Danse Macabre: The Dynamics of Spousal and Intimate Partner Abuse
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Emotional, Verbal, and Psychological Abuse, Domestic and Family Violence and Spousal Abuse
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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III. Condoning Abuse
VIII. Your Abuser in Therapy
XVIII. The Erotomanic Stalker
XXIV. The Conflicts of Therapy
Most abusers are men. Still, some are women. We use the masculine and feminine adjectives and pronouns ('he", his", "him", "she", her") to designate both sexes: male and female as the case may be.
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It takes two to tango and an equal number to sustain a long-term abusive relationship. The abuser and the abused form a bond, a dynamic, and a dependence. Expressions such as "folie a deux" and the "Stockholm Syndrome" capture facets two of a myriad of this danse macabre. It often ends fatally. It is always an excruciatingly painful affair.
Abuse is closely correlated with alcoholism, drug consumption, intimate-partner homicide, teen pregnancy, infant and child mortality, spontaneous abortion, reckless behaviours, suicide, and the onset of mental health disorders. It doesn't help that society refuses to openly and frankly tackle this pernicious phenomenon and the guilt and shame associated with it.
People overwhelmingly women remain in an abusive household for a variety of reasons: economic, parental (to protect the children), and psychological. But the objective obstacles facing the battered spouse cannot be overstated.
The abuser treats his spouse as an object, an extension of himself, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs. Thus, typically, the couple's assets are on his name from real estate to medical insurance policies. The victim has no family or friends because her abusive partner or husband frowns on her initial independence and regards it as a threat. By intimidating, cajoling, charming, and making false promises, the abuser isolates his prey from the rest of society and, thus, makes her dependence on him total. She is often also denied the option to study and acquire marketable skills or augment them.
Abandoning the abusive spouse frequently leads to a prolonged period of destitution and peregrination. Custody is usually denied to parents without a permanent address, a job, income security, and, therefore, stability. Thus, the victim stands to lose not only her mate and nest but also her off-spring. There is the added menace of violent retribution by the abuser or his proxies coupled with emphatic contrition on his part and a protracted and irresistible "charm offensive".
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Gradually, she is convinced to put up with her spouse's cruelty in order to avoid this harrowing predicament.
People remain in
abusive relationships because they lack self-confidence, their self-esteem is
shot, not least by their "loving, intimate" "partner", and
because they are unable to regulate their sense of self-worth.
There are four common fallacies:
I AM LUCKY
I am worthless, damaged goods. I am lucky to have found even my abuser. If I leave the relationship, who else would want me and where will I find another partner?
THE BEST OF ALL WORLDS
Life is harsh and it doesn't get much better than this. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but that is merely as an optical illusion. This is as good as it gets.
MY PARTNER IS NOT WORSE THAN OTHERS
Every other partner I may find will have flaws and quirks that I will have to get used to and accommodate all over again. Better stick with what I know. No one guarantees that my next partner will not be even worse than this.
Life is a serious business. It is not about the selfish pursuit of elusive "happiness". It is about meeting your obligations and getting on with it. At best one can expect companionship and mutual support in old age. Anything more than that is self-defeating and destructive wishful thinking.
But there is more to an abusive dyad than mere pecuniary convenience. The abuser stealthily but unfailingly exploits the vulnerabilities in the psychological makeup of his victim. The abused party may have low self-esteem, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive defence mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability, a history of failure, or a tendency to blame herself, or to feel inadequate (autoplastic neurosis). She may have come from an abusive family or environment which conditioned her to expect abuse as inevitable and "normal". In extreme and rare cases the victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment and pain.
The abuser may be functional or dysfunctional, a pillar of society, or a peripatetic con-artist, rich or poor, young or old. There is no universally-applicable profile of the "typical abuser". Yet, abusive behaviour often indicates serious underlying psychopathologies. Absent empathy, the abuser perceives the abused spouse only dimly and partly, as one would an inanimate source of frustration. The abuser, in his mind, interacts only with himself and with "introjects" representations of outside objects, such as his victims.
This crucial insight is the subject of the next article.
"Trauma Bonding" and the Psychology of Torture
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