How do I know if my relationship is abusive? How abusive does it have to be to get sole custody of my children?
How do I know if my relationship is abusive? How abusive does it have to be to get sole custody of my children? For some people who read your question they might think, “That’s kind of a stupid question; it’s obvious if you’re being abused.” I was one of those people who thought that way in the past. While some forms of abuse are obvious or easily identified, other forms of abuse are not, such as things like Stockholm Syndrome, gaslighting, and other abusive behaviors that make abuse hard for the victim of abuse to recognize.
Before I state anything further, I must make one thing clear: among those of us who are fortunate to live in First World countries are some who are emotionally immature and/or wimpy; people with nothing better to do than feel like victims simply because someone says something critical of them or does not do for them or give to them whatever they want. These are not the kind of people who qualify as abused and they do not suffer the kind of treatment that constitutes abuse.
But there are situations that arise where the abuse is real, but subtle, unnoticeable at first, and builds gradually in severity until the abuse victim cannot remember what life was like before the abuse and becomes unsure of whether he/she is being abused.
Stockholm Syndrome. This is a good brief description of Stockholm Syndrome from GoodTherapy.com:
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition that occurs when a victim of abuse identifies and attaches, or bonds, positively with their abuser. This syndrome was originally observed when hostages who were kidnapped not only bonded with their kidnappers, but also fell in love with them.
Professionals have expanded the definition of Stockholm syndrome to include any relationship in which victims of abuse develop a strong, loyal attachment to the perpetrators of abuse. Some of the populations affected with this condition include concentration camp prisoners, prisoners of war, abused children, incest survivors, victims of domestic violence, cult members, and people in toxic work or church environments.
Battered partners or spouses are a prime example of Stockholm syndrome. Oftentimes, they are reluctant to press charges or initiate a restraining order, and some have attempted to stop police from arresting their abusers even after a violent assault. After the relationship has ended, victims of domestic violence may often make statements such as, “I still love him,” even after being brutally beaten.
Gaslighting. “Gaslighting” is a trendy term these days, and as is the case with all trends, they become overexposed and diluted. Some people like feeling like victims (they’re emotional hypochondriacs), and those who do will see the gaslighting bogeyman (or claim to see it) behind every tree. Other people will accuse those with whom they disagree of gaslighting.
But real gaslighting can and does cause series emotional and psychological harm. GoodTherapy.com described gaslighting as follows (I have taken the liberty of correcting the grammar in this excerpt):
WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?
Gaslighting is an abusive tactic aimed to make a person doubt his/her own thoughts and feelings. The abuse is often subtle at first. For example, if a person is telling a story, the abuser may challenge a small detail. The person may admit his/her was wrong on a detail, then move on. The next time, the abuser may use that past “victory” to discredit the person further, perhaps by questioning the person’s memory.
The person may argue back at first. He/she may intuit something is wrong in the relationship or marriage. But because each gaslighting incident is so minor, his/her can’t pinpoint any specific cause for their unease. Over time, the person may second-guess his/her own emotions and memories. He/she may rely on their abuser to tell them if their memory is correct or if his/her emotions are “reasonable.” Abusers use this trust to gain control over their targets.
Popular culture often depicts gaslighting as a man abusing his wife. Yet people of any gender can gaslight others or be gaslighted themselves. Gaslighting can also occur in platonic contexts such as a workplace. Anyone can be a target.
Gaslighting can take many forms. Sometimes it can involve manipulating a person’s environment behind his/her back. Other times, the abuse is entirely verbal and emotional.
Common techniques include:
- Withholding: Refusing to listen to any concerns or pretending not to understand them. Example: “I don’t have time to listen to this nonsense. You’re not making any sense.”
- Countering: Questioning the target’s memory. An abuser may deny the events occurred in the way the target (accurately) remembers. Abusers may also invent details of the event that did not occur. Example: “I heard you say it! You never remember our conversations right.”
- Forgetting/Denial: Pretending to forget events that have happened to further discredit the victim’s memory. An abuser may deny making promises to avoid responsibility. Example: “What are you talking about? I never promised you that.”
- Blocking/Diversion: Changing the subject to divert the target’s attention from a topic. An abuser may twist a conversation into an argument about the person’s credibility. Example: “Have you been talking to your sister again? She’s always putting stupid ideas in your head.”
- Trivializing: Asserting that a person is overreacting to hurtful behavior. This technique can condition a person into believing his/her emotions are invalid or excessive. Example: “You’re so sensitive! Everyone else thought my joke was funny.”
A gaslighter often uses the target’s “mistakes” and “overreactions” to cast the abuser as the victim. For example, an abuser may scream accusations at a person until the other party must raise his/her voice to be heard. The abuser may then cut the conversation short, claiming the other person is “out of control” and “too aggressive.” In some cases, the abuser may accuse the other person of being the true gaslighter.
I also found a post breakthesilencedv.org on what the author calls “reactive abuse” to be useful.
And I thought this post on psychologytoday.com to be a good article on how to spot an abuser before it’s too late.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277