For professionals who work in Domestic Abuse – (Don Hennessy series part 8)

It is difficult to imagine what it must be like living with a partner who wants to abuse you. (1311)

A client [of a counselor or helping professional] who is being abused is different from a non-abused client. She [usually] presents herself in the language of the abuser. She sees herself as inadequate and responsible. We will want to accept her explanation because it will make us feel useful. (156)

We need to recognise that ‘her analysis’ is his analysis. (102)

We do a huge disservice to these clients if we pathologize their persona and see them as unwell. (155)

Abused women were not different from non-abused women before the abuse started. To survive they try to forget and forgive. They want their relationship to work. They become both mother and slave to their abuser. (156)

I find it helpful to remind myself that my client is returning to a prisoner-of-war camp where she is being brainwashed into submission. (142)

She may not be able to think in terms of ‘choices’. (156)

Cover photo from Don Hennessy’s book “How He Gets Into Her Head”. The woman is in her bathrobe. The shadow on the wall is the man standing over her.

When we meet a woman who is being controlled by a psychephile we need to react in the same way as we would if we encountered a child being abused by a pedophile. We need to take charge of her safety. We are being less than helpful if we send her back to him with options and suggestions which are beyond her power to consider. (155)

The constant access to her inner world allows the abuser to invade her psyche. Once inside, the skilled offender will begin to dismantle her own emotional defences. He will identify and destroy whatever it is that the woman uses to shield her own emotional life. (131)

He will then infect her inner world with his own virus. This virus is implanted in secret. It is similar to other viruses in that it removes her ability to protect herself from being infected by him.
Because she does not know what he is doing she is constantly trying to deal with the effects of this virus without knowing she has it.
It is impossible to explain what it is like to have emotional immune deficiency when you don’t know what has caused it and how the virus entered your system. This deficiency removes her capacity to protect her own emotions and allows the psychephile to invade her inner life. (131-2)

By invading her thought process he can manipulate her strengths to keep her controlled. (132)

This reminds me (Barb) of what Evan Stark wrote in his book Coercive Control :  “If abusive relationships were filmed in slow motion, they would resemble a grotesque dance whereby victims create moments of autonomy and perpetrators ‘search and destroy’ them.”

The target woman ends up feeling like her head is cabbaged with the abuser’s contradictory messages and demands

The psychephile’s ability to seduce her into believing that she can influence her experience is what keeps her in a constant state of alert. (132)

We may be contaminated by her fear. (156)

Every abused woman needs to find her own path to personal integrity. (156)

The idea that an hour of talk therapy will counteract the ongoing effects of brainwashing is misguided, even when our clients seem to want to try. (129)

…many of the skilled offenders relish the idea of their partner seeking help for her problem. They can use this information to emphasise that she is the one with the problem. They can increase their criticism of her because she remains inadequate in spite of the best efforts of the counselor. (129)

Talk therapy will not counter ongoing brainwashing. We must first find a way to protect her mind. She has been invaded by a ‘virus’ that has destroyed her emotional boundaries. (156)

The use of a brainwashing scale may indicate to the woman the extent of his tactics. … She may be relieved to realise that she is not going mad. (156)
[At the end of How He Gets Into Her Head, Hennessy has given the brainwashing scale he created.]

“The most important thing you do is not condemn her,” says Hennessy. “You don’t make it her problem. Talking to her about her isn’t a good idea; rather, you talk to her about him. I’d approach it as, ‘you’re a great girl to be able to cope with a man like that. As far as I’m concerned, this is what he is doing’.” article by Irish journalist Tanya Sweeny

Advise the target woman not to reveal her inner life and emotions to the abuser

What can be really useful for our client is if she can develop the practice of not revealing [to her abuser] her inner life and the emotions that are evoked by the abuser. (148)

Proverbs 23:9 gives similar counsel: Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.

When King Saul was smouldering with resentment against young David and had already attempted to kill him at least twice, David knew it was wise to keep his real thoughts and feelings hidden from Saul (1 Samuel 20).

