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Doc@DrIrene.com

The Doc Answers 40

 The Doc Answers 40

How to ask Doc your question.

October 13, 2008

I am a 51 year old woman, no children, and my recent ex is 56. I was married for ten years early on to a normal man whom I divorced craving excitement?, and ever since I've mostly ended up with men who have serious issues. As background I grew up with a mother who was and is psychologically abusive to me and a successful but alcoholic father. My father never verbally abused me but I watched him verbally abuse my oldest brother for years. I would get stomach aches from the tension when it happened, and was always watching to see what mood my father was in. Growing up having to watch out for the adults around you tends to produce a codependent adult. You are essentially trained to watch out for and anticipate others, instead of growing up care-free

I fell in love with a diagnosed sociopath/borderline after I divorced. He was so charming but of course it turned into something horrible. My next boyfriend was an attractive man who told me he had been diagnosed with a character disorder but in my early thirties I didn't know what that meant and I didn't ask him which one. I'm not diagnosing him, but he was a bit sadistic and more than a little narcissistic. He was wonderful at first too. I barely dragged myself out of that relationship I had so little self-esteem at the end, but I was the one who ended it. Good for you!

After a few years I had another really bad relationship with a man who was wonderful in the beginning, but ended up verbally would castigate me for tiny things. Unfortunately that's how it starts. Most are great early on. His estranged daughter suddenly died while he and I were together and he said that he was ok about it, as he had been over her years ago! I found out he had no empathy for other humans. He understood humans, as he was a psychologist who worked well with patients weirdly enough, but he didn't care about them. He also literally told me after we broke up that he wanted to get inside the skin of a woman and take over.

After that relationship I would tremble when I walked out in public. I felt destroyed. Then I spent three years building myself up, becoming strong and centered in myself, running my business, staying away from relationships. Good move.

Now I'm grieving my recently ended 3 1/2 year relationship with a man from whom I received checkered treatment, both wonderful and scary. He was terribly abused as a child, is a recovered alcoholic with DV incidents during his  20's and 30's, turned his life around and became well-respected by others and is a decent human being but has some control issues. I broke up with him because my requirements of how I want to be treated are higher now. Good! Insisting on good treatment is a good way to get it - usually.

I know when something is not right, and what I'm responsible for and what I'm not. But I spent so long in a tug of war with myself, knowing what the truth was but wanting to stay for the good parts. You know you're not alone on this one. Many of us do the same thing...I knew something was up in the first 6 months, but I was so desperate for the emotional support and love and help I got 90% of the time, that I stayed until recently. He wasn't the worst man I've been with, but I can't take anyone raging at me anymore. Anger yes. Scary rage, no. Well said!

I felt like I did with my father, watching for what mood he was in. I hear you. At the end he tried that trick of accusing me of being the same as he is. I just calmly said, no, I'm not like you. I have my own faults but raging at you is not one of them. You sound relatively centered. Good!

He is intensely focused on his own feelings about things when he needs to focus more on the external reality of a situation and less on how it makes him feel, as how things make him feel is an accordion of perceptions from years past, and I am not responsible for them. Nor am I responsible for shoring up his fragile, brittle self, except to treat him with compassion, dignity, and love, which I did. Right. Only he can be responsible for his own feelings.

I briefly went to two different therapists during our relationship, and also group sessions at my local women's shelter. The therapists thought I was overreacting and poo poo'd my concerns about this man, even the one who used to work as a DV counselor. The shelter counselor said he was an abuser. OK. I just know that the knot in the middle of my chest is now gone, and I am much more relaxed. The body is telling you something. J

I have the reputation of being independent, strong, self-sufficient. I can tolerate being alone, yet my personal relationships always end up with me caught up with these types of men. I can remember every time I would get that "uh-oh" feeling that something wasn't right. We have a problem. I know the truth when the moment happens, but then I twist it around in my mind and seemingly deliberately enter into the Alice in Wonderland world of these men. How can I stop doing this? I know my own worth, I really do. I just wish I knew why at that important moment when I'm confronted with an unhealthy man who may psychically harm me, I push the override button and carry on with him, and shove my worth into the back seat. The good news is that you are very clear on your weakness. You know. But your dependency needs and wishful thinking seem to get in your way. Have you read When Hope Can Kill: Reclaiming Your Soul in a Romantic Relationshipby Lucy Papillon?

Right at this moment I want my boyfriend back. And I want a giant decadent fudge cake with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. But I also want to fit into last winter's pants. *sigh* Get the point? I contacted him to talk about making our relationship permanent, as the last time I saw him it was up in the air and I had a decision to make, and in that few weeks time he's gone from dying for me to marry him, to having a new love of his life of one month's duration and he has no use for me anymore. Instead of feeling relieved that this other woman is saving me from making a mistake, I want him back even more. What's wrong with me that I want this in my life Your dependency needs are getting the best of you. I wonder too if you're not a little depressed. Talk to your doc about a mild antidepressant to get you through this, or consider speaking with him/her about St. John's wort.

It is OK to miss him. Feel the pain of missing him for a few moments and then gently put your mind elsewhere. It's important to understand the difference between feeling the pain each time something reminds you of it, and wallowing in it - that is the pain we can talk ourselves into, create ourselves. (That's why the antidepressant is very helpful during times like this. )

You can learn to consciously focus your mind on more productive things. (Like using this time to be the best you that you can be! Learn a language, get physically fitter, redo your hair, start a new hobby, whatever - and commit to and do the things you've picked out whether you feel like it or not!)

You can learn this excellent and effective mindfulness technique by studying and practicing the exercises in this book: Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Your peace of mind is inside of you, unless you unwittingly choose to give in to your "natural" feelings and forfeit it. It seems to me that you are mature enough, self-aware enough, and persistent enough (and you know what I mean by that! J) to gain particular benefit from learning to practice mindfulness. It helps you better develop self control over where you choose to go mentally and emotionally.

Another thing many find helpful is to sit down and write a bulleted list of all the junk he's ever done to you and how it is felt. Refer to it during those weak moments. Keep a copy by the phone, on the refrigerator, in your wallet. It's much easier to write the list when you are angry, but do your best.

The bottom line is that only YOU can choose where you want to go. The easiest road is usually not the most productive one. Where do you want to go? Are you willing to make a commitment to yourself to move in that direction?

More to consider: Sounds like your body hasn't lied to you yet. Consider a commitment to exit at the first tummy knot next time. Better yet, consider a commitment to understand how it is that you are susceptible to the great early-on treatment. It's the same ol' dependency wants playing their tricks - because it's what you know. It is familiar. BTW, dependency "wants" is so much more accurate than dependency "needs" - you need water, food, and air to live. You want this. But do you really? You're never too old to learn new tricks.

Good luck to you and God bless. Doc


Sunday November 30, 2008
04:52 AM

At 30 I really feel like my sister took all of my 20's with emotional abuse. Controlling, smothering, vindictive would all describe the behavior. I have in the past 6 years been dealing with this realization. So, to begin my process of healing, I moved away from my family into a home alone this year. My older sister promptly moved in with me with encouragement from my parents and I didn't know how to stop it. You couldn't just say, "No, I want to live alone" ?The whole thing was ironic considering one month earlier I was told by her that I deserved all the pain I had on my job because I refused to listen longer than the 5 hours I already had about a man she liked that didn't like her.

