It’s day 11 of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In today’s In His Own Words, “David” tells how is childhood programming and his mother’s behavior groomed him into relationships with abusive women and feminism.
First, I want to say that I was under the illusion for a long time that I was a strong, very independent person who could do anything and take anything life threw at me. I moved from Europe to America on my own when I was 21 with a portfolio of drawings and a limited knowledge of the English language. I never feared anything. I know now that being so fearless and adventurous can be a mistake, particularly in relationships.
My first wife, a Canadian, was an alcoholic, and when we met a part of me wanted to rescue her, help her, “save” her. I felt like I understood her pain, and could relate. She had a tough, sarcastic, jaded exterior but I felt like deep inside her was a tender and loving heart. I became a perfect co-dependent for 8 years, and was also bullied, put down constantly until I asked for divorce and got it.
Of course she was angry. Part of the reason for asking for divorce was also that I could no longer stand to see her destroy herself deliberately, it was very painful. But because I felt responsible for her emotional and psychological well being and because I still loved her, walking away from her was the most emotionally wrenching thing I ever did in my life. It felt like I was ripping my own heart out.
I had taken her to treatment centers 4 times in 8 years, saving her life each time. She died from alcoholism a year after our divorce. She had told me many times during our marriage that she did not want to live. When she verbally abused me, which was often, I thought that it was the alcohol talking, not her, and that’s how I dealt with it for so long. When drunk, she became an insensitive bully, when sober she was shy and sensitive.
When I met my second wife, I was very vulnerable, as it was shortly after separating from my first wife, and I was still very unwise. One of the first things she told me was that she was very emotional. I didn’t heed that warning. She wanted to get sexually intimate right away, and within a few days told me she loved me, which was shocking, but she said it in a way that meant that she was expecting the same from me (If you have ever seen the comedy “Love Stinks” you can visualize her behavior).
She was extremely passionate and intense, charming, extremely possessive, spiritual, creative, seemingly sensitive, very impulsive and bold, interesting, and felt lost in the world. I had never met anyone like her. She also told me that she had been horribly abused by her father and her exes, so I felt that from the onset it positioned her as the wounded, bleeding victim and forced me into the position of the nurturer, the one who was to be unconditionally understanding, supportive, patient, gentle and expected to accept her completely, no matter what, because she had been so terribly victimized by other males. Again, something in me sought to rescue and “save” her.
We had a very intense relationship from the beginning, with so many fight I would wake up not remembering if we were supposed to be mad at each other or not. There were also episodes of violence on her part, she would scream, throw and break things constantly (throw violent tantrums to get her way), throw hot coffee at me, throw an unopened can at my head (missing by an inch and denting the wall), punch me in the chest, etc.
I was never violent, I walked away. I took a month off from the relationship, we broke up repeatedly, and she would disappear and then call me from a hotel several days later expecting a groveling apology from me, and I obliged, because there was absolutely no rational conversation or negotiation possible with her: if I was to be with her I would have to totally embrace her version of reality, even when it was completely upside down, which was very often as she had defined herself as the eternal victim and would never take responsibility for her feelings and behaviors.
I soon felt like I was living under an emotional dictatorship and with an emotional tyrant. But I stayed, and even got bullied (very violent tantrums, emotional blackmail) into getting married after 4 years of living together. Strangely, I felt very sorry for her, and also responsible, and sought to help her with therapy. As with my first wife, I felt that I understood her emotional pain deep down and past all the garbage. I thought it was her past and her pain yelling.
I was going to my own therapist (long term primal therapy) but my then wife talked me into additionally going to another therapist (more of a counselor) of her choice together, someone she had used before. I quickly understood that in her mind and that of the therapist, the aim would be to “fix” everything that was “wrong” with me. She was relentless, it was not “fixing” but complete demolition, essentially. The therapist was a woman, and I also got the strong feeling that she was afraid of my wife (no one could ignore her extreme intensity), so she would not challenge her in any way, or even ask me for my side of any experience. I was actually not allowed to offer my own perspective. It certainly did not feel right.
