Lundy Bancroft’s ‘The Water Torturer’ Part 1

Along my journey to understanding I was abused, one book has stood out: Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. There were many times reading it when I would gasp, cry out, burst into tears as I read something that rung too true. One section was the most helpful. Bancroft is a counsellor who has worked with abusive men for over a decade and through his experience has distilled the abusive men he has worked with into distinct categories. Abusers can overlap categories, perhaps aspects of two or three will sum your abuser up almost perfectly. For me there was one in particular that caused me to burst into messy tears of relief and anger as I finally found validation that abuse can occur without raised voices, name calling or physical violence. Below is Bancroft’s definition. I would encourage all men and women who have been abused, and anyone interested in abuse, to buy the book.

THE WATER TORTURER

The Water Torturer’s style proves that anger doesn’t cause abuse. He can assault his partner psychologically without even raising his voice. He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push her over the edge. He often has a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. He uses a repertoire of aggressive conversational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision—such as openly laughing at her—mimicking her voice, and cruel, cutting remarks. Like Mr. Right, he tends to take things she has said and twist them beyond recognition to make her appear absurd, perhaps especially in front of other people. He gets to his partner through a slow but steady stream of low-level emotional assaults, and perhaps occasional shoves or other minor acts of violence that don’t generally cause visible injury but may do great psychological harm. He is relentless in his quiet derision and meanness.

The impact on a woman of all these subtle tactics is that either her blood temperature rises to a boil or she feels stupid and inferior, or some combination of the two. In an argument, she may end up yelling in frustration, leaving the room crying, or sinking into silence. The Water Torturer then says, “See, you’re the abusive one, not me. You’re the one who’s yelling and refusing to talk things out rationally. I wasn’t even raising my voice. It’s impossible to reason with you.”

The psychological effects of living with the Water Torturer can be severe. His tactics can be difficult to identify, so they sink in deeply. Women can find it difficult not to blame themselves for their reactions to what their partner does if they don’t even know what to call it. When someone slaps you in the face, you know you’ve been slapped. But when a woman feels psychologically assaulted, with little idea why, after an argument with The Water Torturer, she may turn her frustration inward. How do you seek support from a friend, for example, when you don’t know how to describe what is going wrong?

The Water Torturer tends to genuinely believe that there is nothing unusual about his behavior. When his partner starts to confront him with his abusiveness—which she usually does sooner or later—he looks at her as if she were crazy and says, What the hell are you talking about? I’ve never done anything to you. Friends and relatives who have witnessed the couple’s interactions may back him up. They shake their heads and say to each other, I don’t know what goes on with her. She just explodes at him sometimes, and he’s so low-key. Their children can develop the impression that Mom blows up over nothing. She herself may start to wonder if there is something psychologically wrong with her.

The Water Torturer is payback-oriented like most abusive men, but he may hide it better. If he is physically abusive, his violence may take the form of cold-hearted slaps for your own good or to get you to wake up rather than explosive rage. His moves appear carefully thought out, and he rarely makes obvious mistakes—such as letting his abusiveness show in public—that could turn other people against him or get him in legal trouble.

If you are involved with a Water Torturer, you may struggle for years trying to figure out what is happening. You may feel that you overreact to his behavior and that he isn’t really so bad. But the effects of his control and contempt have crept up on you over the years. If you finally leave him, you may experience intense periods of delayed rage, as you become conscious of how quietly but deathly oppressive he was.

This style of man rarely lasts long in an abuser program unless he has a court order. He is so accustomed to having complete success with his tactics that he can’t tolerate an environment where the counselors recognize and name his maneuvers and don’t let him get away with them. He tends to rapidly decide that his group leaders are as crazy as his partner and heads for the door.

The central attitudes driving the Water Torturer are:

• You are crazy. You fly off the handle over nothing.

• I can easily convince other people that you’re the one who is messed up.

• As long as I’m calm, you can’t call anything I do abusive, no matter how cruel.

• I know exactly how to get under your skin.

So much of this is my experience. Thank you Mr Bancroft for doing the job you do and taking the time compile your knowledge so others may benefit. You helped to save me.

More on this in future posts.

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