to care for herSelf. This is good stuff.  I wish I new how to just get along, not to be close but just normal. I doubt you can have a normal co parenting relationship with this guy. It is an issue as he will be made by the courts to support me for the rest of my life due to my age and the children. Also, I have chronic illnesses which make it impossible for me to work. So you can understand somehow I am still connected to this sick man. Yes! Maybe this is the answer is to realise that he is very sick? Yes, yes, yes! He is a sick cookie. That's why I doubt you two can co parent together. He will not permit it. Disengage emotionally and stop taking his words and deeds to heart. His behavior is a reflection of who he is/his illness and has nothing to do with you. Another way of putting it is to say that he chooses to sell out and be ill. He wants to engage you, and the more he does, the more he'll do it. I suggest you read this wonderful new book by Dr. Albert Ellis, The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life

Thank you Irene for your web site it is so valuable in helping people understand the issue of abuse. I now never let anyone ever go anywhere near what I think is bullying behaviour near my children and constantly tell them they DO NOT have to put up with it. 

Kind regards from down under. You're very welcome dear southern neighbor. Irene


B1: Submit
Date: Thursday, March 01, 2001
Time: 10:09 AM


Dear Dr. Irene,

I cried when I found your site because after years of not quite knowing what was wrong with me or my relationship, it was all spelled out in front of me. So much described my husband and myself. He is incredibly controlling, needy, and subtly emotionally abusive. He blames everything on me, even the way that he is. We have been going to a marriage counselor for a couple of months, and he understands that he is controlling, yet he can't seem to let go of it. That's why it's up to you not to allow it. He has stopped complaining about the house, but still tries to control my emotions and the way I talk to him. Just the other day, he became upset at me for interrupting him while he was talking to me. I apologized - he refused my apology and walked out of the house (he typically refuses my apologies).  He was distant and said little to me the rest of the evening.. Later that night, he said to me "What I was going to tell you before you so rudely and typically interrupted me..." I stopped him there (I'm getting better at this.. I used to just take it which caused me to go into a deep depression over the years). Excellent! I asked him why he had to run the issue into the ground, and then stomp all over me before he would grant me the opportunity to listen to him. He became very upset. He said that my apologies meant nothing to him.. unless I were to pull him aside, touch him, sit in his lap, and pour out sincerity to him. He said if I didn't do that, he didn't believe me. I told him I didn't mean to interrupt him- he said "Yes you did.. no one accidentally interrupts anyone. It's an intentional act." I said, "Ok, if you won't accept my apology, then what?" He said "Just don't do it." I said "I'm not perfect.." He said "That's a cop-out." I love him more than anything, but this is how it goes for us all the time. He has a fantasy idea of how every conversation and move I make should be, and when I don't measure up, he becomes upset and depressed. He cannot be wrong. If we're late, it's my fault. If he forgets something, I distracted him. I work full-time, have two children, and go all day long until bedtime. When he does help me, he hints for praise and sympathy. He takes everything I say personally.. he acted like my interruption of his sentence was so horrible and attempted to make me feel horrible the rest of the evening. He tried to convince me years ago that I had ADD.. because I forget sometimes and because I'm not organized like he is, etc. He convinced me to see a psychiatrist last year for medication, because I'm not "outgoing enough and passionate about anything." When we go out with friends, I'm warned, "If you don't have fun, it won't be a good evening for us." How I could ever let him make me believe that I was so inadequate, I'll never know or understand. Not hard to understand. Subject anybody to years of constant undermining and criticism, and what do you expect? I have twice the education he does (no, that has never seemed to bother him)- he's incredibly intelligent. Our therapist said he is a "master at manipulating and turning things in his favor." She said he "scripts my thoughts.." He's still doing it. I think that he really believes that what he says and the way he feels is right, Yes, he does. although to me, and I imagine most people, he makes no sense at all. What hope is there for this? Not much if you continue as you have. I cannot live like this forever (we've been married 12 years, and it just gets worse).. and he stays miserable because I don't "meet his needs and expectations." He's always saying "You don't love me" He said he doesn't believe in unconditional love, and yes his parents are incredibly controlling people. He has no relationship with them because they are controlling and they know nothing of unconditional love either. How do I, or our therapist reach him? You are the only one who can reach him. I want so much to have a normal relationship - to be myself and be comfortable around him. I'm so tired of walking on eggshells wondering if I've upset him or said/did the right things. I can't talk to him, because he spins the conversation into one that is totally irrational and makes every attempt to make me believe that I'm the one that is irrational and doesn't care about his feelings. It's always about him... And yes, unfortunately, I had an affair last year- I was so desperately seeking comfort. He now uses that against me whenever he can. I love him very much, but don't know what to do from here. Leave. It sounds harsh, but look at what you've told me: 12 years of effort on your part have done little. You can cope with his stuff better, but it is difficult and unrewarding. And, it is worse, not better. Your only shot of reaching him may come when you stop loving him more than you love yourself. If you did care for yourSelf, your only option would be to leave a toxic situation. In doing so, you've upset his world and he is likely to "wake up," willing to do anything to get you back. I can only hope for you that you've become self loving enough by this time that you don't fall prey to your own powerful desires that things be OK between you. If you engage in your wishful thinking and believe his promises without the test of time, you will be right back in the same boat fast.   Love yourself.  Dr. Irene

