Domestic Abuse and Violence
Written by Randi G. Fine
Excerpt from my October 20, 2011 show on A Fine Time for Healing, Domestic Abuse and Violence: From Seduction to Survival
One out of every four women will experience domestic abuse or domestic violence sometime in her life. Although women are more commonly victimized, roughly two out of every five domestic abuse victims are men. It does not discriminate; domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, physical strength, sexual orientation, age, ethnic background, or income. In some societies, control over women through the use of abuse or violence is appropriate and acceptable.
What sets domestic abuse apart from other abusive or violent crimes is that it is perpetrated by someone that has a relationship with the victim; a family member, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse or former spouse, the parent of a shared child, or someone they currently or have recently lived with.
Relationships rarely start out as abusive. They usually start as kind, thoughtful, and passionate; just as every other relationship does. No one in their right mind would begin a relationship with an abusive or violent person. Unless they are masochistic, no one seeks out relationships with those that will control, dominate, or batter them.
Domestic abusers do not abuse everyone that crosses their path. They only abuse those that are close to them, those that they profess to love. And they easily exercise control over their behavior and actions so that no one will witness what they do. First responders to scenes of reported domestic violence incidents say that a significant number of abusers are very composed when they arrive.
Those that perpetrate domestic abuse are not usually mentally unsound; they are often demonstrating learned behaviors. Children who have grown up with abusive role models and learned that violence in a relationship is normal have a higher likelihood of becoming perpetrators themselves. Studies show that boys who witness abuse at home are seven times more likely to inflict abuse on others.
Abusers tend to have drastic high and low mood swings; it’s almost as if they have two different personalities. They may be sweet, generous, and loving one minute, and then suddenly begin degrading their victim, bursting into anger, or becoming violent.
Domestic violence and abuse is not loss of control, but rather a deliberate attempt to dominate, gain power over, and control someone. The abuser will do just about anything they can to maintain that control. Often their identity is tied to their victim; if they sense that they are losing control, real or imagined they will lash out. Even pregnancy can fuel the fire; the abuser may fear that their victim will withdraw love from them and give it to the child.
Abusers use tactics that will wear down their victim and erode their self-confidence. After being constantly told that they are worthless, ugly, and stupid they begin to believe it. Over time they lose the ability to perceive their selves as someone of value; they believe that they deserve the abuse. And they feel stuck in the relationship because they believe that they are defective – that no one else will want them.
One tactic an abuser will use is isolation. They disconnect their victim from their support systems in the outside world: their friends, family, job, or school. That increases their dependence on the abuser. If the victim wants to go anywhere or see anyone they must first ask permission.
Another tactic is intimidation which is used to scare the victim into submission. They may do violent things, or display weapons in front of their victim to send the message that the consequence for not obeying is cruel and unusual punishment.
Threats are commonly used to keep the victim from leaving or going to the police. Threats of violence may be directed at the victim or towards those the victim cares about; family, friends, and even pets. The abuser may threaten to commit suicide if their victim leaves them. They may threaten to file false charges against their victim. Or they may threaten to falsely report them for child abuse. They know the victim will comply because they don’t want to risk getting in trouble or losing their kids.
Any physical roughness, abuse or battery that happens in a domestic situation is categorized as domestic violence. The abuser may or may not beat up their victim, but they may use other acts of domestic violence such as pushing, shoving, yanking, restraining, or choking. Sexual abuse falls within that category. Forced sex, even with someone you have a consensual sexual relationship with is an aggressive and violent act. Being forced into unwanted, risky, or degrading sex is sexual abuse, no matter what the relationship happens to be.
Abuse that does not turn physical is called emotional abuse. Emotional abusers blame, intimidate, insult, threaten, and shame their victims to instill fear in them. As methods of control they may withhold money or scrutinize every penny of their victims’ spending. They may restrict the use of the car to keep them from going anywhere. They may forbid their victim to work, or force them to work and then take all their money. They may control, restrict, or deny necessities like clothing, food, or medical care, or threaten to leave them homeless.
One would think that the scars of physical abuse would be far more injurious to the victim than the scars of domestic emotional abuse, but that is not true. The degradation, isolation, and control used by the emotional abuser gradually erode their victim’s self-worth. The scars are less obvious on the outside but much more difficult to overcome.
An emotional ploy that confuses the victim is the outpouring of love, apologies, and regrets offered to them after an assault. The abuser will beg for forgiveness and promise to never hurt them again. They’ll promise to get help for their problem; offer to do anything they can to prevent their victim from leaving. Unfortunately it’s a stall tactic; they usually don’t keep their promises.
There isn’t any accurate way to predict who will abuse and who won’t. Wouldn’t it be great if all potential domestic abusers would wear a warning sign around their neck? In a sense they do. As you get to know someone, there are some red flags to watch out for. Domestic abusers have low self-esteem. They tend to belittle others because it gives them more confidence and makes them feel more powerful. They are selfish about getting their physical and emotional needs met. They may be too possessive, try to isolate you, or invade your personal space too early in the relationship. Do they always seem to be involved in conflicts with others, angry with someone, or starting fights? They may be addicted to drama, derive pleasure from constant chaos. Do they seem inappropriately quick to anger? Read between the lines if they admit to using violence in the past but blame the other person for causing it to happen. Do they have a history of criminal offenses or scuffles with the law? What kind of relationship do they have with their family members? Are they abusive or cruel to animals? Do they abuse drugs or alcohol? A substance abuser is more likely to be abusive towards others. Are they unmotivated, not working, or not going to school?
