[This post is excerpted from Lundy's new book The Joyous Recovery: A New Path to Emotional Healing and Freedom forthcoming in January 2019.]
KEY CONCEPT #1: ENTRAPMENT
One of the defining characteristics of abuse is that you can’t easily get away from it. If you could, you would.
The entrapment element is always present. Intimate partners are trapped by threats, by isolation, by lack of access to money, by not wanting to get separated from their children, by brainwashing, and by a long list of other factors. For example, when a woman has children with a man who is abusing her, leaving him means that she faces giving up a lot of her time with her kids, because the abuser will seek visitation or even primary custody.
My central message to the abused woman: Reflect on the factors that are trapping you. Don’t blame yourself for being trapped. You can find a way out, but it will take some time. The better you understand what’s holding you there, the better the chance of figuring out your path to freedom.
My central message to the support person: Women don’t get stuck in abuse because of masochism. They get stuck because the abuser — along with the society that backs that abuser up — has trapped them in a bunch of different ways, not least of which is the huge trauma he has caused. Offering her simple solutions won’t help, because there are no simple solutions. You become much more helpful when you grasp how complex it all is.
KEY CONCEPT # 2: ABUSERS TELL YOU IT’S YOUR OWN FAULT
An abuser won’t necessarily blame you for every single incident – he may even act very apologetic sometimes — but nonetheless he is determined overall to drum it into you that you’re the real cause of how he acts.
The result is that virtually every abused woman comes to feel that she is at fault. She feels that she pushed the abuser’s buttons, or that she caused him to turn mean, or that it’s her fault because she didn’t leave. All of these messages are the voice of the abuser speaking through her mind.
In reality, nothing an abused woman can do will make the abuser treat her any better. Abusive behavior comes entirely from factors that are internal to the abuser, and not at all from anything about the personality, behavior, or responses of the targeted person.
My central message to the abused person: You are doing nothing – zero – to cause the way you’re being treated. The abuser is 100% responsible for his own behavior. None of what he does is your fault, and you can’t make his behavior change by changing yours.
My central message to the support person: Blaming an abused woman for the abuser’s behavior, or for the fact that she hasn’t left, never helps. The way out comes from supporting and empowering the target of the abuse, not by blaming or criticizing her.
KEY CONCEPT #3: YES, IT IS THAT BAD
I very often hear targets of abuse saying, “I’m probably making too big a deal about this,” or, “I’m sure I’m blowing this all out of proportion, it’s not really so bad.” This is, again, the voice of the abuser speaking through her; the abuser loves to brainwash the woman to believe that she’s hysterical, that she overreacts, and that she’s unstable. Don’t buy it.
My central message to the abused person: Take your feelings seriously. When someone tells you that you’re overreacting to how they’re treating you, that in itself is a bad sign about them. Trust your own instincts.
My central message to the support person: Keep validating the person’s feelings. Keep pointing out her strengths and accomplishments. Support targets of abuse to believe in themselves.
KEY CONCEPT #4: ISOLATION IS AN ENEMY, CONNECTION IS A FRIEND
Abuse thrives where people feel alone. And abusers work hard to keep their targets isolated.
Don’t keep telling yourself, “I can handle this, I can handle this.” That message may help you be strong sometimes, but right now it’s not working; in fact, it’s keeping you vulnerable to the abuser. It’s okay to need help. In fact, it’s profoundly human to give and receive assistance.
Find someone to whom you can tell the truth about what’s happening. Take the leap to trust someone. Build your social connection in whatever way you can. It may take creativity and courage to break out of isolation, but it’s the most important step you can take to change your future.
My central message to the abused person: You don’t have to be alone and it isn’t good for you. Don’t listen to the abuser when he blames you for why you feel so alone. Keep finding ways to reach out to people and never give up.
My central message to the support person: Connect, connect, connect. Be there, be there, be there. Helping the abused woman overcome isolation is the most valuable contribution you can make. Work to govern your own frustration and impatience because those will keep you from being fully connected to her.
