Vallarta Tribune, Jul 9-15, 2006, issue # 483, pg 19

We recently wrote an article on domestic violence describing the types of abuse, the perpetrator’s need for power and control, and the reasons someone stays in an abusive relationship. The article was published in the English Tribune on June 11 and the Spanish was published in “La Tribuna” on June 8. Since then, we received many calls and we realized the need to respond to the friends and family who are worried about a victim and don’t know how to help or don’t understand the dynamics and reasons why she stays in a bad relationship or why she acts the way she does.NOTE: we will refer to the victims as female even though we recognize that men can also be victims.

Socially Restricted

You may know someone who can never seem to get together with her friends or who actually admits her husband/boyfriend doesn’t want to her to go out. Her time is completely controlled to the point where she can not make appointments, meet with friends, go shopping, take a class, or get a job. You may feel very frustrated after inviting her so many times to go somewhere or do something and she repeatedly turns you down. You may be tired of her complaining that she never has any money and never does anything about it, like get a job.

Financial dependence

Maybe this person you know never seems to have any extra spending money or isn’t allowed to work. Financial control by the husband/perpetrator leads to financial dependence of the victim. She is usually put on a strict allowance, every penny spent is questioned and in more extreme cases must show proof/receipts of how it was spent and give back the change. She may have a little more freedom to spend and even has a credit card, but then her purchases are reviewed, questioned, and criticized, which may result in punishment type or consequences like further restricting her money or taking the credit card away.

Financially trapped

This dependence leaves her feeling trapped and desperate and powerless to change the way things are. This is particularly true if she has not worked in many years or ever, or does not have specific job skills, or lacks enough education or experience to earn enough money to live on her own and/or support her children.

This is especially common in cultures that do not promote women’s independence or the need to be self-sufficient through formal higher education and work outside of the home. Often times they move directly from their parent’s home to the one with their husband, never experiencing life on their own, never developing skills, and therefore void of the confidence to manage independently.

The Psycholgical Hold

Mental control or the “psychological hold” that the abuser/perpetrator successfully gains over his victim is very powerful and often so subtle that neither she nor anyone else realizes what happened. Basically, the victim begins to believe the things he tells her. In other words she becomes “brain-washed”.  She believes that he’s right and she’s wrong, that there must be something wrong with her for thinking and feeling the way she does. Eventually he convinces her of his way of thinking and point of view and she adapts by behaving and functioning completely under his control. It is now “normal”. She believes she can not survive without him nor can she imagine her life without him. Psychologically, she has “internalized” him.

How Can You Help

As incredible as all of this may seem and as frustrating as it is to deal with her, whether she is your daughter, sister, or friend, what she is experiencing is real. Depending on the degree of abuse and how much or little she realizes or believes that she is in fact a victim and in a very unhealthy damaging relationship, will determine her desire and ability to leave the relationship. So, what can family and friends do?

1)    Listen and provide emotional support

2)    Validate their experience and pain instead of criticizing it

3)    Reinforce that there are choices and that they do not need to remain trapped.

4)    Be careful not to give advice because abuse and domestic violence are delicate matters. Some advice could be counterproductive causing her to distance herself because she does not feel understood or supported.

5)    Encourage them to get professional therapeutic help

The following symptoms are common among victims in controlling and abusive relationships: a) difficulty sleeping, b) nightmares, c) paranoia, d) flat affect (not emotionally expressive), e) super guarded/reserved/closed, f) unable to enjoy things. If you notice any of these she may be exhibiting signs of depression and/or trauma.

Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW, CADC