Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, Ph.D.


Criticism often has a more profound and lasting impact than praise. Praise, many of us believe, is often "phony," may be motivated by a desire to manipulate, to win some concession, or merely to maintain the flow of conversation in a socially acceptable manner. "She just said that to be nice." "I bet you say that to all the girls."

By contrast, although we may well realize that the person who has criticized us may have "just been trying to be mean," we don't assume they probably "say that to all the girls." Rather, we tend to think they believe their nasty comments, and that there may in fact be some truth behind their evil words. That is, we tend to take it more personally and may even think we are in some way responsible for what is being said.

Having been criticized as children, similar treatment later in life has a familiar ring to it. Although we do get praised as children, even at a young age some of us begin to suspect that praise may not be truthful. Hence, we tend to feel critical words much more deeply and sharply than anything positive, and these nasty characterizations tend to stay with us longer and leave a deeper impression due to their more powerful impact. However, just because something unpleasant has been said does not mean they it reflects anything accurate about us. Indeed, many times criticism more accurately reflects something about the critic than the one being criticized. One should avoid feeling taking as personal what is best applied back to its source. Many people often beat on their own unknown, contemptible face but fling their accusations so as to strike innocent bystanders.


One would think that it would be normal to avoid people who constantly criticize or act abusive. Those who avoid negative criticism usually do so because they do not like it, it does not meet any conscious or unconscious needs, and it is viewed as harmful, destructive, unpleasant, and generally unfamiliar --although its familiarity may also drive us away reminding us of individuals and experiences from the past that did not make us feel good about ourselves.

Similarly, those who tend to like themselves avoid it and the people who provide it owing to its aversiveness and unfamiliarity. They realize the abuse has nothing to do with them and they do not take it personally. Critical people are abrasive and those who love or care about themselves do not subject themselves to this abuse. Avoiding critical abuse is not a flaw, it is a sign of psychological health. Those who will take it or even seek it tend to believe that they deserve such shoddy treatment.

Some people fall into the trap of personalizing the critic's comments and try to change in order to feel good about themselves. Nevertheless, those who provide what is aversive and destructive should be viewed for what they are: aversive and destructive. Negative people offer negative advice, and the psychologically healthy individual avoids them altogether. Of course there is constructive criticism, and many people avoid that as well.


Constructive criticism is not usually abusive or destructive, except that it requires that one cease to engage in behavior that is not growth oriented or unhealthy or to alter one's manner of doing something so that an easier, more effective manner of accomplishing the same ends can be learned. Of course, one can grow smaller as well as larger. Generally constructive criticism places demands on us to "be all that we can be," to achieve our full potential. Constructive criticism says: Be successful. Negative criticism says: Be a failure.

It is due to its generally helpful nature that some people may avoid constructive criticism and those who offer it. Helpful and genuinely concerned comments, like compliments, may feel unfamiliar. Some people just prefer those who criticize them in a destructive fashion, or those who truly care nothing about them at all. Similarly, if constructive criticism is offered it will be rejected because it offers the opportunity to break unhealthy patterns. In addition, helpful or truly constructive advice is threatening and is avoided as it is unfamiliar and requires one to cease to behave in a self-destructive manner. Hence, good or healthy people are often avoided.


Negative criticism is admittedly unpleasant. For some sad souls it is familiar (since they have been treated in this manner before) and is tolerated or accepted as they unconsciously feel they deserve to be treated in this fashion. If their parents treated them badly, then when others do the same this will feel "right". People who treat them badly are thus not only tolerated but sought out.

Some people need to be treated badly and involved in punishing relationships as lack of unpleasantness generates extreme feelings of anxiety mixed with guilt. Unconsciously they know they should be criticized, rejected, and treated poorly since that is how they were treated before. If it is not forthcoming they feel anxious in anticipation for they know that the bad will happen sooner or later. Hence, they will seek punishment to ease the pervasive sense of anxiety which plagues them.

Some people will in fact provoke an abusive partner by making nasty, denigrating or critical comments, or engaging in some behavior that they know will cause an outburst. They seek abuse because its absence is unusual and makes them feel anxious. The punishment, rejection and criticism is thus a form of relief as well as the result of an attempt to maintain the familiar. When abuse is forthcoming they no longer have to worry about it. Indeed, abuse and criticism, and fighting can be habit forming and some people become anxious until they get their next "fix". Fighting is addictive. After the fight occurs the anxiety will again begin to build. If the criticism, abuse or punishment is again not forthcoming it will be again be unconsciously provoked or administered.


