From Seduction to Survival, Part One
Written by Randi G. Fine
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.
What sets domestic abuse and violence apart from other abusive or violent crimes is that it is perpetrated by someone who 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 the person has currently or recently lived with.
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 their victims from going out. They may forbid victims 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.
With frequent and extreme high/low mood swings it appears as if domestic abusers 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. But in most cases these abusers are not mentally unsound. They are often demonstrating learned behaviors.
The violence and abuse is not loss of control, but rather a deliberate attempt to dominate, gain power over, and control someone. Anything can fuel the fire.
To find out if you are in an emotionally or physically 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 the person 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 led 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 he or she is under the influence?
- Have you turned to substance abuse, an eating disorder, or another addiction 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 he or she will do to you, your children, your family, or your pets? Are you afraid your abuser will commit suicide if you do?
Abusers use tactics to isolate victims from their support systems, wear them down, and erode their self-confidence. After being constantly told that they are worthless, ugly, and stupid, victims begin to believe it. Over time they lose the ability to perceive themselves as having any value and come to believe that they deserve the abuse. Believing they are defective, that no one else will want them, they feel hopelessly stuck in the relationship.
Methods of intimidation are used to scare victims into submission. Abusers may do violent acts or display weapons in front of their victims to send the message that the consequence for not obeying is cruel and unusual punishment. Threats of violence may be directed at victims, loved ones, friends, and family pets.
Victims are threatened to keep them from leaving or reporting the abuse to authorities. They may threaten to file false charges against their victim or to falsely report them for child abuse.
The cycle of abuse runs in predictable patterns:
- Abusers verbally or physically lash out; a power play to show victims that they are in charge.
- Abusers feel guilty, not for what they have done to their victims, but for fear that they will get in trouble for doing it. They begin rationalizing their behavior and making excuses. Victims are blamed so abusers don’t have to take responsibility for their actions.
- Abusers do whatever they can to restore a sense of normalcy to the relationship; to give victims hope that they’ll change. There is an outpouring of love, apologies, and regrets offered to their victims. They beg for forgiveness and promise to never hurt their victims again. They promise to get help for their problem.
- Abusers get caught up in thoughts of what their victims have done wrong. They fantasize and plan ways to punish them. Victims are deliberately set up to fail in some way so there is justification for the punishment.
After repeatedly being threatened, subjected to violence, intimidated, and demeaned, victims lose their sense of self. Constantly kept on edge, frightened, and off-balance they suffer anxiety, hyper vigilance, and/or emotional numbness. Consistently told that they’re not experiencing what they think they’re experiencing they lose the ability to trust their perceptions. They feel as if they are losing their minds.
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. Depression and/or suicidal thoughts take over. They may withdraw from life out of shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness.