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Why s/he stays
July 18, 2011 1:59 PM   Subscribe

"If there's one thing I've learned from working in an emergency room, it's that people are terrible liars. Maybe I only think that because the good liars don't get caught? [...] And a lie I hear almost every day in the emergency room is "I fell down the stairs. My partner loves me. They would never hurt me." [...] For a long time, I just couldn't understand this. We'd get the victim in a private room locked away from the abuser, and they'd sit there with bruises or wounds or even broken bones, in a safe place surrounded by people who wanted to help them, and they'd tell us, often through tears... "I fell down the stairs." It drove me nuts. It made me furious at the victims. Why did they do this? Did they like pain? Did they want to get murdered? Were they just unbelievably stupid? Why the HOLY LIVING FUCK would someone choose to protect and return to a partner who just broke their arm?

"Some of them are deeply wrapped up in the psychology of abuse; some of them are just depressingly sensible. Each of these is based on a real person, or several of them are based on one real person--most of them are based on many real people."

A thorough list of the reasons someone might stay in an abusive relationship, by Holly of The Pervocracy.
posted by fiercecupcake (75 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sigh. #16 to an extent. I only realized this after she was gone. Fortunately she had finally gotten help for her problems about a year before.
posted by mrbill at 2:02 PM on July 18, 2011


I'm not sure why I expected something called "The Pervocracy" to be safe for work.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:03 PM on July 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


I would think traditional psychologists have a much better handle and approach to the issue than some random blogger in a world full of fraud bloggers.
posted by k5.user at 2:05 PM on July 18, 2011


Even if you don't RTFA, and you are EVER non-consensually hurt by a partner, the take-home message at the bottom of the article is important.

----

If any of these sound like you--even if they sound like you in a "yeah, but" sort of way--even if your partner never laid a finger on you physically, it was just some yelling--even if you're a man and she's a woman and it doesn't work like that--even if you swear your situation isn't abuse because--call this number:

1−800−799−SAFE(7233)
TTY: 1−800−787−3224

It's the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they will talk to you. They are not going to call the cops on your partner (or you). They are not going to tell you that you have to leave your relationship. Calling them is not a commitment of any kind--you can always call them and decide to stay in your relationship after all. All they're going to do is talk to you, give you an outside perspective from people who are trained to recognize and deal with abusive situations, and help you find resources for getting out of your situation if you decide that you want them.
posted by lalochezia at 2:09 PM on July 18, 2011 [25 favorites]


A Great (!) subject - reading the article now - and- not to derail too much but that "Trigger Warning" photo has become my new "best thing". (because I'm old)
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:10 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


i saw this when it came out on pervocracy - absolutely perfect list. thanks for posting.
posted by facetious at 2:20 PM on July 18, 2011


Resonant:

How to Keep Someone With You Forever
posted by dragonsi55 at 2:23 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Blocked by my work filter =(
posted by grobstein at 2:29 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would think traditional psychologists have a much better handle and approach to the issue than some random blogger in a world full of fraud bloggers.

Frankly, no. You are the expert in your own situation, and know it better than anyone else. By definition. That's one of the points of making this list - that these reasons are many and they are legitimate. Identifying abuse is one of the biggest hurdles to overcoming it, and "traditional psychologists" (whatever that nebulous category entails) are not capable of outreach; they only enter the picture well after the damage is done. They are absolutely not capable of examining a relationship and identifying what is and is not abuse, and they wouldn't try to.
posted by mek at 2:30 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Piggybacking on mek's response to k5.user: for there to be a therapist involved, someone's got to reach out for that help. If someone's in denial about being in an abusive situation, they're not going to contact a therapist, or as in the original article, even agree when a medical professional asks them about it. It's about realizing that even in the most clear-cut abusive situation, the target of abuse has many reasons for refusing to believe abuse is occurring, and some of that is due to the way we talk about and define abuse as a society.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:46 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would think traditional psychologists have a much better handle and approach to the issue than some random blogger in a world full of fraud bloggers.

And you would be wrong.

I've sat in on a lot of other people's counselling sessions. This list is so right-on I would spouse it.

I think every pastor, every counselor, every healthcare worker, every social worker, should have a list just like that one. And I think they should use it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:47 PM on July 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


Also piggybacking on mek's response... Psychologists are one of many professionals who are trained to spot the signs of domestic abuse. Others include most public sector workers - social, educational, medical... Even non-care workers with vulnerable people or children are required to have systems to alert social services to possible abuse (in the UK).

Educating possible victims to do the same is no bad thing.
posted by dumdidumdum at 2:53 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a corollary list, but geared toward abusers.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:07 PM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


I always feel tremendously guilty when I read these things, though I am not an abuser. Somewhere between feeling bad for humanity in general and knowing that I tend to be the more assertive person in a partnership.

