Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Continuum of Psychological and Physical Abuse

Psychological abuse is very real, but quite often hard to recognize and even harder to prove. When a person is physically abused, there is more often than not physical evidence left behind in the form of bruises or broken bones, swollen areas etc. Emotional and psychological abuse are different. The victim has scars on the inside that can manifest throughout their lives in the form of fear, withdrawal, low self worth and a low quality of relationship with others. Their personality begins to change over time and even their desire to interact with others on a social level can be compromised. These scars are not visible and are hard to prove, unfortunately.

Before I give you the escalating continuum, I want to give you the definitions of abuse and of trauma:

According to, abuse is defined as:

–verb (used with object)
1. to use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority.
2. to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.
3. to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.
4. to commit sexual assault upon.
5. Obsolete . to deceive or mislead.

6. wrong or improper use; misuse: the abuse of privileges.
7. harshly or coarsely insulting language: The officer heaped abuse on his men.
8. bad or improper treatment; maltreatment: The child was subjected to cruel abuse.
9. a corrupt or improper practice or custom: the abuses of a totalitarian regime.
10. rape or sexual assault.

Trauma is defined as:

A serious bodily injury or shock, as from violence or an accident.

An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial lasting damage to one's psychological development, often leading to neurosis.

Interestingly enough, the main difference I see between abuse and trauma is that trauma is abuse that lasts over time, or whatever has happened to the victim is not able to be dismissed or healed quickly. The wound or shock creates lasting damage. The first time I read through those definitions I was very shocked to see that even in simple definitions, we can determine whether our behavior is abusive or not.

Often, when women talk with me about abuse they don't seem to have a gauge as to how bad the abuse is. There are some women who say, "well, he only choked me once"...or "he pushed me down the hall but I know he really didn't mean it". Abuse progresses as each boundary is crossed and it becomes easier the next time for the abuser to do the same and worse behavior the next time. As time goes on, abuse becomes more severe and more dangerous. In regard to the above examples, on the continuum of physical abuse, choking appears about 2/3 of the way down the list towards the end result of killing the victim. On that scale, it is a high probability that the victim is going to be hurt, maimed or killed if the abuse continues for any length of time. As I've told my clients, it only takes 8lbs of pressure around your neck for 11 seconds to kill you so why would you wait for the next time. It doesn't matter what the intent is, if you are dead there is no coming back from that.

The continuum for Psychological abuse looks like this:

Psychological Abuse (in order of increasing severity and danger)

  • "Jokes" or put-downs that demean the victim
  • Acting like the victim's feelings, needs, and ideas don't matter
  • Enforcing rigid roles and rules for women
  • Controlling through jealousy
  • Isolating the victim
  • Insults and name-calling
  • Yelling and raging
  • Humiliation, throwing food
  • Fist through wall
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Destruction of her property
  • Hurting or killing pets
  • Displaying guns, sleeping with guns
  • Depriving the victim of sleep
  • Abuser threatens suicide
  • Tries to get the victim to commit suicide
  • Threatens to kill her and/or the children
  • Death
If any of these things are happening to you, you would be wise to see where they lie on this continuum and determine how long it has taken the person to get to that place in the relationship.  If an abuser is threatening suicide, that one alone is a huge manipulation which often results in the victim feeling responsible for the life of the abuser and it holds them in a place they would not be otherwise.  My best advice, no matter what the circumstance is would be to call 911 every time there is a suicide threat.  The reason is that if you are not a medical or mental health professional, you do not have the skill set to help a suicidal person.  If they truly need help, they need to be in a safe place with people who can stabilize them and keep them safe.  If they are simply manipulating you, the consequences of that manipulation will be quite distasteful and the person will quickly learn that threatening suicide is not something they want to do.  Either way, calling 911 is a very good and effective way to deal with the issue at hand.  If the person does end up committing suicide there are two very difficult things that may result - 1) the authorities will be asking you why you didn't get appropriate help for the person and 2) you may be left with a burden of guilt that will take you time and counseling to overcome.  The truth is, you are not responsible for a suicidal person....their decision to choose that path is strictly theirs.  What you are responsible for is to do the most appropriate thing for them and that is always to get them the help they need.

The physical abuse continuum looks like this:
  • Holding down, blocking, pinning
  • Pushing or shoving
  • Shaking or jerking
  • Slapping and bruising
  • Throwing objects
  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Black eyes, cuts, chipped teeth
  • Burning with hot drinks, cigarettes, etc.
  • Causing serious falls
  • Choking
  • Severe beatings
  • Broken bones
  • Hitting with objects
  • Back injuries, paralysis
  • Internal injuries
  • Use of weapons
  • Death
Notice that in each list, the end result is death.  Women don't often think of that as an end result, but our bodies, even though quite resilient at times, are not meant to deal with the type of physical punishment that an abuser can consistently meet out.  Additionally, it is important to point out that in any healthy relationship, these types of behaviors are non-existent.  Abuse destroys on every level so there shouldn't be any huge question as to why relationships that contain these behaviors don't work.  

