Below is a chapter profiling male abuser types from Lundy Bancroft, a renowned expert on abusive and controlling men.
In case you wonder, Hyde was a water torturer without a doubt
“KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER”
“• Tremendous variation exists among abusive styles. Your abusive partner may be of a type I haven’t encountered yet, but that doesn’t make him any less real. Many men are mixtures of different aspects.”
“• An abuser may change so much from day to day that he couldn’t belong to any type. This style of abuser is so unpredictable that his partner can never make sense out of what she is living with.”
“• An abuser of any type can have days when he turns loving, attentive, and thoughtful. At these times, you may feel that his problem has finally gone away and that the relationship will return to its rosy beginning. However, abuse always comes back eventually unless the abuser has dealt with his abusiveness.”
Mr. Right considers himself the ultimate authority on every subject under the sun; you might call him Mr. Always Right. He speaks with absolute certainty, brushing your opinions aside like annoying gnats. He seems to see the world as a huge classroom, in which he is the teacher and you are his student. He finds little of value in your thoughts or insights, so he seeks to empty out your head and fill it up with his jewels of brilliance. When Mr. Right sits in one of my groups for abusive, men, he often speaks of his partner as if she were in danger from her own idiocy and he needs to save her from herself. Mr. Right has difficulty speaking to his partner—or about her—without a ring of condescension in his voice. And in a conflict his arrogance gets even worse.
Mr. Right’s superiority is a convenient way for him to get what he wants. When he and his partner are arguing about their conflicting desires, he turns it into a clash between Right and Wrong or between Intelligence and Stupidity. He ridicules and discredits her perspective so that he can escape dealing with it. Here is a conversation I had with a Mr. Right whom I worked with in one of my abuser groups:
BANCROFT: Pat, do you have any abusive behaviors to report from this past week?
PAT: Well, I did yell at Gwen once and called her bitch. We were fighting about money, as usual.
BANCROFT: What was Gwen’s perspective in the argument?
PAT: She thinks money grows on trees.
BANCROFT: Gwen said that money grows on trees?
PAT: Well no, not just like that. But that’s how she acts.
BANCROFT: Let’s try again. What was she saying in the argument?
PAT: She thinks we have enough money to get both of the children whole new sets of clothes. But we just bought all new stuff for them only a few weeks ago. And we just don’t have it in the bank right now.
BANCROFT: Does Gwen agree that the last round of shopping was only a few weeks ago?
PAT: No, she says it was four months ago, at the beginning of the summer, which is a crock. I can remember that the summer was more than half over.
BANCROFT: So her memory is different from yours. Did she say why she thinks it was earlier?
PAT: Of course not, she’s…Well, maybe she said something about how she remembers she paid the credit card bill for those clothes while the children were still in school. But she’s wrong.
BANCROFT: Now, you said that the money simply isn’t there. Gwen obviously thinks differently. Where does she think the money should come from?
PAT: I already told you, she wants me to be a magician who can just make it appear.
BANCROFT: But she must have been making points about it. What was she saying?
PAT: Oh, I don’t know…She says we should sell our car and get a shit box, which would just end up costing us more in the long run, plus I don’t want to deal with it.
BANCROFT: What do you drive now?
PAT: A Saab.
BANCROFT: Let me guess. She would like to trade the Saab in on a reliable car that has lower monthly payments, cheaper parts, and fewer repair bills.
PAT: Yeah, that’s what I said, a shit box.
What Pat revealed in this exchange was that each time Gwen attempts to stand up for herself or put forth her views, he twists her statements to make them sound absurd. Notice how long it took me to drag out of him what Gwen’s opinions actually were. Gwen naturally came out feeling stifled by Pat, as there was nothing she could do to get her views heard and taken seriously. Part of why Pat is convinced that Gwen is stupid is that he is so exaggeratedly certain of his own wisdom and clarity. Since she continues to disagree with him, he takes that as proof of her foolishness.
When Mr. Right decides to take control of a conversation, he switches into his Voice of Truth, giving the definitive pronouncement on what is the correct answer or the proper outlook. Abuse counselors call this tactic defining reality. Over time, his tone of authority can cause his partner to doubt her own judgment and come to see herself as not very bright. I notice how often I am speaking with the intelligent-sounding partner of one of my clients, only to have her say to me: I’m not that smart. The abuser wants her to doubt her mental abilities in this way, so that he can control her better.
Besides knowing all about the world, Mr. Right is also an expert on your life and how you should live it. He has the answers to your conflicts at work, how you should spend your time, and how you should raise your children. He is especially knowledgeable about your faults, and he likes to inventory what is wrong with you, as if tearing you down were the way to improve you. He may seem to enjoy periodically straightening you out in front of other people to humiliate you, thereby establishing his unquestionable intellectual superiority. When Mr. Right’s partner refuses to defer to his sophisticated knowledge, he is likely to escalate to insulting her, calling her names, or mocking her with imitation. If he’s still not satisfied that he has brought her down low enough, he may reach for bigger guns, such as ruining evening plans, leaving places without her, or saying bad things about her to other people. If he is physically assaultive, then this is the time he may throw things, raise fists, or attack violently. In short, Mr. Right finds some way to ensure that his partner regrets her insistence on having her own mind.