I've been the first point of contact in treating some of these cases. One of the awful things (and there are many awful things) is that the wounds are often left untreated for some time to see if they will 'just heal', even in the case of clear fractures.

As someone with some responsibility to try to help people seek escape and further treatment there is no recipe for getting someone to seek help. Sometimes being very agressive and commanding helps, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes being the first compassion they have seen in months (years?) helps, sometimes it makes them wary. Domestic abuse varies as much as any other human interaction.

I hope this article will help someone.
posted by poe at 3:14 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, interesting post and a very interesting-looking blog, thanks!
posted by stinkycheese at 3:20 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just today I, calmly but firmly, told a coworker that, no his "she brought it on herself" domestic violence joke wasn't appropriate or funny under any circumstances ever. This list is a great start and I dearly wish it was taught in schools or more widely broadcast somehow.

Having known several people who have been through this first hand, and having been through it myself with an abusive ex-girlfriend, I know just how mixed up my own understanding of things had slowly come to be.

It isn't simple, but it is absolutely heartbreaking.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:32 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I need to know is why are people assholes to the people who don't leave on their own arbitrary schedules?
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:36 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it hadn't been an arranged marriage i can see how much harder it can be to leave if your emotions were involved at that level.
why am i here in this thread? drawn to it after a decade like a sick puppy wanting to see all the while knowing

maybe because sometimes we need to read and see this to know just how far we have come and what we have done and to give ourselves that pat on the back because nobody else will ever really know and you couldn't even begin to explain it all to them anyway

*a hug to everyone else who knew where their nearest shelter was*
posted by infini at 3:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why the HOLY LIVING FUCK would someone choose to protect and return to a partner who just broke their arm?

Because most people act like complete idiots some of the time, and would rather have a known evil than an unknown. Simple as that.

You also have to consider that these things don't always have just one side, but males, on average, tend to have a whole lot more ability to cause damage when unarmed. If she started it and he finished it, she may not really want anyone looking into the situation all that deeply (which I by no means intend to imply as always the case - But I've mentioned a friend on the Blue a few times who falls into exactly that category, so they do exist).
posted by pla at 3:44 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a corollary list, but geared toward abusers.

Dr.Irene's website was a lifesaver
posted by infini at 3:51 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


[Bunch of comments removed. Comments must look like they are not trolling in addition to not being trolling. Go to metatak or email if you just want to talk about Faze please, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:54 PM on July 18, 2011


Mine were:

11. "I'm just terrified to hurt her feelings."
18. "Actually, I'm abusing her."
19. "It's not that bad."
20. "This is how relationships work, isn't it?"
posted by kyrademon at 4:02 PM on July 18, 2011


#21 Keep trying to use logic to explain to him why his behavior is hurtful or damaging.
posted by francesca too at 4:02 PM on July 18, 2011


There does seem to a cognitive disconnect with this being posted on a site called "The Pervertocracy."
But speaking as someone who's pretty traditional otherwise, I think it's obvious that sex positivism is distant from more seedy or twisted concepts.
Consensuality and individual affirmation of choice being in sharp contrast to abuse.
And mores on sexuality being fairly far afield from, as Holly from the piece says, the complex and insidious reasons one might stay with an abuser.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:17 PM on July 18, 2011


pla, did you really just comment to say that abuse victims are idiots who started it?
posted by prefpara at 4:23 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because most people act like complete idiots some of the time, and would rather have a known evil than an unknown. Simple as that.

Here I was, having a perfectly wonderful day, and then I read something like this.
posted by williampratt at 4:37 PM on July 18, 2011


What I need to know is why are people assholes to the people who don't leave on their own arbitrary schedules?

Because people get frustrated. Or they see the same things in their own current or past relationships and externalize their angst about it and transfer it to you. Or because it seems erroneously easier to fix other people's messes than their own, even if it's not objectively true.

Or sometimes they really do want what's best for you and are frustrated when someone won't take (more) action to help or defend themselves.

Also people are just generally selfish assholes dealing with their own bullshit.
posted by loquacious at 4:44 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]




Because most people act like complete idiots some of the time, and would rather have a known evil than an unknown. Simple as that.



Without saying too much:

I can assure you most emphatically that there is nothing simple about it. It's an unbelievably elaborate headfuck.

And intelligent people end up with abusive partners all the time.


And that trigger warning picture is hilarious (and helped.)
posted by louche mustachio at 4:48 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


As a klutz, I feel it prudent to mention that people actually do fall down stairs all the time.

Next time I end up in the ER due to some sort of stair-related mishap, I'll have to remember to concoct a more interesting story so that I don't get the stink-eye from the nurse and be referred to counseling....
posted by schmod at 5:28 PM on July 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


prefpara : did you really just comment to say that abuse victims are idiots who started it?

