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The 5 Best Books For Avoiding Abusive Relationships

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Enjoy the abuse-free life I've always enjoyed


I hope they're reading Dina McMillan's book. Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels




If there's one thing I'm really good at, it's avoiding partner abuse. It's foreign to me.


It's why I've come to address the unmet feminist market niche: Patching and fortifying the female brain against acceptance of abuse, and from allowing toxic men into one's life.


We've spent enough time dissecting and analyzing patriarchy, masculinity, the 'man box', and everything else about the abuser; now it's time to address the other half of the partner dynamic: The receiver of the abuse, more commonly known as the victim.


Women are no longer powerless, even if some are less powerless than others. Not every woman recognizes her intrinsic power, and a regressive, self-infantilizing, fear-based, decades-long de-evolution in feminism seeks to preserve that powerlessness, because deep down victim feminists fear real empowerment. True empowerment requires you to make decisions that could blow up in your face or even put you in harm's way, but it also emboldens and strengthens you, especially when you stand up for yourself before harm is even in your neighborhood.


And the more you stand up for yourself and nothing bad happens, the better you become at recognizing lower-risk assertiveness challenges.


I've found five stellar resources to help women identify their psychological weaknesses and inoculate themselves against the sort of toxic man who manipulates and abuses, but also to better understand men and thereby become better partners themselves. After all, she may be no walk in the park either.


Understanding how men think and feel from a compassionate point of view helps us guard against inner misandry and stop judging men by our own gender-based yardstick (which is what we've complained about them doing to us for many years!)


You can't change another person, you can only change yourself. Here are my five favorite resources, beginning with the most important.


1. "But He Says He Loves Me!" - Dina McMillan


My review of Dina McMillan's invaluable book But He Says He Loves Me: How to Avoid Being Trapped in a Manipulative Relationship appeared recently so I'll keep this synopsis brief. This is my review:



McMillan drills down with a compassionate tone, based on her 2017 TED talk Unmasking the Abuser, into how the controlling, entitled, abusive male mind thinks, and describes with great clarity how they entice women to hand over their control and power in baby steps by understanding her psychology better than she does. A manipulative abuser will never gain power over you once you read and take notes from this superb manual.



2. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men - Lundy Bancroft


Lundy Bancroft is an author, workshop leader, and domestic violence counselor who focuses on, according to his website, "Training professionals on best practices for intervening with male perpetrators of violence against women, toward the goal of promoting accountability and requiring change."


He's worked with both abusers and victims in domestic partnerships. His book details how the abusive male mind thinks, but not with the granularity of McMillan's book. His most valuable insight, which McMillan doesn't identify, is how deeply entrenched is the abuser's modus operandi. The roots of abuse, he says, are ownership, the trunk is entitlement and the branches are control.


This is the core of who the abuser is, and it's near-impossible to dislodge it. It's formed from his early influences and role models, his values and beliefs, and his utter contempt for his partner, which he keeps carefully hidden from everyone else. These men are often far more conscious of what they're doing than they appear.


Good luck uprooting that. Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay


One of women's most damaging fallibilities is the belief she can change an abusive man, or that he himself might change. He absolutely can, but he probably won't. His entitlement has always worked to his advantage, and the world is full of plenty of partners willing to relinquish control to him, so if one wises up and leaves, he can always find another.


The abusive man is self-centered, Bancroft notes, with deep roots in profound entitlement. He emphasizes just how deeply rooted these roots are.


I found a great article summarizing Bancroft's 13 signs an abusive man is changing and how to make sure he is, which observes that in order to truly change, an abuser must follow certain steps in the right order. Many stop after the first few figuring 'they've done enough, now she needs to get her shit together and stop complaining'. He points out remaining abusive is much easier than changing, since the latter means becoming more self-aware and engaging in the uncomfortable self-analysis many people would choose to avoid.


“At some point during the first few months that a man is in my program, I usually stumble upon the core of his privilege, like a rear bunker on his terrain. He may abandon a few of his forward positions, but this fortification is where he surrounds himself with sandbags and settles in for protracted war," Bancroft says, noting that only a very small single-digit percentage ever truly change.


Tattoo this on your inner eyelids so you're reminded every night of the eleventh commandment: He ain't changin', girlfriend, so just cut your losses and go!



3. The Game: Penetrating The Secret Society Of Pickup Artists - Neil Strauss


Strauss's controversial 2005 expose of pickup artist (PUA) culture is part investigative reporting and part gonzo journalism, since Strauss himself was a PUA, and he describes his personal experiences as a not terribly attractive or romantically skilled wannabe Casanova who found his tutor in Mystery, a Toronto-born PUA who took Strauss (dorky PUA name: Style) under his wing. Strauss was a former New York Times music critic and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. He's written for other major publications such as Maxim, Esquire, and Entertainment Weekly.


Strauss's book is, therefore, well-written and also somewhat sympathetic to the seduction community's 'targets'. I've written a full review of his book too.



