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Kris Rosenberg

[Once Again Kris Rosenberg paints vivid pictures illustrative of something wrong in the world. Her anecdotes took life in America, but the personality features she draws can occur in any culture. Where America differs from other cultures lies in the degrees by which extremism is fostered. In two situations, Kris shows how extremism can take over in family units. It is not that different in societies at large. Her rendering is from the female point of view, but the basic problems exhibited by males appear in their female counterparts in varying degrees. Ed.]

Before being driven to a therapist, Loretta had spent years trying to figure out what she was doing wrong to bring on her husband's infidelity. Married at twenty-one and now thirty, Loretta has gone through one self-improvement project after another, all with the purpose of being more attractive and appealing to Tim, more interesting to Tim, more everything just for Tim.

Again and again, she has thought, "If only I more patient, keep the house cleaner, cook more delicious meals, make my hair nicer, have a firmer body, lose some weight." In the mistaken belief that she could change Tim, that what was wrong with him was a response to what was wrong with her, Loretta got her mother to stop calling when Tim was at home, shushed their four-year old when Tim was watching television, saved money from her frugal budget to buy him surprises. As soon as she changed one thing, some other problem took its place.

"If only I can be this… he will be happier, talk more, love me and me alone." How often we hear this from women who are married to men like Tim. Yet after she becomes more beautiful, more efficient, more fascinating — turns herself inside out for him, things stay the same. His list of grievances is literally inexhaustible. ["Keeping people off guard" is a typical control method often used by weak managers in industry, weak politicians, an petty small-business owners. Ed]

Tim regards himself as an exceptionally-wounded man.

Loretta eventually realizes he is a pain-giver, not a pain feeeler. ["How to arrive at this point sooner" is the question to think about. There can be no pay-off wasting time on strategies that can't work. We are at such a stage in the Middle East today. Ed]

One of the unconscious tendencies of a woman is to see her man's wounds and feel sorry for him and thinks she can change him. [Simple mothering instinct? Ed] She doesn't want a prince; a frog she can change into a prince is her unconscious goal. [This is a hang-up in its own right. A common pattern is for people with hang-ups to seek out people similar to themselves to found families with. But the fact is, hang-ups will not change unless their owner is willing. Ed]

But Loretta can't use her own limited resources trying endlessly to understand why or how he got to be that way. For it doesn't matter what kind of person Loretta is. A man like Tim isn't looking for more beautiful, more fascinating, more anything. He only wants one thing: to dominate. [In true Authoritarian fashion. Rigid. Ed] She has to keep trying, trying superhumanly. And that is the point. There is no change or accomplishment that will make any difference — only the willingness to constantly make an effort to please him. He needs someone to put down, to control, someone with whom he can be a tyrant, someone who cringes desperately before him. Someone to blame for all his failures. He is a predator. Even so, that doesn't mean she can do anything about it.

Jessica stayed with such a partner, Jack, for over twenty years of lawfully wedded misery. She had three daughters and, finally having enough, Jessica filed for a divorce. Jack fought ferociously to get her back, to get custody of the little girls he had treated as hatefully as he treated their mother. For a time, she took him back — he seemed to love her, she thought — he was trying so hard to win her over. Then she finally saw the struggle for what it was: Jack's need not to lose the objects of his domination. She had been taken in by Scrooge in Sugarplum-Fairy clothing.

Jessica made a second break permanent, went to school (Jack had always told her she was stupid), became an attorney (discovering she was smarter than he was), and eventually married again. She wondered how she had ever lived the way she had with Jack. Her new life was not all creamy, but she had a marriage of give and take, not all give.

She read of Jack's remarriage to a woman almost young enough to be their daughter. She saw the newspaper picture of his bride, Linda. She heard of the births of Jack and Linda's children, second-hand reports of the happiness of the couple. Jack himself had quit the scene long before; once he lost custody to Jessica, he never looked back.

As they grew older, Jessica's daughters sometimes accused her of keeping them from their father. Ironic, Jessica reflected. As young girls they had begged her to do something about his cruelty to them. Maybe, though, she thought, she hadn't been the right woman for Jack. Linda — perhaps prettier and certainly younger — might just know how to handle him, might not fall victim to the incessant criticism.

Once again she was thinking maybe his problems were just a reaction to what was wrong with her. To justify their malice, people who treat you badly usually hate you for it and you begin to feel responsible. Not that she had any regrets about divorcing him. She was far better off than she had ever been with him. Those old habits die hard though — the habits of a woman who has been stabbed and blames herself for bleeding.

Many years and a continent passed between them. One day Jessica picked up the phone and was stunned to hear a sobbing woman say that she was Linda, Jack's second wife, and she needed help. As Linda told her story, Jessica could finish the sentences. Linda and Jack had been married almost the same number of years, had the same number of children, but what made the story so eerie was that Jack's behavior was exactly what it had been when he lived with Jessica.

Listening to Linda, Jessica knew: a woman could be tall or short, young or old, light or dark, pretty or plain, immaculate or disorderly, quiet or outgoing —none of it mattered. As long as she would put up with being knocked down, Jack would break her and cling to the pieces. He was repeating his history, treating Linda and her children just as he had Jessica and her children, and fighting for the right to do that.

"Why did you call me?" Jessica asked Linda, whom she had neither met nor talked to before. "Surely Jack must have told you some awful things about me."

Linda replied, "What he said about you when we met is what he is saying about me now and it isn't true. No one seems to understand what I'm going through. I've always covered for him and pretended things were good. And he is so charming in public. I hoped you would understand. Please help me get through it."

Jack was again playing out his compulsion for power, struggling to keep hold on the people he needed. Just as abusive parents battle to keep their injured children, only to maim them again, often to kill them, so such men as Tim and Jack want to move heaven and earth to stay with wives and children whom they torment. They might be hopeless philanderers or faithful oppressors. Some are batterers. Others rule with sarcasm and harsh words, like Jack, insidiously tearing apart the minds and hearts of their confused and bewildered victims.

A man that pathological takes over a relationship to such a degree that nothing the victimized woman does means anything. He imposes his own thoughts and feelings upon anyone who will stand for it. His woman is ineffective — until she leaves.

Jack had criticized exactly the same things in both women — from how thick the onion was sliced to the location of his glass of juice relative to his plate. He inspected kitchen cabinets for "correct" brands and the mileage on the car to see how far it had been driven. He demanded an accounting of every hour of the day, every dollar spent. He knew intuitively and precisely how to deliver the exquisitely scathing remark, making others feel like proper objects of disgust.

The breaks from his rage were brief times of tense waiting, of rising hope when he was charming, and falling hearts when his mood was black. His wives and children rushed to gain his elusive approval, to keep peace. But what Jack wanted was not results, but submission. It isn't simply that none of us are perfect — perfection won't suffice, isn't even the point.

[Too often children of abusers grow up to be abusive themselves. Even if the tendency is not strong, an abusive role model tips the scales toward the extreme. If such a person achieves power, s/he might flip and become a political despot. Their need to make people lessor than themsleves is the unchanging constant. Ed]


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