Reading: Not just for dinner anymore.

/ tl;dr - No, I didn't
posted by pla at 5:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading: Not just for dinner anymore. / tl;dr - No, I didn't

Nah, prefpara, he said that some abuse victims are idiots, and then there are others who were the ones who started it.
posted by desuetude at 6:36 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's difficult to talk about abuse without making it sound like one party does not love the other. That, on its own, is a pretty powerful deterrent against talking about abuse. Having the value of one's relationship negated--sometimes retroactively, "what did you ever see in him?"--makes it very taxing to get the conversation to a point where you can talk about the pros and cons of various ways of addressing your problem.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:46 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Stories like this make me feel better about being unable to have romantic relationships.
posted by planet at 8:06 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


ugh. "If it were so bad, someone would have done something."
posted by nile_red at 8:37 PM on July 18, 2011


If you think this is bad, try understanding why the brains of small children often bond with their abusers. There's a biological survival thing happening there, where small children who are helpless in multifarious ways - i.e. completely dependent on those responsible for heir well-being - that their drive to simply survive (i.e. to live) permits a cognitive bond with someone who is abusing them.

It appears that early experience certainly primes some individuals to have a propensity for seeking out abuse in relationships, because that's what they experienced in childhood. (note: some of the comments in the forum, following this article, are thought-provoking - also note that recent findings in cognitive neuroscience studies have to be treated with care, and not (as yet) too aggressively applied to all transgressions by abusers)

Also, there is good evidence that (in this case) women become victims through a slow depletion of self-worth brought on by abuse.

A lot more work needs to be done to determine what it is that keeps people in abusive relationships, as well as what conditions prime certain individuals to accept abuse.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's interesting to me that DV victims are frequently blamed for causing the crime that was committed. It's like because people don't understand the dynamics (which as many have already pointed out are complicated), the only way to make sense of it is to assume that something is wrong with her. "Why doesn't she leave?". When I talk to people about DV, and they ask this, I usually as in response with "Why is that the question? Why isn't the question 'why is he hitting her?'"

For me, that has been a useful way to re-frame the issue.
posted by Gorgik at 10:10 PM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is the best list I have seen in a long time. Not only does it cover a wide variety of situations but it also includes a wide variety of gender combinations, something that is also often forgotten.

Mine were:
9. "If it were so bad, someone would have done something."
10. "It's a joke to him, so it should be a joke to me."
12. "I'm so embarrassed I let him do this to me."
14. "We're outsiders; no one cares about our problems."
16. "She's really nice... mostly."
19. "It's not that bad."
posted by buteo at 10:12 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


He lives in his girlfriend's apartment. He's unemployed, or minimally employed, and has no education or good experience on his resume. He has no friends besides her. He's gotten to the point where he doesn't know how he'll get food without her help, much less navigate all the challenges of life.

This is one of the biggest things that keeps our clients-- I work in a domestic violence victims' shelter-- with their abusive partners.

Since our clients often are the ones solely responsible for the kids, this makes lack of money an even bigger issue. If it's hard to support one (theoretically) working adult, trying to support one adult + kids + find daycare is even worse. And this is a little rural town in Western MO-- where you can rent an actual house, a decent one, for 400-600 USD. Add on another 200 or so for utilities, and you can just scrape by if you're really careful... and if you have the money.

IF.

No money == no way to pay for safety and independence.
posted by ElaineMc at 11:16 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish, desperately, that I knew how to help my friend caught in an abusive relationship. Reading that, I just hear the echoes of our conversations. I wish I knew how to help her leave.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:32 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


They comfortably jail and feed a wife-beater, and leave his innocent wife and family to starve. - Mark Twain
posted by any major dude at 11:33 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


3. "He'll die without me."
12. "I'm so embarrassed I let him do this to me."
13. "I've learned to live in her system."
16. "She's really nice... mostly."
19. "It's not that bad."

Damn there are a few people I need to send this list to
posted by Blasdelb at 2:09 AM on July 19, 2011


3 and 16.

Well, I thought it was 3 and 16, but with the benefit of pla's expertise (PhD in violence research? Domestic violence counsellor? Worked in a DV shelter? Do tell!) I guess I must be wrong, along with the author who worked in a hospital and the many many commenters here and at the original blog who have had different experiences.

It's so obvious now that it must really be 2 or 18. Simple as that.
posted by harriet vane at 4:41 AM on July 19, 2011


Seriously, though, don't be the cause of reason number 6: "I reached out for help and was rebuffed". If someone hints that their partner is hurting them, be kind instead of lecturing them on how stupid you think they are. If you think you might have 6'd someone in the past, give them a call now to see how they're doing, if they want to catch up for a coffee and a chat.
posted by harriet vane at 4:47 AM on July 19, 2011


pla: You also have to consider that these things don't always have just one side, but males, on average, tend to have a whole lot more ability to cause damage when unarmed.

