Domestic Violence, Part 2

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Why do people stay in a relationship where there is domestic violence?

There are many answers to these questions. This is a very complicated issue. We must realize each couple is working out their own individual issues, as well as their own couple issues. Therefore, each situation must be looked at with fresh eyes, along with causes and solutions specifically designed for that relationship. With that being said, I will give some general concepts that might help you understand what keeps people in these battering relationships.

There's a concept called "learned helplessness" that seems to be part of the battering relationship picture. I will describe a story to help you understand what I mean by "learned helplessness."

If I took a dog and placed him on an electrical grid, and I then gave the dog a shock, the dog would jump off. If I put a cage around this grid, and then put the dog inside the cage, the dog would not be able to jump off the grid when I gave it an electrical shock. After a while, the dog will just stand there and take the shock. The dog would have learned that it could not get free: It had to stay on the grid and endure the pain of the electrical shock. This is called "learned helplessness." Now that the dog has learned this, I can remove the cage, and give the dog a shock, and he will no longer jump off the grid. The dog will just stand there enduring the electrical shock. I would then have to drag the dog off the grid many times in order for the dog to realize that he was free to jump off the grid when he felt an electrical shock.

People who are caught in a battering relationship often have this "learned helplessness" behavior trait. The batterer has threatened the injured many times stating s/he will kill the injured, kill their child, kill their parents, make slanderous phone calls to the injured's boss, or do something that is frightening and/or horrifying. These threats are taken seriously. The injured believes the batterer could and would do what they say. Batterers, because of their charismatic personalities, are seen as omnipotent. The batterer has shown up in places that they were not supposed to be, and they knew things they had no way of knowing. The batterer seems bigger than life, and if they say they will do something, they are believed. In order to avoid these horrifying events (the electrical shock), the injured does not move. The injured stays and endures the pain. The injured truly believes there is no way out, and there is no safe place to go. This is often very difficult for the injured's family and friends to understand. The injured's loved ones often get caught in the battering relationship's up and down, emotional roller coaster during the battering, and right after the battering when the injured is saying, "I hate him/her! I'm getting out of this relationship. Help me!" It can also be very frustrating for some therapist who are working with the injured, and for the police who arrest a batterer, only to have the injured drop the charges the following day.

There is another concept called "codependency" that is also found in battering relationships. Basically, codependency means: "I see what is wrong with you and I know how to fix you. I will make you better, or heal you, or bring out your potential. No one understands you like I do. I know all that you need is a little love, my love, and you will blossom and grow into who you truly are." What is amazing about the codependency concept is that both the batterer and the injured are saying this about each other. Thus, a deeply, entwined, symbiotic relationship develops. The honeymoon phase reinforces this type of self-talk.

Another concept that keeps people in battering relationships is called "love." "I love him/her and s/he loves me. I can't leave someone I love. You really don't know him/her like I do. If you did, you would see why I love him/her. S/he is my soul mate." The injured will also create many excuses in order to protect the batterer. "S/he was just tired. S/he was under a lot of pressure at work. S/he just drank too much." This is often difficult for those on the outside to understand. "How can you love someone who beats you?" The answer often is, "I just do. S/he didn't mean to do it. Besides, it really was my fault. I made him/her do it." Again, it's the person the injured experiences during the honeymoon phase that they love.

Money is another major reason why people stay in battering relationships. The injured is afraid that they will not be able to provide for themselves and their loved ones if they leave the batterer. Even though this is rarely true, because of the level of dependency and codependency that has been created within a battering relationship, it's believed to be true.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in a battering relationship?

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.