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Ask Surly Amy: Frustrated Abusive Relationship

Ask Surly Amy

Dearly Surly Amy,

About one year ago I met a woman online. We became fond of each other and started what, even if we never met in person, has every right to be called a relationship. She wasn’t single. The man knew about me and didn’t mind; they had an “open relationship.” Eventually I learned that he used to beat her. She used to say she had nowhere to go, but that I was her escape. I finally got her to leave him. It was tough for her at first, but I did everything I could to help. Things paid off: she got a job and a house. She was proud of herself and had plans for the future. And then she gave up all that and came back with him. Because she wanted to. All this happened TWICE.

I am very angry now. I feel she trashed everything I gave her, and will do so every time. I decided I’ll not stay around to see her ruin her life. My question is: She’s smart. She’s educated. She realized their relationship was sick. Why does she keep doing this?

~Finally Frustrated

I have to start this out by stating something that may or may not be obvious to others but should be. It is never okay to be in an abusive relationship. Never. Domestic violence is not something that should be tolerated. If indeed this woman is being abused please let her know that even if (and I’m sorry to be harsh here) but even if she does not want to be with you original poster she shouldn’t be with an abusive partner either. I do not know what city or what country you are from but there are many local women’s shelters and safe houses set up across the United States to help people in just her situation.

She needs professional help.

Here is a short list of some online resources:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Website link or 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
Help Guide.org
Links to Crisis Hotlines Here

If anyone is familiar with other valuable resources in their area please add them into the comments.

Now to return to Finally Frustrated’s question, “Why does she keep doing this?”

There are many reasons why people get caught in cycles of physical and psychological abuse and there are just as many reasons why people make bad decisions in relationships. There is absolutely no way, with what limited information we have, to determine the answer to that question. I’m very sorry that you feel like you were taken advantage of in some way in this relationship and I am sorry that I can’t give you a definitive answer but what is much more important here is for that woman to know that she has options whether or not you are one of them. It might also be good for you to speak with a professional therapist about your situation. Often the pain of abuse can spread far beyond the specific person being abused and talking to a therapist might help you come to terms with the feelings of frustration you have. Some of the information in the above links may prove helpful for you as well as for her.

Thanks for writing in. I hope you both find a peaceful existence and can eventually find your own personal happiness.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Everything you said seems right on to me.
    One thing I’d like to add is that most women who leave abusive relationships leave a BUNCH of times and go back before they leave for good. I think the statistic I learned when I was training to work with women in crisis was that most women leave eight times.
    As a frustrated and confused bystander, you might find it helpful to think of leaving this time as a step in the process of leaving for good. It’s not easy to watch someone do something that seems totally irrational. But just because she went back (or went back again, and again), that doesn’t mean she isn’t trying to get out of the situation. It’s important that we have compassion for the victims of domestic violence, even if we abhor their actions in the moment.

  2. As a domestic violence survivor, I’d like to chime in that all the help in the world won’t matter if she isn’t ready to put all the hard work it takes to fix the underlying reasons of why she keeps going back. I went through two abusive marriages, leaving one and falling right into another. The common thread was that these men treated me the way I was *used* to being treated growing up. The patterns of behavior I grew up with were the ones I felt most comfortable continuing. Same old roles. I decided that enough was enough the spring of ’09 when my husband attacked our two year old during a cocaine-fueled manic episode. I tried to get help from my parents, but that didn’t work out well. It took months to get the help and support I needed to escape and it took (and still at times takes) every ounce of strength. If it wasn’t for my daughter, I would have probably given up and returned to the same old shit. In the end, I’m still dealing with emotional attacks even though I have a protective order. Two weeks ago he threatened to come back and get his daughter….so I was back in the loop of filing reports and talking to lawyers. As my lawyer once told me, my ex is a lifelong condition that will flare up repeatedly over the years… like herpes.

    I am completely estranged from my family after they spoke in support of my abuser at his appeal hearing and threatened to have my daughter taken from me. They still contact me from time to time and basically apologize for me being such a jerk and tell me we should go back to pretending everything is ok. My ex still tries to use them to attack me. Even after we escape, our social lives can be a minefield with the power to hurt us. I have a hard time faulting a person who would rather live in denial and optimism rather than face the hard road I have. It sucks even with the right people there to support you.

    Here are some resources I used in Austin:

    The interesting thing about protective orders here is that the person protected is also punishable if he or she violates the order. AND, if he or she asks to have it removed, he or she has to complete some type of DV program first.

    I’m on FB if anyone dealing with dv or mental illness in a partner needs support. Gotta say, Skepchick friends helped me through some of my dark days.

  3. Well said, Amy. I also think it would be in this woman’s best interest to report the situation to the authorities. Many abuse victims are so mentally trapped, they can’t see clearly and seek help for themselves. Even if she never spoke to you again, it might be worth it for her safety.

  4. As Surly Amy said, there are dozens of reasons that people have a hard time leaving abusers. But I’d like to add one more from my own experience that I don’t see mentioned very often. It’s very hard to accept that someone doesn’t love you. Nobody wants to believe that their parent or spouse genuinely does not love them. Everyone wants to believe that the abuser is willing to change out of love. So when the abuser claims that things will be different if you just give them one more chance, who wouldn’t want to believe it? My father has been psychologically abusive and it took me years to break off all contact with him. Even now it’s hard for me to think about, and to admit to myself that he doesn’t actually love me. Sure, he doesn’t love anyone but himself and it’s not my fault, but really, who wants to admit their own father does not love them?

  5. It is really difficult to explain to people why abusers stay. I managed to leave an abusive marriage a few years ago, and it was tough. Months after, while I was recovering, I managed to earn certification to do peer counseling, conduct group sessions with victims and assist at the local shelter. The whole process not only helped me heal, but along with studies in psychology, gave me important insights on what goes on in these relationships that lead to so many people going back.

    First, I’ll mention fear. Fear is one of the biggest motivators for women staying in abusive relationships. Imagine a teeter-totter. One end holds the fear of staying, where constant abuse will not only continue, but will also likely increase in frequency and intensity. On the other end, there is the fear of leaving, where uncertainty prevails and where the danger of your abusive partner stalking you and becoming more violent continues. Neither end of this teeter-totter seems like a pleasant place to be, so if you want to sit on one side and touch your toes to the ground, you end up constantly trying to decide, within your relationship, which side you prefer. When someone wants to leave their abusive partner, the fear of staying has to become greater than the fear of leaving. This doesn’t remove the risks from leaving, though. In serious abusive situations, leaving is the most precarious time, and most abuse victims are very aware of this. More spousal homicides are linked to abuse than any other reason and, of those, most happen when the victim is in the process of or has left their partner.

    Another reason that many return to their partner is love. I do have to disagree, though, for the sake of honesty, with catgirl. Just because someone is an abuser, doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It hurts to know that, yes, but it is true. The problem is that the person doesn’t know how to behave when their love is also coupled with emotional troubles. When someone loves you, they seem like they’re telling the truth when they promise change, and they often really believe what they’re saying, but abusers rarely change. Even when abusers do change, they usually can’t change how they treat people they’ve abused in the past because they’ve conditioned themselves to automatically react a certain way to that person. As a result, many people who have stopped abusive behaviors have partners who have not ever seen the problematic behavior.

    Economic reasons are frequently cited in abusive relationships, but there is some reason to believe that could be a reaction to economic abuse, so it is unclear if their fear is a legitimate concern or if it is the conditioning they’ve acquired from the abuse or if it is a combination of those factors. When I volunteered for DVS, women who stuck with the programs we helped put them on often were successful in finding jobs to suit their needs and, even when they returned to their abusers (which was usually a very sad moment for all of those who helped them), their jobs were frequently secure up until that point. (I’d really like to see more research done on that).

