Category Archives: self esteem

Mistakes

A client relayed a story of integration to me the other day:

One second she going about her day, the very next she was putting her cut finger under the water faucet. She felt the pain right away… but that wasn’t the part that got her. She was able to patch herself up quickly enough, however the negative thoughts  that followed were not as easily addressed.

Thought after  thoughts about her foolishness, distract-ability, and self-worth came tumbling through. From a mistake, the mindset was immediately about every inadequacy she had as a person. How is this even possible? It was an accident! These things happen. You live long enough, you run the numbers, and things are bound to occur.

She was caught in a very common negative thought pattern, where one small thing derails you and you end up feeling terrible about something small.  Here is the rest of her story about how she is working on changing that:

She stopped herself and remembered that she didn’t have to chase down every emotion or thought. She realized in the moment that the self-talk she was so willingly participating in was not something that was actually doing any good.  She took a deep breath and a few more for good measure. She felt her body center and came back to a more balanced state of mind. She had a choice… she could continue down this path of negativity or she could do something differently.

Notice that she didn’t have any expectation that she needed to feel or even think differently. She instead focused on what she could control right then and there. She stopped the autopilot of negativity, made the conscious choice not to attack herself further, and then went outside and took in the beauty of the clouds.

She still had that lingering feeling that somehow this represented all her worth (or lack there of). However, she also knew that logically this was not the case. Who she is as a person (her values, passions, and actions) is not based on a cut finger. It really makes no sense at all, however that is how old negative thought patterns work.  They just no longer fit in to what is going on within your life.

The client would like to say that she won’t have these feelings ever again, however that isn’t very realistic, and she knows it. Instead, she looks forward catching these negative thoughts faster, shift them more fully, and work to no longer have this pattern as her default when accidents happen.

The way it works is when you know better (the hurt finger is not a reflection of self-worth), you do better (stop the negative self-talk and do something centering/positive), you feel better (emotional responses will align more fully with the situation).  It isn’t easy to stop yourself and make the choice to do it differently, when in the moment you get little reward. You just want to not feel that way, but integration rarely hops-to in the way we want.  It takes work to change the patterns that are so well-worn. The payoff however is great and the effort is worth it!

You don’t have to be trapped in the same mind-set. Mistakes will happen it is about how to grow from the experience that makes all the difference.

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Crispy Realization

There are many moments where we feel defeated and unsure about how to move ahead.  Life appears to be stacked against us and we really just want to run away to a cabin somewhere in the Wisconsin winter woods.  This is what Justin Vernon did when his band and romantic relationship both ended one after another.  In case one might not think that is enough, Justin was quickly there after bedridden with mono for three months. Lonely and stuck in every way possible, Vernon took his sadness and turned it into something beautiful.  He wrote a painfully exquisite song about the experience.

The song pours out the emotional turmoil and eventual truth that so many of us live through.  It can feel like a death of the soul when you experience betrayal. Frozen within the heartache that seems to never go away. It can be overwhelming to take on the simplest tasks.  Depression hits you when the last thing you feel you can do is handle more hardship. Not only do you feel like you have to take on the world, you also can feel like you are in a battle with yourself.

And yet, there is something magical that happens when we are cut to the quick. We begin to learn about ourselves and our character. The hard-won understanding of our being is not something that happens upon us in an instant. It isn’t that sorrow feels good, but it is that sorrow brings forth a greater sense of self.  When we allow ourselves to mourn and grieve parts of what we had wanted and expected, we then allow for that space to heal.  We have the choice of letting that past pain calcify within us or transform it into a holding place for the opportunity to treat ourselves and others more respectfully.

Consider how you might take inspiration from someone like Justin Vernon and allow yourself to develop a powerful new sense of emotional range. Allow those authentic response to become a catalyst to empowered creativity!

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“This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be…
Safe with me”

You are encouraged to listen to this lovely cover of  the song.  It will still your senses.

(Should auto-load if not press the play button, for free listening.)

