In the first two episodes of this series on abuse, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen describe the different forms abuse can take, and how to recognize when it’s happening to you. In the final episode of this series, the focus shifts to learning what you can do to change your circumstances when you find yourself in an abusive relationship.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about what can you do if you're in an abusive relationship. Let me read one of the reviews. This is by "I don't understand" from the United States.
"I am grateful for your messages on your podcast. My husband is 59 and has been diagnosed with dementia. It has been life-changing for us. I would love the chance to be able to change this situation for him and to be able to help him more than just giving in and letting it take its course."
Tana Amen: That's so sad.
Dr Daniel Amen: We so believe that too, which is what I wrote about in Memory Rescue.
"There has to be a way to get back some of his life." The short answer is you want to prevent or treat the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind, and that's the whole bright minds that we've talked about over and over again on our podcast.
Another one from the "lucky madness" from the United States.
"I appreciate this podcast so much. Listening to them are reminders to keep making healthy decision. The addiction discussions are the best. Unique and compassionate discussions are so important."
Tana Amen: Awesome.
Dr Daniel Amen: We didn't tell that story of the eight year old girl who is growing up in an addicted family. The eight year old is so wanting to take care of-
Tana Amen: She's the caretaker.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... of her mother and father. No matter what it is they do, she immediately-
Tana Amen: Wants to make it better.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... forgives them and wants to make it better. Having a discussion with her mom, I was saying, "I really need you to think about your behavior because what you're doing is you're teaching her that it's okay- "
Tana Amen: In fact, it's normal.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's normal to be in an abusive relationship-
Tana Amen: Where you lie for people, where you help them when they are hungover, strung out, whatever.
Dr Daniel Amen: Where you become co-dependent, so they have the addiction with you.
Tana Amen: And you enable it.
Dr Daniel Amen: The question is, what do you do?
Tana Amen: I think it's really important that we spend one more minute on that because one of the things that happens in those relationships is people think that their behavior is normal, and they force it, which I think is abusive on the rest of the family. Addiction is just a bear. I grew up with it in my family. The lying becomes so pervasive that no one's quite sure what's a lie and what's not. Pretty soon, it just destroys the relationship to where anyone who is somewhat healthy just never trusts you anymore. They just don't, so there's this constant wedge between you and the person who's addicted, and you're weary. You're just always weary. You never trust. There's just this sadness that goes along with it, and you're exhausted. It just ruins that bond.
But with kids in a family like that, when they're forced to lie ... And you talked about this. We talked about this in, I think, the first episode this week. You talked about how one of the signs of abuse, or maybe it was the last episode, one of the signs of abuse is when you force or coerce people to do something. With children, in order to cover addiction, parents often force or coerce their kids to cover up for them. One of the things they do is they threaten. You talked about this in a different way, but it's the same thing, same concept. They'll threaten by saying, "If you tell anyone, we will lose our home." I think you said, "If you tell anyone, we'll kill your parents", but it's the same concept. "If you tell anyone, you'll get taken away from me."
Dr Daniel Amen: And it'll be your fault.
Tana Amen: It'll be your fault.
Dr Daniel Amen: As opposed to-
Tana Amen: "You'll get taken away. You'll get put into foster care. We'll lose our home." Like all of these things. Kids are constantly scared and terrified and covering for their parents, and that becomes their normal. In fact, I've heard them say, shrug their shoulders and just go, "It's just normal." That breaks my heart to hear a child say, "It's normal" because I can see-
Dr Daniel Amen: Because a lot of people will wonder, "Why would she stay with someone who's abusive or why would he stay with someone who's abusive?", and that's one of-
Tana Amen: Because they grew up-
Dr Daniel Amen: ... the big answers. Because they grew up thinking it's their fault, they're responsible, and if only they were better, then their mom, their dad, their husband, their wife, their boss wouldn't be the way they are.
Tana Amen: Or maybe their parents were put into-
Dr Daniel Amen: So that's the first thing you do, because we're going to talk about what do you do if you're in an abusive relationship. The first thing is to be honest with yourself and recognize that this relationship is not healthy.
Tana Amen: And you might need help with that because if you did grow up in that environment, and let's just say you were put into foster care, or your parents were put in jail or died, or something happened to them, that might be so deep you might not be able to recognize it or admit it when-
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. That's where therapy can be very helpful, but-
Tana Amen: Because that was too painful.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... you don't want a therapist that just believes everything you say.
Tana Amen: No.
Dr Daniel Amen: You want one that'll challenge you. What I find is so important is when I'm hearing about someone who's abusive, I want them in my office. I want to meet them so I can make an independent assessment. Perhaps they have untreated bipolar disorder or they have borderline personality disorder.
Tana Amen: It's never usually simple.
Dr Daniel Amen: Or they have ADD, or they've had a head trauma. I think when I was the director of the domestic violence unit at Fort Irwin, I learned ... I would typically get women, wives in my office telling me how awful the husband was. I found when I got the husband in the office-
Tana Amen: He'd talk about how awful she is?
