Dear Dr. Irene,
I am 34 years old. I was married once before but we didn't have
any children. I met my girlfriend at work, and I fell for her quickly. I knew I loved her
and told her within 2 months. Well, we had been
together since Valentine's Day 2004. We both felt each other was "the
one". I wanted to show her how much I loved
her by romancing her with trips to Catalina island and Hawaii. We
worked in the same field so when we got back from our trips we
discussed trying to find jobs in Hawaii.
After we were together for five months, we moved to
Hawaii. Before then, we were about living with each other, sometimes at
her place and sometimes at my place, in a nearby city.
We moved to Maui, then things started to change: I
started to verbally abuse my girlfriend, Rena.
I don't know what it was for sure that changed for me that made
me feel more insecure. I got a job at a military base and I think
that maybe the stress of being on military property got to me.
You see I had incurred some burns and disfigurement earlier in
the military. Since the accident I
had become ashamed of my form and didn't show my scars in public.
After Rena came into my life I began to try.
Well, that's excellent! Stuff happens in
life that we can't control and often has nothing to do with us.
The healthiest choice we can make is to accept whatever it is and
getting on with life. But Mark didn't say anything more about the
accident, and it was clear that it related to his issues.
I emailed Mark to
explain more about this accident. It was somewhat difficult for
him to discuss, but he did. This is an abbreviated version
of his reply:
|I was burned in a
massive explosion. I was with the military and had to conduct
demolition exercises before deploying for combat. We trained with live
demolitions. We detonated the charges, but unfortunately not
all of them went off. We were ordered out to the field
and were handling the explosives when they suddenly went
off. Two of my team members died from the blast and thirteen
were injured. I was the third closest to the blast and was
the worst injured of the survivors.
I received 2nd and 3rd
degrees burns over 40 percent of my body. My ear drums were
shattered from the tremendous blast. I suffered internal ear
damage and my ears scream with a continuous piercing pitch
every second I am awake. This occurred in 1994.
There should have been
a range safety officer present. For whatever reason, he was
not present. I was flown to the hospital for stabilization,
then flown to a burn unit for surgeries. I have ugly keloid
scarring wrapping around my torso from midline to midline.
Both my hands took the brunt of the blast and they are just
as scarred. I have raised scars also on the entire front of
both thighs were they took skin to cover the burns.
I am very
self-conscious of my scars. I get various reactions to them
from very inquisitive to absolute fright. I am very
uncomfortable with them. I know I should be over it but I
think I am not. I am told not to focus on the burns and
memories, and instead be happy to have survived. I try but
sometimes it is just not that easy. The scars and screaming
tinnitus constantly remind me.
I showed my ugly scars in
public. But I still had issues. I'm not
surprised! What you described is Big. Big enough to give anybody PTSD!
And PTSD and it's symptoms can certainly impact on your thoughts,
feelings and behavior!
I fit many of the symptoms of a
verbal abuser. Yes; I guess you already
know that taking your frustrations out (because of the
disfigurement - or anything else!) on your girlfriend made
about as much sense as holding her personally responsible for the
I was saying things about the television shows she
enjoyed and different styles of things she liked because of my
insecurities. The good news is that
you now understand that you were doing that. I thought that her interests in the sexy
shows and ideas were going to influence her that my scarred body
was repulsive and that she would leave me. So I put them down
with untrue reasons. I understand. I guess
you realize in retrospect, the best thing you could have done was
to discuss your insecurities with her. Of course, her
reassurances wouldn't fix your insecurities, but she would know
you better. Then, you would have had to deal internally with your
feelings. I certainly hope you address those issues now!
I didn't realize why I was doing it. I was controlling her by
telling her although she can watch them, I won't watch them with
her and that she should watch them with the volume down low so
that i won't have to hear it. Those
are just some examples of my controlling behavior.
I understand. I also understand how painful
it must have been knowing she's watching these "perfect" men on
TV, while you were internally comparing yourself to them. Please
understand that YOU were doing the comparison! The unscarred body
problem was in YOUR imagination, not hers. In fact, it sounds as
though she accepted your body far better than you did! You are
confusing your scars with your self-worth - and you need to work
Rena would give in and turn down the shows. She would agree to
set time apart just to watch them without me so I wouldn't act
out. We discussed it and both agreed that we both wished she had
stood up to my demands and refused. It seems like hind sight is
always clearer. Ain't that the truth!
I am ashamed of my actions and feelings.
Well, OK to be ashamed of your actions, but please don't be
ashamed of your feelings! It's very important to
separate your feelings from your behavior. Just because you
feel badly does not mean you have to behave badly.
Feelings just are what they are. The good news is that behavior
is pretty easy to change. And I am particularly glad you are writing about all these
things here because one of the best ways to overcome shame is to
stop hiding what you are hiding and let it out!
