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How You Can Know That He's Willing to Change

The vast majority of angry and emotionally abusive men can change, says Dr. Steven Stosny, if they have the courage to give up blame and do the hard work of recovery. The following are signs that he is willing to take on the hard and sometimes painful task of saving his family. He recognizes that:
  • You and your children are important enough for him to change;
  • He needs help to change. Saying "I just won't do it anymore" makes as much sense as a surgeon trying to take out his own ruptured appendix.
How Abusers Can Change
To begin the arduous process of change, an abuser must recognize that:
  • The most important thing about him—his core value—is his love, support, and protection of his family;
  • His emotional distress was caused not by his wife but by his violation of his own core value;
  • He is far less anxious when he feels emotionally connected to his wife;
  • He likes himself when he is compassionate to her, dislikes himself when he blames her, and hates himself when he abuses her.
These deep emotional realizations merely begin the process of change. Lasting change does not occur in big waves of emotion, but in the steady trickle of everyday, routine value, respect, and compassion. (To love big, you have to think small.) The recovering abuser has to practice regulating his daily anxiety—every time it occurs—with his core value, i.e., by appreciating his wife and children.

The Process of Healing
At CompassionPower, abusers learn a tool called, HEALS. With several weeks of practice, it builds a conditioned response to help them automatically convert anxiety, resentment, and anger into compassion. In other words, compassion will once again become their natural response to the distress of loved ones, like it was when they were young children, and, in most cases, like it was when they first got married.

Then by habit, the recovering abuser will begin to see his anxiety, resentment, and anger as a kind of "gas gauge" telling him that his core value is on empty, and he needs to fill it up by increasing his value and respect for his wife and children.

Most important, the recovering abuser must be especially compassionate to his wife's post-traumatic stress reactions. Now that she feels safer and more confident, a lot of anger and anxiety about past abuse will begin to surface at unpredictable times. If the recovering abuser becomes defensive, i.e., fails at compassion, he will once again seem to her like the abuser of the past. But if he greets each one of these episodes with compassion and understanding, she will see that he is different and that she can safely be her natural, non-defensive, powerful self.

The recovering abuser must understand that his wife will not be able to trust him completely for a long time, no matter how much she tries. Love and compassion are unconditional, but trust, once it is betrayed by abuse, has to be earned, gradually and slowly. For many months he will have to do most of the compassion work unilaterally, to help his wife heal the wounds of years of abuse. Recovery from abuse is never a 50-50 deal; the former abuser has to do at least 90 percent of the work.

Emotional abusers have to complete some sixty homework assignments in the Manual of the Core Value Workshop and report in weekly for five months to complete their treatment. If their wives agree that they have been abuse-free, they then receive a certificate of graduation and a free lifetime membership in the Core Value workshop.

How Victims Recover and What They Can Expect
Your recovery begins with the recognition that:
  • You can make your husband feel loved, but only his own behavior can make him adequate and worthy of love;
  • You have the power to make yourself feel adequate and worthy;
  • You can develop a powerful self by doing what you deeply believe to be right and developing your own intellectual, creative, spiritual, and healing capacities, regardless of what your husband thinks, says, or does.
As you feel safer and more confident, you will most likely experience abrupt periods of anger and anxiety about past abuse, coupled with the natural fear that it could resume. This is a normal step in the healing process, as your central nervous system recalibrates to life without constant stress. These are temporary symptoms, much like the periods of exhaustion that occur during recovery from a long illness.

You must see this residual anger and anxiety, which can come out of nowhere, as:
  • Temporary remnants of the past, not a judgment of the present;
  • Physiological in nature, without psychological meaning—they don't mean anything bad about you.;
  • A sign that you are healing.
FROM: The Follow-Up Show: Fall 2004
Published on November 03, 2004

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