    Leaving abuse is a tough thing to do, so I hope the person asking the question doesn’t abandon his friend, entirely. Instead, another solution is to keep a safe distance while letting her know that he’s there if she needs him. Be prepared with local resources, including domestic violence hotline numbers, contact information for local shelters and anyplace that gives out food and supplies for the needy. Having to make a hasty exit is much easier if the person has access to fill their immediate needs.

    Also, it would be wise for him to keep a list of things for her to do if she wants to make an exit plan. This plan can be in place, no matter what, so that she can get to safety, even if she can’t quite leave just yet. Things she should pack for her exit plan are:

    1) Enough clothes for her to last 3 days. If there are children, get 4 days worth of clothes, if possible. Extra shoes, an extra coat and/or jacket.

    2) Any important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, banking information and/or bank cards and a credit card.

    3) Extra cash, whatever she can get together without her partner noticing.

    4) Extra keys to her car and house.

    5) Any medications she’s taking (or that her children are taking, if she has them). This includes birth control. Even though she’s leaving her significant other and may not plan on having sex, she shouldn’t muck up her hormones in the process and there’s always risk that she could trip on some sex, somewhere.

    6) Hygiene supplies.

    7) Snacks (enough to have a couple snacks for her and, if she has them, her kids).

    8) Any evidence that the person is abusive. Pictures of bruises with dates or medical records showing the consequences of his abuse, and/or any written threats he has made, times and dates when the police have been notified, etc. These help if she decides to file a restraining order.

    9) A list of important phone numbers, such as doctors, dentists, her bank, work numbers and one or two close, reliable friends.

    If possible, get as many things from that list into a bag that can be hidden. It is best if the bag is kept with a trustworthy friend, so that the abuser doesn’t find it. If that’s not possible, have her hide it as best as she can.

    She also needs to have her own to-do list, kept with a friend, so that when she’s ready to go, she can be prepared. Things like letting her boss know that she’s moving, changing her address with her doctor and the post office, etc. It is also important for her to not tell all of her friends, for a while. Only those who she needs for support and help should know. There is always a risk for a friend unwittingly putting her in danger.

    It is important to assume that someone leaving an abusive relationship is going to be leaving in a hurry, so keeping lists can become vital. I’ve known women to do things ranging from bringing absolutely nothing with them to a woman who packed up a couple hundred shoes because she didn’t want to leave them behind (she happened to be in labor, as well).

    Also, for those with friends or loved ones in an abusive situation, there are important things for you to follow as well. For one, don’t confront the abuser yourself unless there is immediate danger. Often times, situations where someone confronts an abuser adds stress to the abusers day which they then take out on the abuse victim. That’s not helpful. Instead, report behavior to the authorities, if you can, and get information to the victim to help them get out.

    If you really, really want to go out of your way to be helpful, keep extra supplies on hand for your friend. Set them aside, somewhere, and let your friend know that if they ever do decide to leave, that you have things to help them along. Extra food, hygiene supplies, etc. are all things that they will need.

    Sometimes, a victim isn’t ready to leave. While this is heart-breaking, it is often good to just make yourself available to talk to. Be understanding and listen and let them know your concerns. Being an abuse victim is very isolating. It is tough enough when your husband or boyfriend is keeping you from your friends because of his desire for control and his desire to hide his bad behavior, it is even worse when your friends vanish as well.

    I hope this helps!

  6. @Sophie Hirschfeld. COTW!

    Thank you for putting it all so clearly.
    I have never being in an abusive relationship myself, thank the gods, but I have had a few opportunities to help female friends who were over the years.

    @Finally Frustrated: You might be a crucial piece of the puzzle to bring your friend out of her miserable situation, and help her find a safer way of life. But, as Amy has pointed out, you might not necessarily be the person your friend will end up with. It’s easy to say it from the outside, of course, and rather painful to live this. But you should really try to find a way to point out to her that your help is with no strings attached. She has to know that whatever she needs from you, you will give her, even though you might have wanted for something more/different.
    She is a woman in dire need of help. You might be her only hope to find some way out.

    For a man there are difficult times when you have to lie still side by side with a woman you desire, but she only wants you there for the warmth and the sense of comfort you bring her.
    But that’s, obviously, many many times easier than being a woman who is in such a difficult situation.

    Please don’t give up on her.

  7. Original poster here. I’m very happy I wrote in asking for advice and didn’t just follow my gut instinct. It pays to be a skeptic! Just wanted to say thank you, Amy, and thank you everyone who commented, too. Some of your remarks and links are about things I “knew,” in the sense I was able to recite most of them, but only now I’m starting to understand. Thank you, awesome people. In situations like this it’s very easy to do stupid things, and you all stopped me from doing something very, very stupid. This is why I loves me my skepchicks!

    And @Sophie Hirschfeld: you rock. Your comment might be the most helpful of all.

  8. As a man, I’m thoroughly befuddled. Here I am, a decent guy who would never use physical (or any other kind of) violence against a woman unless my life was at stake, and I remain stubbornly unable to get a date (I’m not a model but I’m not repulsive either). Meanwhile abusers like the guy described in the article flit easily from partner to partner with no difficulty finding women.

    Man: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” ::demonstrates::
    Doctor: “Don’t do that.”

    Maybe I’m dumber than I think I am, but I cannot understand why some women seem to seek out guys who will go on to abuse them. I understand the bit about repeating patterns learned in youth, but surely any rational individual should stop doing things that result in getting hurt, right?

    I must be missing something obvious, but what?

  9. @Palaverer: My initial reaction reading this was existential despair. How can people be so awful to each other and how can people accept it and enable it? But there is hope, and help, and things that can be done, as the later comments here demonstrate.

    I hope if I ever encounter a situation like this (I guess I’ve just been lucky) or if a friend comes to me for help in such a situation, I have the wisdom to know how little I know, and help them get proper help and advice. (My naive advice would have been to tell her “just leave”, but it’s obviously much more complicated and dangerous than that.)

  10. @beerslayerer,

    As much as it sucks to not get a date when you’d like one, your situation in lacking a date has nothing to do with women in this situation. It isn’t that this guy could necessarily get a date on demand. In fact, jerks often have as tough a time as non-jerks in getting a date, that’s partly why they cling to those they abuse and try to control them.

    Secondly, when people enter into an abusive relationship, they rarely know it will be abusive. By the time they find something is wrong, it is often already difficult to escape. Most people with aggressive tendencies are capable of hiding it for a while because they’re aware that it is a problem. Eventually, though, unless they find a way to get rid of the bad behavior, it comes out, even if it is slowly.

    when a decision for an abuse victim seems to be to stay and be beaten or leave and be beaten worse, it isn’t difficult to see why they stay in their situation. There is danger with each of their options, but they see the safer option as being the one where they stay and avoid triggering an escalation of the problem.

    Please, for the sake of anyone who might get stuck in a situation like this, don’t imply that they are irrational for being stuck in it. There are many things that might land them in their situation and there are many reasons why they might stay. It is often a feat of strength for a person to get out of such a precarious place.

  11. Sophie wrote: “Please, for the sake of anyone who might get stuck in a situation like this, don’t imply that they are irrational for being stuck in it. There are many things that might land them in their situation and there are many reasons why they might stay. It is often a feat of strength for a person to get out of such a precarious place.”

    A typical scenario for this involves some kind of oppressive milieu where the relationship started (it can be a foreign country where a woman is almost always in some kind of abusive relation with men, her father, her brothers, her husband).

    Then the circumstances change: they move to a more civilized country, and the woman discovers that here women are not supposed to take this kind of shit.

    That’s fine. But here begin the many “but’s”.

