Pray for me. I’m feeling weary. Could I ask you to hold my arms up high like Aaron and Hur did for Moses when the Israelites were in battle with the Amalekites (Exodus 17:12)? He couldn’t do it without the help of faithful others who came alongside of him. I know God wants me in this battle for truth, justice, and real reconciliation of marriages but sometimes I just want to retire to a quiet beach and read novels. Please pray for me.
Question: Leslie, the counselor we, or mostly he, is seeing told me that when hubby acts one way in public and different at home, it’s because he feels safe with me. My husband was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused as a child. I had no idea to what extent, but neither did I know that those experiences would hurt our marriage.
Leslie, could you explain here, or on another post, why this happens.
Ladies, those of who have been posting, does your husband have childhood trauma? It would be interesting to know.
Answer: I have mixed feelings about answering your question. I want to tell the truth, but I don’t want you to hear from me that someone who experiences a traumatic childhood is automatically destined to become a future abuser. There are many people who have experienced some kinds of horrific abuse in childhood and have not become abusive.
I also want you to understand that having empathy and compassion for the pain your husband experienced as a child is not a valid reason to continue to allow yourself to be abused or mistreated even if your counselor says he feels “safe” with you.
It’s true: hurt people often hurt people. When a child is consistently subjected to traumatic abuse throughout childhood, the basic developmental growth processes that make that child capable of healthy adult relationships become arrested.
For example, we know that when a child’s primary caregiver is incapable, unwilling, or unable to regulate or absorb her infant’s distress, the child suffers extreme anxiety and as an adult he or she is unable to regulate his or her own affect (calm themselves down, name and process their feelings with compassion, modulate their anger appropriately).
Donald Dutton, who has written a book called The Batterer: A Psychological Profile says this: “I was dissatisfied and decided to pursue my own research into the origins of their personalities. I covered many areas, …but after I had engaged in this study for some time, I stumbled upon a feature I had not expected. And this clue indicated not a physiological, genetic, societal, or socially learned theory but rather a psychological basis for abuse that originated in early development.”
He goes on to say, “Although abusive men can’t express it verbally, they seemed to experience some early form of trauma that has numerous effects beyond just modeling abusive actions. These effects manifest themselves globally in their sense of self, their inability to trust, their delusional jealousy, their mood cycles, their view of the world. They form what I have come to call the abusive personality.”
He also says, “the psychological seeds of abusiveness are sown very early in life – even during infancy. The development of the abusive personality is a gradual process that builds over years. ….The seeds come from three distinct sources: being shamed, especially by one’s father; an insecure attachment to one’s mother, and the direct experience of abusiveness of the home. No one factor is sufficient to create the abusive personality; these elements must exist simultaneously for the abusive personality to develop. They create a potential for abusiveness that is shaped and refined by later experiences, but that potential develops early in life.”
John Gottman, PhD, who has done extensive research in marriage, researched violent couples and wrote a book with Neil Jacobson, PhD, called When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships. He says with regard to treatment plans, “It’s not that we lack sympathy for the perpetrators of domestic violence, because their lives have often been plagued by difficulties unfathomable to most of us. By labeling them as Pit Bulls and Cobras (Gottman and Jacobson found there are two very distinct types of abusers), we do not mean to imply that they are subhuman, simply that – as far as battered women are concerned – they are best thought of as predators. As scientists such as Dutton have pointed out, they are, in many ways, victims themselves. They were often abused, and Pit Bulls may often suffer from their own version of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, their own traumatic histories do not render them any less responsible for the battering. Whereas these histories may help explain the battering, they do not justify it.”
In my own counseling practice I have worked with men who have been horrifically abused and have not become abusive and I have worked with abusers who have not been traumatically abused as children. So we can’t find one defining reason why men abuse women, but certainly trauma and early childhood development play a role in one’s future abilities to maintain healthy relationships.
What does that mean for you? You didn’t specify how your husband was abusive but I hope with your counselor’s wisdom, your compassion and care, your husband will get the help he needs to heal, grow, and change. However, it’s also important for you not to feel like it’s acceptable for him to continue to abuse because he’s been hurt. Abuse is abuse, whether you are the victim or the perpetrator and it’s always wrong.
Stay compassionate towards your husband’s wounds and hurt, but stay strong, It’s important than he know, “This behavior is not acceptable and I can’t live together with you when you behave this way.”
That is your best chance of helping you and helping him.
Friends, are you aware of a traumatic childhood that your spouse experienced?