Friday, September 29, 2006

Getting Out of Abusive Relationships, Teri Hatcher and People Pleasing

This piece is not just about Teri Hatcher, it's about all kinds of controlling, exploiting, difficult relationships that make people want out.

Those of you who read Vanity Fair's spread on the actress having confronted the man who sexually molested her in childhood probably sighed a variant of the Yiddish sigh, chaval.

Chaval means. . . well, it's hard to explain. "What a shame" hardly cuts it, but comes close. "OMG" also comes close. But chaval really has to be said with pathos and a tad of disgust, and that's what's sad about saying it. You almost have to say, "Oy. . .(pause, smirk, sigh). . .chaval."

For those of us, and there are many, who learned about our body from someone who had no permission to touch it, Ms. Hatcher's story packs a punch. She came forward to the police with her story when she heard about another young woman the perpetrator had molested.

That young woman killed herself. He had other "lovers," too, apparently. Teri wanted him put away.

Children who have been sexually abused can be bullied into not saying anything and usually are intimidated in that way. There are tomes on what happens psychologically to them, how their future relationships are doomed or frought with problems, how their sexuality becomes the center of their psychology.

When I went to graduate school, we were taught that if you had a sexual abuse case it was a BIG DEAL. The patient (victim) would be on the couch for years. Now the incidence is so high that the profession's rife with good family therapy interventions, confrontation one of them, but only at the right time.

Incest and sexual abuse are still a big deal. The police and the courts are more savvy now, however. The child only needs to tell the truth and the healing begins. There are advocates and therapists all over the place. Just get the job started.

The question is, What keeps adults who have been abused from doing what Teri did, from speaking up? And why did she wait so long? Why do people who are being exploited in relationships not extricate themselves from the situation immediately? What keeps them from GETTING OUT?

I think the same dynamics, the reasons for not shouting out, operate in all relationships that are characterized by domination, abuse and/or control.

Let's digress from sexual abuse and take a look at less obviously violent relationships, those in which anger is always just below the surface, those in which speaking up or confronting a spouse, perhaps, or a parent, feels like it risks a put down or a sarcastic remark.

Or perhaps emotional neglect, when a person's need for validation and approval isn't met or when that individual is denied the power to make basic decisions.

In the case of sarcasm or verbal sniping, the receiver hears he/she's "responsible" for the anger. In the case of emotional neglect, they're "responsible" for their own lack of power, too incompetent to make decisions.

A person (let's use the female gender) begins to doubt herself and her worthiness over time. She thinks perhaps she doesn't really doesn't need the things she thinks she needs, after all. She only needs what he says she needs. She is under the influence. His influence.

It may translate into that famous of all couple therapy bug-a-boos, control. He has control issues.

Sometimes it gets pretty ugly. He controls the movies they see. He controls their vacations (his family can go with them, perhaps, maybe ALL the time). He controls the money, won't let her spend money she herself has earned. He can do that because he's convinced her that it's a selfish thing to do, they need to save.

Once he's convinced her that she's selfish for having material needs, he controls whether or not they buy a second car. He controls whether or not they go out and have drinks with friends. He controls whether or not they go out at all and with whom.

He controls whether or not they have sex. He controls whether or not they buy TIDE over the store brand. If she argues, he convinces her that she's selfish. He's the one with the common sense in the family. He's the one who can make good decisions.

She loses the part of her that went into the relationship with self-esteem. It gets buried, EVEN IF SHE HAD IT BEFORE THEIR RELATIONSHIP BEGAN.

This becomes another example of what you don't use, you lose in relationships. If you don't use decision making skill, you're not validated for making good decisions, you doubt you know how to make them.

How can you leave a relationship under those circumstances? Do you see where I'm going? It's hypnosis, basically. She's too unsure of herself to make a move.

At home, and on the job, out in the world, to get that part back, to be validated for the person she remembers she is, she works harder than anyone else and does more than anyone else, but she's still insecure.

This can be the essence of people pleasing. Living to please; living for praise from others. Sometimes people like this work so hard that they falls into a very well-defined category of depressed people that I am compelled to advise, Okay I think I want you to take some family leave time off work, people who have crashed and burned from overcompensating on the job.