B1: Submit
Date: Sunday, March 04, 2001
Time: 08:25 AM


I have recently realized that I am a verbal abuser. Good for you! I am a 50ish year old professional male who has had significant turmoil over the past 5 years: job loss, financial loss, divorce, receiving custody of all children. But have a new job and everything pointing to a successful return. Good.  In my previous marriage, abuse was not as apparent, but was likely present in a more subtle form because my ex was rather passive, providing less fuel for anger. I have been seeing a woman for the last year. The relationship is wonderful sexually, intellectually, socially, interests, etc. She is however, more emotionally distant with words of tenderness and support than any other woman I have been with. When I ask for them, her response is, "That is not my personality"... or... "I guess I don't give you what you want"..."I am not fulfilling your needs... perhaps you should find someone else." You have to accept her as she is. Stop pressing for what she is not comfortable giving. Therefore, I am a little reluctant to share my feelings with her as I often am made to feel inadequate or guilty. OK, stop here. She can't make you feel inadequate or guilty. Only you can do that - when you interpret her distance or responses to your requests as negative. That, I think is the major difference between this and other previous relationships. And she has a very direct, no nonsense type of personality and delivery. Often rather sarcastic, but that is also part of her sense of humor... which I enjoy. Anyway, I have exhibited 3 episodes of verbal abuse over the past year, one 6 months ago, the last two separated by six weeks, and the intensity seems to be increasing. Something's bugging you. During the last two, the verbal barrage lasted through the night; the last was one week ago... After the 2nd one I started to see a therapist who is working with me regarding anger control routines. Good. But they were for naught during the third. You are learning new skills. Don't expect to "get" them so quickly! The emotions completely took over my body and all reason left me... There are in fact periods of the night that I cannot remember. After that, I talked to a physician who diagnosed agitated depression and started me on Zoloft. My mood and equanimity is dramatically better. There have, however, been few tests, and my responses have been calm... much calmer than at any time in my life. Excellent! But I and we are concerned about prognosis. We really love each other and we have a dynamite relationship. The Zoloft may have done the trick. You'll know in time. But, what are you angry with her for? Let me guess: you can't stand that she is so removed, thus making you feel x, y, z... The agitation will likely return if you don't deal with it, albeit at a lower level with Zoloft. We each have families and our kids know and like each other and our families love us respectively. But she is really scared for her safety. Me too. Her experiences when I become this different person is terrifying. I have not been physically abusive, and am not a physical person. But, I am scared that it could happen. I don't want that to happen again. But what is the prognosis? Will I ever feel safe??? When you improve your control over yourself and learn to deal with your frustration. Will my lover ever feel safe??? After you've demonstrated self control over time. Is it possible for someone to really beat this once it has appeared in that relationship??? Yes. Please help.... we are really scared about the future. I'm glad you're scared. That's good. First a few questions: Do you drink? Could you be having alcohol-related black outs? Is (even moderate) drinking increasing an already problematic anger level? Alcohol potentates anger; stop all drinking/drugs. On the other hand, perhaps you suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder: you lose control and memory when enraged, only to feel horrible horrible horrible later over what you've done.  In any case, your prescribing physician and therapist, each of whom knows you, are the best people to discuss these possibilities with, as well your prognosis. 

