Sanctuary for the Abused

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Infidelity = A Form of Abuse



Infidelity causes pain and suffering. Sometimes, it becomes a form of emotional violence.

By Michael Clanchy and Chris Trotter

The Age (Melbourne, Australia), excerpts under "fair use" to encourage you to read the article, stimulate discussion.

When Joanne finally mustered the strength to end her eight-year relationship with George, she was still displaying all the symptoms of a victim of physical and psychological abuse - anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and a distorted sense of reality.

Yet George was no typical perpetrator of domestic violence. He had not laid a hand on Joanne during their relationship and only rarely raised his voice to her. Yet he had managed to undermine and diminish her to the point of illness and hospitalisation through his relentless pursuit of a long-standing sexual affair with his work colleague, Davina.

Adultery, deception and romantic triangles are the staple fare of novels, lifestyle magazines and TV dramas. We watch the scenarios unfold for our entertainment and diversion. We sometimes talk with callous fascination about our friends and acquaintances in the same situations. But rarely do we stop to acknowledge the real human pain and suffering that accompanies these events and the cruel consequences that sometimes follow from them.

In many instances, betrayal through infidelity can be very close to what we term domestic violence. Unfaithful parties are often insensitive to the pain they inflict, as are perpetrators of physical and psychological violence. Often the faithful party is as vulnerable and dependent as the victim of repeated bashing. Furthermore, the behaviour patterns of ongoing infidelity often parallel the well-documented stages in the cycle of domestic abuse.

To understand the connection: between infidelity and domestic abuse, we need to look at what infidelity entails. When two people commit to an ongoing relationship, in most cases they commit to sharing certain life activities, and sharing them to the exclusion of others. This exclusivity distinguishes the bond of their affection and partnership.

In Western societies, sexual and physical intimacy, best-friend status, the sharing of personal information and the priority allocation of time, attention and resources usually occurs to the exclusion of others.

Infidelity is essentially a breach of this commitment. The infidelity may be sexual, or it may be emotional, where a partner goes over to a third party, in the sense that they share a primacy of affection, time or other resource, normally reserved for or freely given to a life partner.

Why is infidelity abusive? Why is it sometimes a form of psychological and emotional violence? Because infidelity can be as devastating as a violent attack. It results in humiliation, hurt and loss for the injured partner. The betrayal is usually perceived as a direct attack on the faithful partner's worth as a person and as a partner.

A research project involving in-depth interviews with a number of women and men who have experienced infidelity has been conducted at Monash University. The stories reveal numerous parallels between certain cases of infidelity and cases of psychological and physical abuse.

The research found that common characteristics of abuse and infidelity include:

- The Recurring Cycle. As with domestic violence, infidelity can become an ongoing feature of some relationships.

- Similar Phases. Ongoing infidelity sometimes follows a path similar to the well-documented domestic abuse cycle. A typical cycle might include a tension build-up phase, the infliction of pain, a brief period of remorse and guilt and then the reconciliation phase, followed by a return to tension build-up.

- Apparent Indifference of the Betraying Partner. Apart from brief periods of guilt and remorse after critical incidents of abuse or infidelity, the betrayers/abusers tend to be insensitive to the pain and distress they inflict on their partners. They often continue their infidelity or abuse without accepting responsibility for the anguish they cause.

- Similarity of the Responses of the Injured Parties. Those who stay for significant periods of time with partners who are unfaithful, often display the same psychological and social symptoms exhibited by victims of systematic abuse. Some of these symptoms include:

- deep personal suffering; - low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness; - a sense of helplessness and a lack of control over their lives; - a dependency on the betraying partner and a need for their approval; and - a distorted sense of reality in which they can begin to believe that their partner's infidelity is their own fault.

In the case of Joanne, for example, over time she began to question what she had done to make her husband want another woman. She concluded she was worthless and unattractive. She blamed herself for being jealous and possessive. She tortured herself to the point where, she said, she thought she would go mad. She had lost sight of the simple reality that George's infidelity was both his choice and a breach of their mutual commitment.

- Breaking the Cycle. Behaviour patterns established by partners in abuse and infidelity situations can be difficult to change. Like domestic violence, unfaithful behaviour does not often cease of its own accord, but calls for definitive action on the part of either the perpetrator, the affected party or both.

Unfaithful behaviour is heavily associated with lies, deception and denial. Overseas research suggests that if a relationship is to survive, the unfaithful partner needs to admit the destructive nature of their behaviour, accept responsibility for its damaging effects and close off inappropriate contact with the third party.

By the same token, the faithful partner needs to signal clearly what behaviour they will accept and what behaviour they will not accept and be prepared to take action consistent with their words.

- Endurance, Strength and Survival. From our circle of family and friends and from stories we read in the papers, we all know of situations of infidelity and abuse that have ended tragically.

Nevertheless, the most encouraging aspects in the Monash University research are the many examples of endurance and survival in the stories of people subjected to the trauma of infidelity.

The survivors have struggled with their pain, some for many years. Most have eventually found their inner strength, have taken some control of their situation and moved on with their lives on their own terms. Some have done this with their existing partners, some without.

