It is important to note that research has shown that men who have abusive mothers do not tend to develop especially negative attitudes toward females, but men who have abusive fathers do; the disrespect that abusive men show their female partners and their daughters is often absorbed by their sons.So while a small number of abusive men do hate women, the great majority exhibit a more subtle-though often quite pervasive-sense of superiority or contempt toward females, and some don't show any obvious signs of problems with women at all until they are in a serious relationship.
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Objectification is a critical reason why an abuser tends to get worse over time. As his conscience adapts to one level of cruelty-he builds to the next. By depersonalizing his partner, the abuser protects himself from the natural human emotions of guilt and empathy, so that he can sleep at night with a clear conscience. He distances himself so far from her humanity that her feelings no longer count, or simply cease to exist.
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The sense of ownership is one reason why abuse tends to get worse as relationships get more serious. The more history and commitment that develop in the couple, the more the abuser comes to think of his partner as a prized object. Possessiveness is at the core of the abuser's mindset, the spring from which all the other streams spout; on some level he feels that he owns you and therefore has the right to treat you as he sees fit.
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The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man's emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.
One of the obstacles to recognizing chronic mistreatment in relationships is that most abusive men simply don't seem like abusers. They have many good qualities, including times of kindness, warmth, and humor, especially in the early period of a relationship. An abuser's friends may think the world of him. He may have a successful work life and have no problems with drugs or alcohol. He may simply not fit anyone's image of a cruel or intimidating person. So when a woman feels her relationship spinning out of control, it is unlikely to occur to her that her partner is an abuser.
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The abuser's mood changes are especially perplexing. He can be a different person from day to day, or even from hour to hour. At times he is aggressive and intimidating, his tone harsh, insults spewing from his mouth, ridicule dripping from him like oil from a drum. When he's in this mode, nothing she says seems to have any impact on him, except to make him even angrier. Her side of the argument counts for nothing in his eyes, and everything is her fault. He twists her words around so that she always ends up on the defensive. As so many partners of my clients have said to me, 'I just can't seem to do anything right.' At other moments, he sounds wounded and lost, hungering for love and for someone to take care of him. When this side of him emerges, he appears open and ready to heal. He seems to let down his guard, his hard exterior softens, and he may take on the quality of a hurt child, difficult and frustrating but lovable. Looking at him in this deflated state, his partner has trouble imagining that the abuser inside of him will ever be back. The beast that takes him over at other times looks completely unrelated to the tender person she now sees. Sooner or later, though, the shadow comes back over him, as if it had a life of its own. Weeks of peace may go by, but eventually she finds herself under assault once again. Then her head spins with the arduous effort of untangling the many threads of his character, until she begins to wonder whether she is the one whose head isn't quite right.
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The woman knows from living with the abusive man that there are no simple answers. Friends say: 'He's mean.' But she knows many ways in which he has been good to her. Friends say: 'He treats you that way because he can get away with it. I would never let someone treat me that way.' But she knows that the times when she puts her foot down the most firmly, he responds by becoming his angriest and most intimidating. When she stands up to him, he makes her pay for it-sooner or later. Friends say: 'Leave him.' But she knows it won't be that easy. He will promise to change. He'll get friends and relatives to feel sorry for him and pressure her to give him another chance. He'll get severely depressed, causing her to worry whether he'll be all right. And, depending on what style of abuser he is, she may know that he will become dangerous when she tries to leave him. She may even be concerned that he will try to take her children away from her, as some abusers do.
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Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out? Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you? Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did? Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you? Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you? Has he ever threatened to hurt you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he'll ever be violent; he already has been.
The abusive man's high entitlement leads him to have unfair and unreasonable expectations, so that the relationship revolves around his demands. His attitude is: 'You owe me.' For each ounce he gives, he wants a pound in return. He wants his partner to devote herself fully to catering to him, even if it means that her own needs-or her children's-get neglected. You can pour all your energy into keeping your partner content, but if he has this mind-set, he'll never be satisfied for long. And he will keep feeling that you are controlling him, because he doesn't believe that you should set any limits on his conduct or insist that he meet his responsibilities.