Regardless of the above,  you have poor impulse control (you blow up), and you have difficulty taking responsibility for yourself (you think that she can "make" you feel guilty/inadequate) and you persist way too much (you won't her be). Anger management techniques, though initially hard to impose, should help you tremendously. Your confidence will restore itself as you find yourself controlling your outbursts. Practice, practice, practice until the impulse control becomes habitual! Anger management generally includes cognitive skills as well: you learn to recognize and defuse your tendency to trick yourself into thinking she can make you... anything, etc.  

Finally, you have to deal with what's making you angry or frustrated in the first place. Like her distant posture, for example. You've been together a year and you still haven't accepted that she is the way she is - which has nothing to do with you? You need to learn to let her be herself and not interpret her posture as lack of love. You won't change her, you know.  Suggested reading: Grow Up!: How Taking Responsibility Can Make You A Happy Adult by Dr. Frank Pittman. and Ellis et al's et al.'s How to Control Your Anger Before it Controls You  or Ellis' How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable. The last two are boring, but they work. You must study and practice them rather than just read them.


B1: Submit
Date: Monday, March 12, 2001
Time: 05:48 AM


Dr. Irene,

I really appreciate the eye opener that you gave me. I need that. Wanted to update you on behalf of me and the kids. My kids went to Dad's last Saturday with the supervised visit. His family was there. My Daughter came home and told me that Dad told her that he wishes I was dead. He also said, "Your Mom is a f__+king Bitch." Since you have prepared me to deal with this. She was worried that I would be mad at her. I told her no, that I was mad at her Dad for talking to her that way. She then was really scared that I would talk with her Dad about this (I let her know that I am not talking to him), and that he would get mad at her, or kidnap her, or hurt her. I let her know that I was there to protect her from him, that what he did was very inappropriate. That I would be talking with the courts to have the supervised visitation changed because she doesn't need to hear her father talk that way. I reassured her that he doesn't know where we live or even what school she goes to. And I also let her know that in no way is it ok for an adult to say those things.

I did talk with his sister about this, and she told me that she talked with my daughter about it, "how he is just mad, and doesn't really mean it." I told his sister that she is scared. Her reply was "she didn't seem scared to me". Well, fortunately she agrees that the family can't help with the supervised visits any more. She (his sister) is protecting her brother. I am angry that she didn't pack the kids up as soon as HE said one thing. I did call the police and file a complaint with them.

Let me know if I could have done anything better, or different. Or what are some ideas on how to deal with unruly kids that don't want to listen to me.

Thanks a bunch,


Tree, you're doing it! You're not engaging with his junk, letting it get you all upset. You are not making excuses for him, nor are you badmouthing him. You are simply speaking the truth as you see it. I too know "he is just mad and doesn't really mean it." Really. It's true, he doesn't! Nevertheless, he is an adult and a father and his intentions don't make up for the damage his irresponsible behavior is causing his children. Good for you being assertive and failing to "understand" (i.e., enable) mis-behavior. Good for you for protecting your daughter and outlining what is right from what is wrong.  

On unruly kids: Kids need limits (boundaries). They need to know that if they choose to do x, this and that will happen. If, on the other hand they choose to do y, such and such will happen. No nagging or being angry with them is necessary. Let them choose if, for example, misbehaving is worth the sanction. You teach the kids to take responsibility for themselves when you set up reasonable consequences for misbehavior and follow through (they will test you). And don't forget to set up rewards for behaviors you want them to increase. All this is planned ahead of time, with the child's input if possible. Not only will you teach them self-discipline and self-control, but you will role model same in how you conduct yourself. Your kids are likely to learn that you mean what you say and you say what you mean. They know what to expect; they can rely on you. That feels safe.  