Mr. Right in some respects is a less violent and frightening version of the Drill Sergeant (see p. 86), but Mr. Right’s control tends to be especially focused on telling his partner how to think. His partner feels suffocated by his control, as if he were watching her every move under a microscope.
Mr. Right tries to sanitize his bullying by telling me, I have strong opinions or I like debating ideas. This is like a bank robber saying, I’m interested in financial issues. Mr. Right isn’t interested in debating ideas; he wants to impose his own.
The central attitudes driving Mr. Right are:
• You should be in awe of my intelligence and should look up to me intellectually. I know better than you do, even about what’s good for you.
• Your opinions aren’t worth listening to carefully or taking seriously.
• The fact that you sometimes disagree with me shows how sloppy your thinking is.
• If you would just accept that I know what’s right, our relationship would go much better. Your own life would go better, too.
• When you disagree with me about something, no matter how respectfully or meekly, that’s mistreatment of me.
• If I put you down for long enough, some day you’ll see
Mr. Sensitive appears to be the diametric opposite of the Drill Sergeant. He is soft-spoken, gentle, and supportive—when he isn’t being abusive. He loves the language of feelings, openly sharing his insecurities, his fears, and his emotional injuries. He hugs other men. He may speak out about the absurdity of war or the need for men to get in touch with their feminine side. Perhaps he attends a men’s group or goes on men’s retreats. Often he has participated extensively in therapy or twelve-step programs, or reads all the big self-help books, so he speaks the language of popular psychology and introspection. His vocabulary is sprinkled with jargon like developing closeness, working out our issues, and facing up to hard things about myself. He presents himself to women as an ally in the struggle against sex-role limitations. To some women, he seems like a dream come true.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing obvious yet. But this is exactly the problem: Mr. Sensitive wraps himself in one of the most persuasive covers a man can have. If you start to feel chronically mistreated by him, you are likely to assume that something is wrong with you, and if you complain about him to other people, they may think you must be spoiled: You have the New Age man, what more do you want?
The following dynamics are typical of a relationship with Mr. Sensitive and may help explain your feeling that something has gone awry:
1. You seem to be hurting his feelings constantly, though you aren’t sure why, and he expects your attention to be focused endlessly on his emotional injuries. If you are in a bad mood one day and say something unfair or insensitive, it won’t be enough for you to give him a sincere apology and accept responsibility. He’ll go on and on about it, expecting you to grovel as if you had treated him with profound cruelty. (Notice the twist here: This is just what an abuser accuses his partner of doing to him, when all she is really looking for is a heartfelt I’m sorry.)
2. When your feelings are hurt, on the other hand, he will insist on brushing over it quickly. He may give you a stream of pop-psychology language (Just let the feelings go through you, don’t hold on to them so much, or It’s all in the attitude you take toward life, or No one can hurt you unless you let them) to substitute for genuine support for your feelings, especially if you are upset about something he did. None of these philosophies applies when you upset him, however.
3. With the passing of time, he increasingly casts the blame on to you for anything he is dissatisfied with in his own life; your burden of guilt keeps growing.
4. He starts to exhibit a mean side that no one else ever sees and may even become threatening or intimidating.
Mr. Sensitive has the potential to turn physically frightening, as any style of abuser can, no matter how much he may preach nonviolence. After an aggressive incident, he will speak of his actions as anger rather than as abuse, as though there were no difference between the two. He blames his assaultive behavior on you or on his emotional issues, saying that his feelings were so deeply wounded that he had no other choice.
Many people reject the possibility that Mr. Sensitive could be an abuser. I ran into this disbelief one weekend when I was leading a training course on emotional recovery, as I periodically do. My workshops focus partly on the healing effects of crying and so tend to be attended by more women than men. The males who do come have included many of the most wonderful men it has been my good fortune to know, as well as a handful of the biggest manipulators. A few years ago, a participant named Deanna approached me anxiously before a workshop. She explained that an ex-partner of hers named Brad had called her a few days ahead of the workshop to tell her he was attending the same weekend. She was uncomfortable and told him that if he showed up she would leave. He promised not to bother her, though, and said he would not bring up their relationship in any way. He was coming with his new girlfriend, which eased Deanna’s worries.
I spent some time talking with Brad as the workshop was starting, without mentioning Deanna, and he seemed likeable, kind, and—what can I say?—sensitive. However, I observed within a few hours that he was in fact speaking to other people about his past with Deanna and getting them riled up about her running away from their unresolved issues. On Sunday morning, he finally provoked a scene about their relationship in front of the full workshop, which was humiliating to Deanna.
The story does not end there. I called a break, and took Brad aside. I told him that it was my understanding that he had agreed not to raise these issues and that it had become obvious to me that he had come for the weekend with the intention of doing precisely what he had promised not to. I went on to point out that he had taken Deanna’s weekend away from her and that I considered this kind of power move to be abuse, especially since it was directed at an ex-partner.
Saying the word abuse to an abusive person can be like lighting a tinderbox: When you name the unmentionable secret, he goes wild. Brad got loud, rolled his eyes at what a hysterical exaggerator he considered me to be, and adopted a victim stance, saying, I beg you to stop this. Then came the most important part: He said in a screeching whine, I have only put a hand on a partner once in my life, many years ago, and I just barely pushed her away from me like this—and he shoved me hard by the shoulder—after she called my mother a sick woman.
