Sep 19

Intimate Partner Violence: “No Visible Bruises”

Intimate partner violence is the subject of No Visible Bruises:What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by journalist Rachel Louise Snyder. It’s not just a domestic issue, she argues, but a public health problem. Parul Sehgal, New York Times, reviewing No Visible Bruises: “A United Nations report in 2018 put it starkly: The most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.”

Other salient statistics from the book, per Sehgal: “In America alone, more than half of all murdered women are killed by a current or former partner — 50 women every month. Domestic violence cuts across lines of class, race and religion; it is the leading cause of maternal mortality in cities including New York and Chicago, and the second leading cause of death for black women nationwide.”

An important distinction about intimate partner violence is contained in the book review by Kate Tuttle, LA Times: “‘Love is what makes domestic violence different from any other crime,’ Snyder writes. ‘That the people involved have said to each other and the world, you are the most important person to me.’ For that love to end in injury and even death, she adds, ‘requires us to mentally, intellectually, and emotionally hurdle beyond what we can imagine.'”

Julia Kastner, Shelf Awareness, describes how the author organizes her material, starting with the fact that it’s unusual, going from “The End” to “The Beginning” to “The Middle.”

Further explanation: “That is, she first studies what intimate partner violence looks like at its conclusion: homicide and regrets that various systems (judicial, law enforcement, advocacy, etc.) couldn’t do more. Next, she investigates the beginning of such violence. Abusers often come from abusive home environments and, along with their victims, grow up in a society that values stoicism, control and violence in men, submissiveness and emotional labor in women. ‘The Middle’ examines how services are provided to victims of domestic violence, and what changes should be considered.”

Regarding the profile of abusers, Snyder tells NPR the following:

Narcissism is one of the key components of an abuser… [Most] abusers, in fact, are not people with anger problems. Generally speaking, they are about power and control over one person or the people in their family. They’re often very gregarious. Only about a quarter of the abusers fit that stereotypical definition of someone who is, you know, generally angry. And so the narcissism plays out in the idea that they are owed something, in the idea that they are entitled to their authority, that their partners have to be subservient to them. There’s very often traditional gender dynamics in abusive relationships.

Some of Snyder’s proposals for safety (New York Times):

Prosecute cases without the victim’s help, as we do murder trials. Treat restraining orders like D.U.I.s and keep them on file, even after they have expired. Train clergy members and doctors to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Promote battering intervention programs. Choking nearly always precedes a homicide attempt; teach police to recognize the signs, and instruct doctors to assess women for traumatic brain injury. And, of course, there is the near-unanimous recommendation from law enforcement and domestic violence advocates: ‘You want to get rid of homicide?’ a retired forensic nurse asks. ‘Get rid of guns.’

Dec 05

Psychological Abuse/Coercion in Relationships

Therapist Carol Lambert, an expert in psychological abuse between intimate partners, is the author of the new book Women with Controlling Partners: Taking Back Your Life from a Manipulative or Abusive Partner. From the official introduction:

Research shows that psychological abuse affects women’s overall well-being more than physical abuse, is a bigger contributor to inducing fear, and can be a precursor to violence. To make matters worse, having a controlling partner often results in hidden injuries like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, trauma, and low self-efficacy—feeling like you can’t make a difference in your life.

As she writes in a Psychology Today post, incidents are alarmingly common: “According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, nearly half of all women in the U.S. (48.4 percent) have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime.”

Examples of psychological abuse include the following, per Lambert:

  • demeaning put downs that are meant to humiliate and shame such as being told, “You’re worthless” or “You’re crazy”
  • ridiculing personal traits such as attacking a person’s appearance or personality style
  • intimidating gestures
  • ignoring
  • controlling behavior that causes isolation from family and friends
  • intensely blaming when things go wrong
  • intentionally doing or saying things even publicly that cause embarrassment
  • withholding important information to undermine someone

Women, of course, aren’t the exclusive victims of psychological abuse—men can be controlled too. Moreover, this type of abuse occurs within gay and lesbian couples as well as heterosexual. Andrea Bonior, PhD, has listed 20 signs of controlling partner behavior (Psychology Today). Click on the link for details (and of course there’s overlap with the above-cited article):

  1. Isolating you from friends and family
  2. Chronic criticism—even if it’s “small” things
  3. Veiled or overt threats, against you or them
  4. Making acceptance/caring/attraction conditional
  5. An overactive scorecard
  6. Using guilt as a tool
  7. Creating a debt you’re beholden to
  8. Spying, snooping, or requiring constant disclosure
  9. Overactive jealousy, accusations, or paranoia
  10. Not respecting your need for time alone
  11. Making you “earn” trust or other good treatment
  12. Presuming you guilty until proven innocent
  13. Getting you so tired of arguing that you’ll relent
  14. Making you feel belittled for long-held beliefs
  15. Making you feel you don’t “measure up” or are unworthy of them
  16. Teasing or ridicule that has an uncomfortable undercurrent
  17. Sexual interactions that feel upsetting afterwards
  18. Inability or unwillingness to ever hear your point of view
  19. Pressuring you toward unhealthy behaviors, like substance abuse
  20. Thwarting your professional or educational goals by making you doubt yourself

The first step in getting help is recognizing it’s happening to you. Books such as Lambert’s as well as individual therapy can help you process this issue further and take steps to deal with it. Another resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE).