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Doc@DrIrene.com

The Doc Answers 30

 The Doc Answers 30

How to ask Doc your question.

Wednesday March 30, 2005
10:32 AM

Dear Dr. Irene, I was married to a man for 16 years who has obsessions and compulsions with narcissistic traits. He left marriage counseling and further help when the therapist said he needs approx. 5yrs of therapy before she can help our marriage. Maybe she was trying to help you - leave.

She also said that most of the marriage issues he complained about would not even be an issue after they treated him. I tried to help him and our family, but he just blamed me, the kids and everyone else around him. "If only we would just do what he wanted he wouldn't have to be so abusive...." Really?

We have 5 children (15,11,8,7,7). The last years of our marriage was his punishing me for not being able to work a full time job due to daily "stress induced" migraines. Ironically my 15yr old had the same headaches. He dropped the bomb last year that he had found another woman who was very well off. “He was going to finally make a lot of money being with her”. He filed for divorced. It has been a year and I am so happy that he has done this. You're fortunate to be rid of him!

I hate to see any family break up but I think I would have been dead if I still lived with him. I had so many ills from stress from migraines to I.B.S. to TMJ. Verbal and emotional abuse literally makes people sick! Ironically me and my son have not had migraines since we no longer have to be with him daily! Exactly! Like in the marriage, he has been just as selfish and cruel in the divorce thinking he should have everything and I should have crumbs. He stole the family business which I helped make, took my home, ruined my credit, took any money we had etc. I'm sorry... This last year I have regained myself physically and mentally and am shocked at the hell that I endured for years! This is what I keep trying to tell those abused people who write me. It's HUGE!

 I knew there was things wrong but never knew how bad it was even when everyone around me was sickened at how me and the kids lived! That's common. You just get used to the conditions and whatever they are become "normal." :(

My heartache is the children. My 15 yr old is very smart and sees his father for what he is. He asked me to file for full custody of him. Since the separation the court has allowed my husband to have 50% custody. I agreed in the beginning when I was still very controlled by him. My oldest son goes because he is afraid to confront his father and also wants to be by the smaller children which he should not have on his shoulders. He told me that his father has been placing terrible “guilt trips” on them in order for him to keep 50% custody and plans to ask for more!" Here is where the problem is: All but my oldest son are being convinced. He keeps asking them "why they want to be with dad when he is so abusive and selfish" and they just can’t see it. I was always there to “save” them from his angry outbursts. I raised them myself because he could never be bothered with them all those years. I want to help them and raise them in a healthy atmosphere. How can they fall for this when they see first hand how verbally abusive and controlling he is when they are there as opposed to the loving and peaceful time that they have with me? It's funny isn't it? Kids often identify with the parent they see as the "strongest, most powerful" one.

I am so petrified that he will fool the courts and then I will no longer be able to help them. Well, you can suggest that your 15 year old talk to the Court, on his behalf and for the kids. Perhaps the Court will consider appointing a Legal Guardian. Or, if an incident has taken place, perhaps your son can talk to Child Protective. There are lots of options, depending on what is going on.

I feel like I have been “saved” from a life of hell but I can’t save my children. No you can't. How can I help my children to see that he is manipulating them and that he will never change unless he gets help? You can't. If the situation is hurtful to them, it may help if you and their brother issue some sort of complaint. I explain this to them as does my son but they said they feel sorry for him and don't want him to be mad. Please keep in mind that the children may actually want to be with their dad half the time. It certainly is possible they feel sorry for him, etc., but it is also possible that they tell you those things because they don't want to hurt you by telling you they like dad. Kids need both parents, and they get different things from each. Keep in mind that young kids, who don't have their own mind yet, do OK with a controlling parent. They see this person as very strong, and they like that. It's as they get into their teens, as they develop their own minds, when control problems often start. So, you may have to wait, and keep your ears open meanwhile.

I thought as with my older son they would have wanted to be with me the majority of the time, and I feel like I have somehow failed them as mother! NO! Please don't personalize this! You are not the All Powerful Mom. No one is. The kids are doing what kids do: trying to negotiate keeping both parents in their lives, that's all. They love and need both of you! Can you please make some sense of this for me? Thank you, Carlie  Dear Carlie, this is complicated stuff. You need to get some counseling around this issue. Especially if you feel like a failed mom, because you are certainly not! But you have to be engaging in codependent-type thinking to feel this way. Another excellent reason to get some counseling. Finally, the counselor can help you better accept the relationship the young ones have with their dad, as well as getting a better sense if what's going on is OK or not.

Good luck to you, and I'm glad he's no longer your daily problem! Dr. Irene


Friday April 01, 2005
03:17 PM

Dr. Irene, I wrote two letters to you about my boyfriend and I. One was Dec. 9 and one was Dec. 30. (content removed...) Any advice?

