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3-Dynamics of Abuse


Domestic Violence is sometimes called "wife beating," "spouse abuse," "conjugal violence," or "marital aggression”.  Whatever the phrase used, these terms do not do justice to the gravity or complexity of the problems that are encompassed by these rather tame phrases.  However, the definition and the understanding of what domestic violence means has evolved over the years.  The 1977 Oregon Family Abuse Prevention Act defines domestic violence as:  

Family abuse occurs when a family member purposely causes or tries to cause bodily injury to another family or household member, purposely places such person in fear of "imminent serious bodily injury," or forces that person to engage in involuntary sexual relations.  ORS 107.705


By 1990s, the understanding of domestic violence has evolved into including more than just physical injury.  This is reflected in the definition of domestic violence given in a 1994 report Harassment to Homicide, published by Multnomah County:  

Domestic violence is emotional, physical, psychological or sexual  abuse or the threat thereof, perpetrated against a person by that  person's spouse, former spouse, partner, former partner, or adult  relative, or by the other parent of a minor child.  Abuse may include threats, harm, injury, harassment, control, terrorism, or damage to living beings or property. Domestic violence can be a single incident,   ranging in intensity from harassment to homicide. Most often it is a systematic pattern of abuse that escalates over time in frequency and severity.  It occurs between partners of the same or different sex.   


Domestic violence is a pattern of intentional coercive behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.  DV can include the use of various tactics including verbal, emotional, sexual, economic, physical, and spiritual.  Without intervention domestic violence gets worse. 

·       DV is violence that occurs between people in intimate relationships.  90% of DV is perpetrated by men against women.

·       Abuse is the use of physical, emotional, sexual or economic coercion or all four to control and maintain power over another. Though less visible, emotional abuse may have longer lasting effects than physical abuse.

·       Battering is a pattern of repeated physical, sexual, emotional and/or economic abuse by intimate partners or ex-partners. It is a process of deliberate intimidation intended to coerce the victim to do the will of the victimizer.



Battering is a learned behavior.  Statistics show that 30% of convicted batterers grew up in households where they witnessed their mother being abused by a male partner.  Not only are young men learning tactics, they are learning that they can get away with it.  They see that the abuser is not arrested, there is no intervention, and that there are few consequences for the behavior.  Child abuse and domestic violence are very highly correlated.  These young men are not only learning to be abusive, they are very likely being abused themselves – resulting in many of the traits we see in batterers:  low self-esteem, insecurity, manipulative behavior, etc.


Batterers make the rules and define the roles in their relationships.  They often feel as if different people in their lives, and society have wronged them as well.  They tend to blame others for their problems and manipulate not only the people in their intimate relationships but friends, colleagues, and others that they come in contact with.  Batterers often see themselves as “above the rules”, untouchable, and omnipotent.


Many of us who witness domestic violence or know someone who is being abused do not know how to respond, so we turn away from it as if nothing unusual is going on.  Lack of understanding, fear of our own safety, fear of embarrassing the victim, and fear of saying the wrong thing lead us to be silent rather than vocal in opposing the violence.  To a batterer, this is empowering.  We are sending the message that “we see this, and we will not stop it”.  Community of peers extends to police officers, court systems, judges, parole officers – individuals as well as institutions.  The behavior will end when batterers are held accountable from all segments of society.


We live in a male dominated society with a history that not only encouraged men to treat their wives/daughters as property, but laws have also enforced it.  Countless laws, cultural mores have perpetuated the oppression of women.  Gender socialization from a very young age also helps perpetuate this though the generations.  This is continued through adulthood as we continue to receive messages affirming strict gender roles through the media, peers and family, etc.


There are many myths about domestic violence that perpetuate a skewed view about the causes and nature of domestic violence.  To understand domestic violence, it is crucial to dispel these myths that perpetuate stereotypes about the nature of DV and its survivors. 

Myth 1.  Drugs and alcohol cause domestic violence: 

D&A can increase the danger level of incidents and are found to be present in at least fifty percent of domestic violence cases.  However, many alcoholics/users do not batter, and there are many batterers who do not use D&A.  In cases where a user batters, the most telling sign is who, how and where he/she chooses to batter: the intimate partner and most often behind closed doors. Assailants use drinking as one of many excuses for violence, and as a way of putting responsibility for their violence elsewhere.  There is a 50%, or higher, correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence, but no causal relationship.  Stopping the assailant’s drinking will not end the violence.  Batterers who use have two separate issues to confront if they want help – their addiction, and their abusive behavior.  Both problems must be addressed independently.