These people NEVER WANT TO TAKE FAMILY LEAVE! They're my favorite people. You guys are my favorite people and I die for you to get out from under the influence, to break the spell.

Sometimes getting out from under the influence is simply taking back one's life, saying no, doing what you want. Most controllers can't fight it when their passive spouses assert themselves. They're too weak themselves at the end of the day.

IF THEY'RE PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE, however, these men are dangerous and their wives know that they had best not rock the boat.

BUT IF THEY'RE EMOTIONALLY or VERBALLY ABUSIVE then the women who are married to them have already lost the shred of self-esteem that might enable them to bark back.

That barking back won't happen without intense professional coaching and scripting. I've talked to hundreds of women who found it almost impossible to say:

"When you talk to me that way I don't love you. When you talk like this you're unlovable. I want to love you but you're unlovable when you behave this way. I want to love you. Please stop. You know you don't mean it. Inside, you love me."

How HARD, (expletive it) is that? It's pretty darn hard to get words out when you've been convinced that he's going to turn it back on you, no matter what you say, make you feel worse.

To come forward, to assert, to stop the violence is to risk hearing that you're a slut, that you didn't object, that you LIKED it, that you encouraged it.

It draws attention to times that you would like to forget. It makes you feel like damaged goods and worse, THAT OTHERS THINK YOU'RE DAMAGED, SCREWED UP, SOMEHOW NOT WHOLE ANYMORE.

Chaval. It should never happen. No one should have to go through abuse or exploitation. If you recognize it happening YES, YOU NEED THERAPY, YOUR RELATIONSHIP NEEDS THERAPY, HE NEEDS THERAPY (check all three).

And if it's not workable and you know it? Just need to get the blank out. You can pick up the pieces later.

Good job, Teri.

Copyright 2006, Therapy Doc


Zoey Says said...

When I talked to a social worker about my problem making decisions he told me that I was co-dependent. But you seem to be saying that it's more like people are brain-washed. Which is it and are they related?

Anonymous said...

After being in therapy for years, a new therapist told me that I could bring up charges on the person who molested me - my brother. I couldn't believe it - really? I can send him to jail?

I told my sister and she totally thought I was overreacting. This is why we don't tell - people don't believe us, or they think it's no big deal or that I shouldn't make a big deal of it.

I told my mother after a few years of therapy - she came into therapy with me and we told her. She cried. I don't remember feeling relieved or even better that I told her. She knows but she's never done anything. As far as I know she's never accused him or brought it up to him and we never talked about it again.

It's reasons like this that I don't take it further. Because the people that matter - my family - don't think I should take it any further.

I see my brother every holiday. We don't really have a relationship. I just recently - in the past few years - realized it was my right not to like him and don't feel guilty anymore for not being friendly with him.

He's a mess. He's an alcoholic and just a total mess. His wife divorced him and he lost custody of his kids and he lives in my Grandmother's basement next door to my parents. I guess I forgive him because he's a freaking mess and he probably was depressed or messed-up in the head and really had no idea what he was doing. But he's never brought it up or apologized. I never have, either.

therapydoc said...

No doubt codependency enters into the equation. Check out the June 19 and July 3 and July 7th posts in the archives and we’ll talk.

A person can BECOME co-dependent in an adult relationship. Not everyone starts out this way. That speaks to the power of persuasive relationships over time.

therapydoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
therapydoc said...

I don't get why the comments didn't post so I've copied them separately.

Zoey Says said...
When I talked to a social worker about my problem making decisions he told me that I was co-dependent. But you seem to be saying that it's more like people are brain-washed. Which is it and are they related?
12:46 PM

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support, Linda. It feels so good to hear people say the I deserve an apology. You know, I'm an intelligent person, and deep down inside I know it wasn't my fault, but I also know there's a part of me that really wonders, especially with little support from the family. It really feels good to talk about it. Thanks for the post, Linda.

Anonymous said...

