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Recognizing The Signs Of Abuse


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Psychologist David Richo defines love in terms of five A’s: appreciation, affection, attentiveness (listening), acceptance and allowing (as in allowing others the freedom to fulfill their own dreams). Love is the opposite of control. In a loving relationship, there is no attempt to control the other. Unfortunately, many people get little or none of these A’s. Selfish, narcissistic people want all the A’s for themselves. They see relationships in terms of power, which is why any irritation or difference of opinion can turn into a major explosion.

Example #1: When Shoshana served Shmuel his lunch, he angrily accused her of using an old cucumber in the salad. Thankfully, she was able to rescue the peelings from the garbage can and show him that she had used the cucumbers that he, himself, had bought the day before at the market. Nevertheless, he pushed away the salad and grumpily ate the rest of the meal in angry silence.

Example #2: On his way home from work, David stopped by the home of his elderly parents to check in on them. He does so surreptitiously, as his jealous wife has forbidden him from seeing them without her permission. However, when he arrives home a few minutes late, she suspects something and angrily berates him for going behind her back and not putting her first in his life.

Who are these grouchy, angry people who feel no shame when they hurt others and look for excuses to humiliate and attack? Their behavior is the result of a certain mind-set or “narrative” which goes like this:

It’s my right to hurt people if I feel irritated or offended. Normal people are also irritated by poor drivers, incompetent clerks and inconsiderate family members, but they look for solutions. In contrast, abusers take everything personally, seeing these acts as deliberate, malicious attempts to hurt them. This belief is their justification for hurting back.

No matter how I act, I am basically a good, even saintly person. Abusers see themselves in a positive light because of whatever acts of goodness they do perform. For example, if they daven regularly, get to work on time, give charity or are devoted to various community organizations, they think that this means that the “total picture” is positive and cancel the few minutes (or hours) of nastiness, no matter how terrifying their behavior might be.

People are my personal property. A school principal may demand that teachers stay extra hours without pay or return to work within a few weeks of giving birth or even that they work from their hospital bed after an operation. In the beginning of a romantic relationship, one might feel flattered when the other person calls twenty times a day to check on one’s whereabouts. Thinking that this intense interest is a sign of love, one does not always realize that a trap is being laid which will stifle freedom and autonomy.

Force is the solution to problems. They may slam doors, bang their fist on the table, scream angrily or throw things when irritated. The way to get people to be more obedient, religious or ambitious, they believe, is always through force.

I must be dominant. Abusers will complain about trivialities simply to assert dominance. This is why it is useless for advisors to tell victims, “Just respect him/her more.” There is no way to know ahead of time what will be considered offensive, since any innocent act can ignite a rage.

Someone else is always to blame. Healthy people also fail at times, but they take responsibility and learn from their mistakes. In contrast, abusers blame others if they can’t find a receipt, get sick, are fired from a job or are addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling or the Internet. They are never to blame.

No one is innocent. They see people as purposely being stupid, crazy and incompetent, which then justifies their attacks.

Respect means meeting all my needs. If you don’t fulfill my expectations, I have the right to hurt, betray and abandon you. Abusers are easily offended and very touchy about their “honor.” Since they define respect in terms of obedience, they seek proof of respect by making demands which others find repulsive, uncomfortable, immoral or even illegal. A request might begin with, “If you really love/respect me, then you will….” This can involve giving up fulfilling activities and caring friends, working extra hours for no pay or getting up at 4 a.m. to prepare a fresh meal.

Many use religion to coerce others to adopt chumros or dress provocatively, citing isha k’shera or kibud horim to gain control. They do not request, they command, e.g., “I forbid you from talking to your sister.” Any independent opinion is seen as disobedience, justifying violence to regain their “respect.”

I want to know all about you, but keep my own life secret. Those who live with abusers may not know where their money comes from, where they are at night and other important information.

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