Are Pornography And Infidelity Abusive To Your Spouse?
It’s a point of disagreement among professional therapists and counselors, even some that specialize in sexual addiction. It can be discounted as poor behavior instead of being labeled as abuse. It can be thought of as something that is normal, when in reality it is damaging and should never be normal in any sense. But are pornography and infidelity abusive? If so, how? And why do some professionals disagree on this point?
Dr. Omar Minwalla, Psy. D, Licensed Psychologist, and Clinical Sexologist, who specializes in sex addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, patterns of infidelity and relational abuse, describes what he sees in his practice, “Patterns of interpersonal abuse and integrity disorder tend show up, such as having a deceptive, compartmentalized sexual or relational life or reality while in a relationship or in a family. Another way of saying it is having a secret life or world while you are in a relationship or a family is a form of abuse.
In many ways, it’s a type of sociopathic behavior which means it’s a selfish world view where often the welfare of others is not being respected. There is a lack of remorse or guilt and there is often an externalization of blame or responsibility. In essence, it’s a long-term pattern of disregarding and violating the rights of others, particularly family members and your intimate partner.”
Using Pornography And Being Unfaithful Involve Abusive Tactics
Dr. Minwalla developed a model for treating and diagnosing those that possess these patterns he frequently observes. This model is called Compulsive-Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder (CASRD).
Minwalla explains the meaning of this model by stating, “It is meant to be a diagnostic term that expands beyond the traditional definitions of sex addiction. The compulsive part refers to the sexual behavior part; the abusive refers to the patterns or relational abuse and integrity problems; the term ‘sexual relational’ is just specifying exactly what we are talking about which is sexual in relational behavior. This term is very clear and spells out exactly the two parts of the problem–the sexual and abuse parts.”
Is It Abusive To A Spouse To Use Pornography In Private?
Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, shares her insight into this issue, “I talk with many people who say that adding the label ‘abuse’ to this situation is going too far and making it way more serious than it needs to be. For me, I’m thinking that without the label ‘abuse’ somewhere in the discussion, it does not correctly express the severity of the situation and what victims are going through and what their experience is.”
Minwalla clarifies this point by explaining, “This intentional psychological manipulation of a partner can be extremely damaging to a partner’s gut instinct and her ability to use it and make good decisions. Even just lying in a relationship is abusive. There is erosion of integrity in the relationship, and there is a deceptive reality is already eroding and hurting the possibility for integrity to even exist in the relationship or in the family. Integrity is a very fundamental and basic attribute of a healthy relationship or healthy family.
If someone is chipping away at the integrity of this system, there are a lot of symptoms that can slowly start to emerge. The chance for healthy integrity to even exist is corrupted and eroded over time.”
3 Ways Porn and Affairs Are Abusive
1. It involves lying on many levels about many things that can endanger the spouse.
2. It consists of repeated manipulation and gaslighting which causes psychological harm to the spouse.
3. It involves with-holding resources from the spouse and/or family.
A frequent issue is the lack of identifying abuse and harm in all its forms. Sometimes, these abuses are not identified by trained professionals. These leaves the spouse or partner suffering even more from trauma and abuse and does not help address the issues or promote safety for spouse.
Dr. Minwalla explains these other forms of abuse by saying, “Having a secret sexual life diverts attention away from the relationship and away from the family. There is a lot of vital energy of nurturance and care. Sometimes love, time, financial resources, emotional resources, sexual attention–all are withdrawn from the relationship as it goes elsewhere.
There can also be a lot of blaming the other partner. It is also sometimes taking huge risks in a relationship or a family. Such as someone may not have safe sex and then come home and have unsafe sex with their partner…there are all types of risk taking and potential harms that a person is potentially engaging in that could be harmful or potentially harmful to the family – like legal consequences, STDs, acting out partners who become vengeful and violent or cause problems on social media…There are a lot of things about having a secret sexual life that are abusive.”
How Is Infidelity Abusive To A Family?
Anne says, “One professional recently said that a very dangerous philosophy is being spread around that the women in these situations are merely victims. He says he uses the trauma model. It’s not that we are perfect. But unless you view someone who is a victim of abuse, then you are not able to get to the root of the trauma. It is never their fault.”
