Relational abuse is a global pandemic: One in 4 women and one in 10 men (source) , and 1 in 7 children (source), experience intimate relationship abuse, which can be physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological. Unfortunately, COVID-19-related lockdowns created a more ideal environment for increased abuse, at least an 8 percent increase has been reported in the US (source).
Abuse can happen to anyone and it does not take a special kind of person to be abusive. The best prevention is social connection and education on power and control dynamics. Let's start with the basics, here is a POWER AND CONTROL WHEEL depicting abusive behaviors:
There are both short term and longt term effects of being subjected to these domination strategies. The short term effects are increased fear, anxiety, hypervigilence, and shame/embarassment that co-create an ongoing pattern of abusive cycling. To understand how this looks from the abuser and the victim perspective, take a look at this diagram:
Over time, being subjected to the cycle deteriorates mental health for all parties. The long term effects of abusive relationships are arrested emotional development, socialization difficulties, low self-esteem, mood disorders, incarceration, boundary issues, loss of identity and PTSD (source ) Are you at risk?
Individual Risk Factors
- Low self-esteem
- Delinquincy in youth
- Substance abuse
- Mood disturbance
- Poor social problem-solving skills
- Conduct problems
- Poor behavioral control/impulsiveness
- Personality Disturbance
- Emotional dependence and insecurity
- Belief in strict gender roles
- Desire for power and control in relationships
- Hostility towards marganilzed groups
- Marital conflict–fights, tension, and other struggles
- Jealousy, possessiveness, and relationship
- Marital instability–divorces or separations
- Hierarchical ideas of partner relationship
- Economic or survival stress
- Unhealthy family relationships and interactions
- Association with antisocial and aggressive peers
- Parents with less than a high-school education
- Having few friends and being isolated from other people
- Witnessing abuse between parents as a child
- History of experiencing physical discipline as a child
- Poverty and associated factors (for example, overcrowding, high unemployment rates)
- Low social capital–lack of institutions, relationships, and norms that shape a community’s social interactions
- Poor neighborhood support and cohesion
- Weak community sanctions against IPV (for example, unwillingness of neighbors to intervene in situations where they witness violence)
- High density of places that sell alcohol
- Traditional gender norms and gender inequality (for example, the idea women should stay at home, not enter the workforce, and be submissive; men should support the family and make the decisions)
- Cultural norms that support aggression toward others
- Societal income inequality
- Weak health, educational, economic, and social policies/laws
- High friendship quality
- Social support (for example, tangible help, support from neighbors)
- Neighborhood collective efficacy (i.e., community cohesiveness/support/connected-ness, mutual trust, and willingness to intervene for the common good)
- Coordination of resources and services among community agencies
So you’ve noticed some abusive or unhealthy behaviors in yourself or your partner(s), what is next?
- Aknowledgement. Make a list of the problem behaviors. Write down the impact they have.
- Assess Safety. How safe do you feel to talk about these issues in your relationships? Start by talking with those you feel safest with and get support for the changes you want to make.
- Set Goals. Decide what you want to change and how you might accomplish your goals. Seek out mental health professionals for ongoing issues, re-education opportunities for mood management, and community support for positive relationships that support your changes.
- Make a Plan. Organize your goals into achievable steps (short, medial and long term strategies with a timeline and resources for each). If you need to end an abusive relationship this will include Safety Planning for an exit strategy.
- Put in effort, assess progress, execute boundaries for how you will express feelings, have conflict, and be in relationships with others.
As your personal power improves and your expreince of being controled or trying to control others abates, you may ask can we do as a species instead of dominate or be dominated when we feel threatened? We can collaborate and take personal responsiblitiy for our own contributions to poor collective functioning. More collaborative relationships and societies are just as good, maybe better, at surviving as dominance oriented ones.
BENEFITS of COLLABORATION
- Better at solving problems
- Can see the big picture
- Builds self esteem
- Fosters connection
- Inspires self-analysis
- Encourages interdependence instead of codependence
- More teaching and learning opportunities
- Increasied efficiency
- Better longevity
How can I practice better interpersonal communication? Social media, art, politics, health care and family building are all spaces we can use to examine our behavioral choices and ask "am I being competitive or collaborative in this moment?"
I am in charge of myself and understand how to manage conflict in collaborative rather than competitive ways. Feeling safe is important to everyone.