My previous article on this topic is here
How many of you have heard the phrase:
“The love of a good (wo)man will…”
I don’t quite know how that phrase ends but we know this theme, which goes like this: no matter how difficult a person or situation maybe, no matter how thankless relating to them maybe, if we just provided enough love, the person will come around and become what one hopes they would become. If time after time there are no results it must mean that one is not loving enough, patient enough, giving enough, or kind enough…..with just that little more love, anything can be fixed.
This is the central premise for many romance novels, and unfortunately an abiding theme in many abusive relationships. Seriously, what if the person we are trying so hard to love is a narcissist? No matter how much one does, how much one tries to please, how much one tries to keep happy, the person is unimpressed. Worse, they make you feel responsible for their moods and proclivities, that change from time to time. Nothing is ever their fault; life is all about their wants, needs and happiness. It is the job of the person living with the narcissist to provide all they need…..without any hope of reciprocity.
And what about those who dangle love as a carrot, while trying to use it as an instrument of control…? Do as I say, and I will shower love. Else, I will emotionally abuse you by cold behavior, silent treatment, screaming fits, passive aggressive behavior, disrespectful treatment….
I’d say the romance novel premise is an epic fail. Sure, if one is a saint and is unruffled by such trivia as human behavior, and doesn’t depend upon emotional support from anyone, this kind of infinite love is possible. For people who have to deal with control freaks and narcissists and interact closely with them it is a daily struggle to find peace, let alone strength to carry on. Without outside support or community support, the person will crumble internally and become a shadow of him/her self.
A dear elder in the family once told the story of a teacher, who had a group of students living with him. This was in ancient India, where the students lived in the home of the teacher, and helped with daily chores while learning their lessons during different times of the day. Strict obedience to the teacher (guru) was the norm in a gurukulam, as such schools were called. This particular teacher was excellent, and had a reputation as a perfectionist. He would start his lessons early in the morning and take a break in the afternoon. He had a fondness for card games, which he indulged in each afternoon with other adults in the community. During this time, he would ask one of his students to make sandalwood paste for the next day’s prayers.
Fresh sandalwood paste is made by rubbing a small wet log of sandalwood against a flat stone, periodically removing the paste that has gathered and re-wetting the log. The student doing the grinding would bring the paste to the teacher in a plate to test for the desired consistency.The teacher liked the paste to be of the consistency of butter, and the student had to keep grinding until it reached that consistency.
One day, the teacher was engrossed in a card game and the student kept bringing the sandalwood paste in a plate for his approval. The teacher kept sending him back, saying it had not reached the consistency of butter. At one point, the student observed that the teacher wasn’t even looking at the paste…..fully engrossed in the card game, he simply extended his hand, took the paste in his fingers, and tested the consistency.
After repeated attempts at appeasing this teacher, the frustrated student brought actual butter in the plate. The teacher as usual extended his fingers, rubbed the butter and said it still wasn’t buttery enough. At which point, the student quit, packed his bags, and left for his village!
Sometimes love can be the sandalwood paste that never reaches butter’s consistency!
“Domestic abuse or intimate partner abuse happens only to women”
This is commonly accepted as truth. The term domestic abuse conjures up images of a battered and bloodied woman, who suffers beatings (or worse) at the hands of a physically abusive male partner. One thinks about Ray Rice, Chris Brown, and O.J.Simpson…..and in the Indian context, about brides physically tortured and in the worst case burned for dowry.
But what about the abuse that shows no outward scars? Where the person is slowly but subtly losing his sense of self, at the hands of a mentally and emotionally abusive female partner? Those who think women cannot be abusive as intimate partners either haven’t lived long enough or lead an idyllic existence where such things do not happen to those close to them.
In his sensitive Tamil film, Solla Marantha Kathai, director Cheran talks of financial and emotional abuse of a man who, by force of circumstances, has to make a living working in a restaurant run by his father-in-law. He suffers many hardships, constant verbal abuse, and at one point has to separate from his pregnant wife, who now lives with her parents. The parents continue to berate him in her presence and she being a young village girl, doesn’t know what to think. She starts to believe her parents, that her husband isn’t good enough. The spouses continue to miss each other and are finally reunited when the man finds gainful employment elsewhere and returns to take his wife: the wife takes their child and runs away from her parents home. The man holds his child and his wife after months of separation….his tears say it all.
