3-Step Formula When Abusive Parents Visit for The Holidays

We were making progress, this new couple and I. Eli was getting it. He realized that his sarcastic remarks, his put-downs, his glares, and his barely-controlled anger all constitute verbal abuse. He was starting to work effectively with his tools, too. He had downloaded the mp3 file from my website and had burnt the relaxation disc. He was listening daily and taking the deep breaths that I recommend for slowing down his autonomic nervous system so as to engage his brain and not just react. He was practicing assertiveness to make his points effectively in a non-threatening way. Perhaps most important, he was working hard at catching himself falling into the trap of victim thinking. That means, just by catching himself, he would prevent many awful fights.   His wife, Andrea, was starting to see a difference. She was still nervous, hurt from the past, and unsure of the future, but the good part is that she understood that healing takes time and she was giving this process the time it needed.   All well and good.   Until Thanksgiving approached.   If Your Spouse Is Abusive, His Parent Probably Was, Too   Thanksgiving meant that Mother was coming. His mother. The person who taught Eli every dirty trick he knows and remained clueless of the pain she constantly inflicted. So instead of preparing for a lovely family visit, Andrea’s nerves were tuned to a high pitch; she found herself yelling at the children more, dropping things unexpectedly, and in a near-collision on the highway. She most definitely did not want his mother to come. But Eli’s mother is...

Dating Advice: Loneliness Is Better Than Abuse

We all know what positive reinforcement is: Something you give to someone to increase behavior you want. You give it following the behavior and, if done with skill and intelligence, it will lead to more of the same. For example, you tell the woman you’re out with, “You’re so pretty,” just after she accepted another date with you and you can be fairly certain that, barring anything stupid you do, you’ll get still another date out of the deal in the future. That’s positive reinforcement.   Punishment you know only too well. It’s something that follows an undesired behavior and serves to decrease the probability of that behavior happening again. When your date got up and walked out following your picking your teeth at the table, that was punishment (unless of course you wanted her to walk out).   Watch Out For Negative Reinforcement In Your Dating Relationships   It’s negative reinforcement that confuses people, and that’s bad because it’s dangerous. It’s the decreasing of pain following some behavior of yours. So, for example, on April 15 you file your yuchy taxes and on April 16, you breathe a deep sigh and feel like the world is no longer resting on your shoulders (unless, of course, you had to send a very large check with the return, in which case this example doesn’t apply). That’s negative reinforcement: the relief and joy you feel when you are no longer suffering.   Another example: You broke your back, your shoulders, your rear end, your brain and whatever else studying for some awful exam. It’s over–yaaaay! Whew. Negative reinforcement.   So here’s...

The Blame Addiction In Relationships

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish Journal, p. 14 “It’s your fault!” Robbie screamed. “Do you understand what you did? Do you understand what a terrible loss this means?” His screams filled the air with a sick heaviness, a light and bright afternoon immediately transformed. Sarah felt weak at the knees, unable to breathe. And for what?   What, indeed. What purpose is ever served by blame?   If you are one of millions of people addicted to blame, know that it’s a great way to shoot yourself in the foot. Rather than accomplish something by it, you ruin more than was ruined already by the problem for which you are blaming somebody.   Why Blame Ruins Relationships   At the very least, the air of attack causes the listener to shut down. Therefore, the person you’re yelling at can’t take in your point.   Usually, it also causes the listener to become defensive. This means there will be an escalation of bad feelings—still with nothing accomplished.   If the listener is a certain type, it will also cause him or her to counterattack.   Now we have two adults acting like kindergardeners: “No, it’s your fault!” “No, it’s yours.” Which generally leads to utter nonsense like, “And what about that time your mother…..” “Oh, you want to talk about my mother? Well, let me tell you something…”   Just in case the original screamer was justified in his or her assessment of having been damaged, he loses that hallowed “victim” status by having been a mongrel in dealing with it.   The listener will, if this happens...

