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Twelve Steps for Dealing with Abuse

Jerome Murray, Ph.D.

AS YOU READ THIS thousands of people are being abused by someone who is supposed to love them. Are you one of them? If you are, you need to take action today. Failure to take immediate action can destroy your potential and that of your children to live happy, productive lives. It can even result in your death. Abuse is illegal, immoral, and inhumane. Do you know when a bad relationship becomes an abusive one? Do you know what abuse is?

 Abuse is any pattern of behavior by one partner in a relationship which threatens the physical, mental, or emotional well-being of the other partner. Physical abuse is the easiest type to recognize and condemn, but it’s not the only kind. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or both. If it’s a physical attack on your body; that’s physical abuse. If it’s a verbal attack on you as a person; that’s emotional abuse. It’s not as easy to identify, but just as deadly. Physical abuse harms the body. Emotional abuse harms self-esteem. Either one can threaten your life.

Any person who abuses someone he is supposed to love is sick. Any person who derives pleasure from abusing others is sick. Any person who deals with his tension symptoms by hurting others is sick. You probably have little trouble accepting these statements as fact, but you need to know another fact. Any person who permits someone to abuse them is sick!

If you saw a man standing over a woman whipping her as she lies prostrate on the floor, who would you think is wrong? The one doing the whipping? Of course the man whipping the woman is wrong, but what about the woman lying there accepting it. If she doesn’t leave at the first opportunity her victimization is just as much her responsibility as the abuser. The person who accepts the abusive behavior is as responsible as the one doing the abusing.

The pattern of abuse requires an abuser and a victim. To break the pattern one of them has to change. You may not be able to change the abuser, but you can quit being the victim. If you seriously want to stop your relationship from being abusive follow these twelve steps.

In discussing the twelve steps for dealing with abuse I use a masculine reference when referring to the abuser. I do it because it avoids literary awkwardness and because the sad reality is that while it is true that women abuse men, most abusers are men.




Don’t tell yourself when you have been abused, "Maybe he won’t do it again." Once is too much. The time to begin corrective action for an abusive relationship is the very first time abuse occurs. It must be stopped then. The longer it continues the more established it becomes as an accepted pattern of the relationship, and the longer the pattern continues the harder it will be to stop it.

When the abuser abuses you he loses respect for you and that makes it easier to abuse you again. You also lose respect for yourself and that makes it easier for you to accept the abuse again. It will just get worse. Stop it now. Remember, accepting abuse is your vote to continue it. Vote no.


Aside from the physical and emotional pain, abuse is life-threatening. If you don’t take abuse seriously, you must seriously consider that the reason you accept abuse is because you don’t value your life. That means your self-esteem is dangerously low. Don’t comfort yourself with the myth "he doesn’t really want to hurt me." Hundreds of women have been killed by husbands who were then grief-stricken over what they had done. His grief won’t bring you back or mend your broken body. In the heat of anger anything can happen. He can hit you harder than he realizes. You can trip trying to get away and hit your head on the corner of a coffee table.

Whether he intended to kill you or not --- you’re just as dead. Take abuse seriously. It is life-threatening.


Physical abuse can cause death at the hands of your abuser, emotional abuse can result in death at your own hands. The reason is this; emotional abuse destroys self-esteem resulting in depression and can ultimately lead to thoughts of suicide. Emotional abuse systematically erodes self-esteem until you can no longer function effectively and you die slowly as a person. Emotional abuse creates a vicious cycle. Being abused makes you feel guilty, fearful, and helpless. This further undermines self-esteem. Lowered self-esteem permits more emotional abuse - emotional abuse lowers self-esteem permitting more abuse - and the cycle continues - downward. Both physical and emotional abuse are life threatening. Both must be taken seriously.


No one deserves to be abused. Abuse happens because of problems within the abuser, not because the abuse is deserved. The abuser lacks self-esteem, is easily threatened by real or imagined slights, and lacks the ability to understand and communicate his feelings. He has a pathological fear of being found inadequate and is driven to destroy the imagined threat to his adequacy. Abuse is a statement about the abuser, not about the abused.

Also, don’t accept his irrational justification, "This will teach you a lesson." He's not abusing you to teach you a lesson. He's abusing you so he can regain control and feel powerful. Besides, abuse doesn’t teach anything but fear and avoidance. It is not an effective disciplinary method. Abuse doesn’t make people better, it makes both the abuser and the abused worse. Get it out of your head that abuse can be deserved. NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED!

