Domestic abusers are really addicts

By Pat Watson Wednesday September 17 2014 in Opinion
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The recent video airing of the knockout punch from professional football player Ray Rice to his then fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer, that occurred in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February of this year, has again put the disturbing matter of spousal abuse at the forefront. Back in March 2009, the public was presented with photographic evidence of Barbadian singer Rihanna’s bruised and swollen face following her being assaulted by her then boyfriend, rapper Chris Brown.


These are the public faces of spousal abuse; this type of domestic violence is sickening. We fear for the lives of those who remain with their abusers while also wondering what is inside the heart and mind of a person who would perpetrate such cruelty on the person that would otherwise be his love partner.


The broad public response in the face of this type of unhealthy relationship shows unawareness of the dynamics. The person who is the target for abuse, usually female, but sometimes male, experiences a tangle of emotions including fear of and love for the abuser. The cycle of abuse, regret, apology, set-up and abuse by the abuser is met on the other side with false thinking by the person being abused that if the abuser is shown more understanding and love he or she will change. Or, that if she should try to escape either she or those close to her will be in grave danger.


Furthermore it is not uncommon for people who grew up in homes where there had been abuse to find themselves in similar relationships.


Those who have never been in such a situation seem to think that anyone faced with this kind of violence in their home should simply leave, get out of the situation as soon as possible, or call the police. But the police are ordinarily reluctant to become involved in matters of domestic assault, which leaves victims feeling that there is no safe place to turn. Moreover, the person being abused is often closely monitored or systematically isolated by the abuser so that the victim feels there is no refuge. The person being abused is also in greatest danger when she attempts to leave the relationship.


Statistics Canada figures for 2011 show that of the more than 173,600 women aged 15 and older who reported being victims of violent crime almost 50 per cent were targeted by current or previous “intimate partners”. Younger women are at greater risk with the rate of violent crime against those aged 15 to 24 nearly double that for women 25 to 44.


The power dynamic being what it is, we tend to have more information about the group with less power than the ones with power. So trying to grasp why individuals abuse those they apparently love takes some more work.


Male culture is given licence to be in control; that includes controlling a spouse. This matter of control is at the centre of this dynamic even as it has sometimes-fatal consequences.


But the other key aspect is the mental and emotional state of the abuser. Combined with the compulsion to control the victim, the abuser is often obsessed with the victim. This obsession reflects characteristics of addiction. That means the abuser has stressors where he feels himself the victim of circumstances; let’s call these ‘triggers’. That is followed by desire for stress release, which leads to craving. Then comes a phase of planning for release, usually involving some ritual behaviour. For example, a husband may send a wife out to get groceries knowing it will take her a certain period of time. When she returns he accuses her of taking too long and of going to meet another man. The use/relief phase comes as he assaults her, whether physically, emotionally or sexually. This phase is then followed by guilt and remorse. Promises to never do it again, until the need to use builds up again. As with all addictive behaviour, this mental health problem cannot be solved by the spouse. No amount of love will stop an addict. What is required is willingness to get help followed by treatment and ongoing adherence to a program of recovery.


A note on where to get help…

To reach out for help for domestic abuse in Toronto call 416-863-0511, across Ontario call 1-866-863-0511 and for TTY call 1-866-863-7868.


Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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