When Nehemiah and the Jews were rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and Sanballat was trying to stop them, Nehemiah refused to speak to Sanballat and his allies. (Nehemiah 6 )

Just like Nehemiah, the target woman can prudently and shrewdly not reveal her real thoughts to her abuser. The more she adopts that approach, the more she will be able to build the wall against his virus.

We can encourage our clients to desist from revealing the effects on them of any particular behaviour by the offender. We can encourage our clients to see the effects as planned. This planning is a consequence of the stored information that has been gleaned from the target woman. … We [counselors] can never trivialise the behaviour unless we are sure that its effects are trivial. (148)

The practice of ‘keeping one’s cards close to one’s chest’ … begins to change the monologue that goes on in the mind of the target woman. She stops analysing how he might react to any opinion she might have about her life or her relationship. She can gradually restore her ability to examine these thoughts and ideas against her own criteria and value system. She can allow the voice of her instincts, quietened for so long by her abuser, to be heard again inside her head. (149)

When she begins to diminish the power of his voice in her head she will develop the capacity to make decisions that are unique to her. (151)

I have told many of my clients not to talk to or listen to their abusive partners. This instruction is anathema to most counselors and especially to couples therapists. (151)

The Bible confirms that Don Hennessy is right to advise victims of intimate partner abuse to not talk to or listen to their abuser.

Here is what the Bible says:

But understand this: In the last days terrible times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, without love of good, traitorous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Turn away from such as these!

They are the kind who worm their way into households and captivate vulnerable women who are weighed down with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth. They are depraved in mind and disqualified from the faith. But they will not advance much further. For just like Jannes and Jambres, their folly will be plain to everyone.
(2 Timothy 3:1-9, Berean Study Bible)

Who were Jannes and Jambres? Exodus 7:1-13 narrates how Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh saying, “God says: let my people go!” and Pharaoh’s sorcerers resisted Moses. We know from the above passage in 2 Timothy that those sorcerers were called Jannes and Jambres. Using their magic arts, the two Egyptian magicians counterfeited some of the miracles which Moses and Aaron did before Pharaoh. The magicians had no respect for the true and living God, but they were well practiced in the magic of deception.

And just like those Egyptian magicians, skilled sexual offenders down the ages have skilfully manipulated society – including counselors and clergy – to accept part if not all of their explanation of what is going on. Whether they be intimate partner abusers (psychephiles), or pedophiles, or are perpetrators of both of those sins, they have skillfully manipulated society to accept their explanations.

And going by what I have heard from our readers at this blog and from other victim-survivors and advocates, many of these men are abusing their wives as well as viewing child porn, if not also committing skin-to-skin sexual crimes against children.

Christian counselors and clergy should know better! The Bible instructs Christians in no uncertain terms: turn away from the kind of men described in 2 Timothy 3. Avoid them! Have nothing to do with them!

Many of the clients I have worked with have become expert in hiding their thoughts from most people and revealing them only to those who can respect them. Some of my clients who have had a series of abusive partners have been slow to discern the difference. (152)

I dearly hope Leslie Vernick reads Don Hennessy’s book. Leslie is a christian counselor who encourages wives in destructive marriages to work on building their “C.O.R.E.” [her acronym] so they can “give direct and specific feedback to that their attitudes and behaviors are hurtful, sinful and destructive.” (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, p 156). In my opinion, this counsel from Leslie Vernick can put abused women into greater danger.

UPDATE (March 5, 2018).  I want to slightly amend the last two sentences I wrote. Here is the amended version. It is indented from the left margin.  The changes and additions are shown in purple.

Leslie is a christian counselor who encourages wives in destructive marriages to work on building their “C.O.R.E.” [her acronym] so they can confront their husbands and give “direct and specific feedback that their attitudes and behaviors are hurtful, sinful and destructive.” (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, p 156). In my opinion, this counsel from Leslie Vernick can put abused women into greater danger.

