Abuse OF men BY women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It’s Time to Get Real About It

I’ve written a lot about male anger including two books, The Irritable Male Syndrome and Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship From the Irritable Male Syndrome and a recent article, “Are You Living With an Angry Man?” I recently received an email from Ann Silvers, author of Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, it Hurts, and It’s Time to Get Real About It, who suggested I write about angry women including those who abuse men.

She said that she capitalized “OF” and “BY” in the book title because when she talked about abuse of men, people heard it as abusive men. The bias is that when we talk about abuse in a relationship we’re talking about men abusing women. I understand the bias well. I was married to an abusive woman for four years and I almost didn’t make it out alive.

I met Sheila in the pool at Harbin Hot Springs, immediately fell in lust, later fell in love, and by the time I realized how abusive the relationship had become I felt trapped. As a psychotherapist I had counseled many women who had been in abusive relationships, and though I could sympathize I would often think to myself, “God woman, what are you doing with an abusive guy like that. Just get the hell out.”

It wasn’t until I met and married Sheila that I began to understand. How does one get hooked into an abusive relationship? In the beginning Sheila seemed to be a dream come true. She was exotic, sexy, and was very interested in me. Early on, our relationship was fun, with lots of excitement, and erotic play.

I should have been alerted when she told the story of being in Mexico with her boyfriend. Out late following a night of drinking, they were walking home when a truck full of rowdy, young Mexican men drove by, hit a puddle and splashed them. Sheila immediately became incensed, screamed “Fuck you” and gave them the finger. “They turned the truck around, drove back and tried to run me over. Luckily, I was pinned against a parked car or I would have been killed,” she told me, “but I ended up spending a month in a Mexican hospital. My asshole boyfriend left me there.”

Rather than making me want to leave, I felt drawn like a moth to a flame. At the time I didn’t know why. As our relationship progressed her own anger and violence began to reveal itself. There were the verbal fights when I wouldn’t do what she wanted. I would always give in and apologize because if I didn’t the fights would last for hours and hours. Later, she would punish me if I didn’t do what she demanded. One day after a fight, I left to go to work and found that she had let all the air out of my tires. After another fight, in a rage she tore up a book that I loved.

After the fights, the make-up sex was exciting. I felt I was living on the lip of a volcano. I knew it was dangerous, but it was also exciting. One day making love in the afternoon, the pillow was pushed aside and there was a small, black, gun. Being a pacifist, I freaked out. “What  the hell is that for?” She smiled calmly and replied, “My ex-husband gave it to me so I could protect myself from men.” I looked down at my rapidly deflating penis. I wasn’t reassured.

As time went on I began to become more and more depressed. I couldn’t sleep at night, even after she had gotten rid of the gun at my insistence. We didn’t fight as much because I didn’t have the energy. I usually did what she wanted and hated myself for letting her dominate and control my life. After a slight argument that ended in a stalemate (I had begun to feel a victory was when I could get away from her with a shred of my self-esteem intact), I said I was going to bed. She smiled, turned and went into the kitchen and began sharpening the big butcher knife we used for cutting meat. “You better not fall asleep tonight,” she called out from the kitchen. I felt a chill run through me.

I tossed and turned all night and lay awake thinking about my life and how I felt it slipping away. I remembered growing up in a home with a depressed father and a mother who was obsessed with death. “I just hope I’m still around when you graduate high school,” she would tell me. I remembered the neighbor girl, Nelly, two years older than me, who used to terrorize me when I was six or seven years old. She always appeared sweet and nice when she and her mother would come to visit us. Our mothers would encourage us to play together. When we were alone, she would tease me, then pinch me until I cried. I wanted to hit her, but had been taught that a boy never hits a girl. I suffered in silence.

Luckily, I got out of the relationship. I feel blessed that I finally got the courage to leave. Not everyone caught in an abusive relationship gets out alive.

Now as a therapist in practice for more than forty-years I’ve learned that the abuse OF men BY women is much more common than most people know. I believe it is as common as the abuse OF women BY men. But men, often feel beaten down by the abuse and ashamed that they were abused by a female. Being abused by a woman made me feel less than a man. I’ve treated hundreds of abused men and hundreds of abusive women. What all abuse has in common is there are roots that go back to the past, most often to experiences in families that were dysfunctional. There is also a reluctance to see the abuse for what it is.

I’ve also learned that most men don’t want to remember the abuse they suffered and those who do are reluctant to talk. As Ann Silver reminds us, “It happens, it hurts, and it’s time to get real about it.” I’ve written about my own experiences in my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man (I still have some copies. If you’d like to order one from me, drop me an email and put “Inside Out” in the subject line.) I also write more in my recent book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound. You can get the first chapter, “Mad Father, Dutiful Son, here.

This article first appeared on Jed’s blog.

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

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