Here are the main issues as I see them:
feelings influence your
|To accept your
feelings, whatever they are, like them or not|
important: To stop
equating your scars with your self-worth|
You need to
deal with your feelings,
whatever they may be. Now and in the future. My girlfriend Rena took
it from me because she loved me. I admit my abuse. I know that
there is no excuse. I know you feel awful
and guilty about it because you keep bringing up about admitting
your abuse and it's inexcusability constantly! I even erased a
few! Let's move on.
What there is no excuse
about is what you did to yourSelf! So please don't
compound things by beating yourself up over what you did. You
were abusive. You see it. OK, now we go on from here. Let's stop wasting so much energy on self-recrimination
because beating yourself up will not help you and will just make
With Rena, as you
identified yourself, you began to pin
your bad feelings you had about yourself onto your body, even
though Rena accepted the whole of you. Then you went
around acting out your displeasure. According to your line of
thinking, somebody who is disfigured, too fat, too ugly, too short, too
tall, crippled, not-too-bright, etc. is not worthy! According to you, all
individuals falling into those categories are not deserving of
being loved by another! They are especially not deserving of love if the
partner is less
"imperfect" than they are! How then would you explain that
many very "imperfect" people
are indeed loved? You can't!
What you do to
yourself, which is the real not-OK part, and from which most of
the rest of this flows, is to equate your scars with your
your worth as a Human Being! You are not your scars! Your body has scars. And
while that is unfortunate, it is not your fault and it makes you
no less a Human Being that you were before you had them.
You still bring the
same assets and liabilities to the relationship table. If a woman
is looking for Mr. Gorgeous Body, she likely won't look your way.
But lucky you, many women will.
your physical imperfection and its concomitant self-hatred is a
state of mind. Your state of mind. The good news is that
since it is your state of mind, it is yours to change.
Understand that even if you do hate yourself for
being imperfect/disfigured, the decision to act out over it is a separate
issue. So this gives you two separate plans of attack already.
But the main thing
you need to work on is your self-acceptance. Then, whatever is
wrong with you doesn't feel so bad.
Rena brought it to my attention that I was abusive. I did not
realize it. I even thought that my problem was my just
aggressiveness and jealousy. It doesn't
really matter why you felt the way you felt. The
disfigurement and it's concomitant PTSD symptomology just added a
huge load to the camel's back. My guess is that the
central issue is your insecurity about yourself per se and
how you think
you should be in order to be loveable.
disfigurement set off an abuse issue, but
if the insecurity didn't come out over one issue, it would have
come out over another. Key Word: self-acceptance.
Look at it this
way: if you can accept that you have issues with insecurity,
jealousy, etc., you can begin to understand that the only person who views those
issues with as much disgust as you do - is you! And you don't
have to go there.
I began to read more and more
and saw that I fit the symptoms and descriptions to a tee. Rena
told me I was abusive and now I see it and know it. I really
don't want to be that way. I am a gentle man but I hide that side
of me with a false bravado. Better to
accept that those issues are your Human imperfections and deal
with it with humility. Who (outside of most film stars) do you
know who is so perfect? Well, Rena left when I was away on a
trip. I understand she was doing what was best for her, the
safest way out of my abuse. I respect her distance but I feel so
sad without her light in my life. Ouchhh!
The good news is that she gave you a much-needed wake-up call!
And the even better news is that you took her up on it! Good for
Rena also complained that I was antisocial. She said she had
given me ample opportunities to socialize with her co-workers and
friends. I was afraid. I was ashamed that they knew about me and
my abuse towards her. That's
understandable; I'm seeing lots and lots of shame here. I'm so
glad you're talking about it! I should have faced it.
Yes, with humility and acceptance. I should have seen
she really loved me in her own way. Yes;
she was much more accepting of the whole of you than you are.
Instead I wanted her to show
me in my selfish ways. And we all know that
that never works...
You may also have
been isolating out of depression or anxiety, both very common
aspects of PTSD. Talk to your doc about this.
Is it possible to love someone but verbally abuse them?
Of course it is. You did! I have
restarted therapy again because I have to fix myself.
Excellent, excellent, excellent! I had been
diagnosed with PTSD from my military service.
With PTSD there are certain places in your
psyche/memory that you are loath to go. Learning to become more
comfortable with all these areas, including your wounds will help
you overall. Print this board out and bring it to your therapist,
which I think you implied you wanted to do anyway in one of your
My verbal abuse problem was never so magnified and
clear as it is now. Excellent! Because
until you see something clearly, you are helpless to fix it.
I am hoping it is not too late.
Nope. Not too late. Never too late! I have begun facing my fears head
on by seeking professional help again. I had seen a therapist but
I stopped going because I was uncomfortable with opening up and
facing my fears and insecurities with her. I wish I had said
something. I'm glad you said something now!
Writing here is a big step in the process of acceptance and
de-shaming! Let the demon out of the dark closet - and watch the
demon shrink! I'm glad you have a new therapist.