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Disrespect also can take the form of idealizing you and putting you on a pedestal as a perfect woman or goddess, perhaps treating you like a piece of fine china. The man who worships you in this way is not seeing you; he is seeing his fantasy, and when you fail to live up to that image he may turn nasty. So there may not be much difference between the man who talks down to you and the one who elevates you; both are displaying a failure to respect you as a real human being and bode ill.
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I am often asked whether physical aggression by women toward men, such as a slap in the face, is abuse. The answer is: 'It depends.' Men typically experience women's shoves or slaps as annoying and infuriating rather than intimidating, so the long-term emotional effects are less damaging. It is rare to find a man who has gradually lost his freedom or self-esteem because of a woman's aggressiveness.
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As I have explained in earlier chapters, abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy's values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy's values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.
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The volatile, abusive, and sometimes dangerous reactions that abusers can have when relationships draw to a close have often been considered, especially by psychologists, to be evidence of the man's 'fear of abandonment.' But women have fears of abandonment that are just as great as men's, yet they rarely stalk or kill their partners after a breakup. Not only that, but many abusers are vicious to their ex-partners even when they do not desire a reunion or when they initiated the breakup themselves.
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Boys' aggressiveness is increasingly being treated as a medical problem, particularly in schools, a trend that has led to the diagnosing and medicating of boys whose problem may really be that they have been traumatized and influenced by exposure to violence and abuse at home. Treating these boys as though they have a chemical problem not only overlooks the distress they are in but also reinforces their belief that they are 'out of control' or 'sick, ' rather than helping them to recognize that they are making bad choices based on destructive values. I have sometimes heard adults telling girls that they should be flattered by boys' invasive or aggressive behavior 'because it means they really like you, ' an approach that prepares both boys and girls to confuse love with abuse and socializes girls to feel helpless.
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If you are aware of chronic or severe mistreatment and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place. Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least as forgiveness. To abused women, meanwhile, the silence means that no one will help-just what her partner wants her to believe. Anyone who chooses to quietly look the other way therefore unwittingly becomes the abuser's ally.
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ALCOHOL HAS NO BIOLOGICAL CONNECTION TO ABUSE OR VIOLENCE Alcohol does not directly make people belligerent, aggressive, or violent. There is evidence that certain chemicals can cause violent behavior - anabolic steroids, for example, or crack cocaine - but alcohol is not among them. In the human body, alcohol is actually a depressant, a substance that rarely causes aggression. Marijuana similarly has no biological action connected to abusiveness.
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A man's beliefs about the effects of the substance will largely be borne out. If he believes that alcohol can make him aggressive, it will, as research has shown. On the other hand, if he doesn't attribute violence-causing powers to substances, he is unlikely to become aggressive even when severely intoxicated.
Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that's physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you.
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The central attitudes driving the Water Torturer are: You are crazy. You fly off the handle over nothing. I can easily convince other people that you're the one who is messed up. As long as I'm calm, you can't call anything I do abusive, no matter how cruel. I know exactly how to get under your skin.
The central attitudes driving Mr. Right are: You should be in awe of my intelligence and should look up to me intellectually. I know better than you do, even about what's good for you. Your opinions aren't worth listening to carefully or taking seriously. The fact that you sometimes disagree with me shows how sloppy your thinking is. If you would just accept that I know what's right, our relationship would go much better. Your own life would go better, too. When you disagree with me about something, no matter how respectfully or meekly, that's mistreatment of me. If I put you down for long enough, some day you'll see.
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ABUSIVE MEN COME in every personality type, arise from good childhoods and bad ones, are macho men or gentle, 'liberated' men. No psychological test can distinguish an abusive man from a respectful one. Abusiveness is not a product of a man's emotional injuries or of deficits in his skills. In reality, abuse springs from a man's early cultural training, his key male role models, and his peer influences. In other words, abuse is a problem of values, not of psychology. When someone challenges an abuser's attitudes and beliefs, he tends to reveal the contemptuous and insulting personality that normally stays hidden, reserved for private attacks on his partner. An abuser tries to keep everybody-his partner, his therapist, his friends and relatives-focused on how he feels, so that they won't focus on how he thinks, perhaps because on some level he is aware that if you grasp the true nature of his problem, you will begin to escape his domination.
