In a society where abuse is normalized, trivialized and even glamorized, it is no wonder that there are a ton of myths surrounding the issues of domestic abuse. I would like to tackle some of those myths and present to you a truer picture of what the demographics of abuse really look like in the United States, which is not atypical of other countries around the world. The media, society, our churches all buy into many of the myths surrounding abusive relationships. If we don’t speak truth about what abuse really looks like, then we can’t be effective in ending it. Much of the conversation the general public participates in about DV is one-sided and wrong.
MYTH #1: Abusers are low life, unemployed, trailer court losers OR low life, unemployed, minorities
FACT #1: Abuse crosses all demographics. Studies consistently show us that abuse happens regardless of age, income, race, religion or education. Both my abusers were well educated, made large incomes and were very well respected in our faith community. This myth may be perpetuated because firstly, lower income victims must access resources more often. Resources such as women’s shelters, social services and calls to police. Wealthy, well educated women are less likely to call the police on their spouse. They also, often, have resources that they access outside of social services. Social resources are often the only record we have to refer to for statistics and those are deeply swayed by the demographic who mostly accesses them. Secondly, it is very difficult for us to recognize abuse in families that we admire and hold up as the tip top of society. As long as we excuse abuse by blaming it on external factors, we will never, as a society, hold the abusers accountable for their actions completely.
MYTH #2 Domestic Abuse is triggered by stress.
FACT #2 Everybody has stressors. There are millions of people who go through major stresses like financial problems, job loss and death of family members without choosing to abuse their family. Abuse is a choice. This is proved by the fact that an abuser controls himself in public. He is often kind, charming and engaging when in social situations. It isn’t until he has privacy that the abuse rears itself. More then 80% of male batterers never abuse any other adult in their life, only their significant other. Abuse is a way to maintain power in a relationship. Blaming stress is an effective excuse the abuser uses to minimize his actions.
MYTH #3 Domestic Abuse is caused by alcohol and drugs
FACT #3 Many people who are dealing with stress and pain choose to self medicate with alcohol and drugs. There can be a high correlation between substance abuse and battering, although it is not the reason for battering. Abusers may use alcohol and drugs as one of their many excuses to abuse and victims will often us it as an excuse too. “he only hits me when he’s drinking.” When and if the abuser were to stop using substances, the abuse would not stop with it. Substance abuse and battering are separate issues and must be treated as such.
MTYH #4 The victim could have prevented the abuse/The victim triggered the abuse
FACT #4 Victims are constantly told by their abuser that the abuse is their fault. “You made me mad” or “If you would have listened, I wouldn’t have had to hurt you.” They will excuse their actions by saying that “everyone acts out at times.” and then lay the guilt trip with “why can’t you just forgive and forget?” They attempt to diminish their abuse by saying “it wasn’t that bad” or “you are over reacting”. By agreeing with the abuser that the victim is somehow responsible for making him hurt her, and that she is over reacting to the abuse, we are agreeing that abuse is the victims fault and agreeing to not hold the abuser accountable for his actions. We are agreeing that the victim could do something to stop it and that she did something to deserve it. This is called victim blaming and keeps the victim from reaching out for help because nobody will believe her or help her.
MYTH #5 Victims want to be abused/Victims like being abused or else they would leave.
Abusers will not admit that they are part of the problem. They are even more encouraged when society blames the victim. Nobody wants to be beaten either physically or emotionally. Human nature does not desire harm but fights for peace and safety. There is nothing the victim can do to either prevent or stop abuse. An abuser abuses because he chooses to. He abuses to maintain control and power over the victim. The abuser does not care about the victim, he will do what he feels he needs in order to maintain that control. The abuse makes leaving very difficult from a strategic point of view as well as an emotional one. Victims feel it is impossible to get away.
MYTH #6 Domestic Abuse is an anger issue. The abuser just loses control.
Physical abuse is well aimed. Many abusers choose where to strike, often where clothing and hair will cover the bruising. Furthermore, researchers have found that domestic violence often occurs in cycles, and every episode is preceded by a predictable, repeated pattern of behavior and decisions made by the batterer. The abuser knows what he is doing. He knows how he is doing it and he is choosing not to stop. When he senses that he is losing control over you, he will increase the abuse in an attempt to regain the control. Abuse is not an anger issue, its a control issue. It is also an issue that is ongoing. Domestic abuse is not a one time event caused by out of control passions. Domestic abuse is an ongoing pattern of dynamics in a relationship.
MYTH #7 Domestic Abuse is equally the fault of both partners.
Mutual abuse is another way that abusers shift the blame from themselves to someone else. It is a great way to excuse their actions. They have no feelings of regret about their abuse, but they know the victim will. The victim will hear that she, too is an abuser and will internalize that message, often spending hours trying to determine if she really is an abuser. When society backs the abuser up in the message that both parties are equally at fault it gives him reason to continue to excuse the abuse. It supports his twisted view of power and control and manages to make her escape even harder.
MYTH #8 Abusers are good parents. Abuse only effects the spouse and not the children so the abusive parent should maintain parental rights.
Abusive partners are not good parents. How can we believe that a man who abuses his wife, the mother of his children, is not also abusing the children? Abuse by Proxy is real. The emotional turmoil, tension and the lack of physical safety wears on the developing brain of a child. When you abuse the mother, you abuse the child. The bond is that strong. Studies also show that abusers do not parent well. Often you will see an abuser who is neglectful, irresponsible, undermines the mothers authority, is self centered and manipulative. Abusers will purposefully turn children against their mother or include them in the abuse toward her. He is often authoritarian and the children cannot live up to his expectations. Living in a home where abuse of any kind happens, is unsafe, always. (The reverse is just as true when the abuser is the woman)
MYTH #9 Domestic Abuse is always physical
This myth makes it seem as the only abuse that matters is physical/sexual abuse. The myth is that if you are living with emotional, verbal, financial or spiritual abuse, then you can fix your marriage. That those abuses are not that bad. If you are physically safe, then you have no good reason to leave your marriage. The truth is, that physical abuse is always preceded by verbal and emotional abuse. Rarely, does a person begin a relationship by smacking their date. Anyone would run away. Physical abuse is the END of the abuse cycle not the beginning and in order to get victims safe and teach children about healthy relationships we must start identifying and making the other forms of abuse just as major in our mind and responses. We must start supporting those who leave before the physical violence starts to the same degree we would support someone who has been beaten.
Myth #10 You cannot love your abuser
Abusive relationships are not completely absent of love. Abusers don’t abuse all the time. Much of the time, in a relationship, there is fun, connection and love. There are many happy times, happy memories and times of bonding that create love between a couple, even in an abusive relationship. Part of the cycle of violence is to ‘honeymoon’ or ‘love bomb’ in order to keep the relationship and the cycle going. The tension building and acting out stages of the relationship are often short, although horrible, and leaves the majority of the time as pretty okay to live with. The manipulation that happens around ‘love’ also creates trauma bonding. Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change. It is all apart of the bigger emotional manipulation that a victim goes through.
I’ve chosen to highlight just 10 of the most common myths that I hear almost on a daily basis. I could have written hundreds! In our society, we must, without fail, work to break through the myths surrounding domestic abuse. We must give truth and voice to the what is really happening in American homes everyday. Only by speaking the truth will things every change in this country. Only by shedding light in the dark places will the evil of domestic abuse stop being defended and excused. We must let go of they myth and hold the abusers accountable starting today!