Re: Stacks –Bon Iver covered by Sonos

You can view the insightful lyrics here

Seducing the Seducer — Part 1

I spend a ton of time reading, thinking, discussing, and implementing topics that have to do with power dynamics, evolutionary psychology, seduction, mental health, and emotional authenticity.  They all flow for me into a sex positive approach to therapy.

I have been a student of Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP for over 10 years. From those trance-induction building blocks,  I learned about Speed Seduction (the older term).  Ross Jefferies was really the only person at that juncture combining the ideas of natural rapport with sexuality. I was intrigued and actually am proud to say that I had numerous conversations  with him.  At the time, it was ground breaking concept formation to marry these two obviously similar seeming schools of thought.

Yet, there was a problem area with all this new exciting information. The thorn in my psychological side with Speed Seduction was often the same concern  I later had with the emerging  PUA communities. It all seemed so harshly negatively based. I would read these people (mostly men at that point) talking about picking up women and it was a very pump-em-and-dump-em kind of system. There was little to no discussion about seducing from an emotionally authentic way.  The focus was to build a man up by diminishing the self-esteem of a woman (remember this was all single hetero male focused).

Side Rant for clarification —  I have no problem with people engaging in sex casually or otherwise. I’m all for being primal- spiritual- kinky -romantic (or a zillion other variations) sexually.  I’m even an avid supporter of using your personal skill set, trance-rapport techniques, science, and any positive physical features one has to attract another person. In fact, I often work with many clients on these very things.  However, the difference is I specifically do so  from a positive-consent-based foundation.

Everything I saw was focused on feeling good about yourself by making another person feel less than.  I’m all about the truth of determining value based on your own personal values and social mores. Yet, when you are acting in a way to belittle another person to get them to have sex with you it  just seems shady. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but I am saying there is some lack of personal integrity. If one is working to establish high-value (as most seduction techniques express as a goal) I never saw the high value in lying or being cruel. It feels a bit like a crude hack as opposed to a well thought out positive sculpting process.

It seemed obvious to me that you would want to be seduced or seduce another by lifting up their self respect…even if your intent is for a one night stand.  I just kept thinking that if you can’t seduce someone into wanting to date or have sex with you and have them feel better about you and themselves afterward, it doesn’t seem like you did a very good job.  However, I appeared to be the only one thinking this. And basically the hetero female population that was paying attention to seduction culture was just outraged and dismissed it all.  Both sides seemed to say it was an all or nothing system. I felt stuck within my own world of knowing the value of these ideas but still not having a delivery system that was uplifting.

So time went on and The Game was published. Pick up artistry began to gather a bit more attention. By this point Mystery and a few others were riding on the coattails and creating a more up-to-date community for seduction. The trend was to make things look a more palatable for the general public and even open up the marketplace to women. It was a step in the right direction as far as I was concerned.   I felt personally intrigued and continued to use many of the techniques in situations…but nothing felt healthy and positive enough to share with clients.

Then a friend, who also studies seduction personally and for business use, recommended The Authentic Man Program. I was thrilled to see people using the  rapport skills in a non-shaming way. They were taking all the NLP, psychology, and sexuality concepts and rolling them together. It made my heart sing. Finally, there was something I could recommend to clients.  I took the courses online and learned a lot. I really enjoyed Bryan and Decker. They felt like honest people using these ideas in a healthy way. I recommended the classes in person or online to clients.  One small problem is that it is expensive. Not every client that could benefit from their ideas was able to be exposed to them.  The search continued.

More time passed and another friend was looking into David Deida’s work,  so I happily joined in the fun. Deida’s ideas had a wonderful sensual and spiritual feeling to them.  They were direct in the evolutionary psych components and incorporated the piece of creating a higher sense of purpose as a way to seduce. He also came from a perspective of being in a long-term relationship.  I loved stitching as many elements as possible into the fold.  And now I had at least one author that I could recommend and felt comfortable sharing with clients.  However, there were a few small concerns.  If the client was not naturally leaning towards being introspective, open to some spiritual elements, or already had a base for seduction skills …it was a bit too much to take on for the first round. Clients reported that there was some good stuff but didn’t exactly resonate.

