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Evading the Abusive Relationship

I thought that I had seen the last of battering after my mother divorced my stepfather. Similar scenarios were happening in my own high school. It was not the greasy thugs either. It was often some of the physically stronger, more popular guys who always seemed to be pinching, cuffing or arm-twisting their girl friends.

It did not make sense, it just was. One abusive guy was a class clown and captain of the hockey team, but when with the small group, he tended to get drunk, use LSD and liked to hurt his girl friend. Another guy, an Olympic-style, weight lifter, would often brag how he slapped around his shapely girl friend or convinced her into sex in the bush before going home.

The odd thing about the weight lifter's home is that it was almost clinically clean to the point of being sterile. His parents, whom I rarely saw, did not allow him to bring friends into the house, except to the basement. The cleanliness was almost compulsive.

The other thing that I found odd was that these attractive girls kept coming back to these abusive guys. In reality, they were being drawn to what they were familiar with or what was better than what was at home.

"The abuser sets up over weeks, months, even years to chip away at the self-esteem of their girl friends," mentioned a friend of mine, who was a former prison guard. Aside from interviewing prisoners in jail, he also attended court as a witness to testify against girl friend/wife abusers.

The routine goes in three basic stages.

First, the abuser meets a girl, usually a shy one and gives her lots of attention. They shower the girl with affection and lots of gifts. (Eg. "My new old lady").

Second stage is when he is established with the girl, then suddenly cuts off the attention, usually to spend time with his friends. ("Bros before Ho's" as some put it.)

The third stage is when the demands happen, such as "Get me a beer." When these demands are not met, the mental abuse can become physical.

Another typical situation is that of the jealous boyfriend who insists that his girlfriend stay at home, put on weight and not go anywhere.

Other survivors talk about the boyish, innocent personality that hooks them into the relationship, the extreme attention and then the slow reversal turning into a slave for the abuser. As one lady admits, "I thought that he was a sickie and that I could help him...part of my downfall was my own arrogance."

"Some convicted abusers bragged about how they looked for low self-esteem girls," the former prison guard mentioned. Usually it was a girl in a service industry such as a waitress. A typical target of abuse is a girl who has difficulty making eye contact, often blushes and looks away when complimented. The abusers avoid the stronger personalities, like the waitress who looks at you and asks for your order politely, but business-like. This non-target will have very confident body language. It is unlikely that he is going to pick on someone with strong ties with friends and family. This tends to be especially true, if the girl or woman has male friends.

Other susceptible women tend to be single mothers and church goers.

Churches are popular hunting grounds as the "Love, Honor and Obey" tends to be an accepted philosophy. Many cults and religious groups follow this line of thought. Often in these groups, young attractive women will usually marry much older men.

Two misconceptions about battered victims are that they are always women and that they have weak personalities.

Battered spouses are primarily women, but they do include men. Battering is not gender specific. In some parts of rural Canada, over 60% of domestic fights began with the physical initiation from the female. (I have personally known guys in the military with abusive wives. Sometimes the guy would show up to work with their face bruised, but would claim that it was an accident.)

The abused partner is often the stronger and more stable than the batterer. It is their strength that holds the family together and helps the abusive partner to cope with problems.

Battered spouses might not see themselves as victims, even though they will do the following:

1. Internalize the blame. They believe that they caused the assaults. They take the full responsibility for someone else's actions.

2. Passive. They lack spontaneity and want conformity. Passive people rarely take action on their own behalf. They might stick up for someone else or march in a protest to save the forests, but they would hesitate to say anything they disagreed with at work or home.

3. Socially isolated. They tend to have few friends and low participation outside of the home. This means less help from the outside world from friends, family or even social services. The newly immigrated have difficulty asking for help, especially when they have few employable skills or language ability. They are almost stuck with their situation.

4. Compliant. They rarely fight back. Where not doing anything sometimes means surviving, it also opens the door for an escalated attack.

5. Loyalty. There is a blind loyalty to the abuser. Victims want the abuse to end, but the relationship to stay.

There is another misconception that only low income people get battered. In one battering case, the beaten woman was a 45 year old female lawyer who actually specialized in defending wife beaters. (She was not at all popular at the safe house that she went to and explained what she did for a living.)

It is all too easy just to blame victims or claim that they were "asking for it." Consider the "Stockholm Syndrome" that originated from a lengthy hostage-taking incident in Stockholm, Sweden where six bank robbers held four people hostage. The hostages eventually bonded with the robbers and turned against the police. The twisted logic that the hostage-takers will impose on the hostages is that it is not the hostage-takers' fault if the authorities will not co-operate. The hostage-takers have no choice (yeah, right) but to hurt or kill a hostage if the establishment does not comply.

This traumatic bonding occurs when one party holds power over another and uses random abuse. So, the victim really cannot figure out why they are getting punished and will tend to point the blame at something other than the abuser. These hostages, including people stuck in abusive relationships will develop a strange loyalty to the abusers.

[Note: Intermittent reinforcement or random rewards has very strong influence. It is what drives a gamble to keep gambling. It is like the victim is conditioned for random rewards (or punishments). They never quite know when they are going to get a reward or not.]

Fortunately, the victims are not surgically attached to the batterer. There are agencies that specialize in helping people leave abusive relationships. According to psychologist Dr. Donald Dutton, batterers who want to reform, do. And, abused partners can and do leave. It takes some planning, like escaping to a different country, but people do make better lives. They leave the situation, get work and training and start elsewhere. Many people have successfully left abusive relationships and led better lives.

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