    “I have always loved this man, and he does love me; in fact, he is jelous because he loves me, and so on”.

    “We left X because it was so bad; how can I abandon him here, where we are subjected to racist slurs, or worse”.

    “What will my family think of me, if I do this? That I have become a slut?”

    “What will I think of myself if I do this? That I am a heartless and selfish bitch?”

    “There is a man who likes me and shows me affection and friendliness. Is this the reason I’m splitting with my long-time husband? Am I just looking for someone else? Isn’t then my husband right to mistrust me?”

    This goes on endlessly. You may replace “country” with “state” or “region” or “religious sect” or whatever, because in the end, it takes really very little to build the kind of walls that become a prison of the mind.

    Breaking out of there is very difficult. The more the man is an abusive and violent SOB, the harder it gets. If there are children, and little ones, the nightmare grows and grows.

    I suppose somewhere we will be able to find some reasonable evolutionary explanation for some (or all) of this. But this does not mean anything when in front of you sits a lovely woman half sobbing, and hurt in her dignity because of that, who is trying to get your help.

    Usually we men are not particularly helpful. I think that “Frustrated No More” has been good for this specific woman, because he brought this situation to a community where he thought he might get some advice, and really, he might be the only link that she has, that may lead her to find the support she needs.

    You know what a woman might be told by religious “helpers”, it goes from “this is your lot in life, pray”, to “in a previous life you have been bad and you are now suffering to repay for your sins” and more BS in between.

    There are decent helpers who are religious, but only people who think that this life is the only one we have (“no hell below us”, “above us only sky”) can truly give you all the support that is required.

  12. @exarch :)

    I married my mother, or rather, a version of her.

    When under stress she will become emotionally belittling, she will seek out your opinion only to dismiss it, she accuses you of having no “common sense” (read: thinking like she does), she will not except that she may be wrong about something and hates when said wrongness is pointed out; plus there is constant yelling.

    I thought I was the only one to see the similarity but my aunt told me that the whole family has noticed the behavioral likeless and has comented on it to each other. I feel my wife realises it too because, while she tollerates my mother, she can’t stand to be compared to her. I am doing everything I can think off to break this pattern and am trying to teach my daughter, by example, to treat other people’s thoughts and beliefs as important to them even when you disagree with them.

    Before anyone points it out; I do not believe I am perfect. I am a supreme smart-ass (better than being a dumb-ass), I can be argumentative and stubborn, and I tend to become moody and withdrawn easily.

    I wish I could convey this all to my wife, but it would only piss her off.

    But all that is small potatoes compared to the situation that the origianal poster’s friend is in. So. Carry on.

  13. @mrmisconception,

    Emotional abuse is still abuse and while it is your right to decide what you will tolerate, that won’t change how her behavior affects you. I encourage you to think carefully about the long term effects of her behavior toward you and your daughter.

    Your situation may not be the same, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to think about.

    Best wishes,


  14. @beerslayer: The physiology of this is complicated and is rooted in our deep evolutionary past, a past where our ancestors did crappy things to each other. All of us are descended from humans that reproduced because they did crappy things, things that today we find intellectually unacceptable, but our genes don’t care, and those genes to survive and reproduce when everyone around you is being crappy are still there and still affect how people behave, and still compel some people to do crappy things to other people.

    In many mammalian groups (such as lions), the alpha male mates with females and they bear his cubs so long as he is the alpha male. He remains the alpha male until another male fights him to the death and wins. What the new alpha male does then is kill all the cubs sired by the previous alpha male so the lionesses will come into heat sooner.

    When a woman chooses who to have children with, who should she choose? a man who would never kill any child, even if it was not his, or a man who would kill any child that was not his? I think this is the source of the feelings that some women have that nice guys are “boring” and there is no “chemistry”. Of course not, the nice guy would never kill her children by the asshole, but the asshole who beats the crap out of her would kill any children she has by the nice guy in a heart beat. It is perfectly logical why she would choose the asshole.

    Of course her sons by the asshole will be assholes too, and her daughters by the asshole will be attracted to assholes like their dad.

    I am not blaming any women for who they choose to be the father of their children. It is their choice, and the only person they need to answer to is the child they have with that man. Many are unable to apply logic and reason to what is probably the most important decision they will ever make in their life, they are compelled to use their feelings and not their intellect.

    A heuristic I have mentioned to women as to how they should choose the father of their children, is to think of who they would like their daughter (the daughter they might have) to be attracted to. Do they want their daughter to be attracted to an asshole who beats her? If so, then choose an asshole to be her father. If you want your daughter to be attracted to a nice guy, then pick a nice guy to be her father. Don’t think you can pick an asshole and then change him. It is probably easier to love a nice guy than to change an asshole. This is something that many girls under the age of 20 have a hard time accepting, many women over 30 know it to be true.

    Making the choice about someone else (her yet to be born daughter), provides some emotional distance and perspective that can allow someone to cut through the feelings. This goes for men too, as @mrmisconception: points out.

  15. @daedalus2u: Citation needed.

    Firstly, evo psych is questionable at best. Secondly, while I am absolutely certain you did not mean it thusly, I am still vaguely offended that you are a) assuming that we women can’t help but be hot to trot for assholes, and b) explaining to us why it is so.

    It’s probably because I am tired, so I don’t intend to be cranky with you. I just intend to draw attention to the fact that there is a LOT of supposition and generalizing going on in your comment, and not a lot of data or… well… being a woman.

  16. @girl_noir: What in my comment do you want a citation for? What data do you find not credible?

    Not all women are hot to trot for assholes, but enough are that it needs explanation. So far no one has given an explanation of why women are hot to trot for men who abuse them.

    So what is your explanation of why some women (not all, but too many) do these things which seem pretty clearly to be maladaptive? Do you have an alternative explanation that has equivalent explanatory power?

    I appreciate that women who do love people who abuse them don’t understand where these feelings are coming from. To avoid being abused even more severely, women in abusive relationships need to really convince their abuser that they love him. The best way to act as if you love someone is to actually love them. Abused children act the same way. They really love the parent who is abusing them. Stockholm Syndrome is when abused people attach to the person who abuses them.

    Of course hiding the “real” explanation from her consciousness is adaptive. If women understand that they are choosing mates only because those men would kill their children if they didn’t, is going to interfere with a mother loving her child (by the asshole). If all the nice guys came to realize that the only way they could have children was to become assholes and kill the children of other assholes, then society becomes real crappy real fast.

    These feelings and behaviors are from deep human evolution, probably millions of years ago, for many tens of thousands of generations. If picking an asshole over a nice guy gave a few percent more descendants, then after 10,000 generations everyone has that “feature” ( (1.01)^(10,000) = 10^43 ). It is probably more complicated than that. Probably higher levels of stress in one’s life trigger greater attraction to “edgy”, assholey guys. I think that it is nitric oxide that signals the level of “stress”, with low NO indicating greater stress. The higher the stress level the more “picky” women are going to be, and in the limit, so picky that they don’t choose anyone to have children with over their reproductive lifetime. I think that is part of what causes the drop in the birth rate following development. In “the wild”, there was no birth control, so women would get pregnant whether they consciously wanted to or not, so being “too picky” wasn’t an issue.

    In the limit, the assholes don’t allow women any choice at all, they put their daughters in forced marriages to other assholes, and if the daughter rebels, kill her to restore the “honor” of the asshole.

    If you have a better explanation, I would be happy to hear it. If there is something wrong or inconsistent with what I have said, I would be happy to hear it too.