Leslie does tell her readers:

If your husband has physically abused you or has threatened to hurt you or your children, it is not safe to confront him without another person present. It may be dangerous for you to confront him at all. Please consult with an expert in safety planning  from one of the resources I have given you in appendix A or your local domestic-violence shelter … you may find that the next step is filing for a protection from abuse order and separating, not confronting.” (148)

However, in my view Leslie’s caveat is not strong enough. Research shows that some victims are killed by their abuser when there has not been ONE previous incident of physical violence before the lethal assault.

I also know women who were physically assaulted by their husbands but had blocked it out of their memory; such women they would read Leslie’s caveat and think it didn’t apply to them.

And Leslie’s caveat did not mention sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is one of the high-risk indicators for the dangerousness of the abuser in domestic abuse cases.

Furthermore, most victims are very reluctant to seek help from a secular service shelter or the DV professionals who work in Women’s Centres. In my observation, many victims underestimate their level of danger in the early to middle stages of coming out of the fog. Leslie’s advice for them to get safety planning advice from a professional is probably not going to be taken up by many of the women who read her book looking for solutions to what they think of as their ‘marriage problem’.

Back to Don Hennessy —

I don’t believe that any skilled offender I have met is helpless when it comes to his bad behaviour. (161)

I have met some violent men who are psychiatrically ill or who carry some neurobiological injury but their partners do not suffer the initial brainwashing tactics. The women who are in relationship with these men are able to make clear and definite decisions about whether to stay or to leave. (161)

But when I work with psychephiles I have believed from the outset of my work that every abuser who is capable of setting up and maintaining an abusive relationship is equally capable of immediately stopping his abuse. (161)

The Bible says a man of violence entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good. (Proverbs 16:29)

Sometimes I get tricked into believing that the skilled offender will accept my agenda and will work diligently at my behest to remain non-abusive. What I have come to learn slowly and painfully is that my efforts have little or no impact on the attitudes and beliefs of the skilled offenders I have met. (161)

I do not know of any current perpetrator program that challenges the tactics of targeting, setting-up and grooming that all skilled offenders use to establish and maintain sexual dominance over their partner. (164)

Some unskilled offenders who have not developed the ability to target, set-up and groom may be persuaded to find a more respectful way to develop a relationship. These are men whose entitlement is not expanded by the repetition of indulgence. (172)

But the skilled offender, the psychephile, operates at a different level and has remained hidden from most of the literature. … Until we are ready to see beyond the explanation of power and control we will continue to miss the force of his entitled lust. This force, which can sometimes be dismissed as passion, is not related to another human being but is totally absorbed in the ego of the skilled offender. This force can best be described as evil. (173)

Anyone who has tried to work with a group of these skilled offenders will have felt the force of this evil. Every target woman knows that the seduction that cloaks this evil is the pretence of affection and appreciation. (173)

His speech was smoother than butter,
But his heart was war;
His words were softer than oil,
Yet they were drawn swords. (Psalm 55:21)

In his role as clinical director of the Irish National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, Don Hennessy addressed an Irish parliamentary joint committee on domestic and sexual violence in 2013. (link)  Here are some of the things he said in his submission:

After many years of working with offenders [in the Cork Domestic Violence Project]…we failed to meet one offender who really wanted to become non-violent.

We met plenty of men who wanted to avoid the consequences of their actions, who did not want their relationship to break down and who did not want their crime to become known outside the family.

We also met a few men who had been exposed to the sanction of a court order and wanted to use our service to avoid further sanction, but not one of the offenders in question ever came to us and admitted what they had done.

Not one of them explained their behaviour in a way that did not offer an excuse.

…in our 15 years’ experience [I think Hennessy is referring here to the Cork Relationship Counselling Centre] the intensity and severity of the violence have increased.

[In our work at the Irish National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency] what we have discovered is that at every level of engagement, the offender pressures the system into minimising its response.

Because each element of the system operates independently, this pressure will expose some weakness in the chain of response and the offender will escape through this weak point.

The result of such an escape is to confirm in the mind of the offender the belief he is entitled to do what he does and that he will suffer no great consequence, even when some of his behaviour is exposed. This escape will confirm in the mind of the victim that the system is unable to prioritise her safety. It will also confirm in the minds of other victims the futility of approaching the system in the first place.

