“It took all the strength I had not to fall apart…” ~ Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive)

So, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and although I’ve written about this before, it’s such an important problem to understand and address with so many myths abounding about it.

Let’s take a look-see at some facts which clearly illustrate what an epidemic DV truly is:

  • 20 people are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner in the U.S. Total number: 10 million a year. Now take a look at this, peeps: by the time you read through this blog post which I’m going to gauge at 5 minutes, 100 people will have been physically abused by the one person in the world who is supposed to love them. And remember…I said PEOPLE, not women. BOTH men and women experience DV with 1:4 women and 1:9 men experiencing some level of physical violence in their lifetimes. That’s a scary thought.
  • Domestic violence is the #1 leading cause of violent death for women in the U.S. – even more than rape, muggings, and car accidents combined.
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year with 90% being an eye-witness. This is heart-breaking to me and we know that kids exposed to DV experience a plethora of behavioral, social, psychological and even physical issues.
  • On average, 3 women are killed by her partner every day (the UK has the same stat). Every. Single. Day. Worldwide, it’s over 50,000 women a year which is about 137 a day. Every. Single. Day.
From The Guardian – the faces of some of the women killed in the UK.

Even scarier? According to an article in TIME: “Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common—and often more severe.” And why? Because COVID has given abusers more tools and more chances to control their victim (COVID doesn’t cause one to be abusive but it can exacerbate abuse). One main thing all abusers do is isolate their victims and the pandemic made this extremely easy to do.

How do we know this for sure? Well, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine found this: In Portland, Oregon public schools closed March 16th, 2020 and residents were quarantined at home beginning on March 23rd; soon after, the Portland Police Bureau recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to DV compared to prior weeks. The same thing happened in San Antonio, Texas. After schools closed on March 20th, 2020 and stay-at-home orders began March 24th, the San Antonio Police Department experienced an 18% increase in calls pertaining to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019. And, this trend is happening all over the country.

Excellent book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that tells her story of being in a DV relationship and how she was able to leave. It’s available on amazon.com.

In other words, this already horrible problem is worsening.

When I teach about DV in my classes, one of the first questions my students pose is this: “Why does she stay?” which is something VERY wrong to ask about a DV victim. Couldn’t we also say: “Why did she allow herself to get robbed? Hit by a drunk driver? Mugged?” There is no other crime, except rape, where the victim is more often than not blamed and we wonder why victims are reluctant to seek help. (You know, it’s also interesting that the pronoun ‘she’ is always used when asking about victims…men who experience DV are a ‘hidden’ group).

So, I use the Power and Control Wheel to explain why it’s so difficult for victims to leave (this wheel was developed in 1984 for female victims and work has been done on a wheel for male victims which is similar in most regards):

Research Gate
  • Being intimidated and constantly reminded that this person is one to fear (including showing weapons, breaking things, and creating an atmosphere where there’s always the threat of violence).
  • Being beaten down emotionally and made to feel as if they don’t deserve anything better.
  • Being shut off from their family and friends and having every part of their life controlled from computer use, to miles driven in a day, to trackers on phones.
  • Being told that ‘everyone’ has problems, that the abuse wasn’t ‘that bad’ and making light of it, or that the victim caused it themselves.
  • Using the kids: if anyone told me to do something or my son would get hurt, I’d do it in heartbeat. Hands down.
  • Using male privilege in that the man is ‘king of his castle’ and even using scripture to justify the abuse.
  • Using financial abuse by controlling all of the money. You need money to leave and to live.
  • Living in an atmosphere of constant threats. “If you leave, I’ll kill you.” And this is a viable threat since around 75% of victims who die were killed as they attempted to leave the relationship or after the relationship had ended.

There are other reasons why the victim finds it extremely dangerous and difficult to leave:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Trauma bonding which is experiencing powerful feelings it’s difficult to make sense of since the abuse is also alternated with kindness. Also, the person the victim fell in love with is still clear in their mind.
  • The hope for change is strong, and the love from the ‘love-bombing’ stage is powerful. At first, this person is your soulmate! The one person who understands you! The one person who reflects back what they know you want to see! The one person you can confide all your secrets in! And then, after the person has completely fallen in love, the devaluation begins and abuse comes into the relationship…just bit by bit…until the victim is trapped. BTW: love-bombing is not LOVE on the part of the abuser! It’s a manipulative technique used to trap victims.
  • Societal denial (“But he’s a nice man!”)
  • Threats of retaliation (threats of custody; threats to withhold money; threats to interfere with the person’s job; etc.)
  • Access to a shelter that is available, can take kids, is accessible for those that are deaf, disabled, etc. A study in 2017 showed that “…while more than 72,000 victims of domestic violence received services on a single day, nearly 12,000 requests were turned away because programs lacked the resources to help.” Also, shelters are cutting staff due to a lack of resources/funding.

