Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Men, Women, Children and Domestic Violence

So, dear readers, I not only read your comments but give them a lot of thought.  Especially this one.

My as-yet unmet friend and fellow blogger Thalia had posted: 
But what I keep coming back to in my head is this:

If I were in the process of recovering from a bad relationship, and I recognized that it had been co-dependent and controlling, perhaps even abusive (though I do not know if you consider your recent relationship so), and I were trying to unravel all that, I would think it a very good idea to pay close attention to how I react to known abusers. Especially if I found myself downplaying or ignoring that abuse (which you say you did know about), and even more so if I found myself expressing sympathy for that person. Because it could potentially have a lot to tell me about my self-image and who I tend to side with in these matters.

What I hear you saying in this sounds awfully close to me to If we just love them enough they'll change.
Let me address the last part first - if we just love them enough they'll change.  No. 

Well... maybe.  I believe that in some rare cases, love can "win over" somebody who has distorted thinking. 

Image via Karen's Whimsy
But when I say "love," I'm not talking about namby-pamby hearts-and-flowers let me get-that-fix-that be your adoring little doormat.  I'm talking love with muscles - love that sets firm, consistent boundaries, love that insists on therapy and emotional homework and does not tolerate being mistreated and disrespected for a single minute.  If you can show that kind of love, and if the other person realizes that if they don't change, you will walk out that door, never to return... in those circumstances, do I believe they will change?

I think it's possible.  I know a few people (very few people) who've done it.  I also believe that sometimes even with all the stars and moons and planets in alignment, with the best intentions in the world, the person with distorted thinking will not be willing or able to change.  And there's no amount of love - with or without muscles - that can make them.

I believe in most situations, sadly, change is not going to happen.  In hindsight, we might have done better to cut our losses and end it, sooner.  But we can only leave a relationship when we are emotionally ready to do so, no matter how little sense it makes to those on the outside, or how ready others think we should be.

Later, of course, we're asking ourselves What Was I Thinking?! 

If you're trying to be the good friend in a situation where someone is being abused, either verbally or physically, a good reference is Helping Her Get Free by Susan Brewster.

I know, with my ex
b-f, there is no going back.  I gave it my best shot, I swung and missed.  Ballgame over.  Time for the showers - and I'm talking a girly shower, with lots of fragrant shower gel and lather thingies and scented lotion.

On paying attention to how I think about abusers and abuse... I take it very seriously.  Although I recognize that there are false accusations of abuse out there, for the most part I also believe the woman, when an accusation is made.  Or child.  Or man.  I consider myself to have been in an abusive relationship, and just because it was "only" violent twice, and because I believe my former mate to be mentally ill, does not mean it did not have serious damaging effects on my heart and psyche.  For myself, the long-term, ongoing verbal and emotional abuse was far worse than the violence or threat of violence.  For another person it may be exactly the opposite.  We are all individuals, and what we went through will impact us in different ways.

I know that for myself, it's going to take much time and space and self-kindness and more time to recover myself.

On the "public" abusers... Thalia, you're right.  My personal jury is still deliberating, and I don't have one specifically reaction.  Am I too soft on them, to ready to make an excuse or find an extenuating circumstance?  Perhaps.  But as I sort out my many issues, I don't think that painting the world in black-or-white is healthy for me, either. 

Specifically, about Charlie Sheen - I know that I don't know.  I know that he has racked up a record of being arrested for domestic violence, and for threatening women in his circle.  I know that his recent behavior appears bi-polar.  This could mean he is bi-polar, or that his various drug abuses are mimicking the condition, or that he's putting on an act.  Or some combination of all three. 

I've now done some trolling on the Internet in search of the truth - and my conclusion is... I can't conclude.  Not without putting a lot more time into it, and frankly, I'm sick of it and him.  CS may be the biggest Male Chauvinist Pig of all time, who's gotten away with more than OJ Simpson and Kobe Bryant put together, or... "such a good person underneath all of it" as ex-fiance and shooting victim Kelly Preston recently claimed <rolling my eyes.>  I lean towards the MCP view, but who knows?  I don't really care about CS (not that I wish him ill,) except as an example for how difficult it is for families to "control" someone who seems to be mentally ill, no matter how publicly outrageous their behavior.

On abuse, in the generic: Sometimes I believe that abusers seeking Power Over a victim know exactly what they are doing.  That they can and do have control over their actions - for example, when they destroy possessions, they rarely destroy anything that they themselves value.  Those who batter their wives often choose to avoid the face or arms, because the bruises would show - that speaks to premeditation and control, in spades.  I believe that it's no accident that those who abuse the elderly or disabled in convalescent hospitals target those who are no longer able to speak coherently.  Or children.  Or hookers, the homeless, or smaller, frailer inmates - anyone perceived to be unprotected by society.

I think about this, and often I think that those who abuse - physically, sexually, emotionally - are evil, sadistic sociopaths.  And I feel a great deal of rage, and if I could wipe them off the earth simply by pressing a button, I'd get calluses on my button finger from jabbing it so many times! 
The Portable Red Button
from Nagzi at Flickr Creative Commons

And then I think of all we are learning about the brain these days.  That certain areas of brain function - controlling long-term decision-making, for example, mature later in life.  That there are patterns of anosognosia in people with organic brain damage, which are strikingly similar to what people with certain mental illnesses exhibit.  We now know certain diseases, like Alzheimers, are due to build-up of plaque and tangles which inhibit brain function.  We know that damage to certain areas of the brain reduces impulse control.  I lost a dear friend to MS a few years ago, and saw the gradual loss of body control and function that was a result of the deterioration of the myelin sheaths... in his brain.

from Boaz Yiftach at FreeDigitalPhotos

My grandmother was left-handed, and she grew up when the mindset was that being left-handed was simply a matter of "being stubborn."  That she could easily learn to use her right hand as well or better than her left, if she would only try.

