Abusers are not ‘out of control‘ when they hurt their partners.
It’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. But there is something you can do about it.
People who are abusive only use the amount of force necessary to maintain dominance in their relationship.
When I say this to someone, I often see them pause in their reaction. Most people imagine that abusive people are out of control, or lash out when angry. And that the use of physical abuse―like hitting, slapping, punching, or forcing sex―is frequent and consistent over the length of the relationship. From that perspective, the idea that they “only use the amount of force necessary” doesn’t make sense.
But survivors tell me that their partners are often manipulative and violent in ways which do not include physical violence. No matter how an abuser’s behavior looks to an outsider, their tactics are deliberate. Like embarrassing a partner at a party or undermining their participation in religious activities. Or sabotaging a survivor’s connection with their child. Taking a child and disappearing for a couple of days is an effective way exert control over a partner. Also charming other people to get them on the abuser’s side, like the abusive partner I heard of who gratefully and coolly greeted law enforcement with “oh, I see you’re here to help me with my wife. She’s disoriented because she’s been in a car accident.”
Abuse can be pressuring a partner to have sex to prove their commitment to the relationship. Or asking a partner not to call friends or family because it interferes with their relationship―a subtle way to isolate someone. And if that doesn’t work, scaring friends or threatening a family member until the survivor returns to the relationship.
Any time we question a survivor―it doesn’t seem that bad, you say he doesn’t hit you, he doesn’t seem out of control―it gives the abusive person even more power. When we really listen to and believe a survivor’s experience, we take power away from the abuser. It’s one thing we all can do to make a difference for survivors and their children.
We bring you this post from Summer Carrick, our Crossing Borders project coordinator.
Here is the scene…
In a weird way.
In a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
Then you notice that she grows more silent, and he does all the talking. You see less of them. She seems nervous. She makes excuses for him. Her face is stressed. The energy does not feel happily in love, rather, it’s just…tense.
So, what do you do when you are sitting at dinner and he starts to belittle her?
You would think after 12 years of doing this work, I would have the answer. Instead, I fight with what I was socialized to do (nothing, none of my business) and what I want to do (support my friends to have a happy relationship).
Many research hours later, this is the best I could find:
– I talk about it when things are good and we are just talking naturally about his relationship.
– I am direct and clear about what I have seen and how it impacts ME as HIS friend.
– I’m not judging you, friend, but this is what happened and how I experienced it.
– So now that you know it’s not working for me, is it working for you?
– I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to be a friend and support you.
– Just know that I’m not willing to watch you be a bully.
If all of that is too much and I don’t know what to say, I default to the truth….I care and I am concerned.
And yes, I’ve seen my women friends using abusive behavior too. I’ve seen it in straight and queer relationships. And you know what? I’m not scared to call those women out on it. And when I do, they have always gone straight to critical reflection and apologies. So why is it that when I have tried to have this kind of conversation with men, they have become defensive or downright scary? The best I can come up with is the way we socialize men. The scary reaction may be why we avoid talking to men about their abusive behavior. And the cost of that is much too great. So, as scary as it seems to care and be concerned, we can’t afford the alternative.
-Summer Carrick, the coordinator of our Crossing Borders Project
I think we could create a lot of change by simply challenging abusive behavior when we see it. But some people get nervous, hesitant about how to confront an abuser. And for good reason. I’m not saying you should put on a superhero suit and wrestle the knife out of his hand. I’m not even talking about physical violence. We need to call people out way before things escalate to that point. I’m saying notice and comment on the creepy, possessive, controlling stuff your friend says or does: convey a sense of alarm; describe the bad/worrisome behavior; and tell the person to stop. It’s that simple.
Give one of these a try:
Dude, WTF? She’s a person, not a piece of property. Knock it off and give her some space!
Dude, WTF? She’s not screwing someone else – she’s just stuck in traffic, like she said. Sheesh, you need to knock it off!
Dude, WTF? You’re totally Facebook stalking her. Knock it off.
Dude, WTF? Just enjoy your visits with your kids and don’t worry about what she’s doing. Knock it off and move on.