By attempting to criticize, control, or make a partner feel inadequate the abusive spouse may resort to ultimatums, tantrums, denigrating comments, yelling, threatening, relentless criticism, the cutting off or complete control over funds and finances. Essentially such individuals are acting Parental as well as quite childish, because their Lesser Ego is activated, angry, and looking to get even.

Some verbally, emotionally as well as physically abusive individuals will act on their threats or will break and hurl objects around the house to make their point or to punish their spouse for any behaviors which they view as rejecting or an attempt to resist being controlled. Its final form is actual physical assaults. Today the wall, tomorrow your face. However, often it is their own unknown self, the stranger within that they are attempting to destroy.

They may be acting out their childish desire to control their mother, to retaliate against their father, or to treat someone else in the manner in which they were raised and made to feel. Some individuals, recognizing the hurt and angry little boy in their spouse, then take on the role of a Child themselves, and then try to rescue and thus win the love they themselves were always denied.

Jean never for a moment thought she was in an abusive relationship, although she was nevertheless quite frightened of her live in boyfriend, Mark who sometimes would slap and push her around. For several months she had been dealing with temper tantrums which usually consisted of yelling and screaming and accusations as to her morals and character.

He didn't like the way she dressed, the way she put on her makeup, the friends she associated with or her family. When she got dressed up he complained that she looked like a tramp and needed to "wipe that red shit off" her face, or put on something that didn't make it look like her she was a "prostitute." Or, her friends were low life and trash and he "couldn't understand why" she even talked to them. It seemed that no matter what she did, how she dressed, who ever she talked to or about, or whatever she did to please him, there was something wrong.

According to Jean a day did not go by without some major blow up. However, she remained convinced that these problems were actually her fault. Even when he slapped, shoved or pushed her down, she believed this was due to her failure to be understanding and loving enough.

As the slaps and pushing were infrequent, not excessively violent and were more frightening than anything else, she was also convinced she was not being abused. Besides, she knew what real abuse was, for her father was a drunk who terrorized his family via extreme physical violence. Mark was an angel compared to "that bastard."

One evening, however, as he was preparing to shower they both agreed it would be great to have some ice cream. He told her the flavor he desired and she left to retrieve some for them both.

When she came home an hour later he was livid. "You goddamned thoughtless bitch, where the Hell have you been? Out screwing your old boyfriend...."

As he continued his tirade Jean tried to explain that she had to get some gas and after filling it up the oil light went on so she had the attendant take care of that as well. And when she got to the store she ran into an old girlfriend and they started talking and then was only one lane open and there was a long, long line...."

Nevertheless, before she could finish he walked over slapped her hard against the face, yanked the packages from her hands, threw the ice cream against the wall where some of it splattered and then, taking a handful he grabbed her by the hair and wrestling her to the floor tried to grind some into her face and mouth all the while yelling, cursing and yanking her hair.

The next day he profusely apologized and said that he had acted that way only because he had a really bad day, was tense, and since he loved her so much and was worried. He began to cry and told her it would never happen again and that he was terribly ashamed of himself. However, although she wanted to forgive him she was so confused and frightened she did not know what to do. As he cried she began to feel sorry for him. He was crying the tears that she couldn't, and she gave him the understanding and acceptance she craved.

Many women tolerate abuse such as this. In some ways it is a resurrection of the past and is familiar. Owing to its familiarity it is tolerable, at least insofar as the unconscious self-image is concerned. Many women stay in these relationships because they and their unconscious Child want to believe the apologies and promises that there will be no more hitting or fighting. And yet, this same Child also believes the abuse is deserved. It is thus willing to tolerate what happens, despite the protestations of the conscious mind to the contrary.

Many people in fact accept and tolerate emotional and physical abuse or flagrant philandering because their unconscious mind conspires against their conscious desires. Their unconscious Parent says what they are experiencing is OK, or is normal (since their parents behaved or treated them in a similar manner), and the unconscious Child feels bad and thus believes it should be punished or should accept whatever outrage comes its way. However, sometimes even the conscious mind conspires against a person's best interests, for if the left brain and Language Axis has heard something said enough times, it tends to accept it and any guilt that comes with it.

A person who had not been raised in an abusive, neglectful, adulterous, or alcoholic environment and who did not have enormous feelings of being "not OK", would find abusive behavior on the part of a spouse unacceptable at a conscious and unconscious level. It would not feel familiar and it would be avoided. That person would say "so long," "good bye" leave, and congratulate themselves for escaping before it was too late.


