In our last two podcasts we have looked at what constitutes intimate partner violence; the myths and facts surrounding these relationships and now today we are going to take a much closer look at the patterns that are evident in these relationships and the deep effects on those who are victims.

I have Helen Isenhour with me again today.

Helen hails from Australia and is a qualified Social Worker, Counsellor, and a trained Mediator, and has worked with many groups of people including: adults with disabilities; children and young people in Out of Home Care; women and children experiencing domestic violence; perpetrators of violence and families experiencing separation. Helen currently works in the area of mental health and has a passion for empowering people in their lives and relationships.

You mentioned earlier that power and control behaviours in a relationship can take on a kind of pattern – can you tell us more about this?

The behaviours that the perpetrator uses and the pattern of how these tactics and behaviours are seen in an intimate relationship is often referred to as the “cycle of violence”. The cycle of violence looks at the repetitive nature of the abusers actions that controls, instils fear and hinders a victim’s ability to leave an abusive relationship. Women who have experienced violence may recognise this cycle.

The cycle of violence theory was developed in 1979 by Dr Lenore Walker and has a number of versions. The stages of violence that is often used describes the following 6 stages:

  • Explosion
  • Remorse
  • Buy back
  • Usual
  • Tension Build Up
  • Stand Over

What is almost as important as understanding these three stages is understanding the three core behaviours that keep the cycle going;

  • Denial
  • Minimisation
  • Blame

The victim hears these so often that they can internalise the blame and believe that the violence is all their fault.

So does this cycle/pattern always occur in this way?

Not always – however most victims recognise aspects of this cycle. In some situations there is so much violence that the cycle misses out on the remorse, buy back and usual stage – just going instead from explosion to build up/stand over and explosion again. Some situations may take a week, month or year to move through the cycle – others may experience the cycle repeatedly in one day.

There is evidence that over time the cycle increases in both frequency and intensity. And as previously mentioned – evidence indicates that the cycle will not stop on its own – in fact- the cycle of abuse can continue long after the relationship is over (post separation violence). Remember – this cycle is the abusers cycle – and it is the abusers responsibility (never the victim’s).

Talk us through the feelings of the victim while this cycle is happening – what is it like being on the “other end” of this?

Just remember – domestic violence is a crime, it is intentional, and is a system and pattern of behaviours used to maintain control. Domestic violence has a huge impact on victims –and it has been likened to being a victim of torture and often results in PTSD.

Common experiences of victims include:

  • Powerless
  • Unsafe
  • Frightened
  • Confused
  • Foggy in the head (due to brain washing)
  • Constantly worried about the children
  • Treading on eggshells- hypervigilant
  • Frustrated
  • Guilty
  • Stupid
  • Exhausted
  • To blame
  • Sick and hurt
  • Isolated
  • Paralysed
  • Extremely angry
  • Like they are going crazy (gaslighting)

What about children – are they affected by this – especially if they are not in the room while this occurs?

Yes – children are effected by domestic violence as it is the entire environment that they are exposed to (including the fear and tension) that negatively impacts them.

Some of the impacts on children include:

  • Psychological trauma: Instead of growing up in an emotionally and physically safe, secure, nurturing and predictable environment, these children are forced to worry about the future; they try to predict when it might happen next and try to protect themselves and their siblings. Often getting through each day is the main objective so there is little time left for fun, relaxation or planning for the future.  
  • Physical Injury/ Trauma: Children may be caught in the middle of an assault by accident or because the abuser intends it.  Infants can be injured if being held by their mothers when the abuser strikes out. Children may be hurt if struck by a weapon or a thrown object and older children are frequently assaulted when they intervene to defend or protect their mothers. Children in utero are also at risk as pregnancy can often be a more dangerous time for the victim.
  • A child may be directly targeted by the perpetrator and suffer physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or serious neglect. Men who abuse their partners are also likely to assault their children. The abuse of women who are mothers usually predates the infliction of child abuse 
  • Development of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression (this can manifest as physical symptoms as well, such as stomach aches) from the unpredictable nature of the household and from living in tension and fear.
  • Common feelings of children who have experienced domestic violence include: Self-blame; shame; grief and loss; fear; anger; frozen/numb; helplessness; confusion; dread and terror.
  • Impacts of domestic violence on children can include: regression; sleep disturbances; reduced/increased appetite; withdrawal; hypervigilance; frozen watchfulness; low self-esteem; acting out the violence; disobedience; disrespect.

What is the effect here on the overall family?

Domestic violence can resemble more of a prisoner situation than a family, and the family almost always keeps the abuse a secret due to fear. The family are often held “hostage” by the abuser – and are unable to function without fear and without being dominated and controlled. Domestic violence can be very subtle and therefore very difficult for the family to validate or describe – it is part of the abuse itself that it can be hard to describe and “put your finger on”.

The impact on family members will depend on:

  • The length of time the abuse has been going on
  • The severity of the abuse
  • The presence of additional stressors in the family such as poverty; parental substance abuse; mental illness or chronic physical health issues or disability.
  • The level of  access to family and community support
  • The severity of the isolation experienced

Are there any long term effects here – or is the main effect just “in the moment”?

Evidence demonstrates very clearly the long term effects on victims of domestic violence. There are too many impacts to mention here – however some of the long term impacts include:

  • Mental health disorders
  • Problems with attachment in future relationships
  • Poorly developed communication skills
  • Lack of understanding of what constitutes a ‘healthy relationship”
  • Deep shame
  • Incomplete schooling – affecting future employment
  • Inability top manage difficult emotions – resorting to withdrawal or violence
  • Disrespect of women
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Suicide

If after today people realise they are in one of these relationships – what can they do?

If in immediate danger – call the police.

Seek out local specialised domestic violence support services – these can be found using google – or talk to a trusted friend and ask them to help you access support

After hearing all this information today don’t stand up to the abusive person – that is very likely to make you more unsafe, and don’t tell them you have plans to leave.

 Making a decision to leave and then leaving – are two different things in DV. Leaving an abusive relationship takes planning and support – and those plans are usually best not to be discussed with the abuser.  One of the times that women are most unsafe is when they are leaving their abusive partner.