I had yet more conversations  (well really me complaining) about this weird gap in teaching these ideas to others. A friend came to the rescue and started a blog  about seduction within long-term relationships.  I felt like I was finally able to reliably send clients to a site that I trusted would be smart, relationship safe, and that was teaching these combined principles.  Then due to the very hectic schedule of the author, the blog was simply not going to continue due to lack of time to commit to it properly. My heart sank… would I ever find the right mix for this approach to suggest to my clients?

It was becoming some sort of personal mission without consciously realizing it.  However,  now I was fully aware and had no idea where I was going to find the time to write this book, but I figured it would need to be done.  It would go on the list with the other projects I’m working on.

Then one day it happened…. there was this blog…. Married Man Sex Life by Athol Kay.  A man saying  the things that my clients had said:  all the things that they were afraid to admit to themselves,  all the things they felt shame about expressing to others, and all the things they resented and loved about dating and sex and marriage.  It was a real person who happened to be so smart and honest that it was almost impossible not to side with him. He wasn’t a jerk, he wasn’t single, and he didn’t naturally come to all this understanding with a dominant personality.  Kay was providing this knowledge base and it felt worthy of suggesting to a few clients.  The feedback was awesome and I just kept thinking about how great it would be if this guy would just write a book.   These core ideas are actually really important and of course it would make my life easier if someone would put all of it together nicely packaged so I could just tell clients to go get the book.

And then just like that… there was word that his blog was going to be turned into a book.  I began to get more and more eager for the release of The Married Man Sex Life Primer.   It was going to happen,  I was finally really and truly going to have material worthy enough for clients.  My standards are exceedingly high and so were my expectations of his work. Athol Kay had managed to seduce this therapist who loves  teaching seduction into wanting to read his book,  review it, and hopefully recommend it to clients.

In Part 2 of Seducing the Seducer … I’ll share how I read the book in record time,  got to talk with Athol Kay about his work,  and my review of the book The Married Man Sex Life Primer. And for the record, no one paid, asked me to, or even encouraged me to ever seek out this information, interview, or blog posts.  This is all about my interest in the field, being a therapist, and knowing that many of these ideas help others.

Doing Right

Greg Swann over at Splendor Quest is celebrating humanity.  I figured I would share some of a recent blog post because it is a great reminder to focus on the positive!

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It suits my ends to poke around in the trash can inside your brain, but I’m not doing it to be mean — nor to induce you to feel bad about yourself. I know a whole lot about the interior mental processes that motivate the pursuit of values and disvalues — and about the subsequent and secondary consequences of those mental processes — but it’s not as if I can actually read your mind.

So how do I know so much about how your mind works? I don’t, not by any means except inference. What I know about is how my mind works. We are alike as things — we are ontological equals — so I know that your mind works the same way mine does — no less than and for the same reasons that your heart works the same way mine does. Moreover, I can look you in the eye and tell you the truth of your life in excruciating detail, working from nothing other than past experience with myself and other people. Our differences make us unique and beautiful, but our similarities make us comprehensible to each other.

We all tell lies, the worst of them to ourselves. We all shirk our responsibilities, crafting sullen silent soliloquies to justify our laziness. We all hurt other people, and we are all hurt by them. We all do things we know are wrong when we’re doing them, and we all live with the pain of those errors forever — silently, in a stolid solitude, but forever.

The things you have done that are wrong are not to be dismissed, shrugged off. They can’t be, no matter how much you might wish they could. But redemption is egoism in action. There are limits to how much of the past damage you have done to your self you can undo, but we redeem our errors not by penance and not by renunciation but by acts of splendor.

All you need is an idle moment to catch your self doing something wrong — in the past. What you need instead is to catch your self doing something right — right now.

You are too much aware of your past sins and failures because you have too little greatness in your life — too little splendor — to be conscious of instead.

