Calling out those who exercise toxic levels of control over their partners

The man who will not say where his wife’s ashes are scattered is keeping control beyond death

‘Escape seems to be the only option for the person being targeted, but escape has to be very carefully planned if it is not to end in tragedy.’

‘Escape seems to be the only option for the person being targeted, but escape has to be very carefully planned if it is not to end in tragedy.’

 

My bafflement over the motivations of people who exercise toxic levels of control in their personal lives was awoken again recently when I read a tweet from a woman who said: “Tomorrow it will be 6 years since my mum died. I never got to properly say goodbye because of the nasty little man she let into our lives.”

She went on to explain that: “He made it all about him. I was only told she was sick at the very last minute, then grudgingly allowed 10 minutes alone with her.”

When the end came, he never alerted her and she only found out about the funeral from a friend.

He never told her where her mother’s ashes were scattered and “he only grudgingly let me have some of her things and nothing that I’d asked for. These things never fully heal.”

This level of toxic control isn’t an exclusively male behaviour.

“I had same experience with my dad passing years ago, but because of his wife at the time,” a man responded. “I have nothing left from him in terms of any things to anchor to memories. She would not let myself and my half-sister and my dad’s brothers and sister have any of the things he left behind, not even photos.”

I began writing about domestic violence in the 1980s, when Women’s Aid was in a house in Harcourt Street, Dublin, with corrugated sheets across a doorway to keep the women safe.

Since then, I have been wondering about the source of the insane levels of control exercised by some people over their partners.

Giving this woman only 10 minutes with her dying mother wasn’t just an act of control over the daughter, it was an act of control over his partner

It’s power, yes, but this goes beyond power. And it’s insecurity, yes (if I don’t keep tight control over her/him, she/he will abandon me), but this also goes to a level beyond insecurity.

The woman who tweeted, above, said that the mother’s partner “made it all about him”.

That might be a clue. It has to be all about him and anyone who could challenge that has to be kept away. The “it” that has to be about him is, I think, the relationship with his partner. Giving this woman only 10 minutes with her dying mother wasn’t just an act of control over the daughter, it was an act of control over his partner.

That they carry on this control after the partner’s death makes twisted sense. Both the wife who denies a man’s children his personal papers or photographs and the man who won’t say where his wife’s ashes are scattered are keeping control beyond death.

For a short time after a person dies, we often act towards them as though they were alive, talking to them for instance. It’s as though the brain hasn’t yet adjusted to their absence. For the controller, then, that means the control must continue.

Here’s the really baffling thing – by and large, these people don’t behave like this outside the household.

Can you imagine somebody bringing that level of control into the workplace? They would almost certainly end up being fired.

Something changes when they step across the threshold and enter their own home. It almost like a form of insanity. I don’t mean this as an excuse because, as I mentioned above, these people are able to choose to behave differently in work and other settings.

Escape seems to be the only option for the person they’re targeting, but escape has to be very carefully planned if it is not to end in tragedy.

Of course, the ideal is not to get involved with them in the first place. A clue that you’re dealing with a toxic controller is finding you no longer see friends or family because it upsets him or her. When that starts happening you need to consider getting out.

We are no further along to understanding the motivations of these people.

But they leave deep wounds and we should never doubt the importance of the work done by Irish Women’s Aid, and Amen which helps male targets of domestic abuse.

Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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