Something in the Shattering: A Look At Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships
“You deserved it.”
If you’ve ever been involved in domestic violence or an abusive relationship as the person on the receiving end, this is a common and typical abusive relationship quote that is going to be very familiar to you. It was to me. Still is. It doesn’t matter if it was 3 days ago or 30 years. You may come to terms with these words and you may make peace with them, but they never leave you. Not entirely.
As a woman who has come out the other side of an abusive marriage, I can say it was an immensely educational experience. . I learned a lot about life and about people. I learned about dimensions in myself I never knew were there. Not all of them were pretty; not about people, not about about life and not about myself. No one likes to look at ugliness, especially when they find in themselves.
“You deserved it.”
Just in typing that last paragraph the words came back again. They really don’t hurt so much now. The sting has gone out of them but they still worm their way into my brain. I’ve reached an agreement with myself on this though. I can waffle about with whether I did or didn't deserve it until the day I die but I must also know no human being deserves to be abused. Dubious, I know. But it’s where I am. I know myself well enough to know forcing thoughts or even non-thoughts is a useless endeavor.
Whether you have been involved in domestic violence or in an abusive relationship in the past, are in one now, suspect you may be or are just curious, please read on. If I've learned one thing on my journey through the storm it's that we are not alone in this. Take refuge in the fact there is something in this shattering that brings us all together. We are all sisters (or brothers) and can support each other. Let's go ahead and talk this walk, bravely, hand in hand.
What Are the Signs of an Abusive Relationship?
The above illustration used by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program sums it up perfectly. Study it. Print it down and save it. If you at any time begin to recognize several of these symptoms, chances are good it's time to reassess that relationship you're involved in.
Sound a little paranoid? Maybe. But let me share something I've learned. Sometimes the emotional mechanics at work in the background of an abusive relationship are so subtle you simply don't realize you're in one until you are mired so deeply into it you can't see a way out. If you find yourself recognizing symptoms on the chart and begin making excuses, stop right there. If you find yourself having to make several excuses, things are only going to get worse.
The Dynamics: What is it? What Causes it?
This is the very nature of the beast. It's about power and control, and unfortunately you're not the one having it. But I didn't have to tell you that, did I? The dynamics behind every abusive relationship and act of domestic violence involves two things:
- a morbidly insecure partner, driven by fears both real and perceived
- the imposition of dominance and control over the other partner to diminish those fears
The abuser, classically, is someone who perceives they have little self or social value. He (or she) has little ability to cope with that perception. To regain that sense of value, they assert dominance and control over another and that's usually the person they're involved emotionally with. This is because they are consumed by two fears:
- appearing weak
- not being worthy of love
You, as the partner, are expected to submit to this need for dominance consistently. If not, a cycle begins which will eventually escalate into some form of abuse, and it may be one you're already familiar with. Before we get to that cycle and the forms of abuse, I have a bit of bad news for you, but it's something you must hear and something you must think about if you even so much as suspect you're in an abusive situation. It's not going to be easy to read, but I assure you I've stood in your shoes and I have your hand.
The victim in an abusive relationship suffers the same insecurities as her (or his) abuser. That's right. We have a classic profile too:
- fear of not being worthy/lovable
- establish self and social worth by losing herself (himself) in the domineering of the other partner.
Don't let this freak you out. Chances are good, deep down, you already knew this about yourself. I did, I just wasn't capable of facing it until I had to as a matter of my own survival. No need for self-blaming here ("you deserved it"). Remember, no human being deserves to be abused. So, let's step on that bug before it scuttles too far across the floor of your mind. You're already heading towards the sunrise because you're still reading this.
An abusive relationship is one where there are extreme dynamics at play which require domination and submission (whether it's social, emotional, physical, sexual, or financial).
Let's keep going.
Types of Abuse in Relationships
Before we get into the dynamics of the cycle of abuse, let's take a look at the types of abuse that can occur in relationships. These relationships don't always involve a spouse or significant other as we we'll see in the first type.
