The Verbally Abusive Man. Can He Change? A Woman’s Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go by Patricia Evans
Communication specialist Patricia Evans explores the issue of verbal abuse in heterosexual relationships. She builds on her previous work in The Verbally Abusive Relationship and Controlling People by posing the question, “Can a verbally abusive man really change?” What is particularly startling about verbal abuse, Evans explains, is that in almost every case the abuser feels that he is the one being attacked. (Rarely, abusers are female, but such cases aren’t discussed in this book.) Getting him to own up to his damaging behavior is not easy. Motivating him to change is even more difficult. Evans supplies tools you can use to determine if your partner is likely to change and a program that can help him do so, if you think he can alter his abusive behavior. Evans uses her book as a pulpit to preach against unqualified therapists, verbal abuse in all its forms and the male-dominated society that has made such abuse possible. But, her cause is just, and getAbstract recommends this important resource to anyone who is struggling to survive an abusive relationship and to therapists who are seeking solid information.
- Verbal abuse occurs when a man defines his partner by telling her what she thinks, feels, wants or needs.
- Verbal abuse occurs when a man defines his partner by telling her what she thinks, feels, wants or needs.
- When his partner expresses herself genuinely, the verbal abuser feels “attacked.”
- The verbal abuser is trying to make his actual partner conform to his “dream woman,” the psychological embodiment of his subconscious, separate self.
- Counseling will work only if the therapist recognizes verbal abuse.
- A verbal abuser can change if he is committed and willing to do the work.
- The abuser is more likely to change if he is honest, cherishes his family, functions well in the outside world and is not violent.
- An “Agreement” to change shows the abuser his destructive behavior.
- How the female partner presents the agreement is as important as the agreement itself.
- The victim’s relationship with a verbal abuser can be transformed if he diligently participates in all aspects of the program for change.
The Verbally Abusive Book Summary Summary
Can He Change?
A woman might suffer from verbal abuse for years, yet her abuser may never think of himself as irrational or abusive. In fact, most abusers defend their actions by explaining that their partners attacked them. Before an abuser becomes willing to change his behavior, he must first recognize what he is doing and be motivated to change. Until a verbal abuser is aware, change is not possible. Even after the dawn of awareness, some men will refuse to change. Also, the new behavior of someone who wishes to change won’t last unless he understands his underlying motives. If change is possible, the abuse victim has an instrument to help bring it about, a document called “The Agreement.”
What is Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse occurs when an abuser tells his partner what she thinks, feels, wants or needs. In other words, he defines her. He might say, for instance, “You are too sensitive.” By stating this, he is “defining her inner reality and assaulting her consciousness.” In almost all cases, a man perpetrates verbal abuse toward his partner. Women are rarely perpetrators. Categories of verbal abuse include “withholding, countering, discounting, verbal abuse disguised as jokes, blocking and diverting, accusing and blaming, judging and criticizing, trivializing, undermining, threatening, name calling, forgetting, ordering, denial and abusive anger.”
The Dream Woman
A woman suffering from verbal abuse often looks critically at herself to find answers, wondering what she is doing that provokes such a response. Once she understands that the abuse is not her fault and is not the result of something she is doing wrong, she knows that the problem with the relationship does not rest within her.
“The stress of a verbally abusive relationship is unbearable, and no woman expects it to happen to her.”
The verbally abusive man has clear symptoms. He is angry, cold or unresponsive, and will not give a direct answer to a question. He rarely asks his partner how she feels. He defines his partner and does not see her as a separate individual. When she tells him that she is unhappy, hurt or frustrated, he feels assaulted. Why does the fact that his partner is her own person with her own thoughts and feelings make the abuser feel attacked? It’s because every time his partner acts like a “real woman” she displaces his interior “dream woman.” “A dream woman is the personification of the abuser’s unconscious, unintegrated self.”
“When the partner of an abuser knows why her husband or boyfriend does what he does, she finds it much easier to let go of the blame heaped upon her.”
