Sanctuary for the Abused

Monday, October 23, 2006

Narcissism and the Human Condition

Narcissism is a normal feature of human development. All human beings are born narcissistic.

Narcissism is experiencing life in such a way that the real, external world is experienced as unreal, with the self alone as real. The narcissistic person does not accept that the real world has autonomous existence and is populated with real independent human beings; rather, all is some construction of their own mind, experienced only in terms of their own thoughts and feelings, hopes and desires. And when the real world demands some response, they either fail to respond, disconnecting themselves from it, or respond solely in terms of themselves.

Narcissism is universal in primitive cultures. Human social evolution is the gradual overcoming of narcissism.

The universality of narcissism as an aspect of psychological development is due to the fact that all human beings are conscious. The self, which is to a person the most important thing in existence, is not a fixed entity, since it is created over time from millions of interactions with other people: in other words it evolves. But consciousness is experienced very soon in a person's life, beginning between the ages of one and two (before this time an infant is not separated from reality, experiencing no 'I'). So, since consciousness is not first experienced at the end point of psychological development, it is experienced by a person during the creation of their self, when they are not yet authentic and whole. In this situation, of self-awareness simultaneous with development of the mental model, the self is at first experienced as more real than reality, and more important, since it cannot be allowed to fall apart; if it did, the person would die, would become insane from self-annihilation. Narcissism can therefore be seen as an inevitable consequence of consciousness.

The urgency of constructing a self gives rise to narcissism. Human narcissism is the experience of consciousness by the inauthentic self. The inauthentic self is one not complete; one with a less than whole understanding of itself.

Narcissism is therefore an inevitable and unavoidable part of psychological development. An evolving self is incomplete, and therefore more self-directed than reality-directed. Narcissism is therapy for the fragile self; to counterbalance the felt incompleteness self-directed behaviour comes into being. Narcissism is a force bringing fragmented parts together when they are not yet composed into a whole, and the more fragmented the parts, the stronger the required force, and thus the more intense the narcissism. But the penalty, the necessary penalty, of making the self more real than reality, is that reality is demoted.

Narcissism can be imagined as the glue holding together individually repelling fragments, fragments that have not been synthesized into a whole by experience and natural development, and which, since they must somehow be made whole to create a coherent entity - a conscious self - have to be forced. It is this artificial conglomeration into an inauthentic entity that results in the narcissistic self.

Consequences of narcissism

The main consequence of narcissism is the inability to understand that reality is autonomous. For the narcissist, stimuli from the external world are filtered through the self until they become more suited to the narcissist's needs. The real world is not experienced as an objective, independent entity, rather as a construct of the narcissist's mind. The world is seen in terms of the self; of the self's own thoughts, desires, needs, feelings. The force holding together the fragmented and inauthentic self, narcissism, like the glue holding together mutually repelling parts, directs all experience toward the self, at the expense of reality.

Narkissos himself can be understood from this wider perspective. It was not so much that he thought he was lovely and wonderful, though he surely did, rather he was only able to experience the real world through his reflection; he could experience it only in terms of himself. In his mental model of reality there existed one solid, real person: himself. All others were ghosts, shadows of no importance, and the world was merely a construction of his own thoughts and feelings. He was thus never able to interact with the real world on its own terms; nor through human terms, for the real world contained many other people, and that is why he was unable to tear his gaze away from the reflection.

So the prophesy of Teiresias implies this meaning: When Narkissos first experienced himself as an actual entity - in the myth analogy, when he first saw himself - he cut short his life. It is almost as if his youth was his pre-conscious life, and his first experience of consciousness came at sixteen, by the lake. (It is common practice now to test for consciousness in animals and babies with a mirror; when an infant understands that a paint dot seen on the reflected head is in fact upon its own skin, it understands at some level that it is a self.) The analogy is that Narkissos was unable to understand the real world around him, remaining in a stupor, because his own self had become the one and all of existence. As such, this Greek myth shows tremendous insight and has great relevance today.

This inability to comprehend reality, and the overpowering need to place the self above all else, means that the narcissist, existing in reality and with no choice but to interact with it, must reach out to control reality. Since reality cannot be felt to be independent, it must come under the control of the narcissist in order that it more fall into line with what the narcissist desires. In other words, narcissism is the fundamental source of all desires for power over reality; for control, manipulation, exploitation.

Power - that is, the control of others and of the external world - is the method of changing an independent reality to suit the desires of the narcissist. Through the mechanism of power, for example colonisation in patriarchal society, individual narcissists or narcissistic groups can try to mould reality according to their own wishes. They must do this. If reality is continually experienced as independent of the narcissist, then the mechanism of keeping the fragmented self together, by ranking it above reality, is destroyed, and self-annihiliation results. As a consequence, control must be exerted.

All forms of power wielding at the expense of others and of reality are rooted in narcissism: dominion, control, exploitation of others and of the environment. These are forms of therapy for the narcissist; they are required activities.

But ultimately reality can never be changed. It is independent of the narcissist. Though it can be controlled by human action to a small extent, to a useful extent, it is in the main autonomous. So the narcissist must convince themself that reality has been changed, and is amenable to such change, and this is done by hiding the truth. The narcissist will come up with all sorts of rationalisations and reactive behaviours to hide the truth. Again, this is essential therapy. Not doing it would expose the self to reality's truth, and destroy the mechanism of narcissism. In other words, narcissism always acts to preserve itself.

A third consequence of narcissism also derives from the inability to test, understand, and accept reality, and this is the certainty in the self and in the self's schemes that all narcissists feel. Once more, such a conviction is required. Since reality is filtered through the self, in the process becoming unreal and as the narcissist desires, all actions and schemes acquire an overpowering sense of certainty. Without this, their truth in relation to the world would become apparent, and the narcissist would be forced to see their own true character. This would destroy the mechanism of narcissism.

Certainty in itself is no bad thing. But, apart from the overpowering quality that exists to compensate for internal fragmentation and uncertainty, one aspect of narcissistic certainty sets it aside, and that is its lack of an origin in reality. The mature person will, to become certain of some thing, test it in reality, or experience it for a long time and with connection to understand its truth. The narcissist never tests in reality. Narcissistic certainties can occupy the full range from real to unreal; mostly, they are unreal. Since they have no basis in reality they tend to the unrealistic.

To protect themself from reality, the narcissist must deny truth. Internal certainty at the expense of reality means twisting what is experienced to suit personal needs. This is second nature to the narcissist.

As a result, certain qualities appear in narcissistic people. They are arrogant and righteous. They expound their own plans and theories at the expense of others, regardless of what reality, and the testing of reality, shows to be true. They try to destroy other systems so that their own can flourish. Their inner certainty, which over-rides everything, makes them self-important, pompous, conceited.

There are other forms of self-directed behaviour. Because the narcissist has to put self above all else, selfishness follows; and grandiosity, self-obsession, and the most commonly imagined type of narcissism, with its source in the the Greek legend, that of obsession with appearance. Over-concern for the self, in whatever form, compensates for the inauthentic self held together in a fragile clump by the glue of narcissism; no narcissist can afford to be ordinary.

