If He's So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse

If He's So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse

by Avery Neal


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Foreword by Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of 
Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 
Are you always the one apologizing?
Constantly questioning and blaming yourself?
Do you often feel confused, frustrated, and angry? 
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Nearly half of all women—and men—in the United States experience psychological abuse without realizing it. Manipulation, deception, and disrespect leave no physical scars, but they can be just as traumatic as physical abuse. In this groundbreaking book, Avery Neal, founder of the Women’s Therapy Clinic, helps you recognize the warning signs of subtle abuse. As you learn to identify patterns that have never made sense before, you are better equipped to make changes. 
From letting go of fear to setting boundaries, whether you’re gathering the courage to finally leave or learning how to guard against a chronically abusive pattern, If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad? will help you enjoy a happy, healthy, fulfilling life, free of shame or blame.
“This book can open eyes for people who may have lost pieces of themselves along the way. Great examples and exercises. It is a companion from start to finish.” 
—Dr. Jay Carter, author of Nasty People
“No-nonsense insights and practical ways to regain control of and empower your life.”
—Dr. George Simon, author of In Sheep’s Clothing

“The new gold standard in abuse recovery, allowing readers to break free from old patterns and reclaim their lives.” 
—Jackson MacKenzie, author of Psychopath Free

“This insightful book can awaken self-esteem, save relationships, even save lives.”
—Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806538617
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/27/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 313,874
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Avery Neal, M.A., LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in depression and anxiety in women. In 2012, she opened the Women’s Therapy Clinic, a private practice that offers psychiatric care and counseling support to women. She is licensed in both Colorado and Texas, with the clinic having its primary location in The Woodlands/Houston. She offers virtual therapy for patients in Colorado. Visit her at www.womenstherapyclinic.com. For a full list of articles, publications, blog posts, and podcasts, please visit www.averyneal.com.

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Identifying Abuse

He's not abusive, he would never hit me.

— Too many women to count

What Is Abuse?

Abuse is improper treatment, or mistreatment. The patterns of any type of abuse are similar. When I use the term "abuse," I am referring to all types of abuse: verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical. I have never seen a physically abusive relationship that was not also verbally, emotionally, and psychologically abusive as well.

I want to make it clear that abuse happens in all types of relationships. Abuse includes any behavior or attitude that is designed to frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. This includes any behaviors that are controlling or isolating. Again, there is no profile of an abuser. Abuse is prevalent across all races, ethnicities, age groups, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family backgrounds. Abuse is not a cut-and-dry issue, and often relationships that don't feel right are confusing. Abuse can come in many forms and can exist between parent and child, siblings, and within friendships. It is imperative that people know what is acceptable treatment and what is not.

Let me emphasize that this book is not just for women who are in a physically abusive relationship. Please do not be turned off by the word "abuse" and think it automatically doesn't apply to you if you have not been battered. The intricacies of abuse are far reaching and they are often difficult to define. If you feel more comfortable, you may replace the word "abuser" with the word "bully" and the word "abuse" with "mistreatment" if you find that it is easier to digest the information.

Much of the story of an abusive relationship lies in between the overt outbursts. The classic subtle patterns of an abuser are where we can actually gain the most insight into the relationship and the power differentiation between the abuser and his partner. I frequently hear women say that the psychological abuse was worse than any physical abuse, and while it seems hard to believe, I have found this to be the case for most women. The mind games, the ability to twist things around, the lack of responsibility or accountability, the belittling, and the constant push/pull tactics of an abuser leave most women feeling confused, hurt, angry, ashamed, and remorseful. These feelings often last well beyond the length of the relationship with the abuser, which is why I feel so passionate about discussing how to heal after an abusive relationship.

For the purpose and ease of reading this book, I will refer to the "abuser" as the one who is exerting his or her power in a controlling or demeaning way, and "you" as the person who is the recipient of this behavior. I will also refer to the abuser as "he" and the victim as "she," but please make note that these terms are for the general ease of reading this book and are used because they relate to the most common form of abusive relationships.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of men who are also in abusive relationships, to which the same rules and tactics of abuse apply. One in four women and one in seven men have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. In addition, nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. These alarming statistics are clear indications that this is an issue that needs to be discussed. There are many types of abusive relationships, and I believe that this book will apply to any type or form.