If this type of thing is happening to you, call your nearest Women's Center to get help, counseling, advocacy or whatever type of help you need to deal with the situation.  There are individuals at these centers who are  trained in domestic violence and abuse, and these centers usually offer their services at little to no cost. If your husband or partner is displaying behavior such as that listed here, understand that he/she will not be able to help themselves.  Even if they promise never to do it again, they will...simply because they need outside, professional help to deal with the issues they have underneath the outside behavior.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath

As I was cruising around the internet doing some research, I found this little tidbit that I thought might be good information for some.  There are a few terms that seem to get thrown around to mean the same thing and they are not.  There is a category of behaviors that falls under the DSM - IV grouping of personality disorders called Anti-social.  Under this heading there are several different qualifications and I thought it might be helpful to understand the difference between a few of them.  Word of Caution: You may be tempted to relate these sociopath characteristics to your unreasonable friends, family and folks. However, only an expert and learned individual can diagnose a person as a sociopath. Hence, refrain from jumping to conclusions. 
Difference Between Sociopath and Psychopath

There are very few differentiations between sociopaths and psychopaths. There are many medical dictionaries that consider them synonymous. Both, sociopaths and psychopaths are involved in antisocial behavior that is related to extreme violence. Though psychiatrists group sociopaths and psychopaths together, criminologists have given some difference between sociopaths and psychopaths.
Behavior of a Sociopath
Behavior of a Psychopath
Sociopaths are very disorganized people
Psychopaths are obsessively organized people
Sociopaths cannot maintain normal relationships with their family, friends and co-workers
Psychopaths tend to have normal relationships with the people around them and are even able to take care of old parents and get married.
Sociopaths are not able to maintain a steady employment or house.
Psychopaths are very successful career-wise . Their ability to organize makes them very likable and trustworthy among people. Psychopaths tend to understand the emotions of others, but they themselves do not feel any emotions. Thus, it is very easy for them to manipulate people with emotional games.
Sociopaths are found living at the periphery of the society. A study carried out with the homeless people of New York as subjects, showed that most of them were sociopaths.
Psychopaths are found living in large apartments and houses and cannot be distinguished from normal people.
Sociopaths are very erratic and unplanned with their acts of extreme violence. There inability to plan ahead and be organized, makes them leave trails of clues. This makes it very easy to identify and zero-in on them.
Psychopaths tend to plan for years before they carry out their act of violence. They plan every single detail of their crime and ensure that they remain undetected. This organized and detailed planning makes it very difficult to catch them.

Sociopaths tend to see their victim as an instrument to be used for personal gains. They try to dominate others and humiliate their victims. They have no qualms lying and it becomes very difficult for them to be truthful. This, makes them believe falsely about their own greatness and powers. It is seen that they can easily pass a lie detector test. They have problems keeping friends, show cruelty towards people and even animals, etc. They have no problems when they play havoc in the lives of others and break their dreams. They do not feel guilty about their act, instead play the blame game and make others responsible for their acts committed. They tend to have promiscuity, involved in child sexual abuse, rape and indulge in sexual acting out of all types. They tend to change their image very often and their life story so convincingly that it helps them avoid prosecution. 

Truly scary stuff....I believe that I have had a few individuals who had many of the characteristics listed here walk through the doors of my office and they are definitely a force to be reckoned with.  As human beings, we are used to dealing with a population who has self imposed boundaries.  We innately trust that people will just not do certain things but when those boundaries disappear, it can be very frightening.  It's similar to the trust that we have that our home is safe if we lock the doors, yet all it would take for a robber to get in would be to break a window.  We live behind the illusion that no one will do that, yet someone who has no boundaries and no conscience would have no problem doing that kind of thing.  For the most part, these types of individuals have no place in our society, yet 1% of the population is dealing with these kinds of disorders.  Women who marry this type of individual spend their lives trying to figure out what is wrong and often pay a very high price for doing that.

For those who ask the question, "Can they be helped?"   The answer is not often.  There are people in our society who have dedicated their lives to helping individuals with these kinds of disorders, but the most common obstacle is that the disorder itself causes them to believe that they are OK and the rest of the world is out of order.  They are superior and the rest of us are flawed....therefore they do not need help.  There are a few who have recognized that they need help, and once that happens it is a long, tenuous journey to a manageable life.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Trial

It is always a tragedy to me when I hear of a wife who is being convicted of a crime such as murder because she has been subjected to physical violence for quite some time in her relationship.  Obviously, the more appropriate resolution to a situation like that would be to leave before those kinds of situations arise, but I have to confess it breaks my heart to know that a woman who has been abused in ways we may not be able to understand is going to be put through a different kind of hell because she made a decision to stop the abuse.  Don't get me wrong, I do not condone murder or this kind of violence in retaliation.  Many times I tell abuse victims that if they can't get out of the relationship for themselves, get out before their spouse does something that they can't take back; something that will land them in jail.  Below is a question from a friend of an abuse victim that reflects this very thing.  It is a tragedy, something that can be prevented and should be prevented.

"A girlfriend of mine is on trial for the murder of her husband. She had been subjected to over 20 years of physical and emotional violence, but had never thought to leave because her family/culture/upbringing didn't allow it. Being isolated and new to the city, she didn't have any friends and an incident cause her great distress and she didn't intend to kill him, but things got out of hand, and he died. Although her children support her (while at time blaming her for not leaving and thus exposing them to abuse), her family and his are hostile to her for causing shame to the family. How do I best help her see that the domestic abuse was not her fault, that she did her best as a mother, and that healing is possible for the future? She is on bail and is monitored, so I don't know if she qualifies for support from domestic violence services. And since she is charged for several criminal offences, how do I tell her that this is not her fault?"

As a counselor I am limited as to what kind of response I can give, but within that scope it is hard to address the kind of pain that is coming from both sides of this question.  My previous article dealt with what it is like for family and friends to be on the outside of an abusive relationship looking in.  This is a prime example and my answer is below:

"I'm sure your friend is quite distraught and it is always a difficult thing to work through when one person dies at the hands of another.  Not only is she dealing with the trauma of the domestic violence, but there is a certain kind of trauma that comes when an individual takes the life of another.  Very difficult things to face and work through.

