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I Am Victim, Abuser, Codependent...

I Am Victim, Abuser, Codependent...

July 4, 2000

Dr. Irene,

Your site is the holy grail for information on verbal abuse.  Before finding this site, I never would have considered myself to be an abuser or a victim. Just another way of looking at the same world...

I'm a 32 year old man. My partner ended our relationship last week after three years. I'm sorry. I realize after reading the posts on this site that I did not respect her boundaries.  I've exhibited signs of a co-dependent, victim or abuser throughout the relationship without realizing that I was doing it. Congratulations. You are in good company; boundary stuff should be taught in grade school.

It's still early in my trying to understand what happened, but even as I see that I acted out, I also realize that my partner had acted out in her own ways.  She withdrew many times, put distance between us and I couldn't understand why. And she wouldn't communicate with me. It frustrated me. Of course it frustrated you! But, she was within her rights to refuse to communicate.  I would ask for clarification about why she was withdrawing, that we should talk about what is happening between us, but the response was usually, "I don't want to talk about it." or changing the subject with blatant disregard for my questions. She was clearly telling you she did not want to talk about it. You have no sane option here other than to accept that she means it. 

She would regularly close me out. I know this may be acceptable in some context. But, there was also verbal abuse where I was belittled (told that I don't know anything; I have a bad memory; gone crazy; acting crazy). When I met her family, she commented openly that I was lazy before her family. Yuk. Why'd you stay with her after that? She clearly communicated contempt towards you! There are many other things as well. I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, but I tried to keep communication between us flowing. This was not successful. Nope. It takes two to communicate. My question to you: why hang around?

What finally killed the relationship was my blowing up (first time ever). Of course you are eventually going to blow up! You are describing an extremely frustrating relationship. That's why I wonder why you just didn't let it go; she clearly did not hold you in high regard... After being apart for a while (few weeks--her wish), we had finally spent time with each other one day after being distant. The following day, she shut me out again. This confused me. I confronted her about it, but I made no sense.  Clearly, I approached the situation incorrectly. I don't know that there is a "right" way to approach her. She probably would have told you more of the same: that she didn't want to talk about it. 

She had been on the phone for several hours and after having been shut out, I wanted to know what was going on, why the distancing. Why is there so much time for (?), but not us? (unhealthy, I know.)  She said that she didn't want to talk, then started talking, but forgot my question less than one minute after I asked it. "You'll just have to repeat yourself," she taunted repeatedly. I was frustrated. I sat very confused in a moment of silence. She then said in a dismissive tone that if I was going to talk, then talk, but her time was running. I blew up  in a fit of frustration, told her she was selfish, that she only cared about herself (when I really meant she didn't care about our relationship), then stormed out. Why are you trying to get blood out of a rock?

I didn't handle that well, but handled the following days (trying to communicate with her to understand what was happening) even worse. There is nothing to understand! She is disinterested, angry, contemptuous, whatever. Who cares! She did not treat you well, yet instead of listening to the little voice inside which no doubt was screaming, "Ouchhhh!" you continued to hang around! She wouldn't acknowledge me or open her door for me. Another of her subtle hints. If you just listened to what she was communicating between the lines, and even written plainly on the lines, you wouldn't need to see it in skywriting! 

I insisted and talked loudly through her front door. I raised my voice to cause a scene to have her open the door. (I know: bad, bad move. Says abusive behaviour.) Yeah, yeah. Dumb disrespectful-of-self behavior. That move certainly won't increase your integrity. She finally let me in. But, it worked... (So you were reinforced for mis-behaving. Ugh.) But, wouldn't listen or respond (literally put her hands over her ears and avoided eye contact) especially as I spoke in a calm voice. So (handled badly again) I raised my voice to be heard. Why do you persist? The message is "go away." NOBODY is so wonderful, they are worth selling out for; you sold your integrity out!

There were several other situations after this that I did not handle well. I'm sure! This one should have been easy had you been paying attention inside. You would have been out of there FAST! 

In my mind, I was trying to keep open communication to understand why I had been shut out so many times. I realized that I had issues to address when I found myself unable to let go of the relationship. I see that, but she was unwilling to communicate. Your question is more appropriately asked of a therapist. 

I pursued her even after we were clearly over. I was then intruding into her spaces. A bit obsessive, huh? This only caused a greater rift between us. Maybe we would have talked at some point had I not acted out, but there is almost certainly no chance of talking now. Unlikely you would ever have talked.

I stumbled onto this site and discovered verbal and emotional abuse, and my self. I don't know on which side of the fence I fall, but I've acted out as abuser and victim. My partner was definitely a victim of my verbal abuse (I didn't realize that I was doing it, but I see it now), but she was also an abuser. In the end, I guess it doesn't matter which is which because the damage is done and we each have to deal with ourselves on our own. Yes. In the vast majority of cases, labeling one the "abuser" and the other the "victim" is inappropriate. We're really talking about an inability to pay attention to the little voice inside - that never fails to guide us in the right direction. AWAY in your case.

She hurt you! Who cares whether or not she is a victim or an abuser, so to speak. She hurt you! But, instead of pulling your hand away from the fire after you were burnt the first time, you kept putting your hand back! And, you kept asking the fire why it insisted on burning you! 

Thanks to this site which helped me to acknowledge my actions, I am in therapy (two days after my verbal tirade). I don't really know if the therapist is right for me, but it's a start. I still don't know if I caused our breakup, if I am or she is the abuser who caused this painful tear, but I am dealing with ME and MY issues because that's all I have left to move forward with. It is great you went for help! Don't worry about who caused the breakup. Don't worry about who was abuser and who was victim. Most people have both parts inside. Look instead at why you place more value on another person than you do on yourself. Learn to recognize your internal rudder, that part of you that felt so hurt by her pushing away. Learn to understand that no person, place or thing is worth burning your hand over. You are too precious for that. Get it?

In hindsight, I wish I had found this sight sooner, but that's just one more issue to work through in therapy: trying not to live in the past. Yes! Also, Jack, keep in mind that "abuser" and "victim" is just another way of organizing data. Despite which "direction" you choose, behaving like a victim or like an abuser boils down to disrespecting and short-changing the self.  Don't get stuck on who is who... In a nutshell, you violated her boundaries when you disregarded your own signals and sold your integrity down the river. You can fix this.  You are now going in the right direction: inside. Best of luck. Dr. Irene

Thanks for this sight. Jack