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The 7 Easy Steps to Becoming a Victim of Domestic Violence

12 Oct

Hello. Well, here we are again, back at Domestic Violence Awareness Month. So I guess it's time to describe what it looks like. It can affect anyone. There is no one sociological profile of who this is likely to be, except that 4 times out of 5 it's a woman and she's most likely to be between the ages of 18-34.

But there is a pattern to an abusive relationship, and that's what I want to describe here, because, odd as it might sound, people don't always realize they're in one.

The sequence goes more or less like this:

First, the victim is seduced and charmed into thinking she (as I said, it's usually a she, although sometimes it's a he) is the most amazing, wonderful, special, heaven-sent person ever.

Second, the abuser confides some of the suffering he's experienced and elicits sympathy for all the demons he's had to contend with. The compelling idea, stated in so many words or not, is that she and she alone can save him.

Third, the victim becomes isolated – disconnected from family and friends and community – trapped physically, financially and emotionally. Sometimes she is physically moved away from her support network, but sometimes she's just discouraged from going out much. Her friends and family are disparaged and it just becomes easier to see them less and less. If she gets to keep her job, she knows to come home right away after work or her commitment and loyalty are questioned.

Fourth, the abuser introduces the threat of violence. This can take the form of impulsive rants and rages, putting fists through walls, standing over her with barely controlled fury, collecting and carrying weapons, kicking the cat – things like that.

Fifth, he directly attacks her. Often the violence is framed as something that she caused – she didn't do an errand or was late coming home; she was distracted and not listening to him; she brought take-out home for dinner.... After the pummeling, there is usually dramatic remorse, heartfelt apologies and possibly even a passionate make-up love-fest.

Sixth, the pattern of attack and remorse becomes habitual but escalating in frequency and intensity. In spite of severe beatings, injuries and trips to the ER, it's possible that the victim still isn't thinking of herself as a battered partner – rather, in her mind she's the strong one, the rescuer of a troubled man, and the only one who can heal him. And there's no close friend or family member around to suggest otherwise.

Seven, finally something happens that snaps her out of her trauma trance – maybe he almost kills her; or he terrorizes one of the kids; or maybe someone else's reaction from catching an inadvertent glimpse of the abuse allows her to see the whole pattern with fresh eyes.

This is when she may escape or try to. This is also the most dangerous time for her. He could kill her – 70% of murders in an abusive relationship happen after the abusee leaves or tries to. That's why the leaving has to be very tactical, carefully pre-planned and must involve heavy support and protection from others.

I'll talk more about how domestic violence victims can safely extricate themselves next week. So please stay tuned.

In the meantime, ponder this and see if any of it might apply to you, a friend, a family member, a neighbor or a co-worker.

Because it happens a lot: over 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and over 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Here's the good news: people really do extricate themselves and heal and completely rebuild their lives after living in the hell I've just described. But the first step is realizing they're one of these statistics.

So please send this on to anyone you suspect can use it. Bite the bullet, risk offending them and just do it.

All best,

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.