When a boy has to suppress his emotions, he develops a separate internal self. This separate self often involves qualities that are considered feminine. As an adult, he ascribes these qualities to his dream woman. He manipulates and controls his actual partner by using various tactics, such as anger, withholding or trivializing, to shape her into his unintegrated self. When she acts like an independent individual, he feels threatened and attacked. She is not acting like she is “supposed” to, like his dream woman, and he panics because he can’t find the rest of himself. He’ll do anything to keep his dream woman alive in the body of his wife or girlfriend.
Covert and Overt Abuse
The type of behavior the abuser exhibits is influenced by how old he was when he began to create his separate self. For instance, if he was psychologically damaged as a child, his dream woman might be a mother figure. Thus, he’ll treat his partner like a mom. He’ll be comfortable when she performs parental duties, such as paying the bills or attending meetings. However, he’ll ignore her true thoughts and feelings, which he finds threatening. His “covert abuse” could include withdrawing into an angry silence, bursting into a rage or countering her beliefs. In the most extreme instances, this man is a “psychological paraplegic.”
“Most men who verbally abuse their partners have perfected their personas; they have an affable demeanor and they appear to be the nicest people anyone would want to meet.”
The “overt abuser” treats his partner less like “Mom” and more like “Barbie.” His interior dream woman conforms to a teenager’s idea of femininity. He wants to control his real partner, so she will do the same. He tries to do so through ordering, yelling, stalking and denigration. He feels superior to his partner and, therefore, believes he has the right to make decisions for her.
The Right to Counsel
Counseling or therapy can be very helpful for a woman who is recovering from an abusive situation. However, couples counseling will not work when verbal abuse is the issue, because it relies on the premise that both partners see and hear each other. When a therapist does not recognize that verbal abuse is taking place, he or she can cause more damage or intensify the problem. This occurs when the therapist infers to the woman that, “If you were loving, you would be loved,” and that a relationship is a “50-50” thing. Therapists are trained to believe that both partners contribute to problems in a relationship. Yet, this is not the case with verbal abuse.
“I have heard from hundreds of verbally abusive men, and I have never found one who had a kind, nondefining, accepting father.”
When a couple seeks counseling for verbal abuse, they should establish “counseling guidelines” to ensure that the therapist recognizes verbal abuse. Guidelines may include an opening paragraph such as, “Neither of us wants to hear verbal abuse, the defining or characterization of another person, at any time, and especially in a therapeutic setting that is meant for healing and awareness. Therefore, we agree to meet here with the intention that neither one of us covertly or overtly defines or characterizes the other.”
“We need all counselors, therapists and leaders to know about verbal abuse so that people can get the help they need when they need it.”
With counseling guidelines in place, the therapist is alerted to intervene if the abuser makes a controlling statement, such as, “She blows things out of proportion.” The therapist could then respond by saying, “Do you know that statement defines her inner world, judges her perceptions, discounts and denies her experience, assaults her mind and consciousness, and likely leaves her feeling unseen and unheard?” With the use of counseling guidelines, therapy becomes a safe place for victims of verbal abuse.
But Will He Change?
If you are in a verbally abusive relationship, you may want to know, “Can he change?” Some men do change, with the proper commitment and a real willingness to work. If you wonder if your partner is likely to change, consider the probabilities. He is likely to change if he functions well in the outside world, is not violent, does not make threats, is honest, wants to keep his family together, doesn’t want to repeat his father’s mistakes and is not a philanderer. He probably won’t change if he abuses drugs or alcohol, has affairs, exhibits compulsive behavior such as a gambling problem, physically abuses you, blames others for his problems, is cruel to animals or is a loner.
“Being willing to change for his own well-being, to be a better person, not just to ensure that his wife will stay with him, is the highest form of commitment.”
“The Agreement”: An Instrument of Change An abuse victim creates an agreement with two main goals: first, to alert the abuser to his behavior, and second, to have an instrument for working as a couple to conquer the problem of verbal abuse. Even if you have decided to leave the relationship or have already left, you can use this agreement to clarify your reasons for leaving.