I think that for rule-of-thumb determinations you can often determine the injured party by looking at which party is injured. We're not talking about people in a relationship with Lenny Small from Of Mice and Men, here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:23 AM on July 19, 2011


There are plenty of emotionally abusive people out there, running order squabble fest. I've never had too much trouble myself because I usually walk away pretty quickly from any relationship I find even mildly emotionally abusive. Yet, I've had ex-girlfriends who I could easily imagine pushing some guy with a latent predisposition towards abuse into actual abusive behavior.

There must be viable combined therapy & medical treatments for abusive behavior, i.e. train the abuser how to recognize the signs and appropriately drug themselves. Prozac deadens emotions, right? I guess marijuana deadens emotions but it also impairs judgment.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:06 AM on July 19, 2011


Hold on - I think I might be confused, jeffburdges.

Do you mean, in this model where emotionally abusive women push men into physical abuse, that women who might be emotionally abusive should be trained to recognize when they are about to drive a man to beat them and be given drugs that they can take to calm themselves down? Or that men with a "latent predisposition for abuse" should be trained to recognize when they are about to hit a woman and prescribed drugs to calm themselves down? Or would this be a kind of one-a-day pill for the whole life of the relationship, rather than an emergency intervention? Again, if so, whose responsibility would it be to take the emotion-deadening drugs?
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:23 AM on July 19, 2011


Again, if so, whose responsibility would it be to take the emotion-deadening drugs?

Everyone's, of course.
posted by Zozo at 8:14 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


From my phone and out of country, but this is excellent. For those interested in what Vibrissae was saying, check out the Adverse Childhood Events Study.
posted by The White Hat at 8:17 AM on July 19, 2011


I actually think helping abusive people identify and manage their behavior (in cases where it has not become horrifically scary already) may be more possible than we currently think.

While I don't advocate anyone purposely creating a relationship with someone who has "high abusive potential"--- I do think that both men and women raised around domestic violence, who have experienced other childhood adversity, prenatal conditions etc--- are going to be more likely to have aggressive feelings come up for them.

Patterns of dysfunction are often in both the aggressor and the reciever-- meaning that people who accept abuse are more likely to have problems with supporting themselves financially, who feel ostracized already by society, who already have low self worth, who have difficulty functioning and problems with forgetting, making errors, leaving chores undone. A person primed for abuse may have seen this pattern of dealing with dysfuncitonal behaviors and accepted that in their early childhood as well, so they may see the violence as a justified repercussion of the fact they forgot to do the dishes or they left the grocery list at home and then could't remember what to buy at the grocery store and got the wrong thing.

I have seen a lot of abusive relationships and in general, the violent party usually has a belief system in which errors in functioning should be punished by yelling, aggression, shaming, and violence. The reason some women wind up in repeated violent relationships are complicated but one factor might be that healthy people, upon seeing functional limitations that are hard to lie with in a partner will just... leave.

The abusive partner instead of leaving with instead be aggressive and violent to try to control the struggling partners problem behavior... but they will stay.

That's just a random observation from personal experience though. There are a bazillion reasons people stay and yes, good functional people can be made to feel like they deserve abuse by skilled manipulators. It can happen, though of course there are usually pre-existing vulnerabilities. And again, a good manipulator can read those pre-existing vulnerabilities from a mile away.
posted by xarnop at 8:35 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest : I think that for rule-of-thumb determinations you can often determine the injured party by looking at which party is injured.

That requires ignoring the entire concept of "acting in self-defense".

Or turning that knife back around, when a woman stops putting up with it and shoots her abusive husband, which party looks the most injured?
posted by pla at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2011


You'll never see court orders for psychotherapy involving drugs unless the person has committed physical violence. Isn't that obvious? Or you just needed a strawman?

Imho, anyone who finds themselves being abused by, or even abusing, their partner should end that relationship, asap. A purely-emotional abuser should seriously consider seeking treatment that'll improve their future relationships. If treatments are well established & effective, then courts should mandate them for physical abusers.

I've no idea if prozac, etc. have any place in a treatment program for domestic abuse, but many psychological ailments are treated most effectively through a mixture of psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2011


I do think one reason your point is valid pla is that in general if a woman is violent there are usually less bruises. Men are more likely to cause severe damage when they get violent. In a situation where a woman is repeatedly smacking and punching her male partner there might not be much evidence on him and if finally he retaliates in the middle of being cornered and smacked and pushes her off and she, say, falls down the stairs in the middle of the squirmish--- the guy will be the one to get arrested and charged with domestic violence.