My parents were appalled, but not enough to tell her so. Hmmm. She get soooo incensed, people don't want to set her off? One month after moving in with me she found "the love of her life". I was immediately ignored and pushed to the side. All she did was flaunt this relationship in my face. I haven't had a date, ever. Despite this I did everything humanly possible to be supportive, but eventually had to tell her to move out. Good for you! I could no longer take being taken advantage of and ignored.

My parents also backed her behavior up once again. Instead of telling her the truth. Which is, if you are going to be actively dating someone as an adult, you should go to your own home.  And she shouldn't flaunt her relationship around your single sister on purpose.Well, I'm not sure I agree with that. Her behavior may have been insensitive,  but its not her job to protect you from your jealous feelings. Unless, of course, she had her boyfriend over all the time, sleep-overs, etc that would interfere with your home life. I am now feeling resentment, anger and sadness. She is now getting married and I feel like a loser. I think you're being awfully hard on yourself. :(  I feel dumped in a sense. You don't sound like you really wanted her around in the first place, but I can certainly understand how you could be upset; good stuff seems to happen to her, and not to you. And she's doesn't even seem very considerate!

I gave up years trying to get along with someone who wasn't doing the same. I forfeited finding a husband for myself. You're only 30, so it's OK. But don't give up any more of your precious time! Too busy trying to get along with the family and being told she had a more pressing need to get married due to age and that made me feel less important. Are my feelings valid? What has happened here? How do I move on?

Of course your feelings are valid! They are your feelings! They are talking to you! You count! Listen to them!

You sacrificed your comfort and convenience for your family's and sister's sake, only to have her move on at her convenience. You waited for the family to scold her, and they didn't. Well, of course you feel sad, resentful, and angry!

There's a lesson here: While you don't have to be inconsiderate in the process, you need to learn how to take care of yourself first, before you try to accommodate other people's needs. Certainly, you can learn to speak up for yourself. It's not up to your parents to say the words you want to say. You can do it much better.

It is OK to move into your own place, and insist that it remain your own place.  It's OK to say to your sister that you find it sad that thinks that you deserve the pain you have at work. It's OK to tell your family that while you love and support them, that you have your own life to live.

Think about taking charge of your own life - instead of living it to seek other people's approval, love, company, or whatever it is that motivates you. I don't think you understand how you very unintentionally create your pain when you sacrifice, but you do. Of course you're resentful, sad, and angry! Your feelings are telling you that you're not getting what you want out of life!

Listen to these feelings. They are telling you that you need to change course and actively pursue what it is that you seek and value.

Therapy would be an excellent option for you. Please give this option serious consideration. You may be very glad you did.  Dr. Irene

Wednesday January 14, 2009
09:27 AM

Been divorced from Ex-husband for 10 years. We divorced after 5 rocky years when our son was 1 year old. We have joint custody. I divorced him because he's a psychopath. Ex re-married & divorced shortly after. Ex used to & continues to put me and my family down via guilt, sarcasm, blaming criticism. He certainly does have a problem... to say the least.

I've been happily remarried for 8 years with 7 year old daughter & stepdaughter. Mostly I ignore exes malicious & provoking comments. Good. Because he wants you to guy into it and react.

This week it exploded & my 13 year old son is in the middle. Ex-husband made son feel guilty in order to get what he wanted at the expense of my family. My son & stepdaughter are really close & ex-husband minimizes it telling him that my marriage is in shambles & when we divorce he'll never see step-sister again. No matter what I say he turns it around and uses it against me. He also has fictional ideas about the state of my marriage & finances that he uses to validate his own point to my son.

I have never badmouthed my ex-husband but I need to help my son handle this kind of personality. Just be honest!  Speaking the truth is not badmouthing! Covering up by saying nothing to your son about what his father is doing enables the father to brain wash him!  My son heard my ex screaming numerous explatives to me & is intimidated by him. I want to empower my son in a respectful way. I don't know if that's possible. My son is sweet, I don't want him to be a bully or be bullied by his dad. Empower your son by modeling healthy behavior. For example, while your ex screams and curses, walk away and calmly say that you will talk with him when he is willing to talk and not scream and swear. Let your son see you deal with this man.

Have a good heart to heart with your boy. Explain to him everything you see his father doing and why. Explain why you never contested the father's behavior, i.e., you did not want to "badmouth." Tell him you never realized that presenting the truth is not badmouthing. Tell him what his father does and why you left him as it pertains to the situation.

If you don't explain the entire story to your kid, in a way he can understand it at his age, he has only his father's distorted version to go by.

Badmouthing is about cursing and blasting and blaming. The truth is simply that. The truth as you see it, which includes your frustration at the father's antics and your inability to stop it. And includes your frustration at watching your son be manipulated. It also includes a statement of fact regarding your marriage and his step sister.

My husband is not like this and I know my ex tells my son that's weakness. Tell your son there is no strength in bullying. What do I say to my son? The truth. How often?  Whenever he asks or you see something going on. What are key things to lookout for or point out to my son? All of the above. Stop treating him like he can't handle the truth. At some level, he probably knows. Validate his reality; help correct it if he is too brainwashed. I don't want him to be at war or walking on eggshells every time he goes to his dad's.  Exactly! Good luck! Doc

Wednesday January 21, 2009
11:10 AM

I just left a emotionally abusive relationship. I had been seeing this man for about 8 months. The first week that I moved in, he changed. The man I thought I knew was kind, giving, on the quiet and shy side but it was a quality I adored. Never did I ever see what was to come. All of a sudden, I was being told glasses were put in the wrong place and started withdrawing affection from me when he was upset. If we had a discussion about something and I didn't agree, then I would get the silent treatment for days. If I dressed up or look nice for something, he would never compliment me or say a word. He said he would be "processing" the argument and needed his time. Emotional manipulation and control.

I say he was withholding to punish me. Sounds right, though I'm sure he saw it otherwise. :) He would also explode over small things...spilled pizza (I was "ordered to clean it up to teach me a lesson") and cussed at in front of his and my children. He would later seem apologetic but also claimed he was provoked. Right. Notice how he doesn't take responsibility for himself. Even if you did provoke him, it is his responsibility to choose to go there - or not.

He would ignore me as if he never heard me. It was the strangest thing to look someone is the eye and get only a blank stare.. If he talked with me, he was doing me a favor. Lots of entitlement... My father also had become very ill and never asked how he was. When I asked him why, his response was, "There are allot of people more sick in this world than your father. Do I have to ask every 5 minutes?" Of course your father can't be of more concern to you than he is, no matter what!!!  My father died a week later. I'm so sorry... He was more concerned about his heavy workload and chronic headaches that week. These are just a few things that occurred the first 10 days. I took my daughters and left. Good for you! It would have only gotten worse.

I am still hurt that this relationship did not work - although I know it wouldn't of been like I had dreamed it would. Was I just fooled all along about who he really was? Yes. The irony is that you generally won't see the abuse until you're emotionally invested. The partner tends to put their best foot forward during the chase. Once you give your heart, the partner feels entitled to get what they really want/feel entitled to (like 24/7 emotional caretaking from you) and/or may feel internally frightened of the intimacy, needing to push you away.  Why do men turn around and claim their partner was actually the abuser when they are confronted? You are describing a pathological process first articulated in psychoanalytic theory called "projection."  While a little of anything is OK, some emotionally immature individuals  are unable to accept their own shortcomings. They deny their own unacceptable impulses and project them onto other. These individuals will accuse you of what they in fact are guilty of. Projection is a common defense mechanism in narcissistic styles, which is roughly where this guy seems to live given his sense of entitlement. 