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The confusion of love with abuse is what allows abusers who kill their partners to make the absurd claim that they were driven by the depths of their loving feelings. The news media regrettably often accept the aggressors' view of these acts, describing them as 'crimes of passion.' But what could more thoroughly prove that a man did not love his partner? If a mother were to kill one of her children, would we ever accept the claim that she did it because she was overwhelmed by how much she cared? Not for an instant. Nor should we. Genuine love means respecting the humanity of the other person, wanting what is best for him or her, and supporting the other person's self-esteem and independence. This kind of love is incompatible with abuse and coercion.
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The central attitudes driving Mr. Sensitive are: I'm against the macho men, so I couldn't be abusive. As long as I use a lot of 'psychobabble, ' no one is going to believe that I am mistreating you. I can control you by analyzing how your mind and emotions work, and what your issues are from childhood. I can get inside your head whether you want me there or not. Nothing in the world is more important than my feelings. Women should be grateful to me for not being like those other men.
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The central attitudes driving the Drill Sergeant are: I need to control your every move or you will do it wrong. I know the exact way that everything should be done. You shouldn't have anyone else - or any thing else - in your life besides me. I am going to watch you like a hawk to keep you from developing strength or independence. I love you more than anyone in the world, but you disgust me. (!!)
The central attitudes driving the Demand Man are: It's your job to do things for me, including taking care of my responsibilities if I drop the ball on them. If I'm unhappy about any aspect of my life, whether it has to do with our relationship or not, it's your fault. You should not place demands on me at all. You should be grateful for whatever I choose to give. I am above criticism. I am a very loving and giving partner. You're lucky to have me.
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The central attitudes driving the Terrorist are: You have no right to defy me or leave me. Your life is in my hands. Women are evil and have to be kept terrorized to prevent that evil from coming forth. I would rather die than accept your right to independence. The children are one of the best tools I can use to make you fearful. Seeing you terrified is exciting and satisfying.
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Have you ever suffered a sharp disappointment or a painful loss and found yourself looking for someone to blame? Have you, for example, ever been nasty to a store clerk when you were really upset about your job? Most people have an impulse to dump bad feelings on some undeserving person, as a way to relieve - temporarily-sadness or frustration. Certain days you may know that you just have to keep an eye on yourself so as not to bite someone's head off. The abusive man doesn't bother to keep an eye on himself, however. In fact, he considers himself entitled to use his partner as a kind of human garbage dump where he can litter the ordinary pains and frustrations that life brings us. She is always an available target, she is easy to blame - since no partner is perfect-and she can't prevent him from dumping because he will get even worse if she tries. His excuse when he jettisons his distresses on to her is that his life is unusually painful-an unacceptable rationalization even if it were true, which it generally isn't.
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YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn't rise and your blood shouldn't boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you-as will happen to any abused woman from time to time-he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.
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The symptoms of abuse are there, and the woman usually sees them: the escalating frequency of put-downs. Early generosity turning more and more to selfishness. Verbal explosions when he is irritated or when he doesn't get his way. Her grievances constantly turned around on her, so that everything is her own fault. His growing attitude that he knows what is good for her better than she does. And, in many relationships, a mounting sense of fear or intimidation. But the woman also sees that her partner is a human being who can be caring and affectionate at times, and she loves him. She wants to figure out why he gets so upset, so that she can help him break his pattern of ups and downs. She gets drawn into the complexities of his inner world, trying to uncover clues, moving pieces around in an attempt to solve an elaborate puzzle.
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An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he's not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility, until you feel drained down to nothing.
