During a divorce trial, a man testifies that he held a gun to his wife’s head and pulled the trigger. He explained he did not intend to kill her because the weapon was unloaded. The court believed him and did not convict him of domestic abuse, because his wife sat alive, in the courtroom during testimony. Not only did this man skirt an arrest, but he also obtained weekly visitation with his two daughters ages 7 and 9 years old. He used the threat of killing her to control her, causing immediate fear and intimidation, having long-term physical, behavioral and psychological consequences. Even before a woman can report abuse to police or the court, she has to be aware it is occurring. For some women, having a gun to their head may not be enough information for them to believe they are victims of domestic violence.

As a clinical psychologist, I work with women who begin to feel uncomfortable with their partners. Most battling their awareness of whom they are sleeping next to at night while trying to navigate a complicated relationship. Women in relationships with individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder find it even more difficult to see the covert abuse. They initially do not consciously know they have a partner who is insidiously disingenuous because he can be an outstanding actor. Intelligent, insightful, yet dubious women offer devotion and depend upon these men, even when the relationship is suspected to be unsound. This occurs because abusive men carry out a form of emotional abuse, (gaslighting), which is a denial of one's experiences and perception of reality, causing women to begin to believe their memory or sense is unreliable. During the relationship astute women slowly consider, yet not fully acknowledge his blame for expressing needs. Women may begin to note his belittling for her personal or work achievements, but it can take time to discriminate the actuality of violation thoroughly. It does not matter if the abuse is covert or blatantly overt, there is no shortage of reasons why women are unsure of their abuse, or why they stay with damaging men. Perhaps fearing abandonment, feeling guilty for a perspective that they are contributing to the dynamic, or despair at the thought of breaking up the children’s family. Thus, motivating many women to keep an attachment continuing to decline in quality. Because if a woman does decide to leave, exiting is the most dangerous time. Women risk being hurt, killed, harassed, or forced to file multiple legal motions in court for years to get him to follow lawful orders.

Denial and rationalization are strong psychological defenses against awareness of maltreatment, because at times our partner is giving, sweet, and appears to be going above and beyond how other men would behave, reinforcing the confusion. Contributing to the household by putting up molding, wallpaper, or excavating a

beautiful garden creates more rationalizing. However, it is essential to look carefully at the interaction. After he has installed new lighting in the nursery, perhaps he presses your maternal authoritarian stance to complete the nursery in time for the little one’s arrival. He may use your anxiety about its completion to reinforce your belief in being responsible for the abuse because you reacted with high-handed impatience. Remember, pregnant women are usually impatient, particular and want to be prepared for the babies arrival, which is a normative response to expecting. A patient I treated was labeled by her husband as: too sensitive, clingy and bossy. Many adjectives she also believed about herself. However, she allowed her insecurities, and the abuser's voice to justify her behavior as being part of the problem, and to justify her husband's actions as not wrong because she believed she has flaws too. However, character challenges do not warrant the abuse endured.

It is essential to understand there is a difference between a non-abusive person who can empathetically reflectively function, see their part in the dynamic and apologize and then repair the rupture, as opposed to an abuser who lacks empathy and does not take responsibility and is not accountable for his actions. He is not able to put himself in your shoes, and he does not understand decency and respect no matter how many times he has changed your oil in your car, built you a wine cellar or tiled your basement. Being mean and then sweet and giving is part of the cycle of abuse. This is understandably confusing for most women.

Abuse only thrives in silence....and silence occurs because awareness is tricky. Awareness refers to uncovering our hidden inner conflicts, as well as, what is not hidden and happening in our lives. It is ‘knowing’ or consciousness in a state of close attention. One would believe it is more desirable not to have the abuse be beyond one’s ken, provided the understanding leads us to a constructive solution and greater well-being. Unfortunately, most women in positions of domestic violence cannot manage to be aware of their reality without first having a plan or positive solutions. Thus they actively resist their truths and feel better being hopeful the situation will improve......hence, they often stay. This mix of an ‘unknowing spectrum,’ as well as how incredibly dangerous and frightening it is to leave an abuser, is essential for judges to discern when making court orders for protection. If women's fear were less, they would be more able to recognize the maltreatment; however, the very abuse they are stuck in, causes the perpetual cycle of knowing and not knowing. A course of transformation includes the courts offering the support needed for women to be safe and able to care for themselves and their children. This begins with women telling their stories.

When a last act of abuse breaks through, forcing a new utterly confusing and devastating perspective, the impact and distress a woman experiences when there is a merging of what she has ‘known’ all along, but never ‘thought’ about, is overwhelming despair. Most of us emotionally collapse. Our simple daily functions feel arduous, as we try to adjust to our new reality; often times while protecting our children. Our awareness gets us to finally ‘know’..... “I am a victim of abuse.” No woman should ever be blamed for not ‘knowing’ sooner than later about her abuse. No woman should be blamed for not ‘getting out of the situation years prior.’ No woman should be blamed for going back to the abuser, and no woman should have to give her children over to visitation to a man who put an unloaded gun to her head and pulled the trigger.

Share, proclaim, communicate, pontificate, represent, describe, reveal, and broadcast your authenticity to make a change. The importance of putting our feelings and thoughts into words cannot be valued enough. Speaking our truth and telling our stories is what creates a revision. It supports others in their battles, it educates other women, advocates, courts, and professionals. It allows other women, men, and professionals such as psychologists, lawyers, and advocates to offer another perspective which solidifies that the way you were treated was wrong. Eventually, the message will be so loud that women will know about their abuse sooner, courts will take it more seriously and will have better methods to offer consequences. This website is a means to start this agenda.

Any woman, regardless of culture, ethnicity and socioeconomic status can experience an abuser’s behavior; it does not discriminate. If a man has ever prevented you from doing what you have needed to do for yourself, children or family, or forced you to behave in ways you did not feel comfortable, then you have encountered a form of coercive control. Physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation all fall under the domestic violence umbrella. These men using coercive power all walk and talk the same, and the more women tell their stories, the more it can help other women identify perpetrators. Often in psychotherapy, I assist with assembling a manifest reality for women to generate a plan. If you are feeling uncomfortable in a relationship, please speak out either to friends, family, online support or have a consultation with a mental health provider.

By Kristine Danback Ph.D
Clinical Psychologist, Advocate, Divorce Coach