As stated above, there are plenty of men who find themselves in abusive relationships. They, too, have been the recipients of critical, demeaning, belittling, and aggressive behavior from their partners. It is unfortunately all too common, which I think is important to acknowledge in this book. Many of the patterns of abuse are the same, whether the abuser is male or female. In fact, a male reading this book would likely recognize his partner on the pages, just as a woman might. Women can be just as subtle and calculating in their manipulation and aggression as men, and they are often histrionic in their displays of volatility. No one deserves to be in a relationship where they are mistreated or disrespected. It is not any more acceptable for a woman to treat her partner poorly than it is for a man. No relationship can thrive if there is meanness and cruelty, as these things kill love.

The primary difference between existing in a relationship with an abusive man versus an abusive woman, however, is that most men do not fear for their life, or the lives of their children, at the hands of their partner. Not to say that women have not committed heinous acts of violence. It has happened. However, it is far less common for a man to feel that his life is in danger.

Gavin de Becker said, "It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different — men and women live in different worlds ... at core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them."

From early on, girls learn to scan their surroundings, checking for possibilities of danger. A woman's intuitive fear is a powerful gift that automatically signals to her if there is a potential threat. This intuition offers great protection. However, girls and women are also conditioned to be nice and considerate of others. While this isn't a wrong message in and of itself, the problem is that girls and women tend to override their intuition about others in this effort to be nice, hoping to be accepted by the other person or people. As women override their intuition, discount and then dismiss their fears, they unknowingly expose themselves to danger.

The fact remains that men are typically physically larger and stronger than women. This automatically establishes a differentiation in power, and women often feel intimidated on some level, even if unconsciously. Sociologically speaking, women have been dominated by men throughout history, often the recipients of violent acts forcing them into submission.

In fact, it has really only been in relatively recent years that abusive treatment of women has gained more attention and is no longer considered socially acceptable. Because of this, there is more help available to victims of abuse than ever before. Still, it is a sad fact that many women do not utilize these resources, nor do they reach out for help. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but among the most common is the fact that many women do not recognize that they are being harmed if they have not been called a name or if they have not been physically abused.

Sometimes a woman refuses to acknowledge an unhealthy pattern in her relationship. This woman finds comfort in her denial because it means not stepping into the unknown. It's extremely difficult to confront a partner who has done his best to make sure you know that he has all of the power. Those who do recognize abusive patterns often fear severe repercussions if they try to leave.

I also want to note that an abuser may often express features of a personality disorder or possibly a full-blown personality disorder. A person with antisocial personality disorder (sociopath), or narcissistic personality disorder (narcissist), is more likely to engage in abusive or controlling behavior, as they have a high need for control and a negligible level of empathy for others. Both of these personality disorders are more common in men. Occurring more frequently in women, borderline personality disorder (borderliner) is another personality disorder that is often associated with abusive tendencies. The push/pull nature of someone with this personality disorder, classically combined with emotional volatility, is often abusive in nature.

Countless books have been written on each of these personality disorders and what it is like to be in a relationship with someone with one of them. If you suspect you are in or have been in a relationship with someone with any of these personality disorders, I urge you to read further (see resources at the back of this book), because it can be extremely helpful to become aware of the patterns of behavior associated with each disorder. However, going into the specific characteristics of these disorders is beyond the scope of this book. The fact remains that there are plenty of abusive people who do not qualify as having a specific personality disorder, but that doesn't make the abuse any less severe for the victim. This book focuses more generally on abusive patterns, which exist whether the person has a diagnosable personality disorder or not.

Defining Subtle Abuse

I have been studying aggressive and controlling relationships for years. However, as I was writing this book, it became increasingly obvious to me that there was not an exact term that encapsulated everything I was trying so hard to accurately describe.

There was no question that I wanted this book to not only include but also to heavily emphasize emotional abuse and its impact. Despite the fact that some incredibly insightful and helpful books have been written on emotional abuse, few women actually know they are being emotionally abused and therefore do not know to educate themselves about the warning signs and symptoms.