Abuse in situations of financial hardship is difficult to live with. But the cycle of abuse can be broken if the man has high self esteem otherwise, sees the abuse for what it is, is able to get to a better financial position, and is able to stand his ground eventually.
But there is another type of insidious abuse, of men who are otherwise smart, successful and project a capable image to the outside world. These men in many cases hold high positions, and have well-paying jobs. They may even be nice enough to support the wife’s parents. Yet they lead a double existence, of high respect in the workplace, and abuse in the home that happens without anyone’s knowledge.
Before discussing this, let’s think for a second about schoolyard bullying. You picture a small child being surrounded by bigger and older boys. These older children threaten the younger/smaller person with beatings and often carry out their threats….and we, who are accustomed to think of abuse in physical terms think of only this when we think of bullying.
Girls bully differently: by spreading canards about, isolating and excluding the unwanted girl. They organize into cliques, with a ring leader and a bunch of followers of varying rank in the clique. The other girls’ status is constantly shifting, defined by their closeness to this leader. A person is “in” or “out” based on certain unspecified criteria; perhaps dressing a certain way, or acting a certain way. Those that defy this state of affairs are shunned and made to feel like an outsider. Overt remarks and covert gestures in the presence of this person serve to further isolate and exclude the person. Gossip is another powerful tool: a few carefully placed lies – and voila, there goes the person’s reputation!
Those who have experienced this at some point in their lives know how painful this is…..The more confident girls steer away from such girls, calling their bluff and preferring their own company; some may seek the company of other misfits and square pegs. Some who are tomboys, have friendships with the opposite sex, becoming “one of the boys”. The less confident girls, or those who are awed by the bullies, keep on trying to fit in….and losing the battle. Some children in this process of trying to fit in, are driven to end their lives.
Note that for abuse to thrive, there has to be secrecy; if the abuse is exposed, it will end right there. So the female bullies know how to put on an act around authority figures. They can act extremely nice, so much that no one suspects them of bullying. The bullied person is threatened enough not to expose the abuse, and in severe cases, is made to think it is all their fault. Children with low self esteem and a need for external validation, are often brainwashed into thinking they deserve the bullying.
Intimate male partners are abused along similar lines. There are no cliques in this case – the clique may come later. But it always, always involves an insecure woman, and a man who tries to keep her happy, often at the cost of his quality of life and health. And just like the schoolyard bullying, it involves isolation and secrecy.
The woman starts out falling in love with a generally nice man – in some cases a talented, empathetic and kind soul. Perhaps a naive, people pleasing soul. She acts extra caring and charming at first, being all that the man wants her to be and sweeping the man off his feet. So much that he feels that she is the Goddess incarnate, and he will find no one better. Once the relationship is firmly established, the games begin. First, she finds faults with his friends: they are all good-for-nothing wastrels, and time is spent more productively doing other things. Sometimes, she pouts that she never gets enough time with the man and he prefers the friends’ company to hers.
As time progresses, she will want to spend more and more time with the man, and prevent him from meeting his family and friends. Ostensibly, this is because she wants to spend every moment with her beloved, and loves him so dearly that she doesn’t want to share him. This of course, is very flattering to a man newly in love.
At this stage, he still is a very social being with social needs and isn’t fully in her grip – yet. So he has a natural desire to meet his family and friends in social settings. She initially accompanies him to gatherings with friends and family. But at the end of every gathering, the man realizes something is wrong – his partner isn’t happy. His beloved may indicate that she didn’t enjoy it, or that the people were not good enough for whatever reason. As time progresses, she may behave in a very cold, detached and erratic way in such settings. In time, it is clear to him that she is uncomfortable in the company of his friends and family. Gradually the time spent in such company is reduced, and the man is increasingly isolated from those close to him. Sometimes he avoids the gatherings, as he either doesn’t want to expose her erratic behavior, or doesn’t want to feel caught in the middle.