Well, why was Brad denying a history of assault (while actually admitting to one) when I hadn’t said anything about violence? The possibility that he might be physically abusive had never occurred to me before, but it certainly did now. The signs were all there: bullying Deanna that weekend and then insisting it was for her own good; feeling entitled to ignore an important agreement; blaming his earlier girlfriend for his assault of her and minimizing it—the strength of the shove he gave me would have shaken up most women. I now doubted that the assaultive incident he had described was his only occasion of physically intimidating a woman.
At this point I required Brad to leave the workshop. I then had to deal with a mini-insurrection from some of the other workshop participants, who couldn’t believe I was ejecting this gentle man who was so in touch with his feelings. He cries after all; how could he be abusive?
This gentle man style of abuser tends to be highly self-centered and demanding of emotional catering. He may not be the man who has a fit because dinner is late but rather erupts because of some way his partner failed to sacrifice her own needs or interests to keep him content. He plays up how fragile he is to divert attention from the swath of destruction he leaves behind him.
The central attitudes driving Mr. Sensitive are:
• I’m against the macho men, so I couldn’t be abusive.
• As long as I use a lot of psychobabble, no one is going to believe that I am mistreating you.
• I can control you by analyzing how your mind and emotions work, and what your issues are from childhood.
• I can get inside your head whether you want me there or not.
• Nothing in the world is more important than my feelings.
• Women should be grateful to me for not being like those other men.
Rambo is aggressive with everybody, not just his partner. He gets a thrill out of the sensation of intimidating people and strives to handle all life situations by subtly or overtly creating fear. He has an exaggerated, stereotypical view of what a man is supposed to be, which goes hand in hand with seeing women as delicate, inferior, and in need of protection. Rambo often comes from a home or neighborhood where he was the target of violence himself and learned that the only way to feel safe is to be stronger, tougher, and less caring than everybody else. He has little patience for weakness, fragility, or indecision. Often he has a criminal record for violence, theft, drunk driving, or drug dealing.
Early in a relationship, Rambo is likely to be loving and kind to his partner, like most abusers. Because he lacks fear—or pretends to—he can make a woman feel safe and protected. This style of abuser can therefore be particularly appealing to a woman who comes from a violent home herself or to one who is in the process of leaving another abusive relationship. Rambo can make you feel as though his aggressiveness would never be directed toward you, because he loves you; he wishes to look after your safety as if you were his daughter. He enjoys the role of protector, feeling like a gallant knight. However, he lacks respect for women, and this disrespect, combined with his general violent tendencies, means that it is only a matter of time before he will be the one you need protection from.
Many highly masculine men are not Rambo. The notion that all macho men are likely to abuse women is based largely on class and ethnic prejudices, the same misconceptions that allow Mr. Sensitive or Mr. Right to skate by undetected. There are plenty of tough guys out there who are friendly to everyone and avoid aggressive interactions whenever possible but enjoy lifting weights, playing rough sports, hunting, and other aspects of stereotypical masculinity. They may be good fighters, but only in self-defense. It isn’t macho that women need to watch out for. The danger signs are violence and intimidation toward anyone, and disrespect and superiority toward women.
Sometimes Rambo is a psychopath or sociopath, which can make him all the more emotionally abusive and in some cases physically abusive as well. Later we will take a look at psychopaths and other mentally disordered abusers.
The central attitudes driving Rambo are:
• Strength and aggressiveness are good; compassion and conflict resolution are bad.
• Anything that could be even remotely associated with homosexuality, including walking away from possible violence or showing any fear or grief, has to be avoided at any cost.
• Femaleness and femininity (which he associates with homosexuality) are inferior. Women are here to serve men and be protected by them.
• Men should never hit women, because it is unmanly to do so. However, exceptions to this rule can be made for my own partner if her behavior is bad enough. Men need to keep their women in line.
• You are a thing that belongs to me, akin to a trophy.
THE WATER TORTURER [Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?]
The Water Torturer’s style proves that anger doesn’t cause abuse. He can assault his partner psychologically without even raising his voice. He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push her over the edge. He often has a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. He uses a repertoire of aggressive conversational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision—such as openly laughing at her—mimicking her voice, and cruel, cutting remarks. Like Mr. Right, he tends to take things she has said and twist them beyond recognition to make her appear absurd, perhaps especially in front of other people. He gets to his partner through a slow but steady stream of low-level emotional assaults, and perhaps occasional shoves or other minor acts of violence that don’t generally cause visible injury but may do great psychological harm. He is relentless in his quiet derision and meanness.
The impact on a woman of all these subtle tactics is that either her blood temperature rises to a boil or she feels stupid and inferior, or some combination of the two. In an argument, she may end up yelling in frustration, leaving the room crying, or sinking into silence. The Water Torturer then says, See, you’re the abusive one, not me. You’re the one who’s yelling and refusing to talk things out rationally. I wasn’t even raising my voice. It’s impossible to reason with you.
