Domestic Violence Is Not Just About Physcial Abuse

Domestic abuse power and control chart

Over the course of my career, I have helped many clients pursue a sense of personal power and emotional health sufficient enough to be safe, strong, and healthy while working through relationships with aggressive and/or abusive partners.

Generally speaking, these aggressive/abusive partners flourish in relationships in which they are given the power to control a person. To maintain power and control in their relationships, they need to be in relationships with individuals who typically have poor boundaries, low self esteem and who have little to no self confidence (a sense of no personal power). Similarly, codependent or co-addictive individuals fall within the abusive partner’s “radar,” especially when they are an addict.

To retain power and control in the relationship, the abusive partner has to control the relationship in order to create an environment of fear, insecurity, and perceived powerlessness. Consequently, a complicated dynamic of domination and submission is created; one in which power and control is perpetuated by physical, emotional, and/or verbal abuse, or the fear of the recurrence of such abuse.

Being afraid, not feeling like you have the power to stop the abuse, and secretly believing they couldn’t find anyone better (being brainwashed), the victim partner believes they are powerless and therefore, trapped in a perpetual cycle of emotional, verbal, and/or physical violence. The cycle is maintained by frequent episodes of abuse which ultimately “brainwash” the victim partner in believing that they do not have any recourse (or resources) to stop the abuse. The cumulative effects of the cycle of abuse create further feelings of powerlessness, which further immobilizes the victim partner.

Contrary to what most people think, the most common mode of maintaining power and control is not through the use of physical violence. Most abuse is either done emotionally or verbally. Most victims of both physical and emotional/verbal abuse attest that the verbal/emotional wounds are deeper, hurt more, and take longer to heal.

The following list illustrates the tactics that the abusive partner uses to exert power of their victim partner that does not include physical violence.

1. Intimidation
2. Emotional abuse
3. Blaming, denying, and minimization
4. Financial control
5. Isolation
6. Turning their children and/or friends against them
7. Coercion and threats

The victim partner keeps “tied” into the abusive relationship due to their lack of experience and knowledge with relationships based upon mutuality, respect, and fairness. Often, the victim comes from a family in which they either experienced harm or neglect as children or witnessed harm or neglect to one of their parents. Often one or both of their parents were either an abuser or a victim of domestic violence. Therefore, the victim partner gravitates toward what is familiar, or unconsciously reminiscent of what they experienced as children. Although strange and paradoxical: what feels familiar is also seemingly safe.

Individuals, who are assertive or aggressive, bold, and/or edgy, seem to be the partners that the victim partner finds as “attractive.” Although this prospective “attractive” partner seems safe, there are lurking red flags that are, at this point invisible. Likewise, the aggressive person is unconsciously attracted to a kind, forgiving, accommodating, and understanding individual, who they unconsciously recognize as someone they can control and who won’t leave them when there abusive side emerges.

The relationships between these two types of people often start off with a bang: high levels of attraction/infatuation, poor boundaries, and intense and frequent sexual activity. Unfortunately, after the “chemistry” wears off, the unconscious elements come to the surface. The abuser establishes domination and the victim feels trapped and consequently falls prey to a role of passivity, fear, and powerlessness.

The saddest part of this relationship dynamic is that the victim partner unwillingly and unknowingly repeats the same patterns of their parents and their parents-parents– all of whom incorrectly believed love and commitment supersedes respect, fairness, mutuality, and most of all, safety. “Love” is maintained at any cost.

There is help out there for the victims of domestic violence. Therapists like me offer a way out.

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