Minwalla adds, “One concern I have is that among professionals, there still seems to be a lack of rigorous understanding of what was actually so damaging about the co-sex addiction model and why the co-sex addiction and co-dependency models used alone are actually a form of victim blaming and why so many partners have been harmed by this.”
Anne says, “It is imperative for victims of this type of abuse to seek safety and reach out for help, no matter what the situation is.”
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Scroll Down To Read Entire Transcript Of Episode
Anne: I am a little nervous today because I have Dr. Omar Minwalla on today’s episode. I’m a little star struck! I have admired his work from afar and read many of his articles. I am so impressed with his work and very humbled that he agreed to come on to today’s episode. Dr. Minwalla is a licensed phycologist and a clinical sexologist who specializes in sex addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, patterns of infidelity and relational abuse.
He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota Medical School Program in Human Sexuality. In 2009 he founded the Institute for Sexual Health (ISH), which provides services related to his innovative model of treatment for compulsive abusive sexual relational disorders. The acronym for this is CASRD and sex addiction induced trauma.
He has been a leader in challenging the traditional concept of co-sex addiction and instead advocating for a trauma approach in how partners and spouses of sex addicts are understood and treated. He also advocates for understanding sexual acting out as a form of relational and domestic abuse.
Pornography Use Is Abuse
I am jumping up and down about your developing model called compulsive abusive sexual relational disorder (CASRD). Can you explain this term and how you came up with it?
Dr. Minwalla: Sure. Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder is meant to be a diagnostic term that expands beyond the traditional definitions of sex addiction. Let’s back up and review how sex addiction is typically defined, as well as the term “compulsive sexual behavior”–a term that is also similar to sex addiction. Some professionals say “compulsive sexual behavior” and some say “sex addiction.” Either of these terms are usually used to describe a disorder related to sexual behavior where there is a lack of control and significant negative consequences.
In my working with sex addicts and people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior for many years, I realized that there is another disorder that wasn’t being named and wasn’t part of the traditional definitions.
That was that often if a person is in a relationship, patterns of interpersonal abuse and integrity disorder show up. What I mean by that is having a deceptive, compartmentalized sexual or relational life or reality while in a relationship or in a family; another way of saying it is having a secret life or world while you are in a relationship or a family is in and of itself a form of abuse.
In many ways, it’s a type of sociopathic behavior which means it’s a selfish world view where often the welfare of others is not being respected. There is a lack of remorse or guilt and there is often an externalization of blame or responsibility. In essence, it’s a long-term pattern of disregarding and violating the rights of others, particularly family members and your intimate partner.
Infidelity Is Harmful And Erodes Trust In A Relationship
While sex addiction and compulsive sexual behavior really focus on the sexual behaviors themselves, they usually don’t have a clear diagnosis or labeling of the integrity, abuse, or relational conduct problems. So the term Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder is simply my way of trying to spell it out clearly so the compulsive part is referring to the sexual behavior part; the abusive refers to the patterns or relational abuse and integrity problems; the term ‘sexual relational’ is just specifying exactly what we are talking about which is sexual in relational behavior. It’s a developing model.
At this point I feel like it’s really important to have a term that is very clear and spells out exactly the two parts of the problem–the sexual and abuse parts.
Anne: This is my favorite model that I have come across thus far in my experience. I talk with many people who say that adding the label ‘abuse’ to this situation is going too far and making it way more serious than it needs to be. For me, I’m thinking that without the label ‘abuse’ somewhere in the discussion, it does not correctly express the severity of the situation and what victims are going through and what their experience is.
Can you explain from your perspective how sex addiction problems are a form of domestic abuse?
Infidelity Is Abusive To The Entire Family
Dr. Minwalla: Like I’ve just started to name, putting this sexual behavior aside, the minute someone has a deceptive, compartmentalized sexual life or sexual or relational reality or life and they are in an intimate relationship or a family system, that, in and of itself, makes it abuse. It’s abusive in many ways. In order to maintain a deceptive reality, one has to tell all sorts of lies; by nature, they have to be dishonest in the relationship. There are often patterns of lying or lying by omission. There are often partial truths.
