The Truth about Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships


Emotional Codependency and Domestic Violence and AbuseOver three million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year, and that includes men as well as women. Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. One-third of women and one-fourth of men will have experienced some sort of interpersonal violence.

One-fourth of women and one-seventh of men have experienced severe interpersonal violence. (More statistics.) What isn’t talked about, but is the widespread serious problem of emotional abuse that ranges from withholding to controlling, and includes manipulation and verbal abuse. The number of people affected is astronomical. Emotional abuse is insidious and slowly eats away at your confidence and self-esteem. The effects are long-term and can take even longer to recover from than blatant violence. (See also, “What is Narcissistic Abuse.”)

Myths about Abuse

Victims of abuse often live in denial, and people who haven’t experienced abuse are quick to judge and don’t understand. Here are some myths about abuse:

  1. Abuse is physical violence.
  2. Abusers are easy to spot.
  3. Partners who stay are weak, poor, or uneducated.
  4. Enough love can change an abuser
  5. Verbal abuse can’t hurt you.
  6. It’s easy to leave an abusive relationship.
  7. Abusers can’t control themselves.
  8. It’s your fault.

Facts about Abuse

Often victims minimize violence. This is their denial. Violence includes throwing or breaking things, slapping, shoving, hair-pulling, and forced sex. Here are some facts you should know:

  1. Usually, abuse takes place behind closed doors.
  2. Abusers deny their actions.
  3. Abusers blame the victim.
  4. Violence is preceded by verbal abuse.
  5. It damages your self-esteem.
  6. The presence of a gun in the home increases homicide rates by 500%.
  7. Two-thirds of domestic violence perpetrators have been drinking
  8. One-third of victims have been drinking or using drugs.

The Typical Abuser

You may not realize that abusers feel powerless. They don’t act insecure to cover up the truth. In fact, they’re often bullies. The one thing they all have in common is that their motive is to have power over you. This is because they don’t feel that they have personal power, regardless of worldly success. To them, communication is a win-lose game. They often have the following personality profile:

  • Insecure
  • Needy and has unrealistic expectations of a relationship
  • Distrustful
  • Often jealous
  • Verbally abusive
  • Needs to be right and in control
  • Possessive; may try to isolate partner from friends and family
  • Hypersensitive and reacts aggressively
  • Has a history of aggression
  • Cruel to animals or children
  • Blames their behavior on others
  • Suffers from untreated mental health problems (including depression or suicidal behavior)

How to Respond

Most victims of abuse respond in a rational way. They explain themselves and believe that the abuser is interested in what they have to say. This lets abusers know that they’ve won and have control over you. You must design your own strategy and not react, thereby not rewarding the abusive behavior. You can do this by not engaging or by responding in an unpredictable way, such as with humor, which throws an abuser off-guard. You can also ask for the behavior you want, set limits, and confront the abuse. Most victims do the opposite and placate and appease an abuser to deescalate tension and risk of harm. It never works. Abuse continues. Instead, learn to be assertive, and read “Do’s and Don’ts of Confronting Abuse.

The Truth About Violence

If you’ve experienced violence, then it’s essential to get support and learn how to set limits. Abusers deny or minimize the problem – as do victims – and may claim that they can’t control themselves. This is untrue. Notice that they aren’t abusive with their boss – when there are consequences to their behavior. They also blame their actions on you, implying that you need to change. You’re never responsible for someone else’s behavior.

You may recognize the Cycle of Violence:

  1. A build-up of tension
  2. The attack
  3. Remorse and apology
  4. A honeymoon period of loving gestures

Sometimes, the threat of violence is all the abuser needs to control you, like a terrorist. The best time to abort violence is in the build-up stage. Some victims will even provoke an attack to get it over with because their anxiety and fear are so great. After an attack, abusers say how sorry they are and promise never to repeat it, but without counseling to treat the underlying causes of the abuse repeat itself. DO NOT believe their promises.

Why Victims Stay

There are many reasons why victims stay in a relationship. Statistics show that victims of violence endure up to seven attacks. The dominant reason is dependency. Control by the abuser, shame about the abuse, and the dysfunctional nature of the relationship lower the victim’s self-esteem and confidence and often cause the victim to withdraw from friends and family, creating even more emotional codependency and dependency on the abuser. The abuse itself is experienced as an emotional rejection with the threat of being abandoned. This triggers feelings of shame and fear of abandonment in the victim, which are then relieved during the honeymoon phase. Then victims hope the abuser will change. After all, there are good times in between episodes of abuse. There are reasons why the person loves or did love the abuser, and often children are involved.

Abusers can have a moody, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. Dr. Jekyll is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love Dr. Jekyll and make excuses for Mr. Hyde. (Sometimes, this can result from addiction or a personality disorder, such as narcissism or borderline personality disorder.) You don’t see that the whole person is the problem. If you’ve had a painful relationship with a parent growing up, you can confuse love and pain. Victims also stay for the following reasons:

  • Financial
  • Nowhere to live
  • No outside emotional support
  • Childcare problems
  • Fear of all of the above and retribution by the abuser
  • They take the blame for the abuse
  • They deny, minimize, and rationalize the abuse
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • They love the abuser
  • Shame

If you’re a victim of abuse, you feel ashamed. You’ve been humiliated by the abuser and your self-esteem and confidence have been undermined. You hide the abuse from people close to you, often to protect the reputation of the abuser and because of your own shame. An abuser uses tactics to isolate you from friends and loved ones by criticizing them and making remarks designed to force you to take sides. You’re either for them or against them. If the abuser feels slighted, then you have to take his or her side, or you’re befriending the enemy. This is designed to increase control over you and your dependence upon him or her. (See Dealing with a Narcissist.)