Two excellent how to sources to guide you through the various steps of effective parenting are: Canter & Canter's Assertive Discipline for Children is a straight forward "how to" parenting skills book and Incredible Years : A Troubleshooting Guide for Parents of Children Aged 3 to 8 by Carolyn Webster-Stratton.  

You're batting 1000. Keep up the good work! Dr. Irene



B1: Submit
Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2001
Time: 08:07 PM


Dear Doc,

I seem to keep finding myself in "relationships" that are painful to say the least. I'm beginning to doubt my ability to even participate anymore. Don't. You certainly have the ability to participate in relationships. (While your partner doesn't.) You also see the signs of abuse. But, you choose to ignore those signs because the memory of how wonderful it can be keeps you chasing carrots on a stick... Here's the situation.

I started dating a guy a little over a year ago. He's 43 and so am I. When we first met he seemed so attentive and interested in me. I loved the attention as I had been in a verbally abusive relationship before him. We got along fine for about a month then I noticed that his attention span had gone down. Your first big signal... We would break up and get back together over and over. Most of it based on him not doing what he said he would. Yep... Not calling me, showing up late for dates, etc. He always had an excuse for his behavior and I was not to question it. Yuk! When I did, we fought. Did you ask yourself why you put up with this? To make a long story short, I broke it off with him in July and we went our separate ways. Good! He never tried to contact me. I missed him terribly and couldn't get him out of my mind. I think you missed the fantasy of what he initially appeared to be... (Have you read Vaknin's narcissism series? Read it now.) I contacted him in November. He had moved to another city and was working there. He came to see me Thanksgiving weekend and it was wonderful. He vowed to move back to our city. My idea was for him to move back and get a place of his own for awhile so we could reconnect. Instead he insisted on moving in with me. Money was a concern as he didn't have a job for awhile. That was in January. It's been so hard with him since then. His work is not stable and I find myself footing most of the bills. Yuk. When I try to talk to him about it, he gets mad at me. What about you? Aren't you mad at him? Why are you protecting him from your very real and legitimate anger? (You know, anger is a good thing: it's a signal that something is wrong... Pay attention! ) If I bring up anything about him or "us" he gets angry and says allot of cruel things. Yuk yuk yuk! When he first moved in, he would help out around the house, make dinner, do little "nice" things for me, etc. That has pretty much stopped. Par for the course. You found another abusive person who means well, but just doesn't have the "stuff" to participate in a relationship. He starts out well, but falls short very, very quickly. Getting something is like pulling teeth. Is this what you want?

My problem is I can't let go of him. No. Not you "can't." You "won't". As in you refuse to accept reality and choose instead to hold onto the dream, the facade he can play out for short periods of time, either early on or after separations. I feel like I love him more than anything and won't find anyone to replace him. Love? This is not love. Try love addiction. I also hate the thought of kicking him out with nowhere to go and no money. Not your problem dear. When we're good together, we're good. We have good conversations, good sex, good times, but when we're bad, we're bad. He hurts me saying things like "I'm jealous and insecure", I have "crying tantrums" when he sees me crying about something, he's called me names "snotty" and has no remorse. I've noticed lately too that he's always looking at other women. We used to go to the gym together. I don't want to anymore because I the way he stares. I feel like I'm losing it. That I am paranoid and insecure. Please help Doc. Is there any hope for us? I don't know about "us," but there is certainly hope for you. You are infatuated with an illusion. When you think about it, the reality falls far short of the dream. Don't you think? And, if you haven't lost it yet, in time, you will. You need this man like you need a hole in the head. Be thankful you're not married to him; count your blessings you have no kids. For your own sake: wake up...   Dr. Irene


B1: Submit


Dr. Irene: It took me years to figure out that I was being emotionally abused. But, you got it now. Good for you. My husband wasn't to the extreme as isolation or controlling finances... It was more subtle, such as comparing me to other women, picking out my clothes, he always complained that I wasn't outgoing enough. If I put his clothes in the wrong drawer, he'd throw them on the floor and call me incompetent. Yuk! If I didn't put my hair up for him;  he always complained about the house not being neat enough; he always called me disorganized, everything was always my fault; he tried to convince me that I had ADD; he became offended if I didn't share in his hobbies. Yuk yuk yuk! He becomes very offended if I am not affectionate enough, or if I ever want to do something alone (like read). He gets upset if I don't call him if I go out, he talks about what "normal wives" do.. or "normal couples."  I was always making excuses for him to my family. He left me after two years of marriage for a while, because I was studying too much for my Masters Degree and ignoring him. He says I'm not romantic enough, and I could go on and on. 

