Decoding Domestic Violence
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you’ve never taken the time to educate yourself regarding domestic violence, now is a great time to start. With the stark reality that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, it is critical that our communities, including our faith communities, have the insight and resources needed to recognize and help survivors. Domestic violence has affected or will affect someone you love, you just may not know it.
The topic may cause many people to picture black eyes and bruises, but domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, can be represented by any pattern of behavior designed to gain power and control over another person within an intimate relationship.
It is behavior that elicits fear in order to manipulate.
These behaviors may by in the form of verbal abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, physical or sexual abuse, or any combination thereof. It could also include economic abuse or the use of digital media (social media accounts, constant texting, GPS tracking, etc.) to monitor, or otherwise control another’s actions. Domestic violence does not just happen to a select group of people. It cuts across every socioeconomic class, race, religion, age, and even gender.
Although the red flags can vary, warning signs continue a theme of power and control. Isolation is often used to cut off support and keep an individual trapped in a place of dependency. Constant criticisms, put downs, or shaming may be used to wear down a person’s sense of self. If a partner controls where you go, who you see or talk to, or uses frequent threats (towards you, your belongings, or those you care about), these are all clear signs of domestic violence. A specific red flag within faith communities is the twisting of Scripture in order to justify abusive behaviors.
Domestic violence is often marked by a progressive escalation in severity and can be cyclical in nature, repeatedly moving through stages of tension, followed by explosions or a “honeymoon” season in which caring gestures are used to maintain control. It can be incredibly confusing to be in a relationship in which the person you love is also someone you fear. The feeling of constantly failing, or walking on eggshells, is familiar to many in abusive relationships.
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about is experiencing domestic violence, help is available. Resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org) have trained staff available 24/7 to offer support, answer questions, and assist in safety planning. In the Brazos Valley, Twin City Mission (www.twincitymission.org/domestic-violence-services) has services available to help victims of domestic and dating violence at no cost, including: safety planning, counseling, legal support and shelter.
In the first message Jesus gave publically, he read from Isaiah 61. He acknowledged that he came to fulfill the prophecy of the one sent to “bring liberty to the captive…freedom to the one oppressed.” His followers share in this calling. We each have a role to play in seeing the cycles of abuse broken and healing come to those affected.
I encourage you to start by teaching your children, especially your teens, both male and female, what healthy relational dynamics look like. Help them recognize warning signs of control in dating relationships and make sure they know how and when to reach out for help, even if it’s not from you. Websites like www.loveisrespect.org and www.breakthecycle.org are great places to learn more.
You can also donate your time or resources to your local domestic violence shelter. Simple gestures such as gifting school supplies, or Christmas presents to families living in shelter can move mountains in terms of someone feeling seen and cared for. Think about how your specific career or skill set may be used to benefit someone who is creating a new life. Can you help teach budgeting skills? Could you help tutor or mentor kids? Reach out to your local shelter to find out what opportunities are available.
If you are concerned for someone you know, continue to offer support. Let them know that you care, that you’re worried, and that you are there to help. Your job is not to be a hero or a rescuer. Your job is to be a great listener and to be patient. There are many dynamics that make change a difficult and sometimes dangerous process. Never underestimate the impact of a consistent voice of empowerment and encouragement.
Whether you are seeking help for yourself or someone you care about, the clinical staff at A&M Christian Counseling Center would love to come alongside you on your journey. Please call or email to set up an appointment for counseling or for additional resources.