I am no longer 100% convinced that all abusers are evil sociopaths.  Some are, I have no doubt.  Others... may be doing their best, struggling against the ways their brains are wired, or damage to the brain due to exposure to lead or who knows what substances, legal or illegal.  Or they may be mentally ill.

Does that make it okay for them to abuse others?  No.  If you are on the receiving end, whether of a punch, or a curse, does it make it feel better, to think "Gee, I guess he can't help himself?"  Hell no.  You are still bruised, and in many ways, hurt worse than if some stranger had come up to you, mugged you and stolen your money.  There is an awful, awful betrayal when somebody you are supposed to be able to love, supposed to be able to trust, is the very person you can't trust.

I think perhaps what Thalia voiced was she was hearing support and sympathy for the possibly mentally ill perpetrator, and not so much for the victim.  Maybe I did sound more sympathetic to the abuser than the victim (though I consider those coping with a mentally ill family member or loved one to be heroes first, victims second.)

My number one priority is for the victim.  We should support and help the victim, and never for a moment stop saying, "Not your fault.  You did not and do not deserve to be: hit, slapped, punched, threatened, berated, screamed at, belittled, ridiculed..." and not run past them in a rush to shower the abuser with sympathy for the stress s/he must have felt, being compelled to abuse, poor baby!

On statistics: I know statistics indicate that far more women are seriously injured by abusive men than are men by women, women by women, men by men... Not sure who takes the lion's share of abusing children, or the elderly but I'm guessing that's probably men, too.  Men usually have a size advantage over their mates, and are often (though not always) the primary breadwinner of the family.

Still, IMO going off on a "bad men vs. abused women" angle is not going to solve the problem.  We want abuse to stop, and in order to do so, we have to enlist everybody: men, women and children to be a part of the solution.  Segregation did not end in America because the African-American community was unhappy about it; the majority of (male white) lawmakers and the general population had to also become opposed to it.  It takes time to turn public opinion around on an issue.

I am not that old (at least, I'd like to think I'm not!) and I remember a time when it was both legal and socially acceptable for an American man to beat up and rape his wife, unless he really "went too far" and put her in the hospital.  Then people would frown, perhaps even whisper about him (although even then he would rarely go to jail.)  Thankfully, this is no longer considered okay.  So I have hope that social attitudes can continue to evolve in a positive direction, even if they're not moving as fast as I'd like.

Men who are not abusing women, but who have, perhaps, been abused by women (and I personally know several), or who know another man who has been abused, are not going to eagerly sign onto taking a stand against Domestic Violence if they perceive men are being singled out and blamed as the sole cause of the problem, and that abusive women are getting a free pass.  This cannot be "just" a women's issue - it needs to be an everybody issue, because everybody is hurt by Domestic Violence.

Children are terribly damaged by witnessing abuse in the home, whether it is fathers to mothers, or mothers abusing fathers, or perhaps an elderly relative in the home, or one sibling who is the family "goat," even if they themselves are not abused.  But I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say, whether they are boys or girls, children who witness abuse committed by men or women are more likely to bully other children in school and grow up to be abusive themselves, than children who do not grow up with an abusive parent of either sex.  Even if they do not become abusers, they are likely to be vulnerable to tolerating unacceptable behavior from future romantic partners (which is part of my own picture.)

IMO, as a society, we need to take a stand and say "Abuse is not okay.  Period."  We need to teach children that abuse isn't okay, regardless of who it comes from: mothers, fathers, stepfathers,  stepmothers, grandparents, teachers, religious leaders, neighbors, other children.  Never, under any circumstances, is verbal, emotional, or physical abuse acceptable.

That said, since we can't just push a button and cleanly get rid of abusers, we need to figure out what else we can do.  I do believe there are some shades of gray here, that someone may lash out physically once or twice in a lifetime, or during a mental illness crisis.  While that's still unacceptable behavior, absolutely, I am not sure that abuser is on the same "level" as somebody who routinely batters a partner, children or parent.  If these people are contrite, if they are ashamed and truly don't want to be verbally or physically abusive, let's see if we can retrain their brain patterns, so battering with fists or words isn't their go-to reaction in times of stress or frustration. 

And let's give those with whom they live enough training to recognize the danger signs and get out before their unstable members do start shooting, slicing, or otherwise "going postal" on the family.  Enough resources to be able to leave an unbalanced relationship, and to know that they are worthwhile people, that none of this is their fault.

I do have, perhaps, a rosy-glasses view of the world.  I would like to believe that Andrea Yates and Jared Loughner and Stanley Neace were not in their right minds when they killed.

I would like to believe that with more education, people will recognize mental illness earlier and find a way to get sick people help before tragedy occurs (even as this is made harder by cuts by many states in mental health funding due to budget shortfalls.)  I don't believe that wish is incompatible with the desire to end domestic violence and the worldwide oppression of women and children, but rather, is of a piece with it.

Maybe it's OCPD fleas, maybe I want to control what is uncontrollable, but I find it less frightening to live in a world where most people harm others because they've "gone crazy," because at least in theory, that can be prevented.  I don't want to believe I live in a world where most people who harm others, do it coldly, sanely, and rationally... just because they want to.


Please note, this very incomplete list of resources are not just for physical violence, but can offer help to those suffering verbal and emotional abuse as well.  Don't feel you have no "right" to ask for help because you've never been hit.  Abuse includes emotional, verbal, and financial, and these resources are there for you, too.

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Your thoughts?
Got more links?