Why Abuse Happens
When we don’t understand the power imbalance of an abusive relationship, it’s easy to judge a victim of domestic violence. Why victims stay is not simple to explain nor is every abusive relationship the same. However, we can look at common abuser tactics and why so many victims feel trapped and unable to leave. First of all, abusers do not start off as abusive. Abusers can be incredibly charismatic, kind, and even gentle in the honeymoon phase. They know that in order to gain the trust, love, and loyalty we so often want out of HEALTHY relationships, they must play the part; They manipulate their partner into believing they are a good person. Slowly, an abuser will show their true colors. Using the Power and Control Wheel, counselors and educators have helped victims not only identify what they are going through is abuse, but that they are not alone in their struggle. Here are the eight examples of ways abusers will try and exert power and control over a partner:
Looks, actions and gestures can all be used to instill fear. Even if an abuser doesn’t physically abuse them in the moment using intimidation, they are saying, “I’m not hurting you now, but just wait.” Smashing and destroying property, hurting pets, and displaying weapons can all be used to control a victim into doing what an abuser wants.
Using Emotional Abuse
Name calling, put-downs, gaslighting, mind games, humiliation, and using guilt all fall under emotional abuse.
Abusers know that if you have a support system outside of them, you are stronger and more likely to get away. Abusers will control what the victim does, who they see and speak to, what they read, when they leave the house, and even using jealousy to justify how they are treating the victim.
Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming
Making light of abuse, not taking the victim’s concerns about their relationship seriously, all-out denying the abuse happened, shifting responsibility for their own abusive behavior, and blaming the victim not only make a victim feel responsible for the abuse but that it isn’t really a big deal!
Abusers may use children to continue their abuse of a partner. Using visitation to harass the victim, threatening to take children away, and stating that leaving will hurt the children can make a victim feel trapped with their abuser.
Using Male Privilege
Though abuse can happen to both men and women, the Duluth Model focused this piece of the wheel on the power men can have over women. Some male abusers may use gender stereotypes to force their partner into submission. Treating their partner like a servant, making all decisions, and defining their roles as men and women further control their partner and take away their autonomy.
Using Economic Threats
Abusers know that without financial stability, victims are less likely to leave. Preventing the victim from getting a job, making them ask for money, taking their money, and not allowing the victim to know about the family income is just another way to provide a power imbalance.
Using Coercion and Threats
This is what so many of us think about when we hear “domestic violence”. Making or carrying out threats to hurt the victim, threatening to leave or commit suicide, making the victim drop charges, and even doing illegal things for the abuser are all serious and damaging ways of keeping a victim close.
If it was as easy as just walking away from an abuser, there would be no such need for domestic violence shelters, support groups for victims, or entire movements to stop interpersonal violence. Understanding that abuse is a pattern of behavior and a cycle of events can further our empathy as trusted heroes. If we truly want to help victims of domestic violence, we need to start with education. From there we can have a better understanding of why this is no simple solution, and have a more trauma-informed support system for victims and survivors.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor, welcome to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you so much for being with me today. Whether you’re watching this video or listening to the podcast, thank you so much. So the question I bring up today is why does abuse happen and then if I were to continue it, why do people stay in abusive relationships? Well, the first part I can connect like this…when I’m at schools and kids ask me all the time, “Hey Victor, why do adults abuse kids? Or why do children get abused? From talking to social workers and psychologists, I can tell you two reasons why it happens. Number one, the abuser was abused when they were younger and most likely it was repeated over and over again and they never got the help they needed to overcome that. And so what do they do? They grow up and they repeat the behavior. The second reason why abuse happens specifically with adults abusing kids is that adults can easily manipulate and control children. I mean, kids can get easily tricked into trust very simply in my situation, even though the person who abused me was only eight or nine years older, he was still closer to being an adult than I was at the age of eight. So it’s called Tricked in the Trust© or it’s called being manipulated.”
This week’s blog talks about the power and control wheel, and I can really connect to this. See, I believe a lot of women, and again, I have to say this, men can be victims in an abusive relationship. They don’t report as much as women do. But today, I do want to talk specifically about women. The way I can really connect to this is that my sister was an involved in an abusive relationship when she was married.
And one thing that we noticed about her is that she used to say, “I’m going to leave him, I’m going to leave him.” And then she would not leave him. She even had a restraining order against him that she took away. We realized that it was fear. She was afraid to leave. She was afraid. She didn’t know what was going to happen. She was afraid that he was going to take the kids and she would never see them again. And so it was all of fear and all of this guilt that kept her in the relationship. Well, I can say that I remember seeing my sister going through a transformation. She got to a place where I think she was very much getting more into control of her life and that she was going to file for divorce.
She had gotten herself into shape, she was exercising and she was eating healthy and she got a great job at a school district and things were going really well until I believe her husband lost control. He lost the control over her. And again, I don’t know the exact reason why, but he ended up taking her life on September 3rd, 2001, and looking back over that horrible time in my life and my family’s life…we always talk about what could we have done differently and you know, we were there for her, we helped her, but she kept going back. And it’s one of those things where we want to continue to empower the people that are in abusive relationships that keep reminding them that they are not that relationship. They are more than the relationship. They are more than what this person is doing to them. They need to be in control and they need to get out of that relationship.
And I know in my situation it’s a lot easier said than done, but if only my sister knew that, she could have gotten away sooner. She could have surrounded herself with a lot more people and just left the house. See we were all there for her, but she kept going back by herself. And again, I don’t put any guilt on my family. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. He took her life. That was his choice. He ended up taking his life too. So what’s the positive message today? It’s that we need to help adults understand they need and deserve to be seen and heard© as well, and they are more than what’s hurting them and they need to surround themselves with people that can help them in a situation, because again, abusers will want to isolate them from their friends and families so that the abuser doesn’t lose control. Well, it’s about gaining the control and if we have to be there to keep helping our loved ones be in control…that includes children and it includes adults. I want to thank you so much for taking the time this week to listen. Please spread the word, share this video, share this blog post with your friends and family and again, let’s help children and adults Be Seen and Heard. Thank you.