Sunday, October 2, 2011


The man who abuses his partner tries to make her feel alone – and in many ways tries to make her actually be alone. He tends, for example, to work hard to damage the woman’s friendships and cause distance in her relationships with her relatives. He criticizes her if she gives too much attention to other people, saying that she should be focused entirely on him. He may even listen in on her phone calls and read her emails to keep tabs on her communications with the outside world.

Why does the abusive man want to cut you off from others? First of all, he knows it will increase his power. A victim who is isolated is more dependent, more afraid to stand up to the abuser, more vulnerable. If the abuser can keep you away from contact with other people he can make sure that his voice is the only voice that you hear, and that makes him become the Last Word, the Voice of Truth.

To his mind, isolating you helps ensure that you won’t get information that might help you. The more you have contact with the world, the more you might learn about your legal rights; or you might talk to someone who helps you realize the abuse is not your fault; or you might find out that he’s been lying to you about important things. If you are more in contact with other people, you will feel stronger. You will believe in yourself more, and you might take steps to get your rights back, or to get away from the abuser. He wants to make sure this doesn’t happen, so he tries to narrow your world.

The second reason why the abuser uses isolation tactics is that he wants you to be focused exclusively on doing things for him. And he feels that if you have your own life, then you’ll be putting more of your energy toward yourself, and therefore less toward him. This kind of “zero-sum” thinking is distorted; the reality is that the richer a life you are living, the more you have to give to your partner (and to your children). But the abuser doesn’t look at it that way. He wants to control your attentions, and make them all be for him.

His excuses for isolating you may be disguised as efforts to help you. He may say that you should spend less time with your family because they are too much in your business and are trying to control you. He may tell you that your friends are using you, that they are just after you for money or to get you to look after their children. He may say that people in your life are lying to you. Be on the lookout for ways that he is poisoning your connections while pretending that it’s for your own good.

In many cases a woman doesn’t realize that her partner is isolating her until the damage has gone quite a ways. However, it is never too late to reestablish your connection to the world.

Even if you aren’t with your abusive partner any more, his effects can live on; a woman sometimes finds that it takes a long time to recover from all the damage that the abuser did to her relationships – including damage to her belief that anyone would even want to be her friend. So the project of breaking isolation is an important one even if your relationship is over.

Look for ways to reach out to people. You may have to be secretive about it, you may have to be cunning, but don’t give up. If your abuser is monitoring your telephone, look for ways to send emails and then erase them after they’re sent. If he watches all of your electronics, see if you can get in conversations at the grocery store, or see if you can slip a handwritten note to someone who might be able to help you. If he lets you go to medical appointments, that might be your opportunity to tell someone what is happening at home, or to make a friend in the waiting room. Look for a chance to call a hotline and talk.

Reach out to people who have turned against you, and see if those relationships can be repaired. Try to help people understand how the abuse has affected you, and that you didn’t really want to drop out of contact; help them see how he caused rifts in your relationships. Make apologies where you owe them to people, even if that’s hard to do, and see if you can bring people back close to you. If he has created bad feeling between you and your children, see if you can approach them in a new way, saying things you haven’t said before, and get the door to open again.

Try not to let the abuser convince you that you aren’t a desirable friend. There are people out there in the world who will love you, who will appreciate who you are, who will take the time to get to know what is inside of you, below the surface. There are dozens of women and men whose lives could use somebody like you. Don’t believe him that nobody wants you.

I understand that you may feel that you can’t trust anyone, given how burned you feel by him and by other people who have sided with him. But if he can keep you from ever trusting people, then he wins again. Don’t let him do it. There are trustworthy people in the world, people of honesty and integrity, people who stick by their friends. In fact, there are boatloads of them. Keep your eyes open, yes; don’t trust recklessly. But do trust.

Every day, think of a step you could take that day, even if it has to be a small one, toward breaking your isolation. The world wants you in it.

(As I write this, I am also thinking about people who have been abused in other kinds of circumstances. You might have been abused by one of your parents, or by a boss, or by a same-sex partner you were involved with. Whoever it was, they almost certainly used isolation tactics on you and tried to divide you from potential allies. And they had no right to do that.)

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  1. Thank you sir for this.

  2. It's so helpful to have words to describe the 'strange, common yet unnameable' ways an abuser's grip takes hold over one's life, one's sense of self, one's relationship with one's children, family and friends. Mine seemed to win at every corner, then our son died in a tragic accident, after I hadn't seen him for 2 years and couldn't get him real counseling about the abuse and drugs my former husband was using for decades....and still no one wants to explore the risks my other children face. But I am empowered to have met Lundy, Janice and so many others, and realize this is the war we fight for our children and ourselves. We all suffer the wounds of each family, and realize the 'real world' of judges, schools, churches and the media and communities need to Wake Up to this travesty, educate women, children and men early on...and help break the cycle on every level. I was isolated, but I'm not so late in learning that I can't make a difference, in memory of my heroic son but also in hopes of safe reconnection with my children and even someday, amends from my former husband and his many supporters...I hope they will do better when they know better and will help turn the tides of arrogance and ignorance and wrongdoing. Don't give up hope for US-All, we need each other to all do the next right thing, not rush into legal marriages, serious relationships and having children too early (I say wait until 25 if possible, with some real support and money saved ideally) and then if you're still really wanting to be together get more legal a decade later, with good pre-nups including custody with a safe mother.

