Entitlement and Domestic Abuse

I am going to record this for a very specific reason.

Sometimes people give something away in the moment, and that’s the moment that things crystalize.  That’s the insight that you needed to confirm your hypothesis.  That’s when you know that you were right.

That happened for me yesterday.

For readers new to my blog, I will explain that I am going through a divorce.  I have been separated for almost a year, and the process arriving at this point was very difficult.  I documented that process on this blog very intentionally so that men and women experiencing domestic violence could see what the therapeutic process looked like.  I just finished editing my entire blog, and I was a bit astounded at some of the raw content.  I really was in denial for a long time.  I made some of my posts private because I didn’t want them out there for public consumption any longer.  I stayed in the marriage too long.  I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening to me.

When you are married to your abuser, it doesn’t feel real.  You keep hoping that s/he will change.  You knew them when they were different.  Why won’t they go back to how they used to be? It’s magical thinking.

I caught myself wondering if he was really that bad the other day.  Not in a nostalgic sort of way.  I don’t miss him at all, but I have a buffet of memories.  They aren’t 100% bad.  Two of my daughters still see him.  I just wondered if he would ever choose a better way for himself, and I don’t know why I even started down that road.  This is the man who raped me.  This is the man who hurt my hip so badly that I needed a labral repair surgery.  This is the man that caused a pelvic floor herniation so severe that I needed corrective surgery.  I haven’t even mentioned the emotional abuse that went along with the aforementioned physical abuse.

So, what happened yesterday?

My daughter spent the afternoon with him.  When she returned, she was angry.  She stomped into the house and declared loudly, “Well, that was horrible! We got into a fight!”

It should be noted that my ex-husband and I never fought.  He was very passive.  He was very covert in the expression of his hostility.  It isn’t easy to explain.  He would lash out quickly and then calm down.  You wouldn’t know what hit you.  And then he would deny everything.  Literally!

“I never did that.  That did not happen.”

It was gaslighting all the time.

“Then why am I having surgery? Why have I been limping for three months?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t do that.  That never happened.”

Reality did not line up with his self-assessment so reality had to be denied.

My daughter told me that her father, my ex, insisted on taking her picture yesterday while they were out.  This is something he has been trying to do for months.  She asks him to stop, but, when he thinks that she is not looking, he tries to do it clandestinely.  She always reiterates her wish, and he makes a point to openly sulk.  Yesterday, she finally stood her ground more assertively:

“You need to stop this.  I have told you many times to stop trying to take my picture.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  Please respect my boundaries.”

“My parental position supersedes your boundaries and right to say no.”

Did you catch that? He actually told her that he didn’t have to respect her as a person with rights or respect her consent because he is her parent.  I was shocked and livid.

This is a very nefarious form of entitlement in action, and I’m very familiar with it.  I saw glimpses of it during my marriage, but I could never pin it down.  Now? He actually said it out loud:

“I have a right to do what I want to you because of my position over you.”

I don’t know that any therapist or program can fix or heal someone who actually believes this or lives according to this belief.

The following information was taken from New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence:

Understanding Domestic Abusers

Why Would Anyone Abuse Their Partner?

Coercive control gives abusers many unearned benefits, large and small, at the expense of their partner and children.16,17  Gaining access to those benefits is abusers’ goal.18   Those benefits include:

  • Being able to do as they please.
  • Getting their partner to comply with their demands, cater to them, and let them have their way.
  • Gaining unlimited access to partner’s money, time, attention, caretaking, labor and sexuality.
  • Stopping their partner from:
    • Hurting, betraying, or cheating on them.
    • Arguing with them; trying to have a voice in decisions, or expecting them to compromise.
    • Making demands on them (e.g., to do household chores).
    • Disclosing their abuse to others.
  • Keeping their partner’s life centered around them.
  • Having a safe outlet for anger and other feelings.

People often speak of domestic abuse  as “a choice” but, in reality, abusers make many choices over a long period of time – choices that stem from the belief that abusive behavior is a legitimate way to create and maintain their “rightful” position of power and privilege within their family19 – i.e., that they are entitled to act as they do.  (Domestic abusers who have non-domestic criminal histories also often think using violence is legitimate in other contexts.) At its root, domestic abuse  is motivated by the desire to gain and keep control,20 and the individual makes hundreds of small choices about how to continue controlling his/her partner. (One reason more men than women abuse their partners may be that men more often have power over a partner that they see as worth defending, but the feeling of entitlement is also influenced by other attitudes, values, perceptions and feelings, and by what the individual learned while growing up.)

Implications for intervention

Because domestic abuse is largely driven by attitudes and social inequality, therapeutic efforts to stop it are largely unsuccessful.  Mental health and substance abuse treatment cannot effectively address either abusers’ belief that they have the right to use violence to get what they want or the social inequality that supports those beliefs.  Yet abusers, especially those who also have mental health problems, are often sent to some sort of mental health treatment, either individually or in a batterer program.

In addition, the subjects that mental health treatment is likely to address often have little or no relationship to domestic abuse:

  • Factors the abuser can’t control that “cause” the abusive behavior.
  • The individual’s feelings and needs.
  • Conflict in the relationship.
  • The victim’s partner’s faults, problems or provocative behavior.
  • Incidents of physical violence – rather than the pattern of control.
  • Coping skills and communication.

Many of the social underpinnings of domestic abuse, such as male dominance, can’t be “treated” at all, as they are not the sort of individual problems that clinicians work on. For instance, you can’t “treat:”

  • A man’s belief that he owns his partner and is entitled to run her life.
  • The fact that someone sees their partner as an object.
  • A man’s belief that his partner is “less than” he is.

Entitlement attitudes are very hard to change – especially ones that are longstanding and culturally supported, and that benefit the individual who holds them. Treatment providers can, and should, challenge these beliefs, but they are not just matters of individual motivation or pathology. (OPDV)

Entitlement attitudes are very hard to change.  Did you read that?

Yes.  They are.  I tried.  For 19 years.  Nothing changed but me.  If you are in a relationship with an entitled person, think about why you are in that relationship.  What are you getting out of it? Do you believe that it’s possible to experience something better?

Lundy Bancroft, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go, wrote this:

We believe there are basics that all relationships need to have, indispensable elements such as:

  • love, affection, and kindness
  • mutual respect
  • freedom of both partners to express their true opinions and feelings
  • safe, loving physical intimacy
  • equality
  • making each other a high priority (though not necessarily the only priority)
  • accepting responsibility for one’s own actions
  • each partner caring about how his or her actions affect the other person

Nothing on this list is pie-in-the-sky. If your relationship is missing any of these elements, you have good reason to want that gap to be attended to— and to insist on it.

Entitlement is not on this list.  Funnily enough, neither is abuse.  Of any kind.

I was really upset yesterday about what my ex said to my daughter, but, at the same time, I was validated.  We are divorcing for many reasons.  All the right ones apparently.

Aim high.  Don’t settle for lesser loves.  You deserve the life you’ve always hoped for.

Further reading:

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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3 thoughts on “Entitlement and Domestic Abuse

  1. Rock on! fantastic post and what a daughter you have! Yes, I can identify with this as I was so pleased when I caught him out in a lie- showed me I wasn’t crazy.

  2. Pingback: Big Changes Start with Small Ones | Out of the Mire

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