Can I make it any clearer?


Drinking is not an excuse, being uptight is not an excuse, having a bad day is not an excuse, etc. etc. etc. If you accept excuses you are giving permission to the abuser to abuse you under those circumstances. If you accept abuse because the abuser says I’ve had a hard day, you are saying it is all right to abuse you if he’s had a hard day. It’s not all right! Abusing someone you are supposed to love is a sickness that originates in the abuser and the only solution is an internal change, not an external change.

There are a million reasons for abuse, but not a single excuse. Thumb down


Don’t think if you try to stop the abuse you will lose the love of the person abusing you. If you are loved you will not be abused and if you are being abused you are not being loved. An abusive person doesn’t have the ability to love maturely. In order to give healthy love the abuser must be stopped from abusing. Stopping the abuse won’t stop the love. In fact, it may be the only way the abuser will be motivated to get help and learn to love healthily.


Do not try to resolve conflicts when emotions are sizzling. When one, or both of you is emotionally inflamed judgment and reason are impaired. That is no time to attempt to solve problems. The task is to calm down. Continuing to throw words at each other only escalates the anger. Take a walk. Run around the block. Let some time pass. Cool off. When both of you are calm then talk about issues and share feelings. If it gets hot again, stop. If you can’t resolve issues when you are calm go see a professional and get help together.


Countering abuse with abuse will guarantee a dysfunctional relationship. It will mess up your life and the lives of your children. Fighting back when someone is abusing you isn’t a solution. It’s a recipe for tragedy. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect yourself, you should. Protect yourself by getting out and getting help. Only use force when absolutely necessary to stop an immediate and inescapable threat. Then get more permanent help.

One of life’s ironies is the parent who tries to teach his child to stop fighting other children by spanking the child. That amounts to using physical assault to train the child not to use physical assault. Illogical, isn’t it? What the child actually learns is to make sure he has more power than the other person before attacking them. In other words, it creates a bully. Don't fight violence with more violence.


The very first time abuse occurs tell your partner in no uncertain manner the abuse must stop or the relationship is over. Talk out your problems, learn conflict resolution techniques, get communication training. If you are unable to help yourself go immediately to a professional for help. Go together. If your partner does not agree that his behavior is unacceptable, kick him out or get out yourself. If the abuse results in physical or emotional damage, get out now! Don’t wait to see if it stops. The very next time could be too late.

Ironically, the best chance the relationship has for success is to emphatically oppose abuse by severing the relationship. If the partner has any regard for you he will work to get you back. However, do not come back until the abuser has sought professional help and the therapist recommends it. If you are abused again, get out permanently.


Many abused women who will not take action to protect themselves will at least take action to protect their children. If for any reason you tolerate abuse to yourself then consider the danger to your children. If your children are not already being abused the odds are they soon will be. An abuser invariably turns his abuse on his children. A woman who is being abused has means to protect herself, kids do not. Children are helpless victims who rely on their parents to protect them. If you use the reason "I don't leave him because I want the kids to have a father" consider this. Those kids are also being damaged by the father.

The damage to a child is psychological as well as physical. What do you think it does to a child to both fear and love a parent? What do you think it does to a child to see someone they love being hurt, and feel helpless? What is the child learning about marriage, about relationships, and about role expectations? If you won’t protect yourself, at least protect your children. Surely you don’t believe they deserve abuse!


Not only does abuse harm the one being abused, it harms the abuser. If you insist on believing you deserve to be abused than oppose abuse for the damage it does to the abuser. If you feel you love the abuser, consider this. If you don’t stop the abuse he will never have a healthy relationship, or know real love. He will never be close to his children or grow to his full potential. Abuse prevents healthy development in the abuser and encourages an immature, violence-oriented approach to problems. It doesn’t help the person being abused and it dehumanizes the one doing the abusing. Do you want that for him?


You can never live with someone else successfully until you can live with yourself successfully. Since that is true, it is always advisable to be able to move out at any time and take care of yourself. If you are an emotional or financial hostage you are vulnerable to continued abuse. If you are systematically being abused physically or emotionally, or both; you must pay any price to get out. The temporary inconvenience will be offset by your opportunity to take control of your life and make it beautiful!

Copyright 1993. Jerome Murray, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

I want to learn how to be strong enough to not tolerate abuse.

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Last modified on Tuesday, March 08, 2005