Relationship expert Dr. Steven Stosny has been featured on national media for the revolutionary techniques he uses in his Compassion-Power and Boot Camp programs, which help men rewire their resentment and anger, stop using emotionally abusive language and behavior, and compassionately recommit to their marriages and families.
Now, in You Don't Have to Take It Anymore, Dr. Stosny puts his effective, highly sought-after program into print, making it widely available for the first time for women who want to stop walking on eggshells. Drawing on his seventeen years of experience treating thousands of clients, Dr. Stosny explains the many different forms a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship can take. He explains how to identify abuse and why it's important to take action to change the relationship -- for not only is verbal and emotional abuse monumentally destructive to both the adults in the relationship, it also hurts their children. Dr. Stosny shows women and men how to apply his methods at home, shows women how to get their men to change, and demonstrates how they can know if change is permanent. Additionally, Dr. Stosny's program helps women recover from the pain and abuse by practicing self-healing skills so that they can reclaim their natural sense of competence and confidence. Using language that is more compassionate and accessible than in any other book on relationship abuse -- and different tactics from most other therapies and therapists -- You Don't Have to Take It Anymore presents a practical program that both women and men can use to stop verbal and emotional abuse.
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You Don't Have to Take it AnymoreTurn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One
By Steve Stosny
Free PressCopyright © 2005 Steve Stosny
All right reserved.
Introduction: The Hidden Epidemic
This book will teach you how to heal a specific kind of unhappiness that occurs in relationships -- the unhappiness that comes from resentment, anger, or emotional abuse. It will also teach you how to prevent unhappiness. In treating some 4,500 clients over the years, I have been struck by one fact: Even though couples are unhappy for hundreds of different reasons, my primary target of treatment for all of them is more or less the same -- the resentment they all feel. Not depression, anxiety, anger, or abuse -- just plain, ordinary resentment. Because all treatment also aims to prevent relapses, the strategies I use to prevent unhappiness are ultimately the same as those I use to treat advanced stages of it. Whether I am treating an unhappy couple or trying to keep one from veering into chronic unhappiness, whether I am attempting to undo an entrenched pattern of abusive behavior or trying to keep a dangerous one from developing, my primary target is always their resentment. None of the many different kinds of unhappiness can improve in the face of constant resentment.
If you suffer from resentment or live with a resentful man, you will one day have an unhappy marriage, if you do not already. If this sounds like your situation, this book is for you. If your partner is resentful, he will almost certainly have occasional angry outbursts and, sooner or later, engage in some form of emotional abuse. Once he crosses that line, you are at a much higher risk of getting pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped, or worse, especially if he has been violent in the past or if he grew up in a violent family. While it's true that not every resentful person becomes angry, emotionally abusive, or violent, it's also true that every angry, abusive, and violent person starts out with resentment. If this sounds like your husband, the Boot Camp section at the end of this book is for him.
Conscious Intention versus Motivation
If you live with a resentful, angry, or abusive partner, you know that he often gets worse if you show that you're hurt. "I'm not trying to hurt you," he might say, "I'm just pointing out facts." Although there is some denial of responsibility here, he really is confounded by your normal response to his behavior. He confuses conscious intention with unconscious motivation.
Conscious intention is the goal -- what we try to do with a given behavior. For instance, your husband might have a goal of discussing a budget with you. But if he feels devalued in any way, by anything at all -- the bills, the kids, his job -- his unconscious motivation may be to devalue you, by implying that you are stupid or irresponsible for not seeing the issue exactly like he does. It's an unconscious motivation, by which I mean he's not aware of it. So when you react with hurt or defensiveness, he accuses you of evading the facts.
Resentful behavior is certainly different from abusiveness, and both differ from just being angry. You can definitely have one or two of these three relationship demons without the others. But the deeper, unconscious motivation of all three emotional states is to devalue -- to lower the value of the other person, either by dismissing, avoiding, or attacking. And the devaluer does this even though he may still love his wife. Examples of devaluing behavior are stonewalling, criticizing, belittling, and implying superiority. And devaluing can be implied by tone even when the words seem to be positive. You can say, "I love you," for instance, with an inflection that implies that, "You're not worthy of the love I'm giving you." Devaluing behavior can often be barely perceptible in the tone of a voice, or a closed-off body posture or facial expression, or a silent disregard.
Not surprisingly, all three demons -- resentment, anger, and abuse -- damage the bonds of love in the same way, for all three feel like betrayal. All are a betrayal of the implicit promise your loved one made you when you formed your emotional bonds. You both agreed to care about how each other feels, especially when one of you feels bad. The implicit betrayal that occurs when your partner doesn't seem to care about you is why a slap to the heart hurts more than a punch to the face and a cold shoulder harms as much as a screaming tirade.
This book will help you if you are being abused or if you are an abuser yourself. It will help if you live with an angry man or woman or if you have trouble with your own anger. Most importantly, it will prevent problems of anger, abuse, physical battering, and just plain unhappiness by eliminating the resentment that leads to all of them, through enhanced compassion for yourself and everyone you love.