In abuse with entitlement issues, you are likely to be accused of abuse when confronting your partner. But when you pick apart exactly how you abused them, it makes little sense. You will often find that THEIR needs/wishes/hopes/etc. matter; yours are secondary. So, as an extreme example, you may be seen as abusive if your sick dad is more on your mind than your partner is; you are somehow neglecting him.

There is little emotional reciprocity and little empathy. Your partner may fake it for a while, but cannot sustain empathy - genuine caring and concern for your feelings. Your emotional issues simply don't matter if they compromise what you give him, even if you are dealing with a sick father. And there will always be a superficially plausible explanation of why .

Be thrilled you escaped early. Good luck to you, Dr. Irene

Monday February 02, 2009
09:10 PM

Hi Dr. Irene, I'm confused with grief. I thought I found my soul mate, crazy about him. we were church friends. He's a substance abuser, unemployed & homeless. 2 years ago he got work & a place because he wanted to be with me, start a real life. We're both excited, happy. Sobriety is harder to get than a job, and he'd get mean verbally when drunk, & also withheld affection. I broke it off with him to get my head straight. He came back so sweet, so I figured it was the alcohol. He tried white knuckling again, but then he disappears. He returned homeless & unemployed. I was happy he was alive, took him in & told him it was temporary, he had to get help for his substance abuse & get on his feet; I was being a friend cause he needs one but we had to take our romance slow cause he's sick. So for 80+ days of his sobriety he is who I fell in love with. That may have been easy as I loved him more than anything & was good to him, taking care of him when sick, being a therapist, mom, etc. That month, my 18 year old cat died, my car blew up & on his sobriety day 87 I lost my job. I'm so sorry... I was sick with fever AND premenstrual - so he became enraged because I wasn't my sunny self. I patiently told him please back off I'm unwell. He yelled I was a bitch. I threw my water in his face, this escalates & he's in my face screaming I slap at his head & he tosses me into the DVD rack. Now he's another being. For over an our he is terrorizing me with his fist in my face, SCREAMIN fat c*&^ wh&^*, & bi*&*. Spitting in my face, said he'd kill me over & over. He was forced to leave. I changed my ph. number. It's been over a month I'm still shocked & I miss who I thought he was(GENTLE&SWEET). How do I let this go in my head? He said the end was my fault because I slapped him, and I feel bad, but blew a fuse. I feel so sad to think I would spend my life with him & it end so ugly. When somebody shows their sweet side (during the honeymoon phase and/or when we are doing doing doing for them), we love it! We think we found Heaven! BUT, as time goes on, especially when the chips are down, sometimes we find out that this wonderful person has a monstrous side. You've seen side that a couple of times now. Addicts of any kind are a particular poor relationship risk unless they are years into their recovery.

Begin to let him go by realizing that both sides are him. You need to "radically accept" (google that phrase) who he is. Let him go too by understanding that blaming you for this fiasco is nonsense. More of his not taking responsibility. You are each responsible for your parts and someone terrorizing you for losing your cool, especially when you are down, is waaaaaay not OK. (Doesn't that make you mad? Even a little bit?)

Notice it when you find yourself moving into that wishful thinking space of how wonderful he can be. Spend a few moments each time you are reminded of your loss. It's OK to grieve. Feel the sadness - but only for a few moments. Then stop. You don't want to get caught up in empty recriminations; they are totally destructive and make you miserable. As a church-goer, you can give all those icky thoughts to God; He'll take them from you. Instead, purposefully redirect your attention to something in the here and now. Do something else. Wash dishes; vacuum, whatever - and give whatever you are doing your FULL attention. Be mindful. Stay in the moment. The next time the sadness comes up, do the same thing. Over and over.

Never forget that this man is both sides of himself, the good and the bad. Unfortunately the bad is simply too bad, so he's not a keeper. Remind yourself of that by writing down all the crummy stuff he's ever done to you. And read it, over and over when you are feeling weak. A friend is only a friend (or lover) when they can be there for you when you are down, as you were there for him. He can't do that.

Don't waste your precious energy bemoaning this loss. It would have only gotten worse. Look for someone who doesn't need a mommy and is capable of a reciprocal relationship the next time! Good luck and God bless! Doc

Thursday February 19, 2009
02:36 PM

Dear Dr Irene, I am an abuser in recovery. I wrote to you back in July 2007 when I was going through a relapse. I came out of an abusive relationship quite a number of years ago and about 4 years ago I was empowered to change my ways. When I look back, it happened in a single moment as I was working one day when I realised things no longer needed to be the way they were. I have since been working on change. Excellent! It has been a difficult journey... since I wrote to you things changed drastically again. In carrying fear consciously I again began to empower myself. I was entering situations and rather than reacting I either did nothing or the complete opposite... I could feel the wounds that were driving my behaviour....they were (and still are) terrifying... Yes. Isn't it crazy to hold yourself hostage over fears? In feeling the anxiety and feeling terrified but not reacting it gave me a great sense of being... Yes! I was again relating and connecting with people, really listening and it felt totally different energetically. I began to have a deeper sense of self and understood about my path... it was a strange experience but it was like I had actually connected with ME. YES!

As ever there is a but... over the last three months or so I have begun to start slipping back, a sort of anxiety just crept in and as much as I have been trying to keep it in check it has slowly crept further in till now I feel I have taken two steps back again and I'm back to just surviving rather than living and being. You need to let yourself feel the fear, but not stay stuck in it. Feel the fear for a few moments each time it comes up. And let it go. Not spin it with your mind... Consciously redirect your thoughts after you have spent a few moments in the fear. Over time, this teaches you to deal with the pain and fear. It loses its power, eventually.

I feel full of emotion and now spend some of my evenings with a heavy feeling of tears behind my eyes. Sounds like there may a lot of grief too... I have been through so much and seen so many changes in me and how I am, there is no way I am ever going back to the man I was. I guess I'm just scared that I won't make it. Of course you're frightened! Feel that fear, then let it go. Know too that you have to work through many layers of this stuff. So even though you did lots of work, you have simply reached a new level, where the same stuff is there, but at a more subtle level. You would not have noticed it at this level earlier. The feelings and thoughts will be the same. Continue the work. You will find many levels where you are essentially reworking the same issues - but at subtler and subtler levels. You will think you have fallen back, but you haven't. Think back. I bet the kind of stuff that set you off initially does not have the same hold on you. But subtler manifestations of same do. You will work many levels - until one day, there are no more.

This anxiety just crept in insidiously and when I do get out of this rut it could always come again and I could relapse again. It IS insidious. Practice being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, being more and more self aware. The only thing you need to control is your tendency to flee from experiencing the icky feelings. Feel them. A few moments. Then let that process go by consciously redirecting your attention to the present. Over and over, no matter how many times the "stuff" comes up. A wonderful though somewhat esoteric book on mindfulness is Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life  by Jon Kabat-Zinn Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. is another to look at.

Don't give up. You just have to keep at it!  Wishing you the very best, Doc

Monday February 23, 2009
01:49 PM

Hello Dr Irene,This my third post about this man - the last was to the interactive board. Anyway I think I'm ok but there were some things that I would like your take on. It helps to make sense of things. I did go and work with a psychotherapist as suggested and I did find it helpful. Excellent!

What I did uncover was basically that because of my abusive childhood I had become quite used to odd behavior from people and so didn't remove myself. Yep. Agreed. Also that I had a lot of shame about being the age that I am and not having formed a mature emotional and physical relationship with anyone. Very understandable. Given our culture, many people with your experience would likely feel the same way. I think this last point is one of the things that the man I had difficulty with used to manipulate me. :(  Manipulators tend to be very adept at finding exactly the stuff that deeply affects you.