  17. @daedalus2u: I don’t have a problem with the logic of what you’ve said – I just take issue with the fact that it kind of sounds like what we call back-formation in linguistics: where you have a situation (or a linguistic morpheme) and fabricate an explanation for it. It can be false, and in the case of psychology, it can be dangerous. So yes, you’ve created a totally plausible hypothesis, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But now we need to examine whether the social and breeding situations you’re describing actually existed in early humans and whether females actually responded with the behavior that you have hypothesized. We also need to survey modern women’s behavior to determine if the trends that you’re describing actually exist. We need data, is all I’m saying. Just because something sounds good doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right. Evo psych can be a tempting and dangerous trap to fall into.

  18. @girl_noir: I agree with you that evopsych can be a dangerous trap to fall into. The danger is in ascribing too much explanatory power to it, and then especially in using it to justify otherwise unjustifiable things. I think the way that I am using it is not problematic, in that I am not trying to justify the unjustifiable. I am not encouraging women to choose assholes, I am simply pointing out why they might make those choices and suggesting that they think more about the long term consequences before they do such things.

    There is data that supports it. Not a small amount of data. I don’t know of any data that refutes it. It isn’t something that can be tested prospectively. A great many women who find themselves in abusive relationships have had prior abusive relationships, are from an abusive family of origin, or have mothers who were in abusive relationships. I am not saying this in any way to try and blame the victims, but being a victim doesn’t justify victimizing others. The sons of women who were abused are victims too, but they don’t get a free pass to abuse their partners because their mom was abused.

    This kind of thing is happening now. In essentially every war zone women are being raped and killed by men, and that has been a part of war for as long as there have been wars. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the abuse of women in war zones as is now observed is not new, it likely was even worse in the past, before there were laws against it. Trying to get females is one of the few things worth risking death in war for.

    I disagree that we need to look at what behaviors women in those conditions exhibited, what we need to look for is what kind of behaviors would be expected to be selected for under those conditions? If behaviors are selected for, and those behaviors have a genetic component, then over enough selection, those behaviors will become common in the population. What physiology could possibly be selected for that would encourage those behaviors selected for under those conditions?

    Whether that physiology derives from genetics from either parent, epigenetics from maternal abuse while in utero, or is learned from observing mom being abused, the “cycle of violence” is extremely well known. I appreciate that people don’t want to consider that such a thing could happen to them and want to that they would never behave the way that other people have behaved in such circumstances, but until you have been in that situation, you don’t know how you will behave.

    I don’t like what the data implies. But if we are ever going to reduce abuse of women, and end the cycle where boys learn to abuse women by watching their dads abuse their mom, we have to look at what the data tells us and then act on it. The real danger is in not acting because people prefer the status quo. I think justifying not acting is where faulty reasoning is rampant. I have not heard any good reasons for tolerating the abuse of women. I don’t think there are any.

    If you have a better explanation (or even a different one), I would like to hear it.

  19. I feel the need to jump in and add a few things.


    As far as I know, there is no ‘crappy things to do’ gene. Yes, some people do crappy things, but we don’t have evidence to support that doing crappy things is entirely genetic. We actually have more evidence for social pressure, conditioning and/or neurological damage being a cause for crappy people than we do genetic factors.

    The lioness vs. the woman comparison you make is invalid. Lions and humans follow completely different social patterns. Furthermore, it has been documented that some lionesses will often mate with lions who are not heading their pride and the alpha doesn’t find out, which further diversifies the genes within the pride. Lionesses typically keep a distance from the pride when they give birth and her and her cubs don’t rejoin the cubs until after the cubs have gotten a little older. Male lions will often kill cubs when they’ve become new leaders because the mother won’t be fertile when she has young cubs.

    Your explanation for why a woman would choose an asshole because he’d kill the nice guy’s kids makes no sense. It assumes that a woman would prefer the asshole in the first place because she’d have to let him around the offspring before your scenario even played out. Furthermore, despite the tendency for humans to sometimes be violent assholes, there’s no evidence that humans ever practiced the kind of behavior that lions in a pride do.

    Also, I dislike your assumption that women who are being abused are unable to use logic. Sadly, given the way abuse often escalates when a victim attempts to leave an abusive situation, it isn’t always rational to leave. That’s why things like Domestic Violence Services exist. Without means to leave the situation safely, abuse victims who attempt to leave often end up in worse situations than where they started out. The risks posed to victims increases dramatically when they attempt to leave abuse. To those with few or no options, staying seems rational because staying is safer than getting killed.

    While there is a correlation between a family history of violence and those who end up in abusive relationships as adults, it is not a defining feature of people who end up in violent relationships. Other correlations with abusive relationships include joblessness, lower educational levels and drug abuse.

    @Billy Clyde Tuggle:

    That link actually doesn’t explain why women may or may not be attracted to assholes. Instead, it says men with certain traits get laid more. That doesn’t mean more women are attracted to them, that could just mean they’re bigger sluts (for lack of a better term). Given the data they provide, it is completely unsurprising that someone with, say, a narcissistic disorder, might have more sexual partner and be less careful, sexually. Just look at the definition for the disorder:



    One thing that your comments completely ignore is that most abusive situations aren’t abusive to start with. Most people, including women, don’t enter relationships thinking, “this guy is abusive, I think I’ll date him.” Instead, early relationships that turn out abusive often begin much like other relationships. There is frequently love and admiration for a while before the abuse begins. Plenty of time can pass where the relationship seems healthy and the two can fall in love before the abuser begins to harm their partner.

    “So what is your explanation of why some women (not all, but too many) do these things which seem pretty clearly to be maladaptive?”

    When I was volunteering as a peer counselor, I called it ‘getting stuck.’ Generally, the signs of abuse aren’t present early on. There isn’t always indicators that the person entering the relationship is doing anything maladaptive at all. By the time abuse does occur, though, they’ve often made decisions that make them feel somehow bound to their partner, they might love the person, they may have moved in with them and/or they may otherwise feel dependent on them. Many other factors may come into play as well, but it is usually the case that they feel stuck. Being stuck, though, isn’t maladaptive. The person with the maladaptive behaviors in these cases is usually the abuser. The victim may or may not have problems with maladaptive behaviors.

    “To avoid being abused even more severely, women in abusive relationships need to really convince their abuser that they love him.”

    Most people love their companion for reasons outside of the abuse, not because of the abuse. I really hope you never tell a victim something like that. *sigh* It sounds horribly like blaming the victim.

    Also, Stockholm Syndrome refers to hostages, not necessarily abuse victims.

    Also, your stress relationship discussion is absolutely wrong. Women are less picky and often more receptive to partners when under stress. If you want more information, look up “misattribution of arousal” using Google scholar.

  20. @Sophie Hirschfeld: Thanks for jumping in. You’ve helped clarify a lot of stuff that I was failing at saying, and added loads of information that I did not have.

    ^What she said.

    @daedalus2u: Don’t get me wrong. I know abuse really happens, and there’s not a reason in the world that we should let it happen. What I’m trying to say is that you’re making speculative assertions. You’ve proposed two hypotheses: that it was adaptive in early human society for women to mate with assholes, and that women still pursue this behavior for evo psych reasons.

    If we’re going to adopt these hypotheses – and the inevitability (of desire, if not of behavior) that they imply – and ESPECIALLY if we are going to counsel women according to them, we need to be sure that they are correct. To that end, we need to determine anthropologically/scientifically, or I would ask you to show evidence that corroborates, that a) females in early human social/mating situations did behave in the way that you describe, b) that this behavior was genetically adaptive AND heritable, and c) that women still behave this way today. Evidence for each of these things can be gathered scientifically. That’s what I’m asking for.

    Finally, I don’t have a better or alternative explanation, but that’s not really the point of the exercise. I’m not a biologist or an anthropologist or a psychologist – I’m just asking you to back up your assertions. I’d gladly believe you, given scientific data. Although from what @Sophie Hirschfeld has said, it sounds like the data don’t really support your claims.

