The New Age Emotionally Abusive Partner is most prevalent among men who have spent a lot of time in therapy. They wear yoga clothes and often seem to care exceedingly about Mother Earth. They spend time in men’s circles, where they learn to weep and talk about feeling vulnerable. The many expansive and humbling gifts that can be found on the gentle path are not available to them because they do not truly seek these gifts. Instead, they cloak the dominance they crave in the yogic garb of spirituality. In the retreats I hold for women healing from destructive relationships, women involved with New Age Emotionally Abusive Partners are shocked and relieved to know they are not alone. Typical patterns include:


The New Age Emotionally Abusive Partner reserves special privileges for himself out of a belief in his own superiority. A mediator confided in his partner, “Those rules of mediation don’t apply to me; I was born with a gift.” The resources in the family, including time and spending money, are spent on projects, trips and items he feels represent a (his) superior set of values that can not be compromised, so they are not open to true negotiation. These men are good, even great, with apologies and self disclosing explanations. Yet when the guard is down, they will tell you that they don’t actually mean the apology, but that they were doing what was required by you, a being who they consider “lesser.” If you look at the behavior, and the power of choice in a disagreement, the power goes one way: his. These men also feel no requirement to adhere to the principles of honesty. The are liars who feel comfortable with the rationale that there is no “truth” only “perspective,” and so actual patterns of fact can be erased or altered completely. This may sound harsh, until you see it up close. Then it is chilling.

Rules That Reward Him

The New Age Emotionally Abusive Partner often ascribes to very specific preferences for communication. Instead of working to hear what you have to say, he is intent on correcting your method of articulation and detailing how it ultimately and invariably injures him. One woman described how her husband would describe the sexual responsiveness of his beautiful former partner. When she told him she did not want to hear these details, he responded with scandalized disappointment, tears in his eyes, “Is this how you listen to my feelings?!”

Another woman describes how her partner mused aloud, “You know, everyone says how beautiful you are, and I notice that from some angles, I find you repulsive. You see how sick my mind is? I have to work on my ego.” She was astute, so she replied, “You just insulted me while making it seem as though your spiritual awareness takes away the insult, but you still said it.” His answer? “Why do you always shut me out? This is about me, not you! Can’t you support my path?”

He makes up rules such as, “Therapists and friends must not judge,” so that if someone holds him accountable, he can claim an implied covenant (his) was broken, feel wounded, and distance himself from the challenge.

Back To Me

Spiritual principles are often invoked, mixing levels of meaning. For example, one abusive partner was confronted by his wife on his relentlessly controlling behavior. She used so many specifics, and followed the preferred communication practices to a “T”. “My abusiveness is just a projection of your own sick mind!” he shouted at her. In a neat, succinct twist, he both acknowledged the abuse and blamed her for its ultimate cause on a spiritual plane.

For many, there is a plane of meaning on which separation is an illusion and we write our own stories, so to speak. This level of contemplation is meant to dissolve defenses, not to reinforce them. With the New Age Emotionally Abusive Partner, all accountability is erased by these spiritual sleights of hand.

Why does he do this? Because if you follow these practices, you always get things your own way. It is ultimately destructive to all relationship, but the New Age Emotionally Abusive Partner will feel wounded by the ‘terrible women who let him down’, swear to himself that he will never allow himself to be ill-used again, finding the ultimate excuse to consolidate his power.

To you, the partner who has struggled to find the beauty and gentleness in the façade that attracted you to him in the first place: No matter how skillful you are, he will not significantly accept your influence. Small changes will cost you a great deal. You do not have to learn more about these lessons by being partnered to them any longer. Take the experience, and mine it for all the golden insight. And fly away wiser, when you can.

Aimee had a good following on Instagram and Twitter. She had over eight hundred Facebook friends. Her posts were preternaturally upbeat in the abbreviated speak of her classmates, describing many imaginary “totes amaze” days. She described concerts she never attended, and boyfriends she didn’t have as part of an online life of invention, all fabricated, but for that one honest “emo” post where Aimee wrote how she wanted to kill herself.

