Domestic abuse makes most people uncomfortable. No one likes to think they know someone or that they themselves are in an abusive relationship. Just the thought of one being abused can cause feelings of despair, uncertainty and fear.
When filled with fear on a topic it is best to replace that fear with knowledge. In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Luanna Rodham interviewed Dr. Jeanne King to help educate people in abusive relationships and concerned friends and family.
Question: Dr. King, when someone uses the term "domestic abuse" or "abusive relationship," most people automatically assume it is a woman who is being abused. Is that a correct assumption?
No, it is simply the gender we hear about more often. Most people will tell you domestic violence is a women's issue, however statistics show that 37% of domestic abuse victims each year are in fact men.
I think of it as a human issue. The dynamics of abusive relationships when the victimized partner is a man are the same as the dynamics when it is a woman. In my own psychotherapy practice, the only difference I see between victimized men and women is the economic resources and the social political issues surrounding their circumstances.
Question: How would you define an "abusive relationship?" Does abuse always mean physical?
An abusive relationship is one in which there is ongoing and intentional violation by one intimate partner to another. And the primary underlying mechanism establishing and maintaining the abusive relationship is control.
Battering is what is used to maintain the dynamic of unequal power in the relationship. And this battering can be physical, emotional, psychological or verbal abuse.
Question: What are some signs that someone is in an abusive relationship?
Your best indicators are internal, and they are known from within. You are usually the first to know, yet more often than not the last to admit it. On a primal level, you feel violated and it hurts. You experience yourself as being oppressed, manipulated, controlled...caged. Much of the time you live your life as though you are walking on eggshells.
Your partner will exhibit all of the classic signs of a batterer, like: possessiveness, excessive jealously, controlling-manipulative behavior, hypersensitivity, and of course the behavioral and mood shifts of a Dr. Jekyll /Mr. Hyde personality.
Question: Dr. King, when a person is in this type of relationship, is it true that they are very guarded? If so, how does a person who is being abused find help without publicizing the problem?
Guarded is not the way I would describe it, but as an outsider looking in I can see how one might use that word. I suppose you are referring to her/his cautiousness and possible display of hyper-vigilance. The conditioning inherent in the relationship definitely sets a tone for this.
Concerning getting help... It is always best to seek out help from individuals and groups that fully understand domestic violence and all of the safety issues that go hand-in-hand with this problem. These people will know and genuinely respect a survivor's need for anonymity. They will even help victims/survivors protect their anonymity, rather than give lip service to the need to do so.
Question: When using the term "domestic violence," does the violence happen to the children as well or primarily to one of the parents? How does domestic violence affect the children in the home?
More often than not, if one parent is victimized, children will be victimized as well. The statistics on this draw from battered women. It is estimated that 60-70% of men who batter their female partners also batter their children. In fact, according to child abuse experts, intimate partner violence is the best predictor of child abuse. Some pediatricians say it's the number one indicator of child abuse.
The answer to this question regarding the impact on children, Luanna, can fill volumes. Suffice it to say, domestic abuse is damaging from the inside out, from the core of your being. And when that being is in its formative years, development can be impaired profoundly. This including emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and psychological development.
Question: What would be your advice to someone reading this article that suspects they are a victim of spousal or partner abuse? What steps should they take now to help themselves?
There are three critical things one must do if you think you're in a relationship in which there is intimate partner violence.
1) Identify the condition clearly and accurately, and you will treat it more effectively and successfully. If you don't, one day you will treat it like it is alcohol abuse, and then it may look like partner abuse or narcissistic personality, or even intermittent explosive disorder. You can go round and round essentially not treating it at all, if you fail to diagnose it.
2) Surrender responsibility for your partner's battering behavior. And this includes accountability for it and responsibility to "fix" it, as well as one's belief that you have the wherewithal to fix it. This will enhance prognosis more than any other therapeutic change.
3) Secure support external to the relationship abuse. The operative word here, that is the important word is "external." You want an alignment with a source of support that does not support your own internal denial or personal confusion, but rather helps you shine the light on your inner and outer world so clearly that it escorts you to safety and well-being, before the abuse spirals out of control.
As confirmed by Dr. King, domestic violence can be harmful, and in many cases devastating, to the entire family. Diagnosing the problem and recognizing the effect abuse has on a person and a family is the first step to recovery. Remember that there is help for a person in an abusive relationship. And fortunately, there is always hope.