Yes! You bought a board!  It's here! Doc.


Monday April 04, 2005
04:20 PM

Dr. Irene, I have done a great amount of work on myself regarding my abusive H. Excellent! We have two daughters, 2 years and 6 mos old. His specialty seems to be nothing less than emotional and psychological torture. Sounds as though he may have a sociopathic streak. This seems to come to him naturally, like breathing. I have gotten stronger now after 2.5 years of marriage, and find myself no longer needy of him at all. Excellent! I am keeping a regular diary, and reading and re-reading, and seeing the patterns of narcissism and cruelty on his part. Excellent! By the way, narcissism and sociopathy are closely related disorders. I am trying to detach myself emotionally from him first before taking any action to leave. This book may increase your understanding of him: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and  Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

I am observing him resort to new methods of getting to me now that he sees me being detached from him, and as I detach, I am seeing him for what he is: an impaired, inhuman, cruel, pitiful person who never had anything to offer to keep my interest except for mind f*** (excuse my French). I think though that I am coming now to the core of my co-dependency, which is scary. Yes it is. Keep in mind that it is OK to do things even if you feel frightened, and that as you master each task, the fear will evaporate. And you will feel very, very good about yourSelf!

KNOWING who he is and how he is, why do I STILL hope? Because you are Human. By hoping that things will change, you don't have to face your fear of doing all the things life without him would entail. This seems ludicrous to me. It is ludicrous, but we're all a little ludicrous at times. The good news is that  this is something that you can change! There are times when I find myself still going into the land of make believe, where I want to believe that there is hope for the marriage, that he is going to change, etc etc. You go there to find comfort from your fear of changing. Seeing yourSelf make the same mistake over and over again is also part of the process of change, so don't get too upset with yourself.

Dr. Irene, I want to kill this hope, because it is unhealthy for me and my kids to keep going through the torture that he puts me through. Your hope is only a feeling. It is not a bad feeling, but you are using it as an escape mechanism, so it slows you down. Once the girls develop a mind of their own, I am afraid he will abuse them emotionally as well. Probably. Why do I have hope? Because you are frightened and Human. Where does it come from? You.

How do I make it go away, and get hope for something POSSIBLE for a change? See below. How do I forgive myself for having the hope still? There is nothing to forgive. Each of us does the best we can do. Sometimes we're lucky enough to spot a problem area, as you have. So now, we go about changing it. But I really really want to leave this horrible, torturous life where I continuously have to walk on eggshells, and am continuously criticized, ordered around, my plans undermined, my thoughts and beliefs undermined, ignored, demeaned. Of course you do.

Look at it this way: you use your hope to keep you from  having to experience the fear you associate with things you fear doing/ haven't done/ etc. It's an automatic reaction; a bad habit; a coping mechanism. You CAN work your way through this because you KNOW your wishful thinking just keeps you stuck. 

Make a list of all the things you know you have to do to move on. Add to it all the time. Everything from finding an attorney to an apartment to grocery shopping to paying the bills to daycare to getting through tomorrow to spending a Holiday alone. It will be a long list. As you accomplish each item, cross it off. Do what you have to do even if you feel frightened doing it. Notice yourself lapsing into hope from time to time instead of dealing with all this stuff! That's OK. Just take yourself out of there and get back to work as soon as you are ready. The more you face the things you fear or overwhelm you, the more mastery you will feel; the more you will like yourSelf.

This is a good book for you: When Hope Can Kill: Reclaiming Your Soul in a Romantic Relationship by Lucy Papillon. You will recognize even more ways your hope stands in your way. Also, please consider finding a counselor. You likely feel overwhelmed by all this. Support and guidance can be invaluable.

Overcoming fear and transforming your hope into dreams of a calmer, more fulfilling life is something you can do.  My warmest wishes, Dr. Irene

Suzie: look on your board:  http://drirene.com/forms/comments_eeek.php


Date: Monday April 25, 2005
Time: 12:18 AM

Dear Dr. Irene: I am feeling very angry and very hurt. I know I am in an emotionally abusive relationship and have been for a very long time. It always comes out of nowhere, when I least expect it.

Yesterday we had a garage sale. This morning my husband asked me to go through several boxes in our garage which contained my darkroom stuff and throw stuff away. I said that I didn't want to do it today, that I had other plans (grading papers, gardening, etc.), but that I would go through them another day soon. He got angry and yelled at me. Now when he gets angry and shouts, it makes me very angry. I think I am so angry because this behaviour is a pattern and it has been going on for years. I used to be very passive, but now I am not. I told him I did not like the way that he was trying to plan my day. That I do not do that to him, and that it was unreasonable of him to get angry just because I didn't want to do what he wanted me to do when he wanted me to do it. Reasonable enough thing to say - to a reasonable person...


