Interview conducted by Chuck Gallagher
- Austin, you’ve written a book entitled Emotional Abuse: Silent Killer of Marriage – A 30-Year Abuser Speaks Out;tell my readers a bit about your book.
The book chronicles my journey out of the abusive lifestyle I led for 30 years and what I learned along the way. I hope by sharing my mindset and experiences as a former abuser, other people will see glimpses of their own dysfunctional relationship or marriage and perhaps find a path that leads them to freedom. The book will benefit the abuser as well as the victim of abuse.
The second half of the book details what steps I took to break free from abuse and delves more deeply into the psychology of emotional abuse that I discovered during the past 5 years of my recovery. I bring the reader into my damaged mind to get answers to the manipulation, control, and angry behavioral questions they may have, including the question most victims of domestic violence want to know – Why?
- What was your motivation in writing this book?
When I woke up 8 years ago to discover the truth about who and what I was – an abuser – I was a mess. It felt like I woke up from a 30-year nightmare and discovered my ‘real’ world was crumbling all around – my wife planned to divorce me, my relationships with my children were broken, and I had NO idea where to turn to get help for my sickness. I was alone and I was scared!
As a form of stress relief, I began to journal on a blog I created to capture what I was going through. Just as in the book, I was pretty transparent about myself and my journey. Amazingly, I started getting emails from readers, both abusers and the abused, who said my ramblings helped them. It was great therapy for me because even though my world was a mess, my mess was helping others cope with their mess. After my divorce, I tanked emotionally and stopped writing, yet people still kept contacting me, even four years after I stopped updating the blog!
A while ago, with a much healthier mind, I pondered how I might update people as to all of the things I experienced and learned during the previous 8 years. I thought a blog is okay, but hey, a book is better! So I wrote one. So far, the response has been very positive for my intended audience.
- You present yourself as a recovering abuser. Do you still feel that you have natural tendencies toward abuse?
Oh, sure. Abuse is a deep, dark quagmire that envelops the soul Chuck. Some tendencies left me instantly the moment I became aware I was abusive – that’s the key, by the way, an abuser becoming aware of who they are. Yet, some tendencies still remain.
In the book, I talk about how I had to learn to literally rewire my damaged mind. We (people in general) act and react to circumstances based on information stored in our subconscious mind. Every time we act/react the same way to the same circumstance, we reinforce that particular behavior (circuit) wired into our brain. Learning to break those automated reactions and associated behaviors takes a lot of work and a lot of overcoming failure along the way, but it is doable!
I have my ‘buttons’ that trigger responses just like everyone else, but I’ve learned to break the old, abusive patterns of behavior and replace them with positive ones. Ninety-five percent of my old, destructive patterns are gone. The remaining five percent nag me from time to time, but I look at them as a reminder of who I used to be.
- You speak about how your abuse manifested – please share with my readers some ways emotional abuse manifest and how to recognize it.
Good question, I need about 1,000 words to give a summary answer – hehe. To help your readers understand abuse a little better, I’ll answer in general terms first and specifically answer your question second.
We abuse because something traumatic happened to us during our past (normally under the age of 13), that froze our ability to develop emotionally. Our childhood trauma can prevent chemicals from being released into our brain that enables us to think abstractly as we mature; so we walk around as an adult on the outside yet a child on the inside.
Emotionally I thought, reasoned and acted as a child. I was scared to death in my ‘world’ as I progressed through life as an ‘adult’ and took on adult responsibilities. Think how a small child reacts when something doesn’t go according to their expectations, they get angry and throw a temper tantrum, right? That’s exactly what I did when my expectations weren’t met, I threw an adult-sized temper tantrum.
I used anger and manipulation to control my surroundings because I didn’t know how to operate in them as a normal adult would. I scrambled to control whatever portion of my world I could, just to feel safe. I was in a constant survival mode to try to cope with my world and surroundings.
Yet, at the same time, I put on a mask to appear as if I had it all together. After all, I was in an adult body. I had to keep everyone at a distance from me emotionally, out of fear they would peer beneath my mask and expose my inner-child. Anger was the tool I used to keep people at a distance from me.
There are a few more important components at work, but your readers will have to buy the book to find out what they are. [shameless book plug complete]
How did my abuse manifest? I couldn’t accept responsibility for my actions; I always had an excuse for my behavior and my decisions; I blamed those around me (mostly my wife) for my circumstances. I had zero conflict resolution skills since I wasn’t capable of thinking abstractly, so I’d either blow up in a rage or shut down and sulk during an argument.
I used anger to control because it was the only tool I learned how to master and yet, it ended up mastering ME after a few years; I was a 5-star ‘Ninja-master’ at the art of manipulation. I was angry about something nearly every day of my life and I had a Jekyll / Hyde personality; I could be the most delightful, charming man you’d ever want to meet one minute (kind of the way I am now), and a raging manic the next if something didn’t go EXACTLY the way I thought it should. And, I walked around with this “Me Tarzan, you Jane” attitude 24/7.
