The Doc Answers 16

The Doc's Answers 16


Monday August 18, 2003
03:32 AM

I’m a 32-year old daughter of a verbally abusive father. I have five siblings that still live with my parents. Yes, a codependent family. Tuesday night my 18-year-old brother moved out in the middle of the night because that morning my dad yelled at my brother and pushed him against a wall and put his hands around his neck (now physical abuse!). My brother says that dad didn’t actually hurt him, but so what. Thursday I went to their home with information about abuse. Dad wouldn’t look at the papers. Dad says he’s right, doesn’t have a problem, and refused to talk to me after that. Mom told me that when she told dad that my brother said he felt dad was only a boss to him and not a father, dad’s response was: “What should I do, kill myself?” and then refused to talk. The rest of my family wants to let dad cool off and hope everything can get back to normal by not upsetting dad. Normally, I go there every week and dad is so happy when I bring my son. While I am there, I witness no abuse from dad. Dad has stated to my sisters things like he is frightened that if he talks to a counselor that she’ll send the police after him. I can’t just pretend everything is ok and forget about it. I want to tell my dad I love him and try to explain I understand he is scared, but that unless he goes to counseling, I will no longer allow my family to be around him. I know my family who lives with my dad will be the victims of dad’s verbal rage if what I tell him, upsets him. I really don’t think he would hurt himself, but the comment above about killing himself, of course, also concerns me. Should I forget the letter and just not show up? Is there anything I can do? If he makes a comment again asking about killing himself, and I call the police or hospital to help (should I?), what will happen?

I can't imagine being in your situation and not being concerned. Your 18 year-old brother should have called the police, and you can encourage him to do just that should dad physically threaten him again. You certainly have the right to tell your dad that you will not subject him to your own family - except that he's not threatened your family, and the others may now have to pay the price. Worst, it's a very, very long shot that your threat will get him into counseling. More likely, your family will get upset with you for interfering. It's the person who has been threatened who has the responsibility to seek protection.  You are being codependent when you intervene on their behalf - especially when you have not been asked to intervene!

"What should I do, kill myself?" does not sound like a suicidal threat. However, if you are concerned about him hurting himself, you can call the police or try to take him to the Emergency Room. It's likely he won't go voluntarily. You will have to look up the laws in your state about what happens to dad should you seek psychiatric assistance on his behalf. In general, it is very, very difficult to get an individual admitted into a psych hospital against their will (even when they really belong there!). Furthermore, admission is certainly no guarantee of follow-up treatment, let alone treatment compliance!

Perhaps the best thing you can do is let your family know that they have the right to call the police if they feel threatened. You may also suggest that your brother or other family members seek individual or family therapy. But, don't be disappointed if nobody takes you up on your suggestion. It sounds as though you are more motivated to get help than anyone else in your family. Trubble is, you no longer live there and this is no longer your battle. If you have difficulty letting go, getting some therapy yourself may be very helpful. You've got to have some issues having grown up in a verbally abusive home where the motto is: "Don't upset Dad!"

Advice: Don't intervene, especially without solicitation. Educate them, as you seem to have already done, and then let it go. This one is not your battle. This may be a good book for you to read: Facing Codependence : What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody.

