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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Stuff We Still Get Wrong About Relationship Abuse

Horrible, life-sucking relationships are often swept under the rug. Sometimes that rug is (mis)labelled, "Bad Life Choices," other times it's called "Stuff I'll Remember to Forget," and most commonly in my world, "That Time I Dated the Crazy 597 more times." There are a sleigh-full of reasons why abusive, toxic, and shitty relationships are kept in the dark, with a ton of socioeconomic, and cultural factors that I won't bore you with.In light of more recent tragedy however--that somehow keeps perpetuating itself--I think we owe it to ourselves to talk about some realities of abusive relationships.
If you're a guy, who's reading this with the a lump in your throat, thinking that this post will be some whacky misandry attack, I urge you to fear not, and read on...we need your support.
1. Abuse doesn't always look like this:

As a society that is often most motivated by extreme cases, it's common for abuse to be depicted as black eyes and swollen mouths, which is all too often a reality. But, there is a large chunk of people who are being abused emotionally, financially, and/or sexually. In many cases, these methods of maltreatment are co-morbid or proceeding physical abuse.
Psychological abuse occurs in many varying forms, including Gaslighting, verbal abuse, threats, coersion etc.All forms of abuse are subject to different manifestations, some occurring slowly, over a long period of time, and others occurring as if a "switch" has been turned in the mind of the abuser.

2. Abuse can happen to anyone, even you. There seems to be this commonly accepted belief that abuse only happens to stupid or vulnerable people. Assigning the blame on the survivor in this way can distract us from the bigger societal issue at hand, and allow us to relieve the abuser of some, if not all, responsibility for intimate violence.
In reality, abuse can and does occur across cultures, races, sexual orientation and ability levels. It does not discriminate geographically, though some countries have higher instances of violence against women than others. Personally, I think it is important to remember that abuse has room to develop when one is motivated to control another. Applying that fact to your own life and maybe using your imagination a bit, you can probably understand then, just how many different variations abuse can have. It knows very few circumstantial bounds.

3. Lying, shame, and isolation are quite frequent among survivors. There's a prevalent thought that tells women they should just leave if they are being treated poorly. While this is always a desired outcome, it is hard to do, given the side-effects of abuse (See: abused woman characteristics, mid-way down). I wrote briefly about said side-effects and barriers at some point last year, dancing around the idea that the woman who has been mistreated is not the same woman she was when she entered the relationship. Factors of debilitating shame, confusion, and self-esteem make leaving sometimes seem unimaginable.

4. It's not cut-and-dry. A lot of people tend to view abuse as this bad situation, which is full of wretched treatment in any number of forms. Trust, abusive relationships are wretched, but it's not as though the perpetrator hits the girl (or guy) once and then hits them predictably for the duration of the relationship. It is much more inconsistent than that. Stats show that the typical pattern of intimate violence actually predicts a honeymoon phase, followed by building tension, explosion (peak of abuse) and apology/reconciliation.VAW centres will tell you that generally, the length of time between each phase decreases, as the relationship continues. Eventually, most abusive partners don't even bother to apologize, simply waiting for the other to "break".

5. The Trust mechanism of survivor's is smashed to bits. This problem is severely under-discussed. In my experience, people close to the survivor will note change in her (or his) behaviour, sometimes saying things like "You've become more sensitive," or "I'm kidding. You know that." But truth is, she (or he) doesn't know that. And, as a result, might push you and everyone else away. Picture getting brutal wintery Canadian frostbite and then going out into the cold the very next day. Your nerves are gonna be shot, and you might feel weird pricklies, as your fingers try to adjust to the temperature. Now combine the metaphors--Your trust mechanism has confused pricklies all over it. Yeah, you get it, right?

5. The Jury is still out on the causes of abuse. A while ago, I attended a group for women who have been mistreated, you know, for kicks. The group was beautifully focused on us women and our self-care, but at least once a meeting someone would ask the inevitable "But WHY is he doing this/Why is this happening?WTF is going on??"And we mostly received one of two answers: 1. Because he can and 2. We don't really know, all we know is you need to focus on you. Generally, if a woman's group, based on female healing and empowerment has to answer a question of yours with the uncertainty ofwe don't really know, you best believe it's true. A little bit of research would tell you that there are a number of factors contributing to the cycle of violence, such as abuse in the abuser's childhood and gender norms that allow space for aggression to happen in the place of communication. There have been studies that relate domestic violence to economic status, reporting that lower income families generally report more domestic violence than wealthier people, but other studies show no correlation. We could blame sexism. We could blame gender identities. We could blame religion. We could combine them and make a mosaic of blame. But we still don't know why abuse happens. All we know is it's worth stopping.

If you think you might be encountering relationship abuse, check the cycle of violence , or here for a more detailed description and consider reaching out to Family Services Ottawa for counseling and support services

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