I should have known that trying to explain how I felt would not resolve the issue. Unfortunately. He got angrier at my response and stormed out of the room, saying he was tired of my name calling and abuse. I tried to talk to him again later. Why? You were still trying to get him to understand? He began to "you" me. He just used your talking to him as another opportunity to be icky. Claiming that I was being abusive because I accused him of trying to plan my day. I said I only said that after he became angry. He then argued that I had said that first and that since I had been in therapy, I should know better. (I can never win any argument with him, because he always turns it around). He also never apologizes for his behaviour. Just for the record, when he tries to plan your day (control), he is in your space, where he has no right to be. Telling him to get out of your space is defensive behavior. The way you say it determines whether your words come out respectful or ugly. But, that's just for your understanding. No point in trying to get him to understand because he's likely to twist this too.

I said I was tired of being yelled at and that his anger was an issue. I asked him if he would take responsibility for his anger, stop drinking (he drinks several drinks every day, which I think adds to the problem Yep.). The argument just kept spiraling out of control with accusations. Stop the argument; no point in having it. Then he left the house without saying where he was going and he avoided me all day, giving me the silent treatment. (Which is what usually happens). I now no longer sit around and wait. I go out and do things, get the car washed, do the grocery shopping, etc. Good.

This behaviour now makes me so angry. He would not tolerate any of our children talking or acting in this manner. I told him I was furious, that I am tired of this behaviour, that I am frustrated because we can never sit down and work anything out because he refuses to sit and talk calmly without loosing his temper and yelling. I told him I have noticed that he doesn't do that with the children, that he can control it, but he only does that with me. I told him that when he looses his temper it makes me want to distance myself from him, and pushes me away. He said it is my anger was the problem and that nothing can be worked out because I get angry. I said I only become angry after he does, and that I am willing to own up and take responsibility for my part and for my anger. If I do say anything cruel, I do apologize. I know I sometimes "you" him, but at least I'm willing to own up when I make a mistake and lose it. Most of the time when he is angry I keep my calm. Good. When you stay calm, you are more likely to keep your self-esteem - since you sink it whenever you behave like him!

After spending the rest of the day without speaking to me, nor I to him. I am spun back into this place of emotional pain that I am all too familiar with. I know nothing will be resolved. I know I need to take the next step and file for divorce. Although I never seem to take that next step. Now I am afraid it is having an effect on me. My memory is bad and I have problems with GERD and I can tell that this is triggered by the stress of these episodes. I have asked him if he is willing to change and work on his anger. His response is only if I will work on mine. I have done years of therapy and I meditate. I do not yell at him or call him names. However, I do tell him when I am tired of his behaviour.

I have been in this marriage for so long, I'm not sure if I have the courage to leave and live on my own. However, I long for intimacy and know there is no possibility of it with someone who you cannot have a conversation with about something as simple as unpacking boxes without them getting angry. What should I do? Well, seems you more or less have the two main choices outlined: continue trying to get through to him, have these awful fights, get sick from the stress; or, begin planning to leave. Nobody can make these choices for you.

One more option that may help is for you to disengage from the arguments. Emotionally disengage. Don't go there. Stop caring what he thinks so much. Stop trying to change what he thinks. Stop trying to get him to understand; to apologize; stop trying to reason with him, since all these things you've tried lead to more arguments. Begin to disengage emotionally so that you no longer seek his approval, his permission, his apology, you no longer need him to understand, etc. When he gets mad, just acknowledge that he's angry and don't do anything about it. After all, it's his anger, not yours. If he starts yelling, leave the house. Much easier said than done.

ALANON helps codependents disengage from their addict; helps them to care less and get more into taking care of the self. Melody Beatty writes books from a 12-Step tradition to help codependents disengage emotionally from their addicts. (Even though she refers to alcohol addicts, you can change the word "alcohol" to "anger" and it's the same thing.) Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.

Albert Ellis helps people to disengage from their abusive relationships by helping you take back your personal power and take responsibility for yourself. This is a powerful book: The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life

Why not try this direction first if you're not sure which way to go? Good luck to you, Dr. Irene


April 25, 2005
07:49 PM

Dear Dr. Irene:

I am feeling very angry and very hurt. I know I am in an emotionally abusive relationship and have been for a very long time. It always comes out of nowhere, when I least expect it. Yes. It comes just as you are feeling safest. Because when you are feeling close, your partner feels threatened; needs space.