Do you see? Your self is your life, and your awareness of your self is the source and the sink of every other awareness you have ever had. Your relationship with your self is primary and paramount in any other relationship you might have with other people or with things outside your mind. Every purposive action you take is taken first by your self upon your self, and there is nothing you can think, say, do or experience that is not felt first, most and always by your self.

Your self is the star of every scene of every act in the drama of your life. So here’s an interesting question: When your self takes the stage, what do you see?

The same thing I see, for what that’s worth. Your body is the physical expression of your self, and your every triumph, your every disaster and your every delight and terror is written on your face, on your skin, in your posture, in your movements and in your speech for any observant person to see. But the self of the mind, your true self, is visible only to you. I can see how your past has inscribed itself into the cells of your body, but only you can see the self you would have and could have and should have become.

This is the dirty little secret I know about you, the one I refuse to keep quiet about: I know you’ve betrayed the self of your imagination in just about every way possible. I know there are things you are burning, burning, burning to do — and yet you talked yourself out of doing them, again and again. I know there are things you want desperately to have achieved — but not desperately enough to dig in and do them. I know you have been pressured, again and again, into doing things you knew were wrong when you did them, and I know you have done other things you knew were wrong purely out of spite, frustrating yourself more than anyone else.

I know that when you were four or five years old, you imagined for yourself a glorious self, a thing of illimitable goodness. And I know you have smudged and smeared and soiled and sullied and chipped and chopped away at that image of your self ever since. I know that you’ve never stopped mourning what is in fact a gradual and persistent and ultimately fatal self-annihilation, and I know that you hate your own self-abnegation so much that you would do almost anything to make it stop — except stop doing it.

I’ve understood everything I’m talking about at progressively higher levels of abstraction since I was very young, but that doesn’t mean that I have been spared the horrifying and mentally-permanent spectacle of self-induced error. Too much the contrary, alas, and with less of the self-serving self-righteous self-justification other people might lay claim to. But still more importantly, self-destruction does not matter, except to the extent that one must learn to stop doing it. What truly matters, all that truly matters is self-construction, realizing — making real — that image of your self you crafted for yourself when you were four or five years old.

What is it that you want to do? What is it that you want to have accomplished? You have to do those things. You have to see yourself doing those things. When you feel pressure to betray your self, from other people or from some doctrine of self-annihilation, you have to stand up to that pressure — you have to be the hero you loved to imagine for your self when you were young.

You have the power to choose who you will be,  remain conscious as a living human being. You cannot love who you are without behaving lovably in the actions of your existence.

That much is remarkable: The more greatness you see in your own real-time and remembered behavior, the more greatness you will see in your self.

Authenticity

I think most of us understand the basics of being an authentic person in conceptual terms.

In therapy you will hear me say the word “authenticity” a lot.  I will stress the crucial nature of being true to yourself, your values, your ideas, and your desires.  This is an empowering step for many who have felt betrayed, slighted, or disenfranchised. Taking ownership of your sense of self moves you forward into having the kind of conversations, connections, and life you hope to live.  All of this sounds like something we want for ourselves and others, right?  But what does it really mean?

Authenticity –” actual character not counterfeited or adulterated — refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, sincerity, and intentions. ”

Dr. Harville Hendrix has some great ideas on the subject, he talks about being authentic  in his work Keeping The Love You Find. “When your fear abates, you will be more capable of examining and dismantling your character defenses so that your authentic self can emerge.” When we allow ourselves to come forward in a real way, there is a purity about our ideas and intention. We don’t have to hide who we are but rather openly express who we are at our more core level.

Of course, when you are getting all the praise for being yourself, it is much easier to let your strength shine. However, there is no pretending here in the land of being authentic.  It is scary to be real when you think people won’t like you, when they will judge you, and/or mock you . Being present with your own emotions in a situation takes work and even then it can be hard to come forth.  Hendrix goes on to explain: “Rejecting your authentic selfyou bury it in the underground and instead present to others only a substitute self that you thinks will win their approval.” We naturally want to be like and accepted, this is a beautiful human understanding. AND yet when we sacrifice our authenticity for the sake of false acceptance we strip away the opportunity for the very connection we so deeply crave.