There is one concept that illustrates the way narcissism puts the self at the centre of reality as a compensating mechanism, one that has existed for as long as civilisation, and that is the idea of destiny. Destiny is the ultimate in self-centred thinking. By imagining that some unique destiny awaits in the future, the narcissist reverses reality until it becomes a servant of the self. Destiny is the way that the narcissist accounts for the fact that the real world exists, and consists of events, without displacing the self from its centre. The narcissist imagines that the real world has some special place reserved for them, when nothing could be further from the truth. It is imagined that events revolve around the self, small parts of some great plan in which the narcissist plays the chief role; the opposite is true. To have any sense of personal destiny is to deny the real world's autonomy.

Another consequence of the narcissistic outlook is the inability to accept uncertainties. Again, as mentioned above, there is nothing bad in desiring certainty. But the narcissist, divorced from reality, takes this into the realm of extremes. An uncertain, that is, real and independent world, shows up the equivalence of the self and reality; the self is seen for what it is, and this destroys the mechanism of narcissism.

To counteract this, control can be exercised; control allows the creation of a certain world; power moulds others. Also, money can act to create certainty, for example in the construction of artificial environments insulated from the real world.

The world cannot be a certain place. To desire this is to turn away from its truth. To desire certainty, particularly of the absolute variety, is to experience the self as more important than the reality in which it exists.

Hence authoritarianism is a consequence of narcissism. This social structure is the method by which power (the unreasonable power of the narcissist, not the reasonable potency of the human being) is exercised.

For the narcissist, controlling reality and others is a required procedure, and within the authoritarian structure this is made easy. The corollary is the acceptance of the power of others higher up the hierarchy. For the narcissist there are various ways of coming to terms with this. The future can be considered, when the narcissist hopes to be in a higher position. The narcissist can be wholly immersed in the hierarchy's philosophy and desires, and thus does not mind submitting (this happens within the narcissistic group). Or the narcissist can be so lacking a core of human identity that such submersion in another is required to stop the self falling apart.

All authoritarian structures, operating by and large through hierarchies, though they can be simple, brutal domination, are based on narcissism. The wishes of others, who are not perceived as real and worthy, are ignored by those at the top. The self, and the self's created world, is all. Because of this, all authoritarian structures operate at the expense of reality, attempting to forge it into whatever the desired shape happens to be.

At the top of every authoritarian structure is a figurehead. This is usually a lone person - king, leader, priest - though it can be a group, and sometimes it can be a concept. It is into this that narcissists place parts, even all, of their selves.

In general, the more revered the figure, the more intense the narcissism and the resulting authoritarianism. The reason for this comes again from the dynamics of narcissism. Placing less emphasis on individual freedom and humanity, as the narcissist does, means placing more emphasis on the guiding figure, since this figure has so much more to achieve and to control. The amount of freedom lost by the controlled is proportional to the veneration of the figurehead and the intensity of the authoritarianism. As a result, weakly authoritarian systems have less important, less revered leaders, or less dogmatic ideologies; strongly authoritarian systems have glorified, lone leaders and harsh, usually fundamentalist, ideologies.

As an example, it is noteworthy that during the 1980's the economic systems of Britain and America, both of which were markedly authoritarian and conservative, actually acquired names; Thatcherism and Reaganomics. This need to bestow a name indicates the strength of the authoritarianism that the systems embodied.

These figureheads of authoritarian systems suit the individual narcissists in the hierarchy very well; they suit ordinary, humane people very poorly. For the narcissist, a world distinct from reality is created, in which a life can be led. There are opportunities for power and for exploitation. For humane people there is no opportunity, and, worse, such systems, since they are opposed to freedom, go some way to blocking the overcoming of their own narcissism. Human freedom is required for that task.

Narcissism also leads to isolation and remoteness. The rejection of, withdrawal from, or attempted moulding of reality means that the narcissist does not fully exist in reality. From the point of view of all others, there is a gap. In human terms, this gap can be experienced as remoteness, or as isolation, particularly as emotional, or human, isolation. The narcissist is unable to participate fully in the real world, as it exists for others, since it cannot be experienced on its own terms.

Other related symptoms include antipathy for groups, wholes, for connection of any sort, co-operation, consensus, and so on.

It is often the case that the narcissist has a reduced sense of humour, or even none. This is most often apparent when the humour concerns themselves. The narcissist has to conceal truth from themself. This is essential, since the truth of the self and of the real world would bring into focus the true relationship between these entities, and thus destroy the mechanism of narcissism. Humour, with its natural mechanism for deflecting pain that at the same time points to a truth, cannot be tolerated by the narcissist since they are so sensitive on the matter of their selves. Their selves are so fragile, assembled by a force that has to disregard reality, that they cannot face the truth. Even the underhand truth of humour is too much. By and large it is the severe narcissist who loses all sense of humour. Humour is so vital to human functioning that it is a drastic measure to quash it.

There come times in every narcissist's life when, despite the withdrawal from or changing of reality, the real world does intrude into the self. The reaction is rage.

So much anger and violence comes from puncturing the unreal narcissistic bubbles in which many people live. When such an event occurs, the frustration felt at the threat, or threatened change, to the narcissist's world is experienced in terms of the emotion of frustration: anger. Rage is the consequence of the truth, of reality circumventing the narcissist's self-deception. The threat to the narcissist's mental model requires an emotional reaction to convey the knowledge of frustration, frustration that reality is trying to change, even deny, and thus deconstruct, the internal model.

It is no accident that the 'terrible twos' period of a child's life is characterised by anger. Here, the child has just achieved consciousness and is at its most intensely narcissistic. The continual intrusion of a still largely unknown reality provokes much rage.

An alternative to rage, for example if the narcissist finds emotion difficult to experience, or cannot confront the source of their rage, is revenge. All revenge has its source in narcissism. For the narcissist, revenge is the great leveller. Revenge is the mechanism by which real or imagined insults are reversed or neutralised.

In the mind of the narcissist any personal slight, any criticism or remark, or any perceived attack on the narcissist or their group or world, must have a response. To leave be is again to experience an unwelcome truth. An insult, a remark or comment which seems to lessen the narcissist, make them unworthy or inferior, has to have a reversing response. Hence, revenge. In revenging themselves for some act, the narcissist changes the perceived alteration in self and reality, and returns, in their own mind, the sense of importance that previously existed.

As a corollary, the narcissistic person is sensitive to the possibility of insult. Frequently such slights will exist only in their imagination, or they will twist what really happened to make it an insult, in order that their self be confirmed as important. Over-sensitivity to criticism, and the inability to accept that something has been done or is wrong, are two of the more obvious signs of narcissism. In severe cases, a person will be unable to admit that anything they have done might have been wrong.

Another symptom of narcissism is voyeurism; vicarious experience through the actions of others. Narcissism and voyeurism are related because of the narcissist's inability to participate fully in the real world; this inability, the felt abyss between the self and the real world, combined with the realisation that events do happen in the world, means that vicarious experience is the only option.

Sexual voyeurism is far from being the only form. Sexual voyeurs are unable to participate realistically for the same reason that emotional voyeurs are unable to be emotional. Emotional voyeurs feel there is something wrong with being emotional because this is what they have grown up to believe. The huge popularity of soap operas reflects the inability of modern society in a media age to express and to accept emotions. Soap operas are undiluted emotion. Their exceptionally high emotional content exists because television people know how attractive, how compulsive, it is to experience the emotions and turmoils of others, when so little can be expressed and accepted in reality. It is through the lives of these "screen others" that an essential part of being human can vicariously be experienced. So it is not surprising to find the tabloid press frantically trying to make any connection possible between soap opera stars and their real life players.

