Examining the dynamics of abusive relationships 

“If you leave me, I will kill you…”

“You can’t leave me, no one will take you…”

“If I can’t have you, no one else will…”

These are the words that victims of abusive relationships will likely have heard at some point during a violent encounter with their partners. While both men and women can be the perpetrators of intimate partner violence, statistics have shown that men are more likely to physically harm their partners. Regrettably, in Guyana, we have seen countless cases of murders/suicides and, in many cases, women end up losing their lives because they have decided that they no longer wish to be in abusive relationships. They decide that after enduring years of abuse that they have had enough. However, the perpetrator decides that the only “ending” of the relationship will be the “end” of his partner.

This week, we will explore what abuse actually is, why women stay, and what are some of the underlying factors for why men become abusive. 

To begin, we will define abuse as the ill treatment of one person by another. Abuse can come in many forms: physical, sexual, verbal/emotional and financial.

Physical abuse entails bodily harm to the other person. It can be punching, slapping, pulling of hair, biting or shoving to intimidate and cause physical harm.

Sexual abuse is where the victim is forced to have sex. Forced sex is where consent is not given to engage in sexual activity. 

Verbal/emotional abuse involves name calling and threatening. For instance, the abuser can make vile, hurtful remarks to the other person to try to “break them” or even make constant threats that they will harm them physically.

Financial abuse involves the withholding of finances for basic necessities. An example would be a husband (if he is the sole breadwinner) withholding money from his wife to buy household items.

Let us also be cognisant of the fact that everyone’s circumstances will be different and not every woman will experience the same type of abuse. 

Now that we have identified the various forms of abuse, let’s take a closer look at why women might remain in an abusive relationship.

*Staying for the family: When you get married, you are usually told that you have done so for “better or for worse.” So you believe that you have to live by your vows, even if it’s at the expense of your sanity and/or safety. Or you may have grown up in a broken home without a father and you don’t want your children living without their dad, so you “stick it out.” 

*Lack of finances: You are working but still don’t make enough to survive on your own. Your husband encourages you to stay home and says that he will look after you, which makes you completely reliant on him. You grow uncomfortable with this situation but you’d rather not leave and give up your comfortable home and everything your husband has to offer you financially, so you stay. 

*Low self-esteem: You don’t think highly of yourself. You think to yourself that you are lucky to be married and that someone actually wants to be with you, so you endure every type of abuse that comes your way because you are reminded by your abuser that no one else will take you and that your place in life is with him, so you stay.

*Nowhere to turn: You have been told over the years that the only one who understands and loves you is your abuser. He has badmouthed your family and close friends to the point where you cut them out of your life. You know putting up with the abuse isn’t right but you stay because you feel that you can’t turn to the people whom you have isolated from your life, so you stay.

*Hopes of change: You have been married for a number of years and things weren’t always “bad” and each time he hits you or tells you hurtful things he apologises and promises to do better and the love that you have for him makes you hope he will change, so you stay.

There are many factors that account for why men become abusive, including: 

Growing up in an abusive home: The abuser usually has grown up in an abusive home, where he witnessed his father abusing his mother in every possible way. He has no idea how to handle his emotions because he has grown up in a home where his father would have hit his mother and later apologised for his behaviour. Because this is what he has grown up seeing, the abuser repeats this cycle of abuse. 

Gender norms: Many men have grown up with the mindset that it is their role as men to maintain “order” in their homes at whatever cost necessary, even if this means “hurting “their partner. In their minds, their partner should respect their role as “the man” and “the breadwinner.” 

Bottled up emotions: Because a lot of men feel that they cannot express their emotions the same way in which women can, they unhealthily bottle these emotions, which causes them to have an “explosion “at some point. Sadly, it is their partners who usually ends up being the unfortunate targets of those suppressed emotions. She may be yelled at, punched or threatened just because her partner has “anger problems.”

Low self-esteem and emotional dependency: Even though many abusers portray themselves to be strong-willed and powerful, they actually have low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. And so, unable to take control of his own life “internally,” the abuser must have control over the life of his victim in the form of knowing her whereabouts and being irrationally jealous and possessive.

Fear of abandonment: Because of the abuser’s low self-esteem, he is afraid of being abandoned by his victim and he must do everything in his power to ensure she remains at his side. This often takes the form of lies and manipulation and isolating the victim from close friends and family, so she believes that she has nowhere else to turn.

Now that we have a better understanding of why women stay and why some men become abusers, we can safely conclude that both abuser and abused need help. In a small country like Guyana, where intimate partner violence is the norm, we can do more to help. If you know of someone who might be in an abusive relationship, encourage them and their partner to seek psychological help. Remember, though, that you can only encourage; you cannot force someone to seek help if they do not recognise that they have a problem but you can play your part as a concerned family member or friend in at least suggesting help.

Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department and also sees patients privately. You can send questions, comments or schedule a private consultation at aliciaroopnaraine@gmail.com

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