What she needs to understand and heal in herself is probably going to come on a long journey.  Domestic violence victims are usually individuals who have very low self esteem to begin with and it only gets worse after years of abuse.  It sounds as though the two families are more concerned about how they look as opposed to what has happened to her and that is more than likely why she stayed in such a situation.  The message from the family is that she doesn't matter...its all about looking good on the outside...she has been living with that message daily for her whole life.  Learning a different message will take time and effort.

I am not a legal expert and this is not legal advice, but general information to help you understand some concepts. Although I am unfamiliar with the laws in Australia, here in the US, among other things, there are 5 criteria that are used to determine whether deadly force is warranted.  When women here are convicted, usually, it is because they have reacted violently and killed their abuser after he has stopped beating them or threatening the time he may be walking away afterward.  At that point the threat of harm has passed and that is one of the criteria that has to be in place.  If that is the same where you are, then it is hard to separate what is fault and what is not.  Was her judgment faulty, perhaps...was she not aware of what the law stated, more than likely.  There is a certain amount of responsibility that she may have to accept; however.....she is in no way responsible for the abuse that was perpetrated against her.  Getting her to understand that she is not responsible for another person's actions or feelings is a huge concept that will allow her to forgive herself and move on.  Understanding that most abusers have emotional and/or mental problems themselves can bring some understanding to the situation.  There are many factors that may have been at work here, but the key to her ability to heal is information, support and encouragement on a personal level.  She needs to understand that she is valuable and has worth.  Abusers erode whatever truth the victim has about that until they give up believing it.  But you need to understand that if your friend allowed herself to stay in that situation, she has some emotional issues to deal with herself.  Emotionally healthy people don't put up with abuse and don't stay in these situations.  Her greatest enemy was staying in denial.

My recommendation would be for you to visit my blog at and download or copy a few of the articles there having to do with why it is so hard to leave, stockholm syndrome and any others that you think may apply.  Information will be her friend at this time and the more she gets, the better understanding she will have.  She will be dealing with a lot of grief as well, which is a process she must go through to resolution.  Additionally, on my website  (  on the LIBRARY page there is an article called "the cycle of domestic violence" which she may find helpful.  Please feel free to download it and give it to her.  Abuse counseling is the best thing for her and in her present state of mind, she may not be up to doing the research it takes to find services so you may need to do that for her.  In the end, encouragement and unconditional love will serve her well.

I wish you all the best as you walk with your friend through this very hard journey."

Many women who continue to stay in relationships that are physical or relationships that continue to progress have to understand that they are not only putting themselves in danger, but they are endangering the abusive spouse as well.  We would hope that these individuals would get help to deal with their anger and their abusive behaviors, but if they land in prison they probably won't get the kind of help they need.  No one wants to see this kind of resolution to an abusive situation so this is something to think about, seriously and often.  

As with the cycle of domestic violence is a predictable pattern, the escalation of abuse has a pattern that is just as predictable.  It starts with holding the victim down or blocking their way out of a room or from leaving the area to get to safety.  It progresses from there.  Below is a list that is placed in order of increasing danger:
  • Holding down, blocking, pinning
  • Pushing or shoving
  • Shaking or jerking
  • Slapping and bruising
  • Throwing objects
  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Black eyes, cuts, chipped teeth
  • Burning with hot drinks, cigarettes, etc.
  • Causing serious falls
  • Choking
  • Severe beatings
  • Broken bones
  • Hitting with objects
  • Back injuries, paralysis
  • Internal injuries
  • Use of weapons
  • Death
Many women who come to me often say, "He just choked me once....he threw an object at me, he pushed me down."  They say these things as if the action was no big deal or it isn't serious because it was only done "once".  However when you look on this list, these actions are very close to the point where serious injury becomes an issue and eventually death if it is allowed to continue.  October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the local abuse organization created human cutouts that were placed in honor of the women who had been killed as a result of domestic violence.  These 12 silhouettes represented only a small minority of the individuals who have been lost to domestic violence.  It is a sobering statistic to contemplate and even more sobering when one realizes that it is only denial that stands between a victim and safety.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Abuse Effects the Entire Family

It is often times as traumatic for the family of an abuse victim to watch what is going on with their loved one as it is for the person going through the abuse.  Although we clearly love and are concerned about our family member, one of the most terrible feelings is the lack of control that family members feel to help the person break free from the abuse they are experiencing.  Most of the time, individuals outside the perimeter of an abusive relationship can see much more clearly what is happening to their family member, but the frustration is in getting that family member to see the truth of what is happening and take action to stop the abuse.

It is very difficult for a person who has little true self esteem and even less identity for themselves to stand up and do what it takes to leave an abuser. Often the family does not understand the dynamics that keep the victim bound.  Many times the victim is in the situation because they don't like to see other people in pain.  That fact alone will allow them to be manipulated by the abuser simply because the abuser is in pain all the time.  

Family members tend to lose sight of the fact that even if the relationship is abusive, there is still attachment there - albeit negative attachment.  The attachment and bonding between human beings is quite strong, however the desire not to be alone can be much stronger so negative attachment will suffice.  Therefore, an abuse victim will need support from any and all places it can be found, whether that be family or friends.  That is why it is so important not to allow the abuser to sever relationships with the victim.  Sometimes that alone is a difficult task because those relationships can be a threat to the abuser who will be working to isolate and control the victim.  Even if it is difficult and frustrating, it is important for friends and family to keep lines of communication open with the victim; it will be needed should the decision to leave ever becomes an option.

