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Doc@DrIrene.com

Tough Macho Guy is the Victim

Tough Macho Guy is the Victim

December 31, 1999

Dear Dr. Irene,

I am sitting here in "shock." It is almost like my breath was taken away. I found your site and almost instantly, I knew what was wrong. I have been the victim of verbal and emotional abuse for approximately 5 years. What really makes this almost inconceivable to me is that I am a man. How can something like this happen to me? Not this big, tough macho guy! This is what made it all the more confusing for me. Abuse only happens to women, the so-called "weaker sex?" Yet your site confirms what I might never have believed myself - I was the victim. Yes. There are lots of guy victims. Abuse is an equal opportunity employer. The same dynamics are present, with a twist. There are fewer resources for guys and less sympathy. That's why this site makes it a point to highlight guy abuse: check out Men_D, the email support list for guys, some special links on the abused guy's page, and Tex's Tales, for example. 

I decided to write to you to get some of this off my chest. It is all so revealing to me that I don't know how to handle the secret I now know, or what to do next. It is like a 1,000 pound weight is removed from my chest. I'm not crazy! My feelings do count for something! I am not always wrong! I can have an opinion without worrying how "hurt" my partner is for suggesting something different from her opinion! Yes, yes, YES!

As I read through your site, I began to identify the major areas of control and how my own self-esteem has been crushed over the years. Reading others' experiences was like reading from a court reporters' notes of my own experiences; except no one was present to actually see it happen. No one is ever present to see it actually happen. Exactly.

My wife is a very attractive, professional, well-spoken women who is well-respected by friends and peers. It must be my fault then. The arguments, the fights and the occasional hitting. I must be so confused; I can never quite understand what the issue is or why a fight starts over something so minuscule. Oh yes - the hitting, it's not much and doesn't really hurt; so it isn't a big deal. What feeds on this notion is that I'm a man. Even worse for me, I was a world-class athlete in a relatively violent sport. Pain was meaningless to me. Competing hurt was a norm. So the hitting by a female was instantly dismissed by her. It was nothing compared to what I used to endure as an athlete. She only drew blood once. It required no medical attention. I used to get stitches all the time for wounds during competitions; and didn't even need Novocain. What she doesn't see, or care to understand, is it's effect on me emotionally. She knew I wouldn't strike back. It was just another thing to keep bottled up inside of me. 

As I started to write down things that came to mind, it was like a floodgate opening up. It wasn't just one thing here and there, it was everything. Her control is always present. It permeated everything. Whether it was a phone call or a meal. How I answered the phone to how I used utensils. There was always something wrong with the way I did it. And God forbid if I questioned something that didn't seem quite right. I was immediately challenged. "You're too sensitive." "You're so defensive!" In any discussion, the words would change. The circumstances would change. Even the issue would change. What she said, wasn't what she meant. If I couldn't follow the logic, then "You just don't get it". I would finally give up. Why can't I communicate properly? What am I doing wrong? Am I losing my mind? I went to college. I have a degree, yet the simplest communication seems painful to me.

Here is an example of a phone call during the day when she is at work:

Me: Hi honey, how are you?
Her:    Good, I'm real busy right now. I can't talk, can you call me back?
Me: Sure, when's a good time?
Her:    I'm right in the middle of something, I don't have time to discuss things now.
Me: Well give me a time that's good....10 minutes, an hour?
Her:    I'm not sure when I'll be done. I told you I'm busy.*
Me: Why don't you call me then, when your done or have some free time?
Her:    Free time? When do I have free time? I'm so busy here, you know that. You need to call me. I'm so busy I may not remember to call you back.
Me: Well can you give me some sort of time frame?
Her:    When I'm finished with what I'm doing. I'm right in the middle of....hold on (She then begins talking to a co-worker. Several minutes go by.)
Her:    Okay, what were we talking about?
Me: Trying to figure out a time to talk on the phone.
Her:    Well I've already spent so much time with you already, If you had just told me    what you wanted from the beginning we could have been off by now. You know   how busy I am. I can't just take parts of my work day and talk to you on the phone.   I really have to get back to work. What is it that you want that's so important?

Some emotional skills training. Pay attention: Reread the passage. When do you find yourself getting turned off in the above exchange? If you were less focused on the task of making time to speak, when would you get turned off? At that point, an emotionally healthier person - who wants no part of anybody who doesn't appear to want them - backs off emotionally. For example, somewhere around the red asterisk (*), I found myself thinking, "Yeah, right. Whatever. If you want to talk to me, you'll have to make it your business to find me." All I would probably say though is, "Fine, bye."