Once all that is figured out, there is one more  layer of being authentic that requires a bit more work to accept. We tout the virtues of such on an almost daily basis by phrases like “be true to yourself, just listen to yourself, be who you want to be, I accept you as you are.” Yet, if we were to be truly honest to ourselves, we often only mean this when this authenticity moves in our favor. This is not a criticism, it is just a fact of most human interactions. I would say we “authentically want what we want” and when we don’t know how to express it, how to get it, or don’t get it at all… difficulty arises.  Hence, being authentic isn’t just about encouraging other people to live their dreams, or being honest with yourself.  It also requires a consideration of the process of what you create together.  Hendrix notes,  that once we “start modeling how to let go, how to say set boundaries,and  how to be authentic about with our own needs, we begin to take care of ourselves and others more fully.

You may not always like your authentic responses of yourself or those of others. However the beautiful part of this process is you become strong enough to embrace them as real without needing to push them aside or diminish others. And once you have taken that leap of true honesty you can also begin to work on changing how you respond to those situations.  The key to being authentic is not just identifying your wants and needs (and those of others) but beginning to create an authentic connection together of acceptance even within your difference.

Your life will change dramatically the moment you risk being brave enough to be your authentic self.

Just tell me what to do…

It happens all the time… a client looks me square in the eye and with an authentic pleading tone they say “Please just tell me what to do!” I know this phrase so well… because I have also said it to my therapist. Sometimes things are so hard we just want some guidance. It isn’t as if we are looking for someone to dictate our every move, but we want someone else to shoulder the burden. This is totally understandable, human, and natural. It also means that as far as the therapist-client relationship goes, you are probably going to hate me in the moment, and love yourself later for the answer I return to those longing filled eyes.

I deeply respect individual choice, mood, and thought. I don’t pretend not to have opinions or values. I clearly do and those that choose me as a therapist know that I’m sex-positive, direct, and extremely honest.  I’m not afraid to push. However, there are lines that I do not cross. Part of this is empowering each person to make their own decisions and not claiming to know better than the client what is best for them.

It is almost a cliche at this point, but it still stands as a truth, that you will learn so much more when you figure things out for yourself rather than have someone else tell you. Not to mention, most of the time even when someone does tell us, we don’t listen, we just wait for our own integration to hit! This is how it should be. We need to figure out our own ideas, values, and emotions.

So, even when you ask me what I think, I’ll turn it back around on you. This is not meant to be cruel, as a trick, or to dodge the topic. It is that as a therapist with integreity, I believe in the strength of each person to figure out their own way. If you want someone to tell you what to do there are many a friend and family member that I’m sure would be happy to do the job.

It is not my job to dictate what you should be doing. Rather, it is my job to help you find your core strengths, use them to make choices, and act in a way that works best for your life.  I’m all about looking at the situation as a whole and providing opening to new patterns, thoughts, and expressions.  I’m here to also give you support when things feel overwhelming.

Believe me when I say this… your words state that you want me to tell you what to do, but that is just one frustrated moment in time. After that moment passes, there is a respect for yourself that comes when you use your own judgement to decide what is right and wrong for your life.

And that is the magical part of therapy, I get to watch each person come into their own sense of self. I don’t want mindless clients. I want to encourage independent thought, strength, and action. Even though it hurts me to not give a client what they want in that situation, I’m proud to say I always give a client what they need to reach their goals with strength and dignity.

Why do they stay …

I was recently reading an amazing post by hilzoy on the topic of why people might stay in a relationship that is abusive. There are so many factors that contribute to this choice, however they are often from a point of view that feels dis-empowering to the person being abused. While there are many valid arguments as to why someone would stay, this is one that explains in real-people-terms why even someone that is smart and rational would continue on even after the first time abuse happens.