What bothers me is the psychotherapist kept saying I was masochistic. Something I feel horrified about as there would be no hope for me. OK. Stop. You said two things: 1. The idea horrifies you and 2. It horrifies you because there would be no hope. I really do feel that I just was attracted to the really nice bit but the therapist has said that because I had had a lot of pain as a child that is what attracted me to him and that I wouldn't know it. Is this possible ?

This is YOUR fear; YOUR pain; YOUR burden. You own it. That is OK. Don't run from it. You need to deal with this very real hurt (which is probably associated with shame, helplessness, and only you can know what else).

More therapy will help. The way you speak, it sounds as though you finished with the therapy you were involved with. While there are many roads that lead to Rome, I am an ACT therapist, so I will give you a simplified overview of one way to begin working this issue via that approach. Consider a DBT therapist as well. You don't have to suffer from BPD to benefit from the pearls widely available Dialectic Behavior Therapy has to offer. In fact, any of the "mindfully-based behavioral therapies" (google it) are a good bet.

Each time something reminds you of this stuff, sit with the pain for a few moments. Not the thoughts (e.g., "there is no hope for me" ; "I am a masochist"), but the feelings - the plain and simple horror and fear and helpless pain you feel in your body. If you close your eyes and pay attention, you may be able to find where this pain resides in your body. Do not dwell on the icky thoughts no matter how "normal" it seems to go there. There is nothing there for you; you've spent far too much time there already. After a few moments of feeling the pain, consciously direct your attention elsewhere, to something in the present. Stay in the present. Note that it's  very easy to mix up feelings with thoughts and to slip from feelings into thoughts without realizing you've gone there. You have to learn how to do this stuff!

The Human mind is real tricky by nature. We are usually on "autopilot" and are not self-aware as a rule. Look for mindfulness classes, pick up an ACT workbook   (e.g., Get Out of your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) by Steven Hayes, PhD and a book on mindfulness, (e.g. Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life .) But a real live therapist is a far, far better way to go.

Repeated exercises like this will help you accept your painful feelings the same way you accept it when your body has a cold. You are sick and therefore feel icky. Period. You don't spend tooooo long bemoaning the fact that you have this awful cold and how terrible that is and how your life is ruined and there is no hope for you, blah blah blah.

On the "masochist" word. Unfortunately that word gets tossed around far too much, has far too much baggage attached to it, and is not useful nor helpful. Your therapist's use of the word is probably more a function of his/her theoretical orientation than much else. As a behaviorist, as opposed to a psychodynamically-oriented therapist, I don't use that term. Regardless of orientation, clinicians working in abuse also tend not to use it. We recognize that a victim does not set out to be abused.

People do what they already know. It is normal. You learned to worry more about others than to worry about yourself. You chased love as though it was the carrot at the end of a stick. You could never catch it because those around you, for whatever reason, were unable to parent you. So you long for love, and chase it. You tend to be too loyal, too trusting, and put up with way too much - because that is what you know; that is "normal" to you. Look at some of the symptoms of codependency here, content taken from Melody Beatty's classic bestseller, Codependent No More. Also, look at some of the other pages in the codependency section as well as elsewhere.

The second thing is about this man's personality disorder. The therapist thought antisocial and narcissistic. In a few of the conversations with Mark since closing contact his comments have included : I don't owe anyone anything, I do what I want when I want , I'm different from anyone else, you will never meet anyone like me, you need to look at what's wrong with you rather than me (this one I agreed with Me too :) ). I will never get caught doing anything wrong, no one will want you, If I'd ever f....d you you'd have always wanted more!,. I said 'OK' then he flipped back in to very normal, convincingly charming and pursued+++. I think he used my vulnerability to manipulate and exploit me but he was very good and convincing. I'm sure its personality disorder but which one? There's no way for me to know. Not nearly enough information here, though narcissistic or antisocial would certainly fit. Besides, you only get *one* specific question in this format. Kind regards, thanks so much for your help before- I'm feeling good :-)Emma  Wishing you the very, very best Emma. I know the work sometimes feels endless, but just keep at it. You've nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can do it!  Doc

Date: Wednesday February 25, 2009
Time: 10:40 PM

Dr. Irene, I am 40 and have been with my husband for 11 years total. What I am going to describe was not everyday life because we do have similar interests, but I feel these occurrences are severe enough that I need your opinion.

My husband has always been controlling: no friends can call house, dictated where I should go, etc. He insults my friends and has told me that they just use me for their own benefit. I have over the years grown apart from my friends due to our relationship and his control issues and jealousy. He has said multiple times it is them or me and has blatantly tried to end my friendships and admitted to wanting to do this. My friends have warned me that I am in an unhealthy relationship while my husband tells me that they are just miserable and jealous of us.

He also has a bad temper and has been fired from job for threatening a coworker. He invades people's personal space and boundaries if he feels someone is "talking down to him". There have been some instances of physical abuse, I guess. He would lay on top of me with all his weight so I couldn't move and when I told him to get off of me screaming he would say I need to control my mind and relax. He has also put a pillow over my face when I disagreed with him and held it there until I screamed and he said it was a joke. I hope you are crystal clear with the knowledge that not only is anything like this remotely funny, but is dangerous. Abuse escalates over time. Know that. 

Over the last two years, he has had a severe drug addiction, spending our savings and losing his job. He is currently 5 weeks sober. As I write this I feel sick about myself and fear that he has damaged my self esteem so badly I will never get out. I need confirmation that regardless of the good times, these issues are unacceptable. Why would I stay? What is wrong with me?

These issues are entirely unacceptable. 100% unacceptable - and very serious. Your husband strikes me as a dangerous person. He is jealous, controlling, and has anger issues that have seriously affected his life. He has already jeopardized your physical integrity. He "relaxes" by subjecting you to control and intimidation in a physically hurtful manner. Therefore, not only does he lack empathy (which is a serious sign of pathology itslef), but he is pleased by your pain! This suggests sociopathy, aka "antisocial personality disorder." Having something like this happen even once, is inexcusable. Add addiction to this volatile combination and the mix is - more likely than not - a time bomb. You are in danger. You wanted my opinion? That's it.

Why should you stay? Absolutely no reason.

What is wrong with you? The same thing that is wrong with many, many other individuals throughout the world. Abuse is a difficult statistic to measure. According to the US Justice Department, victims are often reluctant to report violence because of shame and/or fear of reprisal, especially since domestic violence tends to occur in private.

Why do you stay? Abused individuals are faced with making huge life changes at a time when they are at their lowest point:

  • Studies  indicate that the main reason women stay in abusive marriages is due to lack of finances. Controlling spouses help ensure partner entrapment by limiting financial access.  

  • Not only is money controlled, but typically, as in your case, the abuser has limited the partner's social support network. Victims are not likely to confide the abuse to anyone out of shame and fear. There is virtually no support.

  • Victims also tend to suffer from the mental and physical effects secondary to the STRESS of abuse. On the

  •  mental side, depression and anxiety are nearly universal symptoms among victims. Keep in mind that depression is characterized by increased indecision, self-doubt, diminished self-esteem, excessive guilt, and more. These symptoms are treatable.

  • Google "the general adaptation syndrome" to get an idea of how excessive stress affects the body. In short,

abuse kills. *Sigh*

 You may not be ready to consider leaving, and that's OK. But DO:

  • Call the police if abuse (including jokes) occurs. Remember, abuse escalates. "Jokes" and "mistakes" count.

