Let’s take a moment to reflect on Domestic Violence and Abuse – what is it? Who are the abusers? What are its origins? Who does it affect? How does the Cycle of Violence work and why it makes it so difficult to leave.
Domestic Violence and Abuse is essentially the attempt, act or intent of someone within a relationship to intimidate (by threat or by the use of physical force) another person or property. A domestically violent or abusive relationship between two people is characterized by intimacy, dependency or trust. Thus the abuser can be a family member or romantic partner (spouse, common-law partner or boy/girlfriend). Abusers can be male or female. Through my personal experience, as well as my experience with clients and people in general, I have learned that most of us are familiar with this information. Well, aside for the fact the Domestic Violence and Abuse is not limited to a spousal relationship –the relationships can be more informal than that of husband and wife. What I have found to be the most surprising to people at large is what Domestic Abuse and Violence includes, as the common misconception is that Domestic Abuse and Violence = Physical Abuse.
However, Domestic Violence and Abuse can take many forms of behaviour, including: physical, verbal, sexual, psychological, emotional, spiritual, economic, stalking, threatening, intimidation and the violation of rights. With this exhaustive list in mind, how many of you went from believing that you are not/have never been involved in a relationship characterized by Domestic Violence and Abuse to recognizing that are/have been? Believe me, if you have just made this realization you are far from being alone. Because Domestic Violence and Abuse is almost always associated with physical abuse so many people fail to recognize the situation they are in/were in.
While women are most often regarded as those who have been the target of Domestic Violence and Abuse the truth is Domestic Violence and Abuse knows has no limits. Men and women of all ages, cultures, sexual orientations, income levels, education levels and ability/mobility levels may be experiencing/have experienced Domestic Violence and Abuse.
For those of you that have been/are involved in a relationship characterized by Domestic Violence and Abuse, how many of your abusers have blamed their abusive behaviour on external factors? How many of you have heard the abuser say, “The alcohol made me act that way, if I was sober X would never have happened” or “I was so high, I don’t even remember doing X” or “X has me so stressed, you know that I wouldn’t act like this otherwise” or “If you didn’t do X, I would never have reacted by Y”? Truth is those are just EXCUSES made by the abusers for their BAD (ABUSIVE) BEHAVIOUR. This does not mean incidences of abuse are free from any combination of these variables, it simply means that the variables are not the causefor aggressive (abusive) behaviour. That is, these variables can be present and abusive behaviour DOES NOThave to occur. Abusive behaviour is rooted in an individual’s attempt to achieve/maintain control or power over another person –fundamentally, it is a POWER ISSUE! Any other reason an abuser gives you is nothing more than an EXCUSE!
Being in a relationship that is characterized by Domestic Violence and Abuse almost always comes with an associated stigma and superficial opinion. For those of you that are/have been involved in a relationship characterized by Domestic Violence and Abuse or know someone who is/has, think about the types of things you have heard people say? Perhaps it was even you that said these things out loud or privately thought them. “Why doesn’t he/she just leave him/her”? “If he/she did it once he/she will do it again so it’s his/her fault for staying”.
My personal experiences were awful! I had professionals that worked with Survivors of Domestic Violence and Abuse that were so completely insensitive to my situation, their comments in some cases were more victimizing than the assaults themselves because of my psychological and emotional states. I heard statements like “You should be embarrassed”! “You should be ashamed, especially with what you do for a living”! “If you let this happen to you, how can you help others get out”? This is not even an exhaustive list but you get the point! These statements were deplorable, and they were re-victimizing to say the least. The fact is, we learned that no one is exempt from the potential of being involved in a relationship characterized by Domestic Violence and Abuse. Furthermore, there are so many variables that keep a person in an unhealthy or toxic relationship, even when it involves Domestic Violence and Abuse. Individuals remain in abusive situations for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to: guilt, emotional dependence, fear, anger, children, economic concerns (finances, shelter, etc.), external sanctions (cultural, religious, legal, etc.) or pets. The Cycle of Violence can be challenging to get out of because of the way it functions to bond two people together –even when it bonds them in an unhealthy way (e.g., Trauma Bonding).On average, it takes the abused individual seven times to leave before staying away for good. This statistic should allude to the complexity of the situation and speak to the fact that there is NOT A CLEAR CUT, EASY ROUTE OUT!
Next time we will take a quick look at the Cycle of Violence. My hope is that said discussion will not only facilitate a common understanding but encourage us to be kind to ourselves and one another. Instead of judging ourselves or others for staying/having stayed in a relationship characterized by Domestic Abuse, we will be empowered through knowledge and the support of our community.