I was molested as a child by my babysitters son, he was in highschool at the time and I was in elementary school. I finally told my mother when I was a sophmore in highschool and now I am 37. I recently found out my mother was also abused by a family friend when she was young. I believe when I told her it was as you told Megan she really didn't know what to do with the stuff I had just downloaded on her. She gave me a book called Mending your Soul and we both read it. I have since contacted the other two girls that attended the babysitter with me and found the answer I had been looking for 20 some years. They too were abused. It validated my feelings. I am currently in a terrible relationship with a controling, alcoholic husband and am finding it hard to break free. He has the "God" hold on me. I believe in God and this is my second marriage and I don't want it to fail but I am just not sure what to do at this point. I am in the Army and am getting ready to deploy down range for 12 to 15 months. Not a lot I can do to work on my marriage. I have been married for 3 years now and nothing has seemed to change. My husband is 42 and I want to believe that God will change him but when is enough, enough I am a functioning depressed person and I do bust my behind at work constantly trying to prove my place as a woman in the military. I have talked to many therapists and chaplains none on to consistant of a basis, but just feel as if I don't know what to do at this point. Any advise? Jean

ArmyWifeWrites said...

I think getting over an abusive relationship is even harder than getting out of one.

therapydoc said...

It can really be hard.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what's more daunting- how various forms of abuse can plague a person in one lifetime or that there are some people out there who can't speak up or don't recognize there is a problem. I think it's extremely important to spread awareness of this epidemic!

Anonymous said...

two websites that helped me deal with stuff when I was getting out of an abusive relationship with an alcoholic (who became a dry drunk) were and (scroll right, click manipulation files, see red flags list and so much more)
Best wishes to all on their way to a better life.


therapydoc said...

SB, thanks, I'll check 'em out.

Ella said...

I enjoy wandering around your site, checking out older topics.

Your Q:"What keeps adults who have been abused from doing what Teri did, from speaking up? And why did she wait so long?"
Answer: it HURTS!!!!!!!!

I was 17 when there was an "event" with my host father during study abroad. I was flirting with him, wanted his interest, so wasn't it just a result of that? I told a few friends of my conquest - no one was impressed. Did not tell adults, since I got myself into that situation. Despite my crying jag at the time, none of the teachers assisted me. So, no point in telling others.
Ah, but now I am a mom. Saw a definition of sexual assault on a poster for the rape crisis center. Realized - that's what happened to me! It was unwanted, it scared me. Grown ups aren't supposed to do that!
T told me there is no statute of limitations on reporting this (unsure of the international aspect, tho) but if I report it to the school, even 27 yr later, there will probably be lawyers involved. Ugh. I just want to protect other girls from this pain, want the school to implement a prevention + response plan. Have no idea if he assaulted others after me.
If I go further, do I want to deal with lawyers? risk re-living the trauma or damage to my good marriage? Entangle his kids, now grown? It's a lot to ask of me.

therapydoc said...

Ella, acquaintance rape prevention programs are up and running in many schools, probably not enough, surely should be for all.

Hunt around, google them for your area, make some calls, get involved in establishing one in your local school.

Why not?

Ella said...

Thanks TD, for the reminder to think globally but act locally. Maybe I can't help the girls at that prep school in MA, but I can help public school girls here in my town. This week I found the book "Trauma and Recovery:...." by Judith L. Herman. Wow. I finally have a bit of a map to guide me. Her feminism really resonates with me. She says that after a reconciling phase, some find a "survivor mission".

I am going to join a survivor therapy group this fall, so it may emerge. I will feel less ashamed and embarrassed? 27 years later.
Why Not?
I will keep this question in mind as I continue my work. Thanks for putting it on my "To Do" list ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. Oh wow. This was me down to the car, down to everything. I left, but I was forced out the door by the escalation that started when I started to "bark back" as you put it.

I have beating myself up for the last year about why it took me 14 to get up the strength to leave. Brainwashing is so right, and it is slow, gradual, painstaking, and inperceptable. There is a point where you simply don't know what "normal" is any more, and what you accept as common looks just so insane from the outside. The change is so incrimental, and your sense of self so erased, and everyone can see it but you.

Now I just have to figure out how to forgive myself for staying so long. How a smart, educated, intelligent, confident, adventurous person could end up in the state I was.

Anonymous said...

It took me a while to search on the web, only your site explain the fully details, bookmarked and thanks again.

- Laura

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?