To change your abusive personality you must first acknowledge that you are abusive and take responsibility

When you have told and discussed your stories, you should begin the healing process, as discussed in the last blog. This means sitting down, and acknowledging and taking responsibility for your part in the abusive relationship. Listen to each other’s unconditional admission without interruption and without becoming defensive. Both of you might also write down how you were abused, and how you abused. Take plenty of time to ensure as much detail as possible. Then apologise for each abusive incident noted, and agree to move on.
Moving on means discussing how you each niggle and annoy each other by pressing the other’s buttons to stoke anger, rage, shame or guilt, all ancient experiences coming from childhood. This discussion is very important because it increases your understanding of your partner, and helps to avoid further conflict and abuse. It will be difficult for both of you to draw up boundaries, because these are alien to abusive people. But, you can take practical steps to concretise them by writing down your partner’s behaviours that are particularly annoying and objectionable to you. These would include anything from the list of abusive behaviours already explored in earlier chapters. Discuss these, and pledge to avoid them in future. This is not a perfect world, and humans are imperfect, so you will find that you will have to compromise on some issues.
Some therapists and researchers state that the success rate of changing the abusive outlook is low, partly because the abuser must make the most honest and strenuous efforts to overcome this behaviour. They may not be ready to change, because not everyone is able to bear the pain of exploring the root causes of why he or she has become an abuser. Neither are many able to bear the shame of revealing this dire trait to another. Beverly Engel is more optimistic, but I feel that overcoming abusiveness is a lifelong task. You will abate your anger and your shame. You will succeed in largely rewiring your brain, and become calm and kind. But, in addition to the above steps, you both may have to go for individual counselling to get at the roots of the abuse.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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It is difficult to change a mutually abusive relationship

As I mentioned earlier, about 45% of abusive relationships are bilateral, or mutually abusive. One of you may ultimately feel that you cannot go on living like this, and perhaps begin the process of trying to change the abusive relationship. This is a major task, and it is unlikely that you would be able to do it on your own. A counsellor would be vital to help you find your way through a process of changing your relationship to a non-abusive one. Beverly Engel offers a way of doing this, which would involve a great deal of communication on your parts. This will not come easy, because abusive people do not listen, and always want their own way. And, there are two of you with similar tendencies, so the counsellor is vital in teaching you how to listen and communicate. You will have to decide if your relationship can be saved, and agree to stop abusing each other. It involves both of you committing to change, and exploring the past with open minds. You will have to commit to stop blaming each other for relationship difficulties, and to be willing to change the abusive dynamics of the relationship.
If you can agree on this, you can share your life stories, and begin to understand the influences that bred the abusiveness, such as childhood, neglect, abandonment, and abuse as outlined in this blog. Allow time for each of you to tell your story without interruption, and you can begin wherever you wish. You should also look at the interaction between your parents, as well as how they treated you. Was there an abusive atmosphere in the house with much blaming, fighting, shouting, or long silences! As you later discuss each story see how it affects you, and see if you have any empathy for each other. This is probably unlikely at this stage, because feelings do not suddenly become unfrozen.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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Abusive people do not feel empathy, but they are responsible for their behaviour

As you slowly and painfully increase your understanding of what makes you abusive and how you control, you can begin your journey of making some amends to your victims. This means taking full responsibility for your abuse. No excuses! No minimisation! It was wrong. It hurt others. It was deliberate. You had an agenda. You were selective in choosing your victims. You did not show or indeed feel any empathy. You could have chosen non-abusive behaviour, irrespective of how your brain was programmed during early childhood. I know that you are beset by toxic shame, but being ashamed of hurting others is good shame. Feel it. Acknowledge the hurt unambiguously, and apologise. Make a written and verbal apology. This apology must be sincere, accepting full responsibility, promising never to repeat the abusive behaviour, and pledging to take steps to eradicate it. It will take a long time before you fully realise how destructive abuse is, so try to put yourself in the victim’s shoes, and imagine what it must have been like for him or her. This will be difficult for you, because abusive people lack empathy. One of the best ways to understand the hurt is to get the victims to write a detailed account of your abusive behaviour, and how it affected them. I believe that the emotional impact of this on you will be greatly increased if you read these written statements to your counsellor. That takes great courage.
Writing an account of their suffering will also be healing for the victims, but it will also arouse their righteous anger, which they may verbally direct at you. It is important for their healing and for your own, that you do not become defensive. This will not be easy for you, because you were accustomed to vent your anger on them. Now you are the vulnerable one. But, if you do not give them space to show their hostile feelings, their suffering will be increased.
It is extremely helpful to enlist the help of other key people, such as close friends. This makes it more likely that the abuse will never commence again, because it involves admitting your abusive past. Again, this is difficult for people with abusive tendencies, who hide their hurt and shame behind bravado and narcissism, and see vulnerability as weakness.
If you have the courage to take this path, you will gradually begin to respect your partner, and recognise her/his boundaries. I suggest that you learn about boundaries, and this will help you see that healthy relationships show parity and respect in every aspect of being together, running a house, and rearing children, having equal responsibility, sharing, communicating, mutual handling of money, listening without interrupting, and giving space for your partner to be angry. Think boundaries! Become acutely aware when you are tempted to breach them. Be aware of the triggers and false beliefs that kick into action at that time. Pay attention to how your abusive tendencies are ignited if you feel ignored, insulted, rejected, or shamed.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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Possessiveness is a sign of vulnerability, but is a nightmare for the target