“Defining women is so old and pervasive an evil that many men don’t notice when it’s happening.”
Prepare before you write the agreement. Learn about verbal abuse. Build a support system of trusted friends and relatives. Create a complete list of verbally abusive statements your partner has used. Plan how you will present the agreement. Consider presenting it in front of a witness, such as a member of the clergy or a therapist. Pick a quiet place that is not secluded, such as a hotel lobby. Your safety should be a top priority.
“Women who have been in verbally abusive relationships say that the hard part is getting people to believe how bad it was.”
When you present the agreement, bring two tape recorders; one to tape the reading of the agreement and one to record the entire exchange. Read the agreement aloud to your partner, then give him a copy. Ask him to review it and plan to meet again within a week. Allow him to make changes. Then, both of you must sign the agreement. A viable agreement has five parts:
- Clearly spell out what you both agree not to say, under any circumstances. Include both overt and covert examples of verbal abuse. Example phrases include: “You are (stupid, an idiot, too sensitive, crazy or selfish).” “You are trying to (start a fight, get attention, make me feel bad).” “You think (I don’t know what you’re doing, that you know everything).”
- Pledge not to make defining statements about each other. For example, “We agree to the above, because neither person is the other nor lives within the other and so cannot know what the other is, thinks, feels, is doing and so forth.”
- List things that you both consent not to do. For instance, you agree that you will not make threats, walk away while the other person is talking, make decisions without consulting each other or deny abuse by saying you were only joking.
- Delineate what you both consent to do. Examples include working together to eliminate verbal abuse from your relationship, asking the other person what he or she wants, and using simple manners, such as saying, “Please” and “Thank you.”
- Address how you should respond if one of you breaks the agreement. For example, if you hear a defining statement, you will exclaim, “What?” “What did you say?” or “What are you doing?”
Agreeing to Change
After seeing the agreement, the verbally abusive man might awaken to his destructive behavior and want to change. Or he may not. However, it is not enough for him to want to change, particularly if he is only making an attempt to keep his partner from leaving. In addition to the will, the abuser needs the tools to change, like the following program. He should take these steps simultaneously, not sequentially, and integrate them into his life:
- Learn about the issue of verbal abuse – Read books and articles about verbal abuse every day and study the concept of the dream woman.
- Get his anger under control – Attending an anger management program is very helpful. However, anger is a symptom of verbal abuse; it is not the underlying cause.
- See a therapist – He needs help to work through the issue of “recovering his unlived self.” By visiting a therapist regularly, the abusive man can begin to process the painful experiences of his childhood that caused him to develop a separate self.
- Learn how to communicate with his partner by writing lists – The verbal abuser needs to write five lists to help him effectively communicate and listen to his partner. The five lists are “engaging questions, understanding and empathetic responses, taking it back, self-revelation and affirmations.”
- Take care of himself – The abusive man should adopt a healthy lifestyle that nurtures his emotional self. He should try to eliminate behaviors such as drinking to excess or gambling. He should eat well and exercise. And, he should begin to let himself feel his true emotions without guilt and begin to “parent” his “inner child.”
- Keep a journal – Keeping a personal diary will help the abuser develop awareness, and monitor his feelings and progress.
- Set aside time for “sacred conversations” – Make appointments to talk with one another one to three hours each week. During these conversations, the abusive man practices listening, sharing, responding and empathizing.
Did it Work?
How can you tell if he’s really changed? First, keep in mind that change takes time. It will also take time for you to regain your trust in your mate. If you notice that he acts kinder, calmer and “relieved,” continues to learn and ask questions about verbal abuse and controlling behaviors, goes to a counselor and shares more about himself, your abuser may be on his way to recovery. However, if he continues to define you, makes excuses, doesn’t seem to fully grasp the nature of his verbal abuse or is unable to empathize or engage with you, he has not changed.
About the Author
Patricia Evans wrote several bestselling books on verbal abuse and is an activist for the cause. She founded an interpersonal communication institute and is a consultant, speaker and facilitator.