So, are there signs that someone could be an abuser? Red flags? Oh yeah. However, when someone is falling in love, the emotions supercede the rational side of our minds and we either don’t see these signs clearly or rationalize the signs away.

  • Jealousy – “He loves me so much he can’t stand me to be with anyone else!” 🙄
  • Controlling behavior – picking out clothes, looking at phones, insisting on shared social media accounts, etc.
  • Isolation – ‘We only need each other.’
  • Blames others for problems – nothing is ever the abusers fault and they are incapable of taking responsibility for any of their actions. However, they insist others take total responsibility for anything they perceive was wrong.
  • Hypersensitivity – I once had a partner who called me some pretty horrible names (along with some threats) that I ‘had’ to forgive him for since we were committed to one another, all while being chided for being sensitive. However, when I finally got so angry during an argument and called him a name (which wasn’t a curse word), I never saw him again. Go figure.
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Use force during arguments or ‘playful’ use of it during sex
  • Verbal abuse – names, put-downs, etc.
  • Sudden mood swings – from nice to angry and back again. When I experienced this, I was simply told “I have an anger issue.” Ya think?
  • History and/or threats of violence
  • Also, abusers are also more likely to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Anyhoot, that’s just some info on DV that is so important to understand and so important to share. No one deserves to be abused and this isn’t an individual or a couple problem. It’s a WE problem. The annual cost for DV in the U.S. is estimated to be around $12 billion which includes health care, counseling, emergency services, work missed, etc. There’s also the threat of others being caught in the middle of incidents and 3/4 of victims are harassed at work by their abuser.

Just writing this today has made me sad because whenever I talk about DV, it’s ma’s face I see. Ma was young and vulnerable and heart broken when she met R and he used all of that to his advantage. I saw ma with black eyes, bruises all along her arms/legs/face, with internal injuries, and the list goes on. Plus, I know me and sis didn’t see it all…she tried to cover up as much as she could.

Ma!

I also saw ma go from a vibrant, funny woman to a shell of who she had previously been. To survive R, she drank with him and now has liver damage and esophageal varices that pose a risk to her. For 28 years, the light in ma’s eyes dimmed and a lot of times it was completely out. After she left R and was safe, she slowly started to blossom. Started to live again. Enjoy again. She’s made friends and goes places and is believes in herself more and more. Of course she carries scars from her marriage to R…how could she not? She lived with a monster for 3 decades and was abused throughout. But, ma is strong and has come through on the other side with a new lease on life. We’re so proud of her!

So that’s why I’m passionate about teaching this to my students and writing about it to you, my sweet peeps. This is an epidemic no vaccines or store closings are going to fix. And the saddest part of all? Long after COVID is under control, women will still die everyday because of DV. Kids will be damaged for life. And both men and women will experience assault from the one person they wanted to love forever.

Kristi xoxo

Discussion on Domestic Violence Victims

In one of my classes, we are currently talking about Domestic Violence and a discussion ensued yesterday regarding whether or not victims love themselves prior to getting into a relationship with the abuser.

Some of my students said you can love yourself, but still fall for the abuser because of their manipulation, idolization, and mask they wear.  Others said that only someone who didn’t love themselves would fall for that…would be vulnerable to their attention.

But, here’s the thing:  abusers are smart.  They are predators.  They know how to bait their hooks and trap their prey.  NO ONE would stay with a person who beat them on the first date!  Of course not!  All of my students say they would never ever stay with an abuser, but the truth is that many of them might do just that because what they don’t realize is how insidious the abuse is.  Abusers start out by idolizing you.  Making you feel like you’re the most special person in the world who can share anything and everything with them.  They are your soul-mate and once that’s felt, the hook has been set.  The next step is chipping away at what confidence, esteem, and love they have for themselves; slowly these things are chiseled away and the abuser is getting you to a place where you aren’t who you used to be.  They are devaluing you…making you feel less than…and eventually, your emotional/psychological boundaries have been compromised.  Also, that stuff you felt you could share with them?  That’s being used against you now.  They know your ‘weak spots’ and will use them any way they can.  Then, physical boundaries start to be tested.  A grab here.  A push there.  All the while seeing what your reaction is.