Bessel Van der Kolk, a research scientist who has written much about trauma and abuse has stated that as long as people can imagine having some control over what is happening to them, they can keep their wits about them.  That idea of control keeps hope alive so the abuse victim needs to be continually fed with choices, with options, with the truth that there is a network of people who will support them once the decision to get out is made.  A family can provide that support; however they need to be a strong, united front for the person they are trying to protect.   He has also stated that one of the coping strategies for victims is to dissociate, which can look like supreme denial or compartmentalism of thought and once they engage in that behavior, they become incapable of goal directed action.  

The abuse victim has many considerations to think about in order to make a decision to leave.  Finances, childcare, educational pursuits, and often getting a job with skills that are outdated or under used can be major obstacles in the planning of a transition out of an abusive relationship.  Support from family and friends to help the victim see that there are options can be invaluable as to whether the victim stays or leaves.  More often than not she will not be able to see past her husband either forbidding her to move out of a place of control or putting up obstacles such as not taking care of the children while she is work to harassing her by phone at her job or showing up and making a scene so that she eventually loses her position.  

Introduce children into the mix and things become very challenging because another generation is experiencing the modeling of abusive behaviors.  The true effects of abuse and trauma on children is a place of heavy denial for mothers who are in these relationships.  Some of the myths they believe are that if they don't fight in front of the kids, the kids aren't affected.  Another myth is that even though the husband may be abusive to the wife, he is still a good father.  This particular myth is untrue simply because abuse against a primary caregiver of the child by the other caregiver is immensely traumatizing.  Unless the husband is treating his wife with respect and honor, he cannot be a good father to his children.

Grandparents, parents, sibling and friends can have a better perspective of what is happening within an abusive relationship than the victim inside.  However, with that said, the victim has a better barometer of how much danger she is in at any moment in time.  It has been proven that the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship, especially a physically abusive relationship, is when she leaves.  That is why she needs a very strong support network she can count on, not only at that time but in the weeks and months after she leaves because it has been proven that abuse does not end after the marriage ends.  There can be stalking, manipulation and attempts to control through other means, especially the children.  

Family and friends, over time lose hope and get frustrated with the abuse victim who continually says she wants change but puts no effort to effect that change.  Statistics show that a woman will leave at least 7 times before she leaves for good but often families lose hope well before that.  When that happens, the victim loses the sense of her support network which makes it even more difficult to leave.  

Family members can fall under the control of the abuser just as much as the victim has simply because they realize that whatever they do to support their loved one is met with abusive action against her by the abuser.  They soon stop their efforts because they do not want to be the ones responsible for hurting their loved one.  Although they are not the ones directly inflicting the abuse, they feel powerless against the abuser who is.  If the family will step out and make use of the resources available, such as local women's centers or Domestic Violence organizations, they can continue to support their loved one in indirect ways.  If the children are being abuse, there are more avenues open to family members to use law enforcement and child protective services to intervene; however the family must be willing to do so and make the consequences stick.

Abusers get away with their actions because their victims do not enforce consequences that are available to them.  Consequences, however distasteful, may serve to turn around an abuser's life and instill a desire for healing and change.  That desire must come from within the heart of the abuser in order for change to one can do it for them.  

In closing, if there is any question, it is NEVER appropriate for the abuser to request help from the victim.  Abusers are adults and are very capable of finding help for themselves.  Allowing them to do so helps to empower them and puts the responsibility for their healing in their hands, rather than piling it on the back of the one they have abused.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Abuse of Husbands in a Marriage

First, I'd like to apologize for not posting in a timely manner, but life sometimes gets in the way and it certainly has for me in the last couple weeks.  Thank you for your patience!
Although most domestic violence is perpetrated from male to female, I try to bring forward the understanding that abuse can go both ways. I recently had a question come to me from a man who is experiencing this kind of situation in his relationship and doesn't know what to do. Please read the following with an understanding heart:
"My wife completely denies that she has been abusive in any way but I feel certain she has been to both me and my child, My wife has screamed out several times one night that my daughter's mother was a whore and slut with my daughter in the next room, talk's to her like a dog and tells her speak child speak! grabs her by both arms and bends over and puts her face in my childs face and yells at her with her teeth clinched. as for me she has gotten angry with me and slapped me in the chest 5 or 6 times and said that was not abuse, I have a heart condition, and on several occasions started screaming at my with me literally begging her to stop and that i was afraid she would give me a heart attack and i would did. still she said this is not abuse. would call me names but say it is not verbal abuse. she would say i was economically abusive because I would ask her if she has paid her credit card bills, but not acknowledge the fact that the reason I would ask is because over four years she ran up thousands of dollars, that I didn't know about, and not paying the bills on time,resulting in 29.9% rates and effecting our credit.fallowed me around and yelling when I would try to walk away from an argument, stand in front of or hang on to my truck if I tried to drive away to avoid an argument. went to all of my family over a four year period and played the victim and trashed me, but would not tell them the things she has done to me. even went to my ex-wife and told her about the argument we had about her calling my ex-wife a whore and slut with my child in house, but did not tell her the whore and slut part. I feel betrayed by my wife as well, she was calling and meeting for coffee and lunch her ex-boyfriend for two years, with out my knowledge, she said she did nothing wrong. we are currently separated, and I found out that the day after she left, she started talking to a man she meet at the bar she works at. when I asked her about that she said he is just a friend, I find that unbelievable. She blames the separation on me and only says she has been a good wife and mother, and will not admit to any wrong doing. am I crazy or am I the only person that can see a problem with her behavior."