The law takes  abuse seriously. Report the crime, even if it is the morning after.

  • Get in touch NOW, today, with your local women's shelter. Your case is not "too mild." They can help you by arming you with information, support, a safety plan, legal advice, etc., etc. If you can't locate a shelter, call the county or city court or sheriff or police. They can help.

  • Start posting on the CatBox. There is lots of emotional support for you there.

  • Do not let on that you are exploring these avenues, even if you have to go to the Library to get online or make phone calls from a public phone.

  • You ARE in danger.

Thankfully there are many, many resources available today. PLEASE use them!

 Sending you many warm fuzzies and good wishes... Doc

Date: Sunday March 1, 2009
Time: 10:40 PM

You say in your Dana article that a cunning narcissist can hide the narcissism from the people most meaningful to her - her parents, boss, husband, sibling, etc.  I get the parents, boss, siblings. They all hate me for "abusing" her! I completely broke down and lost all my friends, career, was obsessed with her. It nearly destroyed me. 

The way you describe Dana is exactly my life with MyDana.  Gradually she became less and less concerned with how I felt about anything and she did nothing to raise my rank among other men in the sense of showing she was taken.  Not one picture of me on facebook, countless texts and calls from men.  I repeatedly asked to simply be introduced.  I didn't care that she had male friends, but it seemed she had two worlds.  Us, and the rest of her life.  She continually would be hot for 3 days, cold for 3, and the more I tried to get an I love you from her, the crueler and more distant she became, but if it appeared I was leaving,  she'd send long, gushing emails begging forgiveness and throwing herself on the sword telling me how terrible she'd been, only to return - worse; it seemed she was resentful for ever apologizing.  Yep. She had contempt towards you, but not enough to lose what you offered. In retrospect, do you see all the signs in what you describe? Knowing what you know now, would you stay so long again? If this relationship was happening to your close friend, would you suggest to him that he stay?

I've done some boundary work since then and realize my role in this Excellent!, but you have to understand how convincing she could be. I do! Some people are excellent manipulators! Nevertheless, you can't be manipulated unless you buy into it, so there are good lessons here for you. Each time I'd believe that we really would work it out.  See the wishful thinking? You repeatedly believed her words instead of her actions. My sanity slipped away and she apparently told her friends and parents she was in an abusive relationship so they all hated me. Yep.  Over time I grew to resent her behavior and should have walked away. Yep. I was angry when she'd pull her stunts, but I was very, very kind to her: the boyfriend that tried to hard as you described.  Sure. By not knowing when to draw the line, you inadvertently enable her antics. The only "right" thing you could have done is leave. I could go on and on about the hot/cold and the lies, her saying she'd do something and never doing it, her never buying me a birthday card and saying she was making one or making a gift - which never materialized. She had no friends except the no self esteem childhood friend EXACTLY like Dana - and the male admirers who all told me I'd better take good care of her. It used to make me cringe...if they only knew the real her!.

My question is: how can a narcissist hide it from her husband?  Easily! The narcissist can hide from anyone s/he can manipulate. But manipulation takes energy, so as your importance to her diminishes, she will expend less energy putting her best foot forward. Wouldn't he be the object of her scorn, either b/c he tries to win her and is viewed as less than and common, or if he doesn't give her narcissist supply, then he's of no use, right?  Certainly! It is very flattering to be loved sooooo much that you are wanted no-mattere-what! Even if she stepped on you, you were there, trying to work things out. You gave her one benefit of the doubt after the other because she was sooooo special. It seems that, over time, as your upset increased, your adoration diminished. Plus, you lost your "trophy factor" in losing your job, friends, etc. As the cost/benefit ratio of how much she had to "work"/what she got in return dwindled, she could afford to give you up - and blame you for it in the process. :(. I just can't imagine a mate being spared, b/c in my involvement with MyDana, it seemed I bore the brunt of her ickyness while her family, boss, her childhood friend with no esteem, and the many, many men that wanted her thought her to be a perfect angel. Thanks!

A husband can certainly be the object of narcissistic scorn, and is the likely target if the narcissistic individual is no longer getting what s/he wants from their partner. As long as the needs are being met (on both sides), the relationship can work. Think of the old stereotype: trophy wife and rich guy. Or, brilliant woman who marries for political / financial ties. Or, if you were a "harder" person than she is, you could "make" her work for your affection while you provide the financial base. There is no limit to what the couple may exchange. A long-term "deal" with a narcissist works best if both partners have similar characteristics. They understand each other. Doesn't seem you were cut out for such a partner. Good for you!

You may find Loving the Self Absorbed a good read.

I'm glad for that YourDana is history. Best wishes, Doc

Monday March 16, 2009
03:41 PM

Dr. Irene, I have been in a relationship for 2 1/2 years. We have been friends on and off since I was 16. Twenty years later we ran into each other and jumped into a relationship. I knew of his domestic violence background, but as friends he always treated me with respect, he made me feel special, like I mattered; he was different with me. It wasn't long into our relationship that his true character came out, but I thought it would change. I thought it would be different between us. He has a quick temper when he is tired, sick, hungry, or needs a cigarette. He has called me names, with words I had never heard before, belittled me, yelled at me, cussed me out, hung up on me, slammed the door in my face, called me over and over so many times (one evening I had 45 missed calls), had me paged at work 96 times in 1 day, threatened me, to destroy my car, to steal my cat, to have ME arrested, picked up my dry cleaning and refused to give it to me, blocked me in a court so I couldn't go anywhere. I can go on and on.

He makes me think I am crazy. He tells me that he didn't say what I remember him saying, then I wonder if the conversation really happened, when I think it happened. I have gone back to him 12 times. I filed a restraining order against him last year, before he was served with it, he talked me into dropping it, and I did. I used to be strong, independent, the person that kept it all together, the person everyone went to, an overachiever, a mom my adult kids looked up to and respected. Today my mind is mush.

I don't know what reality is anymore. There are many times I can't function. He has I let him destroy ed who I am, who I used to be. And I still love him. I still miss him. I still wonder if it can work. I've had headaches, migraines, and anxiety for more than a year now. I feel as though I have nothing left. This is crazy, right? What did I do to deserve this? Why would I love someone that treats me with such disrespect and disregard? He's a little nice for 2 days and a creep for 5 days. Why do I stay? How do I keep myself from going back? How do I keep myself from falling for his manipulation to win me over? The good news is that it seems you have clearly established that he is bad for you. It seems you categorically understand that there is no way in the world that this man has anything to offer you other than heartache. Good. That makes it clear.

So, lets compare him to any pleasurable but noxious entity. He is your vice. Your narcotic. And, it is not possible with this vice to have a little of it. He is "on" or "off." So, you can't have only one glass of red wine at dinner with this guy. You have the whole bottle, or you have none. You can't have a slice of that luscious dessert. You have all of it, or you have none.

Conceptualizing him as your addiction, and understanding you can't even have a taste of this addiction, the sooner you notice you are thinking of him, wondering what it might be like "this" time, wishing it could be since, after all, you love him...

It is time to consciously and purposely move your mind away from these thoughts. Keep this thinking up and you will likely make the choice to see him/talk with him/pick up the phone/etc. again.

It is OK to have thoughts of missing him whenever anything reminds you that you miss him. It is OK to feel the love you have for him. It is not OK to choose to continue allowing your mind to drift towards this type of thinking - because you are likely to choose destructive action soon. 

Learn to be mindful of what is on your mind. Pay attention. Notice your reverie.