Have you ever heard the myth of a frog in boiling water?  It goes like this:  put a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll squeal and do anything he can to hop out.  BUT, put him in tepid water and turn the heat up very low to where the boiling is a process.  Because it’s so slow, the frog never fights it.  It’s in an environment that slowly becomes natural to them.

Now, even though I truly believe that anyone can be a victim of abuse by an abuser, I do believe that vulnerability to abusers can be attributed to different things.

  • First, I do think situations we go through can make us more needful of attention.  Partnership.  Togetherness.  It can validate someone who’s been rejected.  Abandoned.  Although we all need our own internal sense of self and self-love, external experience of this is important to us too.  
  • I also believe certain emotional traits can be seen in victims.  In this article, by Dr. Toby Goldsmith, he says that women of DV often:
    • have a poor self image
    • have low self-esteem
    • believe, unrealistically, they can change their abuser
    • feel a sense of powerlessness
    • believe that jealousy is ‘proof’ of love
  • Along with this, I believe personality traits can be tied to victimization too.  For example, people who are highly empathic have more sensitivity…they can align themselves with people more and feel with everything they have inside of them.  It’s more than just their heart that feels…it’s all of them that feels.  They are capable of giving so much in a relationship, and might believe that their care and love will ‘fix’ an abuser.  A great book to read regarding this is: The Empaths Survival Guide by Judith Orloff.
  • I’m a huge believer in the MBTI (You can take a free, online test and learn more about this assessment tool here: Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and feel there are some aspects of personality as described by the MBTI that could be correlated to DV:
    • Extroverts – extroverts often have difficulty with boundaries and let people in more easily than others.
    • Introverts – are often more isolated which is something attractive to abusers.  Also, they are more prone to depression and may also take on more blame because of ruminating over the situation and seeing blame in themselves.
    • Intuitionists – although you would think people with strong intuition would be BETTER at determining someone could be abusive, I believe (based on my own experience) that the gut feelings instead say things like this:  “But, I know there’s a good person in there!”  “I can tell they are suffering too, and I just need to figure them out.”
    • Feelers – feelers tend to make decisions based more on a personal, emotional level (thinking with their hearts more than their heads) and tend to personalize situations which can lead them to feeling guilt or culpability in abusive situations.  
  • In terms of mental disorders/illnesses, I think the following can be tied into victimization:
    • Borderline Personality Disorder
    • Dependent Personality Disorder
    • Bipolar Disorder
    • Depression 
    • Anxiety Disorders
  • I also study a lot about attachment.  The attachment babies make to their first caregiver, usually their mothers, makes the ‘framework’ for all other future attachments.  This attachment can be secure or insecure:
    • Secure attachment makes the baby, and then later adult feel that:  
      • They’re lovable as they are
      • They are important and valued
      • They are worth protection and understanding
      • They are safe
    • Insecure attachment makes people feel that:
      • They’re not good enough to protect and keep safe
      • They have little value and are unimportant
      • They are not worth soothing and understanding
      • Because of these, insecurely attached individuals feel unsure of themselves in relationships and live with feeling that they aren’t worth their partners love and effort.  
    • Obviously, my belief is those with insecure attachments (one being the avoidant type and the other being the ambivalent type) don’t see the value, worth, and loveableness they have and will stay with an abuser out of insecurity and perhaps the feeling that they don’t deserve any better.
    • Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that people who grow up in abusive homes have a much higher chance of becoming abusers, or victims, themselves.  In the PBS documentary No Safe Place, it’s said: “We (also) know that women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered are more susceptible to developing what is called ‘battered women’s syndrome’.  Such women may come to believe there is nothing they can do to get out of an abusive relationship.”  

So, the answer to understanding the ‘whys’ behind women and abuse are complicated, and can be a combination of everything above, or circumstances unique to the victim themselves. 

The take away is this:  abused women and men should never be judged for being, or staying, in a domestically violent relationship.  The dynamics of power, control, physical/verbal/psychological/sexual abuse, isolation, financial issues, threats, using children as tools of manipulation, ownership of weapons, lack of family/social support, etc. can all make it difficult through impossible for the victim to leave safely, even if the abuse is severe.  No one deserves to be abused.  NO one.  But every victim deserves our compassion. 

    Kristi xoxo