Last Spring, I was so depressed, I had no energy, and was ready for bed by 8:00. He tried to convince me that something was wrong with me because I had no "passion for life." Of course you became depressed! That's what happens when you are criticized all the time! He convinced me to see a psychiatrist. I tried different medications, to no avail. Then, over the summer, I began to talk to a man at work, who really made me feel good about myself. I could talk to him about anything, and never feel judged. I felt good and like an individual! It led to an affair that was 95% talking. I felt "free" when I talked to him. My husband found out several months later. I felt terrible about choosing an affair over standing up to him, but I couldn't.. or didn't. You did not know how to stand up to him; you are still learning to take care of yourSelf.  Every time I tried to talk to him, he would totally flip the conversation and make me look like an idiot.. so I shut down and didn't talk anymore. (Then, he complained that we never talked.) Heads I win, tails, you lose. Look here and here. We immediately began counseling, and the therapist labeled him "controlling, manipulative, scripting, and borderline obsessive/compulsive" He recognized it, and we began working on things. Excellent! He was so nice and sweet for about two weeks, then it was a roller coaster. One minute he was fine, the next he was saying "I would destroy you if I could. I can't believe you did this to me." He demanded access to my computer at work (we work at the same place) and to my office. The therapist told him he needed to stop. Good! He calmed down, and it was better again, for a while. In the last month or so, he brings up the affair almost every day. He takes stabs at me constantly. This is the nature of the beast. He defaults back to what he knows. You need to learn to set limits for him as the therapist did in telling him to stop. He doesn't know how to not work himself up. Hopefully, he will eventually learn to, which is why he should stick with this therapist. I strongly suggest that you learn how to set limits so you don't have to rely on dragging him to the therapist's office to be told to knock it off. Besides, you need to learn to protect yourself. Sounds like you will have He gets offended so easily. We were at a family event last week, and he touched me inappropriately, and we I told him "not here" - he became offended and angry. He brought up the affair and asked why I wouldn't do things for him. If an affair is mentioned in movie, he'll glare at me and "remind" me. He constantly tells me that I lied and he'll never trust me again. Sometimes he won't talk to me for days.. he'll just sit around and mope. He hints at leaving. I have asked him and asked him what he is accomplishing by acting that way - that it is not doing us any good. He says he has a right to stab at me and be angry for "what I did to him" It has been five months. He is better about some things, like not complaining about my personality or putting me down, but now he is constantly on me about other things. Same difference. You need to ask him to STOP whenever he finds fault. This won't be easy for him, because he defaults back to his old habits, his old ways. This is to be expected. His job is to hear your limit and get back on track in controlling himself. He questions what I am wearing, if I touch up my make-up, he calls me vain. He says everything reminds him of the affair. It just goes on and on. He says that because of what I did, I "changed all the rules." Tell him, "Yes, I changed the rules. I'm sorry, but it's done; over and out. Finished. Now should you decide to remain in this marriage, you have to deal with what happened and take responsibility for your behavior. I don't want to hear it." I don't know that you can do that yet, but those are the words of an empowered person! My question is, how long should I give this? I really want it to work, but I sure can't live like that forever. We have been married for 13 years, and have two young children. He is insisting that he has a right to be that way. Perhaps, but he also responds to limits, at least when the therapist set them. Whenever I try to talk to him, he just brings up the affair.  It is killing me inside, just like his cut-downs did. He constantly tells me that things could have been so different, if I had only handled it differently. I realize that, but I can't change it. Do you have any suggestions? Set limits. Over and over and over and over. He will need constant reminding to stop putting his emotional well-being in your hands. And you need to stop buying into your irrational idea that you can "make" him happy or "help" him or "calm" him. Pick of a copy of my new favorite book: The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life. Don't just read this book. Study it; apply it; make it a part of your day. You will learn how the irrational thoughts in the back of your mind keep you stuck where you are. Good luck to you, and, once again, my apologies for all the problems you had posting. Dr. Irene