Myth 2.  Anger causes domestic violence:

Batterers are no angrier than the rest of us.  Anger is used as an excuse and justification for the abusive behavior.  All of us experience anger that does not mean that we take it out on those around us.

Myth 3.  Stress causes domestic violence:

All of us experience stress in some form or another and do not abuse the ones we love to deal with it.  Batterers who are stressed at work do not attack their co-workers or bosses.  Also, batterers will create “stress” in order to justify the abuse.  For example, many victims of domestic violence have “rules” they have to follow within the relationship, rules, which are created and enforced by the batterer.

Myth 5.  Batterers “lose of control” of their temper:

Battering is not about loss of control, but rather about the exertion of power and control of one partner over the other. Batterers are usually not violent toward anyone but their partners or their children.  Batterers make sure that others are unaware of the abuse. They abuse behind closed doors, and make sure no one talks about it. If physical assaults are going on, batterers often inflict injuries on parts of the body that are hidden from view by clothing, or they will pull hair, or choke – injuries that rarely leave obvious marks. 60% of battered women are beaten while they are pregnant, often in the stomach.  Many assaults last for hours.  Many are planned.

Myth 6.  Women provoke battering:

Victim’s behavior does not cause domestic violence. Only the perpetrator has the ability to stop the violence.  Battering is a behavioral choice.  Many women who are battered make numerous attempts to change their behavior in the hope that this will stop the abuse.  This does not work.  Changes in family members’ behavior will not cause or influence the batterer to be non-violent.

Myth 7.  Domestic Violence is about mutual abuse:

Domestic violence is about one partner exerting power and control over another through abusive tactics.  While a victim may get angry, yell and even fight back physically, it is not about taking power and control away from someone else but trying to maintain your own feeling of personal power and control and lack of it within that relationship.

Myth 8.   Battering is rare:

Battering is extremely common.  The FBI estimates over 2 million women are battered annually in the US.

Myth 9.  DV occurs only in poor, poorly educated, minority or “dysfunctional” families:  

DV crosses all demographic – racial, ethnic, economic, class, sexual orientation, occupation, educational, etc. – barriers.  There are doctors, ministers, psychologists, police, attorneys, judges and other professionals who beat their partners.  Battering happens in rich, white, educated and respectable families. 

Myth 10.  If a battered woman really wanted to leave, she could just pack up and go somewhere else: 

Battered women considering leaving their abusers are faced with the very real possibility of severe physical injury or even death.  Batterers isolate their partners and deprive them of jobs, of opportunities for acquiring education and job skills.  This combined with unequal opportunities for women in general and the traditional lack of support from institutions such as the police, church, and the legal system make leaving extremely difficult for women.

Myth 11.   Men who batter are often good fathers, and should have joint custody of their children:

At least 70% of men who batter their wives, sexually or physically abuse their children.  All children suffer from witnessing their father assault their mother.

Myth 12.  Domestic Violence is not a gender specific crime: 

DV is largely a gendered crime.  95% of all reported DV incidents are perpetrated by men on women.  To end domestic violence, we must scrutinize why it is usually men who are violent in partnerships.  We must examine the historic and legal permission that men have been given to be violent in general, and to be violent towards their wives and children specifically.  

Myth 13. Battered women always stay in violent relationships:  

Many battered women leave their abusers permanently and, despite many obstacles, succeed in building a life free of violence.  Perpetrators may dramatically escalate violence when a woman leaves or tries to, because it is necessary to reassert control and ownership.  Battered women are often very active and far from helpless on their own behalf.  Their efforts often fail because the batterer continues to assault, and institutions refuse to offer protection.  However, many people blame the victim of battering for the crime, some without realizing it.  They expect the woman to stop the violence, and repeatedly analyze her motivations for not leaving, rather than scrutinizing why the batterer keeps beating her, and why the community allows it.

Myth 14. Domestic Violence is usually a one-time event, an isolated incident:  

Battering is a pattern, a reign of force and terror.  Once violence begins in a relationship, it gets worse and more frequent over a period of time.  Battering is not just one physical attack.  It is a number of tactics (intimidation, threats, economic deprivation, psychological and sexual abuse) used repeatedly.  Physical violence is one of those tactics.  Experts have compared methods used by batterers to those used by terrorists to brainwash hostages.  This is called the “Stockholm Syndrome”.

From the Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Line Manual. 


