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Doc@DrIrene.com

Getting In Touch With Victim Anger

Getting In Touch With Victim Anger

February 25, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene,

I've written you before, and you've responded.  I've had a self-honesty revelation I wish to share.

What I thought for years as my husband being abusive, I no longer see.  In truth, I am abusive.  Let me explain.

My spouse is emotionally unavailable.  This is his only crime.  Maybe this could be viewed as emotionally abusive because of his distance.  We live like brother and sister, not even companions.  There is no intimacy of any kind, including no sexual interaction for years.

On the other hand, I was raised by a father who was never home because of his work.  My mother was emotionally unavailable.  She shamed me for my feelings and sensitivity, rarely praised me - not for anything I did, but for how I looked. After all, she dressed me as though I was her prized china doll. She was praising her own handiwork.

Needless to say, I married a man who was so similar to my mother it's scary.  My truth?  I have spent 37 years attempting to make a man, who has no more emotional stuffing than my mom did, love me.

I have been using this man to work out my unfinished childhood business.  How do I know this?  Because I never give up.  I am empty.  I am sad and hurt.  Yet, it's like my life depends upon making this man love me.  And it's not the man.  It would be any man who is like my mother. 

It didn't come out right when I was a child, so I've been trying to make it right in adulthood.  Underneath this is my belief that I am not lovable or worthy of love.  I tried in childhood to make myself worthy and lovable, and I didn't get it.  I merely continued the attempt in adulthood by choosing a man who is so similar to my mother it's freaky. Not freaky as much as predictable...

I am compelled to make this man love me, yet if he was loving and attentive, I would reject him in a heartbeat.  It's like I'm obsessed.  I know I will never get out of this man the love I so desperately want and need, yet I never give up.  But if he were to suddenly change and show me the love I've starved for all my life, I KNOW I would reject him!  It is not out of anger or revenge I would do this.  The mere thought of him touching or caressing my body repulses me, yet I put him down every chance I get for not desiring me.

I am punishing him for the neglect of my parents.  He truly is a good man.  I've know almost from the beginning I did not feel for him the way my inside believed I should.  I do dream of a loving relationship, and know I don't have a chance of it with this man, but I don't leave because I've never believed a really loving man would even look my way.

You see, it's all about me.  I've done a terrible thing, not only to myself, but to this man.  He's been the pawn in my game of life. And you have been the pawn in his life drama. Excess guilt not allowed. Let's spend our energy fixing it!

Thank you for allowing me to be real.  Alice

Dear Alice,

Wow! Good work! And now, you are in a position to stop doing what you are doing - since you see it doesn't work...

You are the child of an emotionally abusive home. Your abuse was served in the "neglect" flavor, so that is what you have learned to seek out. You have learned to chase the person who should love you, looking for their love. But, boy, are you mad at them for not doling it out freely! Not that you like it, but this chase is familiar. You recognize it; you know how to handle it. So you married a man unable to give what you are still looking for to feel OK about yourself (which you know is silly, since you are O<!)

I agree with you in not making a judgment about whether or not your husband's neglect is abusive, though I didn't see much about control in your email. It doesn't really matter. This is about you. You learned how to be a victim, and continued playing the victim role in your marriage. But you were also able to identify your rage...

In my opinion, most victims of abusive homes can go either way or both ways. They may be the victim at one time; the abuser another time. They may be the victim with one person; the abuser with the next. 

The psychological makeup of the victim is the yearning for closeness (wanting to make your husband love you). The psychological makeup of the abuser is distance, often expressed as contempt or disgust toward their partner (knowing you would recoil if he touched you).  

So, you have work to do. By the way, so does your husband - since he chose to remain in this marriage! (But he has to want to and I don't see him writing letters - so we don't worry about him.)

The virtue of self-honesty is that it gives you power; it puts you in control - of yourself. Now you are in a position to clearly understand not only your very real childhood thoughts and feelings, but to see how you bring them with you into every partnership relationship.

The more you see the ill effects your unresolved baggage exerts on your life, in each and every minute "autopilot" reaction, the more power you have. You don't have to keep repeating your childhood scripts!

Some Recovery Tips, in rough, overlapping order.

First Step: Notice. Just notice what you are thinking, feeling and doing so you can see it more and more clearly. DO NOT judge your self. DO NOT blame yourself or others or go into guilt trips, pity pots, etc. Just notice.

Second Step: Exert self-control. Stop the automatic behavioral reaction as you become aware that you are engaging in it. Stop the snide remark. Stop the sigh, etc. You know what your reactions are best. 

Third Step: Identify the thinking behind the reaction. Challenge the thinking. Does it make sense to you? In most cases, it won't. Become acutely aware, for example, of the ways you go about seeking your husband's love and how you don't really want it after all. Or do you - really? What's in it for you to reject him? Is he supposed to persist? Whimper away? How would you feel then? It gets complicated.

Its better to do this work in therapy. Your therapy may take a very different form than my variation of cognitive-behavioral. Needless to say, you should follow your clinician's advice before following generic advice from one email. I do think it's safe to say however, that among all schools of thought, honest non-judgmental self-awareness is where you start.

Do yourself a favor: get some professional help.

My very best wishes to you.  Dr. Irene

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