There is definitely something wrong with any type of behavior that includes physical and verbal abuse.  I'm not sure that there was a question here beyond wanting my opinion, but I would advise anyone to contact child protective services if they believe that their child is being abused.  Parents are responsible for the safety of their children and if you witness or see evidence that the child is being traumatized, it would be in their best interest to either contact an attorney for good legal advice or CPS.  Any counselor, doctor, nurse, teacher or social worker who becomes aware of this situation is a mandatory reporter, which means they will report abuse if it is suspected.

Also, just for informational purposes, individuals dealing with this kind of thing might visit a website located at and read the information that is presented there.  Only individuals going through this will be able to determine if any of what is there fits their situation, but it may be of some help to know there may be answers beyond simply thinking there is bad behavior here.  Although there may be other answers for behavior like this, many people do not know about or understand Borderline Personality Disorder so it bears checking it out.  Men who live with women who are out of control find themselves in a very difficult situation.  First, they don't often look for help and when they do, they find most of the help directed towards females so I was very proud of this man for stepping forward and trying to find some help.

This individual mentioned that his wife works in a bar but did not indicate if there was any problems with alcohol.  Alcohol and withdrawal from it can present in intense anger, anxiety and severe mood swings.  If there is alcohol abuse or even dependence, there are options available to help addicts get their lives under control if they are amenable to the help.   

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can He Change?

The question of whether a person can change or not is a very common one when working with difficult and/or abusive relationships.  It's one of the first questions that comes out of a spouse's mouth, simply because it is a huge deal breaker if the conclusion is reached that the person you care about can't or won't change. As compassionate human beings, we want to believe the best about another individual; especially about the person we have committed our lives to.
As relationships reach critical mass, one person usually begins to evaluate the pros and cons of what is happening, trying to come up with a game plan.  During this phase, the question "can this person change" inevitably comes to the surface.  Unfortunately this is the wrong question to ask.  The more appropriate question would be "will this person change?".  No matter who we are, as human beings we have the capacity to change things about ourselves, where we live, what we do for a career, how we choose to behave and even how we choose to feel given any particular situation.  The question then becomes will we?  
In 1982, James Prochaska and Carlo Diclemente developed a model of change. This model seems to reflect a very good "road map" of how the human being relates to change and how they navigate through it.  The authors make a case that it is quite normal for people to require several trips through the five stages to make lasting change. So in this sense relapse is viewed as a normal part of the change process, as opposed to a complete failure.  This is a good way to look at the process and it gives us the basic idea that change is a process as well as being more complicated than simply making a decision to go from one behavior to another.  Their original road map suggests that there are 5 basic steps that need to be made in order to get from a place where you are even thinking about the consideration being presented, to the place where you have completed the tasks and have made the desired change.  Since then they have expanded to 6 steps, but for the sake of this article, we will consider the original 5.   Sounds simple right?  Not so much.....just ask anyone who has tried to stay on a diet, or made a new year resolution to exercise more.  Just making a decision doesn't always work.

The ability to make a change depends on several factors.  First, it will depend on whether the person making the change is flexible or rigid in their thinking patterns.  People who are structured or rigid find it very difficult to cope with change.   The ease with which we change also depends on how deep seated our behavioral patterns are and how strong our belief systems are.  For example, a person may find it very easy to change the route by which they come home from work on a daily basis, but might find it more difficult to discontinue stopping by the grocery store to pick up a beer if that has been their pattern with every job they have had since they were young.  The Christmas holiday is another very good example.  Families usually share the Christmas holiday with each other each year according to traditions that have been established over many years.  What happens to the family when the kids grow up, develop families of their own and those family traditions are challenged?  There are some in the family who will adapt, they can accept the change...then there are those who are more inflexible in their thinking and require those traditions to remain the same.  

So, how does this effect the abusive relationship?  Most abusive patterns are deeply ingrained and sometimes are even a part of the abuser's personality.  Abuse that is passed down from generation to generation is a learned pattern, a conditioning that not only appeals to a person's habit patterns but affects their thought processes and belief systems.  Abusive patterns are fueled by fear and enabled by denial which makes them very difficult to change.  Often, an abuser creates a point of crisis by their behavior patterns resulting in a decision by the other person in their life to leave.  They will then decide that what they did was wrong and express that it will never happen again.  Unfortunately it isn't nearly as simple as that, but the abuser is sincere in the moment and expresses to the victim what they want to hear so the crisis passes until the next time and no change is effected.  

So what are these stages, you ask?  I will list them below in the order that they occur.  Please be aware that these stages are fluid and individuals often go back and forth between them many times before getting through the cycle.