Physical Abuse: Screening and Treatment

REPRINTED BY PERMISSION from The Annals of The American Psychotherapy Association, 2001, vol. 4, No. 5, pp.15-17. Do not be fooled into thinking the percent of battering victims (about 16%) in this country is small. Stripped of the obfuscation of statistics, that comes to between two and four million (Medical Education Group Learning Systems, 1997) and 8.7 million women a year (Feld & Straus, 1990) resulting in “more injuries to women victims than accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined” (Valentine, Roberts, & Burgess, 1998, p. 29). Twenty-five percent of abused women try to commit suicide Twenty-five percent of abused women try to commit suicide (MEGLS). Eighty percent of male batterers aggress against parents, children, pets, and outsiders. Arrests and convictions for other violent behavior of these men is significantly higher than for the general population (Walker, 1984). Domestic violence kills police too, at the rate of 25% of all slain on duty (Guerney, Waldo, & Firestone, 1987). Violence also has a medical cost: over 50 million dollars (Hart, 1993). The costs in people hurt or killed and dollars spent are actually not the worst aspect of violence. In the long run, its most pernicious element is that it takes place within families–the precise location where people expect a safe harbor from harm, and, even worse, it is intergenerationally transmitted (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Conservative estimates of the number of children whose parents assault them while beating each other ranges between 1.4 and 1.7 million (Hotaling, Straus, & Lincoln, 1990). Unfortunately for child victims, not only are they the likely recipients of their father’s anger at their mother, but...

6 Ways To Understand Abusers & 10 Ways to Reconciliate

Consider these important elements in working out your relationship problems: 1. Every abuser has been a victim Research proves again and again that people who were victimized as children are likely to grow up to be either abusers or drawn towards abusive relationships because that is what is familiar to them. Many abuse victims manage to escape these ills and lead satisfying lives. But if you look at someone who is verbally abusive, there is no doubt that he or she was originally abused. 2. Being abused is traumatic Being told again and again “you’re stupid” by someone who is supposed to love you is no less traumatic than having been in downtown New York City on September 11, 2001. Trauma does not have to happen all at once. In fact, the most difficult trauma to shake is the kind that lasts and lasts. It is so familiar it seems as though it’s normal. When an abuse victim is so used to it that it feels normal, that is an indication of trauma. 3. The vast, overwhelming majority of abusers are not mean, nasty, hateful people. Yes, there definitely are some bad apples but most abusers do not mean to be mean. They don’t know how to handle their hurt and anger and have either watched their parent verbally or physically battering the other parent or they have been victims themselves. Why does this matter? Because it means they can change. They can learn to be good. They can learn kindness and compassion. For some relationships, it’s too late; too much damage was done. For others, it’s not. 4....

7 Things You Can Do To Heal From Abuse

1. Accept The Fact That Everything You Did Made Sense I was once speaking to a brilliant and accomplished woman who had recovered from alcohol abuse. She had been severely emotionally and verbally abused most of her life. Abuse hurts. Sometimes there is only one way to deal with the pain: cover it up in a brain-fog. This woman made a wise statement to me. She said, “Thank God for every drink I ever took or I wouldn’t be here today.” Now, I know that I am talking heresy from the perspective of the recovery program. How could drinking make sense? they would ask. DrDeb, you’re crazy. Everyone knows drinking destroys brain cells. Everyone knows drinking destroys the liver. Everyone knows that hard drugs are even worse. There is nothing good about drinking, they would say. Of course they’re right. There is nothing at all good about drinking. Except if it saves you from dying. It is, indeed, better than being dead. And if, as a ten year old or 14 year old or whatever age you started using substances to avoid the pain going on around you, you didn’t know any better, then it was a blessing. The key words in the above sentence are “to avoid the pain going on around you.” Here is a list, a short list, of the kinds of things that are so painful as to induce a young person to booze it up so they no longer know what is going on: being verbally abused being sexually molested watching a sibling being sexually abused knowing a sibling is being sexually molested being...