Yesterday we had a garage sale. This morning my husband asked me to go through several boxes in our garage which contained my darkroom stuff and throw stuff away. I said that I didn't want to do it today, that I had other plans (grading papers, gardening, etc.), but that I would go through them another day soon. He got angry and yelled at me. Now when he gets angry and shouts, it makes me very angry. I think I am so angry because this behaviour is a pattern and it has been going on for years. I used to be very passive, but now I am not. I told him I did not like the way that he was trying to plan my day. That I do not do that to him, and that it was unreasonable of him to get angry just because I didn't want to do what he wanted me to do when he wanted me to do it. Reasonable and healthy reply on your part.

I should have known that trying to explain how I felt would not resolve the issue. He got angrier at my response and stormed out of the room, saying he was tired of my name calling and abuse. Typical abusive reply. The abusive person gets mad that s/he's been called on his/her behavior and gets mad that you got mad! Note that by now, your original issue - planning your day - is lost. Now the argument is that you have been abusive to him! Hoho!

I tried to talk to him again later. He began to "you" me. Claiming that I was being abusive because I accused him of trying to plan my day. Typical! Now you are the abuser! This tendency to disown his own stuff so much and project it onto you (so that you are seen as doing what he is actually doing) is called "projective identification" and is a pretty serious sign of mental illness.

The only way to respond to this is something along the lines of, "First, we talk about my complaint because I brought it up first. When we're done, we can talk about your complaint." But good luck getting your partner to stick to this outline. You will have difficulty sticking to this outline as well. So maybe you would "win" an argument if you just stuck to logic, and didn't let yourself be sidetracked. But, so what? What will that accomplish? He will find other ways to obfuscate. But it probably won't work because your partner's memory and your memory are 180 degrees apart. The "techniques" your partner uses to obfuscate are not planned out and conscious. They are part of his survival mechanisms. Part of sick thoughts and feelings that you can't fix. I said I only said that after he became angry. He then argued that I had said that first and that since I had been in therapy, I should know better. (I can never win any argument with him, because he always turns it around). He also never apologizes for his behaviour.

I said I was tired of being yelled at and that his anger was an issue. I asked him if he would take responsibility for his anger, stop drinking (he drinks several drinks every day, which I think adds to the problem I am sure you are right.). The argument just kept spiraling out of control with accusations. "The argument" did not spiral out of control of it's own accord. Both you and your husband contributed to the spiral. If either of you chose not to "dance," the argument would not have spiraled. Then he left the house without saying where he was going and he avoided me all day, giving me the silent treatment. (Which is what usually happens). I now no longer sit around and wait. I go out and do things, get the car washed, do the grocery shopping, etc. Good for you!

This behaviour now makes me so angry. Of course!!! He would not tolerate any of our children talking or acting in this manner. I told him I was furious, that I am tired of this behaviour, that I am frustrated because we can never sit down and work anything out because he refuses to sit and talk calmly without loosing his temper and yelling. I told him I have noticed that he doesn't do that with the children, that he can control it, but he only does that with me. I told him that when he looses his temper it makes me want to distance myself from him, and pushes me away. He said it is my anger was the problem and that nothing can be worked out because I get angry. How can you argue with this? You can't. So, why bother... I said I only become angry after he does, and that I am willing to own up and take responsibility for my part and for my anger. If I do say anything cruel, I do apologize. I know I sometimes "you" him, but at least I'm willing to own up when I make a mistake and lose it. Most of the time when he is angry I keep my calm. But he's not able or is not willing to take responsibility, etc. Just because you can and do, why do you think he should? Obviously, he doesn't!

After spending the rest of the day without speaking to me, nor I to him. I am spun back into this place of emotional pain that I am all too familiar with. I know nothing will be resolved. I know I need to take the next step and file for divorce. Although I never seem to take that next step. Now I am afraid it is having an effect on me. My memory is bad and I have problems with GERD and I can tell that this is triggered by the stress of these episodes. No doubt in my mind that this stuff can and will make you sick! I have asked him if he is willing to change and work on his anger. His response is only if I will work on mine. See how nicely he shirks responsibility again? I have done years of therapy and I meditate. I do not yell at him or call him names. However, I do tell him when I am tired of his behaviour. But you haven't figured out yet that he won't change?

I have been in this marriage for so long, I'm not sure if I have the courage to leave and live on my own. It's never easy to face one's fears. But, don't kid yourself: you have more than what you need to leave. Anybody strong enough to put up with such JUNK for years as you have can certainly face the peaceful relative calm of the unknown! However, I long for intimacy and know there is no possibility of it with someone who you cannot have a conversation with about something as simple as unpacking boxes without them getting angry.

What should I do? Leave, I think. But since you're still not sure, why not read Ellis' The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life.

This book will help you change you to deal with him more effectively (though I think you're already doing a pretty good job). And it will help you understand that you can only do so much - and then the only choice you have for sanity in your life - is to leave. God bless you. Dr. Irene