Is This the Profile of an Abuser?

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Reader’s Question

My boyfriend and I have lived together for nearly five years. He doesn’t seem to fit the accepted profile of an “abuser.” He isn’t jealous and doesn’t seek to isolate me or control money. Still, he is verbally abusive, and his temper is genuinely terrifying: he throws/smashes things. He has hit me once, after which I called the police. To this day, he says I’m to blame for that. He’s aggressive to others, as well. He never apologizes or sees fault in his behaviour. He is manipulative in arguments (uses all four ‘horsemen of the relationship apocalypse’) and is cynical towards any emotions I dare show. I manage my own responses to the point of dishonesty to avoid argument.

There are many reasons for mutual resentment. I met him on holiday, and stayed (in his country of birth) to be with him. This has meant I couldn’t work, or could only work under restricted conditions, and my career has stagnated as a result. Only now am I legally free to work/live independently. He earns a good salary and has enjoyed solid career progression, but he yearns to drop it all to write. Meanwhile, he imagines I’ve been “on holiday.” I’m someone who wants a career desperately, an “achiever” gone wrong (the low-status, low-pay jobs I’ve had have very much affected my self-esteem). There’s a basic imbalance of power here.

My boyfriend also has alcohol abuse problems that have nearly cost him his job. When drunk he is usually even more aggressive and not just toward me.

Our temperaments are different. I’m ‘too sensitive’ (have suffered from depression/anxiety in the past), and he can be selfish and disrespectful. We bicker and argue constantly. Most of the time, these disagreements escalate to frightening levels. Each feels the other is mad and each walks on eggshells.

I should say that his impulsiveness has a positive side. He is a genuine wit; very creative; and occasionally brilliantly insightful (lest you think me a nut, I’m not the only one who’s said as much). I believe if he disciplined himself he could be a successful writer. It’s occurred to me that he might be bipolar, or suffer from adult ADHD. He is hostile to the idea of therapy, however.

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I’ve read a load of self-help books on abuse and alcoholism. He doesn’t seem to fit any of these profiles, exactly. His struggles make it difficult for me to write him off in black and white terms. I don’t feel I can end the relationship, or even think about it with any clarity. I need to decide whether to return home and build my life in earnest, or stay and try to work towards the better.

Psychologist’s Reply

A. You might have read a lot of self-help books, but I’m fairly certain you haven’t read my first book In Sheep’s Clothing or my new book Character Disturbance. I’m fairly certain of this because both books not only account for your boyfriend’s behavioral profile, but also your pattern of putting yourself in positions that further erode your already damaged sense of self-worth. Both books emphasize how self-defeating it can be to try far too hard to “understand” as opposed to finding and standing on principles necessary to foster healthy relationships. Stop musing and start enforcing limits and boundaries. Neither you nor your boyfriend will find motivation to change the status quo unless principles take precedence.

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