Friday, September 12, 2014

The harsh about domestic violence

A little something about the psyche of a domestic violence victim: It is undelectable and there are no simple concepts to describe it.  I was physically battered twice or three times over the course of my twelve-year first marriage, and emotionally injured most of the time.  I would go to work wearing my wife’s makeup to cover the neck scratches.  I would absorb in clueless dismay the condemnations.  Her multi-dimensional botch, conveniently named Borderline Personality, meshed with my own That Has No Name.

The best theory I know about this, Fairbairn’s “return to the bad object” re-packaged by Celani to apply to battered women, says that the more a child is neglected by the mother, the more – not the less – he needs her, is fixated upon her.  Apply the child, now “inner,” to the later adult, to see that he or she is still fixated to painful “love,” has never matured beyond it.

The theory is right, but I can flesh it out a bit with my own personal and clinical experience.  Take Fairbairn’s statement – 

Frustration of his desire to be loved and to have his love accepted is the greatest trauma that a child can experience; and indeed this is the only trauma that really matters from a developmental standpoint.*
– and understand that lack of love as earliest trauma stops cold the formation of a child’s progressively liberated identity.  With starvation of love there grows defense against it – in time she can’t stand to face what was lost – and need, and with selfless need there is eternal dependence.

This is the individual who stays with an immature, sick, abusive husband or wife.  I’d ask you to drop the delusions right now: We’re not adult; it isn’t love.  Strip off the trappings – fame and style, fancy résumé or intellectual shine, women’s nature or pop psychology: The victim is just a near-dying wraith of neediness, too weak to love or be loved.

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* Fairbairn quote from Jewish Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, Michael Oppenheim, Lexington Books, 2006, p. 116, at


  1. I have a bit of a different take on the situation, and yes I was abused in my marriage. The truth is that no one will ever love you as much --as wildly, as unrealistically -- as will an abuser in the "honeymoon phase" of the cycle. You take a woman who doesn't have a lot going for her -- average looks, boring job. For her, a healthy relationship is probably going to be pretty dull, too. But love an abuser? Wow, the fireworks! Who doesn't want to hear that she's the most amazing person in the world and that her man will die without her love? Who doesn't want to be periodically swept off her feet? A mentally healthy man is not going to do that. An abuser will. Victims get caught up in the drama, which makes life interesting. The highs make the lows tolerable.

    This is why it's so hard to break the cycle: because life is dull and colorless without the high-octane "love" of the abuser. This is why so many women, having broken free of one abusive relationship, often become enmeshed in another.

    1. Try this pdf from the old Norwood book, Women Who Love Too Much --


Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.