  3. I am so greatful to see some awareness being brought to light on this subject. I have had my own hellish experience with a domestic violence judge. I realized I never want to be at the mercy of another single human being with that much power over my life again.

    I chose to go back into the abuse for a while (with lots of boundaries)to protect my children and to plan a better escape. I don't advise this of course. In my case my husband had never actually hit me, but he was very abusive verbaly and emotionaly, financialy and mentaly.

    He had used mental isolation for so long I got to the point that in my own home talking to a friend on the phone with him not even home I would whisper and check constantly for him.

    Freedom can be had from this disease. I believe I am breaking the cycle in this generation. I pray for support to be gathered from every side for women who suffer this tragedy.

    I was homeless twice during the past 4 yrs with my husband making a 6 figure salary once with all 4 kids in my custody and myself with work restrictions unable to support them.If it weren't for many miracles and lots of help from the support team of people that I empowered myself with I wouldn't be where I am today nor would my children be mostly out of harms way.

    The courts do not seem pay attention to the gray in DV cases not unless there is evidence and alot of $ to prove it.At least that was my experience.

    I thank you again for the work you are doing and am Praying for Wendy G.

  4. I agree with Anonymous. Unfortunately, everything I did made me a sitting target. We married young, because I was told by my church community that there was no sense in waiting, especially because the male couldn't wait to have sex and sex before marriage was prohibited. We had children quite early, and didn't stop having them. I didn't work, as mothers were encouraged to stay at home to raise the kids and not join the feminists' chorus to rebel and work outside the home. We were told not only to never consider a pre-nup, because that was planning an exit, we were also told to NEVER use the word divorce or consider divorcing. What a recipe for disaster when you have a domineering tyrant as a husband.

    It's not that the message to honor marriages should be watered down; it's that it should not be honored at ALL costs, and the rules of engagement/communication for a normal marriage DO NOT apply in an abusive one. There must be a recognition in the church, and in society in general, that where an abusive person is involved, human lives are systematically destroyed and lives should be rescued from these marriages. Instead, these women are constantly exposed to more danger, not just from the marital partner, but also from the community that is supposed to support them. That's how I got to be isolated, even when immersed in a community.

  5. I am the senior pastor of a church in the Boston area. I read "Why Does He Do That" almost a year ago and was greatly blessed by your insight into the problem of abuse and domestic violence. I especially appreciated the insight that domestic violence is more of a "thinking problem" than an "anger problem". Your book contains two very powerful illustrations of this concept that I find myself referring back to again and again:

    In "Chapter 13: The Making Of An Abusive Man" (page 317) you present the parable of the "boy who grew up with a happy dream . . . that a beautiful piece of land out on the edge of town was in trust for him."

    In "Chapter 14: The Process Of Change" (page 334) you present the parable of the man who cut down his neighbors' tree.

    I have looked for the text of these two very powerful illustrations online, but have not been able to find them. Are they available on a web page anywhere? Is there any video available of you presenting these illustrations? If not, would you consider making them available online? I have used the second illustration in one of my sermons and I would find it very helpful to be able to link to an online version from our web site. Your book is already on our recommended reading list for abuse.

    Rocklyn E. Clarke Sr.
    Senior Pastor
    Life Church Boston

  6. Perhaps someday you and Diane Wetendorf will put on a conference or training together? It could change the world.

  7. Thank you. The hardest part is now, getting my life back. I feel such a void without him around. It's tempting every moment to go back with him. I am lucky to have support, and I was with him for not as long as his ex was. I feel so bad for her, she was with him for over 10 years. She had no support. I wish they had your book in Russian, Arabic and other languages. Thank you for your great humanitarian work.

  8. My daughter had miscarriage and the spouse is an alcoholic and suffers from mental disorder my daughter told me today not to talk to her and she needs to focus on him

  9. To me it was just a smile, such a little thing,i decided when i picked up the kids from school that day that i would lift up my head and smile at the other Mums,it took me days to pluck up the courage, as someone walked past i chickened out...after four days i did it,it changed so much,i started to make friends, went out with them,i was having conversations with adults! for the first time in months!! i was alone with my five children after finally making the Abuser leave...he was gone but the words remain...usesless, good for one else would have you...the old saying 'sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you ' is a Lie, bruises,and bones Heal, words last for ever,when we lie awake at night, they come back....In the end i knew i was still allowing him to control i smiled at every peron i saw, just smiled!!.....