One of the most abusive aspects of having a deceptive compartmentalized life is that there is often a lot of intentional manipulation of the partner’s reality which is sometimes referred to as gas lighting, which often can be very damaging in terms of eroding and hurting her relationship with her gut instincts. Usually someone’s gut instincts can detect that something is going on–whether someone becomes conscious of it or not–usually our gut instincts are somewhat aware.
In terms of gaslighting, if she confronts or brings something up and then the abuser or the sex addict is intentionally manipulating her away from that truth and getting her to ignore her gut instincts, that is very damaging to her gut instincts which is an important survival instinct we all need. We all need a good relationship with our gut instinct!
This intentional psychological manipulation of a partner, sometimes over many years, can be extremely damaging to a partner’s gut instinct and her ability to use it and survive and make good decisions. Even just lying in a relationship is abusive. If you have had years and years of lying and maintaining a secret world while pretending to be honest in a relationship or family, this in and of itself is very damaging.
Why Is It Abusive To Use Pornography?
There is also the erosion of integrity in the relationship, whether the person knows about the secret sexual world or not, the fact that there is a deceptive reality is already eroding and hurting the possibility for integrity to even exist in the relationship or in the family. Integrity is a very fundamental and basic attribute of a healthy relationship or healthy family. If someone is chipping away at the integrity of this system, there are a lot of symptoms that can slowly start to emerge. The chance for healthy integrity to even exist is corrupted and eroded over time.
Then there is also other types of harm and abuse. For example, having a secret sexual life diverts attention away from the relationship and away from the family. There is a lot of vital energy of nurturance and care. Sometimes love, time, financial resources, emotional resources, sexual attention–all are withdrawn from the relationship as it goes elsewhere.
There can also be a lot of blaming the other partner, sometimes explicitly; for example, if there are problems in the relationship or problems with sexuality, the perpetrator may blame her and make up reasons that she is either overweight or controlling or unattractive and these are not even legitimate reasons.
They are cover ups and a way to explain what is going on by blaming the partner when actually the reason these things are happening is because there is a secret sexual life going on.
It’s also sometimes taking huge risks in a relationship or a family where, for example, someone may not have safe sex and then come home and have unsafe sex with their partner…there are all types of risk taking and potential harms that a person is potentially engaging in that could be harmful or potentially harmful to the family–like legal consequences, STDs, acting out partners who become vengeful and violent or cause problems on social media…There are a lot of things about having a secret sexual life that are abusive.
Abusive Relationships Are Not Safe
Anne: And having lived through it, that is the best word to describe it. I really appreciate your work. I think that ignoring it or downplaying it is so dangerous to victims and also does not help perpetrators face the reality of the consequences of their actions. So I really appreciate that about your model.
Dr. Minwalla: One other thing since you brought up a really good point: some people think it’s going too far (to call it abuse). I was actually trained as a clinical sexologist. Part of this training was specializing in sexual offending in sex offenders. In that work, it became really clear that the standard of care when working with any type of abuse dynamic is that one of the first things you learn in training is that language is really important and to use appropriate terms.
Even though this isn’t physical abuse and it may not be sexual offending, when there is emotional or psychological abuse as in the case that we are talking about, to not use the word ‘abuse’ is actually clinically inaccurate. I think most people who deal with perpetration of any kind know it is extremely important to use appropriate language terms, to not mince words; there is no benefit to avoid appropriate terms. I think a lot of sex addiction professionals have been trained from an addiction perspective and don’t have a lot of training in abuse or how to treat perpetration or perpetrators of any kind.
So I think there is a squeamishness and a tendency to consider using the word ‘abuse’ as somehow overreaching or shaming the addict or demonizing the addict; and I think it’s just appropriate care and extremely important to use the word. I wanted to follow up about what you mentioned that some people think using the word ‘abuse’ is going too far.