Aimee was both annoyed and pleased that the post landed her a meeting with the school counselor. She was pleased that anyone read her posts, since she didn’t truly know almost any of her hundreds of “friends and followers”. She was annoyed that the school counselor wanted to talk. The counselor introduced her family to a Therapeutic Mentor for Aimee as part of a team of services. The mentor’s job is to link Aimee to a community of support and connection.
The first thing sixteen year old Aimee said when she opened the door to see her Therapeutic Mentor Maria was, “MOM! She’s OLD!”

Middle aged Maria was undeterred. She discovered that when Aimee was not online, she was teaching herself to knit. Maria did her research. When she walked Aimee into her first knitters meeting, the group leader exclaimed, “MARIA! She’s a BABY!” Of the six women in the knitting group, Aimee was the youngest by sixty years.

Knitting patterns have their own shorthand. There’s “beg” for “beginning”, “sl” for “slipping”, “tog” for “together”, “wyif” for “with yarn in front.”
The group of grandmothers helped Aimee start at the beginning. Together, they encouraged her to join activities at school. They talked about the friendships they’d made and how to keep and care for a good friend, unplugged. They told her the signs of control and abuse to look for in a dating relationship. Aimee talked to them when she began slipping into anxiety and darkness. They made her laugh; they loved her, with yarn in front.

They all fully expect good grades and kind friends and dating partnersfor her. They expect to help her keep both. They expect to stand at her graduation, long after her mentor closes services. Behind those precious pictures of her knitting friends and the things they make, which Aimee will post, will be hundreds of hours of listening, talking, hands reaching over to help unravel and start again.

By JAC Patrissi

Leave A Comment, Written on September 27th, 2015 , relationship, Uncategorized Tags:

Let’s talk about the Non Apology. The Non Apology does not discriminate by age or gender or class or race or physical ability. You can get one in any language, too.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” is the American Classic. It’s the Coca Cola of Non Apologies. The whole world sings that one in perfect harmony.

Once my husband gave me a Classic Coke Non Apology and a smile.

I’m not sure where it came from, but out did it come:

I’m not sorry I feel that way. It is a sign of my emotional wellbeing and good sense. It means I can tell when I’m being disrespected or when my boundary is being crossed. I’m actually glad I feel this way; I’m grateful. I’m thrilled.

I am sorry that you have not apologized for doing what you did.

I am sorry that you acted in a way that was so disrespectful to me and I wish you would apologize for that.”

I wasn’t really talking just to him, but to every Non Apologist I’ve ever heard. I realized I’m also not sorry when I get mad, which is the precursor to the Diet Coke of Non Apologies: ‘I’m sorry you are mad.’ I’m glad my emotional thermometer can register injustice and general douchery.

Husband paused for a moment and then laughed. “That is awesome. You are fantastic,” he said.

“That is beside the point. I’m still mad.”

And then he gave the real apology:

“I’m sorry I did the thing.

I should not have done the thing.

I’m sorry I hurt you by doing the thing.

If I could do it over, I would do the other thing.

And I hope you can forgive me.”

And because we are talking about things that don’t violate a person’s fundamental human rights, things that aren’t repeated endlessly, things that have no contempt in them and that are not destructive, I feel, after a good apology–closer to his humanity, closer to my own and I am not sorry I feel that way.

JAC Patrissi

Leave A Comment, Written on September 18th, 2015 , domestic violence, relationship Tags:

In the opening scene of the film, Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s character prepares his men for battle in the forests of Germania. As he enters the fray, he shouts to his men, “HOLD THE LINE! STAY WITH ME!”

When I work with people leaving abusive or destructive relationships, they are often shocked by the force with which they feel compelled to maintain or reestablish connection with the person who has harmed them. This is no ordinary break up longing. It cannot be attended to with a good movie and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.


