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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a lot of insight packed into that! The most difficult part of healing is facing the effects of abuse on the children. While I want to be honest about what I should have done, I still think I did my best - maybe a lot of it was disassociation. I also resisted abuse in many ways, all in a futile attempt to protect them, although they don't see it that way because all they saw was inaction. The inaction was deliberate because any overt challenge saw them punished for it, even if the challenge was made behind closed doors. This is no excuse, but it is the truth and it really hurts that my children hold it against me when I did everything with their protection foremost in my mind.

If only I had that support to leave instead of the pressure to stay, things would have been vastly different. It is still hard staying apart, because the support does not come from my close friends, but from cyber-survivors and a group of strangers who are in a womens support group.

If I did not believe that tomorrow would bring a better day, I would live in despair because the effect of years and years of abuse are profound. But thank God for the internet, I have been inspired by stories of others who have survived and thrived in spite of horrendous circumstances. I just wish I knew how long it will take before the pain subsides...