The Water Torturer…

THE WATER TORTURER [Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?]

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.

Except for the hitting or shoving…THIS describes PA Man perfectly! I HAVE to get this book!

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13 thoughts on “The Water Torturer…

  1. Oh, Lonely, this makes me want to cry. This is my PA man, “Gregory,” too – minus the hitting and shoving, too, of course.

    The whole thing is so profound, but I have to quote the parts that really got to me.

    “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?”

    “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.”

    • “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.”

    In my case the psychological and spiritual effects were very severe, which led to severe physical consequences. This is why I am so disabled. I turned everything inward – all the blame (which he agreed with), all the frustration, everything. This is so wrong. It ought to be a punishable crime. I don’t even want to have to look at him anymore.

    Lundy Bancroft really gets it.

    • Yes, I identified with several of these things also…“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.”
      WOW!!! That is so me!!! My boys will tell me, “Calm down mom, it’ll be ok” when I start getting upset…So I know they think this…. PA Man knows what buttons to push…and push them he does! But I’ve gotten better at staying calm…I don’t want PA Man to get off on ME losing it all the time!

      “How do you seek support from a friend, for example, when you don’t know how to describe what is going wrong?”
      My older sister keeps asking me “What is it that you want from him…do you even know?” And I struggle to answer this!

      I’m not even pushing counseling….I’m at the point that I don’t even care anymore!
      As long as I don’t have to fake it and have sex with him…I feel a lot better!
      I just want to enjoy my life, and as long as PA Man is working and I only see him a few hours a day…I’m happy and content for the most part..
      I can ignore his PA for the most part…it’s not like it’s in my face all the time…and since I’m educating myself more, I know how to protect myself.
      I think what is so destructive for us women is we internalize so much and we try to “fix them”….and now that I’m more aware…I don’t do that anymore, and I feel more peace in my life.

  2. Yes, get the book it describes the abusers very well. The Water Torturer is my abuser, with a bit of Mr. Right thrown in. Slow but steady deterioration of a person’s self with no remorse on their part. This is the book my abuser absolutely hates. He wanted to read it and I let him, but I don’t believe he read all of it or even most of it. When he would mention this book (you read one book and you diagnose me, you got that from that book, etc.), his face showed his anger. He never mentions the book by it’s name or it’s author (that man who wrote that book). I think he may of seen himself in it and couldn’t face up to it, so he takes his anger out on THAT book and THAT man who wrote it.

    I too think it should be punishable for doing this to a person, but my abuser’s judgement will be from God. Thinking of the problems of my marriage throughout the 30+ years and knowing about the water torturer (along with verbal, psychological, emotional abuse), I see things in a different way. I see how he manipulated me and others to get his way and when things went wrong he would twist everything until it was my fault. He’s been gone over a month (divorce is in progress…sigh) and I have my good days and my bad days, but I don’t have him sneering at me. I will confess…I don’t miss him! 🙂

    • Gaining Strength…I’m seeing my husband in a new light….and one I’m not happy with.
      I’ve struggled with calling him an abuser…I mean….I’ve lived with this for almost 30 yrs….what does that say about ME that I didn’t see it?

      Last night we had our older sons birthday dinner….and when my son and his wife left, PA Man disappeared upstairs….and I was left to clean up everything…and when I went upstairs 30 mins later, PA Man asked why I seemed upset…and I told him it would have been nice to have a little help cleaning up!!
      He then tells me that he folded his clothes and put them away because they were on the bed, and now I can go to bed, so he did that to help me out…wasn’t that nice of him??
      I clearly see that he did something “nice” for me…so now how can I be upset with him, right?? Ugh!!

      • “I’ve struggled with calling him an abuser…I mean….I’ve lived with this for almost 30 yrs….what does that say about ME that I didn’t see it? ”

        It says that you believed that marriage is about trust and love. THAT is what it says about you! Who goes into a marriage thinking the one they love will PURPOSELY tear you apart and calmly walk over the tattered remains? Answer: NO ONE in their right mind. So when they tell us that such and such about us is the problem, we change…we change…we change….oh look…who am I? Oh the absolute horror of it.

        What you do now after gaining knowledge is on you, but what happened before this knowledge…all on them. DO NOT pile his abuse on your shoulders and take the blame for it, not even a percentage of it. These are not normal marriages, do not judge your actions based on a normal marriage…it won’t work, you’ll lose. Judge your actions based on the abnormal marriage you have….ahhh that makes more sense.

        Stay strong, there is a rainbow at the end. 😀

    • Gaining, I’m so glad for you that that man is gone. We’re never going to be able to relate to the character of these sick men and the sooner we realize this and learn to accept it, the sooner that we will be counting our blessings and happier life. I know that it’s so difficult to let go of hope and faith but when it comes to these types of people, we must. They is what they is!

      As far as prosecuting them….There will never be a day that it will be possible. Only physical abuse can be proven unless you have video and physical proof. I’ve been taping every single conversation I have with Norman. If there is any chance at all that I can use that to help me, I will.