Whew! Well okay, that about covers a single day in my life as an abuser. Seriously, this is just a fraction of the abusive traits I exhibited over a 30-year time frame. All these behaviors caused my wife and children to walk on eggshells around me. They never knew when I might become angry and explode. I was a train wreck waiting to happen Chuck and because of it, I psychologically damaged my wife and children. All the while, I was completely blinded to my affliction. I thought I was a ‘great guy’ and a master communicator.
- With relationships destroyed…is there a way once you find healing that you can heal the damage done by earlier abuse?
Another excellent question. The short answer is “Yes,” over time wounds can slowly heal and the trust restored. Our mate lost all ability to trust and have confidence in us long ago. I suppose the answer lies within the humility and repentance level of the former abuser, along with the willingness of the victim to forgive. Keep in mind, the victim’s heart has been mercilessly stomped on and shoved back into their chest without a glimpse of remorse for many years. It takes a tremendous amount of courage, faith and time to heal the wounds.
Speaking about my own situation, following my divorce, I gave everything to the Lord to heal and repair Chuck. I became aware of my abuse and transformed into a new man for the last 7 months of our marriage, but my wife lost trust in the changes she saw in me – she didn’t think they were real. However, I saw a great capacity in my wife to forgive me during our 24-year marriage.
Only time will tell, but I’m an old-fashioned sort of fella – I hold out great hope in that magical, mystical thing called love. I do believe it conquers all… we’ll see.
- You talk about codependency – share how you see codependency manifest and what can someone in a codependent relationship do to awaken to that relationship challenge?
It’s important for your readers to understand as I answer this, I do not buy into the notion that a victim of abuse somehow ‘enables’ the abuse by their behavior. An abuser abuses because they are broken – nothing a victim did “turned on” the abuse and nothing they do will stop it.
In general terms, a codependent is relying on someone else for his or her happiness. Their thinking and focus centers around the other person and they begin to react to that person’s external cues rather than their own internal cues. Normally, a codependent has a hard time with setting personal boundaries. Emotional abuse starts subtly and progresses to full-blown control and manipulation over time. It’s these subtle progressions that a codependent has a hard time recognizing as their boundaries become more and more transparent.
If someone reading this interview or my book notices any of the patterns of abuse on a consistent basis within themselves, an alarm needs to go off. More than likely, they are in or are headed for an abusive relationship. The mere fact they were unaware of the situation until an external cue (this interview) was presented to them is hopefully a wake-up call to what is going on in their own life.
Here’s a fact – the abuse will NOT go away on its own. If one mate thinks they need to ‘try harder’, or ‘do more things right’, or ‘love a little more,’ they run the risk of slowly being suffocated in the quicksand of abuse at the hands of their soul-sucking mate.
I would suggest this person immediately get professional help if they have the option, or at least get some good books on codependency and setting boundaries. Chances are, something happened in their own childhood that caused codependency roots to grow. The only way for them to heal is to get at those childhood roots and remove them.
As weird as it sounds Chuck, as time goes on, manipulation, control, and abuse all become ‘normal’ to the abused. That’s the goal of the abuser and they are very good at what they do.
- You mention soaring to new heights. What was the catalyst for your “Second Chance” and how is that working for you today?
As a motivational speaker Chuck, I’m sure you’re familiar with the pain-pleasure principle; people will normally do more to avoid pain than they will to gain pleasure. Pain is a great motivator. When I heard my wife say, “I want a divorce,” that was my ‘pain’. I knew I failed at the one thing I wanted most in life – a great marriage, and it broke me completely as a man, husband, and father. If my wife had not had the courage to say she wanted a divorce 9 years ago, I may still be trapped in abuse today.
Soon after hearing those words, I woke up one day and became aware of my abusive lifestyle. That was the day I began the rest of my life!
I had many trials during my time in the valley as I walked through my healing experience, but I’m sure glad I made the trip. Through the pain of losing my marriage and family relationships, I slowly began to emerge as a new man. I found out we can’t get to that mountaintop view unless we’re willing to trudge through the valley first. The valley contains the fertile soil needed for growth.
For the first time in my life, at the age of 49 (9 years ago), I was able to say I liked myself as well as the man I was becoming! It’s difficult to express in a few sentences what it was like to live for 33 years under constant fear while having to manipulate and use anger to control my world. I never had peace nor contentment – it was all a façade.
Today, I live a quiet, abuse-free life. I strive to help other men and women understand emotional abuse as well as ways to overcome it. I am blessed beyond measure because I am FREE!
This truly is my “Second Chance”; I intend to live it to the full!
- A number of my readers are in the media, so as we conclude this interview – what two things would you want them to know about the uniqueness of your book?
First, my book is written from the perspective of an abuser – that’s unique in the marketplace. Second, my raw and transparent look into my experiences and damaged mind is helpful to the abused, trying to find answers and hope, as well as the abuser trying to break free from their tormented life.
I am here to say there is hope! Hang in there!