Steering Clear of Abuse
By Gila Manolson
JemSem presents Part 4 of a 4 part series on the subject of recognizing a potential abuser, excerpted and adapted from Gila Manolsons excellent and recommended book on shidduchim – “Head to Heart: What to Know Before Dating and Marriage”.
Head to Heart is available at Jewish bookstores. JemSem readers can get an autographed copy directly from the author at HaKablan 7/15 Har Nof Jerusalem.
PART FOUR: Checking Yourself
Now you know how to recognize an abusive person—and anyone, no matter how emotionally healthy, can become involved with one. Still, what might increase your chances?
The answer is usually something in your personal history. For example, you may have been overly criticized or emotionally deprived, leaving you low in self-esteem and hungry for love. Think deeply about your childhood. Did your parents accept you as you were, or only when you met their needs and expectations? Look at your patterns today. Do you jump into relationships? Do you cancel plans with a friend whenever a guy shows up? Does your self-worth depend upon another’s validation? Do you substitute physical closeness for emotional intimacy? If so, you’ll more likely not only attract someone who mistreats you, but lack the self-respect to recognize what’s happening. You’ll more easily buy his arguments that you cause his misbehavior. And you’ll more readily consent to marriage prematurely.
If you don’t love yourself enough, you may also fear emotional intimacy (see back in Chapter 2). An abusive relationship is never intimate, so it maintains the emotional distance with which you may be more comfortable.
Another risk factor is having been forced into a parental role at a young age. Did your parents turn to you for nurturance they should have been getting from each other or from friends? Were one or both of them often emotionally or physically absent, leaving you responsible for younger siblings? Abusive individuals are highly immature, crave nurturing desperately, and trigger that familiar feeling of being needed. At the same time, just as in childhood, the energy you devote to care taking is at the expense of understanding yourself and your own needs.
The strongest factor propelling you into an abusive relationship, however, is what you saw growing up. As I’ve said (in Chapter 3), we all unconsciously gravitate toward what feels familiar, which we consider “normal.” If your father abused your mother (or the reverse), you’re liable to marry an abuser or abuse your own spouse or children. Sometimes two products of a bad marriage create a good one in which they “rescue” each other from their respective pasts, but rarely. Unless treated, abuse usually passes on to the next generation.
Even if there wasn’t actual physical or verbal abuse in your family, behavior such as frequent yelling can be enough to make abuse seem familiar. Furthermore, wanting your own marriage to be calmer than your parents’ may lead to dangerous concessions. A young woman told me regarding the man she later divorced, “When we were dating, I saw his temper, but I was so afraid to re-experience the fighting I saw at home that I always let him have his way.” In so doing, she unwittingly empowered him to abuse her.
If you recognize yourself in any of the above descriptions, or if you’ve already been abused, get competent counseling now. If you’re addicted to unhealthy relationships, support groups may be even more effective. Don’t wait to see if problems arise after marriage. They will. Do the work first, and you’ll more likely marry a healthy person with whom you can have a healthy relationship.
A word of caution to older women, as well as any anxious about their prospects for marriage: Even if you’re emotionally solid, desperation can blind you to warning signs (especially if you’ve been admonished not to be “too picky”). Be careful. You can compromise on a lot and still end up happily married, but not on abusive behavior.
Remember: Anyone can wind up with an abuser. We must therefore all be educated—if not for our own sake, then maybe for a friend’s. Had I had known several years ago what I know now, I might have been able to prevent a couple of marriages that never should have happened.
For further reference, see:
· Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., The Shame Borne in Silence: Spouse Abuse in the Jewish Community (Pittsburgh: Mirov Press, 1996). (To order, write P.O.B. 81971, Pittsburgh, Pa 15217, or call 1-800-851-8303.)
· Miriam Adahan, Living With Difficult People (Including Yourself) (Jerusalem:
Feldheim Publishers, 1991), ch. 11.
For advice about a personal situation, call:
· In the U.S.:
Shalom Task Force National Hotline
In New York: (718) 337-3700
Outside New York: 1-888-883-2323 (toll-free)
· In Israel:
Crisis Center for Religious Women
Office: (02) 655-5744/5
Beeper: (02) 629-4666, (03) 610-6666, (04) 830-6666, or (08) 627-8866—
In other countries, contact your local rabbi, synagogue, or Jewish community