Abusers, Assualt, Cary Tennis, EMDR, Rehabilitation, Salon.com, Therapy
His rehabilitation. Apu’s that is.
The guy that assaulted me and who, for a long time on my blog I would only call Andre. I couldn’t bear to speak his name aloud or write it down or even think about it. Although, I did think about it involuntarily, of course.
Thanks to some awesome work from both of my therapists, eventually I was able to get there. H kicked things off, stirring that pot to peel that unmentionable name loose. Then AS, with the help of EMDR therapy, finally helped me elucidate those syllables and expunge the horror and denial I’d associated with his name, something that kept me a prisoner of my own terror far too long.
Thing is, I’ve never thought about him as someone who is likely to change. I know a little of his history, that he’s assaulted and intimidated women before. And I guess my assumption was that his behavioural patterns are simply too ingrained for him to change.
That might be true, but then again it might not.
I’ve just finished reading an article by Cary Tennis (a writer and something of an existential agony aunt on Salon.com), called I’m a former abuser — should I tell my girlfriend?
This is my reply (slightly edited) to that article:
Cary, as someone who’s been assaulted by a former partner I’ll freely admit your advice here did NOT make me very happy at all.
Quite frankly, it causes me some anxiety that the guy wrote this letter in the first place. He abused his ex-wife, has had some therapy, feels as though he’s “cured”, and is kind of worried his ex-wife will tell the new girlfriend of his past actions.
I can tell you if I was that ex-wife, I sure as hell would do exactly that!
And so he says he wants to tell his new love, but doesn’t want to get dumped.
The letter is problematic for me because the way its worded suggests he’s still not fully recovered and/or in control of whatever it is that makes him feel like he has the right to assault another person.
If the guy was in AA for alcohol abuse, his counsellor would recommend he stays out of any new relationship for a period of time. Because he’s not a recovering alcoholic in AA, he’s had ‘some counselling’ and has decided he’s okay… and yet he still isn’t sure he wants to come clean in case someone leaves him.
Therefore, his concern is for himself, not others.
And then Cary, you’ve provided this guy with a plausible framework to help him explain to the new girlfriend how it is that he’s changed. You’ve practically written the script to make him sound genuine!
This is highly problematic. I mean sure, you’ve suggested: “…the more evidence you can produce of your current behavior, the better chance you have…”
Which is implying (but not stating clearly), the guy needs to walk the talk to back up his claims. Great.
But it’s possible for abusers to hold it together for a period of time before they lose their shit. Absolutely.
And so, you’ve possibly helped this guy (if he has the balls, which many abusers don’t) to come clean. So, he comes clean using your advice and the girl he’s dating doesn’t leave him. Probably because he’s a charming SOB (the way a lot of abusers are).
Then, its all puppy dogs and sunshine for a while. Until the guy loses it, because he’s forgotten to stay with the program.
Rehabilitation of abusers. Is it possible? Maybe, but at this point on my own journey, I wouldn’t trust someone who says they’ve got a previous history of abuse. Not at all.
They would have to have years of evidence, not just months, before I’d even consider they were telling the truth. Just sayin’…
Then, some dude wrote a follow up reply to my letter which makes me want to vomit:
Yes, let him “come clean”, and his girlfriend will leave him because, well, it just isn’t that serious yet and she doesn’t need the headache, and he is once again alone and sad. So, by all means, destroy his life before he even has a chance to prove himself.
That is what I hate about America now – nobody gets a second chance. Nobody.
You know, bruises and broken bones heal. But there is no law against the emotional torture a woman can put a man through. There is no law against tearing someone’s soul out. And you KNOW there are women out there who do that. And they are never held accountable.
My reply to him was as follows:
Right, are you saying the girlfriend has no right to know the facts about someone she’s getting involved with?
Whether or not she leaves him is up to her. But like it or not, that man has to prove himself. As Cary has suggested, he *must* show evidence he’s changed. And not just a week or a month’s worth of change. That’s not enough, sorry.
I’d suggest this guy has already had a hand in the destruction of his own life, by being an abuser of women. No one has the right to assault another human being like that.
I am not American. I’m Australian. And yes, bruises and broken bones heal. But unfortunately, it seems the psychological impacts of assault are grossly under-reported.
For example, in my very own personal experience, assault cost me nearly four years of my life. It wasn’t just one night where a former lover lost control and showed me the dark side of his nature. It was the years of post-traumatic stress, the daily flashbacks, nightly nightmares, depression and an inability to function that almost cost me my job.
What did the guy who assaulted me get? Nothing. It was deemed a “his word against mine” situation, despite the bruises on my body and the broken glass in my front door. I managed to get a restraining order taken out but we all know how great they can work, don’t we?
So I lived in terror for months before I moved, changed my phone number, car, and everything that he could have connected to me. And I still didn’t feel safe. The cost for me was four years of not being able to relate to another human being properly. And of course, the therapist fees.
I’m doing much better now, thanks. But I still haven’t been able form another intimate relationship. I’ve only recently begun to feel happiness and possibilities for my future arising again.
