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Domestic Violence: Common Victim Attitudes and Beliefs

Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale MarriagesNot to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages

As seen on "20/20," "48 Hours," "Sally Jesse Raphael," and in People magazine: A startling exposé of domestic violence against well-educated, well-to-do women, and a powerful indictment of the social service system that fails to protect them.

How is it possible for a highly educated woman with a career and resources of her own to stay in a marriage with an abusive husband? How can a man be considered a pillar of his community and regularly give his wife a black eye? The very nature of these questions proves how convinced we are that domestic violence is restricted to the lower classes. Now Susan Weitzman explores a heretofore overlooked population of battered wives-the upper-educated and upper-income women who rarely report abuse and remain trapped by their own silence. Kindle edition available.

Low self esteem and feelings of shame.

Often those in abusive relationships feel that they have attracted a batterer or they may have developed a "pattern" of getting into relationships with partners who hurt, degrade, humiliate, hit or otherwise abuse them. Over time the repeated insults, threats, put downs and verbal trashing from their partners wears away at the mental energy to fight back or to keep up a positive image of oneself. Shame traps many victims, having a pervasive influence on the self, relationships with others, and emotional experiences (shame as emotional abuse). For an excellent article on shame in abusive relationships, see: "Battered Women's Entrapment in Shame: A Phenomenological Study". Eli Buchbinder, Zvi Eisikovits. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Albany: Oct 2003. Vol.73, Iss. 4; pg. 355.

Self Blame for Abuser's Actions, believes the myths about battering relationships and believes the batterer when they use these myths as excuses for the behavior

The classic statement here is: "if I didn't do....then I wouldn't get hit" - or: "my partner only abuses me when I do something wrong" or: "I shouldn't have made my partner angry enough to hit me". This dialogue doesn't only come from within the victim, but is often mirrored by the abuser who is always there to reinforce the idea that the abuse is the result of a failure on the part of the victim. The problem here is: everyone has moments of disappointment, anger, even rage; but the decision of how to REACT to or EXPRESS those feelings is a personal choice made by the abuser, NOT something brought on by the victim. An abuser can make the choice to talk through an issue or to leave the room until they cool down. The decision to batter, and thus the responsibility for the violence ALWAYS rests with the abuser.

Is a traditionalist about the home

May strongly believe in family unity and the prescribed feminine sex-role stereotype. These stereotypes can be extremely strong, especially in certain ethnic groups, cultures or ultra-orthodox religions; thus, victims living within these structures are often the most at risk - not only because their abusers firmly believe they have a RIGHT to treat a victim this way, but because these same beliefs may be reinforced by friends, family and religious leaders to whom a victim might otherwise turn for guidance and support.

Suffers from guilt, yet denies feelings of terror and anger.

Victims often feel extreme disappointment in themselves for not being able to accurately predict when violence will occur. (This unpredictability, by the way, is yet another tool in use by an abuser to purposefully keep the victim off balance and to reduce any possible sense of self-confidence in being able to appropriately detect and react to pending violence.) Victims also experience guilt at "letting things get this far" - sometimes so far that they feel they can't get out of it. These guilts can lead to denials; not only lying about and covering up the abuse, minimizing the abuse by trying to convince themselves that "it's only a scratch", "it doesn't happen that often", or "it isn't really that bad". Alcohol and drug abuse can often become a crutch or means of escaping the constant feelings of terror, even if just for a little while.

Has severe stress reactions with psychophysiological complaints

Exposure to domestic violence, especially over time, has been show to lead to increases in headaches, panic attacks, heart attacks, nervous disorders, stress syndromes, depression disorders and obsessive-compulsive behaviors (pulling out hair, rocking, excessive cleaning, etc.). See: "Contextualizing Depression and Physical Functioning in Battered Women". Paula S Nurius, Rebecca J Macy, Rupaleem Bhuyan, Victoria L Holt, et al. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Beverly Hills: Dec 2003.Vol.18, Iss. 12; pg. 1411.

Believes that no one will be able to help resolve the predicament and goes through cycles of assistance

Sometimes this belief is based on information planted by the abuser who might convince a victim that if assistance is sought, the abuser will know. They may claim to have friends "inside" the police department or courts or threaten additional violence or even death if they find out that the victim has been trying to get help. Other times, victims may have concrete ideas about what assistance they would need to escape - then when they don't find that specific setup, they become convinced that their situation is hopeless. For those trying to help victims, it is vital that even when a victim turns down help or doesn't seem interested, that information and options continue to be presented at every opportunity. Victims often have entire laundry lists of problems and fears that make them reluctant to try to escape abuse - the more of these you can help to address, the more hope becomes accessible to the victim who might:

Refuse help by:

  • Making excuses/"can't fit it into my schedule"
  • Disposing of help from others (brochures/books/referrals)
  • Avoiding those trying to help (friends/family/etc.)

Consider help by:

  • Calling a shelter or hotline for information
  • Checking a website for information
  • Writing down phone numbers and keeping them handy (informal safety planning)

Seek help by:

  • approaching friends
  • approaching relatives
  • approaching clergy
  • getting help from a shelter or social service agency
  • getting away, even for a little while (like going to a motel)

I Closed My Eyes : Revelations of a Battered WomanI Closed My Eyes : Revelations of a Battered Woman

Michele Weldon has created a tender hopeful and revealing look at someone who finds herself trapped in a physically and emotionally abusive marriage. Why so many women stay so long is the common thread that runs through all abusive relationships, no matter how destitute or well-off the victim is. Many women will recognize the fierce devotion to family that bound Weldon to the man she married, and they will likewise find inspiration in her journey to reclaim the future for herself and her children.

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Last Updated: March 4, 2011