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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I now see the damage I did to my adult children by remaining in an abusive marriage during their formative years. They have all been divorced -- one of them twice.

My husband was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. I tried to be the peacemaker. However, by not standing up to him, I taught my children that they should not stand up for themselves. All of them have been verbally abused by their spouses and are still intimidated, just as I was.

When I was a young wife, women were trapped with no place to go when abuse occurred. Now, with just one phone call to the police, action is taken. I hope someday I can forgive myself for the damage I have inflicted on my family. Is there a way I can help them now -- or is it too late? -- FILLED WITH REGRET IN FLORIDA

DEAR FILLED WITH REGRET: It's never too late to admit a mistake and to try to right a wrong, particularly an error of omission. Tell your children their upbringing wasn't normal -- and why -- and urge them to seek counseling.

The following signs of an abusive partner have been adapted with permission from the Project for Victims of Family Violence in Fayetteville, Ark.:

(1) PUSHES FOR QUICK INVOLVEMENT: Comes on strong, claiming "I've never felt loved like this by anyone." An abuser pressures the new partner for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.

(2) JEALOUS: Excessively possessive; calls constantly or visits unexpectedly; prevents you from going to work because "you might meet someone"; checks the mileage on your car.

(3) CONTROLLING: Interrogates you intensely (especially if you're late) about whom you talked to and where you were; keeps all the money; insists you ask permission to go anywhere or do anything.

(4) UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: Expects you to be the perfect mate and meet his or her every need.

(5) ISOLATION: Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses people who are your supporters of "causing trouble." The abuser may deprive you of a phone or car, or try to prevent you from holding a job.

(6) BLAMES OTHERS FOR PROBLEMS OR MISTAKES: It's always someone else's fault if something goes wrong.

(7) MAKES OTHERS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OR HER FEELINGS: The abuser says, "You make me angry," instead of, "I am angry," or says, "You're hurting me by not doing what I tell you."

(8) HYPERSENSITIVITY: Is easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is really mad. Rants about the injustices of things that are just a part of life.

(9) CRUELTY TO ANIMALS AND CHILDREN: Kills or punishes animals brutally. Also, may expect children to do things that are far beyond their ability (whips a 3-year-old for wetting a diaper), or may tease them until they cry. Sixty-five percent of abusers who beat their partner will also abuse children.

(10) "PLAYFUL" USE OF FORCE DURING SEX: Enjoys throwing you down or holding you down against your will during sex; finds the idea of rape exciting.

(11) VERBAL ABUSE: Constantly criticizes or says blatantly cruel, hurtful things; degrades, curses, calls you ugly names. This may also involve sleep deprivation, waking you up with relentless verbal abuse.

(12) RIGID SEX ROLES: Expects you to serve, obey, remain at home.

(13) SUDDEN MOOD SWINGS: Switches from sweet to violent in minutes.

(14) PAST BATTERING: Admits to hitting a mate in the past, but says the person "made" him (or her) do it.

(15) THREATS OF VIOLENCE: Says things like, "I'll break your neck," or "I'll kill you," and then dismisses them with, "Everybody talks that way," or "I didn't really mean it." If the abuse has gone this far -- it's time to get help or get out! The toll-free number for the domestic abuse hotline is (800) 799-7233.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600