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Is it possible to make someone understand that they are the victim of abuse, or do they have to work it out for themself?

(40 Posts)
lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 12:47:19

My beautiful, generous, intelligent and brave sister has spent the last ten years being worn down by a controlling and emotionally abusive man.

It seems like everyone can see it, other than her.

She spends her life making excuses for his appalling behavior.

Over the years, her close friends have drifted away. I'm pretty sure he has convinced her that members of the family who have questioned his behavior are labeled as either interfering/controlling or 'mad'.

She hears: 'it's none of your business' 'you can't make me do anything' 'you're mad' 'you're thick' a lot, and she believes it.

He brings no money into the house (he's not working, but is 'out' all day - she doesn't know where). He takes no responsibility for any child care.

There is loads more to the story- this is the bare bones.

Occasionally, it'll come to a head - he'll do something truly awful and she'll vent to me or our mum. Then, within a few days, he will have got into her head again - given her some ridiculous excuse or convinced her that it was her fault. She'll then take back everything she has said and respond to our point of view using words that are, quite literally, out of his mouth.

Her ds has recently started calling her 'stupid woman' when she tells him off. He has just been 4.

Does anyone with experience of this type of situation have any advice please?

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Tue 28-Jun-11 13:01:24

I've never been in the position of pointing out to someone that they are being abused, except on Mumsnet threads. Those seem to be quite successful, although even there it helps to start by asking questions to the abused woman and seeing if she hears anything in her own answers that gives her pause.

In my own experience, I woke up to the abusiveness of my stbxh over a period of a year, through a succession of incidents that added up. Most happened outside my home, and I think it helped to be outside of my normal environment for the "normalisation" charm to be temporarily broken. So see if you can engineer time away from her H for your sister?

The other thing that helped me wake up was when I realised I had to protect my (putative; I had a MMC) DC: I wasn't willing to save myself from abuse, but could not tolerate the idea of DC being abused, or witnessing me being abused and learning from it.

So maybe start a line of questioning with your sister about her son's attitudes to her, where he picked that up, how he is going to understand it is unacceptable if he sees it from his role models, etc. This is just a thought, not a prescription!

All the best to you and your sister.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Tue 28-Jun-11 13:09:09

Just wanted to add: My first moment of realisation came on a weekend self-defense course. I went there smugly married and worried only about strangers leaping out from the bushes at me at night. It was a very smart course that also dealt with verbal violence as well as physical violence. I realised after a couple hours there that the only violence I had ever encountered was in my own home, from my own husband. Awful, awful moment. I've been battling depression since then.

But where I'm going with this is: maybe see if you can treat your sister to an assertiveness, or verbal or physical defense course, maybe dressing it up as a solution for her if she has problems at work or whatever.

Or any other situation you think could help the penny drop for her (time with a respectful couple, for example).

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 13:18:20

Thank you for your reply. I think you're right, time away from him would help. She's really isolated in her situation, and I think to a large extent this has been engineered by him.

Her ds was unable to come to my dd's birthaday party because is dad was off doing something else. She had an absolutely ridiculous reason why they couldn't come without him.

If we speak on the phone and her dh is in, she talks in a kind of half-whisper - her voice sounds different (if that makes any sense). She has no email account of her own - if I want to email her, I have to send it to his address. The reason given for this is 'well, I'm rubbish with technology' - this is bollocks, she wouldn't have the job she does if it were true.

It is very hard to gauge whether she recognises her ds's behavior is to do with what he's witnessed at home - and if she even understands that it is wrong.

It's all so worrying.

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 13:23:11

Sorry - just read that second post.

Some sort of evening class might be a good idea - even if it wasn't self defence... just an opportunity to mix with some other people (women in normal relationships).

Your penny-dropping moment sounds like it was really tough. What did you do? Did you act straight away?

WriterofDreams Tue 28-Jun-11 13:39:52

What a sad situation sad Unfortunately I do think the person needs to recognise for themselves that they're being abused. It's very hard to look on and see it happening but if you push too hard the danger is she will feel compelled to cut you off or worse still, she will be forced to by her dick of a husband. I would imagine her self esteem is at rock bottom and that's why she can't see that she doesn't deserve to be treated that way. The only thing you can do for the time being is to be there for her as much as you can and to let her know as subtly as possible that if she ever did leave her husband that you would do everything you could to help her.

When you're stuck in a situation like that it can seem hard enough to just keep going, never mind to start turning everything upside down. Have you ever tried to challenge her situation? What did she say?

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Tue 28-Jun-11 13:50:50

Your penny-dropping moment sounds like it was really tough. What did you do? Did you act straight away?

No, it took me a year to dismantle the denial completely. Sorry if that sounds like way too long to you when you think of your sister!

Another thing I wanted to say, though, is that it is a good thing for a victim of abuse to escape the abusive situation on her own terms, rather than to be saved. It is really, really difficult and frightening to do, all the more so when you are afraid and worn down, but if somebody had swooped in saved me I would still be a helpless victim, iyswim.