  • PRECONTEMPLATION STAGE. We enter the stages of change from a state of precontemplation-- during which the idea of change is not seriously considered.   It is in this stage that we find the abuse victim consistently asking the abuser to change their behavior.  Often victims will describe the abuser in this stage by saying things like, it's like they don't even hear me....he doesn't hear a word I say....
  • CONTEMPLATIVE STAGE Secondly we contemplate the need for change; but take no active steps.   This is the place where abuse victims find themselves after the abuse has happened and the individual has promised to change.  They think about it, but there is no action taken.  Many victims confuse this stage for the action stage and they are very different.  This stage is all about talk and this is often the stage where most abusers stay.  Victims must learn to identify this stage because if they don't, their circumstances will not change until the abuser decides to move forward.  The cycle of abuse, which I have written about in previous blog entries revolves around this second stage of change and often does not move out of it.
  • DETERMINATION STAGE Thirdly we determine to take action. eg we buy walking shoes, join a gym or discover a local swimming pool, but we take no action.  As it applies to abuse, what we see in this stage might be the abuser looking for a counselor, but not ever making an appointment; talking about going to an AA meeting or getting rid of the alcohol in the house but keeps purchasing it.  This is movement forward that gives hope to the abuse victim, but should not be looked at as concrete evidence that the person has change, because they haven't.
  • ACTION STAGE Then action is initiated. We walk regularly; go to that gym, have eggs instead of muesli for breakfast ......This is actual action that is being taken to solve whatever the problem might be.  The person actually attends the AA meetings, goes to the counseling sessions, shows concerted effort to stop swearing, getting angry.  This gives more hope to the victim and is a good sign that the abuser may be taking the situation seriously enough to make the changes that need to be made.
  • MAINTENANCE STAGE Finally the action is maintained for several weeks. But most having maintained the change, whether in diet, smoking habit, exercise or whatever, will sooner or later fail and revert to the first or second stage. Then comes the verdict that is most helpful; namely TO FAIL IS NORMAL!!!  Unfortunately this is true and when we look at it through the eyes of failing at a diet or failing to quit smoking it is a rather benign failure and we can pick ourselves up and start over again with the support of our loved ones. 

However, and I put a real emphasis on that word....abuse, especially physical abuse, falls into a very different category.   These stages of change are very real and when applied to the category of abuse, we have to weigh in factors of safety for the victim and for any children in the situation.  Can he change?  The answer is yes.  Will he change? Statistics show a very low percentage of abusers who make it past the Contemplative or Determination stage.  Moving past these two stages is a matter of free will....we always have the choice but we may not always choose to do the work that it will take to be successful or achieve the goal.  The question then becomes, do I stay or go?  With that question, we have to consider safety, both physically and emotionally.  Is it safe to stay?  If there is physical or sexual abuse, no....absolutely not.  Depending on the level of emotional, verbal or spiritual abuse, that is a personal decision but the person has to weigh the destructive effect on the self esteem and inappropriate modeling of behavior, trauma effects etc. in the light of day rather than making excuses, minimizing or denying the effects. It is also important to assess how many times you have been through the pattern and make a choice as to how many more times you want to go around the mountain.  The truth is, anyone can move through the stages of change and they don't need their abuse victim to be part of the process.  In fact it is NOT appropriate to ask an abuse victim to be the emotional support of their abuser as s/he moves through the stages of change.   Change is a personal decision brought on by personal motivation.  Any victim who believes that they are in any way a part of that change is kidding themselves.  Relationship breakdown is a normal consequence of abuse.  Victims do not have to be and should not be in the lives of their abusers in order for the abusers to heal and change.  I know that sounds harsh, and I also know that individuals can heal certain wounds in relationship to other people, but those people do not have to be the very ones who have been abused by them.  The risk is too great and the cost is too high when failure occurs.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Take a Mental Vacation - Dancing at the Movies

Thought I would share with you just a little bit of happiness!  Sometimes the info on this blog can be somewhat daughter shared this with me last night and I wanted to share it with you....feel free to watch it whenever life gets overwhelming.  We need those mental vacations!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Cycle of Abuse/Domestic Violence

