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Darlene Lancer, JD, MFTDarlene Lancer, JD, MFT
A blog about Women’s Issues, Self-esteem and Relationships

The Truth about Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Mar 12th 2012

Over three million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year, and that includes men as well as women. One-fourth of U.S. women and one-third of women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime.

violence wordsWhat isn't talked about, but is serious, is emotional abuse that ranges from withholding to controlling, and includes manipulation and verbal abuse. The number of people affected is astronomical. Emotional abuse is insidious and slowly eats away at your confidence and self-esteem. The effects are long term, and can take even longer to recover from than blatant violence.

Facts about Abuse

Here are some facts you should know:

  • Usually, abuse takes place behind closed doors.
  • Abusers deny their actions.
  • Abusers blame the victim.
  • Violence is preceded by verbal abuse.
  • It damages your self-esteem.

The Typical Abuser

You may not realize that abusers feel powerless. They don't act insecure to cover up the truth. In fact, they're often bullies. The one thing they all have in common is that their motive is to have power over you. This is because they don't feel that they have personal power, regardless of worldly success. To them, communication is a win-lose game. Their personality profile is a person who is:

  • Insecure
  • Needy
  • Distrustful
  • Often jealous
  • Needs to be in control
  • Blames their behavior on others

How to Respond

Most victims of abuse respond in a rational way. They explain themselves and believe that the abuser is interested in what they have to say. This lets abusers know that they've won and have control over you. You must design your own strategy and not react, thereby not rewarding the abusive behavior. You can do this by not engaging or by responding in an unpredictable way, such as with humor, which throws an abuser off-guard. You can also ask for the behavior you want, set limits, and confront the abuse. Most victims do the opposite and placate and appease an abuser to deescalate tension and risk of harm. It never works. Abuse continues.

The Truth about Violence

If you've experienced violence - and that includes shoving, hair pulling, destroying property - then it's essential to get support and learn how to set limits. Abusers deny or minimize the problem - as do victims - and may claim that they can't control themselves. This is untrue. Notice that they aren't abusive with their boss - when there are consequences to their behavior. They also blame their actions on you, implying that you need to change. You're never responsible for someone else's behavior.

You may recognize the Cycle of Violence:

1. A build-up of tension
2. The attack
3. Remorse and apology
4. A honeymoon period of loving gestures

Sometimes, the threat of violence is all the abuser needs to control you, like a terrorist. The best time to abort violence is in the build-up stage. Some victims will even provoke an attack to get it over with, because their anxiety and fear is so great. After an attack, abusers say how sorry they are and promise never to repeat it, but without counseling to treat the underlying causes of the abuse repeat itself. DO NOT believe their promises.

Why Victims Stay

This is the reason why victims stay in a relationship. Statistics show that victims of violence endure up to seven attacks. The dominant reason is that they hope the abuser will change. After all, there are good times in between episodes of abuse. There are reasons why the person loves or did love the abuser, and often children are involved.

Abusers can have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. Dr. Jekyll is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love Dr. Jekyll and make excuses for Mr. Hyde. You don't see that the whole person is the problem. If you've had a painful relationship with a parent growing up, you can confuse love and pain. Victims also stay for the following reasons:

  • Financial
  • Nowhere to live
  • No outside emotional support
  • Childcare problems
  • They take the blame for the abuse
  • They deny, minimize, and rationalize the abuse
  • They love the abuser

If you're a victim of abuse, you feel ashamed. You've been humiliated by the abuser and your self-esteem and confidence have been undermined. You hide the abuse from people close to you, often to protect the reputation of the abuser and because of your own shame. An abuser uses tactics to isolate you from friends and loved ones by criticizing them and making remarks designed to force you take sides. You're either for them or against them. If the abuser feels slighted, then you have to take his or her side, or you're befriending the enemy. This is designed to increase control over you and your dependence upon him or her.

Steps You Can Take

It's essential to build outside resources and talk about what's going on in your relationship. A professional is the best person, because you can build your self-esteem and learn how to help yourself without feeling judged or rushed into taking action. If you can't afford private individual therapy, find a low-fee clinical in your city, learn all you can from books and online resources, join online forums, and find a support group at a local battered women's shelter. Do this even if it means keeping a secret. You're entitled to your privacy.