The psychological effects of living with the Water Torturer can be severe. His tactics can be difficult to identify, so they sink in deeply. Women can find it difficult not to blame themselves for their reactions to what their partner does if they don’t even know what to call it. When someone slaps you in the face, you know you’ve been slapped. But when a woman feels psychologically assaulted, with little idea why, after an argument with The Water Torturer, she may turn her frustration inward. How do you seek support from a friend, for example, when you don’t know how to describe what is going wrong?
The Water Torturer tends to genuinely believe that there is nothing unusual about his behavior. When his partner starts to confront him with his abusiveness—which she usually does sooner or later—he looks at her as if she were crazy and says, What the hell are you talking about? I’ve never done anything to you. Friends and relatives who have witnessed the couple’s interactions may back him up. They shake their heads and say to each other, I don’t know what goes on with her. She just explodes at him sometimes, and he’s so low-key. Their children can develop the impression that Mom blows up over nothing. She herself may start to wonder if there is something psychologically wrong with her.
The Water Torturer is payback-oriented like most abusive men, but he may hide it better. If he is physically abusive, his violence may take the form of cold-hearted slaps for your own good or to get you to wake up rather than explosive rage. His moves appear carefully thought out, and he rarely makes obvious mistakes—such as letting his abusiveness show in public—that could turn other people against him or get him in legal trouble.
If you are involved with a Water Torturer, you may struggle for years trying to figure out what is happening. You may feel that you overreact to his behavior and that he isn’t really so bad. But the effects of his control and contempt have crept up on you over the years. If you finally leave him, you may experience intense periods of delayed rage, as you become conscious of how quietly but deathly oppressive he was.
This style of man rarely lasts long in an abuser program unless he has a court order. He is so accustomed to having complete success with his tactics that he can’t tolerate an environment where the counselors recognize and name his maneuvers and don’t let him get away with them. He tends to rapidly decide that his group leaders are as crazy as his partner and heads for the door.
The central attitudes driving the Water Torturer are:
• You are crazy. You fly off the handle over nothing.
• I can easily convince other people that you’re the one who is messed up.
• As long as I’m calm, you can’t call anything I do abusive, no matter how cruel.
• I know exactly how to get under your skin.
Life has been hard and unfair for the Victim. To hear him tell it, his intelligence has been chronically underestimated; he has been burned by people he trusted; and his good intentions have been misunderstood. The Victim appeals to a woman’s compassion and desire to feel that she can make a difference in his life. He often tells persuasive and heart-rending stories about how he was abused by his former partner, sometimes adding the tragic element that she is now restricting or preventing his contact with his children. He maneuvers the woman into hating his ex-partner and may succeed in enlisting her in a campaign of harassment, rumor spreading, or battling for custody.
As a counselor of abusive men, I have dozens of times been in the position of interviewing a man’s former partner and then speaking with the new one. The new partner usually speaks at length about what a wicked witch the woman before her was. I can’t tell her what I know, much as I wish I could, because of my responsibility to protect the confidentiality and safety of the former partner. All I can say is: I always recommend, whenever there are claims of emotional or physical abuse, that women talk to each other directly and not just accept the man’s denial.
Women sometimes ask me: But what if a man I am dating really was victimized by his former girlfriend? How can I tell the difference? Here are some things to watch for:
1. If you listen carefully, you often can hear the difference between anger toward an ex-partner, which would not be worrisome in itself, and disrespect or contempt, which should raise warning flags. A man who has left a relationship with bitterness should nonetheless be able to talk about his ex-partner as a human being, with some understanding of what her side of the conflicts was and some ways he might have contributed to what went wrong. If he speaks in degrading or superior ways about her, or makes everything that went wrong in the relationship her fault, be careful, because it is likely that he was the abusive one.
2. Try to get him to talk about his own conduct in the relationship, especially around the time of the breakup. If he blames his own behavior on her, that’s a bad sign.
3. Be particularly careful with a man who claims to have been the victim of physical violence by a previous female partner. The great majority of men who make such claims are physical abusers. Ask him for as much detail as you can about the violent incidents, and then try to talk to her or seek out anyone else who could give you a different perspective on what happened. Watch for warning signs of abusiveness (see Chapter 5).
4. Pay attention to how he talks and thinks about abused women. A genuine male victim tends to feel sympathy for abused women and support their cause. The Victim, on the other hand, often says that women exaggerate or fabricate their claims of abuse or insists that men are abused just as much as women are.
The Victim may adopt the language of abuse victims, claiming, for example, that his ex-partner was focused on power and control, disrespected him, and always had to have her own way. In a few years, he will be using similar reality-inversion language about you—unless, of course, you kowtow to him to his satisfaction.
The Victim is highly self-centered in relationships. Everything seems to revolve around his wounds, and he keeps himself at the center of attention. If you have children, he tries to get them to feel sorry for him as well. He seems forever to be telling you: You don’t understand me, you don’t appreciate me, you hold my mistakes over my head. Yet you sense that the dynamic is actually the other way around. If you stand up to him about these distortions, he tells you that you are abusing him or says, You just can’t tolerate my standing up to your bullying. This recurring inversion of reality is similar to what happens with Mr. Sensitive, but without the introspective psychology, gentle man, or recovering alcoholic routines. If you leave him, you risk his seeking custody of your children, presenting himself to the court as the victim of your abuse and of your efforts to turn the children against him.