Michael Clanchy is a writer and qualified counsellor.
Dr Chris Trotter is a senior lecturer in social work at Monash University (Melbourne, Australia).

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Blame Game


The Blame Game - Borderline Personality
by A.J. Mahari

In my journey of healing from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) without realizing it for a great number of years I was constantly blaming others for my problems and for my pain.

It is very typical for someone with BPD to honestly believe, while in the throes of a cognitively distorted thought process that everything they feel is someone else's fault. So often, a person with BPD will take out their confusion and pain on those who try to care; on those who try to get close and try to stay close. What happens when someone tries to care of to be close for many with BPD is that once a certain line is crossed in closeness or familiarity the other person ceases to be who they are in the reality of the world of the borderline. Borderline narcissim takes over. What is then experienced from the inside (usually unbeknown to the borderline) is a very deep and intense transference. What the borderline feels deep inside (often this is a very large amount of pain) is projected out on to the close person (or caring person) who often then becomes a "parent figure" as a transference takes place.

What this means is that instead of being in the here and now with someone who is trying to care about you and know you, if you have BPD, you somewhat dissociate from the here and now and re-play out an old relationship (usually parent-child dynamic--or a primary relationship in which you did not get your needs met as a child) causing you to lose sight of both who the "other" is and who "you" are. This happens because many with BPD cannot meet their own needs and tend to look for others to do this for them.

The scene is then set for the recapitulation of pain. The borderline demands from the "other", who is being experienced as someone from their past. This other person, not knowing what is unfolding has no chance to be able to find the right response, or enough of any response that will please the borderline for long. The person with BPD then does the push-pull, in an effort to gain or maintain control. They feel out of control because they are re-experiencing painful feelings from their pasts. So unmet needs continue to escalate and the borderline gets angry and demands more from the other person. The other person, no doubt is confused, feeling attacked and like they can't do anything "right" enough begins to pull away, in one form or another. This is the classic repeat of the borderline nightmare of abandonment. But if you have BPD, and you haven't worked through this you may not realize that you, yourself are causing your own abandonment. The abandonment is perceived abandonment. In reality they are not abandoning you they are taking care of themselves, which every human being has both the right and responsibility to do.

Well, within the scenario I've described above the is the blame game. Person A feels blamed by the borderline. The borderline feels blamed and shamed and let down and abandoned by person A. Person A then feels attacked by the borderline. Person A may attack back. The borderline then feels like a helpless victim which will then precipitate either their further acting out or acting in. Person A then feels in a no-win situation. The borderline keeps upping the anti, demanding what he/she needs and wants. At this point the borderline has regressed to a child-like state wherein they are the center of the universe. This is their reality. The other person, person A has no idea now what is going on.

The blame game begins right here. The borderline blames the person A for (essentially whatever those close in childhood did to him/her) everything. Usually the borderline cannot see their role in this. (Not until a certain amount of healing has taken place.) Person A blames the borderline. Then both blame the borderline's past. Others in their lives, jobs, therapists....etc may also be blamed. No one knows how to take responsibility here and usually at this point enmeshment is deep and intense. When any two people get enmeshed everything can seem foggy and unclear. From this clouded haze each party, like a blind bird flying in the wind seeks control in an effort to protect themselves and to try to regain some balance.

For person A in this scenario you cannot "win". You are going to be blamed because often the borderline has lost total sight of you. (Or will for periods of time) You have become someone from their past that they could not trust.

The key to understanding what becomes the "blame game" is for the person with BPD to want to get better. To want to get better means be ready to face the pain. It is only when you face the pain that you will begin to gain a healthy perspective from which you can then think less distortly to the point where you will be able to recognize when you are so triggered as to blur your past with someone in your present.

Personal responsibility is key here as well. You must take responsibility for your needs, your wants, your pain, your actions and you must learn that there is no excuse for abuse. Blaming anyone else, even someone who abused or hurt you in childhood is not going to help you heal now. It will not help you meet your needs. It will not help you learn how to maintain relationships. It will not help you to find yourself.

Blame is a defense mechanism. The pain is real. The pain feels immediate. It can also feel very overwhelming. If you have BPD and you do not learn to catch the triggers and see the patterns and take responsibility you will continue to drive people who care about you away and do great emotional damage to yourself and to others in the process.

Taking responsibility for yourself and your emotions now is the only way to end the blame game. To unwind the clues that are no doubt there in your thinking before you get into this pattern over and over again it is important to discuss with your therapist what you feel and think just before you have "blow-ups" with others, or just before you lose your temper, or just before you begin to push and pull or manipulate, control or get physically intimidating and or abusive.

What happened in your past needs to be unwound today. Blaming anyone for the choices that you've made as to how to cope with your past up til now is not a healthy choice. It is often a very lonely and isolating choice to make.

Stop blaming anyone or anything else.... look to yourself. These are your patterns and when you work to understand them you can. When you can understand the blame game you will no longer have to go there. The result will be happier and healthier patterns of relating.

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