Understanding the dynamics of domestic violence
September 28, 2005
Editor’s Note: In this four part series we will explore the four types of domestic violence, their cause, and the actions you or someone you love can do to change from victim to survivor.
W hen images of domestic violence come to mind, they usually consist of activities such as punching, kicking, pushing, and other forms of physical violence. What many people are not aware of is the fact that domestic violence can consist of emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and even financial abuse. Domestic violence can occur between parent and child, spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or any other family members. Regardless of class, race, gender, religion or age, no one is safe from abuse. The following column will focus on emotional abuse and controlling behaviors.
It is easy for people in a safe and healthy relationship to think they would leave if a loved one physically attacked them or treated them bad, and assume that those who stay are weak. But physical violence usually does not occur in the relationship from day one. The abuse builds slowly and in many relationships the abuser is quite charming in the beginning. Every relationship begins in the “honeymoon” stage: life is wonderful, there is magic in the air, and your new partner seems to be just perfect. But as the relationship settles, things naturally change, and for victims of domestic violence, the cycle of violence begins. The cycle of domestic violence has three defined stages: honeymoon, tension building, explosion, and back to the honeymoon. Each cycle can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. As these patterns continue, the cycles get shorter and involve more frequent episodes of violence.
During the tension building stage, the victim is able to sense the abuser’s edginess. The victim withdraws and walks on eggs shells, hoping not to “set him off.” The tension continues to rise until the explosion stage takes place. In the explosion stage the abuser accepts that he is out of control, but justifies it. This is the “big fight” in which most physical abuse takes place. At the end of the cycle, the honeymoon occurs. The abuser apologizes, becomes charming and manipulative, he fears she will leave him, and the victim convinces herself to believe he’s changed. There is no end to this cycle.
The beginning of an unhealthy relationship may consist of verbal and emotional abuse used as a method of power and control. These actions involve name-calling, threats, silent treatment, jealousy, and control over what you do and whom you talk to. These manipulating behaviors create a sense of fear, low self-esteem and learned helplessness. The abuser may threaten suicide if you leave or make you feel as if his anger and unhappiness is all your fault. There is no excuse for being an emotionally abusive partner. More often than not, emotional abuse is joined with, or quickly followed by, physical abuse. It has been said that the scars left by emotional abuse are just as painful as those left by physical violence.
No one should be intimidated by a loved one or left to feel scared and embarrassed. If you or someone you know is being emotionally and verbally abused, these are red flags that may lead to physical abuse. The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center offers a confidential crisis line at 544-4444 and individual or group counseling located at 2941 Lake Tahoe Boulevard.
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– Lisa Michele Utzig is the outreach coordinator at the Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.