Defining Abuse

PARADOX 1:                                              Many people assume that a woman who is being abused could recognize it immediately.

BUT:                                                                    an abused woman may not interpret her partner’s actions as abusive for some time

This assumption could be made by equating “abuse” with physical acts like hitting.

Common assumption: anyone who is being abused would realize it immediately
Abuse is so awful and obvious, the woman would know it the second it starts. She would see herself as abused and her partner as abusive. She would know immediately to leave.

Reality: it can take years to recognize the tactics and dynamics of coercive control

Control tactics are difficult to see. In fact, many features of coercive control can look and feel like love, such as possessive jealousy, continuous need to know her whereabouts, or demanding all her time and attention for himself. A man’s use of control tactics may grow over time. Subtle change is more difficult to see than sudden change. Even after she’s aware of problems, it’s natural to explain away the hiccups. All relationships have them. Even a hit could be an isolated incident, she hopes. He apologized and only did it because he was drunk. She may defend him to others and accept his excuses, at least initially. If abuse begins on the first date, no abusive relationship would ever get off the ground. But it often takes hold after she develops an emotional commitment to the relationship or has children with him. She wants and needs to believe that everything will work out for the best.

Consequences for the woman
The consequences of this paradox include how people fail to appreciate her reality so she feels ashamed for staying so long. Family and friends may be frustrated by how she makes excuses for him or fails to label his behaviour as unacceptable. People may see her as having consciously chosen to stay in an abusive relationship, perhaps because of masochism. As with many of the paradoxes, the length of time she stayed and her silence can be mistaken for lying about the abuse when she eventually reaches out for help. They assume if the abuse really happened that she would have left sooner.

Click to access Helping_an_Abused_Woman.pdf

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