Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that includes the use or threat of violence and intimidation for the purpose of gaining power and control over another person. A violent event is seldomly an isolated incident, but part of a cycle of violence which increases in both frequency and severity over time.
Cycle of Violence
Research and experience show that violence in a relationship follows a cycle.
The tension builds over a period of time – days, weeks, months or even years. Then comes the assault, which is followed by a period of peacemaking, often referred to as the ‘honeymoon’ phase. Many believe that abused partners do not experience a true ‘honeymoon’ phase once the cycle of abuse has begun. This may more accurately reflect the abuser’s state.
Phase one – tension build-up
- You can sense your partner’s edginess.
- You are unable to discuss the underlying problem with your partner.
- Your partner becomes verbally abusive.
- You may feel the abuse is deserved.
- In order to cope, you deny that violence will occur and believe that it can be controlled.
Phase two – violent episode
- The tension builds until it becomes unbearable. You may even provoke violence to get it over with. Your partner loses control and acts violently.
- It may begin with a push or shove. With time, it escalates to a slap, kick or punch, then possibly to the use of weapons, resulting in more serious injuries.
- You partner claims not to want to hurt you, just to teach you a lesson.
- Your partner justifies his/her actions and blames you.
- Both you and your partner minimize the seriousness of the injuries.
- You accept the blame.
Phase three – honeymoon
- fears you will leave the relationship;
- is worried and tries to make up;
- becomes charming and manipulative;
- believes anger can be controlled and it will never happen again; and/or
- may shower you with gifts (flowers, etc.)
- want to believe your partner;
- begin to feel responsible for the abuse; and/or
- in advanced stages of abuse, the honeymoon period may be reduced to a day without violence or be totally absent.
If you look at your own relationship with your partner, you may relate to this cycle of violence. As the violence is not constant, you can often be confused, particularly when the abusive partner has positive traits as well. Being needed can be a powerful incentive to stay in a relationship. It can create a strong belief that things will get better. But once violence has begun, it will need outside intervention to stop.
Why People Stay in Violent Relationships?
Abuse is never the victim’s fault, and there are often many psychological issues affecting abused women and their ability to leave an abusive relationship. Self-esteem levels in abused women are often so low that the idea of changing her life entirely may seem truly impossible. Many reasons exist for why women stay. These include:
- Financial dependency – Women financially dependent upon their abusers may be reluctant to leave when income support levels mean utter poverty for her and her children. Most women have at least one dependent child.
- Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts, even money management skills – Control is a major factor in violent relationships and it is therefore not unusual for a woman to be given an ‘allowance’ each day, even in cases where the woman is earning an income. Never having had the opportunity to manage money, women in such a situation may be feeling intimidated at the thought of taking on this task.
- Leaving a violent relationship often means leaving the community where one grew up, which can be devastating for women, children, and their families. This is a reality for women living in small communities throughout the province. Children miss school in this case, and lose connection with friends.
- Leaving a violent relationship could, and often does, escalate the violence if the abuser finds her. Separation panics the abuser, as does it often embarrass the abuser, as the community has ‘found out what was going on’ in the process. What few abusers and abused realize, is that the community is often aware of the violence going on.
- Many women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making their marriage work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman.
- Many women rationalize their abuser’s behavior by blaming stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment or other factors.
- Hope and love often keep women in violent relationships.
After all, abusers rarely beat their partners all the time – family violence occurs in a cycle.
Victim Coping Strategies
Protective strategies that frequently are recommended by family, friends, and social services providers include contacting the police, obtaining a restraining order, or seeking refuge at a friend or relative’s home or at a domestic violence shelter. It is ordinarily assumed that these suggestions are successful at keeping victims and their children safe from violence. It is crucial to remember, however, that while these strategies can be effective for some victims of domestic violence, they can be unrealistic or dangerous options for other victims and even escalate the violence.
Victims, typically, do not passively tolerate the violence in their lives. They often use very creative methods to avoid and deescalate their partner’s abusive behavior. Victims develop their own unique set of protective strategies based on their past experience of what is effective at keeping them emotionally and physically protected from their partner’s violence. Examples of protective strategies victims use to survive and protect themselves include:
- Complying, placating, or colluding with the perpetrator;
- Minimizing, denying, or refusing to talk about the abuse for fear of making it worse;
- Leaving or staying in the relationship so the violence does not escalate;
- Fighting back or defying the abuser;
- Sending the children to a neighbor or family member’s home;
- Engaging in manipulative behaviors, such as lying, as a way to survive;
- Refusing or not following through with services to avoid angering the abuser;
- Using or abusing substances as an “escape” or to numb physical pain;
- Trying to improve the relationship or finding help for the perpetrator.
- Denying the abuse and intentionally isolate themselves
Although these protective strategies act as coping and survival mechanisms for victims, they are frequently misinterpreted by others who view the victim’s behavior as uncooperative, ineffective, or neglectful. Because victims are very familiar with their partner’s pattern of behavior, they are often in the best position to develop a safety plan that is effective for both the victim and the children.
Profile of an Abuser
As is the case with victims of domestic violence, abusers can be anyone and come from every age, sex, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, occupational, educational, and religious group. While there is not an agreed upon universal psychological profile, abuserss do share a behavioral profile that can described as “an ongoing pattern of coercive control”. There are different types of abusers and different levels of abuse.
Common characteristics of abusers:
- Abusers have a primary need to have power and control over their victims.
- Abusers often exhibit very different public and private behaviors. Abusers often maintain an amiable public image which accomplishes the important task of deceiving family and friends, and makes the victim feel they may not be believed.
- Abusers make the victim feel responsible and/or guilty for the abuse.
- Abusers don’t forget about their abuse, they minimize or deny it.
- Abusers minimize the impact and effect of their abuse (which leads the victim to feel that they are over-reacting).
- Abusers blame their partner or other people/circumstances for their “loss of control” and abusive actions.
- Abusers use punishment and rewards to emotionally manipulate the victim.
- Abusers underestimate the victim; minimizes the importance of the victim’s needs and feelings, or ignores them.