Strauss drills down into both the PUAs' and targets' brains and describes how the former are schooled to learn everything they can about the latter's psychology utilizing neuro-linguistic programming, persuasion and influencing resources, Internet support groups and manipulative tricks like lowering her self-esteem through 'negging', woo-woo 'psychology tests' and New Age nonsense so many young women adore, 'cat string theory', and 'social proof'.


His less execrable advice is to ABL (Always Be Learning), which means researching and devouring information to perpetually refine and optimize your skills. I wrote a followup to my review on how his PUA advice manual is actually a blueprint for accomplishing whatever else you want, like building a startup, finding a long-term relationship, climbing the corporate ladder, or learning another language.





Understanding the tactics of male manipulation, once again, fortifies a woman's brain against falling for this B.S.



4. What Was He Thinking? The Woman's Guide to a Man's Mind - Dr. Mike Bechtle


Let's not forget the other side of the abuse coin: The woman, who receives it, and who can be abusive herself, psychologically, emotionally, or physically. Or a combination.


Even if she's not abusive, she brings her own dysfunctions from prior relationships, experiences, and perhaps an unhappy childhood.


It's important to remember that one's perspective is only half of the equation. Men aren't always wrong or bad people because they perceive, interpret, judge, value, or respond differently. What Was He Thinking? is a straightforward explanation of how a man's brain works, especially in everyday situations like trying to find something in the fridge. He's scanning the terrain while calling, "Honey, where's the mayonnaise? Are we out?" when the new jar is sitting on the shelf right in front of him.


Sex hormones influence our brain functioning, and as a result, women are better at object recognition while men are better at navigation and visual spatial rotation, which is why they grow equally frustrated with women who can't seem to read a road map. (Millennials: Whaddaya mean, what's a map? Don't you remember your childhood's family vacations? The fight that always started with your father accusing your mother of not knowing how to read a map when in fact it was so old it noted the Gadsden Purchase and referred to Upper and Lower Canada?)


The most interesting insight I got from the book was the cheating male's understanding of infidelity invisible to plenty of cheating women. Bechtle notes that men involved with married women were less inclined to marry them than women for married men. Seems the boyfriend is often somewhat empathetic with her husband: He realizes that if she's cheating on the partner, she'll likely cheat on him too. Too often, she thinks the cheating husband will be different for her.


I wish more women considered that before they got involved with Mr. Married Manwhore.



5. He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth To Understanding Guys - Greg Behrendt


The bestselling book launched by a Sex In The City episode in which a male friend explains to Miranda "He's just not that into you," as to why the guy she had a seemingly mutual great time with ghosted her, is a pretty spot-on sum-up not just of why we fail to hear back from men. It's also why they as often fail to hear back from us. The book was written for women, but is every bit as relevant for men, since it mostly deals with the games people play, discourtesies and lack of consideration of which women are almost always equally guilty. Breadcrumbing; that's not a 'dude thing'; everyone's done it, including myself. It's not done out of malice but out of insecurity. Leading someone on? Same thing. If I'd had this book when I was eighteen it would have changed my life. I would have known not to waste time on guys who clearly 'weren't that into me'. In fact, I didn't read the actual book for several years; one night I thought I ordered it off Amazon but what arrived was sort of the 'Cliff Notes' version, It was every bit as useful as the actual book when I finally got to it.


What it boils down to is this: If he genuinely likes you, he'll make an effort to be with you, see you, and won't do anything that will make you doubt him because he doesn't want some other guy to snap you up. If he's really interested in you he'll be attentive, respond to messages within a reasonable, perhaps even short period of time, lest you think he's lost interest. One of the best exercises I got out of this was to ask: Who's his favourite movie or pop star? If he'd gotten her number after she'd shown interest, what's the likelihood he'd be ghosting her/being noncommital about dates/letting days go by without contact? He'd be on her like white on rice. When someone truly special is in your life, you make sure they know it so you don't miss out.


The book removes every dumbass excuse we make for him and why he's not in your life more: He's not 'busy with work' (guyspeak for I can't be arsed to see you), and he doesn't have too much on his mind. Bottom line: If he likes you and genuinely wants to see you, he will. It's not something you said or did; for whatever reason you'll likely never know, he's just not that into you. Don't waste any more time on this and move along. There's someone out there who wants to be with you.


While Behrendt writes about men who are unintentionally rude or hurtful, many of the behaviors he describes are what abusive, controlling men will use to keep women off balance and always wondering where the relationship is, impelling her to 'try harder' to please him. Behrendt writes with much empathy for women (probably because he himself has been subjected to so much of these same behaviors) and consistently emphasizes how important a woman is, how she's entitled to decent treatment, and how she should move on if the guy's just dicking around with her--unconsciously or not.


Update 08/29/22: I removed Travis Bradberry's Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and replaced it with Greg Behrendt's He's Just Not That Into You. When I wrote the original article I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of one of the books I'd wanted to include, so I went with Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Now that I've remembered the stellar book I consider a must-read for avoiding abusive men and relationships, I've replaced it with Beherendt's book.)



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