My own (primal) therapist advised me to leave in the middle of the night, as she was concerned for my physical safety. But I felt like I had a very special bond with my wife that nobody could ever understand…something like being “soul mates”. I did not know what to do. Again, I felt very responsible for her.
One day I brought up something (a form of abuse) to the counselor that my wife had explicitly warned me that she did not want me to talk about. Although she was doing her very best to control me and largely succeeding, I talked about it anyway. She stormed out of the session immediately like a mad person…and the therapist never confronted her on this in subsequent sessions. I stopped going soon after that, understanding that this therapist was not qualified.
Some therapists are afraid of their patients. I can’t blame that therapist in a way, my wife was dangerous, I learned later from her own daughter that she once crashed her car into her ex’s living room, because she was in a rage. Her daughter also said there was a restraining order from another ex, for stalking. I have never seen such concentrated hate and ability to totally distort reality in any other person, and apparently neither have her family, some mutual friends, her own friends, all of whom she deeply hurt in the same way, repeating the script of the victim.
I was mostly emotionally and psychologically abused for a long time, by someone who had succeeded at convincing me that everything was my fault, that I was to blame for the abuse I endured constantly, until one morning, when she woke me up screaming, insulting and abusing me for not having finished some renovation work on the house. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because of having been brutally awakened from deep sleep and not yet being fully cognizant of my daily conditioning (that I was to blame for everything, especially her moods). I finally understood that I had done nothing to deserve this.
After ten years of marriage a mutual friend (a woman as well, with a PHD in psychology) privately told me my wife was very abusive towards me and had severe BPD…This woman also told me repeatedly that she was very concerned for my safety, as she said my wife was very obsessed with me. She also said that my wife had told her and anyone she knew or met that I was the one abusing her, and even went to the police, but the police did not believe her. Neither did this friend, after seeing her behavior towards me.
Here is a small but concrete example of my wife (now ex) perverse behavior: I had a very loving cat that I was very attached to, and so was that cat to me, but it became temporarily ill. Although it was responding to treatment, my ex, apparently annoyed with the cat, took it to a vet without my knowledge while I was sleeping late one day and convinced him to put the cat to sleep. Then she called me from some neighbors’ house, pretending to be terrorized of coming home because saying I would be irrationally angry with her for having the cat euthanized.
Although I had gone through an emotional and psychological meat grinder for many years by then, my jaw dropped, as I could not believe the cold-blooded, twisted dishonesty and manipulation. But I said nothing, as there was no use. I just felt sad having lost my cat.
Before our separation and after realizing I was abused, I had a serious mental break down. I actually thought that the symptoms were psychosis, but I was wrong, thankfully. I had externalized all my pain and fear, and could feel nothing but pure terror for a few days. I went back to therapy and got through it. It was a very difficult time for me. I had always felt that this woman would destroy me, that she had a need to actually kill, so incredibly intense was her inner turmoil, suffering and hate, and obsessive nature.
To this day, I have heard that she is still obsessed with me (after 5 years of separation/divorce), I do not feel completely safe, and plan to move to another state (or possibly another country). To add insult to injury I have been made by the divorce court to pay spousal support, because she never worked while we were together (14 years and just over 10 years of marriage), as I had told her she was free to work or not or go back to school, to do as she pleased (we had no children and I made a good living).
I grew up in a broken family where my mother presented herself as being a total victim and portrayed my father as a horrible human being (neither of them were saints, so it was confusing), and I followed the programming of feeling innately flawed because I was male, and seeking to redeem myself by saving women from their terrible fate at the hands of men. I ended up being more feminist than most feminists, believing all men were bad, until my eyes finally opened.
My mother made me feel guilty, responsible for her own unhappiness, as she blamed everyone and everything. That’s why I was programmed to be made to feel responsible for all women’s unhappiness, at least all women I got involved with. Guilt is a very difficult issue to deal with…below it is a bottomless well of pain from emotional neglect from both of my parents, and a sense of growing up like a weed, of raising myself, of having no one to lean on and no security. That’s also why I wanted to rescue women who were “lost”, as I was, and to help them, because no one ever helped me. That was another way of covering my own pain.
In His Own Words/In Her Own Words is a joint effort between Shrink4Men and AVoiceForMen to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this article.
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Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and 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.