KEY CONCEPT #5: YOU WILL FIND YOUR WAY OUT
The abuser works hard to convince you that you’re incompetent, selfish, and messed up, and that no one cares about you. And at times what he’s saying may even start to seem true, as if he’s turning you into the bad things he says you are. Try to see through these lies and toxic dynamics; there is nothing wrong with you. You will find a way to an abuse-free life, and to heal from the harm that he’s done.
The great majority of women living with abuse get out eventually. It can feel like you’ll be there forever, but you won’t.
My central message to the abused person: You are smart, capable, and sane. You will get free, and be surrounded once again by people who love you, believe in you, and are kind to you.
My central message to the support person: Keep reflecting back to the abused person all of the positive qualities you see in her. Keep believing that she will get free.
Dear Mr. Bancroft,
Thank you for your amazing and extraordinarily helpful body of work. You may not have an M.D. or PhD. after your name, but compassion seems to have led you to practically invent a new area of expertise which may very well prove more valuable in the end than any doctoral degree that could be/have been conferred upon you as a legacy of the old, traditional point of view on abusive men and abused women and children.
In light of your specialist capacity, might you be able to share any thoughts or insights you have regarding the behaviors of Brett Kavanaugh?
It took me years to get out; it would have been 100% easier, if I had left in the early period (before kids). Once the kids came, then it would have been custody fights, child support fights, visitations, etc. I wasn’t strong enough, to fight back. He blamed me for EVERYTHING, and I was dumb enough to believe him totally for many years. Back then (70s, 80..there were NO support systems in our rural area for help. And the ‘Christian’ books on wifely submission didn’t help my mindset. I had to leave them behind, and slowly, but surely find my own way OUT. Being yelled at, criticized often, blamed, threatened, an already low self esteem to zero. I had little or NO help from family. Whether they chose to ignore it, or didn’t know what to do; I have NO idea. I finally left, with help from 2 women friends. I was a wreck for a long time; had NO money for counseling. I’ve been divorced for almost 20 years. Our 3 sons chose his side, so they are estranged from me. I see little of them or their children. As far as I can tell, 29 years with him was a WASTE of my life. I go on, do the best I can, at 67.
Vanessa you are a strong and brave woman. You give others courage. You speak loudly to the wives of your sons without saying a word.
That’s amazing and so courageous that you finally got out! I’m so happy you finally found yourself! God bless you for your strength. Thank you
Would you write an article on the obvious and not so obvious signs of abuse? I have been in a few abusive relationships both physically where I feared my life and emotionally (fortunately not for long) but I am 28 now and starting to lose hope that I will meet someone or be in a healthy relationship as I keep meeting abusive types of men. Could you write an article to help identify those signs? Why do I keep falling into these relationships of abuse? Is this common?
It’s unfortunately common. I too have the same problem.
When I read the book, Why Does He Do That, I said this has been my life for 37 years. I failed to recognize the red flags, and married him anyway. Life went on and I put up with his bad behavior. I got involved in Reiki group and that helped me to “see” that I had to get out. I found a lawyer and my father gave me the money to retain him, $2000. That is one of the biggest hurdles women face when wanting to leave. Most of the time the abusers have the money locked tight! I believe you must have a lawyer, especially if you have children. I had the chance to leave, and he was so remorseful promising to go to counseling that I caved in. The lawyer, a very fatherly figure said to me, you are making a big mistake, he will never change. I stayed, and HE WAS RIGHT!! I am married now for 37 years to a man I don’t love, I coexist. I live a comfortable life, but at what expense? Now at the age of 66, I am steadfast in my conviction that this is no way to live. I still have life left in me and I want to be free!! It’s going to possibly cost me my sanity but I would rather die free then to live oppressively for the rest of my life. I could write a book myself. Mental, verbal, emotional abuse is insidious. There are no obvious scars, and to even try to explain all the subtle ways “they”abuse is almost impossible! Lundy does though!!! He understands how the abusers brainwash the outside world into thinking everything is perfectly fine, this woman oh she is so great, and he buys her things and does things for her, not for HER, but for the outsiders to see what a wonderful man he is. This single deception is the biggest hurdle most of us have to confront!! Family and friends who will say, WHAT, but he’s so good to you? You have this great life? What is wrong with you?? What IS wrong with us????
