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Learn About Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is the result of one or more types of controlling, abusive behavior:  emotional, physical or sexual abuse.  (See definitions of abusive behavior.)

Abuse is learned behavior.  Some who abuse were themselves victims of abuse as children or witnessed abuse between parents.  Others learn abuse from the media who glorify the use of violence when it happens in the home. 

Abuse is a means to control.  Those who abuse do so to control their partner and to avoid feeling and facing their own deep sense of helplessness and inferiority.  Repeated abuse ensures that the abuser has all the power in the relationship.  An abused person cannot speak or act freely because of the constant threat of violence. 

There are a number of myths surrounding the realities of abuse.  Link here to learn more about the myths and the real truths about abuse.


Why Women Stay

The fact that women stay in abusive relationships is frequently cited as grounds to question whether any abuse actually occurred. People who do not understand the "emotional dance of violence" often act insensitively. Far too often they judge domestic violence situations. They may ask, "If it's that bad, why doesn't she leave?" They may say, "She must stay because she enjoys it." Or ask, "Why can't she see what we all see?" And say, "This can never happen to me. I wouldn't allow it."
In reality, the reasons women stay in abusive relationships are complicated and vary with each individual. Often they are a combination of the following: 

"For the Children" - Some women who remain in abusive relationships for the sake of the children feel even an abusive father is better than none at all. The episodes of abuse they endure have eroded their judgment, leaving them in a heightened state of anxiety and fear. They question whether they have the strength to live alone and care for their children. Further, the threat of a custody battle, fear of losing their children and concern about the financial strains of raising children during separation and after divorce immobilize them. 

Fear - Abused women are usually threatened by their abusers if they try to leave.  (Refer to "The Many Faces of Domestic Violence.") In fact, statistically, abused women and their children are in the most danger when they try to escape. This is call "separation violence". 

Dangers in Leaving - As noted above, often the violence escalates when women leave or are in the process of ending the relationship. It is at this time that they and their children are in the most danger of being severely beaten or murdered. 

Lack of Economic Resources - Many abused women feel there is nowhere to turn. Frequently, they do not have the financial resources to leave, and fear they will not be able to be self-sufficient and to provide or afford adequate child care. Most women suffer dramatic financial loss following divorce. Because of the emotional abuse they have endured, they may believe that they are incapable of surviving or succeeding on their own, having no awareness or recognition of their abilities or potential. 

Isolation - Abusers often attempt to isolate their partners from family and friends. Abusers are jealous and use intimidation and humiliation to keep their partners away from others. Without a support system and outside validation, partners become more and more vulnerable. In time, abusers are able to control their victims' perceptions of the abuse and victims may begin to doubt their sanity. 

Commitment to the Partner and Hope for Change - Often, abused women feel committed to their partners "for better or worse." Generally (and unrealistically), they want the abuse to stop but the relationship to continue. They are attracted to their partners' good side and the pattern of interaction when there is no abuse, hoping that with "enough love" the violence will stop. It will not. Research has shown that the abuse does not stop without the help of others. 

Belief in Counseling for the Abuser - Women often stay because they believe counseling will change their partners. Women must carefully evaluate whether counseling or therapy is likely to bring about the changes needed for the abuser to end the violence. Attending counseling or therapy sessions will not help unless the abuser becomes deeply and authentically involved in the therapeutic process. Change will not happen unless he faces his problems, stops blaming others for them and works hard to change all abusive and bullying tactics in intimate relationships. However, since many abusers are manipulators, it is very important that their partners carefully evaluate the investment their abusers are willing to make in necessary self-examination, as well as the presence of reliable and consistent change. 

The Process of Leaving  Issues - Most abused women leave and return several times before permanently separating from their abusers. Because of strong emotional involvement and investment in a relationship as well as a fierce desire that there be change, separation from abusive partners takes time. Every time women leave they gain more information about the available resources and more confidence in themselves and their abilities. Because of the possible danger involved in separation, it is essential that they leave in the safest way possible, with knowledge of the available resources and a plan for their use. 

Societal Denial - Women often feel that no one will believe that their partners are capable of abuse. Abusers are often outwardly friendly, popular, charming, professionally competent and successful. They frequently treat those in their community and work lives very differently from those with whom they live. They are skilled at keeping their controlling and abusive behavior behind closed doors. 

Religious and Culture Pressures - Many women believe their religious beliefs commit them to a "until death us do part" relationship even in the face of torment and abuse. They fear that separation will cause their family to be ostracized by a community that has deep meaning and significance to them and their children. 

The Perpetual Cycle of Violence - Women may stay in abusive relationships because their partners promise "it will never happen again." Partners may check violent tendencies for a time. This period, known as "the honeymoon phase", is usually an affectionate time of apologies, tenderness and even gift giving and lasts a few hours or a few weeks. But without professional intervention and help, these "honeymoons" invariably end abruptly and violently.1 

The Immobilizing Impact of Shame and Humiliation.  Domestic abuse and violence shame and humiliate women. Abused women will go to great lengths to keep others from knowing the reality of their family life. "When one lives in a state of constant humiliation, one loses the power to assert one's self and frequently one loses the ability to understand and assess accurately what goes on in one's life." As a result, women who endure emotional and physical abuse live in a state of perpetual or intermittent denial in order to exist from day to day.2 

1Walker, Lenore. (1979). The Battered Woman. New York: Harper & Row.  
Cohen, SaraKay. (1980). Whoever Said Life is Fair?: Growing Through Life's Injustices. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp61-63  

The Emotional Dance of Domestic Abuse

Abusive partners are often described as having as excessive need to control, but this, although accurate, is only part of their story. The important omission is why they have this need. Their early childhood developmental needs have not been met. They have not learned how to care for themselves or their families in an adult way, and attempt to avoid facing their feelings of inadequacy or having others discover their secret. 

When frustrated, they react with rage. Because of their feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, they expect their partners to parent, nurture and protect them, and react abusively when their partners do not. Abusive partners usually do not realize that they experience these frustrations or that they vent their feelings of inadequacy and helplessness through violence toward others. 

Women who remain in abusive relationships may not have achieved the self-esteem necessary to feel safe and secure within themselves. To compensate, they develop a strong need to be needed and remain in situations in which their abusive partners depend upon them. Their blind spots may keep them from realizing the "honeymoon phase" following an abusive episode is but a phase preceding the next episode of violence. The predictable violence they endure again and again continues to erode their self-esteem.