The PTSD part kept
you from being able to talk about this stuff in the past. That
you are dealing with it now is excellent and puts you on the road
I feel like I really need to open up finally and say
what I have been hiding about the accident I was in and how I
have felt about myself since then. Yes,
yes, YES! I am depressed and anxious.
That's understandable and predictable. Just remember,
nobody thinks this is as awful as you think it is! Depending on
your symptoms, your doc may advise meds.
still have much guilt over the accident and the death of my
friends. Of course you do. That's also
PTSD, even though the accident wasn't your fault. My ears scream constantly because of the damage done to
them from the tremendous explosion. I feel edgy from the constant
bombardment of noise. Now Rena is gone and I really feel like I
am ready to face what I have been hiding from since the accident.
I even began to watch the shows she enjoyed.
Wow! You have made a running start in
all these issues! You can certainly thank her for nudging you out
of hiding, painful as it is. (And, it's always more painful as
long as it's hidden.) Now you can begin to deal with it; to understand that this
whole mess is not your fault. That you didn't set out to hurt
anybody, that you are simply a Human Being, that you are far from
perfect (like every Human), that stuff happens, that mistakes and
accidents are part of life, and that the best we can do is learn
from the past and get on with Life. Because Life is too short for
so much pain...
Sadly, all the things I said
about them were untrue and I have found myself enjoying them, and
cried at the fact that I was so insecure about them and
controlled Rena. That's OK. All of this is
part of the recovery process. You are letting your feelings out.
Good for you. I am not saying I have fixed the problem by
identifying a reason why I verbally controlled her. I am so
ashamed of myself because I am a grown man and I have acted so
immaturely. And next you can go onto the
stuff about accepting that you are a grown man who can act
immaturely at times.
As of now, Rena is keeping a safe distance from me. I understand
why and I respect her wishes for it.
Excellent. She told me she still loves
me. I know she does but I realize she can no longer keep herself
in an unsafe place, unsure if I am going to snap the next time. I
said at first I didn't understand it because I knew where I was
coming from. I know it is not about my confidence that I wouldn't
be physical with her, but her lack of confidence in my words
because I have confused her so much with who I am.
Because you are confused yourself over
who you are (and how awful you think that is, which by the
way isn't awful at all) and who you think you should be
(which is silly because we all are who we are, like it or not. I
like to tell people that God doesn't make mistakes (so you are
inherently OK), but he does give us challenges that we can
She said she is done hearing my
negativity and finished with my controlling words.
Good for her! Can you tell
me if I can change? You have already begun
to change. That is very evident from your writing. Can a verbal abuser wake up and see what they
are doing and permanently change for the better?
Yes. I hear around 20 or 30% just "change."
Some help is really preferable though, especially because of the
PSTD. I really have to
because I know I will never have a love like Rena's again if I
don't. People can be verbally abusive
for a large number of reasons. Some people need to learn
assertion skills. Some need to learn anger management. Some need
to deal with an underlying disorder like anxiety, depression, and
certainly PTSD. That you have so many of these issues is good prognostically because
much of this is fixable. The
people who have the most difficult prognoses are those with
underlying character disorders like narcissism and sociopathy who
see no need to change. They think they don't really do anything
wrong, or resentfully agree to change to keep the partner.
So, it's hard for me to answer your question because I don't know
enough about you. But I find what you are talking about very
When I met Rena, I knew after a
short time that she was the one for me. I had found what I
couldn't find in others before. I felt so lucky. I felt so in
love. She was so pretty to me. And,
apparently, you were "pretty" to her! Don't ever forget that
She is so vibrant and
independent. She has a way about her that was is so warm and
sincere. She always sees the good side of everyone and
everything. I was proud to be with her. She always has positive
things to say. Rena has a dignity about herself that I admire
deeply. She accepted me with my scars. She was so trusting. She
understood what I told her about my feelings about my body. I
found the woman I hoped for in my life. I dreamed that we would
have children who would grow up just like her. I now see I have
destroyed what I had and am so sad. I was so wrong.
OK, now you know better. That's excellent!
I was so selfish. I didn't show
her the love I really have for her. I put my ego before Rena and
I. I hope that she can remember the gentler side of me
Become that person again; accept your body
the mean abusive man that I showed her and one day give me a
chance to show her again that I really know how wrong I was and
that I have so much better in me than what I have given her.
Please tell me that there are people that have realized what they
had done and really changed. Yes, some
abusive people can really change. I am going to be one of those guys.
I have to be. Mark.
Mark, it's those people like yourself, who
would rather die than stay the way they are who are most likely
to change. Just keep at it: one day at a time and one foot
in front of the other. Expect icky days, they are part of the
process, including those days when you just want to scream! And
then keep going. The trick is to stay with it, no matter how
frustrating it seems. And if you give up for a day, go back the
next. Do whatever it takes. That is how to get success.
I'm glad you are getting professional help.
Guidance is invaluable!
I'll be back next week
to reply to your comments, so feel free to post. God bless you
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