Friday, 20 April 2012 06:59

Beware an Insecure Man (Part I)

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"Aseju l'obirin se nka'we" – Author withheld to protect the chauvinist

I just got off the phone with a friend in Houston who is having marital problems again. And as usual, I offered words of encouragement and advice. I mean, when someone calls on you for counsel, whether you feel qualified or not, 'how for do?' This is her situation: she has been married for 10 years and has five children. During this marriage she began and completed medical school having started out as a nurse. It was difficult for her to juggle it all – pregnancy, babies, weekend work, school, and homemaking – but by the grace of God, as she would say, she survived. Now, she has finished and is studying for her board exams but he wouldn't let her study in peace. He practically picks a fight every time she picks up her books – "You are a useless woman. Look at the floor of your house!" "Who will trust you to take care of them when you can't even take care of your own children?" "What do you think you are reading, Olodo like yourself." "Doctor my foot. Even if you are flying, you can never become the head of this house!"

Sure, he'd shown signs of insecurity-induced abuse from the start. In the beginning, he derided her dream to study medicine and when he realized she was serious, he said, "aseju l'obirin se nka'we" (it is an overly ambitious woman that pursues an education). Though shocked by his statement and the depth of his insecurities, she continued her pursuit. By the time she gained admission into medical school, she was pregnant with their first child. In fact, she was almost always pregnant or nursing a baby during their ten-year marriage and her pregnancy or delivery always coincided with major milestones in her education – taking the LSAT, the STEP I, critical care rotation, board exams, etc.

His refusal to allow birth control was only one of his methods of subjugating his wife. "Look," he would yell when she expressed her concern, "I am the only child of my mother and I need to give her offspring to care for." Any attempt she made to discuss issues that bothered her was met with a similar attitude. He yelled at her for keeping the refrigerator stocked with "food the children don't appreciate," for enrolling one child in an afterschool activity, for walking in the park, and less significant things. His favorite refrain is, "the idiot I pulled from the gutter now wants to be king over me. Never!"

And he didn't only use his tongue to violate his wife, he also expended his strength. Slaps and shoves are not uncommon to the extent that one day, their six year old son yelled at him, "Don't kill my mommy! Don't kill my mommy!" On her part, my friend excuses his abuse on the grounds that children are better off in a two-parent household. And God hates divorce.

Because she was in school, she couldn't work fulltime. Though he worked in IT and was well paid, he withheld his finances. He doubled his retirement contribution, bought a Hummer, bought another house in his name only, built a house for his mother in the village, and financed the education or trade of many relatives. Further, he routinely siphoned money out of their joint account into his password-protected personal account. This left his wife and children in relative poverty when they could be well off. His response when confronted with his material abuse was, "you think I have time to be subsidizing any fool's education? If she thinks her children are starving, let her go to work to feed them."

His latest barrage of mental and emotional abuse was wrecking havoc on her study habits hence her 911-friend call. So, having experienced similar problems, I consulted noted pop psychotherapists Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil to offer her advice:

1. Stop enabling the perpetrator! An insecure person is not weak or needy but a control freak who will grind you into the ground. In order to make you feel smaller than his perception of himself, he would keep berating and abusing you until your self-esteem is lower than his. Stop participating in his abuse by refusing to cower, hide away, or grovel. No amount of begging will appease his ego so don't waste your time.

2. LIVE YOUR DREAMS! Go about achieving the goals you've set for yourself regardless of his lack of cooperation. Thankfully, my friend did not desist in her pursuit of an MD despite her tyrannical husband's shenanigans. If she had, he would have called her a failure and her children would be robbed of a role model. Dr. Phil says, 'if a relationship is costing you your dreams, identity, and dignity, it is costing you too much to stay in it.'

3. Review all your options. You don't have to engage a tyrant in an argument or to stop exercising because he thinks it makes you look like a hag. Find empowering alternatives that boost your self-worth.

4. Network with others. You are not alone in this situation so there is no reason to suffer in silence. You may be the only wife of your husband, but you are not the only woman suffering insecurity-induced abuse. Find a confidant, a support group, or a network you can lean on.

5. BE ALERT! If you choose to sit on a powder keg by remaining with your dictator spouse, watch out for the explosion! Keep your senses alert so you can skip town when he gets too dangerous to live with. Many a woman has lost her life romancing a reptile. Tips to follow: A. Have a separate bank account to keep money or tie it at the end of your wrapper. B. Know the location of your domestic violence shelter or the home of a non-mutual, trusted friend. C. Have a plan to evacuate your children from home or school at short notice. D. Always have gas in your car and an overnight bag in the trunk. E. Do whatever it takes to stay alive.

6. Oyinbo people suggest you should talk to the man when he is calm and rational. I say, approach him at your own peril. From experience, I know that as soon as you mention his "problem," he will erupt. Another advice is to seek counseling. Hmm... All in all, they do agree that you cannot alleviate anybody's insecurities, so as my people say, "alatise lo n'm'atise ara e" (it is the person who has a problem that would find the solution).

7. Best remedy is to AVOID AN INSECURE MAN altogether. Though this advice is redundant for my friend, it is for other women out there. When your date's countenance falls when you announce your occupation, flee fast! He cannot handle marriage to your go-getter, high-flying, overachiever self. Sashay forward to meet better men.


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Abi Adegboye Ph.D

Abi Adegboye began writing as a young girl growing in western Nigeria.  In a culture that reveres boys, she was born the second of three girls.  Certain she had to be her family's 'boy,' she climbed trees to harvest fruit, dressed chickens for dinner, caught mice, and whatever else required male-handling.  She also loved to read, write, and draw.  Her initial efforts yielded publications in local newspapers and newsletters.  However, she was advised to get a day job which turned out to be as a professor of political science.  This opened to her, a different avenue for publication in her areas of research including African women and development, women migrants, and the impact of public policy on women’s political economy.

On her 40th birthday, she rekindled her creative writing with the publication of Butterfly, a picture book and Reflections on Nigerian Christianity, a social commentary.  Since then, she’s co-authored Owanbe! Yoruba Celebrations of Life (2010), a cultural anthology and published Wanna B Prez? 10 Life Strategies from President Barack Obama’s Journey to the White House (2012), a YA motivational YA book, and Renike comes to America (2016), a novella.  

Abi writes multicultural fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults.  She shares her writing through speaking engagements, performances, storytelling, and classroom visits. 

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