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Doc@DrIrene.com

Is He An Abuser?

Is He An Abuser? Or, Is It My Boundaries?

May 29, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene,
First let me thank you for your wonderful site. So many little pieces now fit into the puzzle that has always been my life. Through your site I have come to see that I am a co-dependent

I have recently come out of an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship and I am trying to put my life back together. I made a first attempt to get out of this circle of co-dependent "what ifs" and "if onlys" and applied for a job that seems both fun and challenging. Yippeee! I had my first interview on Monday and it went really well. I am now in round two, but I am totally scared that somehow my subconscious will screw this up for me again. Not if you remain aware and listen to what the self is telling you! I know I am scared on how my life will change if I have a full time job rather than the freelance one I have now. I want to become fulfilled and happy with my achievements, but on the other hand, I am terrified that I am not good enough. Typical codependent thinking. I'm sure your performance criteria are so high, you will think you are doing horribly - when no one else would agree. My motto: "When in doubt, hire a codependent; They can never work hard enough." This is a thought that has always kept me from attempting anything major. I am fairly intelligent and rather well read. I managed to pass my BA well, and with out much effort. 

But, I know if I hadn't had my natural gifts, I would not have tried or worked for my degree simply cause I never feel good enough. Good thing you're gifted then! I think it is because of that that I have virtually no ambition. I do want a better life, but the effort to get it has always been too scary to me. Anyway since I found your site, I have worked on that, and I am really happy that I actually went - and did so well in that interview. Bravo!

As for my Ex and I - we are trying to stay friends. Ours was and is a long-distance relationship since he lives in the US and I live in Europe. So many different thoughts and confused feelings have been in my head, I sometimes do not know if I either brought on the abuse myself or if I at least made it worse than it would have been. Sorry to burst your bubble dear, but no matter what you do, the perpetrator has to take full credit for his or her mis-behavior; I don't care how much you "provoke" them, assuming you do at all. My ex has a severe anger problem ulp..., there is no doubt about that. But reading over your points on what makes an abuser, I have to say that not even half of them fit him. So? I never indicated they had to. You only need a few... He has never been jealous of my friends and time apart from him, he isn't of controlling of my life, and he is supportive in any venture I think about. But since I have problems "getting my hiney in gear" (typical co-dependant behaviour, I think :)) he does get upset and tells me that I have so many talents and great ideas, that I am smarter than most people he has ever met, and that I should not just waste all that. He says that one day I will look back on my life and say, "If only I had.". He is right on that. Yes. Good thing it's not too late for you! I always worried about how my lie just flew by while I seemed to wait for...  Yes, for what exactly? Exactly.

We had some terrible fights before, and since, we broke up. He has called me bad names, has belittled me, called me an "idiot" and "selfish" and made me feel like scum. Not OK. He has taken his bad moods out at me, and has, on occasion, told me that he felt like hitting me in the face, the ribs etc. Ugh. He has never laid  a finger on me in anger, and I know he never would. OK...I hope. But about 2 weeks ago he apologized to me and told me how much he has always appreciated my friendship - and that he knows that I did not deserve any of his treatment and that I was a great person. He said he didn't want to fight with me, and that he would try his best to control his temper from now on, 'cause he still loves me. Then of course followed the usual excuses like stress from work, taking care of his little kid etc. And the thing is, I know this is all true, and I understand how hurt he has been in the past. I understand that for many years his anger seemed like his only source of strength - until he no longer knew how to feel anything before first reacting with anger. I do love him for so many things. He has such great sides to him that I have very rarely seen in other people. Such as his integrity, his honour and his total honesty. With these, unfortunately, come a certain inflexibility and intolerance of those with weaker principles. He has told me many times how it enraged him when I would act like his dog or his slave. Not nice words, I know, but alas, I have to admit that I became that by trying to evade his anger. I walked on eggshells around him, and that made matters worse. With an angry person, you will be met with contempt if you are "weak" and walk on eggshells. But, you will be met with increased anger if you don't. At least until you demonstrate that you are emotionally stronger than they are.

He is proud and he wants me to be so too. He makes me crazy in an argument, and I always am left feeling like the guilty one, even when I know that my point or thought was legitimate. From what I have read on your site these are typical behaviours. Yes. You care too much about his opinion of you. You are not putting any stock into the most important opinion in the world: your opinion! But he has also told me that I should have stood up to him more, and just should have told him that his treatment was unacceptable, and to tell him to get lost. I never did because I never wanted him to get lost, and I wouldn't want to say that just to get him scared. You are not that type of person; you are a gentle soul. Furthermore, you don't tell someone to leave to scare them. You say something like that when you have been so hurt, you know you can no longer tolerate this treatment. 

All this is confusing to me because when I told him about my job interview, he was sooo pleased for me. Of course! I told him that with a job like that, there would be virtually no time for us to communicate over the net every night like we did so far. By the time he has put his little daughter to bed and has time to come online, it's 9pm there and 3 am here. I have always been somewhat nocturnal, and as I said, my current job is very flexible with hours, so I had no problem getting up again at 3 am or just staying up all night. I also told him that we both would have to accept that our relationship would be really over if I get that job, since I would not have enough free time to come and visit him for weeks on end anymore. He seemed naturally sad about that, but said that this should in no way deter me from getting that great job, and that we would work something out. Go for it!

