Domestic abuse is running rampant in the world. And yet, people still don’t want to talk about it. Perhaps it’s because those outside the relationship think it’s none of their business what goes on in another’s relationship. And to a certain extent they are right. I don’t want someone telling me how to conduct my life, especially something as private as whom I chose to be close to. However, the very mechanics of domestic abuse make it not only right, but necessary for others to step in to help the victim. It’s called a support system and every victim needs one.
To understand those mechanics, let’s break down domestic violence. First, I prefer domestic abuse because the label “domestic violence” gives a more, well, violent feel to the problem. But there are many, many domestic abuse cases where the abuser hasn’t been violent at all. Perhaps this definition will make more sense: Joanna V. Hunter uses it in her book, But He’ll Change – End the Thinking That Keeps You in an Abusive Relationship. She says, “The term domestic abuse, also called intimate partner violence (IPV) is the systematic suffocation of another person’s spirit.” Notice, nothing is said about violence, nothing is said about physical harm. The crushing of someone’s spirit is as much, if not more, debilitating to them as say, a broken arm.
When I speak at prisons, about halfway through my talk, I say, “I want to talk to you about rape.” Of course, that gets the inmates’ attention. But the rape I speak to them about is not physical rape. The definition of rape is “to seize and take away by force.” In other words, to take something from someone that they don’t want to give. In the case of domestic abuse, whether physically violent or not, that something is the person’s free will. A victim is raped of their spirit, their self-esteem, their energy, their ability to function as a whole person. They become a shadow of their abuser. The abuser sucks the will right out of them. The abuser basically rapes them of their essence. So, you can understand how very important a support system is for a victim.
A huge obstacle in the way of a victim asking for help is shame. At first, the abuse isn’t bad, but it escalates. By the time a victim feels like they need help, they have already been a victim for a while and they are thinking like a victim. “No one will believe me.” “They’ll ask why I’ve stayed so long.” “If I can just be a better wife, husband, mother, father, friend, lover…things will be better.” This is what the victim is thinking, and they hesitate to ask for help. They are ashamed that the person they had chosen to be their partner is such a monster. They are ashamed that they have “allowed” themselves to be treated so badly. They are ashamed that their life has become what it has. Any happiness and peace they may have, they can’t enjoy because they know it will be followed by episodes of abuse.
Which leads us to the cycle of abuse. The abuser loves to keep the victim off guard. Flowers, candy, hugs and kisses one day and a slap or verbal put down the next. Things will be going along normally, then an incident happens. An abuser gets jealous, angry or something happens to set them off. This usually starts with verbal abuse and then can escalate to physical abuse, which is called battering. The victim tries to conceal the injuries, if any, and may seek help. The abuser is then contrite, sweet, loving, comes bearing gifts or speaking sweetly. This is called the honeymoon period. Things return to normal until another incident happens and the whole cycle begins again.
During this time of “walking on eggshells”, which is the way all victims describe their life at one time or another, the victim begins to question themselves. Perhaps they are going crazy. Perhaps they aren’t very good mother or father, or mate. Perhaps they need to try harder to make their relationship work. As this happens, they are losing their self-esteem and self-worth. The abuser will isolate them from their friends and family so that the only opinion they are getting is the abuser’s. They strive to keep up the façade of a family unit, try to shield the children from the abuse, try to make sure everything is perfect in the world of the abuser.
But that’s the problem. It will never be perfect. There will always be something wrong, even if the victim did it exactly the way the abuser said, there will be a problem. The victim will never be good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, thin enough or smart enough. And so the victim starts to get numb. What’s the use? The victim has no friends, their family may have backed away, they may not have any money or job…they have nowhere to turn.
Once again, this is why the victim needs a support system. This is why we need to approach a victim using care and concern and let them know we are there for them, without judging, without bad-mouthing the abuser (that’s a tough one, but most likely the victim will rush to the abuser’s defense) and without pushing. Simply offer your help. Let them know you will help when they are ready to ask for it and when they do, don’t drop the ball. Be there, even if all you can do is listen and comfort, be there.
Being a victim of domestic abuse is a very lonely road to travel. In the next blog, I’ll cover how domestic abuse affects, not only the victim, but the many other people in this couple’s life.