In abusive or dishonest relationships one party often attempts to control and manipulate the other by questioning his partner's intelligence, and the accuracy of her perceptions, memory, and sometimes even sanity. Typically this takes the form of a series of games that could be referred to as; "Your wrong," "it wasn't me," "it didn't happen that way," "It is all in your imagination." or "your crazy." This again comes from the Parent which demands that you respect its authority and denies your own perceptions, desires, or needs, since you are but a child and the Parent is the all knowing deity that rules the family. However, given again the propensity for the left brain to believe what it hears and says, it can often be persuaded that any feeling or awareness that contradicts what is being said, should be ignored or dismissed.

When the event involving the ice cream was discussed with both Jean and Mark, he at first claimed to be unable to recall the incident. When Jean insisted and retold the story from start to finish Mark began to argue that when she came home she was acting strange, nervous, and seemed upset. When he began to question casually her as to her whereabouts she began acting evasive, couldn't give him a straight answer and started acting hysterical. He didn't shove or slap her, he was trying to calm her down and get a straight answer out of her. When he tried to help her with the bag it ripped open and the ice cream fell out.

Mark: "Sure it spattered, and that made me mad. But I sure as hell didn't hit her with it. How can you rub hard ice cream into someone's face? I don't know why she got so scared. It makes me wonder what's she trying to hide. I mean maybe she's got a guilty conscience about something. But that rubbing ice cream in her face. That's crazy talk. Yeah, maybe she thought I was going too, but I didn't. That's all in her know, its weird how she always wants to blame me. All she ever can remember or talk about is the bad stuff. No wonder our relationship is on the rocks. What about all the good stuff? Why don't you ever remember that?"

In this form of game, the protagonist manages not only to deny reality, but is able to shift the blame onto his victim. "What's she trying to hide?" "All she can remember or talk about is the bad stuff." The Parent forces the spouse to become the bad little girl that no one can love, and the victim's own left brain begins to accept the words being thrown at it with such force. Indeed, they are both self-deceived.

Insofar as he is concerned, she is to blame, or so he would have us and his partner believe. She has been up to something, feels guilty, can only talk about bad things, and is thus the source of all the problems in the relationship. By doing this Mark tried and had previously been quite successful in projecting the blame onto his partner and forcing her to consciously acknowledge and accept it. He thus escaped all responsibility for his behavior. Indeed, her complaint is proof of her badness and inadequacy. She has acted her role as Child and her spouse as the avenging Child/Parent, and the left half of each of their brains has accepted as valid all the deceptions that he has flung.


Many children consciously and unconsciously identify with, model and mimic the behavior of one or the other parent or even both. The impressions made by parents or other authority figures in turn constitutes the Parent ego/personality. Later in life this complex of impressions, actions, and feeling states can in turn exert tremendous influences on behavior, emotional functioning and the manner in which we treat ourselves and loved ones.

For example, Mary observed her father yell and scream, occasionally hit and manhandle, and constantly belittle her mother. This was always frightening and upsetting to her although she personally was spared most of the abuse. It seemed that most anything could set off her father, whereas her mother seemed always to be cowering and suffering attacks of anxiety, fearing what he may do or say, even when he was not home. Her mother's cowardice and anxiety and the "mousy" manner in which she deferred to her father bothered Mary as much as her father's outbursts. It embarrassed her.

Thus, whereas Mary feared her father, she felt utterly contemptuous towards her mother for being weak and for taking the abuse. As such, she learned to value the behavior of her father over that of her mother, and later in life began to mimic him in her own relations. That is, in striving to not be like her mother, she sought to be like her father, and learned that the way to not be trampled was to take the initiative by yelling, screaming and brow beating your mate.

Although she never made a conscious decision to follow this route, it is the one she took and she ended up in several relationships where she was "the boss" and would easily lose her temper over some trifle if things were not done her way. Indeed, even in her job in customer service at a local store, her argumentative Parent that had to always been right would come to the fore and do its best to humiliate and thwart the desires of anyone with a complaint.

Her older sister, however, learned exactly the opposite lesson. She learned that it was normal for a man to mistreat a woman, and for husbands to control their wives via fear, threats, and intimidation. Consequently when she married she found a man, just like the man, that married dear 'ol mom.

In contrast, their youngest brother Tim, although he too felt contempt for his mother, also felt sorry for her, particularly in that she frequently turned to him for consolation. However, rather than act like his father, he instead maintained the role foisted upon him by his mother and as an adult found himself attracted to helpless, inadequate, sometimes emotionally disturbed women in need of rescuing. Essentially he was still trying to rescue the mother than he failed as a child.

