A Toxic Matrix

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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.

Charting: Your First Step Out of the Maze

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Charting is a way to begin to distance yourself from the chaos or emotional suffering you are experiencing.

Battering is a cyclic behavior following a predictable path. Some women have even found it follows monthly patterns.

You begin by keeping a record for a week or a month of the episodes in the cycle of abuse: the honeymoon, the rising tension, the triggering incident and explosion, and the lull afterward.

Record what is said, your response, and his reaction. What does he gain from the behavior? What does he do? Do his actions match his stated intents or beliefs?

You will begin to see a pattern emerge. You will recognize methods that your partner uses repeatedly. By seeing the pattern, you can begin to recognize how it is consistently used to create fear, guilt and shame in you for being yourself and increase his power and control to get his way.

With your chart or calendar, keep a list of your faith beliefs that your partner uses against you to justify his mistreatment of you. You may be aware of many of these beliefs, but you will be able to put things together you did not realize before by keeping a chart. You will see that what he does actively works against your wellbeing: physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Many women are surprised at the frequency or severity of what the chart reveals. They were not aware of how very much they are being subjected to.

To keep a list of the disturbing words and behaviors that occur, use the four categories of methods in this chapter. Label what happens as an example of

A. Demoralizing and Accusing Words

B. Denying or minimizing his behavior; one-way relationship

C. Playing the Victim, Refusing responisbility

D. Threatening Behaviors

 What is his payoff for what he does?

 Power – he is able reinforce his place, his desires, right to be the final word, make the final   decision, even if it disregards your wellbeing.

 Control – he is able to prevent or make you do something damaging he wants against your will

 Intimidation – he is able to weaken your inner self, confidence, or one of the four powers of an  adult (mental, physical, emotional or spiritual ability)

 Example:

Monday:  Describe what happened.______________________________________________     

He called me a lazy slut when I didn’t vacuum the floor. An example of A: Demoralizaing and Accusing Words

Check how you were affected: ___Mental _____Emotional _____Physical______Spiritual

What you felt:    ____fear   ___x_ guilt    ___x_ shame ____anger  ___ other: shocked

What he gained:  _____power    ____x_ control  ___x__intimidation

Here is a space to begin your examples. Be sure to identify any of the 4 categories that your experience is part of. (A, B, C, and/or D above)

Monday:  Describe what happened.______________________________________________________________________An example of ____________________________     

Check how you were affected: ___Mental _____Emotional _____Physical______Spiritual

What you felt:    ____fear   ____ guilt    ____ shame ____anger  ___ other

What he gained:  _____power    _____ control

Tuesday:  __________________________________________________________________________________An example of _____________________________     

This damaged my _____mental_______emotional______physical______spiritual well-being

What you felt:  ____fear  _____guilt_____shame____ anger_____other

What he gained:  ____ power over ______control over_____

Continue this way for the week or up to a month. 

Then tally what number of time in each category you were diminished:

____A: Demoralizing and Accusing Words

____B: Denying or Minimizing His Behavior; One Way Relationship

____C: Playing the Victim, Refusing to Take Responsibility

____D: Threatening Behaviors

Now take some time to review what you have learned. Summarize it here:

Using the tool of charting strengthens you in these ways:

  1. Gives you perspective on what you are experiencing
  2. Shows you you are not crazy; reaffirming your inner knowing
  3. Provides measureable “data” that you will use later in assertive communication
  4. Begins to create a sense of control as it distances you from your abuser’s insanity and chaos

I hope readers will share what they gained from using charting as a first step on their way out of the maze of abuse in the name of God. Your words are a sacred power you can wield for your redemption.