If you are in a situation where you need help, support, or information regarding an abusive situation, please call. You will not be judged but rather encouraged to find solutions that work for you.

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In a post on a book about a violent relationship, Linda Hirshman writes:

“It is difficult to understand why she stayed in this awful relationship, given that she was not risking starvation and had no children with her abuser.”

I worked in a battered women’s shelter for five years, four as a volunteer, and one as a full-time staffer, so I might be able to answer this question. Obviously, this will be too general: people stay for lots of reasons. But generalizations might be better than nothing. I will also refer to abusers as ‘he’, and to their victims as ‘she’; this is accurate in the overwhelming majority of cases. (JSJ Therapy acknowledges that anyone can be abused and actively works to support all persons within situations, that they would like to change.)

In some cases, understanding why someone stays is easy. A lot of women are afraid that their abuser would try to harm them if they leave.  Staying in a case like this, at least until you had figured out how to leave safely and cover your tracks, is not mysterious or perplexing.

Moreover, while I think the assumption that battered women stay because they are just dumb, or have staggeringly bad judgment, is wrong and insulting, there are a whole lot of battered women, and it would be very surprising if none of them stayed for such reasons. We asked women who came to our shelter when the abuse had started; one woman told me that her husband had thrown her from a moving car on their first date, at which point I wondered silently why on earth there had been a second date, let alone a subsequent marriage. But in my experience such women were a vanishingly small minority.

What is hard to understand, I take it, is why women who do not have obviously bad judgment, and who do not take themselves to be in serious danger if they leave, stay anyways. So I turn to them.

To start with, it helps to know that (last time I checked) the two most common times for violence to start were the honeymoon and the first pregnancy. By the time you reach either point, you’re already in a pretty serious relationship, and leaving is not something that anyone would do lightly.

Moreover, the violence often comes as a real surprise. It’s not that there aren’t signs: there are. But they are often things like: he falls for you too hard and too fast, or: he wants to be with you all the time. You’d have to be either paranoid or a victim of a previous abusive relationship to leap to the conclusion that either of these things means that abuse might be in your future. (Imagine, in particular, someone whose last relationship was with someone who didn’t seem to care about her: imagine her saying to herself: last time he didn’t care enough; this time he seems to care too much; am I impossible to please?)

So imagine yourself, in love with someone, on your honeymoon or pregnant, when suddenly this guy just goes ballistic, often for very little reason, and hits you. For a lot of women, this is profoundly shocking and disorienting. There are things that are comprehensible parts of the world, even if they’re rare, like having your car stolen; and then there are things that are unexpected in a completely different sense, like having your car turn into an elephant before your eyes: things that make you wonder whether you’re completely crazy. Being beaten up by someone who apparently loves you is one of those things.

What this means is that precisely when a woman needs as much confidence in her own judgment as she can muster, the rug is completely pulled out from under her. And it’s not just that she questions her judgment because she got involved with this guy in the first place; she questions her judgment because something so completely alien to the world she thinks she knows has just happened.

Under the circumstances, it is very, very hard to say: well, OK, I am married and/or pregnant, I am in this serious relationship,  but I will nonetheless decide to leave, now, because I think I have to, and I trust my judgment. Trusting your judgment at that moment is like trusting your sense of balance when someone has just poured a fifth of vodka down your throat.

Besides that, there’s also the Jekyll/Hyde phenomenon. If I had a nickel for every woman who has said to me, “It’s like he was two people! Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!, I’d be a wealthy woman today. When I first heard this, I didn’t entirely believe it.

Then I encountered Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde myself. One fine evening, a guy I was involved with, a guy who was normally kind and decent and funny, suddenly went nuts. He started accusing me of all sorts of that were truly insane. (You’ll have to trust me on this one: things that there was no reason in our relationship or my character for him to suspect me of, not a scintilla of evidence to support, and that would have been wildly implausible about anyone.) He followed me around the house, screaming and screaming, for about ten hours. (You might wonder, why didn’t I leave the house? Answer: it was on the outskirts of Ankara, at night, and there was nowhere to go and no public transportation.)