B1: Submit


Dear Dr. Irene:

I have some questions about how to deal with narcissistic behavior and lying without being either codependent/enabling or abusive in response. After years of blaming myself and questioning myself and thinking I was going crazy and getting depressed with suicidal ideation, I found out that I'm married to a man who was living a double life, acting out sexually I hope you are practicing safe sex! in addictive/compulsive ways, as well as having other compulsive issues (spending, minor substances), and who was emotionally and physically distant for years and lied pathologically to cover this up (as well as any time he happened to feel threatened about anything). This is a man who is intelligent, charming, educated, and very socially likeable, and who also presents himself as high-minded and idealistic. I have been thoroughly ripped apart by this. Of course. We are attempting (with individual counseling) to work this out, and I'm working on my codependency issues (which he has too, in many ways worse than I do, though they take a different form). He has been pretty motivated to try to change, though he slips back and forth and at times gets in a real victim stance, and he had gradually come to admit that his behavior was abusive and has recognized himself in some of the descriptions of narcissistic behavior (entitlement issues, empathy problems, manipulation, lying, and portions of the description of the narcissist's sexual behavior from the articles you posted in March The Dr. Vaknin series. ), and in many of the 'rules' listed in the covert abuse stuff. 

I have two real problems here. One is that when I feel like he's being honest with me and trying to face the hard issues, it's easy for me to get into a savior mode, feel really good about myself, and start perhaps over-valuing the relationship (I'm beginning not to trust my judgment here). You have to stop "bouncing" off him. You need to do for you as your first priority whether he is working hard or not working at all. And when I think he's lying or hiding something, I go to the other extreme.  I'm getting better here about not getting sucked into arguments and believing what I think are lies, and about detaching and taking care of myself, but always with the gut feeling then that that simply means I'm on my way out of this relationship soon and for good. I'm on a roller coaster. And he needs to set his own boundaries, has trouble understanding how to do so, and tends to twist any psychological advice to his own ends. 

So what do I do when he tells me that he's not having any sexual feelings or issues Tell him, "Gee, that's sad," without waiting for a response or giving him an opportunity to continue. Treat his comments like an afterthought. Be distracted., or has never felt or done a certain kind of thing, sounds so sincere that I'd fall for it in a minute, except that I KNOW he's lying about that particular thing? "Well then you should," in a distracted, offhand manner. Then move on. You want to discourage him from talking vs. invite him to continue. 

Watch that codependency! Your underlying thinking irrationally leads you to persist in trying to help him. But, your big, empathic heart is hurting both of you. Deal with your tendency to save / help/ fix him. It's not working. Find other ways to feel good about yourSelf - like spending your energy mastering the detachment techniques described above..  Also, the Ellis et al book will help you identify and clean up your irrational thinking.

One of your lists says it is abusive to tell someone that they're not feeling what they say they are, or to not accept what they say, but how do you handle someone who constantly lies and distorts on certain issues? Challenging this person will not make them tell the truth. Don't go here unless you have the energy for a big emotional fight:  roller coaster stuff. If you know or suspect (You give yourself the benefit of the doubt here.) he is lying / distorting, your attitude needs to reflect a certain ho-hum, this-is-getting-old, how-boring disengagement. There is, nothing constructive you can do. Pay as little attention to his "stuff" as possible. Eventually, he may get the message that you won't react. Disengagement is an excellent limit-setting technique.  

