There is a theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly expert at something.
This theory is explained, very persuasively, by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Outliers”.
Gladwell argues that there are two main components to becoming outstandingly good in any sphere:
- Being in the right place, at the right time
- Putting in 10,000 hours.
How does this relate to emotional abuse, and domestic violence in general?
First, let’s get some perspective on this: when Gladwell talks about getting 10,000 hours in computer programming, playing a sport, or any of the other things he talks about, 10,000 hours sounds like a lot of hours.
Suppose you managed to do 8 of these hours per day, 5 days per week, it would take you nearly 5 years to put in your 10,000 hours.
But it doesn’t work like that with abuse, does it?
Now nobody rushes into a mentally, emotionally abusive relationship to invest an initial 10,000 hours - and then a whole lot more – to become an expert in being emotionally abused.
Yet it happens, does it not?
In my own case, in the first year alone, the math worked like this:
- 1 hour (the first token incident, to test my compliance)
- 24 hours (the first full ‘test’ explosion)
- 72 hours (first full blown explosion)
- 2-3 hours daily for the first 3 months
- 5-6 hours over the next 9 months
- 1 x 72 hour block every 6 weeks
So, at a conservative estimate, in that first year of my abusive relationship, I must have put approximately 2160 hours into learning how to be an abused woman!
After that, the number of hours I committed just kept escalating. (By the second year, I reckon the number probably doubled.)
My guess is that you too have committed a massive, monstrous number of hours. Maybe it was less, maybe it was considerably more. Either way, it is a tragedy to have wasted so many hours feeling miserable about your relationship with your partner.
When you think about it that way, it may just suggest to you that an abusive relationship really has nowhere to go but down.
But there is more, of course.
First, Gladwell identifies another characteristic that makes for an ‘Outlier’; and that is being in the right place at the right time.
Like me, you were, doubtless, in the right place at the right time, because you grew up in an environment that prequalified you for an abusive relationship.
Perhaps the environment you grew up in was abusive; you may have been emotionally neglected – and otherwise ill treated. Or you may just have been programmed to be a total people-pleaser.
Either way, you were trained to be exceptionally receptive to an abusive man.
So you, like me, were much more inclined than another woman might be to put in those 10,000 hours (and many further thousands as well).
Sadly, even that is not the end of it.
Your abusive partner also put in his 10,000 hour ‘apprenticeship’.
What am I saying here?
My abusive husband fully developed his abusive skills with me.
Thinking back, he had had one prior serious relationship in which his focus was to be accepted into his partner’s family. At that time, he aspired to integration into the bosom of a family that was much more loving and supportive than his own.
(Further, his girlfriend’s father was the national head of the professional association to which he belonged.)
For all that, the relationship didn’t work out. My future husband did not feel that this girlfriend met enough of his needs. (Although, as he told it, he did not know exactly what those needs were.)
By the time he met me, he wanted something different: he wanted a woman who would be completely and utterly his creature.
His family ‘programming’ was certainly abusive. But because his father was the Alpha male abuser, and brooked no competition, my future husband had not been able to put all his learnt (abusive) skills into practice.
By the time he had completed his 10,000 hours with me, he had become a very accomplished abusive man, in his own right.
It was never my fault.
But it was my responsibility inasmuch as - thanks to my programming – I let him get away with it.
In exactly the same way that you let your partner get away with it.
You may have fought, and remonstrated, and pleaded, and threatened, but still… Either you stayed, or you kept taking him back – which means that you let him get away with it.
So, he put in his 10,000 hours, and so did you.
He became more and more expert at hurting, humiliating and rejecting you. And you became more and more expert at… what?
And you sacrificed thousands and thousands – maybe even tens of thousands - of hours of your precious life.
But there is an upside.
Who you are is not simply what you do. Or, at least, what you do does not have to be all that you are.
Everyone, including abused women, has so many, many talents.
Yes, you have got your 10,000 hours of emotional abuse – and then some. But you also have other, massive skills and achievements, if you will just focus on them.
As for your partner, well, he has got his 10,000 hours, too. Probably many times over.
You can’t know what he will do with his extraordinary expertise – and why on earth should you care, provided he stops blighting your life?
But you can set about acquiring expertise about how to have a happy life.
You’ve already proved that you are a very good learner (although the things you have learnt have not always been those that are most helpful to you).
Start accumulating your first 10,000 hours of happiness. Remember, you can start as small as you please.
Sure, 10,000 hours may sound daunting. But they need not be. That is only 416 days and nights.
If you choose to make it your full time focus, instead of your abusive partner, by July 2011, you will be in a very different place.
Even if you only do it for 2-3 hours a day, by this time next year, you will be getting quite good at it.
Will you do it?
Will you let me help you to do it?