The pain that wells up when you are reminded of your toxic love is your body's natural response. Feel it. Feel the pain as pain is a natural part of life. And then let it go. Let the thoughts go and redirect your mind and body to a place in the here and now that is productive for you. Choose to go to a healthy place. Of course, you may choose not to, but you already know where that will take you....

Gee, I love chocolate and anything sweet. If I give in to each urge, I will very quickly be much, much fatter than I already am. That's my choice.

This guy is Your Choice.

This is a great book to help you learn mindfulness skills: Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

Thank you for your help.  Honestly, the only help I can give you is the push to help yourself. God bless, Dr. Irene  

Friday March 27, 2009
07:51 AM

My wife shows signs of BPD. I love her dearly, and want her to get help. We are separated and a divorce is filed. As is typical with BPD, I am the problem, she verbally degrades me in volcanic eruptions, and she denies that her troubled childhood and past bad relationships have harmed her. 

The question that haunts me is this: Is my wife really capable of loving me? I don't know, and it doesn't really matter... She has had a lot of previous relationships, been engaged often but never followed through. Falls in love fast. This is not love; this is infatuation. I am so different than anyone else she has ever been with, but she tells me that is why she wanted me. I am very good to her and loving toward her. But that seems to repulse her. For myself, I need to know if I'm just another guy that has come along through the revolving door of her heart, or is it possible that I do have something that attracted her, that is different, unique, and what she has been looking for? I'm trying to figure out if I should hang in there, or throw in the towel. No one else has ever been able or willing to bring her to the point of facing her hurt and get help.

This is not about your wife at all. This is about you. Your wife's impulsivity and mood-driven choices are about her. Her ability or inability to tolerate the normal "sacrifices" which come with mature love are about her. You have no control over that, so please don't worry about it.

You are basically asking if you should hang in there because maybe, just maybe, you are special enough to her that your love may help her change. But her healing has little to do with your specialness. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

The choice you face regarding whether or not you stay in this marriage is yours and yours alone. But do make this decision in the light of day. Make it knowing that you have no control over her. Make it knowing how much you can and cannot deal with in terms of her behavior towards you. Make it knowing that loving this woman is a wonderful gift you can give to her, but - have no expectations in return. There are no guarantees. No one has a crystal ball.

Search your heart and soul to better understand your hopes and expectations. Understand what you can and cannot deal with. There are no right or wrong answers. Be honest with yourself. Take your time. This wonderful little book on mindfulness (self-awareness) may help you better understand yourself: Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Wishing you and yours the very best. Dr. Irene

Saturday June 06, 2009
09:04 PM

Dear Dr. Irene, I am married (almost 10 years now) and have just recently, within the last 6 months, realized that I am in an emotionally abusive relationship.

I always thought he just had a really bad temper and angered easily. In the 10 years we've been together he has never had a satisfying job and I always told myself "maybe when he gets a job he likes things will get better". But that has not ever happened. He has always yelled a lot, and is now doing that to our 6 year old son. The fact that he started doing that to our son (literally yelling at him to shut up) is what made me open my eyes and seek counsel with a few close friends and then with my pastor. From them I first heard the term "emotional abuse". I began to realize how often he criticizes me and how he puts me down in front of other people. He is a very selfish person and has absolutely NO empathy for others.

Looking back at his childhood I can see why he is the way he is. His dad was physically and verbally abusive and his mother took the brunt of that, in front of the kids. The dad was also abusive to the 3 kids and my hunch is that their mom never did anything about that. My husband has a very strained relationship with his parents now. Understandably.

He also has a history of viewing pornography on the computer, which I've addressed many times with him to no avail. I caught him on it just a few days ago. My pastor has not been of much help in counseling us, I think partly because he himself had a bad relationship with his father growing up, and he also has openly admitted to having anger and temper issues - but he manages to keep them under control, by the grace of God. But sometimes I wonder if he doesn't more take the side of my husband because of his own past. My husband has faith in God, but I am amazed at how he can act like he is a faithful servant of God while at church, and turn around and be totally the opposite in how he lives his life. He hears the Word, but does not apply it to his life. I cannot understand that. Maybe you can pick up the DVD, Fireproof and convince your pastor to give it to him. He should watch it alone. It's about a Christian couple; the husband overcomes an internet porn problem and makes enough changes to save his marriage. But maybe that won't help either.

I have friends I can talk with, but still feel like I don't know what to do. I know that God would not want my marriage to end, but unless my husband makes big changes I don't see a future for us. Ever since I opened up my feelings to others, I feel very empty inside. Sure. Because as you bring the issue out of denial and into the light, it becomes more real. But that's OK. You can't fix anything until you really understand it. I know that I should be forgiving, as God has forgiven me, and be willing to work with my husband but I don't feel anything for him. The mantra is "forgive but don't forget. The problem with forgiving is that it is very difficult to forgive when the abuse is ongoing. No love. Nothing. Is this my way of protecting myself, by pulling back and allowing myself to not want to feel anything for him anymore? I think it is pretty normal to feel angry and to shut down when you are being treated as you are. I'm not even sure I could ever love him again. No need to anticipate what you will feel tomorrow. Tomorrow will come soon enough and you will find out.

 I bought a great book. The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing  by Dr. Beverly Engel, "The Emotionally Abusive Relationship" that has really opened my eyes. Yes, its a great book! I can absolutely see myself in the pages of those being abused, and my husband in the pages of the abuser. I've tried and tried to get him to read just a few pages, but he refuses. He will not admit that he is an abuser. I don't think counseling is going to work for us, he seems very reluctant to even try it. Is there any hope without counseling?  There is always hope.

I've been told he will need ALOT of counseling and that it will take a long time. I am tired, so tired, of years of living like this. And now that the issue is out in the open our relationship is even more strained. He blames me for our trouble, says that by my not communicating any of this for so long that the trouble we are now facing is all MY fault. Nonsense. He needs to take responsibility for himself. It takes two to Tango. In your case, he's being icky and you are letting it continue. How was I supposed to communicate with him whenever I tried to talk to him he just gets angry and defensive and manages to twist around what I say? He also constantly pressures me for sex, and I give in to him even though it means nothing to me. My pastor suggested to me that I should give my husband sex for 2 weeks straight and "pretend" that it means the world to me. He said that would soften him up and make him easier to live with. I just cannot do it. It feels bad enough when he demands it, but to voluntarily give in and then try to pretend that it means something to me is beyond my willingness. Is that wrong to feel that way? Of course not. Feelings are not "right" or "wrong." They simply are. Hear them. A sexual relationship is an act of union and love. Why would you expect to want to engage sexually with him in the absence of a loving relationship? When sex becomes an obligation that meets one partner's "needs," to the emotional or physical detriment of the other, the latter person is likely to feel used and unwilling. If your husband were more mindful of your feelings, he would not want to have sex with you if were unwilling. When he wants sex from me now I just dread it. I feel fine when I am not around him, but as soon as he comes home from work, or on the weekends when he is here at home I feel like there is a huge weight on my shoulders and I am so unhappy. Other than separation, I cannot think of any other way to be happy again. And I really want peace and happiness in my life. I don't know what to do.

Separation is certainly an option. Clearly he won't see what he doesn't have to see. Often it takes a "major event" for such an individual to open their eyes, such as a spouse who leaves, or an arrest because somebody heard the yelling and called 911. He didn't change, you did! As your eyes open wider, you became more and more unhappy. And you can - and should - continue to change what you think and feel, whether you remain with him or not.