Often the Victim claims to be victimized not only by you but also by his boss, his parents, the neighbors, his friends, and strangers on the street. Everyone is always wronging him, and he is always blameless.
When the Victim joins an abuser group, his story tends to go like this: I put up with my partner’s mistreatment of me for years, and I never fought back or even tried to defend myself. But I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and I started to give her back a little taste of what she was doing to me. So now I’ve been labeled abusive. Women are allowed to do those things and nobody cares, but as soon as a man does it he’s a pariah.
This line of reasoning many times develops into a discussion of how men are the victims of women overall in society, because women run the world. This is a startling distortion, given which gender actually dominates almost all legislatures, police departments, judgeships, businesses, and so on ad nauseam. When I point out this reality to the Victim, he describes a kind of paranoid fantasy in which women are behind the scenes secretly pulling the strings, largely by getting men to feel sorry for them. His capacity for turning things into their opposites in this way is a central cause of his abusiveness.
If you are involved with the Victim and want to escape his abuse, you may find that you feel guilty toward him, despite his treatment of you, and have difficulty ending the relationship as a result. You may feel that because his life has been so hard, you are reluctant to add to his pain by abandoning him. You may worry that he won’t take care of himself if you leave, that he will wither away from depression, won’t eat or sleep, or might even try to kill himself. The Victim knows how to present himself as helpless and pathetic so that you will find it harder to take your own life back.
The central attitudes driving the Victim are:
• Everybody has done me wrong, especially the women I’ve been involved with. Poor me.
• When you accuse me of being abusive, you are joining the parade of people who have been cruel and unfair to me. It proves you’re just like the rest.
• It’s justifiable for me to do to you whatever I feel you are doing to me, and even to make it quite a bit worse to make sure you get the message.
• Women who complain of mistreatment by men, such as relationship abuse or sexual harassment, are anti-male and out for blood.
• I’ve had it so hard that I’m not responsible for my actions.
I worked for a few months with an abused woman named Gloria who was wondering how much longer she would be alive. Her husband, Gerald, would glare at her, drum his fingers methodically on the table, and say: You have six months left. Things better shape up around here. Six months. Her head would swim and her heart would race with fear, and she would plead with him to tell what exactly he planned to do to her at the end of that period. And he would answer, with maybe just a hint of a cold smile: Just wait and see, just wait and see. Six months, Gloria. Gerald had never laid a hand on Gloria in the five years they had been together, but she was terrified. She started working with me on making an escape plan to run away with their two-year-old son.
The Terrorist tends to be both highly controlling and extremely demanding. His worst aspect, however, is that he frequently reminds his partner that he could physically rip her to pieces or even kill her. He doesn’t necessarily beat her, however; some abusers know how to terrorize their partners with threats, strange veiled statements, and bizarre behaviors. One of my violent clients cut an article out of the newspaper about a woman who had been murdered by her husband, and he taped it up on the refrigerator. Another man responded to his partner’s announcement that she was leaving him by spilling the blood of an animal in front of the house. Another client would take out his gun when he was angry at his partner but would insist that he was just going to clean it and that it had nothing to do with her.
Unlike most other abusers, the Terrorist often seems to be sadistic: He gets enjoyment out of causing pain and fear and seems to find cruelty thrilling. He is likely to have been severely abused as a child, which generally is not true of other abusers. However, you cannot help him to heal. This may be difficult to accept, since the hope of helping him overcome his problems may be what gets you through the terror of living with him. The Terrorist’s problems are much too deep for a partner to solve, as they involve a complex weave of serious psychological problems with the typical destructive nature of an abuser. You need to focus instead on getting yourself safe. The Terrorist’s top goal is to paralyze you with fear so that you won’t dare think of leaving him or cheating on him. The great majority of abusers who make lethal threats against their partners never carry them out, but that still leaves many who do. The trauma of living with this kind of terror can be profound and can make it extremely difficult for you to think clearly about strategies for escaping to safety. However, most women do manage to get out. The critical first step is to seek confidential help as soon as possible. Begin by calling an abuse hotline as soon as you safely can (see Resources). There are more suggestions in Chapter 9.
When a woman does leave the Terrorist, he may stalk or threaten her, and this dangerous harassment can continue for a long time. If the couple has children, he may attempt to get custody or unsupervised visitation, so that he can terrorize or control her through the children. He also may use information he has about her, such as where she works or where her parents live, to track her and to threaten her loved ones. It is essential that friends, relatives, courts, and communities understand the realities of these risks and give the woman the most complete support and protection possible, while simultaneously taking steps to hold the abuser accountable. It may be possible to stop the Terrorist from escalating to murder, but only if he gets a strong message that stalking and threatening an ex-partner is unacceptable, that he is responsible for his own actions, and that the community is prepared to jail him if his threatening behavior does not stop immediately. Actions short of these are often insufficient.
Chapter 10 contains more information for a woman who is involved in a custody or visitation battle with an abuser or for those who are concerned that one may start.
The central attitudes driving the Terrorist are:
• You have no right to defy me or leave me. Your life is in my hands.
• Women are evil and have to be kept terrorized to prevent that evil from coming forth.
• I would rather die than accept your right to independence.
• The children are one of the best tools I can use to make you fearful.
• Seeing you terrified is exciting and satisfying.
