Why Do Women Stay? Domestic violence is a serious and complex plague of society that affects all, but women make up the largest number of victims in most case studies. In the United States alone, "1.5 million women are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year. More than 500,000 women victims require medical treatment, and 324,000 victims are pregnant at the time of assault" (Berlinger, "Taking" 42). Numbers like these show how intense the situation of domestic violence truly is. "Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner and domestic violence accounts for 22% of all recorded violent crimes" (Jamil 70).
Domestic violence takes such a large number in percentages regarding violent crimes, yet often is dismissed by many with the idea that "this won't happen to me". Somehow, somewhere, domestic violence will touch everyone whether by someone they know or by televised publication. Though domestic violence affects men as well, the female subject is more often the victim. Domestic violence has a continuous cycle that has been influenced since birth and can be stopped with intervention but each victim's reason for staying will vary. Researchers are still trying to understand domestic violence, what causes it and how far back psychologically does it go. A Scottish psychoanalyst, W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, conducted studies such as these.
These studies had a grand influence on British object relations and he founded the "Object Relations Theory" and the "Dynamic Structure of the mind" (Stringer). Similarly to Sigmund Freud's "id", Fairbairn has levels of the internal unified ego that will split as a self defense mechanism in relation to the emotional pain a child is feeling (Celani 62). This unconscious strategy is necessary. The internal unified ego is composed of the self-esteem of humans and is divided into three parts according to Fairbairn, the libidinal, the anti-libidinal, and the central ego.
In the 1940's Fairbairn states, "The first psychological consequence of deprivation on the infant is fixation on the maternal object", where the infant will focus its attention on the non-gratifying object and over time develops a huge backlog of neglectful thoughts and resentment (Celani 63). Fairbairn's reference to an "object" is referring to the mother or father in charge of taking care of the child at hand. In this quote he comments on the mother because at the time of this theory it was primarily the mother's responsibility to care for the children. As the child grows, the needs for fulfillment will be displaced from the parent to a future lover (63). This psychological damage can be devastating and the child will eventually have to deal with her internal pain. She will take the depiction of the parent that has hurt her and internalize it, turning that image into an idea that she can treasure and count on as her happy place in times of need (63).
The depth of internalization depends on the level of neglect. It is difficult for a child to stay attached to a parent that she fears and hates the most (64). Splitting of the unified ego allows the child to "protect its hope for love by objects in the future", similarly to a person with split personalities, only internalized (65). "The child's sub ego that relates exclusively to the frustrating and rejecting object was called the anti-libidinal ego", by Fairbairn, if the child looses her mother in reality a substitute figure is needed, but if "the father or any substitute is missing, the personality creates one imaginatively", which relates to the internalizing image that the child has made to be good to her (65). When this imagination gives promise of love, it is referred to as the exciting object and the sub ego that relates to this exciting object is called the libidinal ego (65). "Defensive splitting is not found in children who have parents who gratify their legitimate needs and celebrate them as persons in their own right", (66).
These children are able to cope with life situations because they have the love and support they need to grow healthy and happy. "The Moral Defense Against Bad Objects [theory... is] a defensive strategy used by children to lessen their anxiety about being dependent on objects who continuously frustrated their needs", Fairbairn continues to say that a child will become bad to make his parents seem good (Celani 66). The anti-libidinal ego will grow each time the child feels anger or disappointment towards the rejecting parents with regards to psychological support, approval, and / or her physical needs being met. In order to prevent a collapse of her entire ego structure, the libidinal ego grows at the same rate to maintain the idea that the rejecting parent will love and approve of her someday (67). As the two sub egos grow, the central ego becomes smaller (67). "The central ego is anchored by many internalized good-object memories that control normal individuals' anxiety (and prevent splitting) when they encounter rejecting parts of their objects", (68).
Once again relating to the child that has their emotional and physical needs met they are seemingly more capable of handling simple problems or challenges presented by their parents or by others. A woman that has developed these large libidinal egos with a small central ego will unconsciously look for a partner that continues to maintain what her egos have grown to know. So why are these women not attracted to "normal" men? "Her libidinal ego was created from unrealistic, larger-than-life fantasies about her objects. She is seeking a man who can fit into her unrealistic expectations...
