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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Help with perspective on emotional abuse

20 replies

Blistory · 20/10/2012 13:40

Feel sick. Have just found out that my younger sister attacked her partner last night and caused facial injuries. My parents went round this morning (visit for another reason) and have taken his side. He has reassured them that he loves her and won't be reporting her and my parents have undertaken to get her professional help. I have just had a horrible argument with my mother where IVe pointed out that he has been emotionally abusing her for years and that she has been driven to this. I am NOT excusing her violence but he stood there, took the abuse, made no attempt to stop her or walk away and is now playing the good guy card and using this instance to show how reasonable he is for putting up with her.

Background: she works full time, looks after the house, organises the child care, manages the finances. He works shifts in a poorly paid career but it's what he loves so won't consider changing to a better paid or more family suited role. His money is his money, she doesn't see a penny of it. She is apparently a domestic nazi, a nag, an unfit mother, a psycho, domineering. He won't marry her until she proves herself. She gets no affection or support but has apparently brought that on herself because she's difficult.

The damage he has done to her confidence is immense and she has finally snapped. She's now so horrified by her behaviour that she's getting help and thinks it's good that he's supporting her. My parents are so ashamed of her that they're almost grateful to him. Not their fault as they haven't been told the extent of his behaviour. I've pointed out that everytime she cuts herself, he's holding the knife even if not physically present.

Am I being too blind to her role in this ? How on earth do I help ? I want to do him serious damage.

OP posts:
ecclesvet · 20/10/2012 13:55

No excuse for physical abuse, imo. No excuse for emotional abuse either.

TotoroOnTheCatBus · 20/10/2012 15:59

If the situation were reversed, your "brother" would get no sympathy so I am afraid I can't give it here. Your sister's children are who I am feeling awful for at the moment, they have endured watching their mother be emotionally abused and then watched their father be physically abused. . If your sister is going to be getting counseling it may actually do some good and if it can improve her self esteem she may choose to leave her boyfriend who in fairness does sound like a total arse hole.

Blistory · 20/10/2012 17:04

The children are fine and didn't witness it. They will be damaged if this relationship continues. She is aware of that and has that guilt to deal with as well. My concern is that her guilt over the assault is now overriding any ability to deal with the emotional abuse and that he will forever be the victim.

The dv is an issue but is no worse than the ten years of shit she's had. I'd like to be able to point her in the direction of sympathetic counselling - she knows she was wrong to hit him but I don't think it helps if everything is about a one off instance of her being wrong instead of the inherent issues within the relationship itself. I just don't know where to suggest she goes to get the help and support she needs. Rightly or wrongly my focus is her and the children.

OP posts:
LittleWhiteWolf · 20/10/2012 17:13

They have both done wrong. Years of emotional abuse is wrong. One instance of physical abuse is also wrong. Clearly the marriage needs to end as it is not working. IMO that is what you need to be saying to them. They can, of course, choose to ignore that advice. With any luck this will be addressed in your sisters counselling and you can encourage her to bring it up and talk frankly about what drove her to violence.

WereTricksPotter · 20/10/2012 17:14

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TessOfTheBurbervilles · 21/10/2012 15:41

While I'm not condoning the emotional abuse you say her partner has inflicted over the years, I'm afraid the "she was driven to it" excuse doesn't wash with me.

If the roles were reversed, and your sister had been the one who had been emotionally abusive and her partner had reached breaking point and snapped, would you then say "he was driven to it." Of course you wouldn't.

There is NO EXCUSE for physical violence from either gender.

Xenia · 21/10/2012 15:47

The important point is physical abuse is illegal and being nasty to someone verbally is not (or not usually) so no matter how provoked a man may be he should not hit a woman (and vice versa).

It doesn't sound as if they are very good together. Why don't they part? Is there anything worth saving?

Blistory · 21/10/2012 19:30

Nothing worth saving from what I can see. The problem is that with one act, she has negated everything bad that he has ever done to her. She now feels like she can't leave as he'll use it to gain custody, that he's now the victim and the good guy for staying with her and supporting her despite what she did. He couldn't have planned it to turn out this well if he'd tried and I feel like she's being manipulated all over again. He pushed her and pushed her knowing damn well he had her at breaking point and unfortunately, as she says, she lost her mind for a matter of minutes. She's still in shock and sick with herself when she sees the bruising on his face (she threw crockery at him).