Explained too is the American use (and increasing British use) of emotional manipulation on television. For the reserved British this sometimes has to be seen to be believed. The reuniting of people long sundered on screen, people confessing to things on screen, people telling their stories on screen, the confrontation of opposite sides on screen (trash TV or confrontainment), the screening of court proceedings; all these variations have the common purpose of deliberately creating emotional scenes. And as would be expected, when emotion is explicitly refered to on American TV it usually turns out to be sentimentality of the worst sort. (note: this same mechanism is what draws so many narcissists to the internet to prey on others, their emotions and utilize their voyeuristic needs.)

Voyeurism is the result of an inability to fully participate in the real world owing to narcissism. Many of the most narcissistic of people were voyeurs: Josef Stalin and Salvador Dali, to take two examples. It was their rejection of reality, their simultaneous control of and withdrawal from the real world, that made them voyeuristic.


"...narcissism is dangerous and psychotic if it persists into adulthood..." Simone du Beauvior on Freud
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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Is Pornography Addiction Real?
by Rory Reid

A client once asked me if it was possible to become addicted to pornography. The answer to this question should be considered in the context of how the word addiction is defined. The word addiction is often associated with the concept of powerlessness, illness or disease. Some of these models portray an individual as helpless or having very little control over their behavior. Many psychologists & therapists reject this model because it undermines the foundation for counseling which usually assumes people can control their behavior & have the ability to change their actions. Another risk with the concept of addiction is the possibility the client may misunderstand this label & use irrational thinking to justify engaging in the behavior we are trying to arrest. For example, a client may think, "I can't help myself because I'm an addict." Thus, we may inadvertently reinforce the behavior through such categorizations. Furthermore, the DSM-IV (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), used by mental health professionals to diagnose clients, does not contain an entry for "pornography addiction."

Many outside the mental health profession also remain skeptical about connotations associated with addiction. In the wake of some dramatic accounts about addiction, a Newsweek headline sarcastically mocked, "Breathing Is also Addictive."[1]

A non-clinical definition of the word addiction reads, "devotion: a great interest in something to which a lot of time is devoted."[2] Another suggests being addicted is "to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively."[3] Both these definitions suggest that addiction is a choice & if someone is habitual about their use of pornography to the point where it is having adverse affects in other areas of their life then they must also choose at some point to get help in abandoning their behavior. If someone has become heavily involved in using pornography they will most likely have a difficult time abandoning the behavior without some outside support or intervention. They must however, choose to receive this help if the interventions are to be successful.

Although the debate about pornography addiction continues, the mental health profession is faced with determining how to diagnose & treat people whose lives are being adversely affected by their use of pornography.

One argument suggests that problematic behavior associated with pornography consumption should be categorized as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are, however, some distinctions between the two. The difference between OCD & an addiction is defined by Dr. Shaffer who notes:
"The loss of insight among addicts & the maintenance of discrimination among OCD sufferers distinguishes these populations. While the excessive behavior patterns of OCD are disconnected from the dysphoric affect that energizes their activity, addictive behavior remains attached to these noxious emotions. Consequently, addicts escape their discomfort by acting out through excess behavior patterns, while OCD patients avoid the conscious experience of psychic pain through repetitive intemperate activity."[4]
Dr. Jennifer Schneider[5] argues an alternative view that symptoms related to habitual use of pornography align more closely to the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence disorders. An examination of the similarities presents some interesting findings. Keep in mind that references to substance in these criteria generally refers to drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, only three of the seven criteria need be met in order for someone to be clinically diagnosed with a substance dependence disorder (an addiction). The following items are taken from the DSM-IV with some additional comments indicating how someone involved in pornography resembles the criteria.

Criteria for tolerance can include "increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect." Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist who has specialized in treating clients with pornography issues, reports that the majority of clients over time generally move from soft-core pornography to more kinky, bizarre, or hard-core types of material.[6] This type of escalation in behavior is not uncommon. I recently spoke with a client who is a freshman in college. He came to my office after he was arrested for possession of child pornography he obtained through the Internet. When I inquired about his process of escalation, he indicated at the beginning of the school year his interest was adult females. He never would have imagined that this behavior would later lead to involvement with child pornography. I asked him what changed & he reported, "The things I was looking at just got boring & I needed something more to sexually gratify myself."

Withdrawal symptoms. Many clients report being irritable when they are not able to use their pornography. One client became very upset when his wife cancelled a night out with some friends & wanted to spend the evening with him. He had purchased a new web cam & was looking forward to participating in cybersex that night on his computer while she was away with her friends.

The "substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended." It is not uncommon to have clients report spending more time than intended on the computer in pursuit of pornography & viewing more images than they initially intended to look at. Many clients report they were curious or just experimenting but this behavior eventually led to exorbitant amounts of time being consumed by their "curiosity."
"There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use." Most individuals end up in our office because their own efforts to stop using pornography have failed. Others convince themselves that they can stop whenever they choose, but discover they are unable to successfully control their use of pornography through their own efforts.

"A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects." The emphasis again is on the amount of time being spent to obtain, use, or recover from use. Sometimes clients report a greater thrill from the pursuit to find the perfect image or picture than they derive from the behaviors associated with the image once it is discovered. They get a rush from the challenge. Time is also a factor because many clients report spending a great deal more time than they anticipated online or being preoccupied with acting out. Recovery from habitual use of pornography can take months & even years in some cases.

"Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the substance use." Obviously if someone is spending time in pursuit of pornography there is a trade-off that takes time away from other areas of their life. This isolation actually fuels the behavior & creates an environment where the activity can continue to exist. Thus, one goal in treating clients is to have them create a structured environment that is free from isolation.
"The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance."
An example of this criteria may be continued use of pornography despite the negative impact on an individual such as contributing to depression, sleeplessness, etc.

One of the obvious arguments against classifying compulsive use of pornography in the same category as substance-related disorders is the lack of evidence indicating someone can become "physically" dependent on pornography in the same way someone becomes physically dependent on drugs or alcohol. Dr. Patrick Carnes[7] addresses this issue by suggesting a habitual consumer of pornography who uses the material to derive sexual pleasure can develop a pathological relationship with the mood-altering experience & thus the individual is physically dependent. It is also interesting to note that an extension of this concept has led several mental health professionals to work with scientists in research to explore the reactions in the neurochemistry of the brain while someone is using pornography. If the reactions are proved to be adverse, pornography could be labeled as harmful to the body under the medical model.

Another possible explanation for some type of physical dependency on pornography may be examined when an individual engages in self-stimulation while using sexual imagery. The satiation from this practice creates an association linking the pornography to the temporary euphoric feelings caused by the chemicals released during sexual climax. Thus a person becomes dependent upon the entire experience in order to obtain the "high" they desire. Similarly, a cocaine addict isn't addicted to cocaine as much as he is addicted to the dopamine released by the brain when he uses cocaine. As a result, individuals may use pornography as a trigger for fantasies that perpetuate a chain of events ultimately enabling them to obtain their euphoric feeling. This result may be why many producers of adult content encourage self-stimulation so the consumer will engage in a behavior that will powerfully reinforce the continued use of pornography as a trigger for the subsequent mood-altering experience.

