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If He's So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse Paperback – March 27, 2018
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“The message Avery Neal conveys in this book couldn’t be more timely."
—From the Foreword by Lois P. Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office
About the Author
Avery Neal, M.A., LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in depression and anxiety in women. In 2012, she opened the Women’s Therapy Clinic, a private practice that offers psychiatric care and counseling support to women. She is licensed in both Colorado and Texas, with the clinic having its primary location in The Woodlands/Houston. She offers virtual therapy for patients in Colorado. Visit her at www.womenstherapyclinic.com. For a full list of articles, publications, blog posts, and podcasts, please visit www.averyneal.com.
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Neal suggests that if the word “abuser” feels too strong for you, try using the term “bully” instead and replace the word “abuse” with “mistreatment.” If this will make you comfortable reading this book, then do it.
The only real complaint I have is that although Neal tells us at the beginning that this dynamic is not limited to a woman being abused by her husband, the wording throughout most of the book does imply such a relationship.
I would also recommend In Sheep’s Clothing, by Dr. George Simon and/or Character Disturbance, also by Simon.
But that’s JustMe.
The book mainly focuses on the abuse in romantic relationships, specifically the abuse by males towards females. Each section is filled with personal stories of women who have encountered abuse as well as exercises to identify whether abuse is present in your life. The main advice towards dealing with abuse is to simply state the abuse taking place and then to disengage with the abuser. In regards to marriage, it's recommended that women first develop a comfort to being alone, and then also make sure it's known to the spouse that she can always leave the marriage if needed as a way to keep him from feeling he can basically do or say anything. Of course it's also contingent on the woman feeling comfortable with actually doing this, as empty threats don't work.
The behavior of the abuser is described as being all about control and power. Abusers lack all empathy, refuse to claim any responsibility for their actions, and are self-centered, dehumanizing their victims and constantly checking how much they can get away with. For their abusive relationships, they choose the perfect victims: women who overly responsible, empathetic, and conflict avoidant--basically the complete opposite of themselves. Abusers are described as hard if not impossible to change--due to their refusal to take any responsibility for their actions which basically keeps them from changing--and the majority of the book is focused on identifying the abuse and dealing with the fall-out, including children who might be inadvertently copying the abusive pattern they have seen. I see this book more as a warning to avoid getting caught up in abusive relationships or identify one's relationships as such, rather than to necessarily dealing with them--as in most cases there's nothing really to do except to end them. You can't make abusers take on the traits of their victims--responsibility, empathy, peacemaking---otherwise they wouldn't have been abusive in the first place. Overall, an informative book on the subject.
The title, "If He's So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?" might suggest the book is limited to boyfriend/husband dynamics, but it's much more inclusive than that. My husband is great (there but for the grace of God go I) - it's women co-workers, peers, certain in-laws, people I interact with regularly, who recognize an easy target in me. This book answers a very old question for me - why I keep attracting this kind of abuse.
Empathetic people are the easiest victims. "Conflict-avoidant people... experience a high level of discomfort if they feel someone is angry with them. If there is a perceived threat, it causes a great degree of stress for this type of personality." This personality type "often second-guesses and questions herself relentlessly."
That's me. And controlling personalities spot that, and exploit that. Even as an unpaid volunteer, I've been scapegoated or exploited by women who fit the model of abuse, and always in nonviolent, subtle ways, usually hiding beneath a veneer of civility and a front of being a highly respected, appreciated leader who is so accomplished and so capable. (And so good at exploiting others, using others to make themselves look good.)
Abusers have little or no empathy, no conscience. But that's not the image they project. They may be charming, witty, well-liked by others, but their need for control is pathological. "An abuser sees any power you have (self-confidence, self-worth, an accomplishment, other close relationships, your own thoughts," etc.) "as a threat to him."
Too many women (bosses, coworkers, committee members, friends) have mastered the dark art of subtle abuse. It makes me kinda sorry the title of this book doesn't tip off the reader that this is for everyone, not just wives and girlfriends. It's for the parents and siblings of the victims. And it's to show us how unwittingly we ourselves may be victims of the insensitive but subtle manipulators among us.
I've known too many women whose husbands fit the pattern:
He isolates his partner. Alienates her from friends and family. Knows he has to find enough truth in his criticism/attacks of her loved ones to be convincing.
"It is not uncommon for an abuser to sabotage you subtly that you do not even realize you've been played" - yes! This is so true. Sadly, if others see it and try to point it out to the victim, the attempt backfires. I know this all too well. How, how, does a mother, a sister, a friend, keep silent when someone is controlling and manipulating the person you love?
"You may try to be diplomatic and evenhanded in your delivery, citing reasons why you have come to the conclusion that her partner is unhealthy for her. Unfortunately, she will only get defensive, coming to her partner's defense and attacking you for saying such things about the man she loves. She cannot see the relationship objectively."
So, so true. No matter how logical, how obvious, how "right" our observations may be, it's almost impossible to open the eyes of whoever is being duped by a controlling, manipulative person. Especially if she married him.
So what to do? Chapter 7, "Helping Our Daughters," is a must-read. I agree that the book is light on remedies - but "exit strategies" are horribly complicated and difficult, and getting a woman to decide to exit is a long, long wait, because the author is right: if you try (however gently, logically, diplomatically) to enlight a wife or girlfriend that she's in an abusive relationship, she will go on the defensive. She'll attack YOU. She'll defend HIM. It would take a whole other book to come up with solutions, and even then, it all depends on the willingness of the victim to admit she has a problem and then to do something about it.
Also, most lawyers and far too many therapists are as the author describes. And she didn't say ALL are like this, but that it's not easy to find lawyers or therapists who don't just confound the problem.
Learning how to recognize **subtle** forms of abuse is a strong feature of this book, with dozens of examples taken from real-life situations.
I can think of a dozen women to buy this book for. If only they would read it, and recognize how it fits their own lives.