  21. @daedalus2u: Finally, and here is where I will earn the flames that will come my way – it feels REALLY condescending when you pat women as a whole on the head and say, it’s okay, you can’t help it – it’s in your genes. The fact that you’re not a woman or an abuse victim and can’t imagine why you might pursue those specific behaviors doesn’t give you the right to come up with an explanation on the fly and then attribute it to 50% of the population without any science backing you up. We don’t work the way you say we do just because you say it, and we’re not a homogeneous mass, and we’re not just slaves to our genes. We’re not you, but we are still people. So don’t get all missionary-to-the-benighted-natives on us.


    Sigh. I’m sorry. I know I just ruined what was a pretty civil conversation, and probably discredited myself in the process, but damn if I didn’t need to vent.

  22. @Sophie Hirschfeld: @girl_noir: You are really not understanding where I am coming from. I am saying it is rational for a woman to choose the father of her children such that those children will have the largest chance of surviving. It is rational to stay in an abusive relationship when leaving poses a significant risk of death (which it does). It is not illogical to tolerate abuse to stay alive. It is an unfortunate choice that too many women are forced to make. It doesn’t just “seem” rational, it is rational to prioritize survival over avoiding abuse.

    Not only did humans practice that type of behavior, they still are, just not to the same degree that lions do. The highest risk factor for fatal child abuse is living in a household with mom and her new boyfriend. If you look in this paper, table 5, 21 out of 55 child deaths were perpetrated by an unrelated male.


    Most of those were mom’s boyfriend or spouse (17 out of 21).

    The leading cause of death in women aged 15 to 45 is homicide by an abusive male partner.


    Staying with someone who is abusive is maladaptive, unless you need to do so to stay alive and then it is adaptive. If you have to stay with someone abusive to stay alive, it would be a lot easier to do so if you love him. I said I am not blaming the victims. Understanding why they are doing such things is not the same as blaming them. I know what it is like to have to tolerate abuse to stay alive. The victim in that circumstance is never at fault, it is the perpetrator who is at fault.

    My presumption is that humans today are “the same” as they were 1,000 or 10,000 years ago, but times were a lot harder then, so what ever behaviors are characteristic of high stress now were very likely worse in the past, even if we don’t have records.

    I was distinguishing between having sex with someone and reproducing. I agree that “stress” increases libido in women. That effect is mediated through nitric oxide, stress causes low NO, low NO causes high testosterone, high testosterone causes high libido. High testosterone also causes low fertility. Low NO causes infertility too, by means other than testosterone levels.

    High stress (i.e. living in a war zone) increases women’s libido, but makes her less likely to get pregnant. A time of high stress is a good time to have a high libido because men are less likely to kill a woman they are having sex with, but a bad time to have an infant because infants take so many resources to successfully raise. Modern contraception techniques make it possible to have sex without reproducing. A woman is now perfectly capable of having lots of sex and never getting pregnant. That was not possible before the modern era of reliable birth control.

    In the past, women didn’t always get to decide if they wanted to have sex or not. In many places that is still true. In rural Egypt, 85% of women think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she refuses to have sex with him. The only way a woman could avoid becoming pregnant was for her physiology to make her not become pregnant. “Stress” is one of the major causes of infertility. It isn’t a “bug”, it is a “feature”. A time of high stress is a bad time to become pregnant. The child is likely to not survive and the woman has a much higher chance of dying too. Maternal death in childbirth without modern obstetric care in places of high stress is very high, as high as 6.5% per live birth.


    That is 1 out of 15 births results in a dead mother.

    A thousand years ago, likely every place on Earth was as bad as Afghanistan is now. Do we know that for sure? No, but we know they didn’t have tertiary care neonatal units. They didn’t have antibiotics, they didn’t have transfusions, they couldn’t do medical C-sections. Giving birth had to be an extremely dangerous time for a woman.

  23. What I am trying to express (and having a hard time articulating it well enough to be understood), that when faced with important decisions, we should use rational thinking and not just feelings. I know that traditionally mate choice is done with the “heart”, because it “feels” right and not because there are facts and logic to support the choice. (actually traditionally mate choice was done by the woman’s male relatives who picked a mate for her and she had no choice at all).

    As skeptics we should be wary of decisions that are made in the absence of facts and logic, and/or especially decisions that seem to contradict what facts and logic would indicate.

    This evolutionary psychology explanation might be complete BS. What is it I am trying to justify by using it? Trying to justify women using a more rational, a more logical, a more skeptical approach to mate choice than simply “I love him even though he beats the crap out of me.”

    Is there any theory or rationale behind the default position of “I love him even though he beats the crap out of me”? Going back to someone who beats the crap out of you when you have safe alternatives is not a logical or rational decision. I know that is the position of essentially all religions, that the woman is to be subjugated by the man, even if he beats the crap out of her. We know that religions adopt that mindset so as to be able to control and subjugate women.

    Lots of people “feel” that vaccines are bad. We don’t give their feelings a free pass, we look at the data, and the data says that vaccines are not bad, they have side effects but that they prevent more diseases than they cause. Why should we give someone’s feeling that “I love him even though he beats the crap out of me” a free pass? Why don’t we look at the data in that circumstances too? Is tolerating being beaten necessary to love someone and be loved back? Lets see the data on that hypothesis.

    @Sophie Hirschfeld: To me, kidnapping does constitute abuse.

  24. @daedalus2u: I see where you’re coming from. Yes, we should encourage women to think critically about their situations if they are in abusive ones. They should analyze the level of danger and determine a good time to leave (because leaving should be the ultimate goal). Staying for the short term may be the safest and most rational option. I agree with you on all of this.


    The reasoning you’re providing is flawed. You have not provided adequate data to show the correctness of the subconscious motivations you are attributing both to abused women and to women in general.

    “21 out of 55 child deaths were perpetrated by an unrelated male. ”

    Okay, but why? Does mom’s boyfriend have a subconscious motivation to destroy the offspring of a competitive male? Or does he not want to have to share mom’s attention? Or does he have violent tendencies, and the kid was crying too much, which provoked him? There is a correlation between new boyfriend and death of an existing child, but we don’t have evidence for the specific causal relationship that you’ve posited.

    “If you have to stay with someone abusive to stay alive, it would be a lot easier to do so if you love him.”

    A plausible hypothesis, to be sure. But according to @Sophie Hirschfeld, many women love their abusers before the abuse begins. This contradicts your theory. Once the abuse begins, the feelings of attachment could strengthen, as a survival response – it’s possible. But now that we have this theory, we need to test it and determine whether the evidence supports it. THAT many women do not immediately leave abusive situations is apparent from the data. WHY they choose not to is NOT apparent from the data. We must test further.

    “My presumption is that humans today are “the same” as they were 1,000 or 10,000 years ago, but times were a lot harder then, so what ever behaviors are characteristic of high stress now were very likely worse in the past, even if we don’t have records.”

    This is a pretty big jump to make. I am an archaeologist and a linguist, but I am not an anthropologist. However, I do have passing familiarity with anthropological methods. We can gather data on your assertion and determine whether it is true. Home construction, evidence of tool use, evidence for use of space, prehistoric art, subsistence patterns, even physiological data can help us determine the social and mating structures of human groups 1,000 or 10,000 years ago. Your claims about ancient social groups are testable. They should be tested (and may have already been).

    “In rural Egypt, 85% of women think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she refuses to have sex with him. ”

    Citation, please.

    ““Stress” is one of the major causes of infertility.”

    I’m not sure why the discourse on stress vs fertility is relevant. Are you trying to provide evidence that women respond physiologically to abuse? I don’t think any of us would disagree with you on that point. But then shouldn’t an abusive relationship be maladaptive, since it would result in a comparatively infertile woman?