IN ONE IMPORTANT WAY, an abusive man works like a magician: His tricks largely rely on getting you to look off in the wrong direction, distracting your attention so that you won't notice where the real action is. He draws you into focusing on the turbulent world of his feelings to keep your eyes turned away from the true cause of his abusiveness, which lies in how he thinks. He leads you into a convoluted maze, making your relationship with him a labyrinth of twists and turns. He wants you to puzzle over him, to try to figure him out, as though he were a wonderful but broken machine for which you need only to find and fix the malfunctioning parts to bring it roaring to its full potential. His desire, though he may not admit it even to himself, is that you wrack your brain in this way so that you won't notice the patterns and logic of his behavior, the consciousness behind the craziness.
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Objectification is a critical reason why an abuser tends to get worse over time. As his conscience adapts to one level of cruelty-or violence-he builds to the next. By depersonalizing his partner, the abuser protects himself from the natural human emotions of guilt and empathy, so that he can sleep at night with a clear conscience. He distances himself so far from her humanity that her feelings no longer count, or simply cease to exist. These walls tend to grow over time, so that after a few years in a relationship my clients can reach a point where they feel no more guilt over degrading or threatening their partners than you or I would feel after angrily kicking a stone in the driveway.
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It is important to note that research has shown that men who have abusive mothers do not tend to develop especially negative attitudes toward females, but men who have abusive fathers do; the disrespect that abusive men show their female partners and their daughters is often absorbed by their sons. So while a small number of abusive men do hate women, the great majority exhibit a more subtle-though often quite pervasive-sense of superiority or contempt toward females, and some don't show any obvious signs of problems with women at all until they are in a serious relationship.
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THE MYTHS ABOUT ABUSERS 1. He was abused as a child. 2. His previous partner hurt him. 3. He abuses those he loves the most. 4. He holds in his feelings too much. 5. He has an aggressive personality. 6. He loses control. 7. He is too angry. 8. He is mentally ill. 9. He hates women. 10. He is afraid of intimacy and abandonment. 11. He has low self-esteem. 12. His boss mistreats him. 13. He has poor skills in communication and conflict resolution. 14. There are as many abusive women as abusive men. 15. His abusiveness is as bad for him as for his partner. 16. He is a victim of racism. 17. He abuses alcohol or drugs.
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When a man's face contorts in bitterness and hatred, he looks a little insane. When his mood changes from elated to assaultive in the time it takes to turn around, his mental stability seems open to question. When he accuses his partner of plotting to harm him, he seems paranoid. It is no wonder that the partner of an abusive man would come to suspect that he was mentally ill. Yet the great majority of my clients over the years have been psychologically 'normal.' Their minds work logically; they understand cause and effect; they don't hallucinate. Their perceptions of most life circumstances are reasonably accurate. They get good reports at work; they do well in school or training programs; and no one other than their partners-and children-thinks that there is anything wrong with them. Their value system is unhealthy, not their psychology.
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I have sometimes said to a client: 'If you are so in touch with your feelings from your abusive childhood, then you should know what abuse feels like. You should be able to remember how miserable it was to be cut down to nothing, to be put in fear, to be told that the abuse is your own fault. You should be less likely to abuse a woman, not more so, from having been through it.' Once I make this point, he generally stops mentioning his terrible childhood; he only wants to draw attention to it if it's an excuse to stay the same, not if it's a reason to change.
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Have you ever heard a woman claim that the reason why she is chronically mistreating her male partner is because a previous man abused her? I have never run into this excuse in the fifteen years I have worked in the field of abuse. Certainly I have encountered cases where women had trouble trusting another man after leaving an abuser, but there is a critical distinction to be made: Her past experiences may explain how she feels, but they are not an excuse for how she behaves. And the same is true for a man.
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Consider how challenging it is to negotiate or compromise with a man who operates on the following tenets (whether or not he ever says them aloud): 1. 'An argument should only last as long as my patience does. Once I've had enough, the discussion is over and it's time for you to shut up.' 2. 'If the issue we're struggling over is important to me, I should get what I want. If you don't back off, you're wronging me.' 3. 'I know what is best for you and for our relationship. If you continue disagreeing with me after I've made it clear which path is the right one, you're acting stupid.' 4. 'If my control and authority seem to be slipping, I have the right to take steps to reestablish the rule of my will, including abuse if necessary.' The last item on this list is the one that most distinguishes the abuser from other people: Perhaps any of us can slip into having feelings like the ones in numbers one through three, but the abuser gives himself permission to take action on the basis of his beliefs. With him, the foregoing statements aren't feelings; they are closely held convictions that he uses to guide his actions. That is why they lead to so much bullying behavior.