You say, "How was I supposed to communicate with him whenever I tried to talk to him he just gets angry and defensive and manages to twist around what I say?" The answer is that you are powerless. There is nothing you can say to get through to him. While you are asking him to change for good reasons, you are still asking him to change. And he doesn't want to. You don't have the right to force change in him anymore than he has the right to force change in you. I think you should instead ask yourself if you can accept him as he is, or if you should consider leaving if you can't. Perhaps your own, individual therapy is a good way for you to explore that question, along with codependency self-help groups, even retreats.

You say, "I feel fine when I am not around him, but as soon as he comes home from work, or on the weekends when he is here at home I feel like there is a huge weight on my shoulders and I am so unhappy." Of course there is a huge weight on your shoulders. Luckily, you put it there. You are the one who creates your thoughts and feelings, not him. Every time he walks through the door, you slip into a post traumatic stressy reaction. This is not to imply in any way that you are doing something "wrong," but simply to point out that given your experiences with him, negativism is what you emotionally default to. Your reaction is purrrfectly normal. You choose to dread that he is back.  I know your dread does not feel like a choice, but despite the fact that you go there unconsciously, you still (choose) to go there. Why do I say "Luckily?" Because since it is your thought/feeling, you can change it! Why depend on him to remove it when He can help you do that? :D

You can work on your reactions to him in counseling. The ideal is for you to learn to be so disengaged that you simply don't care much anymore because you no longer feel the need to pacify him, please him, have sex with him, etc. This is not easy to do, but embarking on this path will bring you many healing emotional rewards that you can take with you anywhere you go. There are lots of stops between here and Nirvana that you may call home, but I certainly advise embarking on the trip!

So, you see, there is no easy answer. Are you right to feel dread when he comes home or approaches you for sex? Of course! Why wouldn't you if you know you are going to make yourself endure whatever you think it is you have to do. But what if you felt no obligation to endure anything? Don't you think his yelling and demands would eventually taper once he realizes they no longer get a rise out of you and no longer get him what he wants? Would you ever have a partner if you changed and he didn't change? Of course not, unless he changed. Would he change if you did? Who knows.

On the other hand, you may choose to separate, and who could blame you? Maybe he'll be upset enough to get help. Maybe not. Nevertheless, you have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You certainly will feel lighter and relieved once you're out. But you will also have the issues associated with divorce/separation such as diminished finances, family/kid issues, etc. And you will still need to deal with your post traumatic stressy reactions to situations that even mildly remind you of your abuse.

So, why not take your time in making this important decision, and start on the path to emotional freedom while you're at it. Consider everything and shore up your emotional, financial, separation strategy, legal, etc. issues during this time so that if you do leave, you are prepared.

So, do get yourself some individual counseling and find a group like Codependent's Anonymous, get some legal advice, etc. etc. And pick up this wonderful little book that will help just about any Christian with forgiveness, The Shack . The problem with anger, no matter how well justified (and yours certainly is!), is that it does nothing to affect your target, it only burdens your own heart and hurts you. Forgive yourself too, as God does, for feeling as you do. Your thoughts and feelings are a natural reaction to the situation you are in. You CAN deal with this.

God bless you and yours, Dr. Irene

Tuesday June 23, 2009
12:57 AM

I have been married for 10 years and we have 5 kids; the oldest from a previous relationship. Ever since the beginning of our marriage, my husband has never taken accountability for his actions within the marriage and has always over-reacted to even the most basic of issues.

Six months ago, I asked him to go see a counselor, which he did and then we started going together. At that time, we both started taking antidepressants. Since then, he doesn't allow me to bring up our therapy sessions, he doesn't believe me when I tell him things my dr. or individual therapist has said. He says I've abandoned the family (because I told him that if things don't change, I can't stay married) and uses that against me by withholding info concerning our kids and the functioning of the house and family. He calls the police or the distress line when I get upset about something that he's done. When I tell him my feelings, he dismisses them and says all I want is control. When we fight and I want to take the kids away from the house, he either blocks the driveway with his vehicle so I can't leave or he says he's going to call social services on me and charge me with kidnapping.

He has also taken my hard drive and all the paperwork from my van (taxes, medical receipts, bills, therapy notes) saying that I must be hiding something and he's going to find out what it is. Communication with him has been the following: intimidating, controlling, confusing, interrupting, echoing, changing the subject to avoid answering questions. He tape records our conversations only on his terms. He threatens to close our joint bank account and change his will but then denies ever saying that. He refuses to discuss anything and says all I want to do is fight. We haven't resolved one conflict ever in our marriage. He is emotionally unavailable to me and to the kids. Is he just emotionally immature or is he verbally abusive and what can I do?

First of all, see an attorney to understand what your legal rights and obligations are so you may plan ahead should in the event you decide to leave.

Here's the problem: the guy you married was difficult from day 1 of your marriage. He hasn't changed; your ability to tolerate his antics has. And from what you say, he's blocked any hope of changing, which unfortunately is his right, but puts you in a difficult situation. This is sad, but it is what it is.

You can't change him. You can only change yourself. Either you learn to detatch emotionally, accept what is, and make the most of your life within your marriage, or begin planning an exit strategy. I strongly suggest learning to detach even if you leave.

Ironically, changes you enact in your own life will likely lead to changes in how he handles your marriage. These changes may be for the better or for the worse. Perhaps he will wake up and get some help; perhaps not. The point is that you can't force change in him, so don't even try, but he will likely change as you do.

Do what you must to help yourself. What direction to take should be the topic of therapy discussion. Stay away from all he does to you or how he should be different. That won't help. Look at how to detach and rise above his words and actions.

I don't have enough information to provide relevant feedback regarding your husband's mental state, but his behavior is not healthy. So stop interacting with him at his level, where you take his controlling words and actions to heart, and carve out your own emotional path instead.

Ideally, first enact these changes in yourself, then decide whether to stay or go. Your attitude of freedom will accompany you wherever you go, with him or without him.

Good luck! Doc

Tuesday August 25, 2009
12:25 PM

Dear Dr. Irene, I am 40 and just opening my eyes to the fact that I have been controlling and verbally abusive after losing my girlfriend of three years. I started my relationship with her shortly after (less than a year) my divorce from the woman I was with for twenty years, who also said I was verbally abusive. I was never able to see what I was doing even though my wife and I had gone to counseling, but I see it all too clearly now and I am scared. This is good! I know it is scary, and while it doesn't feel good that is OK. You can't work on what you can't see! "Face the fear and the fear will disappear" should be something you write on your refrigerator so you are reminded whenever you open the door.

 I loved both of these women dearly and want to understand what made me behave this way so I don't hurt anyone else. I haven't been able to stop reading your site in search of answers. I am ashamed to say my behavior fits most of the checklists right down to anger when I thought her actions were not showing she "cared enough" and the panic feelings now that I realize that she really is gone. My question is this: Do I have to be a narcissist? Absolutely not! I have always felt that my many failures ( professional and personal) have been my fault , not someone else's. And when I read the narcissist's view of sex it was revolting. Sex was sacred and beautiful and made me feel connected and I never withheld it or felt it was a chore nor have I ever had the desire to cheat. There are many other aspects of the narcissist's profile that I can't identify with and some that I can. Am I being blinded by denial? More likely you're blinded by the deadly disease "Internet Self-Diagnosis-itis." Can I fit these abusive traits and behaviors so well and not be a narcissist? Yes! I have been diagnosed with depression and have been off meds when my behavior is worst, but after reading all this info I am finding it hard to pin it all on that. According to what I read, if I am a narcissist, I am doomed and incurable . Terrified, C

Dear C, Diagnosis of a personality disorder is tricky and often takes a while, and the way you write doesn't sound consistent to me with narcissism. Nevertheless, please stop with this doomed and incurable stuff. That's just not true. Anybody who truly wants to make changes in their behavior and commits to do so no matter what, will.

