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HOW TO SURVIVE ABUSE by Dr Steven Stosny

A powerful explanation of why people abuse – and what to do about it. It’s pointed towards men, who apparently perpetrate more abuse than women, and focussed on a heterosexual relationship, and, if your situation is different, you will be able to adapt.

YOU ARE NOT THE CAUSE OF HIS ANGER OR ABUSE Anger in relationships is about blame: “I feel bad, and it’s your fault”. Even when he recognises his anger, he’ll blame it on you: “You push my buttons”, or, “I might have overreacted, but I’m human, and look what you did!” Angry and controlling husbands are very

anxious by temperament. From the time they were young children, they’ve had a more or less constant sense of dread that things will go badly and they will fail to cope. So they try to control their environment to avoid that terrible feeling of failure and inadequacy. But the cause of their anxiety is with them; not in their environment. The sole purpose of your husband’s anger

and abusive behaviour is to defend himself from feeling like a failure, especially as a: • Protector • Provider • Lover • Parent In truth, most men feel inadequate about

relationships. We learn to feel adequate by providing what all relationships require: support and compassion.

THE SILENT ABUSER Not all emotional abuse takes the form of shouting or criticism. More common forms are ‘stonewalling’ and ‘disengaging’. The man who stonewalls does not overtly put you down. Nevertheless, he punishes you for disagreeing with him by refusing to even think about your perspective. The disengaging husband says, “Do

whatever you want, just leave me alone”. He is often a workaholic, couch potato, womaniser, or obsessive about sports or some other activity. He tries to deal with his inadequacy about relationships by just not trying. Both stonewalling and disengaging tactics

can make you feel: • Unseen and unheard in your marriage • Unattractive • Like you don’t count • Like a single parent

20 NOVEMBER 2014

WHAT ALL FORMS OF ABUSE HAVE IN COMMON Whether overt or silent, all forms of abuse are failures of compassion; he stops caring about how you feel. Compassion is the lifeblood of marriage and failure of compassion is the heart disease. It actually would be less hurtful if your husband never cared about how you felt, but, when you were falling in love, he cared a great deal. So now it feels like betrayal when he doesn’t care or try to understand. It feels like he’s not the person you married. Unlike love, which masks the differences

between people, compassion makes us sensitive to the individual strengths and vulnerabilities of other people. It lets us appreciate our differences. Love without the sensitivity of compassion is: • Rejecting (who you really are as a person) • Possessive • Controlling • Dangerous Harmful adaptations to anger and abuse The most insidious aspect of abuse is not

the obvious nervous reactions to shouting, name-calling, criticism or other demeaning behaviour. It’s the adaptations you make to try to prevent those painful episodes. Many women engage in constant self-editing and

self-criticism to keep from ‘pushing his buttons’. Emotionally abused women can second guess themselves so much that they can lose themselves in a deep hole.

NO ONE ESCAPES THE EFFECTS OF ABUSE It is not only the spouse, but everyone in a family, that is affected by emotional abuse. Everyone in an abusive family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy; that is to say, they lose their ability to decide their own thoughts, feelings and behaviour. At least half of victims, abusers and children in abusive families suffer from depression and/or anxiety levels that interfere with normal functioning in the world. In my experience most victims, abusers and children lack genuine self-esteem. Emotional abuse is usually more

psychologically damaging than physical abuse and witnessing abuse makes a child ten times more likely to become either an abuser or a victim of abuse. As adults, they are at increased risk of alcoholism, criminality, mental health problems and poverty. Symptoms of children in abusive families

include one or more of the following: depression (looks like chronic boredom), anxiety, school problems, aggressiveness,

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