Conversely, her anti-libidinal ego demands that her chosen object be deeply disappointing and enraging so it can resume the battle with the rejecting part of her new displaced object", (69). She is looking for a man who promises everything, delivers nothing, and possibly is physically controlling. In the beginning of time animals and humans only chose a mate for procreation and it was not until the last thousand years that humans would choose a life partner. The only problem with dating is that people put on a facade and the true self takes time to get to know. In a domestic violence relationship there may be months or even years of psychological and emotional abuse that might start off as jealousy, which many women find flattering, but will escalate to name calling or making her feel guilty over some uncontrollable situations (Marvin 16).
Over time this will crush what little is left of her central ego making her feel responsible and no longer in control. This characterization of verbal abuse and sometimes mild physical aggression is the first in a three stage pattern in the "Cycle Theory of Violence" called the "Tension Building Stage", (Celani 70). This is the longest phase in the cycle. "The male abuser sees his female partner as a rejecting object, perhaps because she failed to meet his (infantile) needs...
Now he has the power to actively revenge himself against the object that he feels is frustrating him", (70). Many women can sense when her partner has become increasingly agitated and become more nurturing or compliant to him to try and calm the situation (Marvin 16). "Religions, cultural, and societal pressure" tend to place the responsibility of a happy marriage on the woman (Berlinger, "Domestic" 60). If she is able to keep the peace, then she has allowed more time for the supposed happiness, but if she fails, the resulting violence is felt to be her fault. The second phase is the "Acute Battering Incident", the shortest phase of the cycle because it can last for just a moment, several minutes, or hours depending on when the attacker is finished (Marvin 16). This is where the man will explode usually regarding minor situations.
"The abuser's motivation can be characterized as anti-libidinal because it is based on the feeling that his partner has slighted his (insatiable and infantile) needs" (Celani 71). Unconsciously the man is looking at his female partner as a type of mother figure who has again not satisfied his needs, which often are unspoken and meant to be known like a mother would know her infant's needs. The batterer's initial intention is just to teach his partner a lesson and control her and if the woman attempts to fight back, injuries can worsen or the situation can become deadly (Marvin 16). During childhood development, the female child had no validation for her experience of her parents destroying her, now she has found a man that physically does now what psychologically happened then (Celani 71). After the batterer has been exhausted he may feel some form of remorse and apologize. This is the third phase of the cycle, the "Kindness and Contrite Loving Behavior" known as the "Honeymoon Phase" (72).
Empty promises of 'this won't happen again', gifts, flowers, possibly helping with chores are a few ways that the batterer shows his sincerity. The victim has now been dominated by her partner and her anti-libidinal ego may want revenge or to flee the relationship, which in turn makes the abuser feel as though he is being abandoned and his libidinal ego view of his partner is leaving him. He then tries to become the libidinal ego view of the nice guy she once had of him (72). Remembering their courtship and the man she fell in love with, they both believe that a situation like this will not happen again and will refuse to press charges if police were contacted after the explosion had happened (Berlinger, "Why" 36). Eventually tension will build, the man will complain that the woman is not holding up to her responsibilities or that she may be doing something that she really is not, and the cycle will repeat. The "Honeymoon Phase" shortens as time goes on and "the average victim leaves her abuser seven times before she leaves for good.
Only she can determine when it's safe to leave". ("Why" 38). Every woman is affected differently by domestic violence and hence has different reasons to abandon life as she knows it. "Most battered women function in a survival mode and interact with their batterers in ways they have determined will keep themselves and their children safe... they are in "red-alert" mode at all times, constantly adapting to unpredictable and continuous danger", (Starsoneck 113). These women live constantly with heightened awareness's similar to those responses of the flight or fight pattern. So why do women stay?
Research of public opinion regarding "does a woman have a choice to leave or stay" shows that many people believe that a woman can "simply leave" and if she does not she is "emotionally disturbed" (Busch 58). Socially, culturally, religiously, economically, physically, psychologically, the list goes on regarding contributing factors why women stay, fear being a primary reason in each category. As stated earlier religions, cultures and societal pressures place responsibilities on the women to maintain a happy marriage, with fear of being judged by others, especially if her husband in well behaved in the public eye, increasing her sense of isolation (Berlinger, "Domestic" 60). Also a well-intentioned clergyman may tell a victim to stay married because that's God's will and that divorce is a fate almost worse than death (Berlinger, "Why" 38).
Economically the victim may not have any money, often the finances are controlled by the batterer by either taking control of moneys earned or not allowing her to work. Unfortunately money is needed for survival. The lack of places to go and the lack of police help may be seen as unavailability of resources, where by victims may interpret that their safety is unimportant (Anderson et al. 154). No one wants to choose to be homeless, especially with children. Psychologically a woman wants to believe that the man she fell in love with will hold to his promises of change or she may still feel the need to "fix" her partner, particularly if he was abused as a child (Berlinger, "Why" 37).