I know I have always had double standards on this and have always believed that male on female dv is worse than female on male. Let's be clear here, he wasn't scared or in fear of his life. Throwing things around it transpires is a pretty regular occurrence for both of them but this time SHE hit the mark. I know she has to get help but I really don't want the focus to be on him and what was done to him. She needs help to get back to who she was and it needs to go deeper than this instance. Both types of abuse are equally wrong, regardless of how the legal system views them.

Thank you for the responses to date.

OP posts:
avenueone · 21/10/2012 21:57

I hope this brings things to a head for your sister. If she does open up to your parents about things you allege are happening then it may open up a path forward for her.
The counselling will certainly help her and help her deal with the situation properly.
You sounds like a great sister but she needs to ability to resolve the situation herself and this may be the turning point.
You will support her but I would emphasise to her that what she did was very wrong you can't condone it and she has to ask herself why she did it and in order to not do it again she needs to change how she feels, if he makes her feel like that she can't continue the relationship.

stinimefdar · 22/10/2012 03:45

I think people here are 'over reacting' to what is a very very complex issue. Having been goaded and provoked over many years constitutes serious domestic violence. From what has been said the man in question is extremely manipulative and self seeking convincing significant others that he is 'doing the family a favour' by staying with the women even though from what we have heard he offers no material or emotional support to his 'partner', who by his own words is 'unworthy of marriage'. But appears eminantly suitable for being the object of his violent verbal abuse and slavery to the point where he contributes nothing and actually lives off of her like a leach!

When women resort to violence it is usually triggered by years of insane emotional abuse combined with fearful mindgames that makes them feel their lives are under threat or that the piled on years of abuse have reached a peak where nothing else seems to be an option and she has lashed out, rightly or wrongly who are we to judge? Walk a mile in her shoes, comes to mind!
Her self harming behaviour also indicates someone in deep trauma and possible PTSD`, given the circumstances under which she has lived, a dangerous situation that can drive a person over the edge.Which often the partner enjoys watching the person fall apart.

The sooner your sister gets away from this vile person the better for her health, sanity and general wellbeing.

The fact that she feels remorse for her actions indicates that here is a women at her lowest ebb who has yet another invane reason to feel awful about herself.....
As a caring Sister you have already taken the first step in helping your sister to help herself....but the real answer is for her to escape and that will be tough because this man undoubtedly has a firm hold over her already and he will not give up his 'power' base that easy and let her go!

Blistory · 22/10/2012 06:54

Thank you for the different perspective *stinimefdar'. I know I'm too close to the situation to know whether my views are 'fair'. I think this may be the push she needs to obtain proper assistance - and hopefully I can get her more specialised help than just anger management which is what he's telling her she needs. It goes much deeper than that.

I think it worth repeating that I am not condoning domestic violence but simply considering the other factors that come into play in this situation hence posting here.

OP posts:
Xenia · 22/10/2012 07:20

Is he really likely to want the children Monday to Friday? If they had a choice with which parent might they live?

As she works full time and I think he does not and does shifts on low pay and is usually at home there is more chance he might get the children after divorce than her, never mind anything about violence so she might need her own psychologist report on the children and him to help her if she wants the children mostly to live with her after they part IF she wants to part at all.

I think they are unmarried. Do they have a flat or house in joint names?

TessOfTheBurbervilles · 22/10/2012 08:19

Stinimefdar - I am genuinely curious, but would you say the same if a man had "lashed out" after years of emotional abuse and mind games?

LRDtheFeministDragon · 22/10/2012 11:10

I honestly can't feel that what she did negates what he did. That may be me being sexist, ok, I understand that. But FWIW I cannot feel that, and I feel she needs and deserves help to get out of what is obviously an awful marriage. So I think you are right to be pushing her to get proper help. Seems to me she could take this either of two ways: she can bury her head in the sand and insist she's done something awful, which is effectively another way of saying the same old thing that she can't do anything. Or she can get help. That should involve coming to terms with the fact she did something unequiovocally wrong, but it should also show her practically how to get the hell away from him.