This heightened risk is unrecognised in the system. In human terms, each person in an agency will want to believe what he or she does is helpful or neutral.

We have learnt from judges, call-takers, social workers and refuge workers the extraordinary power of the offender to manipulate the system. A clear understanding has also emerged that we are dealing with serious crime. We now regard our work as homicide prevention.

I hope Chris Moles reads this post, and I hope he also reads Don Hennessy’s book. In my opinion, Chris is teaching a much more biblical and balanced understanding of complementarianism than most complementarian teachers have displayed. But I have concerns about some other things which Chris is teaching the christian counselling community regarding how to work with men who are domestic abusers.


Our Don Hennessy Digest lists all the posts in this series and gives biographical details of Don Hennessy.

1Unless otherwise indicated, all indented quotes in this post are from Don Hennessy’s book How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser. [Affiliate link] Emphasis in quotes has been added by me. We have added this book to our Gift Books Offer in which we offer to give certain books to cash-strapped victims.

Don Hennessy book Steps to Freedom has just come out! That link goes to the publisher, Liberties Press, Dublin. [Affiliate link added here May 3, 2021. Editors.] It may take a few days before it shows on other book retailer sites. Don says this book will be different from most ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ books which rely on the target woman to protect herself. Instead it talks directly to the target woman while she is being controlled and hopes to give her the permission and the skills to protect her mind and her soul.

For further study

Two articles which canvass how not to reveal one’s real thoughts or feelings to one’s abuser:

Stop Being ‘Nice’ which is part of Ps Jeff Crippen’s Wise as Serpents series.

The Gray Rock Method (or, the Grey Rock Method)

The Levite’s Concubine – my video which examines the story from the Bible which illustrates how a male intimate abuser recruits male allies in society so he can avoid being sanctioned.

Respecting and Listening to Victims of Violence: A Handbook for those who are supporting those who have been abused by an intimate partner – by Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter

Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships – by Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter.

Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions, by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde (Henry Holt and Company, 2010). This book is recommended by Pastor Jimmy Hinton.

Jimmy’s father, John Hinton, was a pastor and active pedophile for decades and like all serial pedophiles was adept at selecting and targeting both his child victims and the adults whom he would select and groom and enlist to be either his unwitting enablers — adults he could put under his spell so they didn’t have the confidence to voice their discomfort with his behavior.

In 2011, Jimmy and his mother Clara Hinton reported Jimmy’s father to the police for child molestation. Jimmy’s father is now serving a very long prison sentence for crimes against children.


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

29 thoughts on “For professionals who work in Domestic Abuse – (Don Hennessy series part 8)”

  1. Although I couldn’t have put it into these words at the time, after about a couple of decades of marriage I made a conscious decision to step back and stop telling my husband all about my inner thoughts and life. I saw it as giving him to God to change, as I could not do it, but I can see now a result was keeping myself to myself, certainly not completely, as I didn’t get this then, but more than I had.

    This is what actually escalated the emotional abuse. Since he no longer had my thoughts and hopes to use against me (though he still had plenty from the past) he had to be creative. So he turned to the Bible, and started leaving books and articles out for me to read. Our conversations were now more initiated by him (which did not happen before), so he could drill into me my duties and failings as a wife based on these articles and books. I also believe this is when he started going to other men, partly grooming them to be his allies, but also through his complaints about me disguised as requests for prayer for me and our marriage, he also learned things he could use to try and get me back in my place.

    I think I can see now that when I stepped back, the attention was no longer on him. When I would pursue him for talks about things, he would play his role of concerned, loving husband with all his promises, easily given, easily broken, just to keep me content and willing to serve him. I certainly see now how most conversations ended just as Don Hennessy would predict, on the importance of the marriage bed. But when I stopped initiating conversations, he had to find a way to become the center of the universe again, and chose a more aggressive approach, finally showing his true colors. The fog got very deep as I tried to understand what appeared to me at the time as a big change in him, but if it wasn’t for that very difficult time, I would likely still be trapped in the marriage trying to make things work, and wondering why and how I could never quite get it right.