Good luck to you! Dr. Irene

Wednesday August 20, 2003
01:29 PM

I have been married to my H for over one year, and we have an eight month old daughter. Our courtship started with him being dissatisfied with my level of devotion and unfavorably comparing me to his ex and his mother. I got sucked in trying to prove my devotion, and trying hard to please him. Unfortunately, many partners get taken in this way, hoping to prove that you can be trusted/ are worthy/ love/ etc... It's good you see now that there was no need to try and prove anything. We have bitter and regular fights. He snaps at me, criticizes, rescues our daughter from my incompetence, talks down to me in front of his family, twists my words, doubts my good will, and gets enraged when I bring up any issue, thinking I am putting him down. So, let me guess, you are walking on eggshells when you want to avoid fights... He is obsessed with money and status, and I have been working mainly to satisfy his desire for more money (he makes plenty). I finally complained about why I have to prove myself to him You don't! , compared him to his brother in law in terms of generosity (my wrong move) Yeah..., and told him I want to stay home with our daughter and work from home so I can watch her Great for the child if you can afford it!. His response was, delivered with disgust: "You have NO class, NO devotion, if you had my sister’s devotion, maybe you would deserve what she has; this is not about our daughter, but about how selfish you are; you are incapable of giving; you have enough complexes to fill a whole room; you are all about money and nothing else; you bring NOTHING to this marriage; you are a lowlife.” Ugh. Why would you want to be married to someone who thinks so little of you? I have not been speaking to him since then (two weeks). For these two weeks, he has been throwing things around house, making a lot of noise late into the night (1:30 am), and, the last thing was, he very very violently kicked the trash, in front of me and my daughter, across the kitchen in response to me saying no to going to a floor selection appointment with him. Is this abuse? Yes. This is verbal and emotional abuse, and the next time he kicks anything violently or raises his voice, or you feel frightened, you call the police! Am I overreacting? No way! Could this be justified? His anger is justified in that anybody is "allowed" to feel whatever they feel. But his behavior is abominable! In other words, he can feel angry and can talk with you about his feelings in a reasonable manner. Name-calling, disgust towards you, etc. has no place in reasonable conversation. But, from what you write, I think it's unlikely that your husband is capable of reasonable conversation. He may start speaking reasonably, but my guess is that if things don't go "his way" he will act out one way or another and make you "pay." If he is an abuser, why isn’t there a “honeymoon” period? There is not always a honeymoon period. Seems like you got into this role of trying to prove yourself to him from the outset. Why do I feel like I am making this up? Because his behavior is so out of whack! Should I leave? You may want to consider leaving, but nobody can suggest you leave a marriage on the basis of email advice! Please help!! I strongly suggest you get into therapy alone, preferably with a counselor who is familiar with this stuff. Your local battered women's group may be able to give you some names. If you're unable to get a name from them, or can't find a local shelter/domestic violence hotline, etc., just go see any therapist. Your husband's behavior is unreasonable by any standards. You can always ask him to go with you to couple's counseling later. But, honestly, from what you're saying, it doesn't sound too good... You may want to read some of these titles: 

bullet Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.
bullet When Love Goes Wrong: What To Do When You can't do anything Right by Susan Schlecter and Ann Jones.
bullet The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by (The Father of Cognitive Therapy) Albert Ellis et al.

Good luck to you! Dr. Irene

Thursday August 21, 2003
02:34 PM

Thank you so much for your answers to my question (second question under #16). When I tell my situation of verbal and emotional abuse to close friends/close family, they are all concerned about me. Yet, somehow, I feel like I am to blame. I know this is victim speak, but I feel like my case is an exception and that I am really as awful as my H keeps telling me, and that I have driven such a nice and gentle man (as he tells me he is, and as he tells me all his employees constantly tell him he is) to such anger. Could this be true, somehow? Let's say, just for argument's sake: that you are horrible, horrible, horrible! If you are such a terrible wife, he has several reasonable choices: The first is to talk to you about how he thinks your behavior is awful. There is no need to SHOW you how awful you are by behaving awful himself! Of course, if he thinks you are so very, very terrible, I have to wonder why he remains married to you. Could it be that he is looking for excuses to blow off steam, and you, conveniently have made yourself a willing recipient? My point is that even if you were behaving badly, that is no excuse for retaliatory bad behavior.