The narcissism advice sounds like it's best not to let them get away with things and not to feed ego, Right.  while the abuse lists (anger, here) make it sound like standing up and saying 'I don't believe you on this' is verbally abusive. You START with that, which is essentially where you are anyway as you begin identifying what's going on. Then, when it doesn't work, becomes more covert, or you get better at it, disengage. Become apparently disinterested / cool. Don't engage. "Yes, I heard you, dear." " I understand." "OK. " Keep repeating same if you must, like a broken record. Do not counter him, or pay him much mind. A distracted, cool and calm attitude is generally experienced by other as non-reinforcing and over time will tend to diminish his use of that approach.  "Stop!" is fine for overt abuse. With covert tactics, he is likely to turn it around on you. "Stop what? This is how I feel. Now I can't even talk to you?" (In your head think: "No, you can't talk. Not until you have something more normal to say.") It really bugs him when I challenge him and he feels invalidated by it, I'm sure.  but the pattern is that after long resistant struggles, it does often break the resistance and get at the truth and seems to make things start functioning better for a while. That's quite an emotional price you are willing to pay "for a while." Can you help clarify what's healthy here? Ellen Ask yourself if you really want to push the "start" button on  the roller coaster. Worse, you are doing his work for him.  As long as you're working harder than he is, neither of you are likely to get too far. Let him make his bed and sleep in it. Don't wash his sheets. I'm glad you are in counseling. Work especially on your toxic empathy. Good luck to you! Dr. Irene 


Saturday, May 19, 2001
11:41:40 PM

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to visit a married couple four hour's drive away..... hadn't seen 'em much in a year since the wedding and wanted to see their new house. They're both airline pilots on strike and when asked, said it was a "great time to come." They had "plenty of time" and "they were under no stress" they said.

The male I've been friends with for 15 years and was IN their wedding- a groomsman ( with a ruptured disc and a flooded apt the morning I flew out - I'm sorry that's a GOOD FRIEND). I've ALWAYS been there for them. 

I was stressed about some things of my own, which I did ask his opinions on as, I have before.  Again, they are both "on strike" airline pilots - in a heated industry walkout with huge media attention. We talked about my stress AND his situation and options as well as other nice stuff as we took a cool drive along the River to downtown, followed by a great walk across a footbridge. Very nice.

Then the next day:

I was totally ignored while my pal did yard work, washed the car, fixed the driveway, fertilized the yard.. ( It's not like someone on strike has to do this over the weekend to go back to work Monday.) I finally asked, "Can we go DO something?"  I was snapped back at yes "BUT this is your ONE. DO NOT ask for anything else!" ! Wow!??? His attitude tells me that you were probably unwittingly communicating your displeasure.

(BTW, we did talk about my stressors and I also carefully balanced that to talk about theirs if they wanted or anything else.) Why are you keeping score? Look how hard you are working at "balancing." Yes, you are doing a "good" thing, but you are trying to control: You've decided ahead of time what is fair. You have the right to impose it on yourself (Ouchhh!), but not upon other. You are so preoccupied with this stuff, you don't "hear" what's going on for Other. 

The next day, the same! I finally left for a few hours and just drove myself around as he did "yard work" and house stuff that coulda waited. I'd never ever treated company so rude as to ignore; I DO the exact opposite! That's very nice, but that you go out of your way, does not give you the right to expect people do same. 

The last night there, HE made a derogatory comment about a fellow pilot, and I chimed in with an agreeing statement. (The other pilot had been very rude to me the night before at a party.) MY PAL BLEW UP AT ME HOW DARE YOU TELL ME ABOUT so and so BLA BLA BLA. I cant even remember the content of the blow up.) Hmmm...


I didn't try and draw out his reasoning for the blowup or leave, as it was late and storming. Just sat there like a deer in the headlights.

I got an apology later that night. Good. 

I sent an email days later trying to say, " Wow did we play off each others stress. Let's move on and next time plan better so we all have a better time."

I got poison back by email : "YOU were my stress" Its always what's up with YOUR life - no one else matters; you're above all that." (Very untrue I've sacrificed plenty for them Ouchhh! I wish you would sacrifice less! and tried NOT to be the center of conversation.) But you sat there in judgment while he did his yard work!  Perhaps your friend was rude. But, why was he rude to begin with? Bet you did stuff he ticked himself off with...As long as you are locked into what you would do; what he should do, you'll never know. Look at your underlying, irrational thinking: you think you know how another person should behave - and you get upset if there is a deviation from your expectations! "Should have, would have, could have," these are big red flags indicating irrational thinking that is getting in your way!