Nevertheless, rescue can be a form of control, and in this regard he was still playing one of the games he learned from his dad. He learned that women need to be controlled and that the way for a man to deal with a woman is to control her and by making her completely dependent on you. Indeed, by controlling others, be it your spouse or your children, you are in effect saying that: "You are inadequate. You are helpless. Without me you are nothing."

In some cases, however, two people will form relationships where each has an activated Parent that attempts to argue, fight with, and control the other. Hence, rather than one spouse doing all the beating up or controlling, both spouses criticize, abuse and fight with the other. The wars fought so long ago are now fully reenacted in the here and now as the "happy" couple tear into each other day after day. They are both equally miserable and both equally content to maintain their relationship.



Children who have been severely criticized, rejected, abused, or neglected, sometimes harbor intense feelings of anger and resentment and a desire to strike back at the parent who hurt them; i.e. "just wait until I get as big as you". In many instances, such feelings are threatening to the child and are suppressed or never emerge from the unconscious into the conscious mind.

A few children who dare express these bad angry feelings are sometimes criticized or even beat into submission for their efforts. Others, however, turn these bad feelings back on themselves and feel even worse. Children who strongly feel or who attempt to express these feelings of resentment and anger sometimes fully express them when they reach adulthood; just as they promised to once they "got big". These abused individuals sometimes become highly critical, rejecting or abusive; i.e. abused abusers. Of course, one need not have ever expressed these angry impulses during childhood. Just the fact that they were felt can give rise to their expression later in life.

Similarly, there may be less Parental restraint as this aspect of the unconscious psyche may say: "Do as I do. This is acceptable. This is the way people are supposed to treat their family. It is OK to be critical, abusive, rejecting and controlling, as well as hit, yell, and terrorize the ones you claim to love."

That is, the Parent ego personality not only continues to reject, criticize, or abuse the little Child hidden away in the recesses of the mind, but it lies in wait for the opportunity to mistreat other victims as well. It not only tells you what to do, it tells others what to do.

Additionally, if the unconscious Child also harbors a considerable degree of anger and resentment, it may attempt to strike back at the Parent, authority figures, loved ones, a future spouse or anyone else who makes it feel inadequate and insecure.

Thus due to the combined angry influences of the unconscious Child and Parent a person may behave in an abusive, neglecting, or controlling fashion. His conscience and unconscious self-image tells them him that it is OK.


It is not at all uncommon for those who have incorporated the abusiveness of their parents in the form of a Parental ego/personality to find a spouse who is not only similar to their unconscious Child, but to their unconscious Parent as well; a Parent who will abuse them back.

Relationships between people who are similarly abusive are characterized by constant yelling, fighting, nit-picking, criticism, and attempts to control one another. At one moment one spouse provokes the fight, and the next moment the other spouse is getting even or voicing his own independent complaints and disappointment. In fact, they often trade off being victim and abuser.

Such a relationship can seem rather ideal as both are able to simultaneously express their anger, fling their projections, and experience the abuse that unconsciously they feel they and their partner deserve. Often, in fact, this is the only reason they are together; i.e. so they can express and fulfill bad needs.

That is, just as an abusive individual may seek a certain spouse because she will accept his abuse, whereas a victim may seek someone to treat her poorly, mutually abusive couples are similarly compatible. Their relationship enables them to express and fulfill bad needs and to relive and resurrect the trauma, abuse, or lack of love experienced as a child. They mistreat each other and are mistreated in kind. Perfect.

Indeed, I have frequently had couples come to my office who are seemingly opposites and totally incompatible, at least insofar as conscious needs are concerned. And yet, although the only thing they have in common is their fighting and complaints, they stick together.

For instance, he may like to travel and she may like to stay home. He likes movies and she hates them. She likes to go for walks and he prefers to sit in front of the TV. She likes visiting with friends, he prefers to stay home and read. She is a teetotaler, he drinks to oblivion. The only thing these and similar couples like actually to do together is fight and make each other miserable; and in this regard they are completely compatible, but for all the wrong reasons; i.e. bad needs.

Most couples refuse to believe this when pointed out, and will often argue that this cannot be so. Of course, since they (unconsciously) enjoy arguing, this response is not completely surprising. Nevertheless, most will respond incredulously:

Patient: "Are you trying to say that I go home and have terrible fights because I have a need to be yelled at? Because I want to be yelled at? "

Dr. J: "Not exactly. However, at an unconscious level a bad need is being met. The need might be to fight, to yell, to act rejecting or to be rejected, or to strike out at those you care about because at some point in your life you were repeatedly criticized, rejected, made to feel inadequate, or badly hurt by people you loved and who supposedly loved you."

Patient: "Well I know what I feel and I damn well know I don't need to be yelled at. The only needs I have are good needs. I don't even see how there can be bad needs."

