July 26th 2006 - Therapist Beverly Engle defines abuse as "behavior designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate." It can be physical or emotional, can come from someone who loves you or someone who merely manipulates you. Abuse, either intentional or unconscious, leads to low self-esteem and misery for one or both partners. Physical abuse can lead to disfigurement, injury or death.
How do you identify a potential abuser? They often start out as extreme romantics, declaring you the love of a lifetime within a couple of weeks, bringing flowers, accelerating the relationship before getting to know who you are and before you have a true measure of them. They appear to be the "too good to be true" lover (and are.) They can rapidly become moody, alternating between sweet and scary, keeping you off balance. They will display a frightening anger which they try to keep hidden in public and will go to lengths to justify. They will be quick to reassure you they would never turn that anger on you, but by showing it they are setting up fear in your relationship. They are poor at taking responsibility for mistakes and tend to blame others. They will build you up with one hand and erode your self esteem with the other, progressively moving towards the latter. They make little criticisms, leaving you off balance and never feeling good about your performance. They want you to stop going out with friends or visiting family, cutting you off from your base of support, often disguised as romance, but eventually with coercion. In fights they may pick you up, force you against a wall or otherwise physically intimidate you, often long before raising a fist. And if they think you will leave, they will often go overboard trying to entice you back, propelled with a fear of loss of control.
If you are even considering staying with someone who has intermittent abuse problems, it is essential to differentiate between a partner who acts abusive from poor impulse control and someone who believes they have the right to control another abusively. If your partner believes that they have a right to act abusively and in a controlling manner, in a way that disempowers and devalues you, leave. You may need to invoke Carver's techniques to leave safely (see below), and you may need to make use of a safe house or even a change in identity. It is better than putting yourself in a situation where you end up dead. Abusers frequently kill or maim. And a woman is at the most danger when she leaves, or just afterwards.
If someone has poor impulse control and hits, but does not believe he or she has the right to do so and does not have a well-developed pattern of abusive behavior, it is possible to stop it only if you act strongly and immediately and nip it in the bud. Tell people- more than one- in your support system: a minister, a counsellor, parents, friends. Insist that the person get into anger management counselling (preferably from a cognitive behavioral therapist). Insist they stay off of alcohol or drugs and go into AA or NA if that is the problem. Develop a plan of what you will do if the action is repeated and follow it. Keep a bag packed that you can grab immediately as well as access to money. Work on your own self esteem, on setting boundaries and on identifying situations that could be dangerous to you so you can leave if you need to.
If he hits and apologizes, that does not mean the situation has been dealt with. Abusers frequently apologize, and try to sweep things under the rug. Unless you see an action plan for change, unless he gets into counselling immediately and unless you find ways to empower yourself and institute protections, you should leave. There is a far greater chance of being sucked into more abuse than in changing things. Even when a relationship with a recovering abuser is salvagable, a woman need to seriously evaluate whether it is worth while putting up with the rocky road to recovery, and to think of long term damage to her self esteem and to her children. However unless he is concretely taking steps to changing his behavior, she should not even consider staying.
Women are at the greatest risk of abuse when they are pregnant. when they are disengaging from a relationship and just after marriage. The greatest risk however is when their partner abuses drugs or alcohol. This can happen years into a marriage, and it can be diffiult to admit that a loved one has changed into someone dangerous to be with.
For anyone you know who may be in an abusive situation, see the articles by Dr. Joseph Carver, a clinical psychologist who has worked with prisoners, abusers and others. The control that would alienate someone from their home and family is a red flag for abuse.
Carver suggests essentially boring an abuser into dropping you, suggesting that it will be for their own good to get out because you are depressed, fuzzy-headed, unemotional, and burned out, and you want to end the relationship almost for his or her benefit. If it is their own decision, they are less likely to violently prevent the victim from leaving. And most importantly he gives advice in post-break-up periods because abusers rarely detach completely.
In his article "Love and Stockholm Syndrome", Carver suggests neutral ways of supporting someone who will not leave an abusive relationship (any kind) until they are ready. For instance, since contacts with friends and family may subject the victim to hours of abuse, he suggests contacting on a scheduled evening rather than randomly or on traditional occasions. Use phone messages or notes that just provide news-" Your brother just got a job on a Walmart commercial. Hope you are having a good birthday". These are less likely to trigger the abuser than any questions about their relationship or even how she is doing.
http://www.drjoecarver.com/ and go to "articles"
A word for those who choose consensual relationships of apparent inequality: Abuse can exist in a D/s or DD relationship, but everything that looks like abuse from the outside may not be. In your case, does your partner really have your best interests at heart? Are you physically and financially provided for (including for the future?) If you don't work because of your lifestyle, is your partner putting aside money in your own name? Do you have occasions to hang out with friends? A network of like minded friends is necessary especially if your lifestyle has caused you to break with your family. Are you able to verbalize your discomfort or displeasure in a neutral manner or does your partner refuse to listen? Can you refuse requests or do you have an understanding of your hard limits? Are you more into him than he is into you? The roles people choose to portray are not the same as the dynamics of the relationship. But if you are not respected for your gifts and your submission, then you are in a relationship that needs to change or may be abusive.
Acupuncture and Herbs by Karen Vaughan, L.Ac in Park Slope and Manhattan.
118 East 37th Street, New York, NY 10016
Brooklyn, NY 11215