4 Steps to Stop Being a Perpetrator

Perpetrators don’t always want to be. I cannot begin to tell you how many parents, for example, say, “I would never want to hurt my child.” Then they do it anyway. It takes FOUR steps to recover from being a perpetrator: Part I: Admitting you have done wrong Part II: Hating what you’ve done Part III: Resolving never to do it again, no matter what Part IV: Recovering from your own abuse Part I: Admitting You Have Done Wrong The first, I think, is the hardest, especially for victims of abuse. The victim is always used to being, well, the victim. It is shocking, disconcerting, and disturbing to learn that you have been hurting someone you love when all that time you thought you were the one that was hurt. Doesn’t matter. If you hurt someone, you’ve got to own up to it. Not only is this hard because it changes your perception of yourself to a perpetrator–ugh–but also because you may be dishing it out in an entirely different way than you got dished out to. Let’s take an example. Suppose your mom beat you, neglected you, didn’t even make your lunches. You came to school raggedy with unbrushed hair. In those days they didn’t call the Department of Children and Families and it just went on and on. You were, indeed, a victim. You got married, had a kid and resolved never to do that. So you stuck to your resolutions and you got up to give your child breakfast, brushed her hair, and never laid a hand on her. But you did it with a frown,...

Will the Real Victim Please Stand Up

Scene: A woman walks into a hospital emergency room, bloody and bruised. Her husband, teeth clenched, assists her. X-rays reveal several broken bones as well. As the staff tries to determine what happened, the husband bursts into tears, admitting he beat up his wife. Clearly, she’s the victim here. Luckily, the anger management class that the Court uses as a diversionary program for first-time offenders includes intensive one-on-one counseling. Gently, the therapist tries to piece together the acts of violence. “So how did it start?” she asks. “You wanna know the truth?” Ricky, the husband, replies, “It started last Thursday. I come home from work. I work hard, man. I come home and, I can’t believe it, my wife and her sister are in MY living room painting it baby blue. I was shocked. I felt like as if she had punched me in the gut. Painting not the baby’s room, not a little study, but our living room. Without any discussion whatsoever! Baby blue! That’s not right. Would you say that’s right?” he challenges the counselor. “No,” the therapist answers, “that doesn’t seem right, to just go ahead without discussion.” “And that’s how it always is. I’m nobody in my own home. Just a nothing.” He spits the words out and smacks one hand into the palm of the other. “That wasn’t the first time, either. My wife, Jean, she had people over for dinner last week and I came home all tired and ready to flop on the couch and there they were, for Pete’s sake.” How Come Ricky Thinks He’s A Victim? So let’s hit the...

Blaming Boomerangs in Relationships

Nothing drills down another person’s happiness like constant blame. “The sun rose so it’s your fault. There was an earthquake on the other side of the world, so, again, it’s your fault. Everything is your fault. In fact, I don’t know why I married someone with so many faults.” Blame is verbal abuse. The most fascinating thing, to me, is that when I confront all these blamers, they tell me that they love their spouse, child, etc. So what gives? What in the world do you love about them if they are responsible for every problem you have? Now you’re going to ask me, “Well, DrDeb, if they upset me and I don’t tell them, aren’t they going to keep on doing it?” Great question. The problem is that if you do keep piling blame and accusation on them, I guarantee they’ll keep on doing it. After all, you’re making them feel miserable, so what is their motivation to be nice to you? Ever hear the old expression, “You get more bees with honey than vinegar”? Think about it. Bottom line: Your relationship will fall apart, if it hasn’t already, if you feel a need to rehash every thing that went wrong with blaming. You can’t rewrite the past by rehashing it, and you definitely don’t create what those in the business world call “good will.” So put the brakes on that behavior. Pronto. How Did You Start The blaming Thing, Anyway? It started three ways: One: Your parents did it to each other and to you. Two: You thought as a little kid that somebody has to be...
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