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Domestic Violence February 26th, 2014

What is it? What are the stages? And, how can it be prevented?

Domestic violence is a nice clinical name for a battering relationship or a relationship where someone is receiving physical or verbal beatings.

A batterer can be either male or female. They can come from a wealthy or a poor family, as well as, all races and religions. They are often extremely charismatic and very likable. You wouldn’t know someone is a batterer just by looking at them. However, if you look at their family background you will find one thing that is very consistent. Generally speaking, they come from a home where there was a lot of corporal punishment. Their parents were often very strict and cruel in the disciplining when they were a child. They received beatings. There used to be an old saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” This belonged to the belief that there was something inherently bad within children, and it needed to be beaten out. “I’m going to beat the hell out of you. If I beat the hell out of you, then all that will be left is the heaven or the good.” So the parent, out of their loving for the child, would beat him/her so s/he would learn the lesson and change. Over time, the child began to pair loving with beating. “If I love you, I won’t let you do those things that I think are wrong. If you do those things that I think are wrong, then I have to beat you, so you will change and not do it again.” That’s how the parents taught or controlled them, and it worked, so that is how the batterer teaches or controls his/her partner.

A person who is being battered, I will call him/her the “injured,” does not fit any special psychological profile. There are no similarities in their family backgrounds. However, after a person has been in a battering relationship for a while, s/he begins to demonstrate predictable coping skills, which I will discuss later.

There are basically three stages in a battering relationship. You have the battering, followed by the honeymoon phase, then the tension-building phase, then the battering again, and then the loop continues.

There are two things that generally happen in a battering relationship: The battering becomes more intense or violent and occurs more frequently.

Drugs and alcohol often make a battering relationship more volatile. However, they are not the root cause, and there can be battering in a relationship even when both people are clean and sober.

Phase One
“What constitutes a battering?”

A battering is a slap, a hit, a scratch, a kick, a push against the wall, a shove onto the floor, bed, or sofa, a spit in the face, or a violent grabbing of the arms. After the injured has been touched once, words can become a battering. Throwing a glass across the room, kicking the door, or putting a fist through the door can become a battering. The object now becomes the injured and the batterer no longer needs to touch to inflict a beating. As the batterer smashes the glass, s/he is smashing the injured. The batterer’s words also become a beating. If the batterer says, “I’ll kill you!” Or, “If you do that again, I’ll get you, and you’ll be sorry!” The batterer’s words have meaning, and the injured fears and believes the batterer will do what s/he says s/he will do.

Phase Two
The honeymoon phase is when the batterer says, “I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again. Please forgive me.” The batterer truly means this and believes s/he will never do it again. The batterer buys flowers, buys dinners, cleans the house extra special, and becomes a wonderful romantic lover. They become the person the injured really loves. The injured says, “This is who s/he really is. The other part is just something that happened and it won’t happen again.” That is until it happens again, and again, and again. The honeymoon phase becomes the only part of the relationship the injured thinks about. The injured begins to think that if s/he did things differently, then s/he would have the honeymoon all the time. If the injured hadn’t said “that’’ or did “that” the batterer would not have exploded, and the injured knew the batterer did not like the injured doing or saying those things. The injured thinks, “It really was my fault. I’m bad. I guess I really did deserve it. If I could just keep my mouth shut, everything would be wonderful – all the time.”

This is one of the big lies in a battering relationship. The injured needs to know that having a relationship with a batterer means having all three phases. The batterer is the whole picture, and there is not that much the injured can do to change that. However, there are a few things the injured and the batterer can do to change their relationship. I will address these things a little later.

Phase Three
The tension-building phase is when the tension builds. It builds and builds until something is said or done at which point the injured then receives another battering.

Some people who have been in a battering relationship for a while begin to recognize these phases and they know that after the battering, that the wonderful honeymoon comes. They sacrifice themselves so their partner can “blow their steam” so everything will be good again. This sacrificing of oneself is usually an unconscious process. However, this is often where the injured begins to blame themselves for the battering. As I indicated above, the injured knows what will make the batterer blow up, and the injured finds themselves doing those things that bring about yet another battering.