Because of the way abusive or destructive relationships work, the person who was harmed is often isolated from other deep and sustaining life connections. This means that loss of the primary romantic relationship represents the loss of the most profound connection the person has, even if it was a damaging one. Often it is the only deep relationship occurring. Friendships and family are opfrequently distant or estranged.

Unmet Need

The survivor of these kinds of relationships has also usually built up a deep well of unfulfilled needs. To leave the relationships without real ongoing connection would mean feeling the depth of the unmet needs, which many survivors do not feel prepared to face. These are the needs for kindness, love, appreciation, sex, tenderness. With distance, the survivor recalls the whole idea that  a relationship is supposed to be good and loving most of the time. It is supposed to make you stronger. Facing that you have not had this and for so very long, is very painful.

The survivor longs for loving connection with the abusive or destructive person above a connection with anyone else. In part, this is because abusive person usually withholds affection or attention within the relationship, often denying the reality of the abuse or minimizing it. Over time, the smallest and often temporary acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the abusive person begins to feel precious. A period of apparent peace, bought at the cost of the survivor swallowing or softening the truth, seems worth the price. The survivor wants acknowledgment, longs for respectful connection, even after leaving, in part because loving connection has been so hard to come by, so fleeting, especially from this person who meant so much.

Making Things Right

The survivor wants the abusive person to be the person who makes things right. You want the person who hurt you to do the apologizing. Survivors hope that if they maintain connection, that someday the abusive person will be able to see what they have done and to provide the much longed for acknowledgment. The sad truth is that the acknowledgement you seek most likely won’t be coming. And even if it is coming, it isn’t going to come as soon as you break up, and it won’t mend the harm on its own. The damage done by the relationship is still yours to nurse.

Sharpening the Intensity

If the survivor has a family of origin that was unsupportive or hurtful, this longing for reconnection to the abusive person can feel intensely compelling, nearly beyond description. When you leave an abusive relationship, a window into your own profound needs for a family is opened. By truly separating, survivors feel like they are rejecting the chance at having a real, loving family, a thing that they have longed for their whole lives. You are not rejecting that chance! By leaving a destructive relationship, you are opening the path to that chance.

What to do?

Establish a boundary. Get help with establishing it. Every time you wan to write or text or call, or stop by, call your helping people.

Grieve. You are in grief. You must respect the many losses you are sustaining. Grieve your isolation, as you work to fill your life with new connection. Grieve your unmet needs. Grieve the loos of having things made right the way you wanted it all to happen. Grieve the deeper wounds that may be there. Honor your soul through the process of grief. Find help for this integrative process.

Use your spiritual tools. Call in friends and new connections. Ask them to help you find the line. Ask them to encourage you, to call to you across the chasm of your grief:

Hold the line! Stay with me!

JAC Patrissi


I know I’m behind the times, but I just saw the movie Foxcatcher, the one that was up for all those Academy Awards.

It was great to see two men playing out just what an abusive relationship is like. They weren’t romantically involved, but the same dynamics were at play. Steve Carell plays the wealthy John du Pont. In the film, John invites the Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz to move to his estate so that he can help him prepare for the Olympics.

John has all the power and all the money. He appears to be an incredibly generous guy who just wants to help Mark achieve his goals. That’s exactly how an abusive relationship starts, with the abusive person posing as  selfless and supportive. I wasn’t surprised when, eventually, John introduced Mark to cocaine, isolated Mark from his brother, encouraged Mark not to work out, then  slapped him and humiliated him in front of the rest of the team, telling him that he never should have supported him in the first place.

That’s how it goes. Once you are depending entirely on the abusive person as your whole support, once you are isolated from your family and friends, the abuser undermines you and then humiliates you, blaming you the whole time for being a disappointment.

In the movie, John talks about Mark as having “psychological problems,” right in front of him, as though he were not even there. Abusive partners smear the psychological credibility of the survivor. What’s most acutely painful is that Mark’s self concept had begun to erode–it was this erosion that John exploited, even as he was the catalyst for John’s deterioration.

John wanted to own Mark—he wanted to own a trophy Olympic athlete that would make him look good. Abusive people feel a sense of ownership over their partners; it’s the underlying theme that enables them to do anything they feel is justified to act out that ownership.