    This book and other things I have learned have been mind-changing, and when I re-read Lundy Bancroft, I see it in an entirely different light. When he describes the external manifestations of each type of abuser he has categorized, I now fill in what I have learned regarding the internal processes for the abuser and myself. In fact, when I started my yearly reading of his book I had to stop, it was so triggering and emotional for me as my brain started putting things together. I hope to get back to it, but I will need a notebook to write everything down in, instead of just reading it at face value and checking off all the things that are relevant to me. Gaining understanding and healing are no easier than being in the fog, but I am grateful for this journey as I know God walks with me every step of the way.

  2. Thanks for sharing!

    Question / thought on this passage —

    They are the kind who worm their way into households and captivate vulnerable women who are weighed down with sins and led astray by various passions; always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

    Is this statement saying the women captivated are not stable in the first place? And does this confirm why the offenders [the men who abuse their intimate partners] are able to gain male supporters? Not sure if I am wording this clearly but hopefully you get the gist. Thanks.

    1. Hi, that’s a good question. I am intending to write a post about those particular verses (2 Tim 3:6-7). I will do my best to discuss your question in that post.

      BTW, I had to change your screen name to Renewed Spirit. I think you may have sent your message thinking you were just emailing me rather than submitting a comment to the blog.

      1. Thanks so much for [the] CD! Very thorough and your voice adds a whole new dimension ~ in a good way. 🙂

  3. Just like Nehemiah, the target woman can prudently and shrewdly not reveal her real thoughts to her abuser.

    Not always: we have seen adult children of an extreme psychephile crushed anew at the entertaining of an independent thought in their heads. He could look at them and know they had begun to doubt his absolute tyranny, would extract information from them, twist it grotesquely, and rehearse their (his) new tactics against any outside advice, help, or observations.

  4. Don’s comments are about the Irish justice system. But in listening to abuse victims who live in the USA, as they speak about their dealings with our courts, it’s obvious that our justice system is no better. What is needed is a complete overhaul of family courts, to replace the current emphasis on “father’s rights” (a euphemism for the freedom to continue abusing the women and children in their lives) with protection for abuse victims. It’s time to stop the courts from re-victimizing the innocent.

    1. But the general belief in many circles is that “the courts give the women everything they want,” and routinely “violate the men’s rights.” That is not what I am seeing, though.

      1. Yes, that’s a myth. Men’s laws and men’s privileges. Men have the money, the power, and the legal profession [includes] fellow male abusers who delight in aiding abusers so long as it lines their pockets and / or flatters their egos. Nothing like stomping on women and children all day long to inflate an abuser-lawyer’s overweening ego.

        The courts protect the powerful and cater to the one with money. May not be PC to say such but it is the reality. The vulnerable, the kind, the generous, the submissive, the abused Christian woman who struggles just to get through the day…..she will be eaten alive. They’ll burp and that’ll be that.

        Again, there may be rare exceptions, but this is the rule, the large majority of experiences. Justice? What justice?!

  5. Thank you, Barbara, for all the research and work you have been putting into these posts of reviewing Don Hennessy’s book. The information is so new, that I have been reflecting how these truths were operating in my own experience, and they are spot on! God bless you!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement. And welcome to our blog. 🙂

      You had given what looks like your real name as your screen name. We encourage readers to guard their safety while submitting comments to this blog. Our New Users’ Info page gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page.

      I changed your screen name to Appreciative, as a precaution. If you want us to change the screen name to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain). Her address is

  6. Awhile back this blog said that “abusers don’t just snap”. Were you saying that they only pretend to be angry when they don’t feel angry? Or just that they feel angry for different reasons than non-abusive people? I know it relates to the fact that they have the ability to change their behavior, but I’m not sure if you meant the anger is fake.

    1. Some or most abusers show what some DV professionals call demonstration anger. This is when the abuser puts on a display of anger or rage in order to frighten their target and crush the target’s resistance. They can turn their demonstration anger on and off at will. An example is the abuser who was beating his wife and the doorbell rang and he went and answered the doorbell and was calm and courteous to the person at the door. Then when he closed the door on that caller, he went right back to beating his wife with the same level of rage he had been displaying before the doorbell rang.