See Amber Portwood. If there weren't video evidence of her smacking and kicking her child's father, no one would have believed it-- and you can bet if he had pushed her off and she had fallen down the stairs they were standing at the top of NO ONE would ever have believed she was the instigator.

(That may be changing because people are working to be more aware of female on male violence and abuse)
posted by xarnop at 8:46 AM on July 19, 2011


wish I knew how to help her leave.
posted by stoneweav
er

If she has never before been exposed to abusive behaviour (particularly from her family of origin) then she may not even know that its 'abuse' rather than a single badly behaved individual. By this I mean the concepts of Reality 1 (the abusers) and reality 2 (regular person)

I thought it was symptoms of alcoholism but that is where reading through Dr. Irene's site and beginning to analyze the anger cycles made me realise that what was going on had no basis in rationality but was a recurring pattern and a behaviour problem. That is, each fight was not a regular fight in the sense that couples may have but in fact the need to relieve stress by provoking a fight etc etc

That realization that there was a deeper underlying problem was the moment I started seeking help to disentangle and leave.
posted by infini at 8:49 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think another thing that caused me to stay was that I had problem behaviors that I couldn't control as well-- such as forgetting everything, not being able to keep up with managing a house, not being able to do well in school, feeling like I was going to fail and there was not hope of ever doing anything but food service, feeling like I should just "be able to fix all of these things about myself". And yes I had done therapy and taken meds and put in unspeakable amounts of effort to change these things about myself and I felt completely helpless to make a dent in my faults.

And if I was unable to change behaviors about myself that are unacceptable in society and that cause rejection by peers and that make it hard to support myself---- how could I be judgemental about someone elses anger/aggression problems especially when I could see a clear causal relationship between their behavior and their childhood? And if I were to reject people with problem behaviors than isn't that a statement that I should be rejected for my problem behaviors?

I got kind of stuck there.

then kick in abandonment issues and the reality that there are people who languish in pain alone and that I can't bear it, I can't bear for people to be left alone in unbearable pain. And add to that that I was adopted and "saved" from an adverse single parent home and all these other people were left behind. Why were they left behind? I feel like a piece of shit because I was spared an "adverse childhood" and I still can't function for shit so I feel like people with horrific childhoods should use me as a punching bag and even it out. Also is that my biological mother went through a lot of domestic violence and I've been studying epigentics and I think that you can in fact be biologically prone to accept violent situations as a result of having recent ancestors who were epigentically altered by witness a lot of violence.

Logically I don't feel that way, but emotionally it's still there.
posted by xarnop at 9:05 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish, desperately, that I knew how to help my friend caught in an abusive relationship. Reading that, I just hear the echoes of our conversations. I wish I knew how to help her leave.

I hear that.

I've had a friend in an abusive relationship twice. (Er, two different people.) The first guy was actually physically abusive and I had to call the cops on him one time for pitching her across my living room. But that situation only lasted for a matter of months before she decided to leave him.

The current friend in this situation's husband isn't physically abusive, but he's definitely a mental mindfucker. I actually wonder if that makes it harder to leave. She's pissed off at him most of the time, he's pissed off at her most of the time, and he's going to do whatever the hell he wants no matter what she says about it GODDAMMIT. But she luuuuuvs him, and she's already been with him for around 25 years, and there's gotta be a lot of inertia as a factor there, along with their social circle. So far he's skated right up to her personal line of "I will leave him if he does that" and technically he's not quite crossed it yet, but I wonder if it's actually possible for him to do something soooo bad that she'll actually choose to leave, or if her line in the sand will just move. Maybe she has to fall out of love with him before she'll actually want to leave, I don't know. I am trying to resign myself to thinking that she will never leave. I used to think she would, but... realistically after 25 years and he's not hitting her, probably not. I just wish she'd be all, "Okay, fine, I love him, so I am just going to put up with him being shitty to me," instead of still being all, "I am going to LAY DOWN THE LAW" and then he ignores it like usual. I don't think she's quite out of denial there.

But as a friend, it can be frustrating as hell. If he's beating her, you're literally afraid for her life. If he's not, you're all "This is a mental mindfuck! You could find someone better than this! He's not going to get any better and you know that!" For years. And after awhile it is like "same shit, different day, he's done that fifteen hundred times by now, why are you surprised?"

But bottom line is, she has to choose to leave on her own and pay the consequences of leaving. And it takes people a long time to do that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:17 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


pla: That requires ignoring the entire concept of "acting in self-defense".

Or turning that knife back around, when a woman stops putting up with it and shoots her abusive husband, which party looks the most injured?


