Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Incredible Hulk Effect

DISCLAIMER:  The writer of this rant has no credentials to speak of.

Oprah did a show this morning about a battered woman whose son actually videotaped her husband abusing her. For an hour. That, by itself was astonishing. The creep finally got a LONG jail sentence, longer than most of those buttwipes. But she was with this guy for twenty-four years before the light went on. Not that I don't understand the mechanism that makes these women stay, but sheesh.

Okay, I need a dose of empathy. Ooops, fresh out.

I've mentioned more times than anyone cares to hear that I once worked as a volunteer crisis counselor and advocate for battered women. I lasted six years. The legacy I left behind is an event which happens every October 1st on Oak Street Beach in Chicago. At dusk 3000 luminaria are lit to memorialize the women who are killed each year by their abusers. No one knows the actual numbers. And no one counts the women who commit suicide because of abuse.

I quit finally, because I got so tired of the same ol' same ol' from the abused women who wouldn't leave and endangered their children. Because they love the guy. Or because law enforcement's hands are tied. One cop summed up the problem with what may be the best solution, ". . .have a family member dump them in the river."

I was also tired of the "feminist" bullshit that preached we shouldn't rescue battered women because they had to rescue themselves. They had to leave on their own. What a crock.

I talked to a lot of women who couldn't leave for financial reasons, not to mention fear of losing their lives, since most are killed when they leave. It was clear to me fairly quickly that what is needed is a witness protection program that helps these women and their children escape and sets them up in a new community way far away.

During the last year I was an advocate, I worked with a flamboyant. redheaded, media savvy women's advocate named Susan Milano, whose police officer father was an abuser. I think he finally killed her mom and then killed himself.  She worked with a network of people who spirited battered women away and set them up with new identities. I finally realized she was a pathological liar -- not uncommon for the children of abusers, since they learn to lie about what's going on in the family from an early age.  But she lied about something that caused me considerable embarrassment professionally, so, after I called her on it, I cut her loose.

My point in all this was that during the time I spent on the phones talking to the men as well as the women, I discovered the brownout effect. A lot of the guys who beat up women have no memory of their rages. One guy told me he felt like he was watching himself at the end of a long tunnel.

Hmmmm. What's that about I wondered. Aha, a multiple personality.  The monster emerges overtaking the normal person who has little or no memory of the event. They don't call abusers Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for nothing.  Or for today's exercise, The Incredible Hulk.

I never found anyone who had cracked the code about what creates these guys, except for lip service to cultural reasons or the lessons learned from watching an abusive father beat up their mother.

There had to be more I thought. Because you don't change personalities and rage against the person you purport to love without a more powerful internal mechanism to set it off. 

Then, after a year or so as a civilian again, a guy I knew contacted me because he needed to talk to someone about his obsessive love for a woman who dumped him. It seems that all his friends were tired of listening to his whining.

Lucky me.

So I listened to him obsess for a couple of hours every Sunday night for as long as I could stand it. He was pathetic and beating a dead horse, but, meanwhile, I was fascinated by the complete one sidedness of it. The me me me-ness of it. It was all about him. His dreams for their future together. His fantasies about the dumbest stuff. That she was bi-polar and needed therapy. His almost stepping across the line into stalker-dom.

Yo -- she's gone and she ain't coming back. What is it about a dead relationship that you don't understand, you necromancer?

But in his mind, the relationship was alive. I realized he needed more than talking to me on the phone. So I pushed for therapy.  He managed to find a therapist who said he could help him get her back. Even though she was with someone else. I almost laughed out loud at that one. He never got her back by the way. She's married to the someone else.

However, it was something he said that made me realize his obsession for her was like a two year old toddler's obsession for the first important love of his life -- mom. That's a very good thing when you're a toddler. But I noticed his loss was the same as a small child's pain and anxiety when the parent he loves more than life itself leaves him. Handled badly, that can become be a very troublesome thing.

I could imagine how that childhood despair would grow to white hot intensity as an adult -- with testoterone thrown in. The toddler anger becomes Incredible Hulk rage or obsession that can turn into murder -- without some kind of intervention. A tantrum magnified by size and muscle.

So I asked him -- did your parents ever leave you for long stretches when you were a toddler? 

Yes. Several times. To vacation with friends. And he hated the memory of it. And lots of people don't have such early memories so it must have been powerful.

I even mentioned this phenomenon to my father, the psychoanalyst, who actually found a case history and a short description of a disorder that seemed to describe the problem in one of his myriad books. I was pleased that he gave my idea so much validation. But that's another entry.

My point is this -- and I'll use the Unabomber as an example -- be very careful about leaving your little ones for long periods at a time. Parents often seem very cavalier about leaving children under two so Mom and Dad can spend a week in Vegas. Or not preparing toddlers for a separation.  Bad idea.

A little boy's future wife may pay with her life when that helpless toddler rage against being abandoned by a loved one morphs into an adult. The jealousy, the need to have her to himself, which isolates her from others, the need to control her -- in my experience, these are often behaviors seen in toddlers.

Extended families can probably help prevent the anguish that separation from the primary caretaker can cause. When a toddler has bonded with aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas and, in this day and age, nannies, the anxiety doesn't have to be so worrisome.

The Unabomber's mom had to leave him in the hospital for months when he was two years old. She wasn't allowed to hold him or touch him, except to view him through a window. 

And we wonder why he wanted to blow people up.

It's just my opinion, but I think abusers are simply variations on the Unabomber --  only they are socialized enough to marry and use their spouses as stand-ins for venting their buried rage. 

Thank you, you may resume your regularly scheduled lives.


screaminremo303 said...

In my experience, abusers are socially adept only as the icing on the cake. It is merely an artifice to foster the notion that they are somewhat normal. The best are classic examples like Ted Bundy, who manage to craft such a slick veneer that people believed they were seeing the real deal. No amount of evidence, no matter how direct and compelling, will ever get them to admit to their true intentions.

See "The People of California vs. Orenthal Simpson."

stupidsheetguy said...

I don't think there's ever a time in my life when I feel more helpless than the times I hear or read about women who are living with abuse. As much as you'd like to, you can't play God and make decisions for these women, and that's a horrible way to have to live, for everyone involved.