There are many forms of violence one can talk about. There is violence toward children on the part of adults, which includes sexual abuse. There is also violence toward women and men in the work place.
Here I would like to focus on violence toward women in intimate relationships. This would include adults dating or married or living in common law. This would also include heterosexual and gay and lesbian relationships. This article will not include women who are involved in prostitution and, as a result, are abused.
There was an article on the CBC news web page about family violence. The article reported that every 4 days a woman is killed by a family member. Here is the reference for the article, well worth reading (http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/family-violence-1.3815523). A book I highly recommend is called “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence” by Gavin de Becker. His main thesis is that, just like animals, we are programmed to be fearful and take measures to protect ourselves when we are in situations which may contribute to our harm. However, he says that because of our socialization we tend to over-ride these feelings, and tell ourselves we are being foolish and this cannot be. He says women especially tend to be socialized to nurture and take care of the other. As a result some women do not pay attention to their feelings of being at risk, and over-ride their feelings –at their peril. It seems to me that as a society, which includes the courts, there is some of this going on. In our minds we tend to minimize or even disregard statements made by women about fears of abuse or being abused depending on how sensitive we are to the plight of women regarding intimate situations. Even our language re-enforces control over the other in intimate relationships. Men and women talk about MY WOMAN, and women talk in terms of MY MAN. We even introduce ourselves by our position in life, not by who we are. We are introduced as “this is my wife” or “this is my husband”, and our name comes second. I contend that language is important because it speaks to our interior life of how we feel and see ourselves vis-a-vie the world.
There is a progression with regard to women being abused in relationships. The progression happens gradually. Usually the male sees himself as taking care of his partner, and is so insecure he is on the lookout for any act of his partner which seems like he is losing her. In his mind, dominating her becomes the safe way of keeping her, and he can take this attitude all the way to thinking, “if I cannot have her, no one can”. He does not see his actions as control but as caring for his loved one. However the more he cares (controls) for her the more she wants to distance herself from him (to be her own person).
In the beginning of the relationship this behaviour on his part is seen as loving and caring. He is always THERE, and being ATTENTIVE. The only request he denies her is when he decides she is not being logical and reasonable. He disagrees with her not because he sees the situation differently, but because she is being “stupid” or not “logical”. I think this is why others seem to down-play the woman’s complaints, because he is such a nice guy, and he speaks so flattering of her and is so caring.
Here are the steps a woman must be attentive to:
First there is the message received in the relationship that the woman’s thoughts and feelings are not valid, or “faulty”. The male partner becomes the authority on what are the correct feelings and thoughts to have about any given situation or experience. In my opinion this usually progresses gradually.
Second: Along with monitoring her thoughts and feelings he next becomes the “decider” on what is appropriate to wear, and when the house is messy. Along with being unreasonable, and illogical most of the time, the partner finds herself now being “provocative”, or “slutty” if she wears certain clothes. She is also now not a good house keeper. Control starts to creep into every part of her life.
Third: He always wants to move to isolated areas. This has a lot to do with controlling who she socializes with. He feels more secure when she has very few friends, as they may have, from his point of view, terrible ideas. Isolated, he has more of a chance to monitor and control her friends. At this stage of the relationship, when they socialize he becomes critical of her spending too much time with some males. He perceives her as always flirting, or being with friends who have the WRONG ideas. At this point she may start to stand up for herself out of her perception that she is being unjustly accused. Her opposition and his attempt to control turns into fights where he may start to put her down even more forcefully through intimidation.
Fourth: When they are fighting, the fight turns from words to physical actions such as pushing her, and grabbing her forcefully. At this stage when one asks the women, “Is he violent toward you”, she responds by saying no, “He only pushed me.”
Fifth: The fights become more violent in that the words and the pushing become more intense. He now hits her. The violence becomes more intense because she is not responding to what he wants from her. His ego is being threatened. He fears he will lose her, evidenced because she is starting to rebel. He also fears his friends looking at him in a critical way, meaning, “Why can’t he control his woman”? This means he is seeing himself as a failure, a shame he cannot tolerate. So now he now totally blames her for his misery. All these factors increase the violence. After violent fights, he apologizes, and promises he will never hit her again. His behaviour is meant to keep her in the relationship, hoping she will be more compliant.
Sixth: Now he is becoming desperate. He starts to threaten suicide because he sees her as not loving him. Or he starts threatening to kill her, and the children, saying if he can’t have them no one will. Gavin de Becker feels that murder between intimates is the easiest act to predict, because the perpetrator always tells her he will do it. De Becker believes that most victims and most of society over-ride the threats because of socialization issues. We are conditioned to believe that a family man would not do such a deed, even thought statistics indicate differently. I personally think that the reason authorities have trouble believing the threats involves their perception of the perpetrator. Most perpetrators are Anti Social, and their pain is very real. This makes them very convincing when they say they would not kill their spouse and/or their children. However, their pain is totally based in having low self esteem as well as seeing the other and society as totally responsible for their suffering.
I think that women who are in a situation where they are being threatened need to disappear from the area, and leave no trail of where they are going. Court orders will not work in these situations. His goal is to get rid of his psychological pain. Her goal needs to be safe.
These six stages are red flags to which women need to pay serious attention. Their decision to leave or stay, of course, needs to be their decision. I have encountered couples who have been in therapy, and the violence never happened again. However, even going to therapy needs to be looked at with some caution. It can be an opportunity for the perpetrator to blame the therapist, and seeing his spouse as aligning with the therapist against him.
It is also important to mention that some relationships stop at the second stage, and never go any further. In the end the spouse and society need to work at taking these red flags seriously, and realize the attitude and behaviour of men controlling women, of seeing women as something to be used, is very deep and has a long history. I hope this article will be of some help in moving beyond this attitude and the risks it endears.