Power, Control & the Cycle of Violence

Domestic abuse can be inflicted by a man or a woman and occurs in both heterosexual and same sex relationships.
Statistics show that domestic abuse more often occurs in heterosexual relationships with men as the batterer.

That is why we will refer to batterers as “he” and victim as “she”. Please note that the patterns and dynamics are the same regardless of the victim’s gender.

An all-inclusive profile of an abuser does not exist. Abusers come from every socioeconomic, racial and religious background. They are young and old, blue collar and white collar, highly paid and unemployed, drinkers and non-drinkers.

Every personality type, family background, and profession is represented. There are no quick cures for abusers. Deeply rooted behaviors require strong, effective interventions by professionals specializing in working with abusers.

Abusers must take responsibility for their behavior in order to effectively change their patterns. Even when they do, genuine behavior changes slowly.

Similarly, there no all-inclusive profile of victims of abuse. Victims are from all socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. They are both highly educated individuals and under-educated ones.

All victims experience abuse differently and while one may be grateful to have never experienced physical abuse, another may wish that the abuse was physical rather than the emotional torment experienced.

Domestic Abuse is all about CONTROL. Abusers use the POWER they have to establish control within an intimate relationship, socially and physically. Battering is a pattern of behavior used to intimidate, manipulate and physically violate the other person in a relationship. Abuse is a choice and solely the responsibility of the offender. The abuser is not “out of control.” The abuser is training the victim to be what s/he wants the victim to be.

Abuse is not “losing it.” Abusers use one tactic after another. The most common tactics include intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation from family & friends, minimizing, denying & blaming, coercion & threats, economic abuse, using male privilege and using the children. An abuser will use any one or more tactics to gain advantage over his partner. The cumulative effect can be devastating to family members or loved ones. The abuser counts on that. The more power established, the fewer tactics needed to achieve control. Abuse is effective!

There are two times when abusers use power and control tactics, during the relationship and after separation. When a victim leaves the abuser, controlling behaviors continue. Tactics may change and frequently escalate. Many tactics involve the use of children. Physical abuse of children may begin. The children may be turned against the victim. Child support may be withheld along with many other manipulations.

What is Power and Control?

Partner or spousal abuse and battery are used for one purpose: to gain and maintain total control over the victim in an intimate relationship. In addition to physical violence, abusers use the following tactics to exert power over their partners:

Dominance — Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his possession.

Isolation — In order to increase your dependence on him, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. S/He may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone. Source: Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, MN

Humiliation — An abuser will do everything s/he can to make you feel bad about yourself, or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.

Threats — Abusers commonly use threats to keep their victims from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. S/He may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, or report you to child services.

Intimidation— Your abuser may use a variety of intimation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.

Denial and blame — Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abuser may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. S/He will commonly shift the responsibility onto you: Somehow, his violence and abuse is yours or someone else’s fault, never his own.

The Cycle of Violence

People’s experiences of domestic violence can often follow a pattern known as the Cycle of Violence. However not everyone’s experiences are the same. Sometimes a ‘phase’ does not occur, or two or more ‘phases’ can occur simultaneously.

The build up phase is when tension begins to build. In a non-violent relationship, these tensions can often be resolved. In a domestic violence situation, this build up phase usually leads to a stand-over phase, where the violent partner uses both their strength and their belief in their ‘right’ to dominate, in order to control and put down their partner.

This then leads to the explosion phase when the violence (physical/sexual/emotional) occurs.

Afterward the perpetrator can enter the remorse phase where they feel ashamed of what has happened, or they may be afraid of the consequences. They may also try to justify or minimize their actions by claiming that “she made me do it”, or “it was only a little slap”.

This can then lead to the pursuit phase where the abusive partner can try to win back their partner with gifts and promises. Or they can act helpless, saying such things as “I can’t live without you”, or “I’ll kill myself”. If these tactics do not work, they can also revert to the use of more threats and violence.

This then leads to the honeymoon phase where the relationship appears to be working- the ‘incident’ is forgotten and no abuse is taking place. However nothing is resolved and it is only a matter of time till it progresses to a build up of tension, which leads to another stand over and explosion of violence and so on.

I Got Flowers Today – by Paulette Kelly

Copyright © 2009 Resource Center of Somerset – Domestic Abuse New Jersey

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