I emailed back using clarification techniques and I got back "NO email tags on this. If you don't understand, this ongoing problem is with you. Just ask ALL your other friends!" ( THAT'S POISON!) I went into a deep deep depression called: "Am I flawed?" Of course you are flawed! Who isn't? But why the depression? Because you fall short of your own judgmental expectations? Please move in the direction of being OK with all your flaws...  I DID ask friends and no one can tell me my flaw? Or why they acted as they did. You wouldn't know since you can't hear it.

Why the rude ignore-the-company bit; what's that all about? Where do I go from here? What next? I sent no further defending emails.

Oh, one other time I asked to take a picture of them with the skyline behind and the firm response was "MY WIFE DOESN'T LIKE HER PICTURE TAKEN AND DON'T ASK HER AGAIN!! (I took just him.) My guess is that you missed the signals she was giving about not wanting to be in pix... This happens when you are too preoccupied with looking over your own shoulder..

He's Dr. Jeckyl/ Mr. Hyde. He does this to his parents and I feel like I'm on eggshells. Sometimes he's as nice as can be, why some mutual friends aren't believing my story about what he did. 

NO ONE destroys my self esteem Correct. Only YOU can do that. esp. without an explanation, and if I did something wrong, I'm human and could apologize and try and improve that flaw which is so outweighed by my good traits. Agreed. But, a big part of your problem is that if someone told you what bothered them, you would likely explain why you did whatever as opposed to simply hearing them out. Of course you didn't mean to hurt the person, but you apparently did. Instead of trying to get them to see your perspective; that you meant no harm, hear them. They have valuable information for you.

Will they ever remember THOSE? SHOULD I HAVE JUST SAID "NO ONE SCREAMS AT ME," AND LEFT EVEN IN THE HAIL AND LIGHTNING WITH NOWHERE TO GO BUT A MOTEL? No. "Explain to me why you are so upset with me because I really don't understand," would have been better. Then, sit there and listen. No, "Yes, buts..." allowed. You won't agree with it. You probably won't understand it. That's OK. Write it down. You want the feedback so you can work with it later.

Some say that's what they would have done (set clear boundaries at the time) or draw out the specific issue then? (NOT later in an email.) Hard to do with deer-in-headlight syndrome. Yes. 

Been screamed at before, even by parents for NO appt reason. Maybe I'm angry too for not taking care of business on the spot VS going into some shame mode. Of course you are angry with yourself. Feel the anger and let it go. This is normal. Give yourself permission to be human.  

What is next? You work too hard caring for others, hurting yourSelf in the process. That's yukky enough, but then you go on to expect stuff in return. Not that you are "wrong" per se, but you set yourself up when you dwell on not being treated as you would treat. Check out some of your assumptions about life being fair, etc. Life isn't fair and it's a waste of your precious time and energy to focus on that which is not forthcoming. Just think: instead, of sitting on the sidelines hurt and angry that your buddy was "ignoring" you (your interpretation), you could have spent that time enjoying the weather, even bonding with him by helping with his work! Go with the flow, you know... 

You work way too hard "controlling" the environment and sitting in judgment (Who made you God?) when nobody's asked you to judge!  Then you impose your judgment on those around you, no doubt communicating your displeasure when your expectations are not met (You will disagree with this statement. Don't get defensive; look instead for how your frustration escapes you in gesture, tone, etc.). You are so busy doing all this, you don't notice others in relation to you. So, you can't "hear" other and are truly shocked when somebody finally blows up at you. This is why your buddy lost it and told you that it's all about you.  You're not a "bad" or "selfish" guy, but you spend too much time and energy preoccupied with how the world should be - instead of letting go and enjoying how it is.

Get some help with this one. Meanwhile, start paying attention and stop judging. Check out Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.   And check out the irrational assumptions with one of these:  

bulletHow To Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons
bulletHow to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable
bulletChange Your Life Now: Powerful Techniques for Positive Change

        Good for you for asking this question! Warmest regards, Dr. Irene