While you are taught to manage your anger, you will continue to probe issues underlying abuse – power and control- so it is vital in individual counselling to explore how you control. To do this, examine closely the daily tactics you have used, and see, for example, if you frequently check to assure yourself that your partner loves you. Perhaps, you often test her to assure yourself that she is yours and yours only. Maybe you insist on affection or sex when your partner doesn’t feel like it, or refuses because she is busy with something else, and you get angry and try to make her feel guilty. You might be obsessed about where she is and what she is doing at all times, or convinced that she is cheating on you.
Remember that possessiveness is nourished on feelings of abandonment and feelings of not being good enough. You attach rather than love. Suffocate rather than liberate. Your therapist will help you restructure the internal image you have of yourself, formed at the core when you were an infant, and is now outside conscious awareness. Changing your core can take a long time, and involves the counsellor watching the emotions that underlie your urge to control, and bringing them into awareness. If you are a male abuser, your therapist will put some focus on your father. Donald Dutton found that the biggest contributors to the abusive personality were, in order of importance, ‘feeling rejected by one’s father, feeling a lack of warmth from one’s father, being physically abused by one’s father, being verbally abused by one’s father, and feeling rejected by one’s mother’. As a male, you get much of your identity from your father, and if he only gave you conditional love, and punished you, the results were disastrous for you.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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Beverly Engel, Connie Fourré and Lundy Bancroft outline steps that will help you confront your abusiveness, and I will use my own experience to supplement these. I believe that the first step is to learn about the abusive or controlling personality, the characteristics of abusers, and the importance of attachment to the primary caregiver, as outlined in the early chapters of this blog. Then you can move to explore childhood with your therapist, and as you progress through therapy, I hope that you will ‘touch’ your inner abandoned child. I believe that this is the most important work you have to do. If you succeed, you begin to feel sadness for that tiny, wounded child, who needed love, and, for whatever reason, did not get it. It began to feel unloved and unlovable, and created the adult enveloped in shame and rage. For people with abusive tendencies it is very difficult to ‘touch’ that child hidden beneath their frozen feelings. It normally takes a long time, and part of this journey is acknowledging that you have been abused or neglected by your parents, and have learned abusive behaviours from one or both of them. This is difficult to do. You may not want to blame them, or you may not wish to confront the buried feelings of anger towards them that you are now directing at your partner, your children, or other people in your life. But, whatever the cause of your abusiveness, you must accept that you are responsible for your abusive actions.
In the safety of your counsellor’s room, you will be able to confront your abusive parent(s) through talking, child work, artwork, the unsent letter perhaps, or whatever techniques the therapist uses. Part of this will be exploring your anger and rage that has tormented you all your life, and fuelled your abusive behaviour. One of the best ways to explore anger is to keep an anger diary, and perhaps bring it to counselling for each session. This will help you identify the triggers that spark the anger. Your counsellor will help you manage the anger, and divert it away from your partner. Abusive people are unable to self-sooth, so I sometimes suggest vigorous techniques such as running, swimming, or using a punch bag. These vigorous exercises, however, can sometimes increase the rage, so gentle exercises may be more beneficial for you. These include breathing exercises, stretching, and walking, and doing meditations. Your counsellor may direct you to centres that teach techniques on how to manage anxiety and tension, which are part of the abusive personality.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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Counselling is necessary to get rid of the controlling impulse

