The Purpose of Pain

A Thought Exercise from a Victim of Targeted Partner Abuse©

Writing about this topic is a bit bold and maybe more presumptive an exercise than I should undertake. That said, I also believe it might be instructive and helpful to many of the victims of targeted partner abuse©.

As a social scientist I read the literature on the instructive nature of pain from multiple perspectives. In terms of the physical, pain is a warning sign and a defense mechanism. Likely, we would all agree that regardless of the function of pain – it hurts. Regardless of your window of tolerance, ongoing pain, of any kind, becomes untenable before long.

Pain can be viewed as a type of communication between the body and the individual. It can be a warning as well as a reinforcement of the predictions of emotions (more on this in future posts).

Persistent or chronic pain is viewed as a pathology, often with the lens that prolonged pain may outlast a functional purpose. These two points, pathology, and functional purpose, are the points that will be evaluated in this post.

The Pathology of Pain in Targeted Partner Abuse©

Pathology is about the cause and effect of a particular condition or disease, or the study of disease and injury. From the lens of targeted partner abuse©, the cause is of course the one perpetrating the abuse. While the effects can be a result of the abuse, the impacts of words and actions, or even the interpretations by the receiver.

It is important to note, we do not all have the same definitions for words or interpretations of actions. Even in a marriage relationship spouses may have different points of view or definitions of words.

The statement that the effects or the impacts of the abusive words or behaviors as interpreted by the victim is not to blame the victim. Rather it is to clarify that individuals may have different assessments of things said or done. For example, men who target their partner, will use multiple strategies to deflect responsibility and obscure the abuse. More often than not, they accuse the victim of abuse.

The tenants of Center for Peace, state that we honor the agentic right of every human being to define their own experience. This is to say that victims of targeted partner abuse © may have similar or different experiences with the words or behaviors of the individual perpetrating harm to them. What this is not saying is that victims are responsible for the pain. You do not cause yourself pain. 

The Language of Pain

Over the years I have heard men make some of the worst statements about pain that results from their targeted partner abuse©. This brief list may be familiar to you.

  • I don’t know how to sit in her pain.
  • I want her to not be in pain.
  • I keep this from her, so it won’t cause her pain.
  • She holds onto pain as punishment (for herself or him – I’ve heard both)
  • I’m in pain too, I’m not willing to take on her suffering as well.
  • Her pain is not more important than mine, even if she is a victim. 
  • She just needs to get over it.

I’m confident many horrible statements have been hurled at you regarding the pain you feel because of his abuse. What I have here won’t even scratch the surface of statements made by the men in my programs. It should capture to some degree the insensitivity of abusive men to the impact of their words and behaviors upon the heart and soul of the woman they profess to love.

What I see hidden in this language by abusers is that they are relationally avoidant© with anyone but themselves. They are acutely aware of their own discomfort. That discomfort takes up prime real estate in their minds, making space at a premium for their wife to weigh in on his behavior and the pain she feels because of his actions and words.

Instructive Nature of Pain for Perpetrators

The problem with perpetrators of abuse is that they might recognize the pain their partner feels, but they will likely do anything to avoid it rather than walk into it and experience it alongside their wife. When they choose that route, they miss the healing nature of connection that is brought about when pain is discussed between a husband and wife. 

This type of pain is a necessary component of relationship building. Avoiding these instructive experiences often results in more long-term pain, with potentially worse outcomes than what is experienced by sitting in it.

Emotional Pain Has a Purpose

Many men in my abuse correction programs say they are conflict avoidant. My reframe for them is that they are relational pain avoidant©. Meaning, they want to avoid the pain they need to sit in to build a healthy relationship. 

Too many men are focused on easy, fun, or reward. They neglect to deeply consider the instructive nature of life lessons that may occur in discomfort. They twist this into a belief that they “just don’t like conflict.”  (Translation – I don’t want to have to hear how I’m more selfish, prideful, and uncaring than I want to admit.)

To avoid painful discussions, abusers will often pick fights, twist the order of events, and blame the wife for always wanting to argue with him. 

Wanting to argue? Are they serious? 

Pain is the Process of Character Shaping

Pain, struggle, failure – on repeat – are the attribute building blocks that formulate the tenacity of our character. An individual with a weak or low character will avoid at all costs the painful character stretching that is necessary for a healthy relationship. 

Anyone who has successfully established a strong relationship, has done so through great labor. What may appear to be easy to the outside observer, has come at great effort to the parties involved. They work at their relationships because they care about one another as much as they care for themselves. This is relational integrity. 