    “This evolutionary psychology explanation might be complete BS. What is it I am trying to justify by using it? Trying to justify women using a more rational, a more logical, a more skeptical approach to mate choice than simply “I love him even though he beats the crap out of me.””

    Ok, here’s the crux of what I’m getting at. We need to test your evo psych hypothesis and determine whether it’s true if we’re going to counsel women based on its tenets. Just like we can’t tell people to get vaccines because it will make God happy (we have no idea, but most likely not), we can’t tell women to be sure and choose mates logically because their genes will want to choose men that will beat them. We don’t know that that’s true. No data has been provided in this discussion that shows any trend in modern female mate selection. The data DO show that women tend to return to their abusers and/or to stay with them even after the abuse has become serious. But we’ve already shown, thanks to @Sophie Hirschfeld‘s information, that the reasons for that behavior are complex and ambiguous.

    I agree fully that everyone, not just women, should be challenged to examine their mates’ behavior rationally and critically. I agree that the ultimate goal for a woman in an abusive situation should be to leave. I agree that a woman needs to determine the most rational (and most likely to result in survival) course of action when confronted with abuse. But we can’t just hand women a bullshit theory and tell them to base their decisions on it. We can encourage them to do all of the above without fabricating reasons for them to do so. And we ESPECIALLY shouldn’t tell them, at least not without some seriously hardcore evidence, that the reason they love their abusers is the abuse.

  25. Physical abuse is relatively obvious compared to verbal/emotional abuse. When it becomes apparent from the outside that someone is being verbally/emotionally abused, how do you convince them of it? It seems neither the abuser nor the victim know this is happening. (Obviously I’m talking a bout a specific relationship here.) I’ve tried telling the victim (my best friend) in various ways, but she doesn’t really acknowledge it. Overall, she’s very good at dismissing *all* the negative stuff for just a smidge of positive. I know that fear is part of this…she hasn’t been truly single since she was 13, so that’s a great unknown. She never leaves a relationship until she sees someone better available to jump to. Otherwise she’s not sure someone better exists. At least each relationship has been better, even though they’ve all been verbally/emotionally abusive.

  26. @daedalus2u: I wrote a long and informative post in response to yours and then I clicked your citation link. It made my browser crash.

    I still question your source, though, as one recent report said 1/3 of the Egyptian population believed it was ok for a man to beat his wife if she refused to have sex with him. Sadly, I couldn’t find a good citation and the one reference I found cited an organization that I can’t access since I can’t read the language on their website. Here’s the blog that cites it, though:


    Most of your claims need sources and many of them are questionable, at best. Your statement about NO makes no sense and fits nowhere in any of the neuroscience that I am aware of (I’m not a neuroscientist, but I do study neuroscience in my spare time as a hobby subject, so I’m familiar with some of the material).

    I think @girl_noir: did an excellent job of asking the right questions.


    Discussing abuse with a victim who isn’t ready to acknowledge it can be pretty tough. The best you can do is listen and let them know their feelings are ok. I just wrote this, yesterday, and it might help you in discussing with her what abuse is:


    I hope all are ok with the self-pimping.

    If she decides not to address the problem, it could be because she’s simply not ready to. In that case, it is best that you simply let her know that she always has the option of coming to you for help.

  27. @Sophie Hirschfeld: Sorry it made your browser crash :(. You should down load it, it is ~1.2 mb.pdf. It is by the World Bank and does address abuse of women in many areas. The title is

    Preventing and responding to gender-based violence in middle and low income countries: a multi-sectoral literature review and analysis

    If you put that into Google Scholar it will give you a link to the WB article. I did down load it ok today.

  28. The bit about infertility and stress was to answer the comment by @Sophie Hirschfeld: (which I agree with) that “stress” can increase arousal. “Stress” does increase arousal, but it decreases fertility. The physiology behind that is complicated, but pretty clear. It is not fully understood, but it is well established and involves nitric oxide.


    I spoke with the author of this paper at a NO conference and we agreed that the decrease in fertility with low NO status was very likely a “feature” to reduce fertility under times of high stress.

  29. @girl_noir: There is a pretty good association between male-female association and risk of infanticide by non-parental males in many non-human primates.


    Can we interview male perpetrators who kill the children of the women they are involved with? Will they give us a straight answer? Do they even know the reason? There isn’t a “kill your girlfriend’s baby by another man” gene. Not even in lions were the behavior is extremely common.

    We know that infant mortality was very high over evolutionary time. We know that the average number of children a woman had who reproduced was 2.0. We know it was not 1.9 because at 1.9 humans would have gone extinct in less than 1000 generations. Similarly we know it wasn’t as high as 2.1 because humans would have increased to levels we know did not happen. The average number was 2.0.

    Where we have historic data, infant mortality is pretty high, ~1%.


    Since the population was increasing during these historic times, the number of reproducing children a woman had was greater than 2. Presumably to get the lower population increase in prehistoric times, either the infant mortality was higher, or there were fewer pregnancies or both.

    Being abused while you are pregnant does reduce infant weight at birth.


    Now a days, low birth weight at birth is considered a bad thing, but in the absence of medical C-section, a baby that is too big to be born can (and does) kill the mother. Is having the crap beat out of you while you are pregnant a “bug”, or a “feature”? If it saves your life from cephalopelvic disproportion it is a “feature”.

    I don’t have good answers as to how to stop abuse of women, other than to reduce stress levels and reduce stress signaling. More nitric oxide will do that.

  30. I haven’t read the rest of the comments yet, but I get the impression that you’re seriously misinterpreting the data in the table you linked.
    “i>The highest risk factor for fatal child abuse is living in a household with mom and her new boyfriend. If you look in this paper, table 5, 21 out of 55 child deaths were perpetrated by an unrelated male.

    No, you’re adding two rows and/or columns which aren’t related.
    The household composition columns clearly totals to “only” 10 fatalities when the kid is in the care of 1 biological parent, in which case at most 4 out of 55 deaths can be attributed to mom’s boyfriend. (And at least 3 were by the mother herself, which suggest that a kid is 3 times more likely to be killed by their own mother than they are by her boyfriend).

    And of course, these are statistics from Missoury between 1992 and 1994. That’s a level of detail bordering on anecdotal …

  31. @daedalus2u:
    We know that infant mortality was very high over evolutionary time. We know that the average number of children a woman had who reproduced was 2.0. We know it was not 1.9 because at 1.9 humans would have gone extinct in less than 1000 generations. Similarly we know it wasn’t as high as 2.1 because humans would have increased to levels we know did not happen. The average number was 2.0.

    What a load of bullshit!
    So people only died either right around the time they were born, or not until after they’d reproduced?

    If, say, only 60% of the population lives to the reproductive age, and of those, only about 80% actually have kids, then a woman would actually need to pop out at least 4 kids on average simply to keep the population from declining.

    It’s not a simple arythmetic of 2 kids = replacement.

  32. @exarch: Actually, your scenario makes humans go extinct.

    4 children * 60% * 80% = 1.92 children per woman = 1.92/2 = 0.96 children per person

    (0.96)^1,000 = 1.8 * 10^-18

    Since there have never been 10^18 humans, a reduction of the population by a factor of 10^-18 actually drops it to zero. Humans go extinct under your scenario.

    Just like I said.

  33. @daedalus2u: Your link does not support your statements about NO. This is what you said:

    “That effect is mediated through nitric oxide, stress causes low NO, low NO causes high testosterone, high testosterone causes high libido. High testosterone also causes low fertility. Low NO causes infertility too, by means other than testosterone levels.”