Abuse is about needing to control the other person, and the destructive tactics that are used to that end. People can be or appear controlling for many reasons: narcissism, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality, sociopathy to name a few. But people can also be or appear controlling because they are depressed and agitated, are OCD, or have an undiagnosed mild or not-so-mild bipolar disorder, or even just have insecurity issues they haven't yet dealt with. Etc. etc. etc.

So, stop the self-diagnosis because it is clearly sending you (more accurately: you are unwittingly sending yourself) spiraling into a depression that will only make things worse. Do yourself a favor. Go find a good clinician. Someone with an anger management specialty would be ideal, and work with them to figure out what makes you nutty and how to stop it. You can do this! Do it now!

Many regards and good wishes, Dr. Irene

Thursday August 27, 2009
09:24 PM

Dear Dr. Irene, I've been a fan of your site for many years. I need your no nonsense advice here! Hubby and I have been married for 16 years. Not all good, but getting better all the time as we get older. Here's the deal. When I met my husband, I found myself immersed into crazy-ville with his family. He is the oldest; next his brother George; next his sister Katie. Serious Jerry Springer stuff here: his whole life, him and his brother have been treated like second class citizens compared to his sister. As in, his parents didn't even celebrate him and his brother's birthdays because it wasn't an occasion for his sister.........but when her birthday would come around, we better break the bank for her! Wow! She has always been told: No one is more beautiful than her. No one is better than her. Anything she does is the right thing to do. She started having children (with losers who NEVER did anything for her or the kids) since she was 17. She is now 32. She has 3 children by 3 different men, no teeth, no money, herpes, has declared bankruptcy, had a house foreclosed upon, a car repo'd and had numerous financial judgments against her for everything from dental work to not paying rent. We are not from wealthy families and my in-laws have exhausted their money, house, 401k's to pay her way. They pay her rent, pay for her vacations, pay her bills, food, anything she wants.

My husband and I have co-signed on apartments, paid for dental work, bought her 2 cars, paid literally thousands of dollars a year paying for food, clothes, presents for her and her kids. All of which has been met with a f- you.............this is what you OWE her because you are family. She has never thanked us. She keeps asking for more. And when we have nothing more to give, she tells us to go f- ourselves. His parents support this, telling us, there is always more we could be doing for her. Literally, his parents expect us to "live our lives" for her like they do, because she has children. (We don't have kids, we are physically unable, which my mother-in-law has told me time and time again over the years doesn't make me a full human being.) Amazing... If we can't come up with more, we are the horrible ones. We are seriously expected to foot the bill for the kids, her and whatever man she's with at the time. We are supposed to pay her bills, buy her a house, keep her in a car, and thank her for the privilege.

We are never thanked, it's always, is that all? Here's the bottom line. After 16 years of supporting her and her children, my husband and I finally said, done. You know, we love the kids. And we are both working, but able to only pay OUR bills, not pay for another family of 5. It's about time! To top it off, whatever we have done for them is not acknowledged with thanks.........but, is that all? And if that's all, a resounding 'f- you!- from her and the parents. My husband's parents have now thrown down an ultimatum: if we are not going to pay her way, buy her a house and a car, pay for her, her boyfriend and her kids, all the while telling her how great she is and how proud we are of her, they no longer want to know us. We are no longer part of the family. Serious. Not exaggerating. Absolutely amazing. Talk about emotional/ financial abuse and manipulation!

His brother and his wife also have no children and are under the same standards as us............there is no reason they can't be "contributing" to her and the kids living. To which his brother and his wife are like, huh? We're barely making it ourselves and we don't' have kids either..........how does this make us responsible for another family? They are 100% correct. You guys owe his sister nothing. His sister makes no effort to better her life. She lives off welfare. His parents offered 3 times and we offered 2 times, live with us, we'll support you and your kids AND pay for you to go to school. But she wants to live the life she wants to live. I am happy for you that she didn't take you up on the offer! She doesn't want to gain a skill or education...........and she expects someone else to pay for all she wants and needs.not finished

Still, I feel guilty. Emotions should not be running your actions. Just think of what would happen every time you felt angry enough to kill somebody!  I see three kids in need. I've tried many times to talk with his sister and his mother and explain to them how we don't' have the resources to support them all, no matter how we would like to. I've offered everything from babysitting to having them live with us. Go to school. As long as you guys are going to be there to pick up the pieces, the sister will do as she pleases.  Better your life. Pay off your debts.. No matter what we offer, only lump sums of cash with no strings seem to be the ticket and if we can't come up with that, we are failing the entire family. Well, that's only if you buy into the mindset of the parents and the sister. Seems your husband's other brother knows better.

In the mean time, my husband and I are getting by with our own lives. My father passed away from cancer and now my mother is sick with cancer. My sister is a school teacher and her husband was hurt in a work accident 2 years ago that has led to high medical bills and him not working. We took care of my Dad and now we are taking care of my dying mother. Between my job, my bills, my immediate family, my mother, and my sister always on the brink of losing her house, I have no energy or resources to spare. Is it so bad to take care of myself, my husband and the sick and dying people in my life? Absolutely not! But still, the guilt is there: yes, this is family. Yes, these are children in need. My husband's parents basically raise his sister's children now, pay for their food, clothes, everything.................but there is still the constant pressure from them that we OWE then because they are family and his sister needs it and her kids need it. I know that she is an adult an in charge of her own life and children, but I feel for my husband, whose parents have turned their back on him because he can't turn over thousands of dollars a month to pay for another family. My overall question...........is this typical? No. Are we supposed to be taking care of all of them just because they are family? There is a difference between helping someone in a time of need to get on their feet, and perpetual support. Perpetual support, unless you can afford it and want to do it, is over the top for most people.

Is it wrong, when we don't have additional resources, to expect them to take care of themselves? Nope. I feel like I should be getting a second job sometimes and living in a box to provide for her kids. But then I am like, she had them, let her take care of them, and then I feel like I am a bad person for not doing EVERYTHING I can for her and those kids. You are a guilt-ridden individual that needs to get some help with the guilt! Isn't that the Christian thing to do? Give it your all?Am I wrong? I am a Christian, but I am not a Christian scholar. It seems to me Christianity urges individuals to take responsibility for themselves. The Bible always talks about (self) control. Your sister in law seems lacking here. It seems to me your generosity has gone over and above what would be expected of a Christian. It seems to me that you are at this point (and have been for quite some time) enabling this woman to continue living a self-centered life that does not take her children or herself, let alone God, into account. Her children are learning to rely on family handouts. Is this a good example? God gave us Free Will. She can choose her road. So can you. If you stop paying, there will be consequences. If you continue paying, there will be consequences. I don't think you are helping her by enabling her. When you care about someone more than they care about themselves, you are being codependent and allowing yourself to be manipulated emotionally by the sister and the parents. I think you need to get some help for your guilt. Emotion (guilt) should not be running your behavior. Love the person, not the behavior. I look to you for advice................ I really need some help on this and from reading posts from your site, I think I will get the no nonsense advice I need. I am not looking for a bargain or anything for free, if you have additional things to impart on me, at this point I am not looking to wheel and deal on additional input. Thank you, Susan