THE DEMAND MAN
The Demand Man is highly entitled. He expects his partner’s life to revolve around meeting his needs and is angry and blaming if anything gets in the way. He becomes enraged if he isn’t catered to or if he is inconvenienced in even a minor way. The partner of this man comes to feel that nothing she does is ever good enough and that it is impossible to make him happy. He criticizes her frequently, usually about things that he thinks she should have done—or done better—for him.
Is every highly demanding partner an abuser? No. There are specific elements to the Demand Man’s style:
1. He has little sense of give and take. His demands for emotional support, favors, caretaking, or sexual attention are well out of proportion to his contributions; he constantly feels that you owe him, things that he has done nothing to earn.
2. He exaggerates and overvalues his own contributions. If he was generous one day back in 1997, you are probably still hearing about it today as proof of how wonderfully he treats you and how ungrateful you are. He seems to keep a mental list of any favors or kindnesses he ever does and expects each one paid back at a heavy interest rate. He thinks you owe him tremendous gratitude for meeting the ordinary responsibilities of daily life—when he does—but takes your contributions for granted.
3. When he doesn’t get what he feels is his due, he punishes you for letting him down.
4. When he is generous or supportive, it’s because he feels like it. When he isn’t in the mood to give anything, he doesn’t. He is positive or loving toward you when he feels the need to prove to himself or to others that he is a good person, or when there is something that he is about to demand in return; in other words, it’s about him, not you. The longer you have been with him, the more his generous-seeming actions appear self-serving.
5. If your needs ever conflict with his, he is furious. At these times he attacks you as self-centered or, inflexible, turning reality on its head with statements such as, All you care about is yourself! He tends to work hard to convince outsiders of how selfish and ungrateful you are, speaking in a hurt voice about all the things he does for you.
At the same time, the Demand Man is likely to be furious if anything is demanded of him. Not only are you not supposed to demand any favors, you aren’t even supposed to ask him to take care of his own obligations. If you ask him to clean up a mess he’s left, he responds, I’m not your fucking servant. If you ask him to pay money he owes you or to work more hours to help out with the household expenses, he says, You’re a typical woman, all you want from me is my money. If you complain to him of how rarely he is there for you, he’ll say, You are a needy, controlling bitch. He keeps twisting things around backward in these ways, so that any effort you make to discuss your needs or his responsibilities switches abruptly to being about his needs and your responsibilities.
The Demand Man is sometimes less controlling than other abusers as long as he is getting his needs met on his terms. He may allow you to have your own friendships or support you in pursuing your own career. But the effects on you of your partner’s extreme entitlement can be just as destructive as severe control.
The central attitudes driving the Demand Man are:
• It’s your job to do things for me, including taking care of my responsibilities if I drop the ball on them. If I’m unhappy about any aspect of my life, whether it has to do with our relationship or not, it’s your fault.
• You should not place demands on me at all. You should be grateful for whatever I choose to give.
• I am above criticism.
• I am a very loving and giving partner. You’re lucky to have me.
THE DRILL SERGEANT
The Drill Sergeant takes controlling behavior to its extreme, running his partner’s life in every way that he can. He criticizes her clothing, tells her whether she can go out or not, interferes with her work. He wants her to have no one close to her, so he ruins her relationships with friends and relatives or simply forbids her to see them. He may listen to her phone calls or read her mail, or require the children to report on her activities any time he is away. If she isn’t home by his appointed curfew at night, she is at risk for abuse. She feels like a little girl living with a tyrannical father, with no more freedom than an eight-year-old would have.
The Drill Sergeant is often fanatically jealous. He verbally assaults his partner with accusations that she is cheating on him or checking out other men and tosses crass and disturbing sexual terms into his tirades. He may augment his hateful remarks about his partner with hideous comments about females in general, such as, All women are whores. The emotional experience of these verbal attacks can be similar to that of a sexual assault: The woman is left feeling violated, debased, and traumatized. At the same time, this style of abuser more often than not is out having affairs himself. It isn’t fidelity he cares about; it’s possession.
The Drill Sergeant is, unfortunately, almost sure to be physically violent sooner or later, probably beginning with threats and then eventually escalating to assault. If his partner stands up to him, such as by attempting to preserve any of her rights to freedom, his violence and threats are likely to escalate until she is hurt or terrified enough that she submits to his control. He is a risk to beat his partner up to the point of severe injury.
Getting away from the Drill Sergeant can be difficult. Since he monitors the woman’s movements so closely, it is a challenge for her to get to a support group for abused women or to seek other kinds of support. Since he isolates her from people, she has to draw entirely on her own strength, and many days she may feel like she doesn’t have much strength left. And since from time to time he is probably openly violent, she is forced to consider what the consequences of attempting to leave him could be, including whether he might try to kill her.
If your partner is a Drill Sergeant, your situation is a dangerous one. You may have to use some courage—as well as careful vigilance—to even get the opportunity to read this book. Perhaps you are hiding it under a mattress or reading it at someone else’s house in quick bits. Don’t give up. Many women have gone through this kind of captivity and have found a way to escape, even if it takes some time. The single most important thing to do is to seek opportunities to phone a hotline for abused women (see Resources in the back of this book). Call them to speak for five minutes if that’s all you can safely do for now. Call every day if you can. The hot line is the beginning of the path to freedom.