    The link you provided was in regards to gamete health over time with the presence of NO as a variable. It does not discuss libido or testosterone and it doesn’t suggest infertility. Instead, it discusses the life span of a gamete.

    “Now a days, low birth weight at birth is considered a bad thing, but in the absence of medical C-section, a baby that is too big to be born can (and does) kill the mother. Is having the crap beat out of you while you are pregnant a “bug”, or a “feature”? If it saves your life from cephalopelvic disproportion it is a “feature”.”

    Are you seriously suggesting that abuse might be an evolutionary feature because underweight babies are less likely to kill their mother? Firstly, having an underweight baby does not mean that the head of the baby, the crown, the hardest part for a woman to pass through her pelvis, is going to be smaller.

    There’s also nothing to support your Nitric Oxide theory.

  34. @exarch: Did you read the paper? Did you look at the odds ratios in the other tables? In table 4, the OR is 30.5 (8.1-115.1) for homicide if another unrelated adult is present in the household.

    In table 3, the OR is 26.9 (7.2-100.2) if other unrelated adult is present in the household.

    Those odds ratios are compared to households where a child died of natural causes. What that means is that households with another unrelated adult were 30 times more likely to have a homicide than to have a child die of natural causes. A factor of 30 is a big number.

    In table 5, 21 of 55 deaths were from “unrelated males”, 14 were mom’s boyfriend (living in the household (12) or not (2)), 3 were the step dad, 2 were the boyfriend of the baby sitter and 2 were male friends.

    Not sure why this paper is hitting such a nerve that you need to attack it as an “anecdote”. It isn’t an anecdote. If you have data with a higher n that contradicts this, please cite it so that I can look at it.

  35. @daedalus2u: I think what we’re all trying to say is that you can’t just make stuff up, no matter how plausible it sounds, and then present it as fact. You have to test your hypothesis and back it up with data. Which you have failed, unfortunately, to do to an adequate extent. You’ve provided some interesting starting points for investigation, but you can’t tack up a theory like the one you have set forth with such minimal evidence. It remains speculation at best.

    And yet you are still claiming that we should tell all women that this is how their psyches work, and that they should make decisions accordingly. This is first and foremost not a skeptical course of action to take. Secondly, and this is the part that I don’t think you realize, it is demeaning to women. You’ve taken a complex and painful set of choices in a woman’s life and reduced it to “she can’t help making bad decisions, it’s in her genes”. Your hypothesis strips women of their agency and their ability for self-determination, and tells them that they must overcome their inherently weak nature. You say you’re not blaming the victim, and I’m sure you never deliberately would, but saying doesn’t make it so.

    One final point:

    “There isn’t a “kill your girlfriend’s baby by another man” gene. ”

    But wasn’t it part of your argument that it is genetically adaptive for men to do exactly this? And that that’s why it’s genetically adaptive for females to mate with men who do this? How can this behavior be adaptive if it isn’t heritable in some way?

  36. @girl_noir

    Your hypothesis strips women of their agency and their ability for self-determination, and tells them that they must overcome their inherently weak nature.

    He can’t help it, the inability to see that you are wrong is located on the Y chromosome.

    It’s just a hypothesis I’m working on. ;)

  37. @beerslayer: Maybe you’re having trouble getting your dick wet because you’re the type of asshole who brings it up in a thread about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Fucking “nice guys”, how do they work?

    RE: everyone responding to daedalus2u

    The man is obsessed with NO and will shoehorn it into any explanation, no matter how tenuous the evidence. Apparently this kind of thinking leads one to accept equally tenuous evidence for ev-psych and be a condescending dickhead to women. It also apparently leads to extreme diarrhea of the keyboard, because I’ve never seen the man leave a concise post.

  38. @girl_noir: I am sorry if my comments have been interpreted as “she can’t help making bad decisions, it’s in her genes”. There isn’t a “bad decision making gene” either. That is not how genetics works. Genes don’t specify behaviors or phenotypes, what genes specify is a process to grow a phenotype. The phenotype develops from a single cell to an adult, and there are a zillion things that influence that development along the way, genetic, non-genetic, epigenetic.

    The process of development is very strongly influenced by experiences. The physiology of development is regulated by “something”, and that “something” couples to the genetics, the environment, to mental states, to nutrition, to a zillion things. A major influencing physiological pathway is nitric oxide status. NO is what regulates steroid synthesis, NO regulates ATP levels, O2 consumption, blood flow, NO regulates a zillion things.

    NO regulates things like mental activities. The fMRI BOLD technique that looks at blood flow coincident with neuronal activity is actually measuring NO levels. It is prompt neurogenic NO release that activates guanylyl cyclase which makes cyclic GMP which relaxes smooth muscle which dilates blood vessels which shows up as the increased BOLD signal (actually a decrease in deoxyhemoglobin).

    Hormones have large effects mediated through nitric oxide. Estrogen activates nitric oxide synthase and increases NO levels. That is the explanation for why pre-menopausal women have low incidences of cardiovascular disease, their high estrogen levels cause an increase in basal NO levels (which can be measured).

    When you put people in desperate situations, they do desperate things. There isn’t a “doing desperate things” gene either. What there is is physiology that regulates things like risk taking, based on how safe one feels, based on ones “safety status”, based on the integrated sum of many individual parameters, how much money you have in the bank, how many reliable friends you have, how healthy you are, how secure is your job, how much food is in the refrigerator, the cupboard, the grocery store, a zillion things. Those things are not added together and weighted consciously. It is an unconscious integration and summation that physiology does which is reflected in how one “feels” about something. Those feelings can be manipulated. That is what advertising tries to do, manipulate people into wanting what every crap is being advertised. That is what politicians do, manipulate people into being afraid of immigrants so they can stay in power.

    Make someone desperate and they will do desperate things. You can’t do research on that with people because it is unethical. Put a gun to some one’s head, and they will do different things than if you don’t. You can’t do research that involves putting guns to people’s heads. Intuitively we know that putting a gun to someone’s head has an effect on what they will do.

    Having been in situations where I have been threatened with death, I know what it feels like for me. Other people may have different experiences. I am not negating their experiences, I am not dismissing their experiences, I am not saying their experiences are not real, I am not saying their experiences don’t matter.

    Considering the physiology of extreme stress conditions has been a major part of my research for the past 4 years or so. The physiology that is most important from an evolutionary standpoint is that physiology expressed under the most difficult to survive conditions. When life is easy, any phenotype can survive and reproduce. When life is extremely difficult, only the most successful, or the luckiest can. That is why stress responses are among the most evolutionarily conserved of traits. Many of those highly conserved traits are completely autonomic. They are not under conscious control. If a bear started chasing you, your heart rate would go up, you liver would pour glucose into your blood, you would start hyperventilating and you would feel like you had to run. You would feel like you could run forever. Feeling like you can run forever is an extremely important survival feature. You can’t actually run forever, only until the bear either catches you, or you drop dead from exhaustion. In the context of evolution, those are both “the same”, and running until the end of your life is equivalent to running “forever”.

    Is there prospective “data” where people have run themselves to death? No, because doing such “experiments” is completely unacceptable. However, during the commission of various war crimes, individuals have been worked to death.

    Is the person who runs themselves to death while running from a bear “at fault”? Not in my book. Being forced into a life-and-death struggle makes one a victim. Victims are not at fault for choosing the least bad of a number of bad situations. It is the people or circumstances that put the victim there that are at fault.

    I know what years of abuse do to people. I have PTSD from many years of abuse as a child. I am a victim of domestic violence according to the definition (being purposefully injured by someone you live with such that attention by a doctor is necessary, multiple times by multiple individuals, I was a child, so I couldn’t leave my family of origin. I didn’t realize it was “domestic violence” until 30+ years later). I know what it does to people, I have read a great deal about the physiology of abuse and what it does, this is not something I am making up.

