But whether you stay or go, the critical decision you can make is to stop letting your partner distort the lens of your life, always forcing his way into thecenter of the picture. You deserve to have your life be about you; you are worth it.
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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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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.
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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.
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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.
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