Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 21, 1992)
Price: $13.95
ISBN-10: 0449906442
ISBN-13: 978-0449906446

It can take years, even a lifetime, to heal from emotional abuse. The author, Beverly Engel, lets us know within the first pages that she has endured a history of abuse, and from this background, she has made her career choices, mainly, to become a therapist helping others in similar circumstances.

The abused person is often taken by surprise, emotionally involved before the abuse fully takes hold. The abuser often has a two-sided personality, referred to as Jekyll and Hyde - one charming and intelligent and likeable, the other a cruel and perverse tormentor.

Engel writes: "It is often difficult for a woman to admit that she is indeed being emotionally abused, particularly if she is competent and successful in other respects... many women who are being emotionally abused do not even realize what is happening to them. Many suffer from the effects of emotional abuse - depression, lack of motivation, confusion, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, low self-esteem, feelings of failure, worthlessness, and hopelessness, self-blame, and self-destructiveness - but do not understand what is causing these symptoms."

The process seeps into the psyche like a slow poison, rearranging our ability to cope. "She has become so beaten down emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to her abuser."

Which is perhaps the hardest to understand, by the woman herself as well as family and friends who keep asking - "Why do you stay? Why do you put up with it?" - and never find a rational answer. There is none. Engel explains, "Emotional-abuse victims become so convinced they are worthless that they believe no one else could possibly want them. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go."

Engel takes us through the ways that emotional abuse expresses itself and how it works. "Emotionally abusive lovers and mates cause tremendous damage to a woman's ego. They have our trust, our vulnerability, our hearts, and our bodies. Using a variety of tactics, an abusive husband or lover can damage a woman's self-esteem, make her doubt her desirability and hate her body, and break her heart... When we love someone we tend to make excuses for his behavior; we always want to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true when the other person is good to us in other ways." The abuser, Engel writes, makes his partner believe "she was so stupid, ugly, and unlovable that she was lucky to have him... told her she wasn't as pretty as the other girls he had dated, that she wasn't good in bed, and that his friends didn't think she was good enough for him."

And who is he? Often, Engel says, he is an addict of some kind, whether to alcohol or drugs or sex, and his own self-esteem is so low that he can keep a partner only by causing her self-esteem to be even lower than his own. He is frequently the product of abuse himself, often taking on the traits of his own abusers. He tends to be socially isolated, unable to maintain any healthy friendships or other relationships.

Once Engel has helped us understand the process and the damage done by it, she encourages and instructs on how to release years of pent-up rage in constructive manner, while rebuilding confidence. There are no shortcuts to healing. Finally, she helps us to understand how to stop repeating the cycle by finishing unfinished business, how to recognize the red flags of an abusive person when we first meet him. If we have not allowed the time to release our anger and heal the damage, we are doomed to repeat the pattern.

For this reason above all, this is an important book to read for anyone who has felt the lash of such abuse. Take the time to understand. Take the time to work through the damage. Take the time to heal. Take the time to nurture yourself back to health and rebuild your ability to love and to know real love when you meet it.


Anonymous said...

i am a 24 year old mother of two.for years prior to me having children of my on i watch my mother get physically abused,i thought to myself why on earth would she stay.even as a 4 year old little girl i would cry with her and beg her to leave.after many more severe beatings and having to give up three out of the five of us to our dad she finally left... and even though after years she got us all back.i always told myself i would never go through that.i didn't relise that i would pick men that i could abuse.once i did relise this i started to pick men that abused me immediately i thought it must be my fault,i must be doing the samething my mother did that caused her to get beat so from 16 to 18 i stay with a boy that verbally abused me hit me and cheated until finally after giving birth to first child my daughter i found strength and left him for good something no one ever thought i would do only to go to the one man i thought would never hurt me the man i called my best friend he is five years older he had already lived with other women he said he loved me he could talk to me he acted like he respected me and what i did for a living..but two weeks after i moved in with him it began all of a sudden i'm bitches,i'm hoodrats the money that i make means nothing and when ever i feel like i have the strength to leave he pulls me back by acting like the reason we have problems is because of me i feel so traped not by him but by the retrants iv'e placed in my mind. i can't wait to go get this book i hope it can help me before its to late....

thekrrib said...

I have found that making plans helps me regain personal power and self esteem. Going to the gym, running along the beach or walking amongst the trees; watching how I feel and changing my thoughts or seeking help (I use an anti-depression website if I feel things are getting on top of me. It really is about self awareness. I don't particularly like myself and I find it difficult to really look in the mirror but as long as you know you can overcome and are taking small steps every day, towards your goals and implementing the plans (they don't have to be big plans) then you can change your life for the better. I have found that you have to consciously do the work, consciously choose what it is you want to change. Oh, and stay single for a year or two or however long it takes. No second best for you or me next time. Good luck.

Lily11 said...

The hardest part is finding yourself after abuse. Who were we to begin with before the abuse? I know for myself the pattern started when I was 15 and gang rapped, then at 18 while I was asleep in my bed in a small shack on the beach. It didn't stop there it happen again when I was 20 something and was date rapped. By that time I had self preservations that help me to survive if I didn't I honestly don't think I would be here today. The problem is the numbness takes over after rape and abuse so that you are not fully prepared to make the right choices in careers or marriages. Susceptible to abuse and feeling like I can only be with someone who treats me poorly seemed acceptable almost comfortable. I know the irony is not the reality but I had to live 11 years in a marriage with Dr jackal and Mr Hyde with complete blinders on until he hit me and was arrested. Finally, Mr. Hyde was revealed to not only the world in which we lived but more importantly he was revealed to me. I understand why so many woman stay in an abusive marriage this. They don't cognitively know because we are trying so hard to make everything ok. I would throw big birthday parties, play cards with friends or share marital woes with so called friends to replay the terrible images in my mind so that they were cut in the right places and explained by friends that every marriage is hard. How else could one explain the torment the rage the stalking and the name calling?