    Having lived with PTSD for my whole life, and having seen and felt what happened to it when I raised my NO level, I have an appreciation for the role of NO in such things that is perhaps unique. I appreciate that my experience is an “anecdote”, and so doesn’t have any statistical power. It does not have negative probative value.

    Sorry I have no been able to convey years of research into this little thread. My intent was not to demean women, but to give them something else to think about, their as yet unborn daughters. Stories by women who are victims of abuse in the popular press often say that it was their need to protect their child that gave them the strength to stand up to their perpetrator and leave him. Prevention is always better than cure. If a woman can think about protecting her as yet unborn daughter from a perpetrator, that is better for her and for her daughter than waiting until after she is born and in danger. Exposure to violence in utero has life-long effects, and yes, they are bad and it is better to avoid them if possible. Protecting someone else is often easier for someone who has been a victim, than protecting themselves. I know it is for me.

  39. @mikerattlesnake: Lol re: post after yours.

    @daedalus2u: Look. You have claimed that women get into and/or stay in abusive situations due to an element of their physiology, one that was selected for. I replied that you have not shown enough evidence to make that claim. You respond by repeating your claims in increasingly irrelevant detail without introducing any of the evidence that I and others have told you is necessary for your claims to be taken seriously.

    You are being sexist, and you are spouting bad science. I think we’re done here.

  40. @daedalus2u:
    Actually, your scenario makes humans go extinct.
    4 children * 60% * 80% = 1.92 children per woman = 1.92/2 = 0.96 children per person

    At what point did “at least 4” become “4 or less“?
    No seriously.

    As for “children per woman”, that’s an odd way to phrase it. Yes, everyone knows that on average you need a birthrate of at least 1 new human per existing human for the numbers to possibly remain steady, but why would you phrase that as per woman instead of per person unless there was a disproportionate number of females? (like would be the case in a pride of lions for example)

  41. @daedalus2u:
    Did you read the paper? Did you look at the odds ratios in the other tables? In table 4, the OR is 30.5 (8.1-115.1) for homicide if another unrelated adult is present in the household.

    Okay, I did read the exerpt, but think I initially misunderstood the “family composition” part of that table. Although these are still just raw numbers. I could say that the number of children killed at the hands of their own parents is 21 out of 55, and it would still be meaningless because you have to compare them to the total number of families of that same composition category who didn’t have a kid die at all (which for this type of family is A LOT). This is impossible because the study only looked at families with a child fatality.

    Of all the family types on the list, I think apart from “2 biological parents” the next most likely form is “boyfriend living with kid’s mother”. So how much does that affect the 12 cases in the table?
    Strike one.

    In the case of a single mom with a boyfriend living elsewhere, in most cases the guy probably doesn’t have enough contact with the kids (yet?) to become too problematic. So what about kids that are abused but don’t die? In other words, the study only gauges the severity of the abuse, but not the prevalence.
    Strike two.

    So the reason I think this data borders on anecdotal? Because it’s just 55 kids. And because the setup of the study was clearly designed to look for something else (i.e. a comparison between death from abuse vs death from natural causes). Any other conclusions you make based on just half of the study’s source data (a study which is itself already suffering from selection bias because of the subject), is completely unreliable.

    So all this table really proves in my opinion, is that it’s hard for an outsider to fit into the existing hole left by an ex-husband or -boyfriend. That fit only becomes trickier with more people to please. All I see here is family dysfunction, not evolution’s backhanded way of undermining the competition.

  42. “She’s smart. She’s educated. She realized their relationship was sick. Why does she keep doing this?”

    Amy and others have answered this thoroughly, I think. Now we have to ask the same about Frustrated. He is smart, educated, and realizes that his relationship to the woman in question was not healthy for him. Why did he continue to do her emotional dirty work for many months?

    In essence, though I respect his plight and have nothing but sympathy, Frustrated’s relationship was nothing more than a proxy for the woman. He could be the sensitive, caring man who would pick up the pieces when her life fell apart. He was very smart to get the hell out of that situation, because no matter how much he would want a real relationship of mutual respect and affection to blossom, the shadow of her abusive relationship would always hang over them. It might not, if she had sworn off the abuser the first time, but the fact that he went through this twice suggests otherwise. She might go right back to her abuser in a few months. Or she might always associate Frustrated with the bad times, once she was on her feet and thinking clearly.

    But that still doesn’t answer my question. Why did Frustrated let it go on so long? I would strongly recommend that he explore his relationships to women, and see if he has got a Prince Charming complex – always trying to come to the rescue of a woman in desperate need. While people in need do require every kind of healthy support that society can offer, they do not need to have the damage of an abusive relationship patched up by romance. That is an unhealthy fantasy if there ever was one, in which Prince Charming rescues the poor abuser and becomes the answer to all her problems. As we know, the only way an emotional victim can come to terms with their abuse is from within, and not be reliant on an outside person to protect them from every danger.

    Now Frustrated, if you are reading this, please don’t tear me a new one – I am not suggesting you are like this or anything. But I feel that there is no complete way to address your question about your previous partner without asking you to look at your own role in the situation with clarity and self-analysis. I’ve been in this situation a couple of times, and both endings to the relationships were personally disastrous for me. But my long-term, healthy relationships, including the very long and happy one in which I am now, have been with confident, self-reliant women who did not see me as the answer to any of their problems (except for being single).

    All my best to Amy and the other bloggers and community on this site, and hope that this, my first comment on Skepchick, wasn’t too fatuous.

  43. Oopsies, in my post above, 3rd paragraph 5th sentence should read “Prince Charming rescues the poor abused” not “abuser” – sorry for the confusion. Also, in the course of reading the many many replies above I lost track of the original situation, which was that this was an online friendship, rather than an intimate relationship. But I feel the advice is still worth thinking about.

  44. Abusive relationships are incredibly complex, and I think that it’s a mistake to try and reduce them to any sort of simplistic formula or biochemical reaction. Other people have addressed the fallacies of evolutionary psychology better than I, so I’ll simply address the issue of child abuse when non-biological males are present in the home.

    One of the higher correlative factors in child abuse is a lack of experience and/or knowledge about children, particularly about what they are or are not capable of at various levels of development. Child abusers frequently assume that children are emotionally and intellectually more mature than they really are, which leads to frustration and a sense that the child is being ‘willfully disobedient’ rather than just…a kid. There’s actually been some success in preventative measures that are oriented towards helping prospective parents understand child development, and what a kid CAN do at various ages (and, of course, what they can’t). It seems to help reduce the frustration and stress which can often lead to lashing out at children. Sadly, it’s been a few years and several hard-drives since I had the relevant studies, so I can’t cite off the top of my head.

    Due to cultural factors, many men are less likely to have personal experience with young children or knowledge about what can be expected from young children and they may be more likely to react violently to frustration. Add that to the stressors inherent in establishing a new household (where social roles have not yet been solidified, people are trying to establish their status within the new structure, testing and creating limits), and you have a situation ripe for creating an abusive situation. You don’t have to try and appeal to the ancient impulses written in our genes: it’s pretty easily predictable just based on what we know of why people who abuse kids tend to do so, and under what circumstances.

  45. The thing that pisses me off most about all of this is the, “Well, yes, I’m SORRY that Amy/Rebecca/et al are being threatened with rape/death/etc, but they’re OVERREACTING about elevatorgate/the t-shirt/whatever!” As long as the first half of the sentence (rape/death/etc threats) is true then it’s not possible for the second half of the sentence (they’re overreacting) to be true. These “unimportant” incidents are connected AT THEIR CORE with the threats that have been flying. You can’t reasonably talk about this shit without talking about the threats.

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