Dr. J: "Consider a husband and wife who day after day when they both come home from a hard days work, hug, cuddle and kiss and more often than not make love. Certainly it seems reasonable to assume that they have a need to hug and kiss, and that they have a need to make love. Interacting in a loving manner meets certain needs. Otherwise they would not treat each other, and themselves in this manner. Right?"

"Now consider a couple who day after day yell and scream and call each other horrible names and this goes on for years. Now, do they scream and fight because they don't want to?

"Why is it easy to believe that those who treat each other with love are meeting certain needs, whereas it is hard to believe those who fight are also meeting certain needs, in this case, bad ones? The people who make love and those who fight do so because they want to."

The reason it is so hard to believe is because it sounds so bizarre to the left half of the brain which is out of touch with its own feelings and because it likes to believe its own words and explanations; which often have nothing to do with what is really going on. And of course, there are other explanations as to why people may maintain a bad relationship. Brain tumors. Alien forces taking control over one's mind. Bad chemical circulating through their brain. Genetics. Bad Karma. The Devil. Drugs, etc. And indeed, events and forces that having nothing to do with the manner in which one was raised are often responsible for fights and incompatibility.

Traumas occur during adulthood which can also be the source of conflicts and complexes. People change. Some grow, some don't. People grow tired of one another, or they meet someone else who is more compatible. Twenty years of the same annoying habits may become intolerable.

Nevertheless, many couples who are unhappy, miserable, and consciously incompatible, who fight and incessantly argue, where both are abusive or where one is a victim, stay together due to similarities in the dynamics of their mind. Like belongs with like.

Both the victim and the abuser may have unconscious Parents which are abusive, "over protective," or rejecting, and both have an unconscious wounded Child who is hurt and angry and desirous of striking back. It is also because such couples are such a perfect fit, that is, insofar as unconscious needs are met, that they are often unwilling or unable to separate and divorce.

Indeed, they will invent innumerable reasons why they cannot separate, such as they "love each other," they "need each other," they "do not want to be alone," or because of their religion or their children. However, if you ask them what they "love" or what they "need," or point out that their children might be better off after a divorce, they will look at you with a blank or frightened stare.

Such people, like other victims and abusers, are reluctant to leave a bad situation because unconsciously they are perfectly matched and completely compatible. They enable each other to fulfill important expectations, and needs. They can reenact and relive the turmoil and pain that characterized their young lives, and possibly, this time around, finally achieve the love and acceptance they so desperately longed for, so very long ago.

This will almost never happen. That love they desire will never be forthcoming until these two abusers quit blaming each other. Once they accept responsibility for their own misery and stop their unconscious Parent from beating on themselves and each other then positive growth and a mutually satisfying relationship may be possible.

However, so long as they or their partner continue to act Parental or conversely, Childish, the possibility of a happy relationship is essentially null. Unless, of course, they are happy making each other miserable.


Surprisingly, rather than simply tell one's spouse to act either like an adult or move on down the highway, some people attempt to appease this Child or acquiesce to the critical Parent. Paradoxically, rather than treat the Child like the child he or she is, that is, by ignoring, restricting, and punishing him for his bad behavior, many of us allow the Child/Parent (i.e. Lesser Ego) to dictate the manner in which we should behave. The Lesser Ego says, make me happy and secure or I'll make you miserable. Individuals who fall into this trap begin to feel that the only way to appease this Lesser Ego is by acting in a manner that it desires and dictates. As one young woman stated: "If I do what he tells me I can usually make him treat me better."

There are several different fantasies at work here. One is that if "I" change, and quit being such a bad "wife" or "husband" then he or she will someday take me in his or her arms, hug and kiss me, tell me how much he or she loves me, and we will live happily ever after. However, this is not what the abusing spouse needs. He doesn't really want her to change as his need is to regurgitate all his anger and hurt. If "I" can say things that hurt you, then I know that you care.

A related fantasy is that with love, tolerance and understanding, the abused partner will somehow cause the abuser to change, the frog will turn into a prince (or princess) and she will finally get the love she so desperately desire.. That is, by proving her love and faithfulness via the acceptance of abuse, the abuser will come to realize that he is loved, and can feel secure that his abused spouse will not hurt him in some way in the future (as presumably he was hurt by his last girlfriend or whatever). Unfortunately, rescuers need someone to rescue, and they in truth do not want their abusive (or alcoholic, or drug addicted, or criminal) spouse to change either.