      It is also to say that abusers get angry for somewhat different reasons than non-abusive people do.

      Abusers believe they are entitled to have their needs met without having to negotiate and without having to respect the needs or wishes of their partners. Whenever that belief of theirs is challenged or overtly resisted, they can get angry. They feel indignant because their overweening sense of their own entitlement and priority is challenged.

      Non-abusive people usually get angry when there is an affront to their dignity, personhood or basic needs. I’m talking here not about the type of overblown entitlement ‘needs’ which the abuser has in his distorted beliefs about himself. I’m talking about the legitimate and ordinary needs non-abusive people have for food, clothing, shelter, safety and the right to respect and dignity:— those are needs which we each have, because we are individuals created in the image of God.

      Also, sometimes non-abusive people get angry when other people’s legitimate needs and rights are being disregarded or trampled on (e.g. when people get angry at what serial pedophiles do to children).

      1. The “demonstration anger” reminds me of when my friend told her abuser that she was divorcing him. He was the one who kicked her out of their home 3 times yet he was so “surprised, angry, shocked” that she would be done with him. And at least one person actually felt sorry for his “surprise” in spite of knowing the history. Thankfully, most of her friends didn’t think he had a logical reason to be surprised or angry.

        I think that non-abusive people “just snap” when they are trying to hide their anger for the purpose of acting respectful and the stress increases until they can’t hide it anymore.

  7. Yes!! It is so hard not to reveal true thoughts and feelings because sometimes in an isolated state, you just want to talk to SOMEONE. I think that once we start keeping more to ourselves, these people have no supply. They are pretty much empty shells after all, and I saw anger increase in my case because all of a sudden there was nothing to feed off of. No imagination, no original thought, just waiting for the next wave of information to use against me or to use to his advantage in some other way.

    It’s mind-blowing that there are all these people walking around who are basically dependent on their victims to give them meaning and purpose in life. Evil.

    I’m reading Hennessy’s book, by the way, and when I finish, I’m getting the new one!

  8. Hi Barbara. I listened to your “Levite’s Concubine” message. Thank you. A lot on there I hadn’t considered or thought of in that disturbing and unpleasant story.

    You may already know this, but I’ll share anyway. I’ve spent a lot of time studying Saul. I feel like my abuser fits the Saul profile quite a bit. Seemed and maybe was shy and sincere in the beginning but with unrepentant sin and a hardened heart, has deep moods and unpredictability, and like Saul is sometimes soothed by music. But without repentance it’s only soothed and pacified, not changed.

    Anyway, I’ve studied him a lot. The Levite and Concubine story doesn’t have a firm date, but Saul’s anointing does. The Levite story happened no more than 150 years before Saul, and perhaps even much sooner. It is likely that his mother or grandmother was one of the poor women married off to a Benjaminite in such an unpleasant manner. He himself came from Gibeah, the same city where the evil took place against the Concubine.

    I’ve pondered the dynamics of the marriages that resulted and the children raised in such circumstances. It raises more questions than answers, but I wondered if the entitlement of the fathers became a legacy, and also wondered if the mothers tried to raise them right, as we see much in Saul to like an admire in the beginning.

    1. Wow – thank you Becoming! I had never thought of the implications of Saul coming from Gibeah and how close in time his life was to the Levite’s Concubine story.

      I will be giving much thought to what you’ve said. Bless you! 🙂

  9. That was really helpful! I have often wondered about the difference between my dad and stepdad.

    My dad abused my mom until she divorced him and abused me during my childhood; he was mostly not physically abusive, more emotional and verbal.

    My stepdad is somewhat similar to my dad in that he is sometimes verbally abusive to me and my mom and in the past has hit her one time. Here’s the thing, he went to therapy and never hit her again. He is always sorry about his actions; my dad never is.

    I think my dad is a pychephile while my stepdad has bipolar disorder and grew up with a dad that beat his mom until he was a teenager and big enough to stop him.