Well, in the context of the OP and Reading The First Article, if someone is defending themselves from emotional abuse (or non-damaging, non-marking physical assault) by punching the other party in the face or breaking their arm, say, it's not legally justified by the principle of self-defense. Self-defense in law almost always stipulates that the response should be reasonable (and in particular non-lethal if not confronting lethal force), should be made in response to violence or the reasonable fear of violence to oneself or others, and should be proportionate. Hitting someone to stop them shouting at you is not self-defense.

Likewise, a woman who shoots her abusive partner when not in immediate and reasonable fear of her life is unlikely to be justified (in the purely legal sense) on the grounds of self-defense. If she is in imminent fear of her life and holding a gun, we are rather outside the situation described in the First Article, of people arriving in emergency rooms with black eyes and broken limbs.

Definitions of self-defense vary from state to state, but use of lethal force (including most sorts of firearm-based force) is not usually recognized as legitimate self-defense unless one's own life or the lives of others are in immediate danger.

So, not so much ignoring as understanding the right to self-defense, I think.

However, I think using a thread about the relatively common phenomenon of women covering for physically abusive partners to focus on the relatively rare phenomenon of women shooting their partners is kind of a "what about the mens" derail, so it's probably best if we leave it. In the context of the First Article, it's probably best to assume that the person in the emergency room with an injury is the injured party right up until their partner is found dead of a gunshot wound in their apartment.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:34 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a masochist who has big time issues, I am incedibly sympathetic toward "what about the mens" arguments. It should be duly noted that this is likely a risk factor for experiencing and tolerating abuse and not a sign that we should all be concerned about the mens.
posted by xarnop at 9:52 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


RE: Lethal force/self-defense.

I think men and women generally have a different physical thresh hold for lethal force. If the smaller party physically attacks the larger party and causes enough pain/fright to provoke an unrestrained response the repercussions could be very serious.

Our Fight Or Flight reflexes really don't know anything about the law or society. Someone who is unused to violence, and untrained in delivering a physically proportional response will probably deliver an emotionally proportional response.

That's where you get women stabbing their abusive husbands and men badly hurting their abusive wives in one blow. Also the situation is not necessarily the emotionally-abusive partner driving their partners to violence or whatever, I've read that severe emotionally abusive behaviour is often a precursor to physically abusive behaviour, as someone said above with one partner punching/smacking at a level unlikely to cause injury but definitely causing pain and humiliation. The gender dynamic complicates the matter because we, as a society, tend to view these situations through a sexist lens. (The "don't hit girls" meme that our children get infected with isn't just about treating women right, but also about a real man never seeing a woman as a credible threat.)

People need to feel empowered to leave situations where they feel unsafe.
posted by TheKM at 10:10 AM on July 19, 2011


schmod: "Next time I end up in the ER due to some sort of stair-related mishap, I'll have to remember to concoct a more interesting story so that I don't get the stink-eye from the nurse and be referred to counseling...."

A few years ago when I was still roadracing motorcycles with WERA, I had an epic highside crash at Carolina Motorsports Park. I broke both hands (one pretty badly), got a concussion and broke my nose, which produced two blackish eyes. I spent two days in hospital, then returned to my usual life.

About a week after the crash, I was in line at the grocery store with my then-boyfriend, Damon. Damon was 6'4" and as gentle and respectful as you could wish for. The lady in front of us in line looked me over pretty thoroughly - no surprise, since I was pretty busted up. As she finished her transaction, she leaned over to me but kept her eyes on Damon as she hissed with utter venom, "You should leave him, that bastard!"
posted by workerant at 10:27 AM on July 19, 2011


TheKM: RE: Lethal force/self-defense.

If the smaller party physically attacks the larger party and causes enough pain/fright to provoke an unrestrained response the repercussions could be very serious.


Ah, OK. We are talking about Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men, then? That does change things a lot.

However, none of what you are saying has any relevance to self-defense. Self-defense is a legal justification - that is, if what would otherwise be a crime is established to be self-defense, it means that is is not a crime. What you are talking about might be considered diminished responsibility, which is a legal excuse - that is, it does not challenge the illegality of the act, but argues for the reduction of punishment due to reduced personal culpability. Distinctions vary from state to state, but if your state or country has something like US common law it will probably work like that or a variation thereof.

Again, the article is about talking to people who have been beaten by their partners (male and female - the genders are randomized). I think that attempts to change the subject to women assaulting their male partners with deadly weapons (in this case a knife) are a little disquieting.

I don't think this is intentional - if it were, it would actually be less disquieting. But an OP about people (male or female) refusing to report non-fatal physical abuse from their (male or female) partners inspiring derails about women attacking men with lethal weapons is kind of odd.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


12. "I'm so embarrassed I let him do this to me."
13. "I've learned to live in her system."
16. "She's really nice... mostly."
19. "It's not that bad."