"Domestic violence research suggests that a woman's perceived choices are shaped by the degree to which she feels isolated, unsupported, physically weak, and confused by the trauma in her life" (Busch 58). "The Barriers Model" proposed by Grigsby and Hartman states that there are three barriers that a victim must overcome, "to escape, resources are needed such as money, a place to go, support from police and courts, and support from family, friends, or professionals. When these resources are lacking, the message is clear that escape is impossible", (Anderson et al. 154). This is the "barriers of the environment" and the outermost ring of the models circle, where by once the victim understands there are resources available she must overcome the next barrier of the "family and social role expectations... [Where] the victims role as caretaker squarely puts the blame on her for the failing relationship", (155).
With support of others that the past situations were not her fault she will then have to move on to her own thoughts. She must recognize the psychological impact of the relationship, "the fear of her mate and the fear of not being able to survive alone.".. some felt safer in staying because they knew what to expect (Anderson et al. 155). No matter the reason, we must understand that leaving may not always be the best answer. Fear for the safety of herself and her children's lives is a huge contributing factor. "Seventy percent of domestic violence victims who are killed by their abusers die while trying to leave", (Berlinger, "Why" 36).
Domestic violence is a silent killer because no one wants to talk about it, the victims or people they know and may want to reach out to. Medical offices are becoming more careful about asking questions regarding home matters. "According to the US Surgeon General, a woman's home is statistically less safe for her than the streets" (Oeltjen 20). A woman is more likely to be assaulted, raped, or killed by a male partner than by anyone else according to the "National Woman Abuse Prevention Project in Washington D.C". and a third of all women killed in the United States is done by the husband, boyfriend, or ex (Oeltjen 20). The cycle of violence is not an easy situation to be in or to leave. The victims may experience a relapse, which is normal.
Each victim must be supported at her own pace because only she knows when the time is right to leave. Those people on the outside of the situation can support the victim to "1) rediscover a sense of self, 2) build hope and reduce isolation, 3) develop strength and direction and, when ready 4) take small steps" (Hadley 22). Encouragement and support is everything to a victim, do not leave her or all hope may be lost and isolation plays a part in a woman's fears. "We should honor battered women's tremendous abilities to cope under horrendous conditions and their courageous efforts to make a change or decision when their lives are on the line" (Starsoneck 114). Above all, as a society, as a world, as a whole, parents must be good to their children from birth in order to raise happy healthy families that will love, honor, and treasure each other and the world in which they live in. Children are the future and if they are raised cruelly then the violence of the world will never stop.
Work Cited Anderson, Michael A., Paulette Marie Gillis, Marilyn Si taker, Kathy McCloskey, Kathleen Malloy, and Nancy Grigsby. "Why Doesn't She Just Leave Him? : A Descriptive Study of Victim Reported Impediments to Her Safety". Journal of Family Violence 18 (2003): 151-155.
Berlinger, June. "Domestic Violence". Nursing Aug. 2001: 58-63. Berlinger, June. "Taking an Intimate Look at Domestic Violence". Nursing Oct. 2004: 42-46.
Berlinger, June. "Why Don't You Just Leave Him?" Nursing Apr. 1998: 34-40. Busch, Noel Bridget. "Comparisons of Moral Reasoning Levels Between Battered and Non-battered Women". Journal of Social Work Education 40 (2004): 57-71.
Celani, David P. "Applying Fairbairn's Object Relations Theory to the Dynamics of the Battered Woman". American Journal of Psychotherapy 53 (1999): 60-73. Hadley, Susan M. "Linking the Orthopedic Patient with Community Family Violence Resources". Orthopedic Nursing 21 (2002): 19-24.
Jamil, Tan vir. "Domestic Violence". Pulse 4 Oct. 2004: 70. Marvin, Douglas R. "The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 66 (1997): 13-18.
Oeltjen, Holly. "Stop the Beating". Women in Business 44 (1992): 20-23. Starsoneck, Leslie, and Sharon Friedman. "Taking Exception to Asymmetrical Role-Taking: Comparing Battered and Non-battered Women". Social Work 42 (1997): 113-115.
Stringer, Kathie. Kathie's Mental Health Review page. 22 Nov. 2004 web.