Latest update: June 18th, 2012
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.
People who are desperate for love will see it where it does not exist, like a thirsty person in the desert who imagines a mirage of water just ahead. When love is not forthcoming, they may hope that psychiatric medication or a top-notch therapist will be able to get the person to be more loving. It is difficult to accept that some people may never learn how to love. They won’t see that an abuser’s niceness is carefully calculated to satisfy a need for dominance. Instead, they interpret these “crumbs” of niceness as signs that the person is capable of love perhaps at some distant time. In contrast to an abuser narrative, a victim narrative goes like this:
I deserve it. If I’m scorned, neglected or rejected, I must be doing something wrong. I should have known better. I should have known what would upset him/her and avoided it.
Being abused is the price one must pay to maintain a relationship. I must give up my identity and independence to make a relationship work. I am a saint for bearing abuse with stoic silence and innocent hopefulness.
I believe in the power of love. I can get anyone to love me if I just remain loving and loyal despite the abuse. It is possible to satisfy people’s needs if I can just be smart enough to figure it out. And if I don’t, it’s my fault and my failure. Something is very wrong with me. Otherwise, I’d be loved.
I need them. I’ll never make it on my own. S/he provides me with my financial security. I can’t handle the cold, cruel world on my own. I’m scared to be alone. I’ll go crazy or turn into an embittered hag.
I’m sure s/he doesn’t really mean to hurt me. Or, s/he lost control due to the effects of a difficult childhood or a psychological disturbance. If I can understand why s/he is so mean, I’ll be able to change their behavior.
Intense physical passion must be a sign of genuine love.
I am fascinated by qualities that are the opposite of my own. They are self-confident, lacking introspection, so cool and uncaring of whether they are liked or not. I’m inferior, because I am overly introspective, overly sensitive, unable to set limits and I’m a compulsive people-pleaser and approval seeker who will do anything to make people happy.
It is an exciting challenge to think that I have the power to get a cold, nasty, domineering person to become sensitive and caring. It’s not possible that some people have no need for love. There must be great sensitivity deep down there somewhere. If I keep trying, I’ll get it.
If I divorce, my children and I will be scorned by society as misfits and I will be shamed for being disloyal to the institution of marriage.
Since abusers are pathological liars, I will lose custody of my children, since abusers will bribe the judges and claim that I am abusive or insane.
In order to cope with abuse, people with a victim mentality must identify these beliefs and do the hard work necessary to change them. They must learn to think,
No matter how imperfect I am, I do not deserve to be scorned or shamed.
I am not responsible for other people’s bad middos. It is not my job to keep adults calm and not my fault if they are irritated or angry. Abuse has nothing to do with others’ behavior. Abuse is a habit and a mind-set.
Taking abuse is not proof of love or loyalty.
I deserve appreciation, affection, attentiveness, acceptance and allowing. And if I don’t get it from others, I can give it to myself.
Dr. Adahan is available for consultations at 718-705-8404 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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