But, honestly, I've been to ER more times from falls down stairs(five) than I have for abuse (never, see#19). I'll still be sharing the link with friends.
posted by _paegan_ at 12:18 PM on July 19, 2011


Good list. But the comments are making me cringe. Not just here, either, this is a very, very difficult topic to discuss because, among other reasons, we are talking about an abusive relationship. That means two or more people are involved and exchanging something.

I've been on both sides (another reason this can be hard - victims can become abusers, abusers can become victims, sometimes with the same people). It was a huge shock to me when I stopped beating my gf and she started taking swings at me. The only rational reason I could come up with was that we were both getting something out of our sick relationship and when we tried to change the dynamic, we lost something she found necessary.

Abuse is wrong. It needs to be stopped. But the process of stopping it is far more complex and fraught than one might think.
posted by QIbHom at 12:41 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


As she finished her transaction, she leaned over to me but kept her eyes on Damon as she hissed with utter venom, "You should leave him, that bastard!"

Be grateful for this moment, regardless of your need for it. Be grateful for a witness. My neighbours just shoved a note under the door saying that next time they'll call the cops (he'd usually rant and rave at 3am and try to break down the bathroom door where I'd be) I hoped they would.
posted by infini at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a great link. I have something to add--it isn't explicitly touched on in the blog post, but I think it's a factor that the prevailing stereotype of abused people (and abusers) is that they're uneducated, lower-class, and trashy. I think that stereotype is a big part of abuse denial, as in, "I'm not some trailer trash housewife, so it isn't abuse." Obviously poverty and education are relevant (especially when it comes to leaving an abusive situation) but abuse can happen in any social matrix.

PSA: Here's a giant pre-abuse red flag I have observed over and over again, both personally and in friends' relationships. If you're just getting into a relationship with someone, and they say don't like any of your friends, it's time to bail. It's equally problematic if they like only one of your friends, and use them as a comparison for why the rest of your friends are "bitches/assholes". It's a precursor to isolating you, and every time I've seen it, the relationship has eventually turned abusive in some way.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 1:15 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm not some trailer trash housewife, so it isn't abuse." Obviously poverty and education are relevant (especially when it comes to leaving an abusive situation) but abuse can happen in any social matrix.

This book was very helpful

"Not to People Like Us": Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages
posted by infini at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother stayed with her mentally, physically and emotionally abusive husband for 8 years despite repeated attempts to choke her to death and bouts of destroying all of her furniture and emptying her bank account because he was terminally ill.

She thought eventually the Hepatitis C would kill him, so she figured the violence couldn't last. But it did, even when he was sick (maybe especially when he was sick because of the ammonia levels in his blood). Every time I'd pick her up from the hospital and beg her to leave, she'd tell me she just couldn't.

Because if she did, he'd lose his medical insurance (he was on disability and unemployed after falling off a ladder; by the time he recovered from the injury enough to go back to work, he was too sick from the Hep C). And his wealthy family wouldn't allow him to move back home - because his recently widowed mother had breast cancer and was supporting and caring for his 96-year-old grandmother at the time.

So, each time he'd wreck a car or almost beat my mother to death, HIS mom would pay to bail him out of jail and cobble together some kind of vehicle for them to drive. I'd go over and help her vacuum up shattered coffee tables, begging her to let me take her to a women's shelter. I set meetings up with divorce lawyers, but she wouldn't go.

The one time she came to my house to stay and try to get away from him, he came threatening to shoot me and my then-partner with a shotgun and we had to flee.

Part of me still feels guilty because I refused to make peace with him in the hospital before he died in 2009. I just couldn't bear to do it. RIP, stepdad - you were a combo of #1-3 on this list.

And she told me last weekend she now regrets not leaving him and that she wished she'd gotten therapy and her relationship with me back a lot sooner. None of that matters now - we're both looking forward. She is a completely different person, and I love her very much. I don't believe I have to worry about her anymore.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:00 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unicorn on the cob... I'm so sorry.
posted by xarnop at 4:00 PM on July 19, 2011


#21 Keep trying to use logic to explain to him why his behavior is hurtful or damaging.

Exactly. I just need to try harder / explain more clearly / talk to him at the right time. It's getting better.
posted by salvia at 9:45 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


xarnop: As a masochist who has big time issues, I am incedibly sympathetic toward "what about the mens" arguments. It should be duly noted that this is likely a risk factor for experiencing and tolerating abuse and not a sign that we should all be concerned about the mens.

Just wanted to say that I think this was a very insightful, honest, and brave thing to post.
posted by mantecol at 9:49 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imho, anyone who finds themselves being abused by, or even abusing, their partner should end that relationship, asap.