Pornography Is Objectifying To The Spouse
Anne: I think that or that they would like me to hedge, to qualify that in some cases it could be abuse; in all cases, he has abused his wife’s trust at the very least. For me, it seems appropriate that in all cases to include the word ‘abuse’ and a discussion about abuse and which ways his behaviors have been abusive to her and what the consequences of his abuse to her have been–what she has suffered due to his behaviors. From my perspective, this is the only way we can really protect women and help them get to safety.
Dr. Minwalla: Yes. And to follow up, if you are leaving the word ‘abuse’ out, one of the main problems is that it doesn’t get treated. This leads to sex addicts or people dealing with compulsive sexual behavior who go for treatment–this has been the tradition for the past 50 years–and the focus is simply on stopping the sexual behavior and helping them gain control. For example, if there is a porn problem or a problem with prostitution or strip clubs, all the focus is on how to get the person to be sexually sober which is defined as how to get the person to stop sexually acting out or going to strip clubs or being with prostitutes, etc…
The problem is this person could have had years and years of hiding this, deception, and gas lighting and lying and manipulating and none of this is being clearly diagnosed and so it’s not clearly treated with a real methodology. So we often have many patients who are sexually sober or are working on stopping the sexual behavior but they continue to have an integrity problem, to be deceitful, to lie, to gas light…and no one is mentioning or bringing this to treatment. It’s not just using appropriate terms but to use them with appropriate treatment.
Without terms, there is often no treatment and you end up having an abuse problem that it is going untreated. The second part why this is so problematic is if an abuse problem is not being treated, then you are really ignoring the victims and so they aren’t being recognized because the abuse isn’t recognized. It ends up being a very serious omission.
Lying And Cheating Are Abusive
Anne: One of the things that an expert told me is that the women she sees are not identifying as being abused. So when they come in they don’t describe themselves as abuse victims. I mentioned to her that I didn’t see it either for seven years; I was attempting to see what was going on in my life, head on, not really understanding what was happening to me. So I would not have described it that way at that time. What would you say to experts or therapists who say that women are not claiming they are being abused; she says he is a good guy and just needs help getting his porn problem under control?
Dr. Minwalla: First of all, I would say that in my experience, the minute I use ‘abuse’ and explain it as emotional and psychological and explain exactly what I mean by that, I have never had a partner or spouse refute it or push that away. I actually have the opposite. They usually become emotional, break down, and start crying. They feel extremely validated and resonate with that term. When I do bring up the term or language, it is extremely resonating with victims and partners and spouses.
Infidelity Involves Manipulation And Gaslighting
The other thing I will say about that is infidelity, cheating…we as a society do not recognize it immediately as domestic abuse. We are all trained and in some ways indoctrinated into normalizing this type of abuse. It is still very difficult for people to immediately think ‘domestic abuse’ when we are talking about cheating or infidelity or patterns of sexual acting out. That’s also a big explanation of why victims themselves are not used to seeing these types of behaviors or dynamics as domestic abuse because we have all been indoctrinated into a perception of normalization.
Part of this normalization is that when there is cheating or domestic abuse, people often either blame the partner or the relationship. I have had many clinicians and professionals I respect immediately go into “it takes two to tangle” model…and that somehow if there is cheating or infidelity or acting out then it must be there is a sign that something is going on in the relationship…and blaming the relationship which also means blaming the intimate partner’s spouse. So there is a lot of biases; there is a lot of normalization for this type of abuse and it’s hard for everyone–professionals, victims, and perpetrators–to really get their head around the idea that this type of behavior is actually a form of domestic abuse.
Anne: I think it’s so dangerous to avoid the word ‘abuse’ because if women are educated about what abuse is and that it is happening to them, it can help get them to safety; if they avoid it, in many ways the abuse is enabled to continue. For a women who is abused, who is already confused, who is already being gaslit, who is trying to figure out what is going on but can’t put her finger on it, to keep her in this confusion and self-blaming and not being able to assess the truth of the situation…part of the model you are developing incorporates gender pathology. I would like you to describe and explain this to our listeners.
Pornography Is Damaging To The Integrity Of The Relationship
Dr. Minwalla: The word ‘pathology’ means disease or disorder, something that deviates from a healthy or normal efficient condition. Gender Pathology simply means there is some kind of disorder disease in how someone is manifesting their gender identity or sense of themselves in terms of gender…like attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are related to being masculine or male or feminine or female.
