Dear Dr. Norquist:
First I have to tell you I read your column faithfully and I get a lot out of what you write, so thank you!
Dr. Norquist, how can you tell if someone is showing signs of an abusive nature? I am a female 45 and it seems like every relationship I have been in turns out horribly abusive. My first marriage was very physically abusive and after 16 years I finally found the courage to get out of the marriage, luckily with my life.
Then I began dating and everything was wonderful in the beginning but then again turned out physically abusive. And now after all of that I finally thought I found a nice calm guy with patience and caring, not much ambition or drive to do much more than work but he is verbally abusive. We can have the smallest argument about something so stupid and he throws his wedding ring at me, tells me to die, tells me I am worthless, he even throws in comments about my son.
So my question is: why am I constantly finding my relationships winding up with some form of abuse. I am so tired of this! It is making me scared to get into another relationship. I find myself questioning me, am I the cause? But honestly I believe that no one, especially a woman, deserves ANY form of abuse.
I think I am a good wife, I cook dinner every night, I work, I handle the shopping, the cleaning, the laundry, the bills and that’s not throwing the kids running around into it (my kids – we do not share any children together). He works (occasionally 2 jobs) but even if he is just working the one he comes home, sits on the couch and does nothing else. This is just a horrible way to live and I don’t know how to deal with it anymore.
Honestly, I want to move on, but like I said, I am so scared to end up in yet another horrible abusive mess. It’s not good for my kids to be around. I don’t like the atmosphere in the house, it just feels stressful because of how we are living. I have been trying to make this work for 2 years now. We have gone for counseling but he now says he is not going anymore, that I am the one who needs help, not him. So what I am asking you is how do I know?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Self worth is a lesson you are learning. The way out of this dilemma is to heal that part of you that allows for relationships that are abusive. Clearly your questions, and the trend of lessening severity of abuse in your relationships shows you are making good progress.
We tend to recreate situations we are familiar with, because it fits our ‘sense of self’ and because on some level we are trying correct or heal the situation so that we can get our needs met. If you have experienced abuse, it has a ‘fit’ somewhere within you. It is not utterly unacceptable because it is familiar – you know how to ‘be’ with it. Someone without this history would walk away as soon as the other person was abusive because this kind of relationship doesn’t have a ‘fit’ with them. Because of this, it is totally unacceptable to them and they do not get entangled in it. They defend themselves if need be, and move on. They do not make excuses or try to fix the other in order to try to get what they need. This is not one of their life lessons to learn, so it just doesn’t stick.
You ask what the signs are of a potentially abusive person. Abusive relationships are based on power. One is either the abuser or the victim and these roles often interchange. Those who abuse have often been abused. Abusing can be a way of making sure you are not the one abused. Having been disregarded, it’s easier to disregard others. Having been treated meanly, it’s easier to be mean towards others. Those who abuse have a need for power over others to shore up their own insecurities and feel safe. They often have an inability to see or honor another’s perspective. Sometimes it can manifest as having to have it their way, despite how it affects others. Anyone who is able to be mean towards any person or animal is able to turn that meanness towards you, as it does not chafe against an inner conscience of the wrongness of this behavior.
You are learning to heal yourself, to truly know and live your worth. We are all equally worthy and loveable. When you are able to know and live this truth on the inside, situations that give you the opportunity to learn the lesson will no longer dominate your important relationships.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services