Some people respond to the unconscious Child/Parent residing in their mate's by acting as a Child or Parent themselves. One Child/Parent says to the other "is that all you can do is just sit in front of that TV and rot. No wonder we never get along. Look at you, turning into a couch potato" and the other Child/Parent responds: "Yeah, well at least I don't smoke like a chimney stinking up the whole house". And then she responds: "asshole", and he: "Stupid bitch", and on and on.

More often than not I hear patients express a desire for their mate to change, as if that would fix the problem. "If only you would change, then we could be happy". However, the notion that maybe they themselves should change or quit the relationship usually draws a blank and if pressed they will argue and confabulate: "Well I did try. I told her if she quit watching so much TV then we would have more time together and I would quit smoking."

"First you change, then maybe I will too." In essence each Child is saying, "You first. You first," and the left half of their brain is believing everything it is demanding and rationalizing.

However, when a spouse's Lesser Ego demands that you change to suit his Childish or Parental needs, he is really saying: "allow me to act and do what ever I want to you, and if you take it I will love you." Unfortunately, ones the victimized spouse subjugates herself to his will, he will not love her, rather he will despise her and hold her in contempt. He will both feel contemptuous of her because she will have sacrificed her self-respect. In fact, she will have assisted her abusing partner in abusing her. And there is only one reason why someone would do that. Because unconsciously and consciously she may believe she deserves what is being dished out. However, it also provides for the opportunity to relive and retaliate (by fighting) for the abuse or neglect or rejection one experienced as a child as well as to finally obtain that elusive love.



Some people are reluctant to break off relationships with abusive partners because they view the little love they occasionally receive (and the occasional good sex which seems to paradoxically go hand in hand with abusive interactions, at least during the initial stages) as privileges that only this person can grant. Unconsciously they may be thinking: "since I was never granted love by persons I loved when I was little, this new person is not only important to me, but necessary. If I lose him, no one will love me again. I know this, because, no one loved me before."

The "love" that they obtain is unconsciously believed to be undeserved and thus something which they are extremely reluctant to part with. No one may ever give them this love again, or so they fear.

In addition, for many individuals, the "love" they receive from their abusive, critical partner is perceived as a reward for the abuse they have recently suffered. When abuse is eventually followed by "love" it makes the abuse even more tolerable.

Take for example the principles of reinforcement as they are applied in gambling situations. You put your dollar in the slot machine and you lose. You do this again, and again lose. This is followed by a third and fourth try at which point you are about to give up and move on to the next machine. Losing is not fun. However, on the 5th try you win $10.00. You are now willing to put up with 3 or 4 losses because they pale in significance to the possible reward that you might receive. Indeed, the tension and excitement of knowing that a winner may be coming up drives you to continue putting money in this machine, until finally at some point you rationally realize that your losses now far exceed your winnings. Unless you are addicted to gambling and the pain of losing, you walk away.

The same thing happens in abusive relationships. The anticipation of being loved, that wonderful high that "only" one's partner can provide drives some to try, try again, since they know that eventually their partner will provide them with the "fix" that they need.

Fortunately, sometimes logic prevails over delusions and the abused spouse is able to end the relationship, "I am not going to put up with this anymore. Goodbye!"

Regrettably, sometimes the strength of the emotional attachment and dependency win out and the person is drawn back to an abusive relationship, hoping against hope, that this time they will strike the jackpot and win the love that they have always been denied. Because they are addicted, and have occasionally received a loving reward, they do not walk away.


There is negative and positive arousal and excitement. The excitement of a fight, and the perpetual uncertainty regarding an unstable relationship, the anticipation of the next blow up, the next misunderstanding, and the ever present fear of and potential for abandonment and rejection, constitute and give rise to considerable negative arousal which in turn is often misinterpreted as "passion." This form of excitement is not only stimulating, but sometimes very attractive to those who seek the familiar negative drama of their childhood homes. In dysfunctional homes emotional extremes and what feels good and what feels bad become so entangled and confused that soon they are one and the same.


Children who are raised in homes where parents frequently fight and argue, or where there is a threat of possible physical violence, eventually begin to view fighting as a normal aspect of a loving relationship. You are supposed to yell, and be yelled at, by people who supposedly love you. Such homes are also characterized by tremendous degrees of tension which are usually released by fighting or love making. In some families the arguments are in fact followed by equally passionate displays of love, affection, and sex, at least in the early phases of the relationship.

Children raised in such homes often are given the message that a normal home life is characterized by tremendous swings and extremes in emotionality. Frequently, later in life these children continue to unconsciously associate arguing and fighting as a sign of love. The more we fight the more in love we must be. Fighting with people who supposedly love you is normal.