When John couldn’t use the same manipulations successfully on Mark’s brother, Dave, also an Olympic gold medal wrestler, John shot Dave.

I wasn’t surprised. That’s exactly how domestic violence works. The abuser only uses the amount of force necessary to control the survivor. And often, physical abuse isn’t needed to get the job done; manipulation, isolation and psychological abuse work just fine. But when those tools fail, the abuser doesn’t hesitate to use force. And, he doesn’t hesitate to use deadly force over the object he’s lost control of. That’s when it’s most dangerous for a survivor—when the abusive person figures out they don’t control you, they don’t own you, after all. ”

It isn’t unusual for me to hear women I work with describe how it is that their partner used verbal abuse, intimidation and lesser acts of violence to get what they want. This is often followed by sexual assault or a near deadly escalation once the women move to separate for good.

The film noted that John du Pont made legal claim to being mentally ill. Whatever else he struggled with, it isn’t an illness to plan to use force when you don’t get what you want. It’s abuse.



Leave A Comment, Written on August 31st, 2015 , domestic violence, relationship Tags:

I used to work primarily with women who were trying to decide if they should leave their relationship. They’d read my book, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” come to my women’s weekend retreats, and somewhere in there, for a minute or two, each woman would really, really want me to tell her whether she should get a divorce or not. I would strive to be open and fair, but always respect that the final decision belonged to her. “You might not be finished and that’s okay. I’m not the Divorce Lady!” I’d say. And then a couple of ago, The Omega Institute asked me to help put on divorce conferences.

Now I’m the Divorce Lady.

The Relationship Just Didn’t Work Out or It Was Destructive

If you are seriously contemplating getting a divorce, you need to know what is coming. For your own sanity, safety and your future planning, you need to know who you are divorcing. The options for repairing a relationship and for divorcing from one are very different depending upon who your partner is.

There are two main categories of relationship demise: 1) Didn’t Work Out and 2) Destructive. Where does your relationship fall?

In the Didn’t Work Out category, you have relationships where skills and values become your primary concern. Were you skilled communicators? Were you self aware? Did you have compatible values? Do you wound one another repeatedly? Is the relationship painful most of the time or loving most of the time? When it doesn’t work out, you will experience pain and grief. You will also have significant options for the divorce process. You can explore a range of mediation options and custody options if you have kids. It’s not easy, but you will have less to navigate than your divorce comrades working through the aftermath Destructive Relationship.

In the Destructive Relationship,

ü  Your partner might be addicted to a substance or to a behavior, like gambling. This isn’t necessarily abusive behavior, but, unchecked, it can destroy a relationship no matter how hard the not- addicted partner tries.

ü  Your partner might be Chronically Immature. This also is not necessarily abusive, but being the “parent” to your partner who can never quite care for him or herself will erode the relationship.

ü  Your partner might be a bully who uses fear, intimidation, sexual coercion and other violence to get what he or she wants.

ü  Your partner might have unresolved mental health needs, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of the Personality Disorders or Major Depression.

And, most challenging, your partner might have a toxic mix of the Destructive options outlined above. This makes for a Perfect Storm of a relationship and it means you have to proceed with caution while navigating a divorce!

Learn more about Destructive Relationships before you weigh out your divorce options. Your wisest options are planned knowing exactly who you are divorcing.

JAC Patrissi



These were the only the people Darcy could really talk to. She knew that when she told them how she moved back in with Tomas after he’d been released from prison for the assault on her, that they’d ‘get it.’ They would know how she felt. The other members of the domestic violence support group understood how she was feeling.

The court had put Tomas on a ‘bracelet’ that tracked his movements. If he hurt Darcy, he would definitely go back to prison, where he did not want to go. It was the first time Darcy had felt this kind of protection.

