Mark sat in my office looking broken and defeated. The life was gone from his eyes--- he was drowning and needed help. He spoke slowly, recalling the events of his childhood living with an angry and abusive mother. When he was a kid, she would pull his hair out when she’d become angry and frustrated with him. Once, she made him stand outside all day with a broken collar bone because he had gotten hurt doing something she told him not to do. He said she had erratic mood swings; sometimes she could be loving; other times she would explode. Mark grew up walking on eggshells, leaving him constantly fearful and anxious. He formed a belief system about self, God and the world around him that would impact his entire life trajectory, and keep him locked into the cycle of abuse.
Mark was fifty years old, but he was still a little boy locked in a man’s body--- and still the victim of abuse. The next time he came to see me it was apparent that his struggle with abuse didn’t end with his mother. This time the perpetrator was his wife. He had been screamed at, choked, punched, and degraded. As he told his story I was shocked and saddened.
What is Domestic Violence against Men?
Mark’s story is more common than you think. The problem is, because violence against women has received more recognition throughout the years, and because men don’t like to report abuse, it’s been hard to get exposure on violence against men. The very idea that men could be the victims of domestic violence is unthinkable to many.
Abuse creates fear. That’s why so many people who have been the recipients of toxic anger develop anxiety and depressive disorders---just like Mark. Fear also distorts our perspective of ourselves. It tells us that we’re weak and inadequate. After a careful analysis of Mark’s beliefs, it became clear that he believed a host of lies about himself, initially planted by his mom, and then carried to fruition by his wife.
Abuse can be emotional or physical. In most cases, men are more affected by verbal abuse, but in all cases the goal of abuse is to gain and maintain control over the victim. Psychological abuse falls into the several categories listed below:
Emotional Abuse includes:
- Humiliating the victim
- Isolating the victim from friends and family
- Undermining the person’s sense of self-worth
- Threatening the victim with harm
- Forceful efforts to isolate the victim
- Constant criticism, degradation or name-calling
Verbal Abuse includes:
- Using language to degrade or humiliate
- Blaming, ridiculing, harassing
- Showing disrespect, or attempting to falsely accuse
Economic Abuse includes:
- Punishing the victim by restricting access to money
- Preventing the victim from acquiring funds
- Limiting resources for the victim
- Closely monitor the victims spending
Physical abuse would include:
- Hitting, punching, choking
- Spitting, pushing, slapping
- Pinching, pulling hair
- Throwing objects
- Being sexually assaulted
Victims of abuse generally exhibit a break down in their ability to cope. They often suffer from guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, and display feelings of inadequacy. If abuse persists for lengthy periods of time, physical symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, post- traumatic stress disorder, arthritis, panic disorder and depression can arise.
Why Do They Stay?
For those of us who watch the victims of abuse from the sidelines, the big question is--- why don’t they just leave? The answer is complex, but here a few reasons:
- Emotional dependency
- Financial dependency
- Abandonment issues
- Believing no one else would want them
- Protecting their children
- Feeling guilty
For Mark, his belief system told him that he was weak. He believed he was a failure, and not good enough for anyone to love him. That was part of the reason he stayed. Mark also felt emasculated---this led to a deep sense of personal inadequacy which hindered him from stepping out and taking risks. Because our actions always follow our beliefs, we’re doomed to stay stuck in the cycle unless we begin the process of changing or modifying those false beliefs about our own self-worth.
If you or someone you love is being abused, you will notice a consistent pattern emerge in the relationship. Look for the following:
- Tension building phase---fear of outbursts cause the victim to please and placate
- Explosive episode----violent outbursts or abusive episodes
- Honeymoon phase----remorse and apology by the perpetrator
Mark worked hard in therapy to overcome his personal issues. Together we uncovered the lies that were keeping him stuck, replacing them with the truth of who he was in Christ. He learned to re-frame his thinking and deal with his anxiety. It took a while, but Mark finally left his wife. Today, he walks free.