For a while he may try to meet those close to him on his own. But his partner may try to prevent him from doing so by scheduling other activities, or calling him so often on his cellphone that he is embarrassed. She may fake some emergency, and make him return to her early. Or she may try to make him feel guilty for spending time away from her, or have an existence outside of her. Any questioning of such pathological behavior is met with extremely emotional and obstinate stances, and the man realizes that there is no point in arguing with such a person. He is attempting to reason with her, and her objective is to control, not reason. She may try to make him feel guilty for breaking her heart, threaten to commit suicide, or claim he doesn’t love her enough. Or make his life so miserable through the silent treatment, erratic crying, threats of returning to her parents’ home, threats to harm herself as he doesn’t “understand her love”….she acts so despondent that it leaves the man dazed and confused.
At this point, the man may rationalize that the partner is just having a bad day, or that her irrational behavior is stemming from deep love. She after all, has been so charming and nice to him all along. He may try to put the behavior past him, and move on. But by now, well-meaning friends and family try to caution him, saying he is not who he used to be. That the woman is not good for him, that she will make him unhappy.
A wise man may see the red flags by now, but an empathetic, naive or completely smitten man may not. He may ignore the warnings of friends and family, or get extremely angry when they bring up the subject of his partner. His partner blows hot and cold, and he is confused. She claims that her bad moods are because of his behavior. He starts to believe her, doubling up his efforts to please her.
In time, he may realize the abuse, but is not able to get away from it for any number of reasons: the couple may have children together; she may be very attractive and he is loath to end the relationship, or there are financial dealings which could get complicated. He tries to look on the bright side, denying even to himself the abuse that is happening. Everyone has good and bad days, he reasons.
And there are good days too. Abuse, after all, happens in cycles…… The man during such times thinks his lady is an absolute angel and loves him to the ends of the earth. All she wants is my company, where is the harm in that? The woman feeds this fantasy by saying their relationship is so special and no one understands it, that they need to protect this relationship at all costs from people who may try to break them up. She may claim that she is the only one who truly loves him and understands him, and his friends and family are liars and fakes who only pretend to care.
In time the man loses himself, his birth family, his friends’ circle and is a prisoner to her wants and needs. But ironically, she continues to maintain relationships with those close to her. Her family becomes his family, her world becomes his. Any children that are born to them, are also made to align with the mother. The father will be berated in front of them, his authority constantly undermined. Children are astute beings – they realize quickly who is boss!
The abuse does not stop there. It usually escalates. The woman continues to berate the man and acts as though he is nothing without her. She calls him naive and unfocused, and claims she is the one trying to better their life and if he only listened to her and did what she said, their life would be much better. He may take the bait and increasingly do things and commit acts that he wouldn’t normally do, to keep her happy. In some cases, her family is in cahoots with this – after all, now that he has been cut off from his own family……
Financial abuse is next, where his money and expenses are kept in close watch. Early on in the game, she only managed his accounts and watched how money was spent. She may now make him buy assets in her name, or sign over his properties and assets in her name as part of her grand plan to “take care of him, allow him to focus on work and save him from the stress of dealing with all other matters”. Now in addition to being isolated from family and friends, he has no money of his own, despite being the one making the money! Her control over him is complete.
This is typically a very insecure woman who seeks security through control. The more she controls, the better she feels. And the more he allows her to control, the deeper the man sinks into this abyss….. If you see a once joyful, lively and loving man who is now completely bereft of life or joy, and who is not the social creature he once used to be for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent, there maybe a questionable partner in his life.
Why doesn’t the man break the cycle? When the Janay Rice incident happened, twitter was afire with two hashtags #whyshestayed and #whysheleft where many women described why they stayed with their abusers for so long, and why they finally had the courage to leave.
Many of the same reasons apply to men. In addition to this, there is social pressure for men to be strong and self-sufficient. First, larger society doesn’t believe men can be abused by women; it is hard to open up before an incredulous audience. Men may be afraid to be seen as weak, as a victim, as needing help and support. The culture places high regard on strong, silent men after all.
But some of these men may be silently suffering. They may rationalize that in time, with enough love and patience…..well, you know the rest. This is the “love of a good woman” scenario I mentioned earlier, with the gender reversed.
To be continued…