During the time period when I was being physically abusive to my wife, she asked me a really tough question–why did I hit her and not anyone else? Did I hate her, or women in general? My answer was no, just the opposite. Still, I couldn’t explain why I would become violent with the person I loved but not others.
I couldn’t explain why I would become violent with the person I loved but not others.
If you are trying to stop committing acts of domestic violence, you may have the same question: “Why do I hit my wife?” or “Why do I hit my girlfriend?” Her question stayed on my mind, so I asked my counselor for some help figuring it out. Here’s what I learned.
First, I was giving her a lot of power to determine my value. If she reflected back love, respect, and admiration, I felt good about myself. When that reflection felt negative, like when she criticized me or wanted to end the relationship, I felt worthless and unlovable on a deep level (and one I wasn’t even aware of). This line of thinking hurts because it causes us to doubt our value as a human being.
I felt worthless and unlovable on a deep level.
I wanted to stop my hurt by stopping the message. In a poorly thought-through reaction, I tried to force her to stop what she was saying or doing to stop my hurt. Of course, my violence just hurt her and didn’t make me feel better.
This brings me to the second lesson. I was misinterpreting many of the words or actions that I reacted to. Earlier I said, “When that reflection felt negative…” The key word here is “felt.” Our partner may be upset about something or want us to do something differently. Interpreting the message as, “I’m worthless or unlovable” was distorted thinking. It gets us started down the wrong thought path, making whatever happened much bigger than it needs to be.
What if our significant other really is rejecting us? “I’m leaving you” or “I’m filing for a divorce” is real rejection, not just distorted thinking. The third takeaway here is that your value and mine are not dependent on what other people think. The solution for me was not to change my wife’s mind, but to answer the question for myself. We must decide for ourselves that we are valuable and lovable and not look to others to answer it for us. Knowing our value, regardless of the reflection we get from our partners or anyone else, allows us to weather criticism, rejection, and loss. Your value does not change and it’s probably higher than you think. See the Faith Note below.
We must decide for ourselves that we are valuable and lovable and not look to others to answer it for us.
Before I miss the opportunity, let me say this is a great example of how a counselor can help uncover thoughts and motivations that lead to bad reactions. I know I would not have figured this out on my own. With his insights, I could more easily identify times when my thinking is distorted, which helped me stop over-reacting to so many situations. Not giving others the power to define me is a tougher challenge, but this concept has been a big factor in my ability to not react violently, regardless of the circumstances.
If you, like me, have the “Am I lovable?” question begging for an answer, how do you answer it? I could tell myself I am, but I didn’t believe it. I’m not qualified or objective enough to make that judgment. A breakthrough came when I discovered there is someone who’s qualified: God. He created you, so he knows how you’re made. God doesn’t make junk. And, he loves you. So much, in fact, that he sent his son to die so he could have a relationship with you. That’s love! If the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator of the universe values and loves you (and he does!), who else’s opinion do you need?