The social abuser tends to be egocentric, or having little sense of the feelings of others, and has a very slippery sense of their own social value. They can feel easily threatened in their social positions. Have you ever worked for someone who has taken credit for your hard work? Or have you had a boss who sings your praises one moment and threatens the security of your job the next? These are forms of social abuse. An individual is so afraid of not appearing up to snuff they must domineer others to rebuild their perceived value in the eyes of their peers or society.
Financial abuse occurs when one partner asserts control over the other financially. This is a means of keeping the partner an assured prisoner in the relationship. Often the one suffering this type of abuse is kept from working. If they do work, then they experience little control over their own earnings. The paycheck is either demanded, or they're allowed little to no control over banking. They may be allowed an allowance.
Have you ever thought or uttered these words?
"I'd leave him BUT I have no money, nowhere to go, and no way to support myself."
If you have, you've sold yourself into the cycle of abuse and no one can break you out of it but you. There's no need to despair in this situation as you may have convinced yourself. There's help out there for victims of abusive relationships to get temporary shelter and financial assistance until they can get on their feet. We'll go over this more in another section.
This is often the most overlooked form of abuse unless it's coupled (and often is) with other forms of abuse. It's the one, however, that leaves the deepest scars. The underlying psychological motive of emotional abuse is to chip away at the self worth and sense of independence of the other partner. This often involves yelling, insulting, name-calling, blaming and threats. It also includes the abuser isolating his partner or making her feel she (or he) is cut off from any other support system.
"I'm nothing without him (her)."
If you can be made to believe this, you'll never break the chain and leave the unhealthy relationship. Controlling behavior is also a form of emotional abuse. Anything that can be done psychologically to undermine the partner into a sense of hopelessness and the inability to leave the relationship will fit under this category.
Physical violence can threaten your life, but emotional abuse can affect and diminish you for the rest of your life. If you are suffering this form of abuse, please do not minimize it.
Ever had bruises you had to lie about? If so, then you don't need to be told what this type of abuse entails. Physical abuse usually occurs when the abuser feels he won't be held accountable for his behavior. Interestingly, this category not only includes physical violence but it also includes depriving the partner of basic needs such as food, water, proper hygiene, etc. or depriving of physical intimacy. The types of behaviors this category includes are:
- slapping, biting, pinching or squeezing to inflict pain
- pushing, shoving, throwing, pinning down or any other type of restraint
- hair pulling, shaking or jerking
- physical violence that is targeted to places on the body that won't show
- abuses to the children (in any or all forms)
- severe sustained beating which can require medical treatment
- breaking bones, causing miscarriages and/or internal injuries
- using weapons such as a gun, knife or broken bottle
- causing permanent disability
This type of abuse includes any forced or coerced sexual acts ranging from unwanted sexual gestures or comments to physically forced or violent contact with the genitals of the other partner. Denying the partner of wanted intimacy can also be considered under this category.
The Cycle of Abuse
The cycle of abuse is present in all domestic violence and abusive relationships, regardless of the type(s) of abuse involved. The chart above shows the pattern. If you are honest with yourself, if you're in this type of situation, you can see it quite clearly.
Initial Incident of abuse: This is the explosion or escalation of an argument or situation where the abuse comes to it's full and terrible fruition.
Tension building: You find yourself walking on egg shells. He (she) is edgy and angry and may begin random abuses. You find yourself needing to calm him (her) and succumbing to the tensions. You dread going home.
Making-up: This is the honeymoon phase. This is where we, and our abuser, tells us "it'll never happen again". There may be apologies. There may also be blame and denial that any abuse ever took place or diminishing of the events that actually took place.
The calm: This is the lull where you might tell yourself he's (she's) changed and it will never happen again. Life appears to go back to "normal" and you may receive gifts of apology. You may both pretend as if the abuse or the domestic violence never took place at all. Abuses may still continue during this stage.
This cycle can happen hundreds of times. It can last an hour or a year to its completion. It's also possible over time that the calm and make-up stages disappear completely. Not all abusive relationships will fit this criteria exactly, but I think you get the picture.