    1. Hi Rachael, thanks very much for your comment. 🙂

      It sounds like you step-dad is indeed someone who has a mental illness but is not an abuser by our definition. He does not sound like he has that mindset of the true abuser: the mentality of entitlement, the intentional pattern of power and control, the refusal to admit wrongdoing, the resistance against doing anything to reform his character, and the covert secrecy of so much of that pattern of behavior.

      From what I have read, a minority of men who abuse their intimate partners have a mental illness as well as being abusers. But your step-dad doesn’t sound like one of them.

      When I say mental illness, I mean the kind that can be treated by psychiatrists and other qualified mental health professionals…things like bi-polar, depression, anxiety disorder, etc. I don’t mean personality disorders – the disorders which Dr George Simon calls character disorders.

      If you haven’t already done so, you might like to check out the posts we have on this FAQ page of ours:

      Is my abuser’s mental illness causing him to be abusive?

      1. I have also read that studies show that the rate of mental illness in men who abuse their female intimate partners is no higher than the rate of mental illness in the general population of men.

  10. One of the most profound revelations Don Hennessy has brought me is the awareness that my abuser intentionally betrayed my confidences from the start and throughout our marriage. While I was trusting him with my inmost thoughts and feelings, including trying desperately to make him aware when he was hurting me, he was using it all to control, manipulate, exploit, demean and attempt to destroy me.

    Right from the first encounter the skilled offender is listening to and evaluating everything that the woman reveals about herself.

    This intense listening “allows the skilled offender to identify the aspects of the woman that make the woman feel good or bad about herself. These aspects become the focus of much attention and are used to undermine or to accuse the woman.”

    The intimate and detailed knowledge that the abuser gathers from the target woman makes the intensity of his influence far more damaging…

    Intimate abusers know what effects each of their tactics is having “because the woman constantly tells them what is happening to her. She does so in the hope that if he becomes aware of her distress he will change. Her position is never acknowledged and she becomes convinced that he never listens to her. But he stores up her reaction to any abusive behaviour and knows that he can repeat that behaviour and be assured of the same response.”

    For this reason alone – even if physical abuse isn’t in the picture – I believe Leslie Vernick’s advice to abused wives to give direct and specific feedback to their abuser’s hurtful attitudes and behaviors is beyond dangerous: It unwittingly colludes with the abuser. If one attempt at giving feedback produces anything other than genuine taking of responsibility and real change, you’re likely dealing with the type [of] person described above, and feeding him (as I did) the ammunition he is using to mow you down.

    And yes, as other commenters have noted, it’s incredibly hard to stop confiding in someone who has spent your whole relationship perfecting the art of drawing you out.

  11. “The most important thing you do is not condemn her,” says Hennessy. “You don’t make it her problem. Talking to her about her isn’t a good idea; rather, you talk to her about him. I’d approach it as, ‘you’re a great girl to be able to cope with a man like that. As far as I’m concerned, this is what he is doing’.” 

    I have added this into the post. It comes from this recent article by Irish journalist Tanya Sweeney ‘Friends often think he’s the nicest man in the world’ – how emotionally abusive men establish control over partners [Internet Archive link].

  12. On the light side, Barb….you wouldn’t believe the temptation to use this post to bunny-trail into another computer analogy. 🙂 (But the Holy Spirit says not yet….)

    It’s tempting to write AMEN for the entire post and comments generated, but that would be taking the easy way out….

    Don Hennessy quote:

    The constant access to her inner world allows the abuser to invade her psyche. Once inside, the skilled offender will begin to dismantle her own emotional defences. He will identify and destroy whatever it is that the woman uses to shield her own emotional life. (131)


    Don Hennessy quote:

    By invading her thought process he can manipulate her strengths to keep her controlled. (132)


    Don Hennessy quote:

    Talk therapy will not counter ongoing brainwashing. We must first find a way to protect her mind. She has been invaded by a ‘virus’ that has destroyed her emotional boundaries. (156)

    This entire process was completed by my family of origin before I was old enough to walk, and I was walking before I turned one year old.

    Now I understand why I have always been devastated by betrayal…

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