Dr. Milkman & Dr. Sunderwirth, in their book Craving for Ecstasy[8], discuss neurobiochemical responses in the brain during the pursuit of self-gratification. They discuss arousal, satiation, and fantasy. Arousal is often associated with the neurotransmitters norepinephrine & dopamine, satiation with gamma-aminobutyric acid & endorphins, and fantasy with serotonin.

Dr. Schneider states, "It is important to observe that sex can easily fit into any or all of the foregoing categories, making it an extremely powerful mood-altering activity."[9] Thus, although a person does not get "addicted" to pornography per se, they may get hooked on the mood-altering experience facilitated & triggered by the use of pornography.

In an attempt to be objective, it is important to observe that just as everyone who drinks does not become an alcoholic, people who may use pornography are not necessarily addicted. In fact, one study by Dr. Al Cooper found that less than 8% of individuals who engaged in online cybersex & pornography activities considered themselves addicted according to several criteria outlined in the largest online survey ever conducted on this subject. Dr. Cooper suggested that this 8% were categorized & reported as spending more than 11 hours per week & having adverse consequences as a result of their behavior.[10] He further identified users in three categories: 1) recreational users, 2) sexual compulsive users, and 3) at-risk users (meaning there was a high risk that such users could become compulsive in their pursuit of pornography & cybersex).

Dr. Cooper suggests that some of the attraction to pornography & cybersex through the Internet results from the power of accessibility, anonymity, and affordability that is given through online activities. The 3-A's provide an opportunity for many who would not otherwise engage in consumption of pornography a chance to explore their curiosity without a high risk of being discovered. Unfortunately, too many of these same individuals get caught in the trap of pornography addiction.

Regardless of one's conclusion in the on-going controversy surrounding pornography addiction, those who are struggling, or have loved ones struggling with pornography consumption, know first hand about the very real effects & problems such behavior creates. The mental health profession must also address the ever-increasing population of clients who come into our offices with a presenting problem that appears to be a result of compulsive use of pornography otherwise identified as a pornography addiction. If we don't view pornography addiction as a reality, we must at least address the reality of the apparent problems that pornography consumption creates.

Beyond the scope of this article is an exploration of the underlying issues that make an individual vulnerable or susceptible to compulsive use of pornography. Behavioral psychologists will sometimes describe laws of human behavior. Two laws that drive human behavior are 1) we do things because we want something & 2) we do things because we want to avoid something. Many individuals use pornography as an escape from some greater pain they are trying to avoid & the experience of pornography provides a temporary relief from this pain. Thus both laws are in effect-they want relief & they want to avoid pain.

[1] Steven Levy, "Breathing Is Also Addictive," Newsweek, December 30, 1996/January 6, 1997, 52-53

[2] Encarta Dictionary

[3] Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition

[4] Shaffer HJ, Considering two models of excessive sexual behaviors: Addiction & obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 1 6-18, 1994

[5] Jennifer Schneider, M.D., Ph.D., practices internal medicine & addiction medicine in Tucson, Arizona.

[6] Victor B. Cline, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

[7] Dr. Patrick Carnes is a well known psychologist who lectures & writes extensively on the topic of sexual addiction.

[8] Milkman H, Sunderwirth S: Craving for Ecstasy. Lexington, M.A., Lexington Books, 1987.

[9] Schneider, J: Addictive Sexual Disorders. Norman Miller Principles & Practice of Addictions in Psychiatry, 1997.

[10] Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity Vol. 7 (1-2) 2000, 7

Rory Reid has an MSW from the University of Utah; his graduate work focused on impulse control disorders with pornography & cybersex on the Internet. He is a licensed psychotherapist at the Salt Lake City Counseling Center & Program Coordinator for Sexual Addictions at the Gathering Place in Orem, Utah, who specializes in the treatment of issues related to compulsive sexual behaviors. He has previously worked for LDS Family Services, the Monarch Treatment & Assessment Center & the Utah State Prison Sex Offender Treatment Program. He teaches part time for the Religion Department of Brigham Young University & for the Behavioral Science Department at Utah Valley Community College.

He is the co-author of Discussing Pornography Problems with a Spouse: Confronting & Disclosing Secret Behaviors (from which this article is derived) & co-editor of Confronting Pornography: A Guide to Prevention & Recovery for Individuals, Loved Ones & Leaders. He has addressed the topic of sexual deviance, cybersex & pornography at conferences & workshops for religious, civic & therapeutic communities including BYU Campus Education Week, Family Expo, AMCAP, Impact America, the news media, radio programs & television talk shows. He is actively involved with continuing research on treatment of pornography problems. He is a board member for the Utah Coalition Against Pornography & sits on the executive board for Women for Decency. Rory is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology at Brigham Young University & lives with his wife, Renee & son, Craig in Lehi, Utah.
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Saturday, October 07, 2006


CUT IT OUT is a program of the Salons Against Domestic Abuse Fund dedicated to mobilizing salon professionals and others to fight the epidemic of domestic abuse in communities across the United States.

CUT IT OUT builds awareness of domestic abuse through awareness materials to be displayed in salons, the Adopt-a-Shelter initiative to involve salons in helping local domestic violence agencies, and training salon professionals to recognize warning signs and safely refer clients to resources.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Taking Domestic Violence To Task

By Jeanie Silver

Domestic violence in the Jewish Orthodox community is like a tear in the lining of a beautiful garment. The wearer of the garment knows it exists and feels it ripping, giving way with time. It is hidden from the outside observer until the damaged material slips out from underneath and becomes visible.

Hotlines for Victims of Domestic Abuse
Perhaps at the mikvah, at a meeting of a community organization or school, or in the neighborhood grocery, the damage begins to show. Until recently, those who would have chosen to have the garment repaired could not find a tailor who did the work. That is changing. Around the country, Orthodox communities are trying to catch up to the problem that, while incomprehensible to some, is a bitter reality for others.

Myths & Facts
From the East Coast to the West, sensitive and dedicated individuals and organizations are instituting new programs in an attempt to raise community awareness and search out solutions to the problem of domestic violence. Rabbis, Orthodox social workers and lay people are receiving training in recognizing and dealing with abuse. There is much to do, but steadily it is getting done.

One organization that has spearheaded the effort to deal with domestic violence is the Shalom Task Force, a devoted volunteer group of more than 60 women under the leadership of Nechama Wolfson. The group started in 1992, when a New York pediatrician approached several community members after repeatedly treating bruised and wounded Jewish women and children. Without fanfare and with great care, the Task Force has quietly and effectively dealt with the most difficult of topics and has done so under the guidance of gedolei Yisrael.

One historic contribution the Task Force has made is in the arena of rabbinic awareness and education. In November, 1997, more than 80 rabbis came together to listen to Harav Avrohom Pam, Rabbis Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Dovid Weinberger and Yisrael Reisman in a three-hour workshop entitled "A Halachic Symposium for Rabbanim on Domestic Violence." The symposium was a follow-up to one held a year prior which was attended by 200 rabbis from every segment of the observant community.

Rabbi Yisrael Reisman spoke powerfully of the reluctance of many to believe that the problem of abuse is found in the Orthodox community. He asserted that though it exists only to a limited degree, it is nevertheless an issue which rabbis and others who come into contact with it must know how to handle.

