Domestic Violence - The Economy Made Me Do It?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Domestic Violence Awareness
The Economy Made Me Do It?!
By Pamela Brewer, MSW, Ph.D., LCSW-C

During times of apparent external stress, such as a perceived economic downturn, victims of domestic violence often find themselves at even greater risk.   During these times it is easy for the abused person to talk herself*  into believing that the condescending yell, the push, the shove, the threat "couldn't be helped."  It is easy to hold on to the hope that as soon as conditions change, the abusive behavior will change.  It does not.  It is not the external event [the economy, the war, the weather, the neighbors, etc.] that creates the behavior and it will not be the external event that will change the behavior.

When the victim perceives finances to be at issue - which is often the case, the stakes get just a bit higher and a bit more complicated.

The abused person often believes, and for good reason, that once the abuser leaves the household - financial support from the abuser will be non-existent. The abused person who has little independent financial stability as well as the abused person who has independent financial means but has found herself without the flexibility of access that her salary would suggest are both at risk. Somehow the abuser has substantially limited her access to one of the things that would allow her freedom and independence.   Either she has been put on a strict budget by her abuser, or a strict accounting system with checks and balances devised by the abuser to limit her access to her own funds.  Her access to friends/family/transportation has been severely curtailed.  Perhaps most importantly, her ability to believe in herself, her options, her fortitude, her ability to survive without her abusive partner - has been all but destroyed.

While the abuser does not need a real world reason to direct abusive anger towards a victim, the abuser can become more of a powder keg when his frustration tolerance skills, slim to begin with, are further challenged by real world events.  A loss of a job.  A reduction in income.  An increase in prices - whether or not it results in decreased financial maneuverability - reminds the abuser that there are some things clearly outside of his control.  For the person who abuses, the experiences of being out of control - regardless the "cause" is a "reason" for him to lash out, to harm sometimes with permanent consequences.

Given the impact of the economy, many households in which the abuser was the sole wage earner, have now become or will become a two wage-earner household.  This may create more danger for the abused.  If her income is more than his, if she gets a promotion, if she has to work late, these can all be "reasons" for her to be in more jeopardy.  The list of "reasons" the abuser uses are endless.  And meaningless.  The bottom line is his inability to treat himself or his partner in a respectful, non-abusive fashion.  The bottom line is his need -  driven by his inadequately  formed self concept - to hurt, to harm, perhaps to kill. Unless the abuser has come to a place in his own life in which he truly wants to stop his violent behavior, he will continue.  And even though the abused person may initially be in more jeopardy when she first leaves, leaving may ultimately be her only path to true emotional/social/psychological/financial/ survival.

Indicators Of Domestic Violence:

For a long while, those who were on the outside looking in, as well as the abused person, believed that abuse was only abuse when there was "unprovoked" physical violence.

In truth, domestic violence can show up in a relationship in many different ways - always with the intent of bending the abused person to the will of the abuser.

The abuser will typically engage in a cycle of behavior that keeps the abused person feeling out of sorts, guilt ridden, uncertain, "at fault" and afraid.  And then will come the "honeymoon period" in which the abuser is seemingly remorseful, attentive, even kind. For the abused person, this can be a very seductive, even hopeful, moment in the relationship. The abused person does not want her life, their lives, to be filled with so much uncertainty, pain and despair.  For a moment, she is able to believe in the possibility of a better future. 

Interestingly, while the cycle of abuse results in the abused person feeling powerless - she is also taught to believe she is powerful enough to change his behavior if she will change her behavior.

The cycle includes:

Disrespect - The abuser lets you know, in a myriad of ways, that you do not matter.  What you deem important - is not.  What you worry about - does not matter.  Your right to be treated by your partner as a respected adult - does not exist.

Physical Assault - Punching (in the stomach during pregnancy is not uncommon), pushing, choking, burning, disfiguring, etc.

Stalking:  Following you physically, on line, via telephone - maintaining unwanted contact with you such that you are feeling threatened, and unsafe.  The felt threats can be direct verbal promises, indirect (silently following you) listening in on your conversations, and generally finding ways to let you know that you do not have privacy or safety anywhere.

Verbal Abuse: Name calling, cursing, yelling/screaming, direct and indirect threats (threats to harm the abused, family members, pets, prized possessions, etc.) This can be done in private and/or in front of others including the children and other relatives and friends.

Sexual Violence: Forced sex. Yes, even in a marriage a woman has the right to say "no" and expect her "no" to be honored.

Isolation: Limiting access to friends, family and options outside the home and outside his control.  For example, the abused person may be able to use the car to go to work, but will have a time limit regarding arriving at home and will be punished in some way if the home arrival is as little as a minute or two late.

Removal of Choice: Whether this is economic in that the abused person does not have ready access to his/her funds, or is denied information about household finances, or is "not allowed" to ask questions or have any input into financial decisions, choice is removed from the abused.  The abuser is able to frighten the abused person into making decisions, agreeing to do things that she/he does not wish to do.  Another tactic is imposing his will on her in a way that forces her to make social/professional/financial decisions to which she may object.  By punishing if an attempt is made to have input or actually effect a change, the abuser makes it clear that her choice power is non-existent. The abuser will take every opportunity to tell you and those you care about that you are wrong, stupid and deserving of disrespect. Over time, an effective abuser can convince the abused person of this as well.  The abuser uses lies/half-truths etc. To keep the abused under control.

There is another bottom line, however.  And it is a hopeful one.  There are people who are available to help.  There are people who want to help.

Yesterday does not have to predict tomorrow.

*References will be to women as women represent the majority of domestic violence victims.  However, men are also abused, and often have great difficulty accessing services due to availability or their reluctance to report their own victimization.