I could go on, but you get the point. I would leave the conversation bewildered. What did I do wrong? How could I have handled it differently, so I didn't upset her? My call could not have any importance based on her work day. And this is just one example. In reading your web site, I realize this is typical when it comes to verbal abuse or manipulation. It isn't constant. It runs in cycles. I'm always kept off-balance. I always wonder with here who I will be speaking to the next conversation?

Yes. The key phrase you just used is "so I didn't upset her." That is the irrational thought you are focused on. That's the kind of stuff you have to modify. Take a look at this cognitive therapy link for more info.

There isn't a lot of yelling. I'm not much of one for screaming, and that usually isn't her style either. Screaming only comes when I try to hold my ground. First the lectures start. I don't know how tough she has it. I couldn't possibly understand what she goes through. And when I try to interject my thoughts, that's when it comes. The eyes harden, the voice goes up several octaves. She cuts me off in mid-sentence and really let's me have it. Sometimes she cries through it all. This throws me off more. What did I do now? I'm being "abused" and she is crying like I'm the one at fault.

Some ideas: When you "hold your ground," I get the impression that you are trying to convince her of something or trying to get her to see your point of view. You don't have to do this. You can "hold your ground" very effectively by stopping any participation in the conversation at that point and simply going about your business. If she gets upset later because you went about your business, calmly tell her next time she should stop talking long enough to listen. Then stop. No more is needed.

Mostly though it revolves around the very subtle mind manipulation. I began to define it myself (before finding your site), as carving me up with a scalpel. You don't feel any pain. You don't even know it's happening, but when you look down at your leg (or in my case, my ego) there is a huge gash with blood. How did that happen? I didn't even see the knife. I began to question my own sanity, but I knew how bad I felt after the discussion. Sort of like the phone call described above. Why do I feel so bad, for trying to make her feel good by calling during the day to say hello, I love you? She invalidated you. More accurate: You allowed her to invalidate you. Stop looking for her approval or even cooperation! Can you see how a "Fine, bye" type of response prevents her invalidation?

A question I have, is how do you confront the abuser and is it necessary? I don't see much about the subject, unless I missed it. Now that I'm onto her "game," how do I effectively involve my partner in fixing the relationship?

All you can do is clearly tell your partner what bothers you. For example, "I have a problem with how our phone call went earlier today. I understand you are very busy, but we have to find a way to deal with these issues in a way that does not make me feel as though I am an afterthought." (DO NOT get into convincing her that you felt like an afterthought and why your feeling was right or wrong! Focus on the fact that her inability to answer your question made you feel badly. Period.) It is up to your partner to work with you in solving the relationships problems. This clearly won't happen if she tells you that you are too sensitive or are wrong in your feelings, or changes the subject to why she feels like an afterthought in relating to you.

You can't effectively involve your partner in fixing the relationship. Don't even bother trying; that's part of what got you into trouble in the first place. You can only worry about protecting yourself in the piranha tank where you live. She has to want to participate in fixing the relationship by fixing herself first. She has no clue what this means and thinks that if you only do what she tells you to do, the relationship will be fixed. Wrong! You'll never convince her of this, so don't bother trying. Just go about getting better and better at taking care of yourself. You will inevitably distance from her and the relationship in the process. At that point, she may ask what's wrong, but don't expect her to understand your explanation. Have the name of a good therapist scouted out, preferably someone versed in abuse, and tell her to come with you.

Today is the first day of my new life. Will my life include her? I'm not sure at this point. That's a good attitude. The only chance most abusive marriages have at succeeding is when the abused partner finally understands that they can not allow abuse - not even for the sake of the marriage. I do know I have a hand on something stable to keep me from spinning (psychologically) out of control. I am now reading Patricia Evans' book. I know I am not crazy any more. At least not as much as she wanted me to believe. I also know she needs help for her problems; and I probably could use some help to sort out what I've been through. Your site has opened my eyes, hopefully it can help heal my heart.  Thank you for your insight.   The Ex-Jock.

You are off to a good start. But, do yourself a favor: get some professional help. Also, check out You Can't Say That To Me and How To Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons.  Good luck!  Dr. Irene