The Universality of Walking on Eggshells
Research shows that no social or economic class, race, or gender-orientation is spared the corrosive effects of walking on eggshells. Although the external pressures on different groups vary greatly, the way they suffer is the same. The fact is anyone can fall into walking on eggshells in a relationship. In my practice I have worked with many bright, competent, and accomplished women from all walks of life -- business, academia, and the upper echelons of government. From their social and professional identities, you would never suspect that they walk on eggshells at home. Yet these successful, powerful women are as tormented and stressed in their relationships as their poorer, less accomplished sisters. They have just as much self-doubt and anxiety when it comes to love, and in some ways are even more isolated by their embarrassment.
"This doesn't happen to women like me," one executive of a marketing firm told me.
"If the world only knew," sighed a high-ranking official in the U.S. State Department.
"How can I be so good at work and such a failure at love?" asked a partner in a leading law firm.
"Nothing has ever been really hard for me," said one brilliant college professor, "and now I can't figure out Marriage 101."
Their considerable achievements notwithstanding, these women experience the low self-esteem of all women who walk on eggshells in their love relationships. Self-esteem rests predominantly on two factors: competence/mastery (work) and intimate relationships. To maintain realistically high self-esteem, you have to feel adequate in both areas. Unlike work, where your own effort, talent, and skills largely determine success, relationships do not rely on just one person supplying love and compassion. If your partner blames you for his own feelings of inadequacy, you are as likely as anyone to buy into it, due to the way love is mirrored or reflected back to us by our partners. (We'll discuss this further in Chapter 3.) And don't pretend, as so many assertive women have, that your anger at him is proof that you don't buy into it. Anger protects you from vulnerability, but the anger itself is evidence that you've internalized at least some of what he has said. If you had not, you would be able to dismiss your husband's implication that you're unworthy of love as easily as if he were to accuse you of having green hair.
We can all become resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive toward the people we love when our core hurts -- guilt, shame, and anxiety about the self -- obscure our core value, our innate humanity, from which our sense of self-value arises. The treatment outlined in these pages enhances universal core values to heal core hurts and, therefore, has been highly effective in helping people of all races, economic classes, and gender orientations. For shorthand, I'll refer to "husband" and "wife" throughout the book, but all observations about husbands and wives apply equally to any love relationship.
Visceral Fear of Harm
In general, this book will help you come to trust the messages that your emotions send you, but there is one that I want you to be aware of even before you start reading: For your own safety and for the safety of everyone you love, you must learn to trust your visceral reactions to fear of harm. That's a feeling in your muscles and in your gut that you will be physically injured. A visceral feeling comes over you more abruptly and with greater intensity than mere anxiety about having a bad evening or even dread of betrayal, depression, and other worries about conflict and emotional abuse. Your visceral fear of harm is not cognitive; you sense aggressive impulses in others before your brain can formulate thoughts about possible danger. That's why you get tense in certain situations, like walking down darkened sidewalks or seeing suspicious strangers, without knowing why. Women have a heightened sense of this early-warning system, which is why your husband remains perfectly calm and might even get annoyed with your nervousness as you walk together in a darkened parking garage.
The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Doubt
Although visceral fear of harm is compelling, many women start to doubt it when the physical threat comes from someone they love, and when they have learned to walk on eggshells. In that case powerful emotions, such as love, guilt, shame, and abandonment anxiety that keep you attached to people you love, can easily cause you to doubt the internal alarm system meant to keep you from harm. For instance, you may feel guilty or ashamed if you admit to fear of your husband, as if your involuntary reaction to threat were a betrayal of him. Or your dread of losing him might exceed your fear of him, which, you are likely to rationalize, only happens when he "gets a certain way." Or your love for him might be so strong that you want to believe that your fear could not possibly be real, that it's all in your head. Actually, it's just the opposite; love, guilt, shame, and abandonment anxiety are more in your head, while fear of harm resides in your body and reflexes.
This book will help you sort out these complex, confusing emotions. But your safety must always come first, even before a deeper understanding of yourself. Get used to monitoring your body; be aware of how you feel around your eyes, in your neck, shoulders, back, chest, arms, hands, stomach, gut, thighs, and knees. These are the most reliable indicators of whether your husband poses a threat to your physical safety.
If your body tells you that you are in danger, you must always put your physical safety first, even if he has never been violent in the past. I have seen too many cases of women who ignored their visceral fear of harm and were badly hurt. Please do not ignore yours.
If you are afraid of being physically harmed, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (for U.S. and Canada) 1-800-799-SAFE. You can get local referrals from this clearinghouse.
How to Use This Book
If you are not experiencing visceral fear, here is the best way to use this book to heal yourself and to improve your relationship.
Read the whole book yourself.
Go back and do all the exercises, including those in the
Boot Camp section.
When you feel able, compassionately insist that your husband read the entire Boot Camp section and Resurrection sections and do all the exercises therein.