Not that I acted alone, of course, but I was the one who saw the light, made my own decision, and then called upon the help of friends, family, police, psychiatrists, GPs, victim support units, etc. Your sister will need to make her own decisions too. Be one of the people she can rely on for help when she needs it.

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 13:59:01

That's a massive concern - pushing too hard and being cut off altogether.

On the few occasions when he's done really bad stuff and she's opened up about what goes on at home, she is able to 'justify' everything. I think she has a tendency to interpret questions about her relationship as personal attacks iyswim - almost like it is her behavior rather than his that is being questioned.

She believes everything he says (or seems to), and he clearly lies about a lot of stuff.

One of his most worrying stories is about his exw, who was apparently 'crazy' and cheating on him. He claims that he has no contact at all from his two dcs from the previous marriage because he was unable to provide the maintainance payments she was demanding. She apparently made sure that the divorce agreement was that he lost the right to contact them. He wants to see them 'but isn't allowed'. Dsis has never even seen a photo of them. I don't know anything about divorce law, but this can't possibly be true, can it?

The 'loss' of his first wife & dcs is often cited by dsis as a reason for his controlling behavior. He is portrayed as a victim.

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 14:03:53

IMAMPN: such a brilliant post. Thank you.

I suppose I need to find a way of giving her a sign that I'm there for her, and remind her that from time to time.

It's gone on so long already - It is just so horrible to consider that it could continue for years.

HerHissyness Tue 28-Jun-11 14:22:37

I don't know what to say, but if not for the age of DS, you could have been my sister.

But my sister gave up, long long ago.

I think if you got her to yours for a while, you could talk to her. Are you married? could she see how a normal relationship operates at close quarters?

I'm not sure if anything anyone would have said in the beginning would have been listened to if I'm honest.

Latterly I was looking for life-lines, but (as DSis told me only the other week) "we just stopped replying to your texts, it was too much for us, so we ignored them."

I'm out now, no RL support, but that's OK, I'm going to go to groups and do the freedom programme, and I'll get there.

If you can introduce a small thought into your sister's head that no-one lives as she does, that her DS calling her stupid is really wrong and you know he's picked it up from her H, and that she needs help/support. The main thing is to stress that none of it is ever, was ever, nor will ever be her fault, that this is H choosing to treat her like this.

It'll take time, but if you can commit to being in for the long haul, to tell her that no matter what time of day or night, that she has you to rely 100% on for help, that you will come and get her, she can turn up unannounced anytime if she needs help.

I think you do have to come to your own realisation. I wished I had had mine earlier. What triggers it? who knows?!

I wonder, if you could get her to your place for a week, if you could let her see a copy of Why Does He Do That?

It might work.

WibblyBibble Tue 28-Jun-11 14:25:08

The only reason a court would order him to have no contact with his children from previous relationship is if he'd been abusive/neglectful/violent towards them. Otherwise contact is always deemed in the child's best interest, which is what courts base their decision on- there is no way he'd be banned from contacting them just because he couldn't pay maintenance or because his wife asked that (if anything, she'd be likely to lose residence for trying to stop contact). So yes, he's most likely lying about that too (unless it was in another country- struggling to think which that would be possible in, though), to cover up a violent history.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Tue 28-Jun-11 14:31:06

You sound like you really want to help. Would WA or a DV organisation near you offer advice to the family of those in abusive relationships? (I am not in the UK, but this is what my local DV organisation also does).

Some books on abuse also contain chapters for the family members who feel like helpless onlookers. Maybe there will be some good ideas or solace there for you.

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 14:47:04

Wibbly: Yes, that's what I've been thinking. He's either lying about wanting to maintain contact with them, or what you said... It's too horrible to think about. Do you know much about this sort of thing... I was wondering if there had been any issues in his prev marriage that may have come to the attention of ss, would he still be on the radar?

HerHissyness: I would dearly love to have her come and stay at with us. My dh is wonderful. He treats me and the dcs with complete respect and we have a happy and equal relationship. Similarly, we were bought up with a loving an 'normal' relationship as a role model. Our parents are still happily married. Our parents are a bit 'alternative' iyswim, and my DH is a shy and gentle man (whilst I am quite 'outspoken' blush. I think she and her DH view us all as exceptions to the norm. I think they have both convinced themselves that behind closed doors, everyone is like them.

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 14:54:06

Dsis is adamant that he has never been physically violent towards her (mum asked her last time the shit hit the fan). Because he's not bashing her, she cannot seem to recognise his behavior as abusive.

Tbh, I think probably the thing which would bring on the 'penny-drop' moment would be if she learned the real story behind his first marriage - because there obviously is something he is hiding. I don't know how likely that is to happen is though.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Tue 28-Jun-11 15:55:40

You mention your sister having a job, does she go out to work? Could you meet her for lunch or a coffee when she is out of the home environment. I think your approach has to be very subtle and gentle, perhaps just talk about things that happen in your household and allow her to make her comparisons in her head e.g. DD was rude to me yesterday and DH told her we must always speak nicely to mummy. etc.