Sure, bruises heal quickly but the spectre of assault lingers for a long, long time.
Clearly, I’m not all the way there yet. I can’t respond to this sort of tripe without my blood boiling. And I guess I’ve never considered whether or not leopards with habitual patterns of assault can ever change their spots.
The jury is still out for me on that front…
Brooks Hall said:
This is a tough question, Svasti, and while your intellect might like it–to me it sounds like you have more healing to do. Find out what you need to feel safe with someone, if you can. And I wish you the best on this journey. I also empathize because I too have unhealed wounds that cause me to keep men at a distance while simultaneously desiring relationship.
I agree with Brooks– this is a tough question. I think some of the answer would lie in the age of the abuser. If the abuser is a teen or in early 20s I think there might be some hope with good motivation and therapy. If drugs or alcohol are involved– there might be hope if those factors are removed permanently followed of course with therapy.
There might be other extremes that could factor in as well. (I know from personal experience with my husband). I say the girlfriend should know in any case because as you know habitual abuse usually escalates often resulting in homicide.
svasti- although I haven’t been abused, I reacted to the article, her advice, and the ‘dude’s’ response.
I do fully believe in systems that promote healing and rehabilitation of abusers. I do. But (of course there’s a but), I don’t believe that system exists in our society as we know it (whether it be in Canada, USA, or Australia).
Currently our society shames women for standing up for themselves and for coming forward when they have been abused. There is stigma. There is pressure to just ‘be a good girl’ etc. There are just so many images of violence against women in our culture that I don’t see how if he got a ‘little’ bit of counselling he’s all better.
However, I do believe that there will always be room for healing from your part. As we grow and experience the way we think, look, feel about life changes and so does how we react to our memories.
A very interesting post.
Hi, Svasti –
Oh my goodness! You rock! You said exactly what I would have wanted to say (in both of your comments) but I could not have said that well.
I agree with you on every point.
A month is not long enough . . . maybe five years? Maybe.
The poor sap who is “bleeding” from bitchy women? All he has to do is hang up the phone and shut the door and turn off the text messaging — and he is safe. Boo hoo to him. I’m betting he is not the most supportive partner either, given what he wrote.
The cost to you for what happened? I think your list of costs was conservative. I think you are brave and full of courage and strength to have survived and to begin to thrive. Way to go! I’m proud of you!
– Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)
P.S. My blood is boiling, too, after reading what the aggressive guy and the sappy dude wrote. So, that makes two of us with boiling blood.
Did I mention I am proud of you?
Did I mention that I am in awe of your ability to say exactly what needed to be said?
Did I mention that you rock?
Okay . . . I just thought this deserved a second comment from me. One comment just wasn’t enough. It needed to be said twice.
– Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)
This is an interesting question and one that I’ve thought a lot about (without reaching a conclusion) based on an abusive man my mother was involved with. I’ve been writing about our experiences with him and in the process located him. We basically assumed he was dead. Well, clearly he’s not and he appears to be very successful from the outside. He was in his early 20s when he assaulted my mother and spent some time in jail — not for the assault, but for subornation of perjury when he was under trial for murder.
It seems clear that it would take time and real effort for an abusive person to change their ways. I doubt this is what happened with my mother’s old boyfriend, but hope that it can happen for others.
@Brooks – Absolutely, more healing there to be done. I’m workin’ on it!
@tricia – Totally, the girlfriend should be aware of who she’s dealing with and the potential for things to get ugly. If she really loves him and if he’s proven himself in other ways, she won’t necessarily leave him. But the onus is on him to show evidence, repeatedly, that she is not in danger. Anything else is completely unfair and dangerous to her.
@EcoYogini – I believe its possible to change, too. As long as someone does the work. And I have this sneaking suspicion that where male violence against women is concerned, its very rare for the perpetrator to “really see” the problem. Its very typical to brush off an act of violence (even if its repeated) as something caused by a situation or another person. And that’s where the danger lies for me. Until someone with a habit of violence can take responsibility for their actions and really work to uncover the “why” behind their actions, I don’t think they are healed.
And to me, the guy who wrote the letter sounds to me like he’s more concerned with losing his girlfriend than he is with making sure she’s 100% safe. And that’s just not acceptable!
Without doubt, there’s more healing for me on the horizon. I’ve come a long way, but I know its not over yet…
@Marie – Thanks for your two comments. Yeah, when my ire is raised, I get pretty feisty I guess! Sure, I wrote a conservative list of “costs” but hey, I was making a point, not writing on my own blog!
@Jennifer – I agree, I don’t think a tendency towards domestic abuse is something that’s easily resolved. I see it as an outward symbol of underlying issues. And until those issues are addressed, there’s no way a little bit of counselling will ‘heal’ someone. And the reason that abusers get so good at hiding their violent nature is because they jump from one relationship to the next, never telling the woman what lies beneath.
So, all props to the guy who wrote the letter for even thinking about it (although perhaps if his ex-wife hadn’t threatened to out him, he wouldn’t be??), but total honesty is the only way in that case. More lies only reinforce the same patterns.