Domestic Abuse Syndrome is a recognizable cycle with common behaviors among the men who abuse.*
Women often ask themselves how they become entrapped in their sinister dance of danger and sometimes even death. They blame themselves as they become exhausted trying to resolve problems with their partners.
No one would say that women are taught to accept abuse. But as with many ideas, a failure to follow an idea to its logical conclusion hides the effects that can be drawn from it.
My experience is that cultural expectations about women’s responsibilities contain the seeds and account for the persistence of these traumas. Churches can play an important if unaware role in conveying these expectations.
Outside those churches that teach submission, women won’t hear the actual words that they should accept abuse. However a predator has tools in pervasive messages given to women throughout their lives.
The first message is that their worth is defined by their relationship with a man.
That second message is that the success of the relationship is their responsibility.
Out of these messages come two strong positive expectations that a predator can turn into weapons.
The first expectation is that a good woman helps others.
The second expectation is that a good woman forgives others.
Helping and forgiving are seen as two primary ways she ensures the success of the relationship. However there is not as strong an expectation that her partner will do the same. Instead she may feel like she has to set herself on fire to warm other people. The matrix of these messages and expectations create a prison which traps a woman who does not question their all-or-nothing standards
They lead to two strong and pervasive fears: the fear of rejection (abandonment) and the fear of failure.
Interviews with abusers reveal that they often get their way by threatening to leave the woman. A financially dependent woman is seriously jeopardized by such a threat. A mother with children is seriously threatened.
A man leaving a relationship is often seen as a failure of his partner. The idea of “she can’t keep her man” is embedded in our culture.
A woman who has been raised with a definition of her worth and success based on helping and forgiving will need help seeing the limitations of these ideas when they are presented without exceptions.
We all want to belong and be loved. Abused women have been betrayed by a partner who said they cherish them. Women who give everything emotionally to their partners are cut to the core if their devotion is not reciprocated. They feel they have failed at their major purpose in life. Some feel they have failed as a woman.
The abuser is using an emotional carrot and stick to keep her confused and trapped.
This is what can fuel the cycle of honeymoon – escalation-explosion and makes it so hard to break.
If a woman can take her hurt and sorrow and step back for just a moment, she can ask herself if these two fears are fueling her one-sided struggle to make the relationship work.
She can ask herself if it is realistic to expect anyone to always help and forgive another without any limitation.
She can ask herself if it makes sense that, in a relationship of two people, she is the only one has all the responsibility for making it work.
She can ask herself if it is true that she failed the person who she supported wholeheartedly.
Unraveling these unconscious and unreasonable expectations of women in relationships is an important awareness. Women who cannot be everything to someone have no guilt or shame to bear.
They have not failed. They have simply been operating on false ideas which a predator finds ideal to use in their oppression.
If someone who says they care for her does not honor her needs and wants, that someone is not anyone she has failed. They have failed her.
Expectations of no-limit giving or a lack of personal boundaries create pain for her, no matter who has taught this role. By stepping back, examining the pain can be a doorway to her recovering her worth.
The pain makes it clear it is not failure to not be able to do the impossible. Denying needs does not create love in a relationship.
She can permit herself to be less than everything in a relationship. Reciprocal respect and regard are the foundation of a mutually caring relationship. Abusers have proven they will not provide these while they are allowed to misuse their partner.
*In every study, men are consistently 85-90% of the abuser population.
2 thoughts on “A Toxic Matrix”
Thank you, Shirley. I still struggle with this.
Thank you. We all do.