Emotional abuse is insidious, and the damage that is created from an emotionally abusive dynamic is far reaching. Healing from emotional abuse (which is described later in the book) is an uphill battle, but one well worth fighting. Emotional abuse has been defined as "behavior and language designed to degrade or humiliate someone by attacking their value or personality." It "includes behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or 'checking in,' excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation, or stalking." Any form of abuse impacts the victim's emotional well-being. Emotional abuse can be direct or indirect, overt or covert. Often the only visible sign of emotional abuse is how you feel in the relationship because the covert and subtle tactics are hidden or they seem small and nonthreatening. This was the part I wanted to explore.

Combining emotional abuse with covert abuse came closest to what I wanted to define. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines covert as "made, shown, or done in a way that is not easily seen or noticed: secret or hidden." Combining that definition with the definition of abuse, which is improper treatment or mistreatment, accurately describes the type of behavioral patterns to which I wanted to call attention. Adelyn Birch defined covert emotional manipulation as "when a person who wants to gain power and control over you uses deceptive and underhanded tactics to change your thinking, behavior and perceptions." The subtly manipulative behavior described in this definition was absolutely a part of what I wanted to define, but it still didn't address everything for which I was searching.

I wanted to describe the aggression and control that was subtle and difficult for the recipient to identify but nevertheless wounded her in such a way that she found it difficult to leave the destructive dynamic. I wanted to incorporate the use of force and threat, even if it was disguised in "loving" words. I wanted to look at the intimidating tactics of which the recipient of this type of abuse is consciously unaware. I wanted to look at the intent of the abuser to dominate, to better understand an abuser's agenda.

I wanted a definition that described it all: the humorous put-downs, the manipulative tactics, the coercive nature of an abuser, the cyclical patterns of mistreatment, the unchecked passive aggressive behavior, the verbal harassment, and the escalation of abuse. In addition, I wanted a term that described the behaviors that could be seen but seemed relatively harmless or insignificant when, in fact, they were not. Some abuse is obvious. Some is not.

Some abuse can be seen, but it is quickly retracted or immediately followed by a positive interaction, so as to leave the recipient confused or conflicted about the mistreatment. I not only wanted a definition for the type of abuse that allowed an abuser to remain incognito, I wanted a definition that also included the behavioral patterns that kept the recipient of the abuse conflicted about leaving the relationship. I wanted to have a name for the destructive dynamic in between the overtly abusive episodes, as that is what lays the groundwork for keeping the recipient of the abuse in the relationship.

It was also obvious that these types of relationships didn't just exist with romantic relationships, but in friendships, work relationships, sibling relationships, and parent-child relationships.

There is a broad spectrum of abuse. As I stated above, we can gain the most insight into an abusive pattern if we look at the dynamic in between the overtly abusive episodes. This behavior is responsible for the confusion and attachment that often prevents an abuser's partner from leaving the relationship. It is the dynamic that is responsible for an abuser's partner losing her self-confidence and self-respect, causing her self-esteem to plummet. The indirect mistreatment can exist by itself, but it more commonly precedes other forms of abuse in a romantic relationship. By the time an abuser's partner experiences the more overt episodes of abuse, she is heavily invested in the relationship. This is the behavior that isn't extreme, it isn't overt, nor is it necessarily hidden, as with covert abuse. This behavioral pattern is subtly abusive.

All subtle abuse is emotionally abusive, as it attacks a person's emotional health and well-being. However, not all emotional abuse is subtle abuse. There can be many characteristics of emotional abuse in a relationship that are used to directly attack the victim, making it easier to identify than covert abuse. On that note, while covert abuse is hard to see in a relationship, subtle abuse may remain in plain sight, but it just may seem insignificant. This may seem like a small distinction, but it isn't when you're living with it daily.

The word "subtle" is defined as "so delicate or precise as to be difficult to analyze or describe," "making use of clever and indirect methods to achieve something," "hard to notice or see: not obvious," "clever and indirect: not showing your real purpose." I like this term because it encompasses covert behavior, but it leaves room to broaden the definition to include tactics that may actually be seen and observed, but because they can seem insignificant, often go overlooked or ignored.

