Recently, on the Shrink4Men blogs and in my private practice, men have made remarks such as: “I didn’t know men could be abused;” “It’s still really difficult for me to admit that I was abused; that I’m an abused man;” “My couples therapist told us men can’t be abused and that my wife is just emotional;” “I just don’t how I went from being a happy guy, with friends, family and a great job, to what I am now;” and “My wife thinks I’m being abusive and controlling when I tell her her behavior is hurtful.”
Gentlemen, it’s time to take the blinders off and wake up. Men are just as likely to be the targets of abuse as women. Women are just as capable of being abusive as men. Abuse is abuse and it’s not different when she does it. Wait a minute, I take that back. It is different when she does it because she’s more likely to get away with it, for the time being, that is.
Women-centric domestic violence groups and Dr Phil would like our society to believe that only men can abuse and only women can be victims. However, just because they want this to be the truth doesn’t make it so. In fact, individuals who perpetuate this lie are abusers themselves. Why? Because not only are they denying help to millions of men who are suffering everyday, they’re denying the existence of their suffering.
People who deny that men can be abuse victims are also unforgivable hypocrites. Domestic violence centers and spokespersons bang the drum ad nauseam about “ending the silence on domestic violence” in regards to female victims, but tell male victims of abuse that they’re not victims and to shut up and go away. The “Men Bad-Women Good; Men Abusers-Women-Victims” mentality is an example of a primitive psychological defensive mechanism called splitting. [*Splitting is also a very common behavior engaged in by many individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder.]
Men in Denial about Being Abuse Victims
Many men recognize that their wife’s/girlfriend’s behavior is cruel, erratic, crazy, demanding, controlling, pathologically possessive, manipulative, passive-aggressive, cold and hostile. They can articulate that their female intimate partners call them names, withhold sex and affection to punish and/or use it as a transaction, lie, cheat, steal, make disparaging remarks about them to others–including their own children, make threats and throw objects, slap, kick, scratch, punch, pull hair, etc., but still won’t acknowledge that their wife’s or girlfriend’s behavior is abuse.
If you’re a man who is having trouble coming to grips with the fact that your wife’s/girlfriend’s behavior is indeed abusive, I’d like you to consider the following 3 questions:
- How does her behavior make you feel?
- How would you and others view her behavior toward you if she were a man and you were a woman?
- Would her behavior toward you land her in jail if she were a man?
1. Helpless and hopeless. If her behavior makes you feel helpless, hopeless, powerless, crazy, confused, overwhelmed, scared, anxious, stressed, fatigued, and physically ill, you may be experiencing common trauma symptoms associated with abuse. Admitting the problem is often the first and most important step you can take to solving the problem.
However, don’t expect your wife or girlfriend to share your view of the problem. If you tell her that her behavior toward you is abusive, she’ll most likely turn it around on you (DARVO—Deny, attack and reverse victim order) and accuse you of being the abuser. That’s what abusers do. They blame their victims. It’s what the stereotypical alcoholic wife beater does and it’s what abusive high-conflict and/or abusive personality-disordered women do.
2. Role reversal. Imagine if you and your wife/girlfriend could switch genders. How would you and, let’s say, oh, I don’t know. . . support staff at a woman’s domestic violence shelter view your wife’s/girlfriend’s behavior toward you if she were a man and you were a woman? If the answer is, “He’s an abusive creep. You need to protect yourself and your children, create a safety plan and get out,” then your wife/girlfriend is an abuser and you’re an abused man in the context of your relationship.
Domestic violence shelters don’t tell an abused woman who’s seeking help and protection from her male abuser to stick it out and be patient. DV shelters don’t tell an abused woman to have empathy for her male abuser and to try to understand his feeeeeeeeeeeelings and point of view. DV shelters don’t tell an abused woman to stay with her male abuser for the sake of the children and to honor her commitments. DV shelters most certainly do not tell an abused woman that she needs to change her behaviors, so that her male abuser will stop abusing her.
Enough with the double standards already.
3. Perp walk. If your wife/girlfriend engages in physical violence toward you, it’s abuse, it’s domestic violence and it’s a crime. Period. Violence is not different when a woman perpetrates it; it’s still violence. If you would be arrested for throwing keys at your female partner, kicking her, throwing a glass of milk at her head, scratching, her, slapping her, stabbing her with a knife, biting her, trying to run her down with a car, threatening to kill yourself and the children, threatening to kill her and the children, threatening to kill her pet, threatening to kill her new boyfriend, going after her with a hammer, punching her in the groin, etc., etc., she should also go to jail for these behaviors when she perpetrates them upon you.
Men, I know it’s humiliating for many of you to admit you’re in an abusive relationship and that you’re an abused man in the context of your intimate relationship, but there shouldn’t be any shame in doing so. Your abusive wife/girlfriend is the one who ought to be ashamed. It takes an incredible amount of strength and courage to admit to this problem and seek help. If you can endure the behavior of an abusive woman, you have more strength than you know. You just need to use that strength to get help and get out. Furthermore, the powers that be and DV groups want to maintain the shame men feel about being abused. It makes it less likely that you’ll complain and ask for help. In order for this matter to be taken seriously, you have to redirect the shame at the people who are behaving badly and make some noise.
If you can’t admit that you’re being abused to yourself and take it seriously, then society and our legal system will probably never do so. This means the current extremely biased and inequitable divorce and custody laws and practices will stay in place. If we don’t change the current divorce and custody laws that favor women, then you will most likely be punished by the courts for trying to escape your abusive marriage. It’s not right and it needs to stop. That won’t happen until we raise public awareness.
Once you stop the abuse and fight back, you’re no longer a victim.
Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.