  3. Thanks for sharing this lonely. I needed to read this today.
    I wanted to tell each of you that while I was cleaning out my file cabinets, I located an old manuscript of mine written back in 2000- actually started in 2000. I sat and read through it and felt so sick to my stomach that I had to put it down. I cried and cried for hours and felt so helpless and afraid. I also found printed emails that I had written to a friend about my abusive marriage and read other emails received by a woman who was helping me at the time. She was the one who introduced me to PA abuse. I also found a letter from my therapist ( also Norman’s) and she had diagnosed him with a dual diagnosis of clinical PA with addiction. Why that didn’t resonate with me at the time, I don’t know. I guess I was looking for something more ‘fixable’. Her diagnosis is accurate but she left our the narcissism and I also know that he’s Borderline.

    As I read the pages, I felt so desperate to come here and write each of you but, I was so upset that I couldn’t. What I want to say to each of you is that when you read the words describing the abusive behaviors and can actually see how our insight evolves and how we learned to cope through the years, it’s truly sickening. I have over 14 years of graphic details in my notes and nothing ever changed for the better. The only thing that changed was my demeanor. In the beginning, I was feisty and energetic and just thought Norman was stupid. As my knowledge increased, I became less feisty and less hopeful that I would ever escape. Reading the details of my abuse is like reading someone else’s tragedy. I can’t believe that I have survived this for so long. I can’t tell you enough how desperate I feel for each of you who are still living this abuse. Please trust me when I tell you that you are too “close to the forest” to see the true essence of this abuse and what it’s done to you. I gained an entirely different perspective from reading my words. It’s like looking in the mirror vs a photograph. The photograph is much more frightening.

    • Exodus, your second paragraph is heart-wrenching. Every word resonates with me. I can’t even find the right adjectives to describe the feelings I have gone through and continue to go through. I do have old journals that I have re-read a few times over recent years. I grieve for “her.” It truly is like reading someone else’s tragedy, like you said. In the first six months of “marriage” I wrote about trying to change even to the point of trying out different personalities in my relationship with him trying to find one that would work. I was already losing myself and trying to “please my husband” by trying to become someone else. Nothing worked.

      It seems like there is a process and a continuum that we are on as we wake up and scales keep falling from our eyes. The light stings. As I listen to the women out here and on another blog, sometimes I can hear the different stages the women are experiencing – the ones ahead, the ones behind. For those a little behind, I feel desperate for them to see things for what they really are and to call the abuse “abuse” and the abuser “abuser.”

      • Yes Seeing, we grieve ‘ for her’ as if she’s someone else- probably because as you say, we lose ourselves along the way. I have a similar reaction when I look at childhood pictures of myself. I feel so afraid for that little girl and for that woman that I was 15 years ago.
        I’m glad that you have kept a journal.

        I think it’s important for us to try our best to save at least one other young lady from this kind of abuse. I think that it would help us to know that we didn’t suffer in vain.

  4. Yes, everyone needs to read Bancroft’s book. He also wrote, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Also excellent and full of very very insightful stuff to get your attention. I too, could not see the forest for the trees. As long as my PA ex and I were together, I just thought he was angry and alcoholic because of a less than perfect childhood (boo-hoo, we all have some part of childhood that messes us up). Bancroft explodes the myths about partner abuse. Now that the ex is gone, I realize he is an abuser. They have their own version of love: it’s love to them if we are doing what they want and meeting their needs. It’s love to them if we are allowing them to control and manipulate us. I was abused in every way and didn’t even know it. Now I can process it all and regain myself. Didn’t even know how much I had changed to adapt to his dysfunction. Everything I”ve read advises taking a year of “relationship rehab” to heal and be loving to ourselves before becoming involved with a new man.

    • Alone, So true, so true. We really don’t know how we’ve changed or adapted. Every once in a blue moon when I was around other people with Norman, my adaptive behaviors would become noticeable to me and I would feel shame. Otherwise, I just lived day to day hoping that a grain of something positive and happy would happen. I learned to settle for less and less happiness until finally, I got none at all. Literally, through the years, the abuse increased from one or two days a week to every day all day long. The more invested and attached they become to the marriage, the more they have to lose and the more they need to destroy what threatens to hurt them. What a way to live.

  5. Just catching up with your blogs, ‘Married’. I was reassured that it is usual to keep experiencing bouts of extreme rage- this is the main issue I’m struggling with, although thankfully now divorced, I am left with the impression from family and old friends that I am the crazy one. I was fussing, blaming or over-reacting to trivialities (don’t forget ‘controlling’ too) as his abuse was always covert and others couldn’t see it. It’s upsetting and frustrating- I’ve started my blog to try to free myself from it psychologically, talking to women who understand the effects of this behaviour over years and years. People are now telling me that I’m a different person and even that I look years younger! The Water Torturer is a perfect name for it. He was not physically abusive except towards the end, when he would ignore the fact that I was in front of a door or in a hallway that he wanted to pass through, and he would simply open the door or walk straight through as though I didn’t exist, barging past me.

  6. Oh my gosh. Reading this literally did something to my brain. It felt like a thump-knock and a moment of being dazed. Lundy Bancroft’s words unlocked my brain and blasted it with truth and understanding. Wow Wow Wow!

    This is my Hyde to a tee. Oh the damage he inflicted in our cyclical arguments where he’d stonewall, I’d plead for him to have a reasoned discussion, he’d stonewall, I’d eventually blow up, and he’d tell me, “I can’t talk with you because you just explode on me.” Crazy-making.

    Lundy’s so accurate about the not being able to voice the abuse (or even recognize it as such).

    I need this book too!

    Thanks for sharing this powerful excerpt!

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