Long coats, short coats, full, trimmed or no beards, Ashkenazic and Sephardic rabbis from every neighborhood and culture listened and learned together. "Learn to recognize signs of abuse," they were told, "never blame the victim or trivialize the abuse; never ask what she did to provoke the violence; find out if she is in immediate danger; help her create a future safety plan; find out if she has shared her secret with a relative, friend or neighbor; know your limitations and to whom to refer; follow up after initial contact has been made; provide a non-judgmental supportive ear, and know the halachos of confidentiality."

Sandie's Story
Sandie* is a 45-year-old mother of four beautiful children, ages 10, 14, 15 and 22. She works as a school administrator and is highly regarded by staff and parents alike for her professionalism and sensitivity to the children's needs. Her husband David owns a successful business that caters to the growing Jewish population in their neighborhood. He is on the board of their synagogue, attends a Daf Yomi shiur every morning, and is well known as someone who is always willing to help out when a need arises in the community.

Sandie's greatest joy is a new grandchild, their first. Her greatest shame is that, unbeknownst to any of her friends, Sandie's husband abuses her. Some of her most painful moments have been at events when she and her husband were being honored for their community activities; it's all she can do to keep smiling when people tell her how wonderful her husband is, and how lucky she is to be married to him.

Sometimes Sandie has a hard time believing what really happens at home. When David comes home at night, she scans his face to see what kind of evening it's going to be. If he's in a "good" mood, he might generously say, "Forget what you've made for dinner. Let's all go out to eat!" On a "bad" night, she hustles the children into their rooms and tells them to do their homework alone because, "Abba needs it nice and quiet tonight."

On nights like that, she knows that it won't take much to send him into a rage -- throwing dishes, screaming at her, slamming his fists into the walls, calling her names, accusing her of infidelity, or threatening to divorce her and take the children with him. Although he has shoved her and pulled her hair in the past, he has never hit her or broken any bones. Sometimes he yells at the kids too, but more often he spoils them and tells them that their mother is "too strict." He used to apologize and bring her gifts after a fight; but that never happens anymore.

Over the years, she's tried many ways to fix her marriage. She suggested couples' counseling several times, but David refused to go, saying that all their problems are her fault. She's spoken to rabbis and counselors, most of whom told her to leave him, but they couldn't tell her how she was supposed to support her children on her own. Others told her that he "just has a bad temper," and that she must avoid doing things that "push his buttons." Part of the reason Sandie went back to work was to build up a nest egg for herself, but David insists that she deposit her check directly into his bank account.

She's spent many nights crying, agonizing over the person her husband has become and wondering what she's done wrong. She feels so ashamed that she hasn't been able to keep shalom bayis in her home that she has rarely tried to tell anyone else. When she has hinted at problems, people say she must be exaggerating. She actually has few friends anymore, as David doesn't trust her to see people on her own. He insists they do everything as a couple.

The most recent incident was over the fact that she bought new shoes for their youngest child without asking David first. He kept her awake until 4:30 a.m. yelling about how she can't handle money, and how careless and lazy she is. (He gives her an "allowance" every motzei Shabbos to cover food, gasoline, clothing, school supplies and household expenses: the amount depends on whether she's been "good" that week, but it's never more than $200 for everything.)

For some reason, this fight was the last straw for her. She realized that he wasn't ever going to change; and she didn't want her children to grow up thinking this was normal behavior. That week she saw a card at the mikvah advertising a hotline for abused Orthodox women. When she called, the counselor really listened -- and made her feel that someone finally understood. But she didn't tell her what to do. Sandie had hoped the hotline would give her an answer, but by the end of the conversation, she realized that she was going to have to make some hard decisions for herself. She did feel better, however, after they worked out a safety plan in case things got worse again. The counselor gave her the names of some therapists, a battered women's support group, and a rabbi who would believe her, and told her she could call back any time she wanted to talk some more.

Sandie decided to start with the rabbi, and called to make an appointment. Although she was hesitant at first to give details, he seemed to understand what she meant by a "bad temper." He assured her that he would not endanger her by telling her husband she had come to him, and he set about helping her evaluate her options within a halachic framework. He also suggested that it would be a good idea for her to talk to a domestic violence counselor.

At this point, after a few visits with the rabbi, Sandie doesn't yet know if she'll stay with David or ask for a divorce: she feels there are pros and cons either way, and she wants to make sure she does the right thing for her children. She does feel, however, that she has finally opened her eyes and is on her way to making things better for herself and for them. She feels hopeful for the first time in years.

* Sandie's case history was provided by NISHMA, a program for Orthodox battered women in Los Angeles. All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

The rabbis learned that a batterer may criticize his partner through name-calling, mocking and ridicule. He may belittle his partner's family and friends and try to isolate her from them. He may have explosive temper outbursts and expect his wife to conform to fantasies and unspoken expectations, and he may threaten homicide or suicide to cajole his partner into certain behaviors.

"Educate yourself and your congregation by speaking about the problem in shul," said Rabbi Weinreb. He told his colleagues how he spoke about domestic violence from the pulpit one Shabbos: the following week he received four calls for help. It is estimated that for each person who seeks help, at least four or five remain silent.

Rabbi Pam touched on the subject of verbal abuse with a compelling message about the devastating effect of ona'as devarim -- words that hurt and cause pain. While praising the attention and care given by the community to the topic of lashon hara, Rav Pam pointed out that little is spoken about ona'as devarim, also prohibited by the Torah. "Harsh words, words spoken in anger, thoughtlessly, carelessly, cut like a sword," he said. "The pain that is inflicted lingers on and festers until the whole foundation of the marriage is worn down."

Each speaker had only the highest praise for the manner in which the Shalom Task Force has addressed the problem, with its deference to gedolim and its attitude of chesed and commitment. Its telephone hotline, (718) 337-3700 or 1-(888) 883-2323 is staffed by volunteers who have received a twelve-week training course. The volunteers, who never meet the callers, are there to provide referrals and help them sort out their problems. Sometimes the callers are children, and occasionally a man will call and say, "Help me! I'm out of control." Sometimes it is the husband who suffers from domestic violence, although it is rare. The hotline number, which is posted in mikvaos and a selection of English and Yiddish newspapers, is now nationally accessible.

The organization has developed "The Young Woman's Prevention Education Project," an educational program offered to young women in yeshivah high schools, seminaries and colleges who are of marriageable age. Based on the premise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the workshops are designed to help build skills in communication and conflict resolution. The young women are taught that warning signals may surface during the dating process or early in marriage. And they are urged to speak to someone in confidence if they feel uncomfortable about something. After receiving many requests from yeshivos, the Task Force is developing a similar program for young men.

A Rabbi's Notebook
There is no question that the Orthodox community is mobilizing against this ugly problem. What else is needed? More community education; a pool of trained lawyers willing to work pro-bono for clients who often have no money and no access to family funds (a common manifestation of abuse); Orthodox social workers willing to work on a sliding scale; advocates trained and ready to accompany a woman to beis din or court. In cases where all else has failed and divorce is the only solution, women in abusive relationships may have difficulty obtaining a get from a recalcitrant husband. Rabbis are needed who are ready to go the extra mile to do everything possible towards achieving a speedy resolution.