It really relates to my model and the idea of Compulsive Abusive Sexual Relational Disorder because in my work with many, many men, there are many unhealthy societal scripts that boys and men are taught around how to view women, marriage, and sexual entitlement where they are entitled to get their needs met at the expense of human rights.
All of these ideas are indoctrinated into concepts of masculinity that all men and boys are subjected to and take in in varying degrees. Even men who don’t see themselves as misogynists have often taken in a lot of these ideas passively, just by being in society. It really relates to sexual acting out. What I have found is that many men and boys are taught that one way to increase their gender esteem or their sense of masculinity is to conquer, objectify, and gain attention of women or girls…we are all familiar with notches on the bedpost…the more notches you have, the more masculine you are; you are gaining masculine self-esteem.
When we look at men who are acting out, often times part of what might be going on is that it’s a way for them to temporarily increase their gender esteem or their masculine sense of self-worth–not in a healthy way but this is one of the drives for acting out as often. A lot of men have gender wounds, a sense of inadequacy or impotence; they don’t feel like they have a lot of self-worth in terms of masculinity and one way of coping or temporarily gaining gender esteem in an unhealthy way in terms of what they have been taught is to sexualize and conquer and gain the attention of women. This is very related to the sexual acting out part–the concept of gender and gender pathology.
The other part of the disorder which is the abusive part: specifically having a deceptive compartmentalized sexual life is very much a male tradition and a norm. This type of sexual entitlement to have a sexual life on the side is very much encouraged in traditional masculinity and gender pathology. A lot of men encourage each other, give each other props; very few boys are taught that having a secret sexual life is a form of abuse.
There is just not a lot of immediate knowledge around cheating as being a form of domestic violence. Like we were just talking about, we have all been brought up to not consider that cheating and infidelity is a form of domestic abuse. It’s been very much normalized. Part of the way this happens is in how we define masculinity and how boys and men are brought up to absorb a certain amount of sexual entitlement and encouraged to have compartmentalized sexuality.
Infidelity Involves Extreme Amounts Of Justification And Minimization
Anne: Abuse experts say that the abuse has a control and entitlement element. For example, they aren’t abusive because they are angry; they are angry because they are abusive. They aren’t losing control but when they become abusive they are actually trying to take control. The impetus behind it is that they have lost control so they are trying to take control through lying or rage or some other control mechanism. I think this is really interesting–the dichotomy between the two things–between an abusive episode from a man wanting to take control of a situation and then he has lost control of his sexual behaviors (like not having control to not look at porn.) Can you speak to the issue of entitlement and control in this scenario.
Dr. Minwalla: What I will start with is having a secret sexual world or life while in a partnership or in a family is immediately a form of dominance or control; it’s a covert form of dominance and control because the abuser actually has information he is intentionally withholding that they know if their partner or family member knew about, they would take certain actions to protect themselves and would respond in a way that advocates for their safety and well-being. So intentionally withholding that type of information from someone is already a form of dominance and control and can give the abuser a sense of control and power just by having a secret sexual life that the family or wife or partner does not know about.
Sometimes, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, just having that secret sexual life does play a role in providing for the abuser a sense of control and power and dominance. That might be part of the motivation in maintaining, for many years even, a secret sexual world. Sometimes it can be very explicit during times of anger or feeling powerless or feeling dominated in the relationship. I have had men tell me that the fact that they had a secret sexual life or had the ability to then go and act out actually gave them a sense of retribution or power or balancing what they were struggling with in terms of power or control.
Anne: I think this is important to bring up, to understand the dynamics of abuse and power and control in this scenario. How do you see the treatment field evolving and do you have any concerns?
How Can A Spouse Handle Abuse That Comes From Infidelity?
Dr. Minwalla: One positive development is that I started recognizing and researching trauma symptoms in terms of the partner/spouse of sex addicts in 2005 and for many years it felt like I was really pushing uphill an idea that wasn’t being well received. There was a lot of pushback and politics. Around 2011, I started to see a shift where more and more people were recognizing that partners do indeed experience trauma and PTSD and complex PTSD. Now I do see a positive trend towards challenging the codependency models and to move away from those models and replace those models with a trauma approach in dealing with the spouse of the sex addict. This is actually positive.