When experiencing high levels of negative excitement and associated sensations of arousal, such as during and immediately following an argument, these tensions are sometimes misinterpreted as or released in the form of sex. This is not entirely abnormal. As noted the nuclei of the limbic system control basic feelings and emotions such as anger, aggression, and sex, and when this region is activated associated mood states may become triggered. That is, just as the right hand can become activated when speaking, as hand and mouth control are located in immediately adjacent cortical areas, adjacent tissues subserving seemingly different emotions can also be aroused.

Sex is both psychological and biological, and is mediated by the limbic system. As such it is based on an arousal of tension and the release of that tension completes the sex act. The limbic system mediates not only sexual arousal, but feelings of love, affection, the need for intimate association, as well as aggression and the fighting response. Indeed, aggression and sexuality are linked not only by the primitive structures of the limbic system but behaviorally as well. Among animals, often the male must behave in an aggressive manner in order to fight off other males in order to win the female who in turn often must be pursued. Similarly human males often have to take the active, assertive, aggressive role or face the prospect of being alone and without a sexual partner. To engage in pursuit one must feel a certain degree of arousal and tension.

Among couples who frequently fight there is necessarily a buildup of tension. The tension increases in anticipation of a fight and during the fight as well. In other words, people who frequently fight have a reservoir of tension (or energy) from which they may draw when interacting aggressively. When not fighting high levels of arousal and tension remain either in anticipation of the next fight, or as the residue of the previous aggressive encounter.

These feelings in turn must be dealt with and many couples who fight experience and interpret this tension as a desire for sex. When there is a great deal of such tension its release can often be experienced in the form of great sex. However, its source is not truly sexual for what appears to be sexual arousal is often based on the conflicts and strains of the relationship. Indeed, if these couples did not fight they would rapidly lose sexual interest in one another and would no doubt drift rapidly apart. There relationship would cease to be passionate or exciting. The good sex depends on the energy built up during the heat of battle. If there were no battle there would be no heat and no passion. The relationship would then be seen for what it is, empty, insipid and based on nothing.

However, sometimes it is important to one or both members to put a lot of energy into the love making not because of the tension of a fight, but because of the fear that one may have lost or irretrievably pushed away one's lover. Sex thus serves as a means of reestablishing the bond, as a form of reassurance that they are "mine," (or that I am theirs) since they gave themselves to me or accepted the love I offered. It thus serves to validate the relationship and to ease the fears of the shaky foundation loosened by the tremors of the latest battle. In effect it is a statement that "look how much we love each other. How close we are. How good it really is, how good we can make each other feel; how much we belong together." Yet just like any drug, the feelings of passion or the sexual high is short-lived and the fighting must resume.

Moreover, having sex or passionately making up after having a fight inadvertently serves to reinforce and reward the fighting; like getting a cookie for being bad. Indeed, the fight can become a form of foreplay and the happy couple begins to look forward to the fight (at least at an unconscious level) as a prelude to some great sexual acrobatics or at least the chance to obtain temporary passionate reassurance.

Many of us have learned to equate sex with love, and good sex with real love. Hence, even if the relationship as a whole is quite unsatisfactory, the good sex more than convinces some of us that it is "right" and that the sex couldn't be so good and satisfying if indeed it were not fueled by feelings of "real" love and affection. Indeed, sex may be the only way that two such individuals are able to successfully intimately relate.

Unfortunately, however, they have mistaken great pain for great passion.


It sometimes happens after a terrible argument or series of fights that one or both partners become temporarily convinced that they never want to see their mate again and could easily and happily live without them for the rest of their lives. They may decide that the relationship is over, begin to make plans for moving out or moving on and then before a single day has passed begin to feel anxious, "lonely" and a desire to "forgive and forget." They begin to miss their lover even though a few hours earlier they would have liked to have pushed them under a train. Such feelings are again under the yoke of the limbic system and in many ways are a replay of infantile reactions of rage and anxiety, when mom left the room.

Soon the rage they experienced during the course of the fight begins to be replaced by a feeling of sadness, hurt and excruciating loneliness. Although it has only been hours, or maybe a day or two, they want them back. Again, this is the limbic system talking and is replaying familiar feelings that characterized infantile relations with mother.

It is not at all unusual for a person caught in a love/hate abusive relationship to want to leave and call it off but find they cannot. No matter how bad the fights, no matter how many times they break it off and run away, they begin to feel even more terrible after they "end it" and are then drawn back for another "fix," and for another second chance to obtain that love they have forever sought since childhood.

They may grumble that they "can't live with 'em," and they "can't live without 'em." They are just "too in love." Yet this is just a form of confabulation.