Domestic violence can happen in homes where you would least expect it. If a friend confides in you, you may feel shocked, embarrassed and confused about whether or not to intervene. Nechama Wolfson's advice: "Don't run away. Urge her to seek the guidance of qualified people. Give her the hotline number. Most importantly, don't abandon her."

Jeanie Silver is a freelance writer and Special Assistant to Assemblyman Dov Hikind in Brooklyn, New York.

note: thanks to H at Emotional Abuse & Faith for this article
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Do Offenders Manipulate Adults Too

Many molesters work just as hard to seduce and manipulate adults as they do to trick children. Some tell people they think child molesters should be shot. while others work very hard to present themselves as a concerned citizen and pillar of the community. Some of their good works are performed out of guilt, while others are intended to throw off suspicion if a child ever tells on them.

Most molesters spend time thinking of ways to talk people out of reporting them to law enforcement and are able to come up with very creative excuses or rationalizations about what happened. In addition to telling people it was an accident or that the child must have misinterpreted the situation, some make sure that people know the child has lied about things in the past, been in trouble or sexually promiscuous. Most professional forensic experts can't tell when people are lying, so regular people shouldn't expect to do any better. The best thing all of us can do if a child says they have been abused is to call the police and report the situation. The worse thing we can do is to accept the explanation of an adult. If the adult is lying and talks you out of reporting, he/she will probably go on to molest more children. Different offenders use different tactics.

from: Grandparents Against Pedophiles
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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The American Judges Association reports one of the most common reasons for resuming an abusive relationship is fear the abuser will act on threats of taking the children. Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases.

This is one of America's darkest most shameful secrets. The problem has taken on epidemic proportions and we call upon our Senators and Representatives to act swiftly to ensure prompt investigation. We want to be heard and to have these issues addressed openly. Please make this your top priority for all the mothers and children in this country and for generations to come.

Growing numbers of protective, non-offending, loving and fit mothers are losing custody of their children everyday. They are losing despite being good mothers, despite a lack of past involvement of the father with the children, and regardless of being the primary caregiver. Women who seek to exit bad or even dangerous relationships and/or seek child support are met with retaliatory suits for child custody. Many women who try to leave an abusive partner find that the court system can become a place where the abuser is enabled and even facilitated in victimizing her and her children.

Courts increasingly not only ignore, but even bar evidence of child abuse, including sexual molestation. Amazingly, the perpetrators the women seek to leave, or protect their children from, are increasingly awarded sole custody or unsupervised visitation with the children they have harmed. This results in ultimate control over the child victim, ultimate revenge against the child’s mother, and an end to the fathers child support obligation. The abuser is hence provided further control of the mother by collecting support from her while she is often denied contact with her children. In this way, both child and mother are silenced.

A junk science theory called " Parental Alienation Syndrome" or "PAS" is being used as the primary courtroom tactic to shut the mouths of abused children and mothers. Developed by Richard Gardner of Columbia University, this "syndrome" he purports is not based on systematic research, instead developed from personal observation and prejudices. Gardner has never tested his theory, it is not contained within the DSM-IV, and most of its foundational assumptions have been disproved. Gardner has espoused recommendations called "Threat Therapy" to send children to juvenile detention centers and mothers to jail for reporting abuse. He has written articles expressing the idea that incest and pedophilia may not be as traumatic as current social attitudes suggest. PAS is routinely used in courts across the country to inappropriately remove custody from loving, safe and fit mothers under a variety of scenarios: domestic violence, child abuse of any sort, reluctance to support flip-flopping shared custody schedules, reluctance to send children on unsupervised visitation with fathers with anger-management problems, substance abuse problems, poor parenting, etc.

Abused and molested children have lost their voices in court. There exists a pattern of court rulings which reflect that molestation or other abuses of one's own child can earn a father sole custody, whereas if the same crime had been committed upon the child who lives next door, the same perpetrator would be sentenced to a long prison term. While these re-victimized children lose their mothers, protracted litigation pads the pockets of lawyers, mental health providers, custody evaluators, and visitation monitors.

One of us lost all 5 of her children. One teenager hanged himself rather than see his mom jailed for his refusal to visit his dad. A medically fragile child died from neglect less than 3 weeks after he was wrongfully removed from his mother by the court. One of us stood criminal trial for "kidnapping " our own children -- and the jury who acquitted her admonished the county for the arrest and prosecution. One of us was jailed for refusing to turn her children over to a convicted child molester. Routinely, mothers are illegally jailed for trying to protect their children from documented abuses. Some of our phones are tapped, some of us have to pay monitors to see our children, most of us are impoverished by spending life savings and losing employment to keep up with endless court proceedings, entirely impossible child support payments, orders to pay the father's attorney fees, contempt charges, fines and sanctions -- all intended and strategically ordered to lead to certain financial ruin of mothers. This is but some of the hundreds of tactic designed to bankrupt the protective parent.

This is no longer an individual state issue but a federal government issue. Federal funding to court systems for various unsound, discriminatory and unscientific programs ordered in many of these cases is of great concern. Congressional findings in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 1999 specifically identifies the use of PAS as an act of violence toward women which endangers children. It states that PAS is frequently and improperly used by courts and custody evaluators to discount children’s reasonable fear and anger toward a violent parent and that this "syndrome" is used almost exclusively against women. It further states that when domestic violence is or has been present in the relationship, shared parenting arrangements, couples counseling, or mediation arrangements may increase the danger to the children and to the non-violent parent. We call upon you to investigate why our state courts are allowed to proliferate its use unchecked.

We desperately hope our open public letter will be published and broadcast across the country and that it will cause readers to demand investigations and journalists to expose a "system" which is seriously broken.

As mothers who care about all children, we ask that you expose a system that does not work. We further ask that you eliminate federal funding of discriminatory groups and programs that enable continued harm to women and children.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Violence in the Jewish Family

Rochelle Allebes

American studies indicate violence occurs just as often in Jewish families as it does in other families. The difference is that Jewish women seek outside help less often and take longer to do so. They are likely to remain in relationships in that they suffer violence for five to seven years longer than their non-Jewish counterparts. The powerful myths surrounding the Jewish family are a major reason for these differences.

One powerful, influential myth is that of Shalom Bayt, the myth of domestic tranquillity. Women and mothers feel very responsible for maintaining this peace. When it cannot be realised, they feel guilty, ashamed and perceive themselves to be bad women and poor mothers. Jewish families are perceived by the outside world as warm, cohesive and peaceful. It is difficult to speak openly about the problem of violence, thereby destroying these internal and external images and expectations. In addition, by speaking out, a woman will bring scandal on her family.

Another powerful myth is of the mild, docile and more or less passive Jewish man.

When this image morphs into a horror show on a daily basis, it must be “countered” on different levels. It can take a long time for a woman to define her husband’s behaviour as violent. Initially, she will propose and accept every possible explanation and excuse and is frequently prepared to see herself as the cause of the violence.

Abuse within a relationship usually does not begin with physical violence. Instead, it starts with control (over money, where the wife goes and with whom she has contact), isolation (cutting off contact with the outside world, prohibiting her from attending courses, for example) and limits on her freedom of movement (among other things through religiously based imperatives and prohibitions).