When Darcy had called the police on him two years ago, she was the one that ended up in trouble. Tomas had convinced the cops that she’d pushed him and they arrested her, instead. She did not call for a long time after that. The second time she’d called, Tomas did get arrested, but the Assistant District Attorney told her that they wouldn’t go forward without her testimony. It was all up to her alone. Tomas’ mother and brother and friends came over every day to plead with her not to ruin his life. She could not do that to him. She did not want to hurt him. She just wanted him to stop hurting her, so told the ADA she did not want to go forward. Tomas was furious with her for ‘getting him in trouble’ anyway.

The next time the police came, it was because the neighbors had seen him attacking her. There was the hospital record of her broken ribs and the marks from the strangulation. The evidence was stronger, but still, the ADA told her it was all up to her.  Darcy did not visit him in jail, but he called her. It sounded terrible in there.

Darcy thought about this: if she had told any of her friends that, for example, her brother had hit her, but that she still loved her brother, her friends would understand this. But when she told her friends that her boyfriend had hit her, but she still loved her boyfriend, her friends thought she was ‘sick.’

It was when he was in jail that Darcy started going to the domestic violence support group. The group was the only really emotionally safe place for her. The group members understood. They wanted her to be safe. They wanted her to understand that she could not change him, and that it was not her fault that he hurt her, but they also understood that of course, she loved him, too.

The group members also knew what it felt like for Darcy to move back in with Tomas when he came out on his tracking bracelet. The first time he started talking at her with that menacing tone, Darcy did not cower. She did not shrink into the corner. She stood up and told him she wasn’t afraid anymore. She had to stand on the tongue in the mouth of the lion and tell him that he couldn’t bit her anymore.

Maybe no one outside the group would understand what it felt like to take your power back in that way, but she felt she had to do it. The group members told her that she didn’t need to stand up to him in person. She could have stood up to him inside her head. She didn’t need to live with him. But they didn’t judge her when she did choose to live with him.

Darcy called the police when he shoved her around two weeks later and he went right back to jail, just as they’d promised. She was glad she’d tried this one last time. She was glad she’d stood up. And she was glad her  group had stood by her.

by JAC Patrissi



Leave A Comment, Written on April 27th, 2015 , Grieving and Leaving Tags:

For many years, part of my work has been listening to people’s stories. As I listen and respond, I have grown. Over time, my training has expanded so that I’ve heard more and different kinds of stories, and the way I hear them has changed.

Some years ago, a boy had a glorious week of safety and loving predictability in a volunteer foster home, but then his aunt took him out for a burger and never came back.

It was legal for her to do so, but I felt the small building blocks of hope crumble inside of him. He was eight; he’d had a chance. But instead, his guardian took him back to her home, a place just marginal enough to keep protective eyes out, just steel guarded enough to keep them both from getting the things that might have helped.

Now set the new trajectory—we’d see him in detention in a few years. We’d see him enraged and unreached, and I couldn’t stop it. I put my head on my desk and I all-the-way cried that day. I could only send after him a blessing that I could feel he could not accept. He didn’t want blessings—he wanted a secure, sane year or two to shore him up and set things right.

It’s always been easy for me to find a sense of ‘we’ with other people. When one of my best friends went to law school years ago, we spent so much time working through the struggles together, that even though I would never go to law school, we talk about ‘when we went to law school.’ I get happy when other people succeed, even when I have nothing to do with supporting it. I feel kind of part of it all, even just as a witness, from a distance.

I’ve noticed this year that when I am witness to a story, or helping someone weaving their pieces into a story, that I have a much more profound sense of ‘we.’

I’d never say it in words out loud, but I feel something like this, “Oh, yes, when we lost our kids to DCF, when we killed that man, when we broke into that house, when we drove our sister drunk and smashed into the tractor trailer—we lived and she didn’t…”

I want to convey this right—I am not disturbed by this experience, and I don’t imagine that I actually had those experiences- -I just don’t feel separate from them at all. I feel as though I am becoming part of the array of everything people do, good and bad, and I am part of finding our way back from them.

Because no matter how much we imagine we are alone and singular, we come back to ourselves together, as a ‘we.’


