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Psychology and Personality of the Abuser and Abused
Domestic violence is the act of harassing an intimate or prior intimate. Domestic violence is a widespread problem throughout the world with woman and children being the most at risk. Most abusers suffer from various personality disorders ranging from paranoid personality disorder to explosive personality disorder. When a person is abused for a prolonged period of time the Stockholm Syndrome may develop with the abused becoming attached mentally and emotionally to the abuser. Seeking for professional help may be difficult to attain, because both, the abuser and the abused, will not admit their problem. Having law enforcement agencies coerce the abuser to go for therapy may be the only way to end the cycle of abuse. However, once the abuser is in therapy a variety of methods may be used ranging from medications such as Prozac to behavioral modification techniques.
Domestic violence is the harassment and abuse of one human to another human. It includes any hurtful or unwanted behavior perpetrated upon an individual by an intimate or prior intimate. These abuses range from physical beatings, emotional torture, mental abuse, sexual abuse, threat of violence, denial of necessities such as food and shelter. In the event where there are children involved the abuse may be coupled with additional torture, such as denial of custody of the children, running away with the children, and the fear of harming the children (Facts & Stats, n.d.).
In a study conducted by Heise, Ellsberg & Gottemoeller (1999) they reported that as much as thirty three percent of women worldwide, will be beaten, raped, coerced into sex, or otherwise be involved in a dispute of domestic violence during their lifetime. The US Department of Justice (2005) estimates that every two and a half minutes an incident of domestic violence occurs within the United States, and about two thirds of these assaults are conducted by someone who is familiar with the victim. Singer et al reports that each year up to ten million children experience some form domestic violence (Singer et al p. 104).
Most at Risk Groups
Shipway (2006) concluded that the groups most at risk are pregnant women. In a study conducted in East London, fifteen percent of pregnant women interviewed reported being assaulted during their pregnancy. Of these, about forty percent reported that it started while they were pregnant, and thirty percent reported that at some time they suffered a miscarriage as a result of the violence (p 57). Another group being very vulnerable to domestic violence is children. Studies suggest that approximately ten million children are exposed to domestic violence annually (Family Violence Prevention Fund).
Personality of Abuser
Norman (2007) postulates that most abusers will have some kind of paranoid personality disorder. It will also be accompanied by suspiciousness, jealousy and envy against the other partner. In many instances a person with a paranoid personality disorder may believe that everyone is “out to get them,” and this will only fuel their violence. It will also be used as an excuse to justify beatings and other abuses committed
In addition, when a stressful situation arises, a person with a paranoid personality disorder will not analyze a particular problem with logic. Instead, they will blame others for the situation. Blaming others will further give them some kind of mental excuse to “let out their heat” against others.
People with a paranoid personality disorder are also constantly accusing their partner in doing things they are not doing. They may accuse their partner of cheating, plotting against them with others. They may also coerce a partner in acting and thinking as they do, and if the partner resists in keeping their independency they may lash out violently, verbally and sometimes physically (Norman 2007 “Paranoid personality disorder”)
Another personality disorder described by Norman (2007) is which may act as a precursor for domestic violence is explosive personality disorder “” sometimes referred to as intermittent explosive disorder. Explosive personality disorder falls into the category of impulse-control disorders. People with explosive personality disorder are unable to control aggressive or violent impulses. What is more troubling is the fact that once these people act out the aggressive impulses, they feel a sense of relief; nevertheless, in most instances they regret that the incidence occurred altogether. People with explosive personality disorder will express their aggressive impulse through a variety of violent behaviors; they may range from physical assault on others to committing homicide. Sometimes these people may afflict damage upon themselves too and may attempt to commit suicide (Norman 2007 “Explosive personality disorder”).
Mindset of Abused
One of the most intriguing phenomenons that psychologists must deal with is when people are abused for a prolonged period of time they may become mentally and emotionally attached to their abusers. So much so, they are unwilling to let go of the abuser, and are angry with anyone who wants to separate them form the abuser. This phenomenon is called the Stockholm syndrome.