At the start, the husband’s intent to control his wife may appear to be chivalrous. He accompanies her everywhere, driving her to places and picking her up... The real trouble starts only when she would like to do something on her own again. If, at that moment, a woman does not stand her ground regarding her desires and needs and instead tries to understand her husband and backs down, she may set the stage for a gradual spiral of violence within the marriage.

The last myth is of the wife’s self-image. Frequently, the picture is one of a strong, well-educated woman who has the daily running of her home well in hand. She may be a woman who bears responsibility for the well being of all her relatives, whether she works outside the home or not. This self-image is also the result of a synergistically reinforcing interchange of attributions from both inside and outside the family. It is not easy for a woman to admit to herself and others that this is a mirage and to concede she was wrong about the man she chose as a husband and father for her children (or that someone else chose for her).

In relationships characterised by humiliation and violence, self-respect and self-confidence may sometimes be undermined for years. A high level of insecurity compounds the problem, making it difficult to go out and seek help. Given this, many women run the risk of becoming increasingly passive and tolerant of a situation that is escalating slowly to a crisis. In many cases, mothers only feel forced to act when they see their children are directly or indirectly threatened as well.

Several distinctions are made between types of violence against children within the family. These are physical and psychological abuse, sexual exploitation and neglect.

According to studies done in the United States, all these types of violence can be found in Jewish families as well. It is suspected that psychological violence occurs more often in Jewish families than physical abuse.

It is known that it was very difficult for many survivors of World War II to fulfil the responsibilities of being a parent “well enough”. Frequently, their difficulties in raising children were expressed in forms of emotional and physical abuse. A few children of what is called “the second generation”, or “the Children of the Holocaust”, have described these families from their point of view. Although they, as children, have (must have!) a great deal of understanding for their parents, by reading between the lines one can see they often describe abusive situations.

The palette is a wide one. Some children were never allowed to bring others home or visit their friends. They had parents who were so fearful that they restricted any freedom of movement their children had. Other parents spoke endlessly about their experiences during the war, or, by contrast, were unable to tell their children why there were no longer any relatives left. Some parents punished their children using methods they experienced in the concentration camps (ranging from shouting at them to using extreme disciplinary methods like lashings). Children of the second generation who were damaged in this way may in turn have difficulty giving their own children what they never received themselves. (In order to avoid misunderstanding, I must add that I certainly do not believe that the entire second generation has been traumatised in this way.)

If Jews are living in an area where they are in the minority or may even be the sole Jewish family, there are additional risk factors. Children may, for example, be forced to always behave perfectly or conceal their Jewish identity. These children are under pressure, plagued as they are by fears they may endanger themselves or their parents. The anxiety of the parents repeatedly engenders tension in the family, which can then become fertile ground for conflicts. Stress factors in daily life are a generally recognised danger. Families with many children living in cramped quarters and plagued by financial worries quickly become overwhelmed with the running of their daily lives. Children must be disciplined early and sharply in order to take on responsibility that is beyond their years. Mothers in such families are often continually overextended and both parents lose their patience rapidly.

Special Jewish emergency hotlines in the USA report a clearly higher number of calls around the Jewish holidays. A chronically conflicted marriage is another known stressor that poses a risk to the well being of the children. Even if no direct violence is exercised on them, the situation is very burdensome for the children.

Religious and traditional rules and customs can be abused within the family to exercise control and threaten women and children to constrain unnecessarily in their freedom of movement and behaviour. As everyone knows, a great deal depends on the interpretation of these rules and there is always a paragraph in the Torah that can be found to support one’s position. The Shabbat and holidays can, as a result, become nightmares for the family.

If a woman dares to get a divorce, her husband can threaten to refuse to give her a Get [a letter of divorce]. The whole problem with the Get is that it is a form of structural violence that only worsens the situation of the women affected. The Jewish community can be dangerous as a place of social control while also being a place of social support and openness. The community could see to it that the difficulties in the family do not escalate into violence and the victims of abuse receive help quickly. The contribution can be enhanced if every member of the community is allowed to choose freely the type of family they live in and that outsiders, be they single, divorced, together with a non-Jew, or living in a homosexual union are integrated in the community. If there were true freedom to choose the type of family one lives in and it were possible for everyone, man or woman, to really belong to a community or congregation, then withdrawing from a violent situation in the private sphere would no longer be so costly.

Born in Leiden in the Netherlands, Rochelle Allebes lives today in Zürich, where she works as a social worker, supervisor and therapist.
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Sunday, October 01, 2006

How You Can Help

Here's the situation: you are in a significant relationship with someone. That someone could be your husband or wife; your boyfriend or girlfriend; your fiancee, or your significant other in some other way. You are committed to this relationship and this person, and then you learn that this person was abused.

The abuse could take many forms. Abuse as a child. Abuse as an adult in a previous relationship. Sexual violence, either as a child or an adult. Rape. Battering. Emotional abuse. The list is depressingly long.

NOTE: This situation can happen in all relationships. A man finds that his wife/fiancee/ girlfriend/significant other was abused; a woman finds that her husband/fiance/boyfriend/ significant other was abused. It is equally likely in gay couples. I tried writing this article in a gender-neutral fashion, but it became murky and hard to follow.

I re-wrote it so that the abused partner is a woman, and the person receiving the news is a man. Although the statistics indicate that this is most common, this was mostly an arbitrary choice. Please remember that it could be re-written in any form, and if my choice makes it harder for you, I apologize. The English language does not provide adequate gender-neutral words for this situation.

Getting The News
First of all, you're probably taken by surprise, right? Or maybe this news actually answers a whole lot of questions you had about how your partner was acting. Either way, you are likely to be frozen in horror and surprise.

You're thinking, "What the heck! Why is she only telling me now??"

That is a legitimate reaction, but there is a good reason you're only hearing about it now. This is the most personal, most private, most painful thing your partner has inside. She has struggled with this for years. After all, it's not something you tell just anyone. You only reveal this to someone special, someone you trust, someone you are close to. Your partner knows that you deserve to know this stuff, but face it -- there is never a right time to say, "Oh by the way, my father raped me for ten years."

So work to accept the fact that there was never a good time to tell you this. And your partner has struggled with 'When To Tell You' and 'How To Tell You' for a long time now. This has not been deception. It has not been lying by omission. This has been fear. And pain. And more fear. And more pain. And uncertainty. Realize that no matter how bad you feel, your partner feels worse.

How To React
Okay, you've just been told. Your brain has frozen in shock. The enormity of the information has stunned you. Now, as you gather your wits back together, you will notice that there is a long silence in the room, and it's getting longer and longer, and she is waiting for your reaction to her leap of faith.

1. Reassure. The most important thing to do is, assure her that she is safe in telling you this. It is common that victims feel dirty, humiliated, ashamed, and revolting, because of something that happened to them, over which they had no control. Right now, she is terrified that you will be disgusted or revolted or enraged -- at her! Make it clear, through your shock and horror, that your love for her is not in question. Express sympathy and concern and acceptance. Hold out your arms. She may be dying for a hug. On the other hand, as she talks about her abuse, she may not want any human contact. So offer it, and let her take it or not, as she needs.