Steps You Can Take

It’s essential to build outside resources and talk about what’s going on in your relationship. A professional is the best person, because you can build your self-esteem and learn how to help yourself without feeling judged or rushed into taking action. If you can’t afford private individual therapy, find a low-fee clinic in your city, learn all you can from books and online resources, join online forums, and find a support group at a local battered women’s shelter. Do this even if it means keeping a secret. You’re entitled to your privacy.

To avoid getting involved with an abuser when you’re dating, beware of someone who:

  • Insists on having his or her way and won’t compromise
  • Has outbursts of anger
  • Is rude to others
  • Criticizes you or your family
  • Is jealous or possessive
  • Is paranoid
  • Threatens you

Pay attention to these signs despite the fact that the person is pursuing you and expressing love and affection. An abuser won’t risk becoming abusive until he or she is confident that you won’t leave. First, he or she will try to win you over and isolate you from friends and family. Often, violence doesn’t start until after marriage or the birth of a child, when you’re less likely to leave. (See “Narcissistic Relationships.”)

If you’re threatened by abuse, call 1-800-799-SAFE. Some steps you can take to prepare for an emergency are:

  • Open bank and credit cards in your own name.
  • Have a safe place to go at a friend or relative.
  • Have a bag packed at that place with necessary valuables and important contacts and legal papers, passport, bank information, credit cards, phone, and money. Also pack clothes for your children and some toys.
  • Alert neighbors to call the police if they hear loud suspect danger.
  • Make extra car and house keys. Hide a car key outside so you can get away.
  • If there is a weapon in the house, remove it.

Remember, by not confronting abuse to avoid the risk of losing someone’s love, you risk losing your Self. Read the “Do’s and Don’ts of Confronting Abuse” and get How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits (or webinar, How to Be Assertive) and learn special ways to confront an abuser in Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships.

©Darlene Lancer, MFT 2012, 2017


What Is Codependency? – Learn to spot Abusers and how to put an end to Emotional Codependency and Abuse provided by Darlene Lancer, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, CA, and author of Codependency for Dummies


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Ankit Singh
1 month ago

Very Tragic & Sad Story Important Social Message.

Karry T.
Karry T.
3 years ago

You being a man doesn’t make it any worse per say. You’re still a person and a child of the LORD at the end of the day. Don’t feel like you’re less of a man because you’ve been abused. If she’s said that as a way to shame you please don’t listen to that.

You’re a human being that shouldn’t have to endure such cruel treatment. I hope you’re in a better situation now. Jesus loves you and you don’t need to be in an abusive relationship to feel loved.

Patrick Caven
Patrick Caven
4 years ago

So I stumbled cross this website looking for relationship help because thats what I thought I needed. Instead I found it is I that needs help as I have been being controlled, manipulated, but most of all and that worst thing and hardest thing for me to say is I am a victim of physical abuse and I am man. I have scars from where chunks of my skin were clawed away, scars where the words have cut so deep. I have been beaten verbally, emotionally, and physically down to the shell of the person I used to be, to where I dont even know who I am anymore and that is truly upsetting. Its going to be a long trip once i figure out where my first step is.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Caven

Your story is very sad, and most men do not report abuse due to shame. I hope your find treatment for the trauma you went through and attend Coda. My books would also be helpful. These are 3 doable steps that will help you.

Aaron S
Aaron S
3 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Caven

I’m with you bro. Its sad. This articulates situations so friggin well. It was frightening and soothing to read. I didnt live with her AND I hid my keys outside. She took them many times….my cell phone, wallet and ipad.

Lady Jane
Lady Jane
7 years ago

In the cycle of abuse, is it possible that there is never a remorse period by the abuser? That the abuser blames the victim for the attack and after the blame is accepted by the victim, the remorse comes from the victim instead? Sometimes perspective through denial and blaming can make things so confusing…

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
7 years ago
Reply to  Lady Jane

Blaming the victim is common. Some malignant narcissists or sociopaths don’t feel guilt or remorse. See my blog, “Sociopath or Narcissist?.” Rather than try to understand the abuser, work on your own self-esteem and ability to set boundaries. Get counseling or outside support immediately, because abuse and projection will confuse you and undermine your self-worth.

7 years ago

When I was drinking I was guilty of all those things. Jealosy, anger, & control was my biggest problem. I was only violent once when my spouse went out with a person home on leave from Vietnam. I never have hit my wife & once her & I was at a AA meeting i shared that i never hit her & she said, you might as well have hit me because the emotional abuse hurt just as bad. I have never forgot that. I have been sober 22 yrs now & have made my amends. Now I’m abused by her passive aggressiveness, go figure.

7 years ago

Thank you for this article. I did not realize I was a codependent. I knew that this relationship wasn’t healthy though. I keep “pleasing” him every time he has packed 23 times in less than two months. After almost 7 years of leaving and returning. Good thing is I divorced him. Now I know its not in my head. I will read 10 Steps to Self Esteem and Codependency for Dummies . thanks everyone and Darlene for this article. I feel so trapped, but I will break free.

8 years ago

After 35 yrs he walked out the door and went his merry way. I had suffered his Narcissistic Verbal abuse all those years and had never discussed this anyone. He had me so beat down I had a stress related stroke. The stress first attacked my central nervous system a year and a half before it attacked my immune system. I seized and was told later that it was triggered by a medication interaction or an allergic reaction to a medication. (I found out later t was a blood pressure medication) It later attacked my physical body. During this period of time my ex-husband planned the divorce. He got everything including my self esteem.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
8 years ago
Reply to  Deby

I’m so sorry. It’s a tragic story. Go to meetings, read my books, and start to heal.

Legal Hel Center
Legal Hel Center
8 years ago

Thanks for finally writing about Codependent Women, Emotional Codependency
in Relationships by Darlene Lancer, MFT <Loved it!

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