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Coping With Domestic Abuse: The Strategies of Women
When it comes to dealing with an abusive spouse women truly have a tough road to deal with. Women are faced with both the sense of obligation from society to "make the marriage work" yet at the same time face the criticism of staying in a marriage with an abuser. Given these truly difficult circumstances, women have to turn to a variety of coping mechanisms in such cases. Before exploring the coping mechanisms that women turn to in these cases, it's also worth determining what qualifies as abuse. First, abuse is defined as "willful infliction of physical injury or mental anguish and the deprivation of the caregiver of essential services' (verwoerdt,1976…) and nurturing. Patterns of family maltreatment can take many forms including physical abuse, endangerment, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and economic abuse (Smith-Dijulio & Hozapfel, 1998)" (Carpenito-Moyet, 2006). Thus, what one can learn from this excerpt is that abuse can take a variety of forms. Abuse can physical, but is not exclusive to battering: it can take the form of emotional and verbal abuse such as constant criticism or derision, or it can take the form of controlling behaviors. Abuse can even be forcing a woman to engage in sexual activity with a man, even if that man is her husband, against her will. Since abuse is so multi-faceted, the coping mechanisms that women have developed are also multifaceted.
Interestingly enough as one scholar illuminates, "One of the most persistent maladies of domestic violence is that its victims are always blamed, even by trusted sources of social capital support, for staying in an abusive relationship. Questions as to why the woman victim does not leave are always asked, and most often women are blamed for continuing to stay. This brings to the fore the question of their coping strategies as it relates to abusive partners" (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). One of the reasons that women create coping strategies is so that they can maintain the abusive relationship. This might seem ludicrous to some, but many times women have no economic support outside the marriage, or they have no emotional support outside the marriage, or they think that things might change for the better. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for the abusive partner to engage in fear-mongering techniques of intimidation to better control their wives and keep them planted in the abusive relationship. This is so problematic as women in abusive relationships suffer a range of damage and trauma: "Victims are more likely to experience poor physical health, mental impairment, difficulty concentrating, poor work performance, a higher likelihood of substance use and an increase in suicidal ideation or attempts" (Eisenberg, 2010). The coping model that a person uses is influenced by a variety of variables, one of the biggest influences involves how an individual generally appraises a stressful situation is generally seen to be one of the critical elements that goes into impacting the coping strategy that an individual selects (Meyer, 2010).
Coping Strategies Examined
There are two primary forms of coping strategies: problem focused coping and emotional strategies (Ethel, 2010). Problem focused coping revolves around purpose or action to prevent the abuse. Emotional strategies include things like "being hopeful" and comparable states to deal with the abuse (Ethel, 2010).
One of the most primary coping strategies that researchers have found women to engage in, particularly during the initial stages of an abusive relationship is denial. Abuse can be so violent and disruptive to a relationship that victims often can't understand that it's happening to them; they're in a state of shock. Denial is such a detrimental coping mechanism because it's such a formidable barrier to the victim getting help. "In trying to understand and to cope with the abuser she finds excuses for her abuse. It hurts the victim to realize that the man she thought loved her has turned into a monster. She finds it very difficult to accept that her husband is abusing her. The victim blames herself that she is responsible for the abuse and she is of the opinion that she deserves to be treated in that way" (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). This particular coping mechanism makes sense. If the victim blames herself, she can arguably then be able to control the abuse. This gives the victim a sense of illusory hope and makes her think that if she just behaves differently the next time the abuse can be prevented. Another aspect of denial involves making excuses for the abuser, such as finding reasons for why he did that -- such as he's under a lot of stress at work, etc.
One of the other notable aspects of coping mechanisms is that they generally change over time. This is often a byproduct of the fact that abusers often change the form of abuse over time as well, so their victims need to adjust as well. "The typical pattern of IPV [intimate partner violence] is for violence to escalate in frequency and severity as the relationship progresses (Campbell, Rose, Kub, & Nedd, 1998; Mills, 1985). Also, over time abusive partners have a tendency to employ additional forms of violence (i.e. -- emotional, physical, sexual; Campbell et al., 1998). Given this predictable change in the pattern of violence, it is not surprising that women who experience IPV correspondingly adjust their attributions" (Meyer, 2010). Thus, the adjustments made generally come out of necessity.
Yet another coping mechanism that occurs is one of apathy. However, this form of coping occurs when the abuse has become normalized in the relationship and fundamentally the victim does not know how she should respond to this (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). Apathy stems from a feeling of helplessness and a realization that she cannot control his anger, ultimately withdrawing emotionally and verbally from the abuser and the relationship, while still staying in the home (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). However, this can be quite so problematic because it actually makes the abuser more aggressive (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). "Kearney (2001) describes this stage of enduring as shrinking of self which involved restraining one's emotional responses in order to avoid flare-ups, perform unwanted tasks or accept undeserved punishment" (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). Some experts refer to this as a stage of "learned helplessness" but this does not seem accurate (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011).The term "learned helplessness" actually implies that the victim is relying even more heavily on her abuser when in fact, she's removing herself from him and putting more distance between them. The only thing that's helpless about it is that she continues to remain in the relationship and not seek out help for herself. However, as other experts point out, the woman has withdrawn from the relationship which also means she has removed herself from any forms of decision-making that might help keep the peace; this withdrawal also includes a breakdown of communication (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011).
Uncertainty is yet another coping mechanism for a woman, though it might not seem that way. Uncertainty might just seem like mental limbo. However in reality uncertainty indicates that the woman is questioning her life with the abuser and her decision to stay with him. Now, for some women, this stage of questioning is indefinite and it simply serves as a means of distracting them from the abuse and the situation at hand. "During this stage the victim is afraid to take a decision regarding leaving the abuser. As the abuser has succeeded in destroying her self-concept and confidence the victim therefore cannot make decisions due to fear of the unknown" (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). Fear of the unknown can be tremendous and paralyzing for a woman and if she does not have an adequate social support network of friends and family or social services for her to lean on, it's quite possible that she will remain with the abuser. It's not uncommon for this coping method to emerge immediately after a bad beating or a time where the woman sustained truly terrible injuries or when the police were involved (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). This coping strategy is marked with the woman being faced with a host of questions which she is asking herself, such as: how will my kids and I survive? What will people say when they find out? How will I support myself? These questions indicate that the woman is currently in search of her identity which is correct.
Meanwhile, the abuser has to face the consequences of his actions
Acceptance is one of the most disturbing coping strategies that a woman can engage in because it signals that she's resigned herself to not seek out help for an escape from the marriage. "During this stage the victim accepts that there is nothing she can do about the abuse. She accepts that she was just unfortunate to marry an abusive partner but she is prepared to endure the relationship" (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011). This is truly unfortunate because it means the woman is resigned to her fate, even if it means that her fate is to be battered to death by her husband. At this stage, women generally make…[continue]
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