2. Tell the truth. You will wish you had a magical phrase that will fix everything and eliminate her pain. You will wish you were incredibly wise, and could say the perfect thing. But there is no perfect, magical phrase, and she's waiting in agony for you to say something. So say what you think: "Oh my God! You poor thing! I'm here for you! I'm speechless! I'm so sorry that happened to you! I wish I could stop your pain! I love you!" Pick one or two that feel best, and say them over and over. I strongly suggest that you choose "I love you" as one of them.

3. Listen. Let her tell you about it. As many details as she is comfortable with. Ask questions gently, and occasionally. She should be doing 90% of the talking now. Just listen, and let her pour out the story. Make it clear, by word and action, that she is safe in telling you this. Hold her unless she specifically doesn't want it.

Your responses should be short: "Uh huh, Yeah, Oh my, Oh geez, You poor thing, Go on," that kind of thing. Let her stop when she wants to. Your primary focus should be on making sure she knows that you still love her, that she is safe in having told you.

She will want to know if this has changed anything. Well, obviously it has, but you need to word it carefully. Make it clear: It hasn't changed your love for her. It hasn't changed your commitment to the relationship, or your commitment to sharing your life and future with her.

Then tell her what has changed. You know she is in pain, and you want to help her heal. You want to be there for her. Your priorities have changed, and no matter what your priorities were before, this has taken over as your top priority. The person you love is hurting, hurting bad, hurting as badly as a person can hurt. You want to make that stop. Nothing else matters.

What You Need To Know
The first thing you need to know is, how much you don't know. You're not a psychiatrist. You've received no training in this.

She is so desperate for help that she will be turning to you for help. Realize that you are not qualified, and realize that it isn't your fault. But also realize that now she is trusting you to help. Again, there's nothing wrong with telling the truth. Be honest and say, "I don't know, I wish I knew what to say, I wish I could make you stop hurting." It may not seem like it, but these phrases will supply some comfort.

Don't make the mistake of getting super-logical. It's an understandable reaction, considering how emotion-filled your life has become, but it doesn't help. It will make her feel rejected, like you're being cold. You may feel stupid, holding her and saying, "You poor thing," like you have ten million times before, but it's still what she needs.

Don't make the mistake of being totally sucked into her emotional state either. This is also an understandable reaction, as you try to show her that you support her and are there for her. You will walk a fine line -- reassuring her, showing her that you care, that you love her, while at the same time staying a small step removed.

She will say lots of things as she vents her anger and frustration. Many of those things will not be logical; many of those things won't make sense. Remember that that's OK. She doesn't have to be logical or make sense now. As she vents her anger and pain and grief, she will say many things she doesn't even mean, or if she means them, she won't mean them fifteen seconds from now. Don't correct her, don't argue, don't try to explain why she couldn't do/say/mean what she just said. Let her vent. Tell her you love her. Meanwhile, you have to stay a little bit clear-headed. You have to take intelligent action to help her.

What You Can Do
Surprisingly, you've already done the most important thing. You've listened, you're reassured. For her, that was the biggest hurdle, the biggest source of fear and anxiety. She has told you, and you have not rejected her. That is huge.

If you are reading this, and realizing that you made mistakes in how you reacted when she told you, don't panic. It's not too late. Print this out. Read it again. And go find her. Your message should be something along these lines: "I've come to apologize. I just read this article, and I realize that I've reacted all wrong."

There's no room here for pride. You need to tell her this. And trust me -- she's not going to gloat or feel like she's won. She will feel an unbelievable sense of relief, and decide that you are the most wonderful person in the whole world. In later years, she will tell you that this is the moment she most admired you.

People say that you can't take back things you've said, but actually you can. Go over it point by point: "When I said ABC, it was because I was shocked and scared and didn't know what to think. I'm sorry. What I should have said was, XYZ instead, because I love you and I want to help you with this."

You will have no idea how much she will appreciate hearing this.

Go Get Help!
Like I said, you're not trained in this. So go get some people who are! Call your local Child Abuse Prevention agency. Tell them that your wife is an Adult Survivor Of Child Abuse, and you desperately need some advice. They will immediately know what to do. They will know how to help you. They will know how to help her. They will know how you should react in other situations that I haven't covered here -- what to say, how to say it, etc.

If you don't know the name or phone number of your local child abuse prevention agency, call your county social services department and ask them. They will have that information. Or check out this article I wrote: How To Find Help. It gives you more tips on how to find the agency, and also talks about what they can do.

Calling that agency will be the best thing you ever did. You feel alone. Suddenly, you will feel like you have many powerful friends.

The experts at the agency can give you lots of advice and resources. They may even have a support group for you to join, so you don't feel all alone, and can get tips on how other spouses or partners have dealt with the abuse of their significant others. It will be free, too.

Your abused spouse may not want to talk about this with anyone else. That's OK. Don't force her. But call for yourself, and be honest about that too. "I'm not talking about you; I'm getting advice for myself so I can do a better job of being there for you." Pitch it in terms of your concern and love for her. She will probably accept it, and it's also completely true.

Now that you have contacted the child abuse agency, your options open and more variables come into play. Your wife may be willing to go to the agency with you.

If not, the agency will have lots of advice on how to act, and how to gently and slowly persuade her to talk to them. As you become more effective in helping her, she will notice. Eventually, she may decide that if the agency is helping you that much, maybe it's not so scary for her to talk to them too.

Now is when you can start to deal with your emotions, too. You feel surprised, maybe trapped, resentful, exhausted, filled with horror. You couldn't tell your wife about those things, but you can tell the agency experts. Everything you're feeling is normal and reasonable. They won't judge you. They'll understand, and help you heal, too.

The second important thing for you to do is to arrange for therapy for her, and for you. Don't pursue therapy instead of calling the child abuse agency, and don't try to make the agency do the work of a therapist. They work together in a partnership that will attack your problem from two sides, and both will make an invaluable contribution to your wife's healing.

The child abuse prevention agency will have recommendations on good, specialized therapists. If one doesn't work out, remember that Therapy hasn't failed; one therapist has failed. Find another one.

The experts at the child abuse prevention agency can give you lots of advice on how to find a good therapist. They can help you decide if you need to seek a different therapist or not. They can help you if money is a problem. Work closely with them on this matter, because it's important. The emotional wounds your wife has are very severe, and require a specialist. A marriage counselor or a member of the clergy is not qualified to deal with these issues. You need a heavy-duty, highly qualified, extensively trained expert. The agency can help you find one.

Many times, your abused partner will resist going to the agency, or going to a therapist. Don't force her! Don't announce that "I know best." Don't arrange for a therapy session in secret, and then drive her there by surprise. Work with the agency experts, work with the therapist, and get ideas on how to gently convince her that this is the right thing to do.

There Is Hope!
Millions of people have found emotional healing from abuse. You and your partner can, too. Working with an abuse prevention center, and pursuing a proper course of therapy, can help everyone heal. You can have peace in your soul. You can have joy in your lives. You both deserve it.

And for you, the unabused partner that is being told about the abuse -- clear the decks and focus on this. Nothing in your life will be as important as this. You will feel like this is more than you can handle, you will feel that you are inadequate to the challenge. But you're not. Right now, things look very bad. Hitler's bombers are overhead, the blitzkrieg sirens are screaming, and London is in flames. And you? You're Winston Churchill. You're the only one who can save the day. It will take everything you've got, but you can do it. This is Your Finest Hour!
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