The more important issue deals with the guilt and self-recrimination victims often feel. Victims, doubting themselves, commonly believe the complaints their spouses levy against them. You've read about that type of activity if you've read through this site. In addition, it is likely that you are at least midly depressed as well - which would likely exacerbate the guilt et al. My parents divorced when I was two, and my mother had custody. She was going through a tough time back then, 35 years ago, in a middle eastern country, where nobody accepted her choice to divorce a difficult husband. She did not, at that time, handle my sister and I very well. Well, I did not see my father for 22 years after that. Of course, I have abandonment and abuse issues as a result of the above. I can certainly see how you would... I have been going to therapy for the past two years now to work through this, and my H and I have been going to couples therapy. Good for you! He doesn’t think he needs individual work, but tells me I must go since I am so troubled, and he says he comes to couples therapy to help me with my issues. During the couples therapy, he uses the session to attack me, as if to prove to the therapist what an awful person I am. The therapist has finally had to tell him to stop cutting me to the core, and to get to his issues, which he never does. I'm surprised that the therapist has let this pattern continue for a while. This will get you guys nowhere. Don't you yet see that your husband is not interested in getting at any issues? Yet, I feel like if I came from a family which was a little more together, I would be confident, and then my H would not treat me so poorly. Well, you didn't come from a more together family. You came from where you came from. And, it's fine that you did. You just need to wake up in the here and now because nobody deserves to be treated poorly! Even "bad" wives (whatever that is) deserve loving, respectful treatment! So I feel like I am the one who failed by showing him my weak points. It seems to me that your failure is your desperation that he love you, even though it seems clear to me that this man may not be capable of a healthy, loving relationship. It seems to me that perhaps your greatest failure is that you don't listen to or trust your own feelings - or perhaps you've shoved them down too deeply for the moment - and you doubt and second guess yourself instead. What are you waiting for? For him to cut your down further? To hit you? To leave you? Do you think he will somehow magically change, even though he's been getting worse? Your husband is acting like a jerk and picking on all your "weaknesses." Well, I bet he'd find things to pick on even if you didn't have "weaknesses." Nobody is purrrfect. No wife is purrrfect, as is no husband. Why can other more or less normal people treat their imperfect partners well?

I suggest you print this page out and bring it to your individual therapist where you can discuss these issues alone - without him there. You seem very beaten down to me... And in a lot of denial. Could this be true? Almost anything could be true. Maybe even the moon is made of Swiss cheese... Get my drift?

Please read the books above and talk to your therapist about this correspondence. And, please, do visit The CatBox, our moderated forum where peers help each other. It just might help you open your eyes. Doc

Monday August 25, 2003
08:12 PM

Dr. Irene: Thank you for your answer to my question above. It helps a lot. I do want to leave, but every time I think about it, I scare myself with a parade of horribles: he will make my life hell without restraint, he will use my daughter in very vicious ways to get back at me, he will assassinate my character, he will do anything and everything with all his money to get my daughter away from me (he has already told me I can leave, but that our daughter stays, and that I will never have her, and that I am not needed, that he has people - his aging, ailing mother who speaks no English, and his sister who is getting married soon- who can do the job better than me, and that the mother child bond is overrated anyway). He keeps saying he always gets what he wants, and brags about how he makes life miserable at work and elsewhere for people who cross him. He seems to be good at this, and to enjoy it. He is intimidating you, and you are falling for it. How do I overcome these fears? I am afraid he will somehow visit his rage toward me on my daughter. I know I am not trapped, but why do I feel so trapped? I know my daughter will have issues, whether I stay or leave, and probably more issues if I stay. How do I forgive myself for what she has to go through? I wish I could take her pain away, but I can’t. I appreciate your wonderful insight. You are clearly not ready to "just leave." And that's fine; you need time to make a plan and master some of the verbal and emotional skills you'll need should you choose to carry out your plan. Start with getting legal information: what are you entitled to under the law? Knowledge is power, so I suggest you meet with a sharp divorce lawyer to get an idea of what your rights are and what kind of case you may have; what planning you may need to do to help things go your way, etc. The emotional stuff belongs in your therapist's office. Add to that a psychiatric evaluation for antidepressant or other appropriate medication. If you are indeed as beaten down, depressed, and anxious / panicky as you sound, there are medications that can help you become stronger/ normalize your brain chemistry. Keep in mind that living in an intimidating environment, as you apparently do, can create these symptoms in almost anyone! So don't discount the importance of at least one meeting with a psychiatrist.

Keep in mind that you sound no different than most women in controlling marriages: you feel intimidated, frightened, powerless, depressed, often hopeless.  As the majority of people posting throughout this site testify, you are not alone! But you can reclaim your personal power, or lay claim to it if you've never had it before. It will take time to tackle your fears. By the time you are on track emotionally,  your divorce/custody plan should be well underway. At that point that you will decide whether or not you will stay in your marriage. If you stay, I hope you stay out of choice, and not out of intimidation! 