The best predictor of the future is the past. Find out what their previous relationships were like. If red flags start flying do your homework, investigate.
If you miss or ignore the warning signs and get deeper in the relationship, there are behaviors that will definitely identify someone as an abuser. An abuser never takes responsibility for their actions. After they lash out at you, do they justify it by blaming you for creating the problem in the first place? Do they deny their mistakes or try to make you feel crazy by insisting they never happened? Abusers are extremely possessive and uncontrollably jealous. Do they falsely accuse you of flirting with others or cheating on them, or tell you how to dress and how to act? Do they call your cell phone constantly when you’re not with them, or insist that you tell them who you’re talking to when you’re on the phone? Abusers have short fuses, violent tempers, and are destructive. Do they punch walls, break glasses or plates, or throw whatever they can get their hands on in a fit of rage? Do they try to hurt you by destroying things that are personal or sentimental to you? Abusers are selfish. Do they cheat on you, lie to you, or insist that you have sex when you don’t want to or in ways that disgust you? Abusers are disrespectful. Do they degrade you, call you names, ignore you or your feelings, or hang up on you? Do they tell you you’re stupid, tell you to shut up, accentuate your flaws, or compare you to their other partners? Do they say these things in front of others to humiliate you? Abusers are manipulative. Do they threaten to hurt you, your family, or your pet? Do they tell you that you are wonderful one minute and then berate you shortly after? Do they say that they can’t live without you and threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
The cycle of abuse runs in patterns. First the abuser verbally or physically lashes out; a power play to show their victim that they are in charge. Then they feel guilty, not for what they have done to their victim, but for fear that they will get in trouble for doing it. They begin rationalizing their behavior, making excuses. They’ll blame the victim to avoid taking any responsibility for their actions. Then there is the honeymoon phase. The abuser does whatever they can to restore a sense of normalcy to the relationship; to give the victim hope that they’ll change. Before long the abuser gets caught up again in thoughts of what his victim has done wrong; fantasizes and plans on how to punish them. To put their plan into action the abuser will set up their victim. They may have them run an errand and time them while their gone. This gives them justification to punish their victim for taking too long or accuse them of having an affair.
After repeatedly being threatened, subjected to violence, intimidated, and demeaned, the victim loses their sense of self. The physical, emotional, and psychological abuse profoundly impacts their ability to function in their day to day life. Their sleep may be restless or they may have nightmares. They become depressed or suicidal, and may withdraw from life out of shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness. They suffer anxiety, hyper vigilance, or even emotional numbness from constantly being kept on edge, frightened, and off-balance. They may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After consistently being told by their abuser that they’re not experiencing what they think they’re experiencing, they feel like they are going insane, and they lose the ability to trust their perceptions.
Abuse is abuse; it is not acceptable no matter what the level. Your situation cannot be compared to the situation of others as being better or worse, especially when it comes to physical violence. The risks of injury and death are the same whether you’ve been physically abused once or ten times. And studies show that if your abuser assaulted you once they are likely to do it again. You’re not off the hook if you haven’t suffered physical abuse yet…emotional abuse often leads to physical abuse. Maybe things don’t seem so bad lately because you’ve given in and have become passive in the relationship; you’ve exchanged your rights, desires, and freedom of expression for your abuser’s mercy. You can only do that for so long before you end up suicidal or they crave chaos and abuse you again. Emotional abuse, abuse without battering, is no less damaging than physical abuse. One leaves physical scars – the other leaves emotional scars. One destroys you from the outside in – the other destroys you from the inside out. One is no less destructive than the other.
To find out if you are in an abusive relationship, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you afraid of your partner most of the time?
- Do you feel tied down, crowded, or confined?
- Does your abuser demand your constant attention or frequent sex?
- Are you unhappy or crying a lot?
- Do you walk on eggshells or avoid certain topics to keep the peace?
- Do you knock yourself out trying to please your partner believing that you can love them enough to fix the problem…and is it never enough?
- Do you ever make excuses for your abuser or attempt to minimize the seriousness of your situation? Do you choose to live in denial?
- Are you treated like a child, a possession, or a servant?
- Do you blame yourself for creating the problems that lead to your abuse, or believe that you deserve the mistreatment?
- Do you feel helpless and hopeless; that there is no way out of your relationship?
- Do you feel like you can’t survive emotionally, financially, or physically without the relationship?
- Is your partner a substance abuser who becomes more abusive when they are under the influence?
- Have you turned to substance abuse or an eating disorder as a way to cope with your situation?
- Has the abuse escalated over time?
- Are you afraid to leave your abuser for fear of what they’ll do to you, your children, your family, or your pets? Are you afraid they’ll commit suicide if you do?
To listen to this show in its entirety, please go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/randi-fine/2011/10/20/domestic-abuse-and-violence-from-seduction-to-survival
I am available to talk about any life issues that are concerning you. Private, confidential. http://clarity.fm/randi-g-fine
“In Love” photo by Josefina Herrera “Contempt” by Luke Baldacchino “I thought he loved me” photo by dualdflipflop “Abuse: Cycle of violence” photo by moggsoceanlane “They’re coming to get you” photo by Martinak15
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