Dear Mr. Bancroft:
Thank you so very very much for making your body of work available to the public. Your work is triage that is needed by so many women that the medical and pyschological associations are incapable of providing at this point in time. I have experienced even more frustration and dead ends trying to find help from a mental health professional. Unless you are in imminent danger, the medical professions cannot help at all. Psychiatrists are inappropriate because they are in the business of physiological disorders with mental expressions. For instance, I am not suffering from clinical depression or schizophrenia. Most psychologists, psychotherapists or counselors are ill equipped to deal with a social problem / epidemic of abuse because they deal with individual therapy and do not give practical advice. This may be come off as arrogant but I did not find psychologists or counselors to be particularly bright. I felt I was wasting my time and money. I am a middle aged, woman of color in one of the learned/licensed professions. None of these men and women I tried sessions with were in tune with me socially, personally or professionally. I will concede however, one psychologist who was older than me, with a PhD did ask me a straight forward question. He asked me, did you ever think you were being abused by your husband? I responded, no because I can walk away at anytime and I fight back. Then I came across your book by a google search under “abusive” and it really made me realize I needed to listen to my inner voice.
From the start, I blatantly disregarded my inner voice about my husband. He is the terrorist / victim combo. The last 4 years with him was hell. Every year that passed, I felt so invested that I kept pushing through thinking there was hope he would get better. He was suffering from end stage alcoholism but survived. It was sheer hell – the wet brain, hallucinations, the angry blowups, black outs, loss of bodily functions. I had no choice but to have him put on a psychiatric hold. He’s been sober one year now. But as you taught in your book, alcoholism does not create an abuser. He was still spewing his vile words of hatred towards me, accusing me of cheating when he was the one doing that putting my health at risk. He is still so twisted calling me a whore when nothing could be further from the truth. I finally saw him for what he truly was, a selfish, nasty, manipulative, twisted man who was incapable of ever caring or loving me. You were absolutely right in your key concept stating that there is nothing I can do to make him treat me better. I finally realized this will never happen. I asked him to leave. And he agreed.
I think my husband agreed to leave not out of the goodness of his heart but because he realized too that he was not going to break me and control me. I reminded him during every fight and stated, I did nothing wrong to you. I also reminded him that whatever anger he was feeling should be directed at the person who made him feel that way and it was not me as I said nothing provocative or anything about what he was raging about. I also believe that he believes he would be hurting me by leaving. I have no intention of dispelling him of that notion that his leaving is his final act of disrespect. I look forward only to the peace I will have once he leaves my life. So every time I feel a twinge of guilt and sympathy for him, I return to this website and your book and remind myself that it is not his disease of alcoholism or his disease of depression that made him treat me so horribly but his selfish sense of entitlement and comfort at my expense. So I am very very thankful for you sharing your insight and encouragement. I think I am starting out of this black hole and I intend to get out because I was a happy person with a wonderful family before I met my husband. I felt so profoundly sorry for him because he was suffering from alcoholism and only wanted to share my happiness with him. He was in the same profession and was more accomplished than I was. I respected him believing that he knew more than I did. I never should have doubted myself. I was naive and duped into believing that this man loved and respected me by taking him at his word. This was hard to admit. But necessary in order for me to get back on track with my self respect and well being.
Again, thank you, thank you, thank you. Your words are truly words to survive by right now.
Thank you for everything you do. I ended the relationship with my son’s father for good a few weeks ago and the police had to be called. I filed a restraining order the next day and even though I still wake up ill to my stomach, I feel like I’ve been given a gift since I left him. I can breathe again. I feel peace. I can handle anything. My son is very young, but now he will never grow up seeing me be treated the way I was. He’s the reason why I finally left, but what pushed me was the quiet voice in my head telling me even though I couldn’t trust any of my decisions and felt worthless, I was worthy of a better life and it was up to me to make it through this hard time. Your book helped so much and I wanted you to know how grateful I am. Thank you.