So here I go. I am defining subtle abuse as the indirect use of threat, force, intimidation, or aggression, through humor, manipulation, criticism, or punishment in attempt to control or dominate another, occurring on its own or in between verbally, physically, or sexually abusive episodes.

I have done my best to identify subtly abusive traits by separating them out, hoping it will make it easier to see what is so difficult to define. Nevertheless, there is a lot of overlap among the personality characteristics of an abuser, as you will see illustrated in the personal stories. In addition, the facts surrounding the stories used in this book have been changed to protect the identity of the real-life women portrayed in the book.

Understanding Abuse: Misconceptions and Warning Signs

These are words I hear often in my practice. Women describe controlling or abusive behavior in their relationship and then follow up with something about how their partner would never cross that obvious line between verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse and physical abuse. Often these women will describe horrific, demeaning, and belittling behaviors from their partner, but shudder when I label it "abuse."

One of the most widely believed and most destructive misconceptions is that abuse describes physical violence only. This keeps women believing that the way their partners are treating them is acceptable as long as they are not being physically touched. It also teaches men that anything goes as long as the line is not crossed over into physical violence. This misconception allows verbal, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse to go unidentified as abusive since it does not qualify as physical violence, thus excusing unacceptable behavior.

The misconception that abused women come from abusive families and that they are just going back to what is familiar allows the general population to believe that it is the woman's fault for going back into an abusive relationship, as if she has not learned her lesson from childhood. It also gives other women and girls a false sense of security that they will not fall prey to an abuser because surely they would know better.


Excerpted from "If He's So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Avery Jordan Neal.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Preface xvii

Chapter 1 Identifying Abuse 1

What Is Abuse?

Defining Subtle Abuse

Understanding Abuse: Misconceptions and Warning Signs

Abuse Is a Game for the Abuser

Chapter 2 Patterns of an Abuser-Detecting the Undetectable 19

Abuse Can Be Very Subtle

Abuse Is Gradual

Abusers Have a Negligible Level of Empathy for Others

Abusers Are Entitled

Abusers Are Highly Defensive and Manipulative

Abusers Are Never Responsible

Abusers Are Always the Victim

The Push/Pull Pattern

Abusers Are Jealous

An Abuser Isolates His Partner





Abusers and Their Children

Alcohol Is Not an Acceptable Excuse for Abuse

Chapter 3 The Profile of an Abuser's Partner 94

Abusers Have Partners Who Are Overly Responsible

Abusers Have Partners Who Are Highly Empathetic

Abusers Have Partners Who Are Conflict Avoidant

Addressing Codependency

When the Victim Fights Back

Managing the Abuser


Where to Draw the Line

Healthy Confrontation

Chapter 4 Ending the Relationship 132

Common Reasons to Stay and the Role of Fear

Therapy: A Blessing or a Curse?

There Is an End in Sight

Ending the Relationship with an Abuser

The Legal System

Handling the Abuser After the Relationship Has Ended

Life After the Abuser and Your Children

Addressing the Patterns Your Children Have Witnessed

Chapter 5 Healing from an Abusive Relationship 158

The Transformation: From Victim to Survivor

The Big Picture

Depression and Anxiety

Fight or Flight Mode

Learned Helplessness

The Grieving Process

An Unexpected Discomfort

Letting Go of Codependency

Chapter 6 Developing a Sense of Self 178

You Are a Valuable Being

Forgive Yourself

Learning to Honor Your Feelings

Developing a Sense of Self

If You Don't Mold Your Own Life, Someone Else Will

Get Angry

Learning to Set Boundaries

Make Room for Yourself


Letting Go of Fear

Developing Your Dream for Yourself

What a Healthy Relationship Looks Like

Learning to Trust Yourself Again

Beauty in the Pain

Chapter 7 Helping Our Daughters 214

The Blueprint

Educate Your Daughter

Her Sense of Self

Her Destructive Relationship

Resources 229

Notes 231

Further Reading 235

Index 237

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