October is domestic violence awareness month. To bring more awareness to this topic, I’m hoping this will shed some light on this subject in hopes of simplifying it and helping others understand it more. I will warn you before reading, this blog will not be sugar coated one bit. This is too serious of a topic to sugar coat, and domestic violence needs to be talked about as it is.
It is important to know the facts around domestic violence because it so prevalent. Think about it for a second: Imagine any group of people of various socioeconomic status, profession, race, religion, sexuality, status, etc. I bet you will not be able to think of a single group that isn’t effected by domestic violence. I am very familiar with domestic violence, both personally and professionally. It is with this experience, I am writing this today. Today’s topic is, common myths about domestic violence. Because statistically, men abusing women, is far more common, I will talk about it in these terms. It is important to note that any relationship/gender, age, relationship status can experience it. Also, the examples I give are just examples and not meant to be a measure for others. Abusive situations, while displaying some of the same characteristics, can look different. If you are concerned about your relationship, seek professional help with someone trained in domestic violence or seek help from your local domestic violence advocacy agency.
First off, I want to start with, what is Domestic Violence? It is so much more than just physical abuse. If you want to get more knowledge of this, I recommend you check out all Duluth materials. In order to understand what it is, my go to resource I use with clients is “Power and Control Wheel.” I will attach a link to it, so you can check it out for yourself. This wheel looks at all aspects of abuse including: physical/sexual violence, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing/denying/blaming, using children, economic abuse, male privilege, and coercion/threats. When talking about DV, we are looking at the use of any and/or all of these tactics for the sole purposes of power and control. Domestic violence relationships are all about power and control. Healthy relationships are all about equality.
Common Myths About Domestic Violence
“It’s not really domestic violence until he puts his hands on you”
In my opinion, this is the number one biggest myth about domestic violence. Domestic violence has nothing to do with the amount of physical violence, and everything to do with power and control. Physical abuse is just one aspect of domestic violence. Physical abuse should never be the determining factor if someone is experiencing domestic violence. If you really want to simplify it, instead of asking “did he hit you,” you need to look at power and control dynamics. It’s important to remember that most domestic violence victims also use this same barometer. They tell themselves things like “I’ll leave once he puts his hands on me.” Then he pushes her and she says “I’ll leave when he punches me.” Then he punches her and she says “I’ll leave when….” In helping women understand what domestic violence is, she has to know about power and control dynamics.
“If only he would get his *fill in the blank* mental health disorder medicated and go to therapy, he would get better” or if he is a substance user/drinker “He wouldn’t treat me this way if he were clean and sober.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have met with women who are desperately wanting to help their significant others through their mental health issues and/or addiction, but upon further discussion, find that the things they are describing is not at all because of whatever mental health disorder their significant other has, but rather DV. It is important to say that yes, their significant other may have those disorders, but there is no disorder that excuses abuse. Period. Common mental health diagnosis such as PTSD, Bipolar, Depression, and even Addiction, do not involve the use of abuse at all.
Let me give some examples to demonstrate my point:
PTSD: Husband hears a loud sound behind him while walking in the mall and turns around ready to fight to protect himself and others if needed. (Those with PTSD can be controlling of their environment for safety purposes. They are not controlling of people. Trying to control people has nothing to do with PTSD.)
DV: Husband punches hole in wall because wife wanted to go out with her friends.
Depression: Husband is slightly more irritable and on edge. Wife is able to point it out without fear and openly discuss his experience with depression.
DV: Wife is constantly walking on eggshells worried she will say or do something to set him off because he is so irritable.
Bipolar: Husband has episodes of depression and mania. Wife is able to openly discuss mental health concerns with him.
DV: He is always moody, sometimes lashing out over everything and sometimes being the sweetest and happiest person you could ever meet. (Remember, even the good times are for the purposes of controlling you.)
These next three are common myths that are sometimes perpetuated by the justice system:
“He needs anger management.”
Abusive people are some of the most calm, cool, and collected people you will ever meet. They don’t need help managing their anger. Their abuse is calculated for the purposes of power and control. Abusive people are not people who can’t control their anger. Abusive people are people who use their “anger” to control others. This is partly why domestic violence is so difficult to deal with in the justice system. Abusive people are mistakenly told by judges to go to anger management. In a legal setting, the abusive man may use the justice system to further his power/control over the woman. The things the woman says about him are hard to believe sometimes because he is so likable, charming and calm, and the justice system is looking for him to have “anger issues.”
“They should go to couples counseling.”
When I work with couples, power and control dynamics are one of the first things I evaluate for. The reason is very simple. Safety. I often times meet with each person individually to ensure there is no domestic violence occurring. If you have power and control dynamics in a relationship and you do couples counseling, it is simply not safe. Every single thing she says will be used against her, and couples counseling will only be a new tool for him to use to abuse her.
“They need to learn how to co-parent better.”
If there are power and control dynamics in a relationship, he won’t cease to try to control her once she leaves, especially if there are kids involved. Instead, he will use the kids to his advantage in an attempt to control her further. Again, this is another area the justice system can do better in. They are telling families experiencing DV to try to co-parent and get along better for the kids sake, but in a power/control situation, the man will only use this to his advantage to try to control her and control the way others see her. When they use the children as a pawn to try to control, they cause great emotional trauma to the children. Every time the woman has to interact with him, this can further her trauma and put her and/or the children in danger. In these types of situations, parallel parenting is safer and more effective. Limiting the amount of contact between them and taking away opportunities for him to put the child in the middle, benefits everyone involved. Here is an article I found highlighting the differences between co-parenting and parallel parenting you can check out.
And probably the most important fact about domestic violence to know:
“He wouldn’t kill me.”
When I work with women in domestic violence situations, ensuring their safety is my top priority. If they tell me they want to leave, I immediately connect them with local resources such as domestic violence advocacy agencies who can help them get out safely and provide them with resources to ensure their safety. We come up with a “safety plan” to ensure their safety as they plan how they will get out, or they do this with an advocate. When I bring this up to women, the majority of them will say “I don’t think he would actually kill me.” We discuss fatality statistics, and this quickly opens their eyes. Statistically speaking, a woman is in the most danger when she leaves and if there was the use of physical abuse in the past. Stalking is also a major warning sign of possible homicide. Again, if you look at DV through the lens of power and control, anything is possible. Taking your life is the ultimate way to stay in control of you.
If you are reading this and are experiencing domestic violence or know someone that is, reach out to your local domestic violence advocacy agency for more help.