10,000 hours of abuse

18 May 2010

There is a theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become
truly expert at something. 

This theory is explained, very persuasively, by Malcolm
Gladwell in his book, “Outliers”. 

Gladwell argues that there are two main components to
becoming outstandingly good in any sphere: 

  • Being
    in the right place, at the right time
  • Putting
    in 10,000 hours. 

How does this relate to emotional abuse, and domestic
violence in general? 

First, let’s get some perspective on this: when Gladwell
talks about getting 10,000 hours in computer programming, playing a sport, or
any of the other things he talks about, 10,000 hours sounds like a lot of

Suppose you managed to do 8 of these hours per day, 5 days
per week, it would take you nearly 5 years to put in your 10,000 hours. 

But it doesn’t work like that with abuse, does it?  

Now nobody rushes into a mentally, emotionally abusive relationship to invest
an initial 10,000 hours   – and then a
whole lot more – to become an expert in being emotionally abused.

Yet it happens, does it not? 

In my own case, in the first year alone, the math
worked like this: 

  1. 1
    hour  (the first token incident, to
    test my compliance)
  2. 24
    hours  (the first full ‘test’
  3. 72
    hours  (first full blown explosion)
  4. 2-3
    hours daily for the first 3 months
  5. 5-6
    hours over the next 9 months
  6. 1 x
    72 hour block every 6 weeks 

So, at a conservative estimate, in that first year
of my abusive relationship, I must have put approximately 2160 hours
into learning how to be an abused woman! 

After that, the number of hours I committed just kept
escalating.  (By the second year, I reckon the number probably doubled.)

My guess is that you too have committed a massive, monstrous number
of hours.  Maybe it was less, maybe it
was considerably more.  Either way, it
is a tragedy to have wasted so many hours feeling miserable about your relationship
with your partner. 

When you think about it that way, it may just suggest to
you that an abusive relationship really has nowhere to go but down. 

But there is more, of course. 

First, Gladwell identifies another characteristic that
makes for an ‘Outlier’; and that is being in the right place at the right

Like me, you were, doubtless, in the right place at the
right time, because you grew up in an environment that prequalified you
for an abusive relationship.  

Perhaps the environment you grew up in was abusive;
you may have been emotionally neglected – and otherwise ill treated.  Or you may just have been programmed
to be a total people-pleaser.  

Either way, you were trained to be exceptionally receptive
to an abusive man. 

So you, like me, were much more inclined than another
woman might be to put in those 10,000 hours (and many further
thousands as well). 

Sadly, even that is not the end of it. 

Your abusive partner also put in his 10,000 hour

What am I saying here? 

My abusive husband fully developed his abusive skills with

Thinking back, he had had one prior serious relationship
in which his focus was to be accepted into his partner’s family.  At that time, he aspired to integration into
the bosom of a family that was much more loving and supportive than his own.

(Further, his girlfriend’s father was the national head of
the professional association to which he belonged.)  

For all that, the relationship didn’t work out.  My future husband did not feel that this
girlfriend met enough of his needs. 
(Although, as he told it, he did not know exactly what those needs

By the time he met me, he wanted something different: he
wanted a woman who would be completely and utterly his creature.  

His family ‘programming’ was certainly abusive.  But because his father was the Alpha male
abuser, and brooked no competition, my future husband had not been able to put
all his learnt (abusive) skills into practice. 

By the time he had completed his 10,000 hours with me, he
had become a very accomplished abusive man, in his own right. 

It was never my fault.  

But it was my responsibility inasmuch as – thanks
to my programming – I let him get away with it.

In exactly the same way that you let your partner get away
with it.  

You may have fought, and remonstrated, and pleaded, and
threatened, but still…  Either you
stayed, or you kept taking him back – which means that you let him get away
with it. 

So, he put in his 10,000 hours, and so did you.  

He became more and more expert at hurting, humiliating and
rejecting you.  And you became more and
more expert at… what?

  • Shame
  • Humiliation
  • Self-loathing
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Numbness
  • Paralysis

And you sacrificed thousands and thousands – maybe even
tens of thousands – of hours of your precious life. 

But there is an upside.  

Who you are is not simply what you do.  Or, at least, what you do does
not have to be all that you are.  

Everyone, including abused women, has so many, many

Yes, you have got your 10,000 hours of emotional abuse –
and then some.  But you also have other,
massive skills and achievements, if you will just focus on them.  

As for your partner, well, he has got his 10,000 hours,
too.  Probably many times over.  

You can’t know what he will do with his extraordinary
expertise – and why on earth should you care, provided he stops blighting your

But you can set about acquiring expertise about how to
have a happy life.  

You’ve already proved that you are a very good learner
(although the things you have learnt have not always been those that are most
helpful to you).  

Start accumulating your first 10,000 hours of
happiness.   Remember, you can start as
small as you please.

Sure, 10,000 hours may sound daunting.  But they need not be.  That is only 416  days and nights.  

If you choose to make it your full time focus, instead of
your abusive partner, by July 2011, you will be in a very different place. 

Even if you only do it for 2-3 hours a day, by this
time next year, you will be getting quite good at it.

Will you do it?

Will you let me help you to do it?




Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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