Counselling, of course, is expensive and you may not be able to afford private counselling, but you can avail of free mental health counselling services under the aegis of the HSE, which will also help you deal with any mental health problems as well. Addiction counselling services are provided through the HSE’s network of 32 local health offices. You can contact these addiction services through the link ‘Local Health Office’ on the HSE website. Alcoholics Anonymous are a good source of support for alcohol addiction.
Unfortunately, state mental health services, while comprehensive, have long waiting lists. Psychiatrists are extremely busy, and may not be able to see you sufficiently often, and more psychologists are badly needed. Cutbacks during the recession also make it more difficult for the state body to put fully staffed operating structures into place. Private counselling offers a more regular, albeit expensive alternative, and offers a way to deal specifically with your abusive behaviour. If you can afford private counselling, inform yourself about the different types of counsellors available, before you make a decision. Your doctor will give you a list of local counsellors in your area, and you can talk to some of these on the phone before making up your mind about which one you would like to attend. Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling at the University of Strathclyde, details counselling theories in his blog Essential Research Findings in counselling and Psychotherapy. The Facts are Friendly. Donal Dutton specifically mentions counselling theories that are especially relevant to abusive personality types. You could also contact any of the umbrella accrediting groups, such as the IACP (Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), for information about counsellors in your area. The IACP has a very good website.
As a person with abusive tendencies, you will find counselling challenging, but the counsellor will gradually form a good relationship with you, and this allows him to make strong challenges without your becoming intimidated. Because abusive people distrust others, it is likely that you will not trust him, even if you have voluntarily come for counselling. You may use your persuasiveness, logic, and charm, and want the counsellor to take you at face value. You may find yourself trying to manipulate the counsellor, and minimise or even deny the abuse, or present yourself as the victim. This is dishonest. It will not gain you anything. It is a waste of money. Trying to shed abusive tendencies requires courage, information and honesty. You must be willing to be vulnerable in revealing shameful aspects of your behaviour. It will be difficult for you to give up control, and to be vulnerable and honest in the presence of a stranger! This, however, is how change is effected.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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different ways to help an abusive person change

GROW is another worthwhile organisation where you can find support. It is a voluntary movement and does not have waiting lists. It, too, has branches all over Ireland, and, like AWARE, its main activity is the establishment of group meetings where any mental issues can be explored, and where the interaction of group members is geared towards supporting each member.
The HSE has excellent services to cater for mental health issues. Each HSE area in the country has anger management, anxiety reduction and stress reduction programmes. Your first port of call is your GP, who will assess possible treatment. The GP may refer you to the outpatient clinic that is headed by the local psychiatrist, who heads a multidisciplinary team under the aegis of the HSE. The multidisciplinary teams of these community mental health centres consist of psychiatric nurses, psychologists, social workers, cognitive behavioural therapists and occupational therapists. Some of these may engage other family members if necessary. You may also be referred to a day hospital, which means that you can live at home and be treated. The consultant psychiatrist who sees you at the outpatients’ clinic will also be responsible for you in the day hospital. There is also the option of attending a day centre, which is staffed by psychiatric nurses, and sometimes occupational therapists.
If you are feeling suicidal, the Samaritans provide a 24-hour listening service. Your GP will also assist you, and may refer you to the appropriate agency that deals with suicide. The National Office for Suicide Prevention provides a very good information service that will direct you to the appropriate place for help.
I believe that counselling is also an effective way, and possibly the most effective way, to confront abusive behaviour and tendencies. I am convinced that an emotional re-experiencing of the pain of abandonment can largely erase the abusive pathway that was laid down by an insecure attachment. Counselling, therefore, is a place where you can deal both with the mental health issues that plague abusive people, as well as directly confronting your abusive behaviours. But, I am convinced that unless you really want to change your abusive behaviours counselling will not work to any significant degree, no more than programmes to deal with abuse. The programmes mentioned above have the advantage of involving other family members, while counselling is largely a solitary affair. However, when the perpetrator has explored the abusive behaviour sufficiently well, other members can become involved in family therapy. I do not believe that couple counselling is effective. Research shows that the abuser becomes defensive when the question of violence is brought up, and generally leaves counselling. He may also try to control the session and use it as an opportunity to further blame the victim. Worse still, the victim’s assertions may arouse his anger, and leave her open to even more severe abuse at home, where she is unprotected.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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Controlling people suffer from other mental health problems