You may be sorely tempted to have a secret affair, since your partner shows you so little kindness or tenderness. A positive sexual connection may be especially affirming for you, because of how sexually degrading the Drill Sergeant tends to be. But cheating on him can be deadly if he catches you. Consider holding off on seeing other men until you have gotten yourself safe.
The Drill Sergeant often has some psychological problems. Although mental health issues do not cause abusiveness, they can intensify a man’s violent tendencies. If he sometimes seems to become convinced of things that are obviously not true, has trouble getting along with people in general, was severely abused or neglected as a child, or has other indications of mental illness, you need to take even greater caution.
To read more about dealing with dangerous abusers, see The Terrorist later in this chapter (p. 99) and Leaving an Abuser Safely in Chapter 9 (p. 225).
The central attitudes driving the Drill Sergeant are:
• I need to control your every move or you will do it wrong.
• I know the exact way that everything should be done.
• You shouldn’t have anyone else—or any thing else—in your life besides me.
• I am going to watch you like a hawk to keep you from developing strength or independence.
• I love you more than anyone in the world, but you disgust me. (!!)
The Player is usually good looking and often sexy. (But sometimes he just thinks he is.) In the early part of a relationship he seems head over heels in love and wants to spend as much time as possible in bed together. He is a pretty good lover. You may feel lucky that you have caught someone who knows how to turn you on and feel proud to be seen with him. Your self-opinion gets a nice boost.
After a while, though, a few things start to bother you. You notice that apart from sex his interest in you is waning, and even his sexual energy is dropping off a little. He seems to lock his eyes pretty hard onto women that walk by. He flirts with waitresses, clerks, or even friends of yours. Sexual undertones seem to run through most of his interactions with females, except for ones he finds completely unattractive. Rumors start to come back to you that he’s been seen with this woman, that he is sleeping with that one, that he is pursuing another one but she isn’t interested yet. At first you discount these rumors as hurtful gossip, but after a while you start to wonder.
The Player often starts to stall on moving in together or agreeing to be exclusive, even though earlier he couldn’t wait to get serious. He may say that he’s been hurt or has a fear of commitment (I’m just not ready), but the real issue is that he doesn’t want restrictions on his freedom. Much of his satisfaction in life comes from exploiting women and feeling like a sexual animal. Women around the Player seem to get angry at each other a lot, rather than at him, and sometimes get into physical confrontations. These tensions work out well for him, diverting attention from his infidelity and dishonesty. He sets up this dynamic with some combination of the following tactics:
1. He knows how to make each woman feel that she’s the special one and yet at the same time keep her off balance, so that she never feels quite sure of where she stands with him.
2. He tells each one that the others are lying about their involvements with him because they are jealous of her, or because he turned them down, or because he used to be involved with them but isn’t anymore.
3. He tells each one stories about how other women have mistreated him, or shares other bits of information—largely invented—to make previous, or current, women in his life sound conniving, vindictive, or addicted to substances.
4. He breaks up with women and gets back together with them, so that no one can keep track of what’s going on.
5. He includes one or two women in his circle who feel unattractive, because he knows he can have more power over them, and manipulates them into hating the women who are seen as more attractive.
If this is your partner’s style, you won’t necessarily ever be sure whether he is really having sex with other women or if he just flirts because he enjoys the attention and likes you to feel threatened. He may hotly deny that he ever cheats and try to turn the tables by accusing you of being too suspicious. But even if he’s telling the truth—which he probably isn’t—his constant flirtatious behavior can be as damaging as actual affairs. Either way, he will damage your other relationships, because you will start to perceive any woman as a potential threat to you. If he has a history of hitting on women who are close to you, such as your sister or best friend, you can end up isolated from the women you care about most, because you’re afraid he will have affairs with them unless you keep them away.
Chronic infidelity is abusive in itself, but the Player doesn’t stop there. He is irresponsible, callous in dealing with his partner’s feelings, and periodically verbally abusive. As the relationship progresses, he may start to go for long periods giving his partner next to no attention and barely speaking to her, so she feels shelved. He probably refuses to take responsibility for safe sex (such as using a condom), and he may have fathered children who he is not supporting. His abusiveness can escalate abruptly if he is confronted or caught in his infidelities, and he may turn physically frightening at this point. In a strange but dangerous twist, the Player sometimes hits his partner for catching him cheating rather than the reverse.
The Player’s constant flirting and cheating help him to get away with other forms of mistreatment. His partner is likely to focus on her hurt feelings about his infidelities and pour effort into stopping him from straying and, in the process, lose sight of his pattern of abuse. When she asks me whether I think her partner will ever settle down and be faithful to her—if they get married, for example—I answer, He may some day, but what you will have then is a faithful abuser. His promiscuity is a symptom of a deeper problem: He is incapable of taking women seriously as human beings rather than as playthings. With that mind-set, he’ll be a destructive partner whether he cheats or not.
The Players I have worked with sometimes claim to suffer from sex addiction, and join Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (which they may discover is a good place to pick up women). But sex addiction doesn’t cause dishonesty, verbal abusiveness, or intimidating behavior. The Player is not a sex addict at all. If he is addicted to anything, it’s to the thrill of using women without regard for the effects on them.
