We were recently reminded of an epidemic that is filled with shame and much pain and that is the Domestic Violence and abusive relationships. The Media focuses on what they see on the surface for a few days and then it goes away. However, there are deeper and more serious realities that each spouse have experienced in their lifetime, and as a result they continue in their abusive patterns. Let me explain more clearly.
The domestic violence is not rare as we might think or hope!! It does not only apply to the sports’ athletes. As a Marriage Family Therapist, I see this in various venues and professional fields including high-level executives and any other professional low or high titles or statuses you can imagine. It’s not about a specific profession, not exclusive to a gender, it’s not about poverty or wealth or anything else. Bottom line it’s about one thing! It’s about that individual’s early personal life experiences and training. I will expand and give you specific examples about this later in this article.
Abuse and domestic violence is highly complex and let me take you to the true roots of this problem. In this article, I want to introduce you to the husband and the wife who have a particular bonding and relationship style where they each learned many years ago in their early life experiences. As a result of those first experiences the individual had a painful training which now manifests itself in a controlling, reactive and abusive behavior by one, and the other functions as a victim because she or he learned to respond in a helpless, powerless ways minimizing the reality of the abusive behavior. All of this is familiar to them from a long time ago.
This is a serious and a deep wound in each individual which requires serious attention, treatment and recovery.
Let me be more clear and specific about what I am referring to. Many times when I am in the public places shopping or running errands – places like grocery stores, department stores or even on the street, I see a parent with a pre-schooler or a child in their early years of life. The child is whining, feeling tired, crying and complaining that he is hungry or wants to go the bathroom – which is a basic need! Then I hear the parent’s reaction to the child’s need is something like this – the mother screams and yells telling the child to leave her alone, or she might threaten him with a list of punishments if he does not stop whining, and finally tells the child to shut up!!!
Are you getting the picture? Sometimes there are even more painful words in a disgusting tone delivered to the child. Then the child responds by yelling back the same mean-words he heard his mother deliver to him with the same kind of anger and the child talks back to her saying “I hate you”. So imagine, this is a public place, if this was a parent-and-child’s public behavior, can you imagine what must be going on at home behind the closed doors – which trembles and saddens my heart.
No, this is not an article about parenting but what we experienced in relationship with our caretakers is connected to the DV. I am sharing this with you, because I want to invite you to think about a few important insights and possible solutions that could help the adults stop the bleeding and the wounding in their abusive relationships.
Let me spell it out. We all form a particular type of attachment. Attachment is a process in which we learn how to bond with our caretakers in our upbringing. These attachment styles are our detailed real experiences with parents who modeled and trained us how to relate and how to connect with another human being. We learned how our needs could be met, or possibly our needs were never met, and then, we learned ways of surviving and coping in those relationships which injuries occur such as the earlier scenario I shared with you. It is because of these primary relationships we continue to repeat those dysfunctional and painful patterns in intimate relationships. The early life experiences have left long-terms impacts and footprints in our hearts, minds and souls which are expressed and acted out in our behavior.
So speaking of the roots to this problem or any problem in the relationship would be this: the real question is: what is the core pattern of your story? If there was an ambiguity, insecurity, and inconsistency during that bonding time for those first eight to ten years or so, then the individual’s blue-map could lead to confusing, painful and chaotic relationships. Then those patterns that lead to unhealthy and painful marriages.
The spouses who are experiencing abuse and domestic violence have most probably experienced chaotic homes in their early years. They are still stuck in those patterns and have not learned how to separate from those early patterns. They have no idea how to move towards growth, healing and recovery.
We are meant to live in loving and healthy relationships. So it’s up to us to seek that in our lives and make changes. It is a difficult journey but not impossible. More importantly we are not meant to do this alone. We must seek the kind of help and a new training that will help us to make changes and recover from those old and painful patterns.
The purpose of this information and this article is not to blame the parents, rather it is about giving the reader insight into why these types of relationships and marriages exist. It is also for these adults to know that they have new and different choices to make. When the person’s connection and attachment style with their caretakers was sporadic, unavailable, and painful such as the scenario I shared in above, the individual’s deep emotional needs were not properly met. Therefore the individual is still carrying deep and painful wounds into their adult relationships when they react to their partner, and then it’s all chaos all over again. This is dangerous because their reactivity hurts others and themselves. So we call them the abuser who is a controller overpowering the other person who is a victim in a denial and feeling helpless.
The first step to their recovery is to look at the underlying feelings/emotions that they have really never addressed. The second step is to do this with some. They can not heal alone and in self-isolation. We are designed to be in relationships and it is in relationships that we also heal. So to seek the help of a seasoned therapist and a supportive small group where they can create new patterns in doing relationships with others that are healthy. In those relationships they can learn to connect with people in authentic ways. They were wounded and injured in those early relationships, and it is in the new and healthy relationships that they can recover, heal and grow.
Abusive relationships needs serious help and intervention. The injuries are also never only as a result of what went on inside their homes, sometimes it could be what may have happened outside of a home such as neighborhood that was traumatic or some other external stimuli.
When you constantly live in a difficult, painful – a war zone situation long enough, this becomes a norm and you are a survivor and you forget this is having a serious negative impact on your soul, your heart and your mind! This is why the couple lives in denial, they go in hiding, there is shame and they pretend and so they go through the cycle of violence until something happens and their behavior is exposed to others.
The controller/abuser becomes an adult and some of his thoughts are “don’t questions me”, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, “feel the shame in silence” – and controllers also have hard time with authority and act impulsive. Victims tell themselves, “this is not so bad” because growing up in chaotic homes – their realities are distorted and they minimize and they are used to feeling numb as they live in intolerable circumstances. Victims believe it’s their fault, or tell themselves anything is better than being alone, this happens to other couples – it’s not just me, or the victim might feel hopeless. The victim is used to feeling numb and stay in denial and tell themselves “I will be good”. These are only a few of the ways they talk to themselves.
It is the belief system of themselves formed and shaped from their chaotic background and painful early life experiences.
The good news is that there is hope. This all depends on not waiting any longer in these patterns, rather having the courage and taking the responsibility to get good and effective individual therapy and help for each partner. Only when it is safe enough then they can be engaged in a good couple’s therapy after showing their readiness.
As a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in Burbank, in the Los Angeles area, I also want to give you hope because I have seen those couples and marriages resurrect their marriages whether it’s a DV or extra-marital affair. It happens only when each partner makes a true commitment toward their own personal recovery, take responsibility and become vulnerable about their pain, and move toward healing from their wounding!! Then they can recover from their previous dysfunctional style.
The key to this is to accept the reality and learn how to ask for your needs in relationships and practice appropriate boundaries needed in the marriage. Many people who come from chaotic and painful backgrounds have no idea how to practice healthy boundaries in relationships and marriages.