Although the cycle of abuse is more difficult to see when inside an abusive relationship, it is so common that volumes of books have been written about it and it is as predictable as the change of seasons.  It will change in some respects due to the uniqueness of the people within the relationship, however the fundamental characteristics remain the same.  In abusive relationships, men can be the victims as well as women, but because of the larger number of male abusers and female victims, I will refer to these roles in like manner.
There are three stages in the cycle, each fueled by the denial of both parties involved.  Some of this denial can be seen in mothers and/or fathers who don't think that their children are effected by the abuse that goes on, they aren't effected by seeing their primary caregiver hit, called names or disrespected to the point of tears.  Other places of denial can be found in addictions, self blame, minimizing what is happening within the relationship.  I hear the comment that "he only hit me once".....isn't once enough?  Or, "if he does it again, I'm going to leave"....why does he have to do it again, didn't this time count?  Those are the most obvious places of denial, but it exists in more covert forms as well.  Victims of abuse deny their own power in saying no.....they give in to isolation or control because it is "easier" to do so, or because it "keeps the peace".   
The first stage is the tension building phase.  In this stage the victim may deny what is happening and excuse behavior as coming from some outside stress like work; she will blame herself for her abuser's behavior and deny that the abuse will worsen.  The abuser denies by blaming the tension on the victim, work, the traffic, the children or anything that might serve as a plausible reason for the behavior....getting drunk denies responsibility for the actions taken.  This stage is filled with minimizing and justifying behavior.   
At this point the abuser is moody, nitpicking and he attempts to isolate the victim.  He withdraws affection, yells, puts down, drinks, threatens, destroys property, criticizes, is sullen and is overall rather crazy making.   The victim's response to the tension that builds is filled with attempts to calm the abuser, nurturing him, staying away from family and friends, keeping the kids quiet, agreeing with him, withdrawing, many attempts at reasoning with him, cooking his favorite dinner and just a general feeling of walking on eggshells.  Abuse victims hesitate to place the responsibility where it belongs because they are becoming uncertain of their own judgments....perhaps the abuser is right, perhaps it is me.  If I was just a better wife, a better daughter or son....perhaps if I just get dinner on the table when he wants it he won't get mad...if I dress a certain way, have sex every time he wants it....if I just do those things he'll be happy.  Unfortunately the victim begins taking on responsibility for the feelings and behavior of the abuser and in all reality, the victim cannot control those things...only the abuser can.   
The second stage is the explosion.  At this point the abuser has reacted, whether it be violently or has emotionally or verbally wounded the victim and then mocked her for feeling hurt.  This is the event that encapsulates the most destruction whether it be hitting, choking, beating, humiliation, imprisonment, rape, verbal abuse or destroying pets or property.  The victim usually responds by protecting herself any way she can, police may be called either by herself, her children or a neighbor and again there may be many attempts to calm the abuser or reason with him.  In some cases the victim may fight back or even leave.  Even if she does leave, in this phase the victim will probably deny any injuries she has received, calling them minor and saying "I bruise easily" or "I ran into a door", "it wasn't that bad".  If the injuries are not physical, the victim finds it more difficult to identify the wounding as injury so minimizes it and tries not to feel the hurt.  She denies it by blaming the tension on work or minimizing what happened because it didn't require police or medical help.  If drinking was involved the excuse of "He didn't know what he was doing" is often heard or a wife doesn't label sexual assault as rape because it was her husband.  The abuser will always blame what happened on the victim, on stress...anything but taking responsibility for what happened.  
The third stage is the honeymoon phase.  This phase is characterized by the abuser profusely apologizing, begging forgiveness and adding promises to get counseling, go to church, go to AA, send flowers etc.  He will promise never to do it again, declare his love for the victim, cry and even enlist the support of the family if the victim decides to leave.  In most cases, the victim will agree to stay or take him back, attempt to stop any legal processes that have been put into place, set up counseling appointments for him and end up feeling happy and hopeful about the future.   She will often minimize the injuries at that point, saying it could have been worse, she believes this is the way it will stay, she now has the man of her dreams and she believes his promises to change.  Interestingly enough, the abuser also believes that it won't happen again....until it does.
This cycle repeats over and over.  With each cycle, the intensity will usually increase and the length of the honeymoon phase will decrease.  The end result can be one of several outcomes....1) the victim will leave, 2) the victim stays and her will and self esteem becomes so worn down that she doesn't protest against the control and domination, she just accepts it...becoming more depressed and more lost as time goes by, or 3) the victim is killed or critically injured.  
Often victims stay in these types of relationships because they lack the strength of personal identity and value.  An abuse victim loses the will to fight back and their confidence becomes so eroded that they question their own thought processes and give in to whatever the abuser wants, mainly because it is more safe to do so.  Yes, there are those women who will fight back, but when both sides are violent the home becomes a war zone for any children who may reside there.  
The key to breaking the cycle is found in breaking the pattern that has developed within the relationship.  A victim who has lost her value and her identity will need help and support in regaining her perspective.  That error in perspective may have been what allowed her to get into the relationship to begin with so patience is needed in the long journey back.  Abuse counselors are effective in helping victims take their lives back and become confident in themselves and their decisions again.  Personal identity is a major source of strength when recovering from abuse of any kind.  Understanding who you are, regaining your voice and becoming the person that you want to be can help heal years of abuse and provide hope for the future.  Abuse steals those things away from its victims and even though it may seem like the right thing to do when choosing to stay, the price is incredibly high.  
I am often asked if abusive and/or violent men have the capacity to change.  As human beings, I believe we all have the capacity to change and grow.  However the question is not do they have the capacity to change is are they motivated to change?  Does this person even understand what kind of work it is going to take to deal with the issues that have made them abusive to begin with?  The road back from being an abuser takes much more than self will and determination.  It means taking a long hard look at yourself, your family dynamics and the patterns in the home where you grew up as well as accepting complete responsibility for the actions that have been taken.  It means developing a heart of empathy that truly understands the destruction that has been perpetrated on the victims and truly repenting of those actions.  Women make the mistake of believing that an abuser will change overnight...that they have the capacity to make these fundamental changes in their lives without outside help.  They also make the mistake of believing that they need to stay and help their abuser to heal.  If an angry and/or violent person truly wants healing, they will take the steps necessary to find help, they won't ask their victims to do it for them.  They will commit to a process that will go on whether the victim stays in their life or not; because they know that they need the help and truly want to become a better person.  They realize that their present relationship may be irretrievably broken due to their actions and accept responsibility for that.  If a victim understands these things, they will know that the person cannot change just by saying they will.  
Denial is the devil's dessert after a meal of your soul
Emotionally healthy relationships allow both individuals to grow, the relationship sustains life and provides a platform from which each draws support.  If your relationship does not give you life, it should be re-evaluated.  There are those who will stay in a destructive relationship because the thought of being alone is more traumatizing than the negative connection that they presently have.  Although no one likes to be alone or wants to be alone, loneliness is more a state that one passes through than a place where one lives.  
If I can encourage you at all, I'd like to leave you with this thought:  The world looks more hopeless from within an abusive relationship than it truly is outside of it.  

