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March 2018



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The Parable of the Woman and the Large Dog

Daniel Pinkwater tells a story about when he and his wife were running a dog training class. A woman came to them because she had a large dog that kept gnawing on her arms. She had bruises up and down both her arms and wore long sleeved shirts in summer because people thought she was abused. She wanted the Pinkwaters to teach her dog to stop gnawing on her. They told her that they would help her break her dog of this bad habit. So she brought in the dog. It was a very big dog. They explained to the woman that every time the dog engaged in the bad behavior she should sternly tell it "No!". She said "Yes" she wanted them to teach the dog to stop gnawing on her. As they were standing there the dog began to gnaw on her arm.
She said "See? Make him stop doing that."
They said "Say 'No' to him, firmly."
She said "Yes, make him stop doing that." But she made no effort to discipline him or tell him "no" herself. No matter what the Pinkwaters said to her the woman would make no effort to control the dog, or protect herself.
There was nothing they could do for her.

When you let someone abuse you you are like that woman. You have three choices. 1) You can let the dog gnaw on your arm until you die or he does. 2) You can firmly say "No! I won't put up with that!" every time he misbehaves. (Discipline must be consistent to be effective. You can't expect to say it once and have it work. Every time you let him get away with bad behavior you are in fact rewarding it.) 3) You can get rid of the dog.

If someone else wants to let the dog gnaw on their arm that is their problem, and you should tell them so, or you are just enabling their destructive pattern.


You should tell this to the Karma girl over on _wicca_

I think she could use it.

The Parable of the Woman and the Large Dog

Yes, I did tell her.
I actually typed up this story because of the discussion with her.
That's awfully simplistic. It also conceals a false comparison...An abuser, another adult (I'm assuming you wouldn't aim this at a child) is not a dog, not an animal over which the *owner* has power. It's only applicable up to the point that the abuser has no hold over the abused, but domestic abusers hardly ever show their true colors until they DO have a hold over their victim. Abusers are manipulators, and by the time it gets that bad they've already done a number on the person.

Abusers don't start smacking you around on the first date. Usually, they're extremely charming...to you, to your friends, to your family. They get everyone on their side, the better to undermine and gaslight you when things start to go awry.

Also, women...statistically, it's most often women, though there are always exceptions...who leave their abusers are often murdered by them.

It's easy to SAY "just leave", but like most emotionally satisfying solutions to other people's problems, it's simplistic at best and patronizing at worst.
Does the use of the term "gaslight" in this context originate with the film of the same name?
Yes. One of the favorite tactics of an abuser is to make their victim think THEY'RE crazy...it makes it easy to confuse boundaries and put them on the defensive. A really predatory one will seek out people who have problems already...The ex of a friend of mine used the fact that she'd been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder TEN YEARS PREVIOUSLY (for which she was successfully treated, I might add) to "prove" that she was crazy, therefore (according to him) there couldn't be anything wrong with HIM. That string of DUI's? "Blown out of proportion". Yeeeaaah....

The thing is, this guy was a textbook, classic case, but did NOT fit the image of what people THINK an abuser is: He was well educated, from a "good" family (ie, rich), he was charming and personable and charismatic. He made a living in sales. People who only knew him casually had a very hard time believing that he'd pounded his girlfriend's head into the pavement in a fit of drunken rage, and expressed their disbelief.

A woman who tries to walk away from a guy like that may well find that few of her friends believe "her side" of the story and she has few allies to turn to. That kind of person is a manipulator...they are COMPLETELY capable of telling a sob story to all her friends about how brokenhearted he is and how badly she is treating him, while stalking and threatening her at the very same time. In fact, that's the standard MO.

If stuff like this were simple, then it wouldn't be as common as it is. Most relationships like that heat up very, very slowly...like the frog that doesn't realize it until he's cooked. The world isn't full of clearly marked or recognized "bad guys"; it's full of smiling villains.
It has, unfortunately, been pointed out to me fairly recently that crazy people don't actually wear signs saying that they are nuts.

Sometimes is is that easy.

Yes, I know all that.

I'm not saying you don't have a point. A mastiff with an annoying behavior problem is not the same as a bear that is trying to chew your face off. I'm not saying that every abusive relationship can be solved with a rolled newspaper to the nose.

I recently saw the documentary "Grizzly Man" about Timothy Treadwell. He spent 13 summers living in Alaska with bears until he was killed and eaten by one. He was able to live with the bears as long as he did because he knew how to stand up for himself and developed a relationship with them. The bear that killed him was old and hungry and didn't respect his "No". I'm telling you this story because I think it supports my point while also including your point.

I think the key phrase here is "let someone abuse you". If you are in a situation where you can walk away but you don't because [fill in he blank] you are making a choice. Human relationships are complicated. Abusive relationships are relationships. They involve behavior on both sides. They involve people making decisions every step of the way. But some people complain about how they are ill treated and never see how their own behavior contributes to the problem. And while the amount of domestic violence that is as severe as you are talking about is too high, there are a lot more of the sort that can be solved by the "victim" just standing up for themselves and saying "I'm not going to allow you to treat me that way".

You are right that sometimes it isn't that simple, but sometimes it is.

Re: Sometimes is is that easy.

Apparently (I haven't read all of it) there is a lot of stuff in "The Gift of Fear" about fending off predatory behavior in the early stages. Because those people don't just pick someone at random, either. They probe and look for someone whose "no" is negotiable.

At that point, it's subtle. It can seem like you're being "nice" or accommodating...which a lot of us are socialized to be. It can seem reasonable. But it slowly becomes more and more unreasonable, and every step of it leads to the next.

The advice to be firm in your "no" is most useful at that stage...when it hasn't gotten that bad yet, when the person is not yet so committed, entangled or confused. No matter how "sweet" or apologetic someone is, if they keep pushing you and don't respect it when you say no, they are not a good human being.

Re: Sometimes it is that easy.

I totally agree.

And I love "The Gift of Fear" it is a great book!
I think it's slightly off the original topic. There actually IS a fairly simplistic viewpoint to all of this.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you either take action, or you do not. Expecting to be rescued is iffy at best. Rescuers are few and far between, and are often dysfunctional themselves and present a different form of prison.

The complications of taking an action (who takes who's side, whether or not you are in physical danger for doing so, financial survival) are valid concerns, but it does not change the fact that you either do something, or you do not.

When you choose to do nothing, there is nothing anyone can do to help you. Which is what the reference with the dog was meant to represent.

Choosing to do SOMETHING can be any one of a million things. Some choices are to examine why you got into the relationship in the first place, work on your self esteem, and develop the ties and strength to eventually leave, start a savings account, go to therapy, take a self defense class. None of these are ACTUALLY leaving, it is preparing the ground to safely leave at a later date. But they ARE something, and probably the smartest thing to do is long term preparation. Leaping into direct action is not always, as you pointed out, the safest thing.

But doing nothing at all....that is fruitless and hopeless. Sometimes dealing with the dog means changing the dogs behavior, sometimes it means changing yours...either way, it's taking an action. In the long run, however, learning from the mistake and recognizing abuse at an earlier stage is probably the best solution.

My point is that the woman would not help herself. I believe that is also the point of the parable.
That woman with the dog seems to be a really really stupid woman !

And I'm sorry about the fact that I am a woman and she is a woman, too, atleast momentarily, after reading the account of the woman in this post.