Distressing paradox

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In the introduction to his book Why Does He Do That?, Lunday Bancroft wrote: “I began counselling abusive men individually and in groups in 1987, while working for a programme called Emerge, the first agency in the United States to offer specialised services for men who abuse women.”

He went on to explain that counselling abusive men is difficult work. “They are usually very reluctant to face up to the damage that they have been causing women, and often children as well, and hold tightly to their excuses and victim-blaming

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Throughout the years of working with controlling and abusive men, Bancroft and his colleagues and have been strict about always speaking to the women whom their clients have mistreated. “It is through these interviews,” he explains, “that we have received our greatest education about power and control in relationships. The women’s accounts have also taught us that abusive men present their own stories with tremendous denial, minimization, and distortion of the history of their behaviours and that it is therefore otherwise impossible for us to get an accurate picture of what is going on in an abusive relationship without listening carefully to the abused woman.”

Unrelated to their partners

Bancroft and his colleagues ask these women “does your partner usually get along reasonably well with everyone else except you? Is it unusual for him to verbally abuse other people?” He points out that the great majority of abusive men are fairly calm and reasonable in most of their dealings that are unrelated to their partners.

The partners of Bancroft’s clients constantly ask him, how come the abuser can be so nice to everyone else yet treats them so badly. To make matters worse, as Bancroft points out, the abuser may describe himself as the opposite of the way his partner experiences him. For example, he may be verbally abusive with her and yet describe himself as easy-going.

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This is the distressing paradox experienced by so many who live with verbally abusive partners. It all happens ‘behind closed doors’. The abuser blames the victim. The victim is outwitted at every turn – no match for the sharp tongue and twisted wit of the abuser. Outsiders never see what’s happening. And it’s virtually impossible for the victim to explain to others what is going on. After years of being demoralized the victim wonders if she really is the cause of the problem.

One of the prevalent features of life with an angry, controlling partner,” Bancroft writes. “is that he frequently tells you what you should think and tries to get you to doubt or devalue your own perceptions and beliefs.”

Extremely difficult

A partner of a verbal abuser who was in the process of recognising that she was being verbally abused declared emphatically, “If you’ve never been in a verbally-abusive relationship, you would have an extremely difficult time knowing what it’s like.”

Bancroft addresses one of the greatest obstacles for victims of verbal abuse – the fact that family and friends may be so fond of the abuser that the victim questions whether they will be believed when they describe how abusive their partner can be.

Nevertheless, Bancroft encourages the victim to find someone they can trust to unburden themselves to “This is probably the single most critical step you can take,” he explains, “towards building a life that is free from control or abuse”

Note: Verbal abuse is often more intense with partners or other family members ‘behind closed doors’. This behaviour may even be seen ONLY behind closed doors and never displayed outside of the home. These personality traits can be male or female – and may take the form of either verbal or emotional abuse.

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No one person is likely to have all of the following personality traits but a cluster of frequently observed traits may indicate that all is not well:

Personality Traits

  • Low stress tolerance with explosive behaviour
  • Angry or irritable mood most of the time
  • They cause others to feel that they need to constantly ‘walk on eggshells’ for fear of upsetting them
  • Moody – switches from being nice to anger without much provocation
  • They can be verbally abusive ‘behind closed doors’, while never showing that side of themselves to others outside the home
  • Vastly different sides to their personality are seen
  • They can instantly switch from being abusive to being nice if an outsider appears
  • They hide who they really are from everyone. No one knows the real person inside
  • They never seem satisfied. They leave you feeling drained and confused
  • Glimpses of integrity and emotion may be seen, but are short-lived. They give you hope that they are changing, but soon return to unacceptable behaviour
  • Can show tenderness of feeling, then quickly return to verbal or emotional abuse or other unacceptable behaviour
  • Most of the time you feel miserable living with this person. When it’s good, you relish the peace, but that is usually short lived

When challenged

  • They do not take responsibility for their behaviour
  • They always feel misunderstood
  • Frequent blaming. Never at fault
  • Defensive or egotistical rage when confronted with their behaviour
  • When they are challenged, they simply keep on talking without listening, or change the subject, or get angry
  • Ready rationalization – rarely at a loss for words – twists conversation to avoid admitting to being either wrong or at fault and having to apologise
  • Easily distracted and avoidant. Changes the subject. Cannot reflect back with sincerity on what the other person has said
  • They don’t want to listen once they’ve made their arguments
  • They are so skilled at making a mountain out of a molehill that you become so tired of the conflict. It drains all of your energy, love and hope
  • Little if any remorse for mistakes
  • May be apologetic and seem sincere, but soon repeat the offensive behaviour without appearing to have learnt from it
  • Inability to profit from experience – does not learn a lesson from making mistakes
  • You end up feeling responsible for the problem. They get to your feelings. No matter what – they win, you lose

Note:- it’s all about control! Not so much the abusive person’s inability to control himself, . . . . . . .as his determination to control his partner. It’s what fuels his verbal abuse.

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