Monday, March 29, 2010

Control and Domestic Violence

An interesting discussion arose recently when a woman posed a question about dealing with her fiance's behavior.  She called him "jealous."  What most of us saw in her description, even those who'd never had experience with domestic violence, was control.  That's what domestic violence is about, after all.  It doesn't occur because someone likes to hit people; it occurs because someone wants to control someone else.  It's not just a loss of temper, either.  Most abusers aren't going around beating up their bosses.  Oh, no, they save it for those closest to them - their significant others, their children, sometimes even their parents, especially if the parents are elderly.  People they can control.

Since it's about control, domestic violence isn't always physical.  It can be more insidious than that, mental and emotional abuse that can do more damage than a slap to the face.

In the case of this woman who posed the question about her fiance, she described him as someone who's "always been very jealous."  This man, who she says makes her feel like the most important person in the world, forces her to tell him if she thinks that anyone else besides him is attractive.  He used to ask her if she'd "been being good."  Her fiance won't go to therapy regarding his issues, because he "doesn't believe in it."  He tried it once before and "said it didn't work."  He has called her "whorish."  In the past, when she found someone attractive, he got angry at her and yelled at her.  Most recently, he "got sad" when she found someone else attractive.

His jealousy frustrates her, and this is her response:  "I know that what I'm doing seems wrong and I've volunteered to go to counseling... I don't often think of other men and [my fiance and I] spend almost every minute we don't work together."  Still, the issue flares up every month or so.

Meanwhile, she moved out of her parents' house a year ago because her mom was reading her texts, thereby finding out that she was sexually active at age 20.  This, she deemed "extremely abusive."  Even though her parents insisted that they would not try to break up the couple, this woman was "sure they would have."  Later, the woman says that she told her fiance she left her family and moved to another state "for him."  She's told him she's given him everything she has.  Without her parents' support, she's had to leave school and works two jobs while her fiance completes his degree and works one job.

She believes they'd have no place to go if they broke up.

This is textbook stuff.  I've been working with victims of domestic violence since 1989, and these are the red flags I see:

First, abusers will cut their victims off from their friends and family.  They will convince the victims that their families hate them and won't accept them back, they convince them that their families are conspiring against them.  They make themselves their victims' sole support system.  They take the victims out of school - an education is dangerous.  They stunt their victims' educations and careers to make them more dependent on the abusers.

Then, the control.  This guy wanted to know all of his fiancee's thoughts and punish her for them.  He made her feel wrong for having perfectly normal thoughts.  He has her believing she's somehow evil for looking at or even thinking about another man.  He has made her  uncomfortable in her own skin and has her believing there is something wrong with her; enough that she's willing to go to counseling to fix herself for him.

The name-calling.  And she accepts it as deserved.

The end result is that the victim comes to believe that she needs her abuser and has nowhere to go.  She thinks her family won't take her back.  She has no friends.  Her education is incomplete and her career stunted.  Plus, her brain doesn't work properly and she's a whore.  She needs him.  He's got her trapped.  The thing is, he's got her trapped with lies.  She could go back to her family, to a friend, to a shelter.  She could leave and get out... before getting married, before kids, before it becomes more difficult.

If you are this girl, get out.  If you were this girl, and now you're married, now there are kids, now it's more difficult... get out anyway.  It's never too late.  I once met a woman in her 70s who'd been married for 50 years to an abusive husband before she finally got up the courage and scavenged enough dropped change from the couch cushions to take the bus to the courthouse and file a complaint for domestic violence.

If she can, you can.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, get help.  Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY at 1-800-787-3224.
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