Domestic Violence

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Excuses, honeymoon, tension build-up, abuse. Excuses, honeymoon, tension build-up, abuse. Excuses, honeymoon, tension build-up... Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome. But you are not insane. You don't have to continue playing this game.

Domestic violence is abuse between two adults who share the same household (which usually sums up to romantic partners, but can mean adult children abusing their elderly parents, siblings, etc). Criminal (prosecutable) domestic violence may include physical assault (slapping, hitting, pushing, shoving, etc), sexual assault/rape, stalking/harassment, or blackmail. Non-criminal domestic violence may include emotional abuse (intimidation, mind-games, etc), or financial/economic abuse (i.e. controlling money). These latter forms eventually turn into criminal behaviors in 80% of cases. Domestic violence can be perpetrated by and against people of any gender, age, income level, race, religion, or any other demographic criteria. According to statistics, 28.5% of men and 35.6% of women in the US have experienced violence by their intimate partner, and 48.8% and 48.4% have experienced psychological aggression by their intimate partner.

Perpetrators of domestic violence often try to explain/justify it with circumstances outside of their control: drugs, alcohol, mental illness, troubled childhood, anger problems, PMS, hard day at work, etc, claiming that if only the victim didn't provoke them, the abuse wouldn't have occurred. The victim adopts this perspective, walks on eggshells, yet seems unable to prevent or even predict the next violent episode. That's because they aren't the one responsible for it. The things above can escalate abuse, but they do not cause it. Simple reality-check: does your partner get violent with other people as well, or only with you? Police, employer, landlord, random people on the street? If they do - they really are an uncontrollable loon, you need to run. Most probably though they are perfectly capable of managing their emotions and controlling their behavior, when they know they have to. Just you're not on the list of people they choose to control themselves around.

Abuse is caused by bad boundaries: the perpetrator feels that they are more important than their partner, demands that their personal needs and wants should take priority, and intimidates, controls, and violates their partner to get what they want. The feeling of entitlement is often due to poor upbringing, where parents didn't explain to the child clearly enough that s/he isn't any more special than the next person and the world doesn't owe him/her anything. The justification for using violence to get what they want is largely due to societal norms and influences, plus prior experience: the longer they get away with it, the more they believe it's their right to act this way. For example, many people feel it's OK to slap their partner if they discover they are being cheated on, even though legally cheating isn't a crime, while slapping is.

Anyone can find themselves a victim of domestic violence. It starts gradually, and often follows the infamous "cycle of abuse" dynamic: The first time you're hit by your partner, you see it as an unfortunate accident: definitely not ok, and you say so, but they apologize, explain their stressors, beg for forgiveness, are crushed by guilt, might even talk of suicide over what a horrible person they are - so you decide to give them another chance. After all, it's someone you love, someone you believe loves you back, relationships take effort, so you want to work through this. The problem is put behind, relationship is great, you're in the honemoon phase, and then the tension starts building up again and eventually erupts into violence for the second time. This time you get more concerned and less hopeful, but they again explain what happened and you start adopting their point of view: maybe you really are making too big of a deal out of it, maybe it doesn't count if there's no bruise, or if they don't remember doing it, or if it was in the middle of an argument and you said something mean to them that got them angry. Besides, there could also be legal, financial, or religious considerations, e.g. a violent husband threatening to throw you out of the house, or a violent wife threatening to take the kids if you divorce her. So you give the relationship yet another chance, things are good for a while again, and then the cycle repeats. After a few more rounds of this, you aren't sure where the lines are anymore: they were crossed multiple times and you didn't leave, so what makes current episode different from all the previous ones? Eventually you end up believing that you deserve this treatment somehow, that you're weak, loser, sucker, etc - different from other people who have happy families and aren't getting beat by their partners.

To complicate the matters further, domestic violence can be mutual, where both partners abuse each other simultaneously, and each believes to be (and often is) a victim of their partner. It's possible to be both the victim and the perpetrator at once, psychologically and legally. For example, if he was emotionally unavailable, she cheated on him, he called her a whore, she slapped his face, he punched her front teeth out, she hit him on the head with a frying pan, he stabbed her - neither of them is a blameless victim. Regardless of who started first or who did the worst, both perpetrated abuse on each other, and need to take responsibility for their part.

Domestic violence is a serious trauma with vast physical, psychological, and financial consequences. It's a threat to life: 1 in 5 murder victims in the USA were killed by their intimate partner. The risk of getting killed is 70 times higher when the victim attempts to leave the relationship. If you're trapped in domestic violence - please plan your escape carefully, preferably with professional help; you want to be sure to make the transition to freedom as safe and painless as possible. Do take advantage of all the domestic violence resources available to you, - society does care, and is there to help, in many ways: legal, financial, psychological, etc. - you don’t have to do this on your own. Call hotlines (or use chatlines), they can link you to helpful organizations in your area. Please be safe.

If you aren't ready to leave:
It's your life, and you have every right to choose what to do with it. Many victims mistake “help” for “intervention”, i.e. if I tell anyone, police will be at my door the next minute, I’ll lose my house, my kids, my partner will go to jail, etc, etc, etc. Abuse, by definition, is a boundary violation, so it's not surprising that we struggle trusting that other people won’t violate our boundaries too, by providing us with “help” we did not ask for and do not want. However, most people understand "no", so there's no need to isolate from your family and friends: just say politely but firmly that you’re the one making decisions here. Social isolation is bad for DV victims: it keeps you trapped in your partner's distorted thinking, and focused on his/her issues 24/7, to the point that you lose other interests in life. Spending time with friends and family is a necessity rather than a luxury. Join a support group too, online or at your local domestic violence shelter. Talking to others who are in the same position as you provides excellent emotional support and often helpful insight too.

If there are children involved:
A lot of people don't realize that exposing children to violence can result in legal troubles for either or both parents, even if the child isn't physically hurt, and even if you were the victim of violence. I.e. an abused woman calls 911 on her husband and loses custody of her kids as a result. It might seem like blaming the victim, but it's two separate crimes: you can be simultaneously a victim of domestic violence and a perpetrator of child abuse through neglect at once. Both you and the child deserve a safe and healthy environment, but the responsibility to ensure it lies on you, because you're the adult: a child cannot divorce you both and move out. Your life is your choice, and if you choose to stay in an unsafe situation - it's sad, but it's your right. However, you have no right to keep a child in an environment that's bad for them. Parents are responsible for protecting their children, and if you can't or won't do it, the state will take over, for the sake of the child. If the situation at home is unsafe, children have to move out, with or without you. Do the right thing.

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
This page was last updated on April 10th, 2016
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