Abusive people typically think they are unique, so different from other people that they don’t have to follow the same rules everyone else does.  But rather than being unique, abusers have a lot in common with one another, including their patterns of thinking and behaving.  The following are some of their characteristics.

Excuse making - Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, the abuser tries to justify his/her behavior with excuses.  For example: “My parents never loved me” or “My parents beat me” or “I had a bad day, and when I walked in and saw this mess, I lost my temper” or “I couldn’t let her/him talk to me that way.  There was nothing else I could do.”

Blaming – The abuser shifts responsibility for his/her actions away from themselves and onto others, a shift that allows anger with the other person for “causing” the behavior.  For example: “If you would stay out of it while I am disciplining the kids, I could do it without hitting them.”

Redefining – In a variation on the tactic of blaming, the abuser redefines the situation so that the problem lies not with him/her but with others or with the outside world in general.  For example, in response to not coming home for dinner at 6 p.m. as promised but coming home at 4 a.m.,  saying, “You’re an awful cook anyway.  Why should I come home to eat that stuff?  I bet the kids wouldn’t even eat it.”

Success fantasies – Abusers believe they would be rich, famous, or extremely successful in some other terms if only other people weren’t holding them back.  Blocking the way justifies getting back at them, including through abuse.  Abusers also put other people down verbally as a way of building themselves up.

Lying – The abuser controls the situation by lying to control the information available.  The abuser also may use lying to keep other people, including the victim, off-balance psychologically.  For example, trying to appear truthful when lying, trying to look deceitful even when telling the truth, and sometimes revealing an obvious lie.

Assuming – Abusive people often assume they know what others are thinking or feeling.  Their assumption allows them to justify their behavior because they “know” what the other person would think or do in a given situation.  For example, “I knew you’d be mad because I went out for a beer after work, so I figured I might as well stay out and enjoy myself.”

Above the rules – Abusers may believe they are better than other people and therefore do not have to follow the rules ordinary people do.  This attitude is typical of convicted criminals also.  An abuser shows above-the-rules thinking when saying, for example, “I don’t need counseling.  Nobody knows as much about my life as I do.  I can handle my life without help from anybody.”

Making fools of others – The abuser combines tactics to manipulate others.  The tactics include lying, upsetting the other person just to watch his/her reactions, and provoking a fight between or among others.  They may try to charm the people they want to manipulate, pretending interest in or concern for that person in order to get on their good side.

Fragmentation – The abuser usually keeps abusive behavior separate from the rest of his/her life.  The separation is physical and psychological.  They will beat up family members but not people outside the home.  The abuser may attend church Sunday morning and beat their partner Sunday night. They see no inconsistency in this behavior and feel justified.

Minimizing – The abuser ducks responsibility for their actions by trying to make them seem less important than they are.  For example, “I didn’t hit you that hard” or “I only hit one of the kids.  I could have done them all.”

Vagueness – Thinking and speaking vaguely lets the abuser avoid responsibility.  For example, “I’m late because I had some things to do on the way home.”

Anger – Abusive people are not actually angrier than other people are; however, they deliberately use their anger to control situations and people.  For example, “Shut up or I’ll break your neck.”

Power plays – The abuser uses various tactics to overcome resistance to their bullying.  For instance, s/he walks out of the room when the victim is talking, out-shouts the victim, organizes other family members or associates to “gang-up” on the victim in shunning or criticizing them.

Playing victim – Occasionally the abuser will pretend to be helpless or act persecuted in order to manipulate others into helping them.  The abuser thinks that if they don’t get what they want, they are the victim, and uses the disguise of victim to strike back at or make fools of others.

Drama and excitement – Abusive people often have trouble in experiencing close, satisfying relationships with other people.  They substitute drama and excitement for closeness.  Abusive people find it exciting to watch others get angry, get into fights, or be in a state of general uproar.

Closed channel – The abusive person does not tell much about themselves and their real feelings.  They are not open to new information about themselves either, such as insights into how others see them.  They can be secretive, close-minded, and self-righteous.  They believe they are right in every situation.

Ownership – The abuser typically is very possessive.  They believe that anything they want should be theirs and they can do as they please.  This attitude applies to people as well as to possessions.  It justifies controlling others’ behavior, physically hurting them, and taking things that belong to them.

Self-glorification – The abuser usually thinks of themselves as strong, superior, independent, and self-sufficient.  When anyone says or does anything that doesn’t fit their glorified self-image, the abuser takes it as an insult.