Leave A Comment, Written on March 20th, 2015 , children and violence, relationship

I’m going to totally ruin my kids in some of the ways I was ruined and I’m doing it on purpose.
I actually said aloud in the theatre so many years ago, “She’s a PROSTITUTE? This movie is about sexual enslavement gets a bubble bath?” I was hissed at. I left in a kerfluffle, and Julia Roberts became famous anyway in her break out hit as a Pretty Woman.

I had already groaned my way through that little culminating rapey scene at the end of Revenge of the Nerds where he disguises himself as someone else while she has sex with him and then takes off his costume but it is all okay because he was good at sex.

I just kind of gave up on popular film after awhile. I was ruined for it, by a mom who’d stand in front of those precious tv minutes and exhort us to think about what kind of deal I Dream of Genie really had in that bottle.

So I didn’t even think of watching 50 Shades of Lacking Consent and I’m not going to participate.

But I’m going to participate in other ways–like noticing how the “freedom” to show your mons pubis has outstripped the right to public breastfeeding. I’m going to be that constant critique running in the back of their heads about respect and power and humanity. 50 times 5,000 shades of that ought to ruin my kids just fine.

Leave A Comment, Written on February 17th, 2015 , 50 Shades of Grey, Sexual violence

For about seventeen years, I’ve been telling my husband that I won’t go out with him, retrospectively. He grew up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and I grew up in a Long Island suburb. I spent my twenties in different countries as he ended each day running up and down the spines of the hills, even in the pitch of a new moon. We met after I’d been in Vermont for three years. I was thirty-one and he was twenty-nine.

Every year, near Valentine’s Day, he brings up the idea that he wishes we’d grown up together, dated in high school, and stayed together. These are usually very short conversations, where I say, “I never would have even talked to you; I was too busy reading hermeneutics and striving to see the meaning of life as reflected in the Book of Job.” I’m not a look-back, what-if kind of person. Everything fits in its own secret way.

Naturally athletic and ridiculously strong, he’d run at my old high school’s track during holiday visits home. He’d see the kids practicing and come back to Dad’s house, marveling at how much he would have loved to have gone to a high school with so many sports teams. Fewer sprints up the side of the barn avoiding an angry bull, fewer cow births and more tackles would have suited him just fine.

Over the years, and especially with Facebook, he’s come to know my hometown people. Jane, who made me laugh myself sick in third grade, Liz and Susan, how I cried for weeks when I lost Liz as my best friend. Gina and Jackie. Matt, Michael and Artie.

He brought up the topic again this year, but this time, when I said, “I would never have gone out with you,” he hopped up the barn wall and kept talking.

“But why do you always say that? Sure you would have.”

“I was so intense, not happy like I am now.”

“I bet you were happy, too. I was intense,” he said.

“We wouldn’t have been in any of the same classes. I was all ‘XX’ and you didn’t like school.”

“I loved to read,” he said.

“We’d have broken up!”

“I would have got you back.”

“I got fat back then!”

“I saw your pictures!” He smiles and raises his eyebrows approvingly. I made a mental note.

“I was so…needy.”

“It would have been good for me to learn to give more. And I was needy, too.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I faltered, “but when I was in relationship, I…knocked people off their balance…”

“Have you ever seen me knocked off my balance?” This was his signature gift. I didn’t say anything and he hopped lightly off the wall and back into our routine.

I took his thought for a ski out back today.

For Valentine’s this year, I will ask him to sit next to me in second grade. I will invite him to the ninth grade dinner dance. I will watch him run over people as I write and dance in high school. I will write him a letter, asking him to visit me in Kathmandu after college, and he will come. We will break up, even, and then he will find me again, on that dirt road where I will notice that there is no place else I want to be.


Leave A Comment, Written on February 9th, 2015 , relationship, Valentine's Day

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JAC Patrissi is a Communications Specialist who uses writing, performance art, training and collaborative facilitation in order to support healing for women who are questioning the health of their relationships or who are healing from destructive relationships. This is her blog.