The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined in 1973, to describe the puzzling reaction of four bank employees who were kidnapped. Three women and one man were taken hostage in one of the largest banks in Stockholm, and were held there for six days by two ex-convicts who while threatening their lives showed them some acts of kindness. On the sixth day when the police finally drilled a hole through the roof of the vault where they were kept and sprayed tear gas through the opening the hostage takers finally gave up. As soon as the hostage takers gave up the police shouted to the hostages to come out before the hostages. But “¦ here a strange thing happened. Reporter Daniel Lang (1974) reports:
There was no movement in the vault. The hostages kept their ground, rejecting rescue. Defiant, Kristin (one of the hostages) shouted back, “No, Olsson and Clark (the two captors) go first “” you’ll gun them down if we do!” Startled, the would-be liberators hesitated, then finally opened wide the outer door and made way for Olsson and Clark (the two captors). As they stood framed in the doorway, the convicts and hostages quickly, abruptly embraced each other, the women kissing their captors, Sven (one of the hostages) shaking hands with them. Their farewells over, all six walked out of the vault, Olsson and Clark (the two captors) in the lead (Lang p. 114).
Even when they were taken by the police and put into ambulances, the hostages continued to be concerned about their former captors. One of the hostages wondered what was happening to them and expressed the wish the “whatever was being done for us should be done to them.” Another hostage refused to lie down on her stretcher. She sat up, searching for her captors. When she saw one of her former captors being worked over by the police, she yelled to him, “Clark, I’ll see you again!” (Lang p. 114)
Following their release, the hostages continued to see the police as “their enemy” and their captors as their protectors who gave them life. One hostage accused psychiatrists of trying to “brainwash” her so as to turn her against her captors. One of the hostages tried to find hatred towards the captors but couldn’t; he instead began to investigate what life is like in prison, and what his captors were doing. (Lang 1974 p. 120)
Approximately one year after the ordeal, one of the hostages visited one of the captors in jail after having experienced a “powerful impulse” to do so. She refused to tell anyone what they discussed. According to U.S. News and World Report reporter Peter Annin (1985), two of the women hostages later became engaged to the captors.
Precursors of Stockholm Syndrome
Graham (1987) found that bounding to an abuser or captor occurred under a certain set of conditions; perceived threat to survival; perceived kindness; isolation, and the perceived inability to escape.
Perceived Threat to Survival
While most people view physical violence as a more serious offense than psychological abuse, the threat of physical violence is more psychologically debilitating than the actual violence. The psychological effect of chronic mental abuse is the most likely precursor to cause the syndrome. When a person lives in constant fear of being abused and they don’t know if the person knocking on the door, calling on the phone, turning into the driveway or waiting around the corner will kill them, they will eventually develop an emotional bond to their aggressor for the mere fact that they did not kill them up until now. This emotional bond is the abuse’s psychological mechanism that this will “hopefully” persuade the abuser not to harm them (Graham 1987 p. 34).
A person whose survival is threatened perceives kindness differently then a person whose survival is not threatened. For instance, a small kindness “” one that likely would not be noticed under conditions of safety “” appears huge under conditions of threat and/or debilitation (Graham 1987 p. 35). Angela Browne (1987) reports that some battered women experience the cessation of violence by their partners as show of kindness. Therefore, when this situation continues for a prolonged period of time, the abused person may begin to perceive the abuser as a kind person (Browne 1987 p. 81).
Isolation is also a key element and a strong precedent to the Stockholm syndrome. For example, a wife batterer will isolate his wife from her family. He will only permit his wife to maintain ties with her family if he sees that her family is sending her the message that they will not become involved in her married life.
Abusers use a variety of strategies to isolate their victims. One of the main strategies is to discourage their victims from telling others who might help them if told about the abuse. A common threat is that they will kill them or their children if they dare tell anybody the truth about the abuse (Graham 1987 p. 35).
