Domestic Violence: So, You Know Someone In A Violent Or Controlling Relationship...

October 26, 2011


One of the most difficult places to be is outside looking into a violent or controlling relationship. One sees the pain in the victim's eyes and sometimes written all over their body. Think about what the child has gone through (which we'll talk about in more detail in my next blog post). And yes, think about the perpetrator. I couldn't have done my job for as long as I have and not believe that people are deep down (sometimes way deep down) good. I imagine when one lashes out, a part of him or her feels bad for hurting the person he or she loves. Regardless, it's a bad situation.

A physician at Texas Children's with whom I've had the good fortune to work is Dr. Angelo Giardino. A very important contribution he has made to my ongoing education is seeing battering relationships as a change process. What I mean by that is

that when someone is experiencing anything, there is a calculation going on based upon their subjective reality and assessment of facts. When the person gets to the tipping point, they begin to make a change. I have come to see the human condition as one in constant dynamic flux, ever changing.

Now that I've gone all theoretical, let me bring this back to what this means to a person looking into the battering relationship. You cannot save him or her. They can choose to help themselves, and you can help. The main thing is to be supportive. Listen. Hear what they are telling you. Avoid making harsh judgments on the perpetrator, and focus on the behaviors. Realize they are going through a process.

The Transtheoretical Model by Prochaska proposes that change occurs by means of 5 steps, greatly simplified:

  1. One denies that there is a problem and makes excuses.
  2. One begins to acknowledge problems and weigh consequences, but may minimize them.
  3. One begins to plan for action, and makes small steps toward leaving.
  4. One executes a plan, and leaves (the most dangerous time for him or her).
  5. One works to continually gain independence and stay out of abusive relationships.

The thing to remember is that this is non-linear — people slide back. That is not failure, but rather part of the process. The worst thing that one can do is condemn, that is after all exactly what the perpetrator would do. Be a helping friend. If you need help in this, reach out to the agencies I listed in my previous entry. They can help. And, if you are one of these friends out there, thank you.

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