There is no point in telling her that her relationship is abusive if she is not already considering that herself. Those people who post on here are already questioning whether or not what they are experiencing is normal even if they haven't faced up to the full reality of their situation. I don't get the sense that your sister is at that stage.

HerHissyness Tue 28-Jun-11 15:59:07

I was wondering that, about the job, emailing her there, contacting her there. could you do that lovelybertha?

piprabbit Tue 28-Jun-11 16:04:05

Perhaps you could find a local positive parenting course for your sister. Try the local Children's Centre. You could use concerns about wanting nip her DSs attitude in the bud, as the basis for suggesting the courses.

The positive parenting courses I've been on, talk a lot about respect and self-esteem, about parents needing to be able to be role models for respectful behaviour and having their own self-esteem. It would probably also talk about appropriate communication, listening and so on.

The content may give your sister pause for thought, and at least boost her confidence when dealing with DS.

Trestired Tue 28-Jun-11 16:05:39

People tried to talk to me and express their concerns about my relationship. I can't say for everyone, but I wish that someone would have said to me, 'I'm not saying anythig to you, and I am not judging you but please look up a definition of domestic violence/abuse'.

Domestic abuse doesn't look like I thought it would, and if someone had have said this to me, I might not have spent months and months and months thinking that I was the problem. Of course I might have told them to 'fck off', but if someone used that term it would have lingered in the back of my mind.

I realised ages ago that I was basically being abused, and I'm not out of the relationship but I have a much better understanding of what is going on. A start.

piprabbit Tue 28-Jun-11 16:06:07

PS. as parenting courses also tend to have a lot of chat and sharing of experiences between the parents (only as much as each individual is comfortable with), it may well give your sister a feel for how other families really work.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Tue 28-Jun-11 16:12:50

My understanding of parenting courses is that they contain a lot of the same philosophy and techniques as assertiveness courses and verbal defense courses, so that sounds like a good place to learn more about what communication should and shouldn't look like.

LaWeasel Tue 28-Jun-11 16:15:05

I don't know.

My sister and I were treated increasingly badly as children. She is older than me, and basically the only reason I ate meals and learnt to socialise/wash etc. Now she is an a realtionship with a guy who doesn't seem to have any respect for her. There is no violence afaik, but he puts her down in public and can be generally quite vile.

She won't accept that she was being abused during our childhood (despite the fact that she was hit and called horrible names), and until she does I don't think she will be able to realise that her boyfriend isn't exactly loving and cherishing her either.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Tue 28-Jun-11 16:32:12

LaWeasel: verbal and emotional violence, such as constant put-downs, is violence.

lovelybertha Tue 28-Jun-11 17:07:46

Chaz - you're right a coffee or some lunch out would be the right place for a conversation. Outside both our home environments - neutral territory. I think she'd be less likely to feel like I was being competitive or drawing comparisons between our home-lives. After all, we are sisters and whatever the circumstances, I think there is always likely to be a tiny bit of underlying 'competition'.

As for the parenting group suggestions... It would seem like a good idea. However, all dn's life, HVs have been a big deal for dsis. They seemed to visit a lot more than usual - dsis would mention 'oh, HV said xyz...' and when questioned will say 'you know, at ds's 2 1/2 year check' or whatever. Until dn was about 18mths, they'd have a visit at least every couple of months. Someone had definitely decided that dn needed to have an eye kept on him, and dsis became really touchy about it. Would reel off all these milestones he'd been reaching - almost like she was feeling the need to prove she was being a good parent. Of course she didn't need to, and we never did anything to make her think she might need to. It's what makes me think that her dh may have been on the radar.

piranhamorgana Tue 28-Jun-11 17:36:28

LaWeasel - I woke up to both issues at once,realising xp was abusing me forced me to acknowledge that my parents had been and were still behaving abusively towards me.
That was where the "recognition" feeling came from.The one that feels like "true love".

lovelybertha - your sister probably feels deeply loyal and loving towards this man.That is the hook.It has its' roots in childhood experience - attachment and expectations .The hardest part of waking up for me was the letting go of this belief in soul-mates bound together by terrible secrets from the past.It really blinded me to the grim reality of his abuse and my misery.
I really identify with another thread on here about wasted years and how on earth I put up.But I did,just as your sister is doing now.Oh,and it was MN that really taught me how verbal and emotional abuse is violence - as Puppy says.

Maybe send dsis a link to MN?

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Tue 28-Jun-11 17:40:27

If DN is 4 then I assume he is starting school in Sept (if you are in England). Maybe your sister could get to meet some other parents through the school and start to get a feel for other people's family lives. I have a suspicion that she will struggle to accept playdates or birthday parties but if you can get her to attend assemblies, sports day etc as well as pick up or drop off she may start to build a few links outside the home.

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