Regarding abusive relationships or domestic violence, which of the following statements is true for you?
Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationship Statistics
"I would NEVER stay in an abusive relationship."
"If a man ever hit me, I wouldn't stand for it and I'd leave him immediately."
"I would never be with a man who would treat me that way."
Familiar? I used to say these same things. Then one day as I sat with hidden bruises throbbing, I realized I was that relationship I swore I'd never have. This was after the third time it had escalated into physical violence and I was left with bumps and bruises. Please note, I said, "THE THIRD TIME." I'm not a stupid woman, although you may think otherwise. I can assure you I'm no different than anyone else. My IQ is a bit above average but nothing to boast about. This is just how subtle the dynamics of domestic violence and being in an abusive relationship can be. At first I was so bewildered and confused I retreated into a hell of self-analyzing, self-blame, and worst of all justifying it away. Nothing can hang the blinders over your eyes quite like that. I hadn't even realized all the excuse-making I had done from the very beginning until the bruises really started to hurt and people started to notice them.
"It can never happen to me."
Yes, it can. Let's look at some recent statistics:
- One in every 4 women will have experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.
- Every 9 seconds, a woman experiences abuse or domestic violence in the US.
- Domestic violence is the #1 cause of injury to women.
- Every day in the US a woman is murdered by her boyfriend or husband.
- Up to 10 million children witness acts of domestic violence or abuse annually.
- The costs of domestic violence and relationship abuse exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion for medical and health care, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion in the US.
- Based on reports from 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners have never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for help.
- One in every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationship Help
If you are in a violent or abusive relationship, the hardest thing to do is acknowledge you must leave it and then DO it. Statistically, it takes up to 7 events of escalated abuse or domestic violence before a woman (or man) finally leaves the relationship for good with her life. That's if she's lucky. Please don't hold out hope he (or she) will change. That occurs in only the most rare of cases. The only way to break the cycle of violence for good is to step out of it.
I can tell you as a survivor, you CAN get out and you can survive this. All it takes is reaching out. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that leaving an abuser is dangerous. It's the one thing he (or she) fears the most and is capable of leading to higher levels of violence. Don't let this dissuade you. There are trained professionals out there who are ready and able to help you.
There are local shelters and safe places in your community. When it's safe for you to do so, do a little research and locate one nearest you. They'll be able to guide and direct you to where you (and your children if you have them) can go that's safe, secure and where you can receive assistance. They also offer counseling services which I would very highly suggest you take advantage of. You may think you're okay, but trust that at this time you're not thinking clearly and unable to see how skewed your perspectives have become. Let them help you. This is something that won't heal or go away overnight. Go ahead and reach out and take a hold of the hand that's offered you. These folks know exactly how to help you. Remember the dynamics discussed earlier. For every abuser there is a victim. It's the dynamics of balance. This is the time to get some help identifying that "victim" inside of your subconscious and getting your head on straight.
Some important numbers:
- In the U.S., call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4ACHILD
- UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247.
- Canada: National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-363-9010.
- Australia: National Domestic Violence Hotline 1800 200 526.
- Or visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a worldwide list of helplines, shelters, and crisis centers.
If You are a Man:
- In the US, The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Womenspecializes in supporting male victims of abuse and offers a 24-hour helpline: 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754).
- UK: ManKind Initiative offers a national helpline at 01823 334244.
- Australia: One in Three Campaign offers help and resources for male victims.
You are Not a Victim
You are not a victim. You are a beautiful and deserving part of creation and it's your right by birth to live up to your unlimited potential. You are intelligent and strong because you're taking charge in this moment to educate yourself. It's the first step. Keep me in your pocket and know I am cheering you on all the way to a better life without fear and distrust. You can do it. Believe it.
If you're not in an abusive relationship, then please keep these words near and dear. You may never need them, but chances are good one day you'll know someone who does.
Note: If you suspect or you are in an abusive relationship or domestic violence situation, please seek professional help. The information in this article is limited and does not encompass everything you may need to know. It's purpose is to give you basic information.
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