Friday, April 22, 2011

Domestic Violence - Am I Crazy?

by Katherine Scardino
Domestic violence is not funny. It is not macho. Domestic violence against a partner can be so confusing and hurtful that you, on the receiving end, may think you are crazy. You may think you are at fault for the unexplained and abnormal actions of your spouse or partner. I am not saying it is always male against female, because it does run both ways. But in most cases, it is the male abuser against the female victim. Why does an individual who otherwise may be successful, seemingly normal to other people, and even loving at times, suddenly become physically or verbally abusive?

Abusive behavior is not normal. People who have violent outbursts, either physically or verbally, have underlying problems that cause the abuse. Most abusers have personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or sociopathy - technically called antisocial personality disorder. People who suffer from these disorders have extreme emotions which lead them to actions that can range from confusing and puzzling to brutal. Living with these people is painful, both emotionally and sometimes physically. Personality disorders are aptly named because the minds of people who suffer from these disorders work differently than those of healthy people.

Abusive partners have a difficult time living with the reality of their behavior. On some level, they may realize how hurtful they are, yet accepting this major flaw in themselves is just too painful for them. These people tend to make the object of their abuse believe they are the crazy one in order to make their own reality less painful. One common defense mechanism used by an abuser is projection, where their disorders are perceived in their partner. They believe they do not have a personality disorder - “you are the crazy one!” Another defense mechanism used by the abuser is blame shifting - “I am not at fault. It’s all your fault.”

Abuse is a behavior, not a disease. It is caused by an underlying disease. Abusive partners constantly work to distort their partner's perception of what is happening and what is right and wrong, until the receiving end of the abnormal relationship doubts his or her own judgment. This warped sense of what is normal and what is not is a direct result of the abuse.

There are many instances where a spouse or partner feels trapped in this abnormal relationship. That may be caused by loss of self-confidence as a result of the constant verbal or physical violence, or it could be a financial trap. For example, in many domestic violence cases where the partner finally calls for help, we learn that they married a wealthy individual who used financial security to maintain the relationship. It is amazing to healthy people to think of remaining in such a relationship for money, but for those who have suffered the feeling of helplessness due to being poor, it can be understandable. The abused spouse or partner may believe that he or she is not capable of making enough money to even support themselves, or cannot conceive of a situation where they could be on their own. 

Sometimes the abused partner feels so trapped that they remain in the relationship, and just take the abuse, saying it is not that bad. Or even more unrealistic - "I can make him change.” The recipient of the abuse will never be able to change the personality disorder of their partner. It cannot happen. The personality disorder is a disease over which they have absolutely no control, other than allowing the abusive spouse or partner to use them as the object of their unhealthy behavior.

The worst case scenario of this type of relationship is physical violence. Generally, it is the man who is violent with his wife or partner. The abused partner may be forced to discuss the abnormal relationship only after a visit to the Emergency Room and the resultant conversation with a police officer. For most of us, it is unbelievable to think about ever remaining in a situation where a partner hit us - even once.

But, we are not all that strong. In those situations, which are many, the abused individual becomes unhealthy in a different sense. They allow the abuser to convince them that they are crazy or at fault in some other manner. After all, other people, friends, co-workers, think they are lucky to have such a good partner. The abuser hides their problems well. They make serious efforts to convince other people that they are normal. So, the abused starts to think it’s their fault or that they can change the one they love, or that the situation itself will change on its own. It will not.

There have been many criminal cases involving the death of the abused partner. People actually do sometimes kill the object of their abnormal, violent behavior, either intentionally or accidentally in a rage. And, victims actually do sometimes kill their abusers when they finally get to the point of no return. The end result can be a funeral and a lifetime of issues about guilt.

Women have been in my office describing these relationships and making an effort to justify both parties abnormal behavior. I have always suggested counseling and leave the home - coupled with usually a divorce petition and a protective order. In some cases, the abused party will call my office and tell me that she is going to give the relationship one more try. Every case is different, of course, but it is my belief that this is a mistake. I hope that you, Ms. Reader, will take the steps to protect yourself - and now, not later.

1 comment:

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