Why? What keeps a person in this type of a relationship?

There are many answers to these questions. This is a very complicated issue. We must realize each couple is working out their own individual issues, as well as, their own couple issues. Therefore, each situation must be looked at with fresh eyes, along with causes and solutions specifically designed for that relationship. With that being said, I will give some general concepts that might help you understand what keeps people in these battering relationships.

There’s a concept called “learned helplessness” that seems to be part of the battering relationship picture. I will describe a story to help you understand what I mean by “learned helplessness.”

If I took a dog and placed him on an electrical grid, and I then gave the dog a shock, the dog would jump off. If I put a cage around this grid, and then put the dog inside the cage, the dog would not be able to jump off the grid when I gave it an electrical shock. After a while, the dog will just stand there and take the shock. The dog would have learned that it could not get free: it had to stay on the grid and endure the pain of the electrical shock. This is called “learned helplessness.” Now that the dog has learned this, I can remove the cage, and give the dog a shock, and he will no longer jump off the grid. The dog will just stand there enduring the electrical shock. I would then have to drag the dog off the grid many times in order for the dog to realize that he was free to jump off the grid when he felt an electrical shock.

People who are caught in a battering relationship often have this “learned helplessness” behavior trait. The batterer has threatened the injured many times stating s/he will kill the injured, kill their child, kill their parents, make slanderous phone calls to the injured’s boss, or do something that is frightening and/or horrifying. These threats are taken seriously. The injured believes the batterer could and would do what they say. Batterers, because of their charismatic personalities, are seen as omnipotent. The batterer has shown up in places that they were not supposed to be, and they knew things they had no way of knowing. The batterer seems bigger than life, and if they say they will do something, they are believed. In order to avoid these horrifying events (the electrical shock), the injured does not move. The injured stays and endures the pain. The injured truly believes there is no way out, and there is no safe place to go. This is often very difficult for the injured’s family and friends to understand. The injured’s loved ones often get caught in the battering relationship’s up and down, emotional roller coaster during the battering, and right after the battering when the injured is saying, “I hate him/her! I’m getting out of this relationship. Help me!” It can also be very frustrating for some therapist who are working with the injured, and for the police who arrest a batterer, only to have the injured drop the charges the following day.

There is another concept called “codependency” that is also found in battering relationships. Basically, codependency means: “I see what is wrong with you and I know how to fix you. I will make you better, or heal you, or bring out your potential. No one understands you like I do. I know all that you need is a little love, my love, and you will blossom and grow into who you truly are.” What is amazing about the codependency concept is that both the batterer and the injured are saying this about each other. Thus, a deeply, entwined, symbiotic relationship develops. The honeymoon phase reinforces this type of self-talk.

Another concept that keeps people in battering relationships is called “love.” “I love him/her and s/he loves me. I can’t leave someone I love. You really don’t know him/her like I do. If you did, you would see why I love him/her. S/he is my soul mate.” The injured will also create many excuses in order to protect the batterer. “S/he was just tired. S/he was under a lot of pressure at work. S/he just drank too much.” This is often difficult for those on the outside to understand. “How can you love someone who beats you?” The answer often is, “I just do. S/he didn’t mean to do it. Besides, it really was my fault. I made him/her do it.” Again, it’s the person the injured experiences during the honeymoon phase that they love.

Money is another major reason why people stay in battering relationships. The injured is afraid that they will not be able to provide for themselves and their loved ones if they leave the batterer. Even though this is rarely true, because of the level of dependency and codependency that has been created within a battering relationship, it’s believed to be true.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in a battering relationship?

Seek help. There are many organizations today that have been created to help people heal a battering relationship, or to get out of a battering relationship. In the Los Angeles area you can call (310) 392-8381, a 24-hour hot line. Or, you can call your local police department and ask for help. Seeking psychotherapy often is an important part of breaking the battering cycle, and regaining self-esteem and dignity.

