Dr. Phil Takes on Abusers: Aaron and Michelle

Dr. Phil Takes on Abusers: Aaron and Michelle
Dr. Phil talks with parents who are determined to have their children make it as beauty queens and actresses.
"On the outside, Aaron and I make a very good impression on people. If you stepped inside my house, you would definitely find a much different story," says Michelle, who has been married to Aaron for two-and-a-half-years. "Before I was married, I realized that Aaron had a temper. There was pushing. There was shoving. There was smacking. I thought that marriage may change that."

After they got married, the behavior only escalated. "I never know what's going to set him off," says Michelle. "Aaron is verbally abusive toward me. If I lose my keys, if I leave my blanket on the couch, if I leave a cup on the table ... Aaron makes fun of me, belittles me, yells at me. I feel like the lowest person in the world. I feel like a piece of crap. I feel worthless."

Michelle says that Aaron is also physically abusive. "Aaron has punched me, kicked me, choked me, thrown me into walls. He has split my lip," she says. "I think he could easily get lost in his rage and I could end up dead. I'm more afraid of living this way than I am of dying." On one occasion, it got so bad that Michelle called the police. "I had his finger marks around my neck. I had purple bruises all over my body that were bigger than grapefruits. There was not a single drop of flesh color on my breast. It was completely purple," she explains. "I felt like I let it happen and it was my fault."

"I just love her. She's a great girl," says Aaron of his wife. But he admits, that he has issues controlling his anger and that neither of them handle conflict well. "I do feel bad after conflicts," he says. "It shouldn't be happening. I want it all to stop."

Michelle says she considers leaving Aaron "a million times a day," but he always says he's going to change. "My greatest fear is that this is my life, whether it's with Aaron or somebody else, that I'm going to continue to allow men to abuse me," she says.

Dr. Phil points out that Aaron spent a lot of time justifying his actions, saying that it's his natural instinct or that Michelle provoked him. "It sounded to me like you're saying, 'I know I shouldn't do it, but on the other hand, it just is what it is.'"

Aaron clarifies, "I really don't like it. I don't like getting to that extent of an argument where that goes that far. I don't like hurting her. I don't like hurting us."

Dr. Phil points out that in the past Michelle has said, "I've got to get him out of my life," and asks her if this is what she wants.

"I would like the rage-filled person out of my life," she says.

Dr. Phil asks her if she feels she is to blame for this.

"I do feel like I provoke him and egg him on," says Michelle. "It's almost to the point now where it's sometimes easier to get hit than to 'anticipate' it."

"You said you would rather 'get my ass kicked every day than have to worry about it and anticipate it,'" Dr. Phil says, and Michelle agrees.

Noting that Aaron feels very comfortable when there's yelling, screaming and conflict, Dr. Phil asks, "How do you do on other emotions?"

"I don't. I don't have those emotions," he says. "I don't cry. I don't show loving feelings. I hug and kiss her, it's just, they
don't exist in me." He explains that he is acting the way others acted toward him when he was growing up.

"My theory is that people turn to anger and aggression when they run out of socially acceptable ways to express themselves. It's like, 'I'm in a situation where I don't know what to do here. I'm not comfortable with this. I don't know how to be empathetic, tender, vulnerable or take criticism,'" Dr. Phil explains. "Isn't it true that you're doing just what you know how to do?"

"I'm not in any way excusing what you're doing. That absolutely, in my view, is a deal breaker. It has to absolutely, unequivocally stop," Dr. Phil makes clear. "The way for it to stop is not to shame you and point fingers at you and make you out to be a bad person. The way for it to stop is to expand your vocabulary, expand your emotions, expand your ability to deal in the emotional situation with ways you don't know how to do. You can learn, but you have to be willing to do that."Dr. Phil acknowledges that he doesn't think Aaron is a bad person. "I think you are lonely. I think you are oftentimes afraid, and I think
you wish you knew what to do different."

"There are ways to get past this. There are ways to learn. It's not about punishing you, not about putting you in jail, it's not about shaming you, it's not about making you feel bad about yourself," Dr. Phil tells Aaron. "In fact, it's about you deciding, 'I am the husband here. I am going to be the hero here. I am going to deliver us from this bad situation. And if that takes me learning, if it takes me learning how to cry, if it takes me learning how to express myself, if it takes me learning how to deal with my fears and anxieties, then I'm willing to do it. Because I need it for me and I need it for us.' But you've got to be willing to do it."Dr. Phil emphasizes that this is not Michelle's fault, but she does have a role in the situation. "You do have to be responsible for your choices and what you do and what you expose yourself to," he says. "One of the things I am so worried about with you, is that it seems like you have started to lose your place in all of this and started to almost regard it as normal or just kind of the
way that people live, and then you get into a pattern where you actually do things that you predict trigger the violence and abuse."

"Correct," Michelle replies. "I don't know if it's consciously doing that, but I definitely am doing it."

"You have to make a decision here to be responsible to yourself. You have to be your own best friend. You have to be your own protector here. You have to recognize that you're part of this cycle as well, and you need to break the cycle," Dr. Phil tells her. "You can't be the victim here. That's the worst possible role you can take. You have to protect yourself and defend yourself and value yourself. You have to have a personal truth that says, 'I deserve better than this and I will not take this anymore.'" Dr. Phil warns that women should not get in the face of their abuser and say, 'I'm not going to take this anymore,' because an abuser will not react well to that. "The idea is that you make these resolves within yourself and start taking the necessary steps to do what you have to do to protect yourself. It begins with you deciding what you're willing to take and what you're not," he explains.Dr. Phil asks Michelle if she understands that the abuse is not her fault.

"Yes and no," Michelle says, explaining that everything she reads says that this isn't her fault, but she realizes what she does
pushes Aaron to go there.

"You understand that if you left Aaron and you took your current mindset that is marked by blame and guilt and shame and low self-esteem, that you would very likely go define another relationship in a similar fashion or accept similar behavior from another person," Dr. Phil points out.

Michelle says she understands that. "One of my biggest fears is that it's so easy for other people and women in my life to say, 'Just get up and go.' 'Just leave,' but that doesn't fix my problem," she says.

"You have to be willing to get your feet back on the ground and re-learn the fact that you are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect ... that it is not normal to live in fear and be verbally, mentally, emotionally or physically abused," Dr. Phil tells her.

"You need to be empowered. You need to stand up and learn to believe in yourself again and to set the bar higher where you don't take this."Dr. Phil introduces Dr. David Wexler, founder and executive director of the Relationship Training Institute in San Diego, CA,
and author of When Good Men Behave Badly, who has agreed to work with Michelle and Aaron. Dr. Phil asks him where he would start.

Dr. Wexler says there several key steps. "There has to be an absolute, firm contract between the two of you. Specifically with you, Aaron, that, 'I am committed to non-violence.' And from you Michelle that, 'I am committed to being in a relationship in which violence is not acceptable,'" he explains, noting that this has to be agreed upon before they can move forward. "The next step would be to try to really look at what the strengths are in the relationship ... where are the qualities in this man that are tender, that are loving, that really wants something different, and try to build on that and to reward that whenever we see it happening."

Another part is for Aaron to work on his self-talk, so that when enters situations in which he feels uncomfortable, he doesn't automatically become angered. He needs to change his self-talk so that it is more positive and works through the situation more rationally.

Dr. Phil reiterates the importance of stopping the violence now. "You have to make the resolve that if you just have to go run over a hill and scream into a cave, you don't ever lay a hand on this woman in anger or violence again," he says to Aaron.

"We got a deal," Aaron replies.