Is this the behaviour of an abuser? Not per se. But, two things: you haven't started yet to know how he will react, nor does not "have" you at this point. The last is probably most important. There is little fear associated with closeness at the distance you two keep. If you were married and living together, your inattention would be more likely to pose a problem - because you are "his," and once you are "his," there are certain expectations you must meet to not disappoint him. Should you take this job and the two of you become more distant, he is likely to blame the distance on your job... 

I told him that I was co-dependant, and he said that he knew about that and that he knew I was. He said he didn't want me to be and that he would like for me to be free and strong. He would like you to be free and strong as long as you are not free and strong. He just wants you to play his game: life on his terms; you striving to achieve his wonderful advice; you never really getting there because you are too something or other; you continue to revere him and bend to his ways, you listen to his criticism, you tolerate his venting. 

I am so confused! Don't be. His terms simply reinforce the very life lessons your fear has prevented you from mastering. The very lessons you owe it to yourself to achieve. As long as you continue to fail, things are likely to continue as is. Your dance with each other will continue. Maybe many of our problems came because I always expected him to react in a certain way, but never actually asked for anything? That's part of codependency. But that's not why you have problems. You have problems because he needs a partner with whom he can have problems that are your fault. Maybe if I had stronger boundaries he would never had trodden on them? Perhaps. On the other hand, you and he may have parted ways by now. I am thinking that I didn't command respect and maybe this is why I didn't get any? Definitely. But, you may never have gotten respect from this person had you commanded it or not. On the other hand, perhaps you would have. This is a good time to find out by sticking to your guns, especially when the going gets tough... 

I find it hard to define my boundaries because I always think that maybe I am just being lazy or selfish. OK, if that's the problem, then either stop being lazy or selfish, or (better), let yourself be lazy or selfish, or (even better), let yourself be lazy or selfish but figure out what's going on inside that you are being that way, and if in fact, you are being that way. Keep in mind that it is your responsibility to yourself to be self-caring. Keep in mind that if is your responsibility to listen to your body and rest when it is tired - or play when it needs fun. I have totally lost sight of what is a healthy boundary. You have not "lost sight;" I don't think you ever knew... I never wanted to keep score on what I do for people and what they do for me. That seems so calculating and unloving. We're not talking about "keeping score." This has nothing to do with "keeping score." We're talking about not allowing yourself to give when giving hurts you, or when giving is unilateral.. We're talking about the fact that you, believe it or not, are as worthy and deserving as any other human being on earth - simply because you breath! We're talking about loving yourself, knowing you deserve, and not buying into anybody's notion that you don't. Because you do.

I always thought that what is given should be given out of love and not because you expect something back besides, maybe, the happiness and joy your gift can bring? Is that wrong? No. It is not wrong. Unfortunately, those who feel that it is their lot to take will take advantage of you. Learn to balance the goodness in your soul with a protectiveness of it. Never forget, you are not "just you." You are God's (or Nature's, or whatever you believe in's) gift to yourself! You are charged with the task of taking care of you. You might consider finding someone more like yourself too.  I don't know if you can make heads of tails of this. I am so confused myself; I would appreciate any input.
Thank you, Tiffany. 

Dear, sweet Tiffany,

Start with at Anne Katharine's Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. This little gem of a book will help you identify how much is too much... You are a lovely woman. You are lovable; you deserve to love yourself. 

Take this job. Deal with whatever "problems" he may have with your inability to be up at 3 a.m. Stop yourself from feeling badly about it, or anything for that matter. There is no reason he can't accommodate you by getting on the net earlier, child or no child. What would you do if you were in his shoes? 

Face your fear and begin to live up to your potential... You deserve no less.

My very best wishes, Dr. Irene 

Readers, Any comments for Tiffany?

But first, take a look at Tiffany's June 6, 2000 update:

Dear Dr. Irene,
This is Trinity, aka Tiffany. Just wanted to let you know that I had my final  interview today and I got the job!!! :o)!!! Yippeee! They really liked me and I really liked them. They are easy-going and very fun. I look forward to starting my  job and I just know it will make a great change for my life! Finally I am  actually doing something I really really want! I am really happy with myself for that. :)

As for my "Ex"... it still hurts to let him go and I still wish things could  be as they used to be when we first fell in love. My head knows I will do soooo much better without him but my heart longs for the "good old times".... What does the body, or the "rudder" say? That's the one to pay attention to!

But as a next step I finally told my friends what has been going on. I felt ashamed for all of it and had a really hard time opening up like that, but I  was so relieved and happy when all of them offered kind support and just an ear when I would feel like talking. Wondrously none of them got angry with me or condemned me or called me stupid and insane to ever love this man and  accept his treatment of me. They only got angry with him for treating me so poorly and said that he didn't deserve me. They were all so kind and concerned and just THERE for me. Of course all of them said that I should put my foot down and not let him do this to me anymore. You bet!

I feel ashamed that I ever thought they wouldn't like me anymore if I admitted such weakness and asked them for help. I am so overwhelmed that all of them were there for me "to strengthen my back" as it were. I never thought it
possible. This, more than anything, showed me that I am indeed worth something to some ppl. I have the best friends in the world! :o) Shame is a yukky emotion. Once upon a time, when you were a little girl, somebody told you that the stuff you were made of was somehow not OK. Well, they were wrong. The stuff you are made of is very OK. 

Thank you again sooo much Dr. Irene, for having given me that first crucial push towards my new life through your wonderful website!! Thank you! Keep us posted...

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