Chapter 9: Extreme Caution: An Abusive Spouse
The typical reaction to learning that a friend or acquaintance is in an abusive relationship is, “Why don’t they (the victim) just leave?”
It is not generally understood by the typical friend, neighbor, cousin, sibling, parent, co-worker, etc just how difficult and complex this question is. For those on the outside looking in, who have no experience or insight into the dynamics of psychological domination, the first perplexing question is “Why do they stay?” Or, in the context of this book’s theme, “What keeps them from Cutting Away?” In the latter part of this chapter I want to talk about an even more important question: “How did this start?”
Three out of the “Fatal Five” always play a role in a process that results, ultimately, in damage to the victim’s sense of self and ability to connect with others. They no longer feel they can trust themselves, their perceptions of the world, or even God. Their self-esteem has been destroyed by a constant barrage of humiliation, intimidation, guilt and feelings of helplessness. It is unfair and ignorant to simply dismiss their failure to leave the relationship by saying, “If she had any brains she’d ditch that jerk.” It’s not brains that are the problem for her. Her will has been systematically subjugated and her sense of autonomy has been progressively destroyed by an abuser whose goal it has been to create a “willing victim.”
In seeking to answer the question of why an abused woman stays, the general answer is that in most cases they have been psychologically dominated by their abusers. In almost every case the dominating behaviors begin subtly and build in intensity until the result can only be understood as captivity for the victim. That’s what makes this “Cutaway” scenario quite different from the others in this book.
The “Fatal Five” as related to abusive relationships
Of the Fatal Five, three of them come into play throughout the lifecycle of an abusive relationship which develops into type of psychological domination described earlier in the chapter. In the earlier stages of development it’s easy to observe Creeping Thresholds of Discomfort as the abuser slowly turns up the intensity and frequency of the controlling behaviors and the victim adapts and accommodates. Denial is part of every phase, but becomes a more prominent factor as the relationship progresses. And, there can be no question that Fear plays a major part in keeping an abused woman with her abuser.
In 1973 Amnesty International published a document entitled “Report on Torture.” A researcher named Albert Biderman led the effort launched to discover how the Chinese were able to “brainwash” captured allied prisoners without the use of violent physical torture. The paper presented what has come to be referred to as “Biderman’s Chart of Coercion.
- Monopolization of perception
- Induced debility or exhaustion
- Demonstrations of omnipotence
- Occasional indulgences
- Degradation and humiliation
- Enforces trivial demands
It is quite easy to identify the eight elements of the process of coercion used by Chinese as the same that abusers employ to rob victimized women of their will (or ability) to resist or escape.