AbigailAdams · 22/10/2012 12:31

I think that she should ring women's aid or another DV organisation as they will be used to this situation. Physical violence is never good especially with children involved as there is always a chance that they could see/hear something and if she lost it that much, well she is in a relationship she needs to get out of, quickly. I would imagine Women's Aid and the like are used to these situations where the abused has finally snapped after years of abuse. As you rightly pointed out, the power dynamic has always been and still is with him. She didn't hit to control him, frighten him or abuse him, she hit him out of frustration after suffering years of abuse herself.

He probably feels he has got her where he wants her and what is worrying now is his abuse could escalate. So it is quite a crucial moment. She really needs to speak to someone who understands DV situations.

Another thing she could do for herself is to keep a log of every time he is verbally abusive, gaslights, lets her down at the last minute etc so she can see how often it is actually happening because it is probably happening more often than she thinks. It will also help if she gets counselling/speaks to a DV organisation and ultimately solicitors (hopefully).

Like Xenia, I also doubt that when push comes to shove he would want custody of the children as these types of men generally use it as a threat to keep their partners in line. However I can also understand her concerns on that front and would recommend a solicitor.

MoChan · 23/10/2012 11:14

I don't think that one can underestimate what sustained emotional abuse does to you. I think people who imply she is the one in the wrong, or that she is just as bad as him, don't really have a grasp on what emotional abuse can do to you. It sends you mad. You respond irrationally. I see their need to not condone physical violence, I completely understand it, but sorry, I do think people can be driven to it.

I think physical violence is bad, yes, and I cannot condone it. But like I said, emotional abuse can make you lose your mind, go irrational. And I would say this if the gender situation were reversed. I don't think we should accept violence of any kind. But tour sister is a victim, and it sounds like this is the act of someone at the end of her tether.

I was emotionally and verbally abused for years. I am a non-violent person, a non-angry person, I despair at violence, I can't even eat meat because of the violence it represents. But during my time with this abuser, there were moments when I felt so trapped, so insane, so maddened by the constant sense that I was useless, pathetic, pointless, disgusting, worthy of contempt, by his sniggering, lip-curling mockery and despicable, loathsome words, that I wanted to do violence. I did it to myself, to my walls, to the furniture. I managed to avoid doing it to him. But I think I probably came close. It's a madness, a mania.

And while, like I said, one can't condone it, one ought to be able to understand it and make allowances for it if she's in this situation.

If you can, keep talking to her. It's hard to hear the truth when you are in that situation, but perhaps it will make a difference. Ultimately she has to make the decision to leave herself.

Sorry this isn't more helpful.

trebleclef · 15/11/2012 14:51

Really good self-help book on Kindle about this - "Get out of control - how to leave a control-freak and take back your power". Straight in your face girl talk from women who have been through it, and forget trying to fix the man's behaviours like the counsellors do. The bit about Picking at the Scab is so so true.

StewieGriffinsMom · 15/11/2012 17:01

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TeiTetua · 15/11/2012 18:04

If someone who isn't normally violent hurts their partner, it can be a sign that something is desperately wrong, rather than a sign that they're really abusive. But (assuming nobody was badly hurt and there is some serious remorse) it has to be genuinely isolated, and it has to lead to a reassessment of what's wrong with the relationship, with a plan to change things so there's some outlet for feelings before it comes to violence. Is that going to happen? If there's no resolution, I'd say better expect a breakup.

FastidiaBlueberry · 16/11/2012 20:36

You know what?

Sometimes in this kind of situation, the next act of physical violence comes from the man who has done the emotional abusing and now has that one act of physical violence on record to provide a smokescreen.

Your sister really needs to tackle this properly because she's actually more in danger now of being physically attacked by this guy, than she was before.

Apart from all the other issues.

You aren't just being biased or sexist, your instincts are right. DV is about power and control - and your sister is exercising neither, is she?

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