Monday, August 23, 2010

Abuse In Marriage As It Pertains to Christians

I don't usually publish whole articles in my blog posts, but since I am getting so many questions about this subject right now, I am going to post the contents of an article written in Christianity Today (October, 2007, author David Instone-Brewer) that I'm sure will answer a lot of questions regarding the idea of staying in an abusive relationship. There are so many Christian women who have believed (and for good reason) that it is imperative to stay in an abusive relationship because God hates divorce and that divorce is a sin. This article is like a breath of fresh air and really puts abusive relationships in perspective. Please feel free to share this with any and all women who need to understand this crucial and foundational portion of scripture:
I WAS BEING INTERVIEWED for what would be my first church pastorate, and I was nervous and unsure what to expect. The twelve deacons sat in a row in front of me and took turns asking questions, which I answered as clearly as I could. All went smoothly until they posed this question: "What is your position on divorce and remarriage? Would you remarry a divorcee or divorced man?" I didn't know if this was a trick question or an honest one. There might have been a deep-seated pastoral need behind it, or it might have been a test of my orthodoxy. Either way, I didn't think I could summarize my view in one sentence; when I thought about it further, I couldn't decide exactly what my view was. I gave a deliberately vague reply. "Every case should be judged on its own merits." . It worked; I got the job. But I made a mental note to study the subject of divorce, and to do it quickly. It's a good thing I did.  As it turned out, I was surrounded by people who needed answers to questions raised by divorce and remarriage. My Baptist church was located near an Anglican congregation and two Catholic churches. Divorced men and women from these congregations came asking if we would conduct their weddings, having been denied in their local churches. Then I found that some of my deacons had been divorced and remarried. Should I throw them out of church leadership? If I did, I would lose people I considered some of the most spiritual in the church, people with exemplary Christian homes and marriages.
The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications.  Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: "Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, and remarries, commits adultery" (Matt. 19:9).However, this
has been interpreted in many different ways. Most say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. But some argue that Jesus originally didn't allow even that. Only in Matthew does he offer an out from marriage: "except for sexual indecency." Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment
by a nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Many theologians add this as a second ground for divorce.
Yet some pastors have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so impractical-even cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse, and Paul even seems to forbid separation (1 Cor. 7:10). As a result, some Christians quietly ignore this seemingly "impractical" biblical teaching or find ways around it. For example, they suggest that when Jesus talked about "sexual immorality," perhaps he included other things like abuse. Or when Paul talked about abandonment by a nonbeliever, perhaps he included any behavior that is not supportive of the marriage or abandonment by anyone who is acting like a nonbeliever. Many have welcomed such stretching of Scripture because they couldn't accept what they believed the text apparently said. But does the literal text mean what we think it does?
While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus' time. I "got inside their heads" enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was
to re-read the Bible. I'd read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn't heard before I read the rabbis!
The texts hadn't changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first -century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense. My book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, is a summary of several academic papers and books I began writing with this new understanding of what Jesus taught.
One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: "Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?" (Matt. 19:3). This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the "any cause" divorce. By the time of Jesus, this "any cause" divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament.
The "any cause" divorce was invented from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1.  Moses allowed divorce for "a cause of immorality," or more literally, "a thing of nakedness." Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word "thing" or "cause" when he only needed to use the word "immorality." They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce - divorce for "a cause." They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for "any cause."
This single phrase that referred to no type of divorce "except immorality"-and therefore the new "any cause" divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. "Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?" they asked. In other words: "Is it lawful for us to use the 'any cause' divorce?" When Jesus answered with a resounding no, he wasn't condemning "divorce for any cause," but rather the newly invented "any cause" divorce. Jesus agreed firmly with the second group that the phrase didn't mean divorce was allowable for "immorality" and for "any cause," but that Deutermonomy 24:1 referred to no type of divorce "except immorality." This was a shocking statement for the crowd and for the disciples. It meant they couldn't get a divorce whenever they wanted it - there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced.
Luke and Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32;Luke 16:18),because they were still married. The fact that they said "any divorced person" instead of "virtually all divorced people" is typical Jewish hyperbole - like Mark saying that "everyone" in Jerusalem came to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5).  It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant. Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language often changes quickly (as I found out when my children first heard the Flintstones sing about "a gay old time"). The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the "any cause" divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce. This meant that when Jesus condemned "divorce for 'any cause,' " later generations thought he meant "divorce for any cause."
Now that we know what Jesus did reject, we can also see what he didn't reject. He wasn't rejecting the Old Testament- he was rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. He defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1. And there is one other surprising thing he didn't reject: Jesus didn't reject the other ground for divorce in the old Testament, which all Jews accepted. Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus' day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect.
Before rabbis introduced the "any cause" divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage; the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. Even women could, and did, get divorces for neglect-though the man still had to write out the divorce certificate. Rabbis said he had to do it voluntarily, so if he resisted, the courts had him beaten till he volunteered!
These three rights became the basis of Jewish marriage vows - we find them listed in marriage certificates discovered near the Dead Sea. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language became more formal, such as "love, honor, and keep." These vows, together with a vow of sexual faithfulness, have always been the basis for marriage. Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce. The three provisions of food, clothing, and love were understood literally by the Jews. The wife had to cook and sew, while the husband provided food and materials, or money. They both had to provide the emotional support of marital love, though they could abstain from sex for short periods. Paul taught the same thing. He said that married couples owed each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). He didn't say that neglect of these rights was the basis of divorce because he didn't need to - it was stated on the marriage certificate. Anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce.
Divorce for neglect included divorce for abuse, because this was extreme neglect. There was no question about that end of the spectrum of neglect, but what about the other end? What about abandonment, which was merely a kind of passive neglect? This was an uncertain matter, so Paul deals with it. He says to all believers that they may not abandon their partners, and if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor.
In the case of someone who is abandoned by an unbeliever - someone who won't obey the command to return - he says that the abandoned person is "no longer bound." Anyone in first-century Palestine reading this phrase would think immediately of the wording at the end of all Jewish, and most Roman, divorce certificates: "You are free to marry anyone you wish."
Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:
  • Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
  • Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1Corinthians 7)
  • Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1Corinthians 7)
Jewish couples listed these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. We reiterate them as love, honor, and keep and be faithful to each other. When these vows were broken, it threatened to break up the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, "I forgive you; let's carry on," or, "I can't go on, because this marriage is broken." Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows.
Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible's teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament. Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God's law is both practical and loving.