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Although the typical abusive man works to maintain a positive public image, it is true that some women have abusive partners who are nasty or intimidating to everyone. How about that man? Do his problems result from mistreatment by his parents? The answer is both yes and no; it depends on which problem we're talking about. His hostility toward the human race may sprout from cruelty in his upbringing, but he abuses women because he has an abuse problem. The two problems are related but distinct.
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Each human being deals with hurt or resentment in a unique way. When you feel insulted or bullied, you may reach for a chocolate bar. In the same circumstance, I might burst into tears. Another person may put his or her feelings quickly into words, confronting the mistreatment directly. Although our feelings can influence how we wish to act, our choices of how to behave are ultimately determined more by our attitudes and our habits. We respond to our emotional wounds based on what we believe about ourselves, how we think about the person who has hurt us, and how we perceive the world. Only in people who are severely traumatized or who have major mental illnesses is behavior governed by feelings. And only a tiny percentage of abusive men have these kinds of severe psychological problems.
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The man's rights and the woman's rights are the same size. They have the right to have their opinions and desires respected, to have a 50 percent say in decision making, to live free from verbal abuse and physical harm. Their children's rights are somewhat smaller but substantial nonetheless; children can't have an equal say in decisions because of their limited knowledge and experience, but they do have the right to live free from abuse and fear, to be treated with respect, and to have their voices heard on all issues that concern them.
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To make matters worse, everyone she talks to has a different opinion about the nature of his problem and what she should do about it. Her clergyperson may tell her, 'Love heals all difficulties. Give him your heart fully, and he will find the spirit of God.' Her therapist speaks a different language, saying, 'He triggers strong reactions in you because he reminds you of your father, and you set things off in him because of his relationship with his mother. You each need to work on not pushing each other's buttons.' A recovering alcoholic friend tells her, 'He's a rage addict. He controls you because he is terrified of his own fears. You need to get him into a twelve-step program.' Her brother may say to her, 'He's a good guy. I know he loses his temper with you sometimes-he does have a short fuse-but you're no prize yourself with that mouth of yours. You two need to work it out, for the good of the children.' And then, to crown her increasing confusion, she may hear from her mother, or her child's schoolteacher, or her best friend: 'He's mean and crazy, and he'll never change. All he wants is to hurt you. Leave him now before he does something even worse.' All of these people are trying to help, and they are all talking about the same abuser. But he looks different from each angle of view.
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We hear from time to time about horrible human rights atrocities happening around the globe. Our government claims that it stands in favor of human rights, and our leaders are in the news demanding consequences for other countries that are abusing their populations. But there is a huge denial about how widespread and common these kinds of atrocities are in the United States, and that we are not nearly as different from other countries as we would like to believe we are.
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The central attitudes driving the Demand Man are:It's your job to do things for me, including taking care of my responsibilities if I drop the ball on them. If I'm unhappy aboutany aspect of my life, whether it has to do with our relationship or not, it's your fault.You should not place demands on me at all. You should be grateful for whatever I choose to give.I am above criticism.I am a very loving and giving partner. You're lucky to have me.
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The central attitudes driving the Water Torturer are:You are crazy. You fly off the handle over nothing.I can easily convince other people that you're the one who is messed up.As long as I'm calm, you can't call anything I do abusive, no matter how cruel.I know exactly how to get under your skin.
It is not possible to be truly balanced in one's views of an abuser and an abused woman. As Dr. Judith Herman explains eloquently in her masterwork Trauma and Recovery, "neutrality" actually serves the interests of the perpetrator much more than those of the victim and so is not neutral. Although an abuser prefers to have you wholeheartedly on his side, he will settle contentedly for your decision to take a middle stance. To him, that means you see the couple's problems as partly her fault and partly his fault, which means it isn't abuse.
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