In the morning I left to walk around and try to figure out what had happened, in the kind of absolute daze I described above. When I came back, he was appalled by what he had done, and not in the “I am beating up on myself” way I had always imagined, but in the way a normal person would be, if a normal person had somehow done something like this. It was completely baffling. It really was as though he was two people.

I did not leave then. He did it again four days later. After that I thought: right. It is conceivable to me that someone might do this once. But if he felt the way he seemed to afterwards, then having done it, nothing like that would happen again for, oh, at least several decades. The fact that it happened again four days later means that something is going on. I flew home shortly thereafter.

But consider my advantages. While I have the usual run of horrid insecurities, underneath it all I am reasonably self-confident. Nothing in my background or upbringing would in any way make it hard for me to leave. I’m a feminist. Moreover, at this point I had been working in battered women’s shelters for several years. That was crucial: I knew that this was emotional abuse, in a pretty strict sense of that term, and that that meant that it was very, very unlikely to change. I was, therefore, not inclined to second-guess myself, and that was immensely important.

With all that, I did not leave the first time.

***

Imagine someone who stays longer. The longer you stay, the more your confidence and your self-respect are undermined. The first time often comes out of the blue, but it is normally the beginning of a cycle, not a one-time episode. And more or less everything about this cycle is absolutely corrosive to a woman’s self-respect.

Beating someone up is, obviously, itself a gesture of immense disrespect. But there’s generally also verbal abuse: battered women are often told, repeatedly, that no one should listen to them, that they’re ugly, stupid, hateful, bitchy, and in all sorts of ways worthless.

As I said, it’s corrosive. The longer you stay, the worse it gets. And since, as before, the capacity that is under attack is the very one you need in order to get out, this makes it harder and harder to leave. And, of course, the longer you stay, the dumber you feel about staying.

***

There are several more things, though. First, abusers often isolate their victims. At first this can take an apparently benign form: he wants to be with you all the time; he wants to envelop you in a kind of cocoon; there isn’t time for other things. Later, it’s a lot less pleasant. Women who stay often try to keep the peace, and one way to do that is not to insist on seeing your friends and family. That, of course, makes turning to your friends and family a lot tougher later on.

Second, it would be a lot easier if abusers were sneering villains. But they are not. They are often charming on the outside. More importantly, they are often in genuine psychological distress. It often seems like a combination of two things: first, feeling as though if their wife left them, some truly terrifying abyss would open up in their minds and they would fall down into the darkness forever, and second, thinking that to prevent this, they need to keep her from leaving, to control her.

In my judgment, when abusers say things like: I need you, I’d be lost without you, I’d die if you left, many of them are not just kidding or being manipulative. They are serious, and they are often right. If you love someone who is in genuine distress, you normally don’t want to make things worse for them. And that’s what leaving looks like, up until the moment when you say to yourself: he will not change, at least not while he’s involved with me; this will not get better; and that being the case, I am not helping him by staying.

At that point, you can think of leaving as helping him. Until then, it looks like kicking someone you love when he’s down. Your husband or lover is in pain; he needs you; and you are going to leave. For some people, it’s easier to take sacrifices on themselves than to inflict them on others, especially others they love. That is not the worst kind of person to be. But it makes it much, much harder to walk out the door.

Again, consider the example of me. I was not beaten up, and the emotional abuse did not last long before I left. Moreover, I had no doubt at all that I was right to leave, nor was I particularly confused about whose fault this was. But despite knowing perfectly well that I had not done anything wrong, I felt horribly guilty for several months afterwards. It was the oddest thing: emotions that I knew were just completely misguided, but that were, apparently, settling in for the long haul. Getting over it was very tough. I don’t want to imagine what it would have been like if I had not known that I had done the right thing when I left.

I came into this with every advantage in the world. I left quickly. I got off easy. But for all that, it was very, very hard.