Part of the problem comes with defining "abused by," and "abusing." Not all abuse involves broken bones and visible bruises. How do you establish the difference between teasing and belittling? Between healthy expressions of emotion and emotional manipulation? How do you identify which partner is being abusive, and when?

And most of all, if a person grew up in a household that was in a bad way, how do they, as an adult, establish a baseline by which to judge? I don't know if I could properly recognize my behavior as manipulative or injurious.* That said, I don't want to live a life of monastic solitude because my family's dynamic was kind of fucked when I was a kid.

*I worry about this a lot. I figure that's kind of the first step?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:22 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unicorn, that's a lot to handle. Looking forward is a good plan... thanks for sharing your own experience. It's important for abused people to know that they are not alone--isolation is one of the weapons abusers use against their victims.

This is a much larger, more pervasive issue than most folks realize; one of my co-workers is exhausted today because he, his wife and kids had to spend the night away from their apartment after he helped an abused neighbor flee her home; now her furious husband is threatening my co-worker and his family. They're trying to sort out legal issues but that takes time. The wife is getting an Order of Protection; it remains to be seen if it can be successfully served as the abuser has effectively locked himself in and won't answer the door, especially if he suspects police or a process server. Needless to say, my co-worker is a mess.

This is something that affects more than victims... it affects kids, neighbors, friends... it affects us all.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:08 AM on July 20, 2011


xarnop, it's okay - getting a second chance to have a mother I'd given up on before I was old enough to drive has been a pretty amazing gift for me this late in my life, and I'm sure she feels the same way. I just wanted to illustrate that while the choice seems obvious, a litany of complicating factors is typically what keeps abusive relationships going indefinitely.

But thank you.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing that I don't see often enough in these lists and threads is that there is a lot of cultural mixed-messaging out there, and it provides handy rationale fuel to people in abusive relationships, particularly relationships where the abuse is emotional and verbal.

Television and film portrays many "passionate" relationships where people yell and cry and rant and rave. Huge displays of emotion are frequently presented as perfectly normal for people who "feel strongly."

"Having strong emotions" is a popular euphemism for "anger issues," and an "emotional" partner can turn into an abusive partner very easily, but the parties involved may not see the pattern, because they are focused on the incident. When the incident has passed, it's back to "normal." The slow progress - across many incidents - from "I'm angry at you" to "you're an idiot, you can't do anything right," can be easy to miss; everyone is so busy yelling or cringing or hoping for it to end that they don't notice that the line was crossed.

I didn't.

For me, it took a huge cognitive dissonance to wake me up and get me out. At the time I was a hero at work, really doing wonderfully, rescuing an impossible project, a star. At the same time, I was worthless at home - embarrassing, underachieving, disappointing. One of those perspectives had to be wrong. The one reinforced by multiple people whose livelihoods were at stake seemed more objectively true than the one held by a single individual who was always having "strong feelings," even though that individual was my spouse of more than a decade and mother of my children.

Now, looking back, I can't explain why I put up with it except because "it seemed like a version of normal at the time." I was the frog slowly boiled alive.

The saddest thing is that it is a version of normal. Just a fucked up one. Even after I recognized the truth of it, I was torn on divorce because of what it would do to the kids. That decision got resolved pretty quickly though, when the abuse started happening in front of them. There was no mercy or nobility in modeling victimhood to my children.

We are divorced now. The rules are in the separation agreement. The necessary communication (about visitation logistics) is over email only per my insistence. It's not amicable or pleasant for anyone, but it is what had to happen.

I have to say that now one of my red flags is couples that describe themselves as a "passionate couple," or "she's exciting, and he's her rock." That's how I would have described my marriage to my ex back when I was still in it and rationalizing it. Both descriptions are true, but so is calling it an abusive relationship or dysfunctional codependency. For every guy who is "her rock," I want to ask; how much pride do you take in being the rational one, or the only one who can talk her down when she gets all worked up? Beware, because that pride can keep you in a very bad relationship, and you are doing nobody any favors by your efforts.

Our culture provides lots of very effective cover for bad relationships, lots of "positive ways of thinking about them." Getting past that alone is a huge challenge.
posted by Pliskie at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I really struggle with understanding what the line is between emotional abuse and, I don't know, being a jerk. Is it about how the abuser behaves (repeatedly, intensely, etc) or about how the abused person feels (trapped, overwhelmed) or some combination?
posted by prefpara at 3:04 PM on July 20, 2011


The terms are inherently vague and there's no actual boundary between them, but "abuse" carries the connotation that someone's violated someone else's trust. Putting up with a jerk boyfriend who has always been a jerk to everyone is rather different from putting up with one who's only a jerk to you because he's learned how to get away with it; the former might be a bad relationship, but not an abusive one, while the latter is abusive.

I guess it's a matter of contexts and expectations.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:37 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


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