Highly relationally integrous individuals, do not operate from power positions, they operate from an ethical and moral construct of relational mutuality. They regard one another as equals and therefore do not inflict pain on their partner. They do not abuse, control, compel, isolate, punish, resent, intimidate, lie, cheat, commit any act, or say any word that would create pain for the other to endure.

When Pain is the Teacher

As a woman who has lived through years of targeted partner abuse©, I have learned many lessons from the painful interactions with my abusive spouse. Pain has taught me how to respond and resist – two normal processes for living with an abusive partner.

Victims instinctively know what will make matters worse for her or her children. In this way, pain teaches the victim of abuse how to keep herself and her children safe. Sometimes these responses result in others accusing her of being the problem. (For clarity — victim blaming is a failure on the observer’s part to understand what abuse is and how it is experienced by a wife.)

In the lessons from pain, we learn how to hold tighter to our boundaries, observe from a distance, and even when to stick up for ourselves regardless of the potential accusations that may be hurled our way.

Functional Purpose: The Process by Which Resolutions are Determined

There are three functional, albeit crucial pain points we will experience as we interact with an abusive husband. It is in these processes we determine our path forward. These points are,

  1. The pain of crucial conversations
  2. The pain of perceived criticism
  3. The pain of difficult decisions

As a victim of targeted partner abuse© I realized that to find purpose in the pain I experienced I needed a way to synthesize the experience. These three processes help me evaluate myself and my relationship.

Crucial conversations

Communication is the way we resolve conflict, make sense of life experiences, and make joint decisions in relationships. Conversations with an abuser are some of the most painful conversations I ever experienced. Between the lies, manipulation, gaslighting, history twisting, and not to mention the yelling and denial, conversations were often very unproductive. 

The pattern of these conversations helped me to realize where I was able to make headway with my spouse, or where I needed to make independent decisions that enabled me to progress forward in a self-protective manner.

When I began to reclaim my own agentic rights and dignity as a human being, these crucial conversations became more instructive than hurtful. 

Perceived criticisms

Conversations with a husband who targets abuse my direction were often a painful battleground. Either he was accusing me of being critical of him, or I was feeling the sting of his critical words of how I wasn’t doing this thing right or meeting that perceived need. 

It appeared that anytime I opened my mouth – it would be viewed as an accusation. He would never hear my pain when there was no room for it in his mind. It was all about him.

Looking for patterns of language and behavior helped me to assess safety around my spouse. It was never more evident to me that I was not going to be treated with dignity than in our conversations. Nearly every one held some sort of blame shifting and counter accusation. How would we ever find resolution if only HIS feelings or perspective of the issue mattered? 

Difficult decisions

If pain was going to teach me anything, then the most instructive for me was in using the method of seeing patterns to help me with difficult decisions. Whether these decisions resulted in moving my spouse to the spare room, separating, or navigating somewhat peaceable conversations while maintaining my own safety, the functional purpose of pain was in teaching me how to live within my values while navigating life with an abusive spouse.

Focusing on the Hurt Increases the Hurt

As I wrap up this post on pain, I want to include a final word on the benefits of reframing and productive thinking©. What I share beyond this point is shared with great respect and regard for how difficult it is to develop productive thinking© patterns while still in the midst of life with an abuser. 

If you are still at this point in the process, please consider tabling this until you are ready. 

One of the blessings of agency is that we can choose what we think as well as what we say and do. When we engage the process of what I teach as Productive Thinking©, we are engaging the part of our brain where we open new thought pathways. We engage the available 5% of the sixty – seventy thousand old thought patterns we think each day (95% are repeating/recirculating thoughts) to allow our minds to clear out pain memory, establish healing thinking patterns, and reframe what has been circulatory during the rough days of trauma to help us progress forward. 

As one of my favorite Stoics once said, “It’s not what happened, but the meaning you make of it that matters” (Epictetus, n.d.). What I choose to take from this is that I have a choice in how I assess my experience with an abusive spouse. While I acknowledge all the intentional abuse, all the secret keeping, all the deception, lies and intimate treason as egregious and inhumane, I can choose to pick up the pieces of myself and move forward. 

“It is not easy, but it is one of the most personally powerful decisions you’ll ever make, that whenever possible, choose the most joyful option” (Coach Joi).

A Final Thought

As a woman of faith who trusts God’s tutoring in this mortal experience, I find great comfort in the words found in Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:3-5New International Version

If the pains of mortality can produce in me a sanctified character then learning to endure this journey is a welcomed purpose.

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