My warmest wishes to you, Dr. Irene

Wednesday August 27, 2003
8:55 PM

Dear Dr. Irene,
Thank you for your reply (see 6/19 #14). Yes, I am depressed, a low-grade chronic depression which I've had for 12 years, soon after my partner moved in with me. I took Zoloft for about 9 months. It helped somewhat initially, but then even with the maximum dosage, stopped working, and I found the side effects unpleasant. Then I tried Sam-e with better results--no bad side effects but not strong enough to make a significant difference. Should I attempt to treat the depression when I feel better the minute I'm away from my partner? I really believe that if I were away from him for a few months, I would not feel depressed. However, I cannot seem to extricate myself from him. Well, that's a funny question: should you treat the depression when you're less depressed - when you are away - when you can't, in fact, get away... Instead, I suggest: that you treat the depression now, with or without him. See a psychiatrist. These specialists are used to treating the 20% of people who are resistant to improvement on any ol' medication. Your psychiatrist, should you give him or her the chance, will try you on different dosages of different medications, or combinations of. This may take time, but, that's one thing we all have. It will be easier for you to extricate yourself from him when you are not depressed or are less depressed.

You asked me if I had searched my soul and did I really want him to leave? I am ambivalent about this, it's true. Now it makes more sense why you are still together, doesn't it? I'm very attached to him although I don't miss him when I go on vacation to visit my family, etc. I feel relieved when he's not around and tense when he's present. What's good about the relationship, you asked? Well, I guess we really care about each other although we don't treat each other well. Maybe the two of you could work on changing that? He's a monogamous man, I think, although that means he's not having any sex because we don't often have sex. He's very domestic and does all the cooking. He also shops and does laundry, and he's a generous person. We have the same taste in things: furniture, music, lifestyle, etc., but I don't enjoy his company. He's not interesting. He rarely speaks to me except to criticize me or to complain about something. He cannot answer a yes or no question (See Evans book). He will not agree with me about anything even if he really does agree. He's extremely angry and hostile and dislikes most people, places, and things. He's really unpleasant to be around. He has very few friends and no family. Also, he's deeply in debt and I'm now footing most of the bills. He's 54 and has no savings. That's not your problem unless you make it your problem. Even if I were able to ask him to leave, how could he move when he can't even pay his share of things with me? Not your problem. I have lost my wonderful sense of humor and joy and so much of my life has suffered because of this. I feel the energy being drained right out of me when he's around and all I think about is how to get out of this situation. I don't feel I can reject him--I feel sorry for him and responsible for him, but so trapped and unhappy. What can I do? You are ambivalent. You don't know if you want to be with him or not. It's nearly impossible to chart a course of action when the rudder is not working. This is your life. It is up to you to decide what you want, how you want to spend it, whom you want to spend it with. If you are soooo torn, you may need to work with a therapist to help you figure out where you want to go.  Treat the depression and talk to somebody.

You are not responsible for him. You are responsible for you!  Unless you are married, there is no obligation to take on his debt. What would happen if you stayed with him while not assuming his debt? Once you got past your (irrational) guilt, how might you feel? We're back to the depression stuff again since guilt, dependency, even inability to make a decision are worsened by depression. Seems it would be difficult to know what you want to do in your current state. Thus, if you first help yourself, you'll be in a better position to figure out what you want to do with him. Whatever it takes, work on yourSelf first, and do so with professional help.

For example, if you are convinced that his presence worsens your depression, why not find out? Arrange for a prolonged separation. Say, six months. While this may be difficult to arrange, if you think it will help, it may be worth it. YOU are worth it!

In sum, stop your codependent caretaking of him. Learn how to just care for you. Take a look at The Bookshelf. There's a codependency section you may want to browse.

Good luck to you! Doc

Sunday August 31, 2003
07:08 AM

Is it possible to set up e mail consultations? No. The available options are here.I have posted in response to other posts, but no one has answered my posts. I'm not sure what forum you are talking to. The best place to get replies is The CatBox. That's about peers replying to peers. Also, when I go to the group page, I don't see an archive of posts, the way I do in other groups. Is this by design?  Not sure what "group page" you are referring to. To see all the Q & As in this forum ("Ask The Doc"), use the back and next buttons. Thank you,D. You're welcome. Doc