The central attitudes driving the Player are:
• Women were put on this earth to have sex with men—especially me.
• Women who want sex are too loose, and women who refuse sex are too uptight. (!)
• It’s not my fault that women find me irresistible. (This is a word-for-word quotation from a number of my clients.) It’s not fair to expect me to refuse temptation when it’s all around me; women seduce me sometimes, and I can’t help it.
• If you act like you need anything from me, I am going to ignore you. I’m in this relationship when it’s convenient for me and when I feel like it.
• Women who want the nonsexual aspects of themselves appreciated are bitches.
• If you could meet my sexual needs, I wouldn’t have to turn to other women.
THE MENTALLY ILL OR ADDICTED ABUSER
This last category is not actually separate from the others; an abusive man of any of the aforementioned styles can also have psychiatric or substance-abuse problems, although the majority do not. Even when mental illness or addiction is a factor, it is not the cause of a man’s abuse of his partner, but it can contribute to the severity of his problem and his resistance to change. When these additional problems are present, it is important to be aware of the following points:
1. Certain mental illnesses can increase the chance that an abuser will be dangerous and use physical violence. These include paranoia, severe depression, delusions or hallucinations (psychosis), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and antisocial personality disorder known as psychopathy or sociopathy). These psychiatric conditions also make it next to impossible for an abuser to change, at least until the mental illness has been brought under control through therapy and/or medication, which can take years. Even if the mental illness is properly treated, his abusiveness won’t necessarily change.
2. An abuser’s reactions to going on or off medication are unpredictable. A woman should take extra precautions for her safety at such a time. Abusers tend to go off medication before long—I have had few clients who were consistent and responsible about taking their meds in the long term. They don’t like the side effects, and they are too selfish to care about the implications of the mental illness for their partners or children.
3. The potential danger of a mentally ill abuser has to be assessed by looking at the severity of his psychiatric symptoms in combination with the severity of his abuse characteristics. Looking at his psychiatric symptoms alone can lead to underestimating how dangerous he is.
4. Antisocial personality disorder is present in only a small percentage of abusers but can be important. Those who suffer from this condition lack a conscience and thus are repeatedly involved in behaviors that are harmful to others. Some signs of this condition include: (a) He started getting into illegal behavior when he was still a teenager; (b) his dishonest or aggressive behavior involves situations unrelated to his partner, rather than being restricted to her; (c) he periodically gets into trouble at workplaces or in other contexts for stealing, threatening, or refusing to follow instructions and is likely to have a considerable criminal record by about age thirty, though the offenses may be largely minor ones; (d) he is severely and chronically irresponsible in a way that disrupts the lives of others or creates danger; and (e) he tends to cheat on women a lot, turn them against each other, and maintain shallow relationships with them. The psychopath’s physical violence is not necessarily severe, contrary to the popular image, but he may be very dangerous nonetheless. Antisocial personality disorder is very difficult to change through therapy, and there is no effective medication for treating it. It is highly compatible with abusiveness toward women.
5. Those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder have a highly distorted self-image. They are unable to accept that they might have faults and therefore are unable to imagine how other people perceive them. This condition is highly compatible with abusiveness, though it is present in only a small percentage of abusive men. Clues to the presence of this disorder include: (a) Your partner’s self-centeredness is severe, and it carries over into situations that don’t involve you; (b) he seems to relate everything back to himself; and (c) he is outraged whenever anyone criticizes him and is incapable of considering that he could ever be anything other than kind and generous. This disorder is highly resistant to therapy and is not treatable with medication. The abuser with this disorder is not able to change substantially through an abuser program either, although he sometimes makes some minor improvements.
6. Many abusers who are not mentally ill want women to think that they are, in order to avoid responsibility for their attitudes and behavior.
Substance abuse, like mental illness, does not cause partner abuse but can increase the risk of violence. Like the mentally ill abuser, the addicted abuser doesn’t change unless he deals with his addiction, and even that is only the first step. Chapter 8 examines the role that substances play in partner abuse.
The attitudes driving the mentally ill or addicted batterer are the same as those of other abusers and will likely follow the pattern of one of the nine styles described above. In addition, the following attitudes tend to be present:
• I am not responsible for my actions because of my psychological or substance problems.
• If you challenge me about my abusiveness, you are being mean to me, considering these other problems I have. It also shows that you don’t understand my other problems.
• I’m not abusive, I’m just———(alcoholic, drug addicted, manic-depressive, an adult child of alcoholics, or whatever his condition may be).
• If you challenge me, it will trigger my addiction or mental illness, and you’ll be responsible for what I do.
Although I have focused on the emotionally abusive styles of these different kinds of abusers, any of them may also use physical violence, including sexual assault. Although the Terrorist and the Drill Sergeant are especially likely to become dangerous, they are not the only ones who may do so. Many abusers occasionally use physical violence or threats as a way to intimidate you when they feel that their power or control over you is slipping; violence for them is a kind of trump card they use when their normal patterns of psychological abuse are not getting them the degree of control they feel entitled to. If you are concerned about how dangerous your partner may be, see Is He Going to Get Violent? in Chapter 6 and Leaving an Abuser Safely in Chapter 9.