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Violence and self-doubt transforms into a cycle of abuse

6/16/2014

This is the sixth in a series about domestic violence.

Q: What are additional results of contemporary research studies regarding domestic violence?

A: An article from Safe Horizon in New York City cited facts from their experiences with domestic violence. The most significant fact is the vast majority of domestic violence events are not reported. As overwhelming as the prevalence of this problem seems, the current figures are greatly reduced from the realities of domestic violence.

A fact sheet from the National Institute of Justice (2007) stated the lower the income in the household, the higher the incidence of domestic violence. The report also reiterated women's attempts to leave their abusers accounted for 45-percent of domestic violence murders, according to a study in 2003 by C.R. Block.

In an article in Psych Central.com (2006), a report stated there was a definite relationship between the presence of family violence and the occurrence of juvenile delinquency. Children are more apt to be abused living in homes with domestic violence. Researchers document between 50 and 70 percent of men who assaulted their partners also abused their children.

In 2006 and 2009, The Allstate Foundation conducted National Polls on domestic violence. The following information from the general public in the 2009 poll, stated more than 75 percent of U.S. citizens felt the economic depression created additional pressures on domestic violence victims and those who are survivors. Sixty-seven percent of respondents believed the depressed economy increased domestic violence.

Additional data from Allstate polls states 33 percent of all police calls are for domestic violence. In 57 percent of cities surveyed, respondents cited domestic violence by men against women and children as the primary cause of homelessness.

Psychologist Steven Stosney, Ph.D., researcher and author, speaks to the issue of intimate betrayal.

He states there are two types of betrayal. Behaviors that hurt intentionally include emotional and verbal abuse, verbal assaults, and physical violence. The second type of behaviors includes failure to care behaviors, with no concern for the other person's well-being. These behaviors encompass deceit, infidelity, continual resentment, anger, stonewalling, and criticism. Most suicides and homicides of intimate partners are responses to intimate betrayals.

Stosney found betrayals by intimate partners are discovered by sudden revelations or gradual realizations. Discovery occurs if partners confess when their partners learn about what is going on from emails, text messages and phone messages. Betrayal robs victims of personal security. Shock and disbelief are followed by self-doubt. "Was it something I said or did?" Women turn easily to self-blame and internalizing emotional pain.

Stosney has found that battering damages batterers as well as victims. He attributes their hurtful behaviors to them having little compassion. He considers abusing loved ones self-destructive. He points out, abusers have fragile self-esteem and depend on feedback from others to feel good about themselves.

Aggression eliminates the self-doubts of abusers and therefore they use aggression when they feel threatened. They have what Stosney has named "core hurts." They are hypersensitive to feeling guilty, disregarded, unimportant, devalued, rejected, powerless, inadequate or unlovable. An example of how hypersensitive abusers can be, is to know incidents such as not having dinner ready can set off abuse.

Stosney works on the principle you have to do good in order to feel good. He teaches abusers compassion and follows the practice of changing the perspectives of batterers. When batterers believe they are entitled to feel good and don't, it has to be someone else's fault. Hence the abuse. "She deserved everything she got."

Stosney found women have a visceral fear of harm. This physiological response to danger happens quickly and intensely. It is not a cognitive response. It is instinctive. It is a warning sign. Women who live with abusers begin to doubt their instincts because the threats come from loved ones. They feel love, guilt, shame, abandonment, and anxiety, all of which tend to keep the victims in their situations. These feelings connect with the brain's cognitive functions. Visceral fear is real and needs to be addressed. But it is a survival response from the body, not a thinking process.

Therapists Virginia Goldner, Ph.D., and Gillian Walker, M.S.N., at New York's Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy, are developing a new approach to domestic violence. They are practicing conjoint therapy for couples for battering. Their premise is the best way to stop battering is to see couples and help them reconstruct their relationships.

There are rules in this approach. There is no battering allowed during therapy and batterers have to take complete responsibility for the abuse. Violence has to stop, and there must be a loving attachment between partners. Their assumption is men come from abusive homes and women come from homes with inadequate mothering. Together they feel safe. There is a romantic side but it is tenuous and disappears easily when ill feelings escalate.

Vulnerability precipitates abuse. The man believes the woman is to meet all his needs. He is overly dependent on his intimate partner and thus easily moved to abuse when she does not meet his every whim. Goldner and Walker feel they have pioneered by experiential design a successful method for treating domestic violence. However, other researchers feel their model is not proven valid because they are not using comparison groups.

In Indiana, Amy Holzworth-Monroe is examining male abusers. She evaluates them against two comparison groups. She finds abusive men misinterpret their partners' behaviors, reading in hostility. Thus, the rationale for abuse. Abusers lack social skills, lack conflict resolution skills, and perceive rejection when there is none, due to their jealousy and their inability to trust.

* Next week's article will discuss risk factors in leaving abusers.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.