Although it may appear that they are addicted to "love" and seem to have an almost compulsive need to be with their "lover," they are in fact behaving at an infantile level and at the behest of their limbic system and the IDfant ego personality. It is also likely that they are addicted to reliving the painful familiarity of the past, and then experiencing the relief that comes from fighting and then making up. Indeed, after they break up, or have a terrible fight, they not only feel badly, but all the pain, feelings of rejection, neglect, worthlessness, and hurt from the past begins to overwhelm them. Consequently they desperately seek the temporary reassurance that can be found in their lovers embrace.

Like the need for bad drugs they seem to be addicted to maintaining what in all appearances (except for the fleeting passion, sex and sporadic good times) is a very bad and self-destructive relationship. In truth, however, if not this abusive person it would be someone else, for these tormented soulds seek out and become attached to anything or anyone who allows them to relive and who then temporary or at least promises to relieve them of their pain, torment and the misery which has plagued them since infancy or childhood.

In many cases, they are driven by an imbalance in the psychic relationship between the amygdala and septal nucleus of the limbic system, and are so desperate for contact comfort, that they willing establish relationships even with people who will abuse them. In instances such as these, it could be assumed that since the IDfant aspect of the personality has come to the fore, that whatever trauma or neglect they experienced while young, came at a very early age.

Frequently, the worse such relationships become the harder it is to let go. Indeed, the more difficult it is to end a bad relationship, the more elements of one's early childhood it contains.

The unconscious reasoning which sustains this behavior goes as follows. "I am terribly depressed and miserable without you. Although I am also miserable with you at least I sometimes also feel really good; at least I feel loved." Unconsciously there is also the fear that "if I lose this person, no one else will love me, because no one has ever loved me before."

The terrible sense of aloneness, separation, abandonment and emotional pain, that drives them back again and again, however, has in truth nothing to do with their current partner but is a constantly felt emotion that the Idfant or unconscious Child experiences everyday. It is rooted in the way they were brought up. When they run back they are not really in need of this or that person, but are running away from the pain and abandonment felt when they were growing up. They run back for another chance at getting the love that was seldom provided. They run back for make believe love that offers that desperately sought after relief and contact comfort.

Unfortunately, this dependency is misinterpreted as a reflection of the importance of their spouse. "The more I need you (i.e. to fight and to be abused) the more wonderful you seem". However, it is not the partner that is important but the kind of relationship which is being maintained and the needs of the limbic system which are striving to be fulfilled.


If one is no longer a child, then no one has the right to act as that person's Parent. If one is not interacting with a child, then one doesn't have the right to treat someone in this fashion. However, to be treated as an adult, a person must be one. If they want to be loved by an adult, then they must be with one. If one wants to be treated with love then they must first love themselves and treat others likewise; then the love of others will follow.

This may be accomplished once a person comes to grips with the unconscious forces affecting his life so that the losers, takers, abusers, repetition compulsions, and cycles of misfortune which plague him may be abandoned, controlled and extinguished. If a person can begin to recognize his own Parent and Child and their critical, abusive and hurting ways, and learn to counteract these forces by rejecting abuse and punishment regardless of its source, then self control will be his. However, he must also learn to question his own lies, confabulations, and deceptions for often one's first explanation as to the reasons for their behavior, are completely off the mark.

By confronting these forces and assuming responsibility for one's feelings, misfortunes as well as one's personal flaws and deficiencies, an individual takes an important step toward overcoming them. He must also refuse to accept the negative appraisals supplied by "loved" ones, that is, refusing to take them seriously as accurate personal descriptions. Once this is accomplished, then a person can begin to feel self-acceptance and true self love and can then begin to accept no less from any one else.

Self acceptance allows a person to feel like a good person, who like everyone else has flaws and deficiencies. It also allows him to see that unpleasant actions others engage in reflect badly only on the person dishing it out, and only on himself insofar as he accepts it, reinforces it, or rewards it.

If somebody wants true love, then he must respect and love himself and not accept shoddy treatment or continue to maintain a relationship with those who wish to treat him in a Parental or Childish manner. This includes one's own parents, as well as employers, coworkers, or one's spouse. By refusing to accept the bad behavior of someone else, by rejecting the validity of negative, hurtful criticism, by realizing that this negativism is best applied to it's source, and by attempting to identify one's own bad needs, is good way of achieving a sense of responsibility and assuming control over one's life. Once this begins to occur, even if future endeavors turn out badly, at least that individual knows they they alone are to blame and are beholden to no one in the form of guilt. This is one of the many keys to happiness and self acceptance.

Copyright: 1996, 2000, 2010, 2018 - Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.