Those who work on programmes in Ireland enjoy the satisfaction of seeing some of the abusive participants change for the better and stop abusing. But, this work can also be frustrating, and facilitators also experience the disappointment of trying to deal with abusive men, who are not willing to change. Global research reflects this, showing that some programmes are ineffective, while others have a positive impact on women’s safety by suppressing battering. Their first priority is the safety of women and children. They help batterers be aware of their behaviour, and a batterer can learn in a group setting how abuse hurts their partners and their children. Groups also hold men accountable for their behaviour, and provide a setting for positive change. On the other hand, the abuser is surrounded by violent men, and may not be inclined to reveal the inner pain that often promotes abusive behaviour. Strange as it may seem, there are abusive people who get pleasure and satisfaction for hearing about the sufferings of victims. Such groups do not change the abusive personality type, and some abusers on programmes try to manipulate the facilitators, and ‘butter them up’. They also know that the police, if called to a domestic incident, will take a favourable view of the fact that they are attending a programme. But, at the very least, abusers, who wish to change, learn violence avoidance techniques, and are educated on abuse and violent behaviour.
Ultimately, if such programmes are not always successful, it is not because of any lack of dedication by their facilitators, but because of the extreme difficulty perpetrators experience in being vulnerable, and being able to embrace self-change. So, it is important that you are motivated by the desire to change, rather than enter any programme because you are coerced by the courts or by the threat of your partner leaving you. I believe that self-motivation is the most important ingredient in ensuring your success on any programme.
Before entering such programmes, it is also important, and required by some groups, to deal elsewhere with the mental health issues that you, as an abusive person, are more than likely to suffer from. People with abusive tendencies often experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings, and addiction. In Ireland, as in other countries, there are some marvellous voluntary organisations offering free help for these. Mental Health Ireland, (with at least 104 local Mental Health Associations), has an excellent mental health information service, which you can avail of. On its website you will find, for example, contact information for AWARE, a major organisation with a countrywide network of branches. One of its aims is to educate sufferers about depression. It has a helpline, but its main way of helping depressed people is through confidential support groups. Be aware that confidentiality has limits, which will be explained to you by the facilitators of these groups.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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You can change from being controlling and abusive

You have a choice. You can carry this cancer into old age where it will eat at you until you die, or you can break the pattern that has spread possibly through generations in your family. Unless you decide to do something about it, future generations will be infected, and many more people hurt. Are you ready to face your abusiveness? Are you ready to be vulnerable? Are you ready to face the long hard road of confronting and controlling this cancer? Are you ready to make the decision that you no longer want to be an abusive person? If you are, you will not only help to heal the hurts you have inflicted on your victims, but your own hurt will be assuaged, and you will break the cycle.
I believe that you cannot do this work on your own. Every country has its own specific organisations dealing with people who abuse. There are many battering programmes in the United States. The National Institute of Justice, which is part of the Department of Justice, is heavily involved in such programmes. It also publishes research on how effective they are. Lundy Bancroft, already mentioned in relation to the abusive personality, has twenty years of experience in devising programmes for men who batter. The fundamental aim of these programmes is to offer support to women and children who are victims of abuse. Bancroft trains professionals on best practice for intervening with male batterers, and becoming involved with the victims of these abusers. Bancroft was also a former Co-Director of Emerge, the country’s first counselling programme for men who batter. Founded in 1977 it is now a leading organisation working to end violence in intimate relationships.
There are three organisations in Ireland providing a service to deal exclusively with abusive men. These are MOVE (Men Overcoming Violence), MEND (Men Ending Domestic Violence), and MODV (Men Overcoming Domestic Violence). They are voluntary organisations supported by the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform. They work in co-operation with each other, and do not encroach on each other’s geographical areas. All three have representatives on the Domestic Violence Intervention Programme. You should find a branch (listed on their websites) within reach of where you live. Their services are free, and their aim is to support the safety of women and children by having what I imagine are very challenging group session for abusive men. In these sessions, you will be challenged to take responsibility for your violent behaviour and to change your thinking and behaviour. They also provide specific and effective behavioural programmes to help perpetrators to cease abusing. Their belief is that violence is a learned behaviour. The conclusion would, therefore, be that what is learned can be unlearned.
I could not trace any organisation that deals with abusive females, but there may be some.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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If you have an abusive personality, can you change?

This cancer eats my soul,
Even as I grow older.
I have not the gift of wisdom,
It is not possible.
I can give good advice,
I can see the problems,
I can offer solutions,
I am intelligent,
But my soul is contaminated,
The generosity of my spirit stifled in the stench of hatred.
Self-hatred.
From the cradle, I have carried this seed.
Forever blooming.
Manured by the fear of abandonment.
Never feeling good enough.
Soured by perfectionism.
Even as I grow older.
I cannot sooth the raging child,
And spray my shame even on those who love me.
Is this always to be?

Jim O’Shea

Despite conducting a deliberate campaign of hurt and control, those of you with abusive tendencies are likely to be shocked, if you are labelled an abuser. The first step in any decision to change is awareness, and that label must be applied to you without reservation, to begin the process of bringing about that awareness. As an abuser, you have a strong sense of denial, and you bury deep in your subconscious any recognition of your abusiveness. This is a defence against the pain of the vulnerable, hurt, child within you, so you will experience anxiety and fear as your awareness dawns, if you contemplate facing the roots of your abusiveness.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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