Self-Disclosure and Dedication
My interest in the pain that comes from walking on eggshells is not purely professional or academic. It began before I can remember, sometime in the first three years of growing up in a home filled with resentment, anger, emotional abuse, and domestic violence. When I have to treat a little kid in my professional practice, I let him put his finger in the hole in my head -- a small finger can turn all the way around in it. Kids think it's pretty cool. Of course I don't tell them how I got it.
I acquired the hole in my head at the age of three. My father had just completed painting the back of the house, when I came along with a stick. (I knew something was wrong when it stopped sliding in the wet paint and got stuck in some kind of dry-wall repair he had done on broken shingles.) His face reddened when he saw me, but I don't remember him saying anything. He picked up an unpainted shingle and threw it, not at me he claimed, but close enough that it lodged in my skull. The end of the shingle bent under the surface of the bone so that it couldn't be pulled out; it had to be removed surgically.
I also have a bridge in the front of my mouth to replace a tooth that was knocked out when I was six. My mother picked me up -- that usually calmed him down when he got aggressive, but not this time. He swung at her as she held me. He missed her.
I have only the vaguest memories of these and other incidents. All I remember about the head injury is the shocked and panicked looks on the adult faces in the hospital emergency room. It must have been ghastly seeing a three-year-old with part of a shingle sticking out of his head and blood all over his face. But that's all I recall -- no pain, no trauma, just scared adults. The same is true of the punch that dislodged my newly grown-in second tooth. I remember my mother holding me in fear, and then later sitting in a big chair as the dentist tried to force in the plastic false tooth.
I do have vivid memories of my mother being hit and beaten. That's typical, based on everything we know about the effects of family abuse on children. More surprising (only because the effects of verbal abuse haven't been studied as much as physical abuse), my memories of him insulting and yelling at her -- and of her insulting and yelling back -- are as vivid as the violence. And just as hurtful to recall are images of her sitting tearfully on the sofa while he refused to talk to her or even look at her -- "getting the cold shoulder," she called it. She always said that the cold shoulder hurt more than the bruises.
My mother left my father for the last time (there had been 13 prior separations and reunions), when I was 11 years old. She married a gentle man six years later and had a wonderful life as a respected member of her church and community. We never really talked about our past, not until I started graduate school and began researching the causes of family abuse. Then one summer night, while relaxing on her front porch, I asked her opinion, as someone who had lived through all forms of abuse, of what I'd been reading in the research literature. At the time, the research suggested that abusers had dysfunctional attitudes about male privilege and the inferiority of women, and used abuse to control and oppress what they regarded as the weaker sex. Although the research showed that abusers were angrier than nonabusive men, advocates argued that they merely used anger to control their wives. In other words, they didn't abuse because they were angry; they were angry because they were abusive. It sounded right to me. But my mother would have none of it.
"The bad attitudes and anger aren't the point," she said. "Everybody wants to control their spouses when you come right down to it. What stops most people is compassion -- you couldn't stand to see someone you love feeling bad. Find out why these men and the women who do it can't feel enough compassion. Figure out how to make them more compassionate, and you'll really have something."
Of course she was right. You cannot be resentful, angry, or abusive if you are compassionate. You cannot develop negative attitudes about women (or anyone else) without a failure of compassion. Any couple now walking on eggshells has lost touch with the compassion that probably brought them together in the first place.
The success of our intensive Boot Camps and our CompassionPower workshops over the years is a direct result of my mother's words on that night in the late 1980s. This book, like all the work I've done on the subject, has to be dedicated to her. From her suffering and her wisdom and her compassion, this treatment was born.
Copyright © 2006 by Steven Stosny
Excerpted from You Don't Have to Take it Anymore by Steve Stosny Copyright © 2005 by Steve Stosny. Excerpted by permission.
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
Introduction: The Hidden Epidemic
How to Use This Book Self-Disclosure and Dedication
Visceral Fear of Harm
How to Use This Book
Self-Disclosure and Dedication
1 Why You Have Thorns in Your Heart
2 How Love Is Meant to Work and Why It So Often Doesn't
3 The Mirror of Love
4 Why Marriage Counseling, Psychotherapy, Anger-Management, and Abuser Treatment Made It Worse
Reclaiming the Self
5 Recovering Your Core Value
6 Removing the Thorns from Your Heart
7 Developing Your Natural Sense of Self, Competence, and Growth
Postscript to Part II
The Boot Camp
Introduction to the Boot Camp
8 Commitment to Healing
9 Finding Your Real Power
10 Connecting with Your Core Value
11 HEALS: Automatically Regulating Resentment, Anger, and the Impulse to Criticize, Reject, or Abuse
12 The Power of Compassion
13 Your Wife Needs Time and Lots of Compassion to Recover
14 Reestablishing Connection
15 Preventing Relapse: Weekly and Monthly Checklists
Resurrection for Your Marriage
16 How to Know That Change Is Permanent
17 Replacing Power Struggles with Mutual Empowerment
18 Rituals of Repair and Reconnection
Postscript: The Light within You
Appendix I: When Your Relationship Doesn't Make It
Appendix II: Resentful, Angry, and Abusive Women
Appendix III: Statistical Foundation of the Program
About the Author