One concern I have is that among professionals, there still seems to be a lack of rigorous understanding of what was actually so damaging about the co-sex addiction model and why the co-sex addiction and co-dependency models used alone are actually a form of victim blaming and why so many partners have been harmed by this. In many ways, it parallels what abusers often do in a defensive way.
One common scenario for abusers is they quickly want to say they have learned that what they have done is wrong and let’s move on and put it behind us; let’s not talk about it or reconcile ourselves with what happened; let’s bury it and move on.
I feel like some professionals, because there is a movement and a growing number of professionals who have challenged codependency and co-sex addiction and are moving towards a trauma model, are very quick to just move onto this trend and change words on their website and say they use a trauma model when they really haven’t done the hard work of reconciling the approach they used in the past [by discovering] why it was harmful, looking at themselves about what it was about them that contributed to their use of the damaging model and the harm they may have caused patients. There is a lack of depth and rigor I think in this transition for many professionals.
This concerns me primarily because there are a lot of partners who are going for help and they are actually being hurt by elements of the co-sex addiction or co-dependency models; they are still having experiences clinically that feel like victim blaming or insensitivity. I think it’s because prematurely professionals say they use a trauma model without fully understanding what that means; because of that they end up still perpetrating a lot of clinical mistakes and the old model still comes through; a lot of partners still feel this.
Spouses Experience Trauma When Their Partner Uses Porn
Anne: I have this same concern. One professional recently wrote about me and this podcast and what I say and said that a very dangerous philosophy is being spread around that the women are merely victims. He says he uses the trauma model. I was thinking we are ‘merely’ victims in this scenario. It’s not that we are perfect. Unless you view someone who is a victim of abuse and a victim, then you are not able to get to the root of the trauma.
Dr. Minwalla: I have one more concern which is that even among the trend to recognize that partners experience trauma and to treat them as trauma victims and survivors, there is still among the trauma professionals a hesitation and misunderstanding on how to clearly name the abuse which takes us back to our original topic about how important it is to name, for the addict, that he is an abuser and to use these words when it is appropriate. I find that there are a lot of professionals who are treating trauma who are squeamish and unclear about how to appropriately use the word ‘abuse’ to describe the perpetration and treatment and their clinical understanding of the sex addict.
I think over time this will change because they logically have to go hand in hand. If you are looking at the trauma and really understanding it, the next question is where is the trauma coming from and what is causing it. The minute you ask that question, you have to realize there are patterns of abuse that are causing the trauma. It’s not just discovery of the secret sexual world that causes trauma, but the patterns of abuse such as gaslighting and victim blaming or years of lying and deception are often causing a lot of trauma.
I think that over time people will be forced to recognize the idea that if we are recognizing trauma, then we have to recognize the abuse. They go hand-in-hand. At this time I still see a lot of well-intentional trauma therapists who are trying to treat partners and still are refusing or are timid to use the word ‘abuse.’
Relationships Become Unsafe When Abuse Is Involved
Anne: I started this podcast about the same time the Me-Too movement started and began to get traction. Do you have any thoughts about the Me-Too movement and how it intersects with what we are talking about today?
Dr. Minwalla: The Me-Too movement is helping society and our culture recognize and take more seriously violence towards women in general, particularly sexual violence and behavior towards women that is abusive. I think it has also raised awareness of how men abuse power and it allows us to see more clearly the pervasiveness of sexual entitlement which goes right into my model in terms of gender pathology and how certain ideas around masculinity and how boys and men are indoctrinated into their way of thinking about women and sexuality and sexual entitlement and how it can lead to abuse.
One important comment I will make about the Me-Too movement is that there are often many victims in the discussion who go unnamed and unrecognized and are often living with their trauma and pain in silence. What I mean by that is that when we look at these high profile cases of high profile men who have been exposed now for sexual assault or harassment or other forms of inappropriate sexual behavior in the work place, most of these men also have wives or partners or have children or families.
