(2) Don't Plant Your Seeds: Chapter One
An Overview of Domestic Abuse
Don’t Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic Guide To Domestic Abuse
Chapter One: An Overview of Domestic Abuse
“The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.”
When the topic domestic violence is mentioned, people often visualize black eyes, broken bones and clenched fists. However, manipulation and control over another individual takes many forms. Domestic abuse can violate a person not only physically but emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, sexually and financially.
Bruises, broken bones and smashed faces shout obvious violence, traumatic for the victim and outwardly visible. A broken spirit isn’t as visible, and bruises to the soul are easily buried with a false smile and cover-up stories to hide the truth. Yet in a multitude of studies and interviews, survivors have consistently affirmed that emotional, psychological and verbal abuse are even more traumatic than broken bones. All forms of abuse leave scars and bruises in the soul.
These destructive actions aren’t isolated events. Everyone makes mistakes, saying and doing things they later come to regret. They soon recognize their slip-ups, make genuine reparation, and don’t repeat the toxic behavior. An abusive relationship, on other hand, is a pattern of attitudes and actions that create a confusing, terrifying, fragile and crazy-making atmosphere within what should be the sacred space of the home. The abuse is repeated, again and again. Even if months go by with no obvious incident, eventually the same pattern reappears—and, as the years go by, the pattern reappears with increasing frequency. Some examples of domestic abuse include:
Name-calling and insults
Extreme and controlling jealousy
Constant criticism, both overt and covert
Threats to kill or harm one's partner, children or pets, or self
Destruction of property
Forced vaccination, sterilization or abortion
Sexual assault or coercion
Blaming others or constantly making excuses for negative behaviors
Physical violence (even toward inanimate objects)
Undermining and belittling
Being deliberately evasive in conversation, omitting information and other forms of lying
Circular talk (conversations become dizzying and impossible to follow)
The victim isn’t allowed to have opinions separate from her partner
Intimidation by subtle threats, looks, actions, or tone of voice
The consistent, continual pattern of domestic abuse is dizzying and bewildering, especially since an individual with abusive traits quite often displays a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality. He can often be charming and sweet, and during those times the victim will feel overwhelming relief and gratitude. Eventually, though, he becomes “Mr. Hyde” again, exploding in aggressive rage or covert criticism, often employing manipulative tactics that are more dangerous because of their subtly.
These tactics are all part of the abuse cycle.
The Abuse Cycle
Bait / Adoration
The abuse cycle is the recurring pattern that keeps playing out, again and again, in many toxic relationships. First there’s the “adoration” stage, in which your spouse is contrite, kind, seemingly empathetic and loving. I refer to this as the first phase of the cycle because the grooming, “love bombing” aspect of a relationship is what a target first sees during the initial dating period, before the abuse cycle begins to revolve in earnest. This stage feels wonderful, and is an enormous relief after a cycle of mistreatment.
It’s at this point that you begin to feel change is truly possible. It’s this promise, this hope, that keeps most victims from leaving. What if there’s a chance he’ll become the caring man you once thought he was? Marriage is a sacred vow. It can’t be dumped if there’s hope, can it? Yet when the cycle repeats over and over, through the years, hope begins to deteriorate.
In reality, this isn’t the stage of a relationship where authentic love or repentance occurs. It’s actually the “bait” phase of the cycle, where you’re pulled back into a romantic connection with promises of change, expressions of undying love, and the relief of what seems to be much-needed respect and empathy. This is a grooming technique abusive personalities use to regain control of the relationship. However, it doesn’t indicate true remorse—just like the peanut butter in a mouse trap doesn’t indicate a true meal.
Eventually—in a matter of days, weeks, sometimes even months—the adoration and love start to fade. The relationship enters a period of calm, where abuse is either so covert it’s barely detected, or continues to be absent. Your partner may no longer be giving you roses and making grand professions of love, but at least you’re still experiencing respite from his mistreatment. There are promises of protection and security, even if unspoken.
You may still hear a few apologies in this stage of the cycle, but again it’s crucial to be vigilant and alert. Any apology that has a “but” in it isn’t authentic (“I’m sorry I called you stupid, but I was drunk,” “I’m sorry I smashed your vase, but you triggered me,” etc.). In the “calm” phase of the abuse cycle you may feel you can breathe again, and perhaps even trust again. In this stage your partner may ignore his abuse altogether, as if he never did anything wrong—a tactic of denial that makes you feel as if you exaggerated things and that your relationship is fine.
It’s during the “calm” stage that your self-doubt begins to deepen as you further question your perceptions, your memory and your intuition.
All too soon, the “tension building” stage of the abuse cycle begins. You can feel something simmering, even though it may not be overtly obvious. Your partner may turn cold or critical, silent and brooding, or constantly harasses you with a barrage of little things that soon become overwhelming. Often the shift is so subtle that it’s hard to explain in words, yet it can certainly be felt.
Next comes the “rage stage”—the explosion, the outburst, the full-fledged Mr. Hyde coming out like a roaring lion, waiting for someone (you) to devour (1 Peter 5:8). If someone who’s acting abusively is particularly covert, this stage may not take the form of violent outbursts such as punching walls, vicious shouting or fierce anger. Instead it may manifest in subtle accusations, heartbreaking name-calling, various levels of betrayal, increased gaslighting and more. You might experience all of the above, or a mixture of tactics. Aggressors are predictable in their unpredictability.
The wheel has made a full rotation. You’re back to where you were before. Your spouse is apologetic, hearts and red roses appear, you begin to feel hopeful yet again.
Abusive incidents are traumatic, confusing, heartbreaking and devastating—but even more so because they’re alternated with good times. These good times foster feelings of increased love, devotion and gratitude. As an emotionally (and perhaps physically) battered woman who is psychologically tortured by your husband’s manipulative tactics, you likely feel immense gratitude when the relationship suddenly becomes “normal” again.
Because of the “bait/adoration” stage of the abuse cycle, you’ve likely formed a trauma bond to your partner. This type of connection isn’t authentic love, but it certainly feels like it.