Awareness is the first step to change. The injured must first be aware that s/he is in a battering relationship before there can be any effective change. The injured can’t change anything until s/he is aware that what s/he is doing, is not working. Educating oneself as to what a battering relationship is and how it develops is part of the awareness phase.

Beyond the above, there are a few basic things that can empower the injured.

Let’s look at the dynamics of a batterer for a moment. As a batterer moves toward a battering episode, s/he crosses an invisible line. On one side of the line, the batterer has control and s/he has conscious awareness. On the other side of the line, the batterer has no control, s/he has no conscious awareness, and often, no conscious memory of what s/he has said or done. The batterer has no memory. This is an amazing thing. Many times the batterer will look at the injured and say, “What happened to you?” Or the batterer will say, “I never said that.” There is no memory in there. This is very scary for both people involved. The injured begins to feel crazy. They know what happened, but the batterer insists that’s not what happened. The batterer also feels crazy and out of control. The batterer didn’t want to say all those things or do all those things, yet they were not able to stop. It’s like someone else takes over and the batterer is not able to stop themselves. Because of this, the batterer’s self-esteem is low. They’re not able to keep their word.

When I work with a batterer, I ask them to be aware of this invisible line. I have them identify what is happening in their body. Are they experiencing heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and a flushing sensation in their face? Are they holding their breath or clenching their fists? What’s going on? When a batterer can identify what’s happening before s/he explodes then s/he can walk away. I encourage the batterer to take a walk, to calm down, to refocus on who s/he is, and what s/he wants. When s/he walks away, the statement that is delivered is this: “Rather than say or do something that I’ll regret, I’m going to take a break. I’ll be back.” The statement “I’ll be back” is a very important statement. In a lot of battering relationships, both partners want to resolve the issue now. “You’re not going anywhere until we finish this!” Or, “You always leave when things don’t go your way. I want you to stay here and finish this!”

Some couples use the leaving as a way of punishing rather than a time of healing. They’ll go have an affair or they’ll say, “I’m leaving you. I hate you!” These are not the words I would encourage you to use.

Once a batterer begins to identify this invisible line, s/he can begin to take a time out and cool down. After they do this for a while, their self-esteem begins to increase because they are learning to have control over their behavior. They begin to trust themselves. Their partner however, does not trust them.

Trust is an interesting thing. We trust someone if their actions match their words, if they are consistent, through time. And, if they pass our tests. Some of these tests are conscious, while others are unconscious. In a battering relationship, the issue of trust has been shattered many times. Let’s say the batterer wants to change and has gone to therapy, and s/he seems to be changing. Can the batterer be trusted, not to repeat the battering pattern? There seems to be only one way to find out. To test him/her. And this is what often happens. The batterer is tested, and tested, and tested, until – bam – s/he explodes, because they just couldn’t take it anymore, and the couple has another battering. The injured then says, “See! I knew I couldn’t trust you. I knew you didn’t change.” The batterer has to start all over once again. This testing pattern continues, and the battering cycle also continues, with the injured blaming him/herself for pushing too hard. This, as you can see, is a very difficult cycle to break. However, the cycle can be broken if both partners have the willingness to change.

What do you do if you find yourself in a battering relationship, and your partner does not want to change or seems incapable of changing?

You get out.

This is often easier said than done. I will highlight some of the things the injured can do to get out of a battering relationship.

Number one: Notify the police. The police are more and more aware of the dangers of battering relationships, and they are trained to handle violent situations. The injured can get a restraining order if necessary.

Number two: Contact a local battering hot line and shelter. The people at the hot line will connect the injured with someone who can help and knows what to do.

Number three: Create a support group or join a support group specifically for battering relationships.

Number four: Know where to go in a moments notice if needed. Have an extra set of clothes in the trunk or at a friend’s house.

Number five: Hide extra money a short distance away from the house. If the injured is on foot, then s/he will have money to call and to pay for a cab.

Number six: Learn about battering relationships. Learn about what is keeping the injured in a relationship where s/he is getting hurt. The injured needs to learn how to set him/herself free.

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