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Domestic Emotional Violence: Straight-Talk!

A colleague and I were talking about topics for coming chipur articles – it’s always good to get objective input. Well, she made a great suggestion (thank you Gretchen), so today I’m going to write about something that’s tragically all too often swept under the rug – even by emotional and mental health professionals. Let’s roll-up our sleeves and talk about domestic emotional violence.

Now, you may have caught my use of the word “violence,” in lieu of “abuse.” The fact of the matter is emotional violence is every bit as lethal as physical violence. So why not call it as it is? And I believe such straight-talk all the more brings this disturbing issue to the fore.

I’ve elected to take a different tack as we approach our topic. I really don’t see the point in wasting valuable space by including a long list of typical perpetrator behaviors. No, I’d rather emphasize why a victim would elect to stick around under such “gotta’-go” circumstances. And I’d then like to focus upon signs the perpetrator just isn’t going to change. Oh, you’ll notice I’ll refer to the victim as “her” and the perpetrator as “he.” But just remember, though that’s way more often the case, the opposite exists, as well.

You know, it’s so easy to shake our heads in disbelief when a victim of domestic emotional violence sticks around for the next dose of humiliation. But let’s be realistic, not to mention fair. Make no mistake about it, the perpetrator is a master of manipulation and mind control.  And over time he’s separated his victim from family and friends, established financial control over her, and has pounded home the point that very painful physical consequences await should she attempt to leave. And that includes threats of physical harm to their children.

Oh, and on top of it all, the victim may be in possession of some pretty pervasive emotional baggage, which has her believing her perpetrator can, and will, change. And, of course, she will be the “fixer.”

Ah, and now for the book Gretchen steered me toward. In Stalking the Soul, Marie-France Hirigoyen refers to emotional abuse as “virtual murder of the soul.” And of huge meaning are these two book excerpts…

“It is effectively possible to destabilize or even destroy someone with seemingly harmless words and hints, inferences, and unspoken suggestions; usually those close to the situation will not intervene.”

“A narcissistic abuser grows in stature at the expense of the other; he also avoids any inner or spiritual conflict by shifting the responsibility for what is wrong onto the other person. If the other is responsible for the problem, wrong-doing, guilt, and suffering don’t exist. This defines emotional abuse.”

Well, let’s wrap things up by composing a list of the typical signs an emotionally violent domestic perpetrator isn’t going to change…

  • States the victim is the abuser
  • Blames others for the situation
  • Claims the victim is the one who’s abusive
  • Total denial with regard to the seriousness of the violence
  • Forces the victim to make relational decisions
  • Attempts to get the victim to participate in couples counseling
  • The victim has to do all she can to talk the perpetrator into continuing counseling
  • Believes the victim owes him another chance
  • Says he can’t change without the victim sticking around and supporting him
  • Attempts to get sympathy from whomever he can; including the victim, children, family members, friends
  • If he pursues help he expects something in return from the victim
  • your thoughts…

If you’re the victim of domestic emotional violence, or know someone who is, and you fear immediate physical harm, call 911 immediately. If the situation isn’t as high in acuity, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at  800.799.7233 (SAFE) for support and direction. And, of course, there are likely local resources available to help.

Whether you have your own experience with domestic emotional violence or you know someone who has, we encourage you to share (if you feel safe). Of course, we’re always looking for any sort of well-considered input. Won’t you comment?

  • boy, I don’t even want to go here- talk about a hard pattern to break–but I have!!!!

    • Yeah – pretty nasty business. Congratulations for leaving that behind. No kidding, it really was about talking with a colleague about chipur and that I was going to write an article in an hour or so. She went to her bookcase, handed me the book, and said here’s your topic! And that was that.

  • it’s just so hard to distinquish sometimes what is “situational behavior”- i.e. inappropriate responses in time of EXTREME stress/duress; what is a pattern of behavior; and what just feels normal given the long standing pattern from family of origin issues. and talk about regression when under stress………..

    • You know, I am so grateful to have you as a loyal chipur reader and commenter. Your thoughts and sharing are so valuable to all of us. Boy, howdy – you hit the nail right on the head – “regression when we’re under stress.” And to know the potential for that dynamic exists is 80% of the battle. So it’s on us to see the regression beginning and begin to “grow ourselves back up” right there in the moment. And the next step is to have the will to keep us away from people/situations that traditionally lead us toward regression. Thanks, as always, Karen.