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How Do You Define Abuse?

With so many opinions and definitions in our culture about abuse, how do you define abuse?

Must a bruise be present for you to believe your friend or neighbor is being abused?  If there is not bruising, can abuse still be happening in a home?  Why is it when women sit in my office trying to share with me their story of abuse their eyes are hooked on the floor, shame is palpable in the room, words start to flow out of their mouths but then stop as though they are scared to say anything?  I believe abused women are scared to say, “I’m being abused” because they are often disregarded and misunderstood.

It seems fair to say that as a culture we do not fully grasp what abuse is and the many forms it presents itself.

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The following definition of abuse can be found at Crying Out For Justice.  Its a little long, but please stick with me.

“Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.

While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways.”

Was your definition similar to the one above?  In my experience, we tend to think about someone who abuses as simply having an anger problem.  We say, “If he would just go to an anger-management program and counseling and work hard everything will be fine.”  This is how I used to think, but not anymore.

I have been learning a lot about the nature of abusive men.  Partly because of my own personal story and partly because I work with many who are wounded by abuse.  Our society seems to think that an abuser just needs to change his behavior by going to counseling, anger-management classes, and read books (or some variation thereof).

But an abuser doesn’t need to change his behavior, he needs to change his beliefs.

His fundamental thinking in which he believes he is entitled to treat his spouse however he would like.  For me, this shift in thinking has monumentally changed how I view abusive men and how I care for those who have been wounded.

Did you know…

-An abuser isn’t always abusive?  He will go through days and months without being abusive.  This can cause confusion on behalf of the abused.

-An abuser wants to create as much confusion as possible to those seeking to “figure him out”.  So he will try to get you (the abused, the counselor, the friend, the pastor) to focus in the wrong direction.  Oftentimes this will look like the abuser blaming the spouse for all of the relational problems and painting himself to be the victim.

-An abuser is usually the guy everyone likes.  He’s easily likable, enjoyable, and can tend to come across as laid-back.

-An abuser will want you to focus on his feelings but not his thinking.  He fears that if you figure out his thinking you will strip him of his power to control.  Hence why he seeks to create as much confusion as possible (see above).

It is important that we begin to grasp the nature of abusers so that we can see it, stop it, and seek to bring healing.

 

-By Lianne Johnson, LPC

*For this post I used the male gender to represent the abuser and the female to represent the abused.  The genders could easily be reversed, and in no way am I saying it can’t.  Some of the above thoughts are adapted from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That?, which is an amazingly great book.

Abuse is Abuse. Period.

While the impact of abuse on a person’s soul may actualize differently, we need to break free from old ways of thinking.  Abuse is abuse.  Period.

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It never ceases to amaze me how people still seem to define what abuse is and isn’t, and what abuse a person should just “put up with” for the sake of preserving the martial relationship.  I once heard a mental health professional tell a client, “as long as he (the husband) isn’t hitting you then you need to stick it out.”  This professional was saying this to a woman who had been suffering through emotional and mental abuse by her husband for over 8 years.  This post is not about whether the abused should or shouldn’t leave or divorce their partner when abuse of any kind is taking place – so let’s not get hung up on that issue.  This post is about brining awareness that abuse is happening in your community and the abused deserve more from the person they trust to disclose to then just “stick it out” or any type of response that undermines the abused.  We need to listen.  We need to protect.  We need to advocate.  But the truth is, this mental health professional’s view on abuse is not uncommon in our society that demands physical and visual proof of something before its believed.

The reality is, out of the many types of abuse a person can experience, only one type (physical abuse and sometimes this remains hidden as well) will outwardly produce the physical and visible proof our society tends to want in order to believe a person is being abused.

Since we know abuse can remain hidden from us so easily, why do you think we still tend to respond to a persons disclosure of abuse with suspicion or disbelief?  It is a question for us all to ponder.

Instead of responding in these ways, why not chose to BELIEVE and not question the validity of what you hear?  It doesn’t matter if you think their partner is or isn’t capable of abusive behaviors.  It doesn’t matter if the abused has their own flaws in the relationship.

We are not listening to the one abused to judge them, provide excuses for the abuser, or justify abusive behavior.  Abuse is wrong, but until we stop providing excuses and justifications the abused will have to continue to fight to be heard and believed.

Here are some thoughts on how to support the abused.  What I am about to share with you is just a snippet out of Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That.  To learn more about each of these points please read his book.  The following information can be found on pages 370-372.  This book is a must read for everyone.

How to care for the abused: (this list shows the difference in how you can care from that of the abuser)

1.  The abuser:  Pressures her severely

So you should:  Be patient.  Remember that it takes time for an abused woman to sort out her confusion and figure out how to handle her situation.

2.  The abuser:  Talks down to her

So you should:  Address her as an equal.  Avoid all traces of condescension or superior knowledge in your voice.

3.  The abuser:  Thinks he knows what is good for her better than she does

So you should:  Treat her as the expert on her own life.  Don’t assume that you know what she needs to do.

4.  The abuser:  Dominates conversations

So you should:  Listen more and talk less.

5.  The abuser:  Believes he has the right to control her life

So you should:  Respect her right to self-determination

6.  The abuser:  Assumes he understands her children and their needs better than she does

So you should:  Assume she is a competent, caring mother.  Remember that there is no simple way to determine        what is best for the children of an abused woman.

7.  The abuser:  Thinks for her

So you should:  Think with her.  Don’t assume the role of teacher or rescuer.  Instead, join forces with her as a respectful and equal team member.

-Lianne Johnson, LPC