To avoid getting involved with an abuser when you're dating, beware of someone who:

  • Insists on having his or her way and won't compromise
  • Has outbursts of anger
  • Is rude to others
  • Criticizes you or your family
  • Is jealous or possessive
  • Is paranoid

Pay attention to these signs despite the fact that the person is pursuing you and expressing love and affection. An abuser won't risk becoming abusive until he or she is confident that you won't leave. First, he or she will try to win you over and isolate you from friends and family. Often, violence doesn't start until after marriage or the birth of a child, when you're less likely to leave.

If you're threatened by abuse, call 1-800-799-SAFE. Some steps you can take to prepare for an emergency are:

  • Open bank and credit cards in your own name.
  • Have a safe place to go at a friend or relative.
  • Have a bag packed at that place with necessary valuables and important legal papers, passport, bank information, credit cards, phone book, and money. Also pack clothes for your children and some toys.
  • Alert neighbors to call the police if they hear loud suspect danger.
  • Make extra car and house keys. Hide a car key outside so you can get away.

Remember, by not confronting abuse to avoid you risk losing someone's love, you risk losing your Self.


Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 27 years and coaches internationally and is the author of two books: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies. Her ebooks include: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps and Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections. Ms. Lancer is a sought after speaker at national conferences, on radio, and to professional groups and institutions. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, and, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on, Twitter @darlenelancer, and Facebook.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

I feel Sad for you - someone who cares - May 1st 2013

You remind me of my current husband, who I treat like the prince he is. His ex-wife verbally, emotionally and physically abused him too. He thought he couldn't leave, but after 9 years, and leaving at least 6 times a year, then coming back to her, he left. 2 months after he left her, he met me. I had been an abuse victim too, but left and went through a year of counseling to never choose poorly again. I convinced him that he does not have to go back and everything will be ok.

Fast forward 2 years, and he has never been happier. He shudders and sometimes has mini-panic attacks when he has to pick up his boys for visitation. She uses the kids as pawns and has turned to abuse them. We are in the process of getting custody.

I also have a daughter who he treats well, and she likes him. He is a great dad and husband, and I let him know it all the time. We do lots of fun things together, and he has reconnected with many old friends and lost family members. His boys are going through hell, but at least they get a normal life half the time, which is better than if he had stayed with her. They will definitely need counseling, but would have needed it anyway because their mom is simply psycho.

I tell you all this, so you can get the courage to leave her. It won't be easy, but there is a woman out there who will love you right. Don't you think it would be better for your daughter to have at least half a normal life? Her dad sleeping in her old bed in a corner is not normal. Nor is mommy yelling and causind drama all the time. This can scar your daughter for life.

It won't be easy, but you should leave. Also, get a good attorney so you aren't stuck with alimony or losing your possessions. You can even fight for custody of the dog, or just take the dog and your daughter when you leave, because you are the father and have just as much a right to take her as the mother does.

Stop believing your wh*re wife's lies. You are worth more because you are a child of God.

NOT Gender Specific - - Mar 14th 2012

I got to this page from a suicide prevention link and realized why I hate you.  AND I HATE YOU!!! It's because I am a successfull (supposedly) affluent male who is being abused and controlled by my wife of 20 years.  It's not physical violence, but if I leave I lose my financial independence courtesy of our vicious, evil Family Law, access to my daughter, my dogs, my stuff.  ONLY women get abused or taken advantage of in YOUR world?  You are rotten horrible people.  All of that stuff you said applies to me, but you think I can find any help? Or even anyone that care?.  Sometime I think my wife is trying to provoke me into hitting her so she can get me put in jail.  I have tried to leave and she blocks the door so I can't get out and then tells me not to dare touch her.

She has eliminated all my friends. She belittles me all the time. She cut me off from sex years ago.  I sleep in my daughter's discarded bed in a corner of the smallest room.  And it is nearly impossible for me to leave because of your stupid laws and the fact that you dont value decent honest people.  Decent men in our society are just victims.

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