DEAR ABBY: First, thank you for providing years of excellent advice and comfort to the American people. I must, however, take exception to your response to "Never Been Hit Before," whose wife slugged him in the jaw while he was driving on the freeway. I am a psychotherapist. There are some important things to know about domestic violence:
The abused husband should know that the situation will escalate. The type of anger she displayed is never about the issue. This is about the release of pent-up anxiety in the abuser. The abuse will escalate because it takes more and more anger and violence to get the abuser to the physical release she needs. Think of cocaine and how the "high" keeps demanding larger and larger doses of the drug, and you get the picture. That is why we call such people "rageaholics."
The most probable reason the wife stopped going to anger management classes is that, like most abusers, she doesn't WANT to change. She has what she wants -- a victim upon whom to focus her rage in order to get release. That is why so many abusers cry and feel loving toward their victims afterward. They are not remorseful, but momentarily grateful for the short-lived end of their own terrible anxiety, most often caused by feeling insecure and out-of-control about their own lives. They will use their victims again and again when the anxiety returns.
Abuse of this sort is an addiction. The children are being emotionally harmed every time they see and hear their father abused. He should gather them up and leave, or make sure that his wife does -- without the children. Neither he nor his children are safe. What is to prevent her from driving her family into oncoming traffic next time, picking up a weapon, or in his absence abusing the children when she needs to feel in control again?
The loss of her husband, children and home might convince her to give up her addiction. Even then, however, there are no guarantees.
All we as professionals can do is attend to the safety of the rest of the family. The husband is obviously capable of making changes and must be urged to do so -- not given the job of being his wife's therapist by explaining her challenges to her. It could trigger the next outburst of violence.
Please rethink your advice to this man, Abby. He's in a dangerous spot and must get out. -- CYNTHIA MORROW, PSY.D.
DEAR DR. MORROW: Thank you for your letter, a short course, really, on why batterers do what they do. I received a stack of mail critical of the advice I gave to "Never Been Hit Before" -- and it was deserved. Mea culpa. "Never" needs to seek professional help, both legal and psychological, before his wife's outbursts further traumatize him and their children, and I hope he wastes no time in getting it.