Perceived Inability to Escape
An abuser will usually use violence or the threat of violence to prevent the escape of the abused. For instance, an abuser will threaten that they will kill them if they leave, for if they leave them they won’t have anyway what to lose in life. However, outsiders don’t know of the threats, for the abused won’t tell anybody of it out of fear of being harmed by the abuser (Graham 1987 p. 36).
Psychodynamics Underlying Stockholm Syndrome Graham (1987) postulated that the confluence of the four precursor conditions could be seen as giving rise to the psychodynamics that account for the apparently bizarre behaviors of people exhibiting the Stockholm Syndrome. Graham (1987) further hypothesized that the following psychodynamics underlie the Stockholm Syndrome.
An abuser terrorized a victim, who cannot escape, by threatening their physical or psychological survival. Because of the terrorization, the victim needs nurturance and protection, and because the victim is isolated from other, they must turn to the abuser for nurturance and protection. Moreover, because of the need of for emotional support and the will to survive, and since there appears to be no ways and means for the victim to escape further terrorization, the victim actively searches for closeness and expressions of kindness, empathy and affection from the abuser. If the victim perceives that kindness from the abuser, they become hopeful that the abuser will eventually end the abuse.
With the perception of kindness and hope, the victim denies any feeling of danger, terror and rage that the abuser creates. This denial occurs because the terror and thus danger is experienced as overwhelming, and if the victim should express any disagreement against the abuser, they may be punished physically and/or mentally. Thus, they deny their true emotions and focus their attention to keep the abuser happy, so they not terrorize them more. If this phenomenon continues for a prolonged period of time, Graham concludes that it may lead to the Stockholm Syndrome (Graham 1987 p. 38).
Therapy for domestic violence is very tricky. Norman (2007) suggests that therapy should be concentrated on the abuser, for it will be easier to deal with the abuser then the abused. Although he admits that this too is also very hard, for the abuser will never admit that they have a problem. Furthermore, because of their personality disorders, they don’t trust anyone including a psychologist. However, when they are being coerced by the legal system to undergo therapy, Prozac has been proven to be the best treatment for paranoid personality disorder (PPD), and for explosive personality disorder (EPD) the best treatment will be medication accompanied with behavioral modification techniques (Norman 2007 “Explosive personality disorder”; ” paranoid personality disorder).
Annin, P. (1985, July 8). Hostages: Living in the aftermath. U.S. News and World Report, (44), 99.
Browne, A. (1987). When battered women kill. New York: Free Press. Fact & Stats. (n.d.). Turn Around (facts & stats). Retrieved April 6, 2007, from http://www.turnaroundinc.org
Family violence prevention fund. (n.d.). The facts on children and domestic violence. Retrieved April 6, 2007, from http://www.endabuse.org/resources/facts/Children.pdf
Graham, D. L. R. (1987). Loving to survive sexual terror men’s violence and women’s lives. New York: New York University Press.
Heise, L., Ellsberg, M., & Gettermoeller, M. (1999). Ending Violence Against Women (Series L ed.) [Pamphlet].
Lang, D. (1974, November 25). A reporter at large: The bank drama. THe New Yorker, pp. 56 – 126.
Norman, J. (2007). Explosive personality disorder. In Bella online – the voice of women. Retrieved April 6, 2007, from http://www.bellaonline.com/art26981.asp
Norman, J. (2007). Paranoid personality disorder and domestic violence. In Bella online – the vioce of women. Retrieved April 6, 2007, from http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art.47612.asp
Shipway, L. (2006, March). Domestic violence and abuse – specific at-risk grpups. Prctice Nurse, 31(6), 56.
Singer, M. I., Miller, D. B., Guo, S., Slovak, K., & Frieson, T. (1998). The mental health consequences of the exposure to domestic volence. Cleveland: Western Reserve University.
US Department of Justice. (2005). Retrieved April 8, 2007, from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict.htm
Shipway, L. (2006, March). Domestic violence and abuse – specific at-risk groups. Practice Nurse, 31(6), 56.
Singer, M. I., Miller, D. B., Guo, S., Slovak, K., & Frieson, T. (1998). The mental health consequences of the exposure to domestic violence. Cleveland: Western Reserve University.
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