The everyday story of women and abusive men
Your daughter is in the heady throes of a new relationship. And this guy is the one–she’s sure of it. He showers her with attention and affection, like some prince out of a fairy tale. It’s not long before he says he loves her. She feels really special. He tells her he’s never felt like this before. And to be honest, neither have you, for you’re seeing troubling signs in the relationship that your child is missing.
She complains he texts her incessantly. He pressures her for a commitment even though they’ve only been dating six weeks. He wants to spend all his time with her–or rather, he wants her to spend all her time with him. (It doesn’t matter if he keeps her waiting for hours.) He gets jealous when he sees her talking to another man. He even seems jealous of the people who, by all logic, should be no threat to their relationship: her friends and family–you, even.
She admits they argue. He has totally unrealistic expectations from her. He breaks things. Never her, but she admits he has shoved her against the wall a couple of times. Has he ever done this before? Well, he hit his last girlfriend, but only because she wound him up so much. Just like her.
In a relationship, abuse can take many forms. It can be emotional (psychological), verbal, physical, or some combination of any of these. In many cases, abusive relationships progress from emotional and verbal abuse to physical violence and even murder. The very worst cases progress to murder-suicides, sometimes of entire families.
Most aggressors in these types of relationships are abusive men. According to the National Institute of Health, femicide (the homicide of women) is the seventh leading cause of death of women. Most of these killings involve prior physical abuse to the female partner. Women, who are separating from their abuser, be it by divorce or ending cohabitation, are at a high risk of being killed by their former partners–particularly if their abuser was highly controlling.
Signs of Abusive Men
Even though your child may not confide in you or tell you she is being abused, there are signs you can look for.
- She walks on eggshells. She tiptoes around him, never disagrees with him (he’s always right) and expects you to do the same. She does everything he tells her to do, to the letter. If anything goes awry, she panics. Much of the time this panic can seem overly dramatic.
- He is threatening or intimidating. Some abusers are suave when it comes to pulling the wool over family’s and friends’ eyes about their nature, but in general, abusers have highly inflammatory personalities. If he ever tries to intimidate you or people you know, or behaves in a threatening manner, chances are he’s doing the same with your child.
- He’s quick-tempered. In general, abusers are hypersensitive, easily insulted and lose their tempers quite easily. In an argument, he may break things to send a message that the next time; it could be you and not an inanimate object. This is the same message he’s probably sending to his victim.
- He uses force during an argument. This involves any kind of shoving, hitting or “restraining.” If he’s doing this with you, or he’s doing this with other people you know, the victim is surely getting the same or worse treatment at home.
- He admits to abuse in the past. This is a big one. When pressed, an abuser may admit to abusing a former partner. Typically he’ll try to minimize it or blame the victim. While admission to any past abuse is a sign he will do it again, these diversion tactics should make it clear, if it’s not already, that he has no intention to change.
Verbal and Emotional Abuse
Verbal and emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse) often appears before physical abuse, though some abusers simply won’t bother with the former. In contrast, some emotionally or verbally abusive men never do escalate to physical violence if they find they can completely control their partners by subtler means.
Though the dangers of physical violence should never be discounted, in some ways emotional abuse is more insidious because it can be harder to detect. Often victims blame themselves and internalize their abusers’ beliefs, eventually seeing themselves through such a distorted lens that their self-esteem plummets. This makes it harder for them to leave.
Emotionally abusive men are highly manipulative. They employ a range of techniques to control their victims, including gas lighting (verbal and nonverbal signals designed to make the victim feel crazy). When subtlety fails, they may become verbally abusive by openly insulting their partners and accusing them of being hypersensitive when called out on their behavior. Ironically, it’s the abuser who is hypersensitive and easily insulted.
Why Do Men Abuse Women?
It’s not fully known why men become abusers. There is evidence that men raised in violent environments will go on to be abusers themselves, though it’s possible that a genetic predisposition to violence plays a small role. Men who hold “traditional” views about women–that women should not work–are more likely to abuse their partners.
Can abusive men change? We don’t know. What we do know is that abusers tend not to change for the better. Usually, if any change at all takes place, it’s that their behavior gets worse and escalates into violence. When abusive partners say they’ve changed or gotten better, it’s typically a ploy to regain control of the relationship.
Helping Her Get Out
By the time physical abuse manifests itself, a victim may have a distinctly distorted view of reality. She may blame herself, and not see his behavior as abusive until it escalates into violence.
While it’s tempting to confront an abuser about his behavior, this can backfire on the victim since he can take out his frustration on her in secret. There are other things you can do to help that are far more effective.
- Document the abuse. Keep a journal of all violent incidents you witness, and in it keep a careful log of dates, times, events and threats made. Keep this evidence in a safe place. If possible, try to get the victim to an emergency room where her injuries can be documented by a third party. In many places, attitudes toward abusive men are changing, and some cities even have units devoted to investigating domestic violence.
- Open lines of communication. Do everything you can to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Let her know you will help her if she needs it. Whatever you do, do not judge her. Emotional abuse is insidious and can be hard to detect when you’re inside the relationship. It’s even harder to see when you’ve spent years blaming yourself for the situation.
- Make a plan. Find out what resources are available in your area for battered women. Get as much legal and other information together as you can and organize it so it’s ready when she needs it. WomensLaw.org has state-by-state information, and you can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. (The deaf can call 1-800-787-3224 for TTY service.) Public libraries are treasure troves of resources for job skills, computer skills and classes. Research places she and her children can stay if it becomes necessary–or even places her children can go if it becomes necessary for them to be separated for a short period.
- Don’t give up. All too often, relations between the victim and her friends and family become strained as her abuser attempts to cut off the lines of communication. Try to remember the victim is under a great deal of pressure trying to keep her sanity–and sometimes just trying to stay alive. Most of all, if she tells you she’s being abused, believe her. This can be the first step to helping her get out of what could be a dangerous situation.
Women Abusing Men
While it’s far more common for men to abuse women in intimate relationships, there is such a thing as women who abuse men. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in seven men experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Men are prone to be victims of the same emotional manipulation their female counterparts’ experience. Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone.
This particular issue is still a bit taboo, a fact which female abusers can use to their advantage. But there is help available. Parents of abused men can follow the same guidelines as above (documentation is particularly important), and especially call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has a wealth of information for victims, regardless of gender, and anyone trying to help them.