Dr. Miriam Adahan


For 7 years, the “peace process” (or the peace psychosis) has lurched from one crisis to another as Israelis wavered between unrealistic hopes (“Maybe the Arabs will learn to be nice.”) and dismal fears (“This can’t possibly work!”) Each terrorist attack brought us back to the gloomy reality. As soon as the attacks stopped, Israel is again pressured to “Have hope. Give it another chance.” It looked like Israel was the “bad guy” for not making more “concessions for peace.” 

While some hoped that Arafat (yimach sh’mo) would change, the realists saw the truth: terrorists remain terrorists - forever. All the hours and hours of talk have led to nothing but more deaths and concessions on Israel’s part.

People in abusive relationships who have separated or divorced (or thinking of doing so) are in the same position, wondering whether or not to give their spouses another chance. The pressure to do so is great, for many reasons:

·    Optimism: The memory of the good times leaves a strong impression on the brain, often dulling the memory of the bad times. It’s like a cigarette smoker who remembers the initial calming effect of the cigarette and forgets about the coughing attacks, reduced breathing ability and other horrors of smoking.

·    Loneliness. It’s terribly lonely to be separated or divorced, not to mention dealing with the horrors of poverty, having your life controlled by courts and social workers and living with children torn between two homes. The desire for a family life is so primal that many willingly take another “risk for peace.” 

·    “Traumatic bonding.” An abused woman feels vulnerable and dependent. Her intense feelings about him make her think that maybe she does love him, after all. And since he is sometimes so passionate, she thinks he does too.

·    Battle fatigue. Abusers isolate, dominate and demean their mates until they are too shell-shocked to leave or fight back. Abuse destroys her self-esteem, leaving her feeling helpless, depressed and isolated, in need of protection and thus, even more dependent on her husband, thus establishing a vicious cycle.

3.  The charming Romeo. When a woman becomes distant, physically or emotionally, he wants revenge. All abusers are pathological liars - and terrific actors, usually with great powers of persuasion. They can fake any emotion they feel necessary to win her back - hence their charm, pathos, and claims to have “seen the light.” They promise never again to be verbally or physically abusive, but abusers are not interested in love; they want control. The tearful apologies and protestations of love seem real, but have no meaning, because abusers have no idea what real love is. Abusers never marry self-confident, assertive types; they find insecure, kind-hearted people who are easy to manipulate. He knows she is hungry for love, so he showers her with gifts and promises of a better future. She misjudges passion for love when he says how badly he wants her back. When he looks so pitiful and says how much he is suffering and how sorry he is (again, it’s all about his pain, not hers), her motherly feelings are awakened and she wants to take care of him again, to heal him. She feels guilty for being so cold and “mean,” and hates herself for even having these traits, because that’s not who she is - and he knows it.

·    Self-blame: Many mention a famous Gemara: “A righteous woman can change even the most evil man.” So she thinks, “Yes, it’s my fault.” Self-blame maintains her optimism and keeps alive the hope that she can win his love with enough hard work - or, “If I just become perfect - i.e., never make demands, be even more submissive, lose weight, keep the house spotless, etc...” 

·    Outside pressure. People pressure her to give it another chance, because he really has changed and she is being cruel and immoral to make the Bais Hamikdosh cry and resist the efforts of someone who has obviously turned over a new leaf. It looks like she is the bad one for not “making peace.”   

Divorce, like an amputation, is never simple and does not end the pain, because of the poverty, social ostracism and the likelihood of PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome). Therapy rarely produces major changes, at least not quickly. Many abusers say, “I went to a therapist and now I’m a changed man!” (They often say this after only 1 or 2 visits!) Therapists help people gain insight into their behavior, but those insights may not translate into actual behavioral change. It’s easy to act “nice” in therapist’s office, where there are no frustrations and one is getting full attention and compassion. A person can swear to practice self-restraint - until faced with the real-life frustrations, insults and disappointments which he believes justify being abusive. The most successful therapy for abusers is with other abusers who can spot all the excuses and tricks and refuse to let him/her get away with them. This takes YEARS - not weeks! Typically, abusers lack introspection and are uninterested in therapy (“It’s all his/her fault”) or believe a few sessions is all they need.

The scars from childhood abuse NEVER heal completely. Most psychologists greatly overestimate the degree of “healing” which can take place. The first few years of a child’s life form the basis for all his future interactions. If parents do not devote themselves to provide consistent, unconditional love, a child never develops a sense of true self-worth; hence, he cannot value others. Abuse is like a “mother tongue” which is never forgotten. True, there are wonderful healing techniques which help greatly, but the fear of rejection and abandonment are so deeply embedded in the brain, that some degree of hyper-sensitivity and insecurity always remain, because those are the protective devices which enabled him to survive the abuse. Sitting with a therapist does not automatically guarantee that a person will learn to love, trust, empathize or treat others as equals. It’s his own needs and feelings which are the focus of attention.

APD (Abusive Personality Disorder) is not like having a broken leg, which can be seen. People with character disorders are tricky; they can be extremely nice, especially to outsiders and loving at times. Others may think of them as saintly, for the devotion they show to a hospitalized family member or other acts of charity and chesed. But it’s NEVER predictable, consistent or stable.



Yes, people DO change. Growth IS possible. So how do you know if he’s changed or not? The prognosis is poor if he has the following signs of APD: 

1.  You feel fear around him, like you’re “walking on eggshells.” 

2.  You feel you must change yourself to win his love.

3.  He is physically and emotionally exciting, but unpredictable and stable.   His personality seemed to change from hour to hour, if not minute to minute. 

4.  He tries to isolate you from your family members.

5.  He is a “control freak,” demanding obedience and forcing you to meet all his demands to “prove your love.”

6.  He is highly critical and argumentative, commenting on petty details and defects and demanding to have the last word and be acknowledged as “right.”

7.  He is a loner, and has felt that way since he was a child.

8.  He enjoys pornography or has other sexually deviant behavior (this shows essential lack of respect for women and spiritual corruption).

9.  He cannot stand for you to have your own opinions or to spend your time in self-fulfilling activities.

10. He has used drugs/alcohol in the past.

11. He lies, not only to you, but to others, so that you never know what’s true.

12. He has been physically violent, or punished you by not talking for days.

13. His mother is/was a cold, rejecting, punitive person.

14. His father was violent.

15. He has low self-esteem.

16. He shows little empathy for and is indifferent to the suffering of those he feels are inferior.

17. He is selfish, always trying to get out of obligations and responsibilities.

18. He is jealous and possessive, afraid to let you have an independent life.

19. He has very “traditional” views about the role of women (this provides a frequent excuse for abuse.)

20. Makes paranoid accusations against you, accusing you of deliberately being late, being sick or niddah, not having food ready, etc.


I hope that the above will help people make a reasonable choice.

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