This means that while these men are engaging in all of these inappropriate and offending behaviors in the work place, they are also engaged in the deceptive and compartmentalized sexual world that their primary partners in relationships don’t know about or that their families and children don’t know about. This, according to my model, is again having a deceptive compartmentalized sexual life is in and of itself a form of abuse. Not only are they abusing women in the work place, they are also domestic abusers in terms of having a secret sexual life and they are abusing their intimate partner and family.
How Pornography Use Involves Relational Abuse
What we tend to focus on are the victims in the work place which is absolutely essential and legitimate. This is actually a great awakening for all of us to have. At the same time, when these men are exposed or we are talking about these work place violations, I wish we would also consider the intimate partner at home and the children and families and recognize they are potentially victims of abuse and are probably hemorrhaging behind the scenes. A lot of the spotlight often does not go to them.
I think they legitimately should be named more. I think over time as these cases come out in the news or we see a headline that we more readily think about the partner and the spouse and the family and the children as well, that they can also legitimately claim #metoo.
Anne: We are kindred spirits! As you are saying these things, I am so grateful. These same issues have been in my thoughts and on my mind; I have talked about them sometimes on this podcast. I am so grateful for you and your work and for advocating for victims of abuse in these situations. I am grateful to have your voice!
Dr. Minwalla: Yes, I think we are kindred spirits! The agenda to get these ideas out to help victims and perpetrators and relationships and society is important. I’m on board with this agenda for sure.
I want to respond to the feedback you got around the word ‘victim.’ I think that people for many reasons take a negative stance around that word. I think it is so important clinically to be clear with our language. There are many times when it is important to properly use the word ‘abuse.’ It’s just as important to understand the word ‘victim.’ When there is a violation or abuse, there is victimization. I think at the beginning of any healing journey is to name it clearly and that it is really important for victims to have that named and for them to understand it.
This is different that somehow an agenda of keeping someone in a victimized state or somehow wanting them to own a label that is stigmatizing that they should feel burdened by for the rest of their life and prevent healing from happening. This is not at all what the word ‘victim’ should mean. I feel like a lot of professionals immediately become suspicious or nervous to use the word ‘victim’ appropriately. I think this is just as important as using the word ‘abuse.’ I too have also been accused of perpetually keeping partners in a ‘victimized’ state which is absolutely not the case.
Anne: I had someone at a conference come up to me and she said, “Your podcast was the first time I actually felt safe enough to define myself as a victim. Until I could do that, I didn’t know what to do to get better.”
Abuse Comes In Many Forms
That feeling of defining the situation for what it is in order to make progress is so important in order to facilitate healing…because if you think you are part of the problem and so you try to be more loving and more forgiving or dress more sexy…but this isn’t really the situation, then you’re going about your healing process the wrong way and it won’t take you to healing because you will still be exposed to the abuse and the trauma; you can’t move out of victim mode without recognizing that you are a victim. This is my feeling about it. I never want women to say, “I am a victim and so therefore I am doomed…I can’t get to safety…I can’t do anything about my situation.” I want them to use this understanding to get themselves to safety.
Dr. Minwalla: I absolutely agree. A lot of my model advocates that healing comes from metabolizing reality. The reality in these cases is that there has usually been significant victimization and abuse. Part of the healing has to be reconciling and metabolizing that piece of reality. If that piece of reality is being ignored, it will be very hard to heal.
Anne: As an abuse victim, it is difficult to metabolize that! I never perceived myself as a victim. I’m a strong, capable, smart woman! This is how I perceived myself and so realizing what had happened to me was devastating to me; I also felt so stupid because I didn’t think I was this type of a person. It also enabled me to set the boundaries I needed to set, to get to safety…the boundaries I still maintain because my ex is still choosing to continue to be abusive.
But now I can feel the result of this in terms of the peacefulness I feel in my home and my ability to heal now because I’m not continually being abused anymore and it is amazing! It has enabled me to get the space I needed to heal and move forward. I have actually not had a professional describe it the way I have genuinely felt about it the way that you have today. It gives me hope for professionals everywhere that they will be able to see things from this point of view and protect victims.
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