Dr Daniel Amen: I got more information. Then what I often found is there was an untreated ADD, dyslexic, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, Asperger-ish kid at home stoking the fire-
Tana Amen: Stirring it up.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... between them. If mom was drinking or dad was drinking or dad had a head injury-
Tana Amen: Explosion.
Dr Daniel Amen: You see how complicated this gets. As a therapist, I wanted all of the-
Tana Amen: Right. Treat the family.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... information so that I could make better recommendations.
Tana Amen: So before we talk about the healthy things you can do, I know two of the unhealthy things you can do because I've certainly done it, one of them. One of them is to become like the child we talked about who is codependent, enabling. She might grow up to go into an abusive relationship more than likely, which we see so often. The other one is to become like me, which was just build a wall, don't let any of them in. Push them all away. You're all crazy, stay out there. I'm not sure that that's much healthier. It's almost an attachment issue, especially with family, because you don't trust any of them.
Dr Daniel Amen: So we're back to the black widow story.
Tana Amen: It's not a black widow! I'm not a black widow. With family, it was they weren't trustworthy, right? Both of those are extremes. I think recognize it ... I did therapy. I did like a lot of therapy on that.
Dr Daniel Amen: I think that really helped. The whole black widow stuff people aren't going to know. When we were first together almost 13 years ago, she'd like come and then she'd go and then she'd come back and then she'd go. I'm like, "You're a black widow."
Tana Amen: I was never doing the relationship that you-
Dr Daniel Amen: And after about a year and a half, she came and stayed, so I call myself the black widow tamer.
Tana Amen: Now you're not going anywhere.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. She says it's the only reason she's running is if she's chasing me. As you already know, I'm on her phone, she knows where I am at every minute of every day.
Tana Amen: You put yourself on that. To clarify for the people who didn't hear the other shows this week, he put himself on the app. I did not force him to be on there. You want to be here.
Dr Daniel Amen: What was I going to say? No, no question. I am in this black widow cage with you.
Tana Amen: It is consensual.
Dr Daniel Amen: Alright. What can people do?
Tana Amen: So those are the unhealthy things.
Dr Daniel Amen: You can get therapy.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr Daniel Amen: Therapy can be so-
Tana Amen: So incredibly helpful.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... helpful.
Tana Amen: EMDR was-
Dr Daniel Amen: But you want to see it from a family systems standpoint, not, "I'm good. He's bad" or "I'm good. She's bad." You get that mindset. You're a victim and you can't change anything. What is it I can do today to make this better?
You also want to build appropriate boundaries and assertiveness. One of our favorite books is from our friend John Townsend-
Tana Amen: Love his books.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... and Henry Cloud called "Boundaries". It sold millions of copies.
Tana Amen: Like three million copies.
Dr Daniel Amen: That is something we clearly recommend. It's okay for you to say, "This is okay. This is not okay", and to draw respectful boundaries in your life. Get help, boundaries, assertiveness. We actually teach people how to treat us by what we allow in our lives, by what we accept.
Tana Amen: I love a saying that you have. Some people are afraid to go into this because it's scary and it's painful to go into it initially for a lot of people who have experienced pain in their past. Sometimes you don't do it for yourself. Sometimes you do it out of love for someone else. I know for me, when I was ... I didn't want to dig into the past. Like I said, I built not only walls but facades, and it was just ... I wanted to keep it out there, but I had to step back. I'm like, "Number one, do I really want to keep pushing people away from me?" I had this great guy. I had you. I'm like, "Do I really want to keep doing that?"
That was a draw, but it might not have been a big enough draw at the time. I had a child. What scared me ... I was able to step back enough and look at it from a distance. I have this 30 foot perspective thing that I do, like my meditation to look at it from 30,000 feet and check it out. It's like, "Am I going to really be a good mom if I keep pushing people away from me?" You might not think you're going to do that, but you will.
Dr Daniel Amen: So you have to find your motivation to get help.
Tana Amen: Yeah. Sometimes it's not about you. Sometimes it's about the people you love.
Dr Daniel Amen: The other thing that's really important is understand it from a neuroscience perspective. In my book "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life", I actually talk about relationships based on different brain systems. I talk about what they do, what happens when things go wrong, how to fix it. I've had so many people in abusive relationships tell me that they recognize themselves or the other person, and once we balanced both of their brains, that their relationship became so much better. Brain science can really be helpful.
In virtually no domestic violence programs does anybody talk about scanning people's brains or optimizing brain health. It's one of the things we're really trying to change here at Amen Clinics. We think brain health should be central to any form of psychiatry or psychotherapy because when your brain works right, you work right. You're more empathic. You're more thoughtful. You can see things from other people's points of view.
Tana Amen: Yep.
Dr Daniel Amen: We hope this has been really helpful for you. To learn more, I think getting John Townsend and Henry Cloud's book "Boundaries" can be just so helpful for you. Of course, we want you to read "The Brain Warrior's Way" and "The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook". Stay with us.
Dr Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of "The Brain Warrior's Way" and "The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook" we give away every month.