I was talking with a client who is taking that long, long walk away from her abusive husband and into freedom.
And, yes, it feels like a frustrating journey that never reaches its destination because every step feels like a ‘baby step’ - and baby steps seem so small, and insignificant, when there is such a mountain to scale…
But they are not.
Never underestimate the power in those baby steps.
My client is at the stage of asking hard questions and looking for answers. One of the questions she asked is: “Why doesn’t he care about my feelings?”
It’s a reasonable question – from the point of view of the abused woman.
She does everything she can to love and support her man, and you might think he would appreciate this…
But abusive men don’t appreciate what you do.
They expect it, sure, but they don’t appreciate it.
Of course, that is a violation of everything you are led to expect: generally speaking, one good turn deserves another.
That’s not what happens in the Abusive Kingdom.
My client was still struggling to understand – at heart level – why that is.
I said to her: “Abusive men really do not like women. In fact, they hate them. They hate women in general, and your partner hates you in particular.”
Now, quite a lot of abusive men run after every woman that has a pulse. But that still doesn’t mean they like women. It simply means that they hunt women. They collect ‘scalps’, as it were. They treat women as objects.
They may appear to like the odd one or two unattainable ones (my was-band was particularly warmly disposed towards a beautiful lesbian friend of mine).
They may profess to like the ones who are misguided enough to like them. But still, by and large, they hate women.
And the closer a woman gets to an abusive man, the more he gives expression to that hatred.
My client was, understandably, shocked to hear that she had spent years with a man who hates women, and hates her.
Still, she couldn’t quite internalize the enormity of it. She asked:
“But why does he do things that make me unhappy?”
I tried explaining that happy people feel more empowered, and less isolated and dependent than unhappy people.
And then I explained it to her this way:
“When you meet an abusive man, clearly, you don’t know he is abusive, or you wouldn’t be there. You’re looking for a partner, and you assess his potential to be a good partner – to the best of your knowledge. He, on the other hand, is looking for… not so much a servant as a slave.
The abusive man is looking for someone who will serve him 24-7 in various departments of his life: the bedroom, the kitchen, the finance department, parenting – both of his children, and himself – and so on, and so forth.
But more than that, the abusive man is someone who will carry a heavy load of loathing - his loathing both for himself and for other people.
He is looking for someone he can dump that load on, forever after.
Enter the loving, supportive, biddable, naïve woman…
You know what happens next.
What he needs is for you to carry that heavy load on your back, forever after. Provided your back looks nearly strong enough, and your shoulders nearly broad enough, he attaches himself to you.
He needs you...
He needs you to be bent double, carrying that weight for him, so that he can stand up straight, and feel free of it.
Now, of course, it is the case with healthy partners that both partners want to remove all heavy loads from the relationship.
Abusers are different. Abusers start from the premise that there is, always has been, and always will be, a heavy load to carry. Therefore they need someone to carry it for them.
That person is you.
(That’s why it’s always felt like such hard work.)
That’s why they can’t bear it when you feel happy, when you enjoy good times with friends, family or children, when you have plans for your own life.
You’ve put their load down!
They can’t tolerate that.
You’re not allowed to do that.
It's not part of your job description; as far as they are concerned.
You are their emotional slave, after all.
Spoiling the moment, and treating you badly is their way of putting the load straight back on your shoulders.
That’s all that matters to them.
When you are bent double under their load of negative feelings that is – quite literally – a huge weight off their shoulders.
That’s why they don’t want you to be happy; or, more precisely, can’t bear it when you are happy for more than about a nanosecond.
It’s not nice. It’s not reassuring. And it’s not about you.
That is simply the dynamic of abusive relationships. And that’s why there is no point hanging around trying to change them.