When we experience harm at the hand of another and view our part of the process, we open ourselves to scrutiny. Sometimes this type of dissection can feel unfair or cruel. It is also necessary. An honest examination of my personal role in my experience of domestic violence showed me that one of my weaknesses was trust. I didn't trust myself or other people. I was right to not trust the man who violated my physical and emotional boundaries. I still needed to trust my perceptions and life in general. This proved to be a challenge that required effort and time. I made mistakes, went back to old patterns, slowly changed my habits. My focus remained balance.
In my early life, I interpreted that a woman's role was to act nice, make explanations for poor behavior, and sacrifice herself for the benefit of others. It's taken many experiences to change the way I think about the role of females in relationships and society. I couldn't go with certain family beliefs or particular media portrayals because they eventually felt uncomfortable. When rape first occurred in my relationship life, I didn't recognize it and I talked myself out of recognizing it. Now I know the signs of violence, and I talk openly about them with people in my life. Agency involves an honest assessment of reality and social dynamics that create certain mindsets. Agency is the choice to actively participate in life.
Sometimes I look at the choices I made that surround my experiences with domestic violence and I want to tell myself that I was too trusting, naive, or stupid. These adjectives disguise anxiety and decrease my trust in myself. It's helpful to look at the actions themselves rather than decline further assessment. In this manner, I am able to observe a framework for violence and how to address it; and I retain choice and agency.
People who engage in and perpetuate violent situations participate in a psychological framework that feeds and emits insecurity. The rush of certain emotions can begin to feel like euphoria. Forgive and forget, deep hurt and lavish make-up session -- these types of interactions can begin to resemble addictive tendencies because of the hormone fluctuation patterns that occur in association. The abuser and the abused dance a painful sorrow, and the variations from depth to height can begin to gradually consume more time in each day. The process is as subtle as a water droplet on stone.
I had a recurring dream from childhood into adulthood: my body in an elevator. The elevator is lowering itself in a building. I raise to the top of the box as it travels, the force of the movement overpowering my body. I start to think, "Again?" although that thought is less distinct than the feel of loss of control.
An experience of loss of control can remind us that we don't have ultimate control in life. The infinite feature of no control can preface a sense of vulnerability. People sometimes don't learn how to process emotions in themselves, and vulnerability can seem like a scary experience. This is natural. A scary experience can teach. Susan J. Douglas mentions identity exploration in her book, The Rise of Enlightened Sexism.
We all have to develop a story about who we are, what we care about and stand for, what we hope to do with our lives, and what we do not want to be like" (p. 254).
Humans who stay in relationships that hurt them practice mind dynamics that allow pain. Their thoughts about values may equally indicate both yes and no, good and bad at the same time. The first part of change is to notice discomfort, and sometimes humans in violent situations are numb to discomfort. Often, the experience of violence builds up over time. A hurtful "joke" here, a slight physical "play" move that involves a shove there. The man who raped me displayed signs of aggression early in our relationship. To me, that first shove was a weird thing that happened, something strange and unnecessary. I didn't consider it a red flag that I needed to exit the relationship. I didn't know about the cycle of violence. After the first time he raped me, I told him I thought he raped me. He expressed anger and then I talked myself out of believing he'd hurt me. Then, by the time he'd raped me multiple times and I made that OK in my mind, I remember thinking to myself at least once, "Just use me," and at another time, "Just lie to me." I'd gone from feeling generally confident to feeling generally helpless in a few short months. I would later read about violence in relationships; practices of partners who stay with people who exhibit this behavior; and how to exit the cycle in Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That?, The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, and articles such as Violence is a Man's Issue on Lynne Namka's Angries Out website. (Please see my Other Perspectives page for more titles and authors.)
9/20/15 changed permalink from july-12th-2015 to domestic-violence-control-and-agency
6/21/16 Moved the block quote. Added links to other posts. Changed "violence" to "rape" in the sentence that begins with "when rape first occurred."
Well hello there.