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by Abigail Van Buren

Both Partners Need Help to End Cycle of Abuse

DEAR ABBY: I have read and enjoyed your wisdom, humor and honesty for many, many years and have always been impressed with your openness to different points of view. In that spirit, I offer mine:

I'm writing in response to the plight of "Sara," whose friends are angry with "Sam," a new boyfriend who beats her. At a party, the hostess wanted to attack Sam for this behavior, but feared this would cause him to beat Sara even more, so the guests were polite and did nothing. You replied that you would have done likewise for the same reason. You advised the hostess to tell Sara she doesn't have to tolerate Sam's abuse, that he won't change without counseling and to leave the relationship.

As a retired marriage and family counselor, may I offer a different perspective? The problem here is not Sam so much as Sara, who, I'm sure, knows already what you advised her friends to tell her. The fact that she can't take care of herself is the real issue. Personal counseling and attending Codependents Anonymous would help her disarm what appears to be an inner, self-destructive refusal to take action on her own behalf.

By complaining to her friends while doing nothing herself, she has initiated a "game" of what Eric Berne called "Ain't It Awful?" Here are the rules: Friends suggest and cajole, Sara admits they are right -- but does nothing. Each beating makes the friends angrier and Sara a more dramatic victim. The game continues until the friends tire or Sara changes.

The issue is really NOT Sam, villain though he is, because he, too, is only acting out what he believes is appropriate in relationships. I hope Sara and Sam find the strength to seek the help they both need. -- HOWARD D. BOTT, SAN MATEO, CALIF.

DEAR HOWARD: I, too, hope they both find the strength to get help. Whether Sam will do it or not depends on what type of batterer he is. If he's one of the minority who have a conscience and a sincere desire to change, there is hope for him.

As for Sara, people with low self-esteem can come to believe they are somehow responsible for the abuse they attract. However, it's possible that she's seeking reinforcement from her friends to gather the strength to do something positive for herself, like dump Sam. The problem battered women face is fear that no one else will want them -- and their batterer reinforces it while promising to change.