Surviving and Ending the Cycle of Abuse

Millennium Education Series

Information and Strategies

for dealing with and ending

the cycle of abuse


Table Of Contents

Behaviors Commonly Used by Batterers to Maintain Power and Control in Relationships

The Five Main Characteristics of Battered Women


Using Sabotage to Keep Her Home

Bridges to the Future: Eliminating Domestic Violence in the New Millennium

Children of Trauma by Jane Middleton-Moz

Surviving the Cycle of Abuse

Top Warning Signs of an Abusive Personality

Working With Pregnant Clients Who May Be Abused

Why Do Men Hit Women?

Behaviors Commonly Used by Batterers to

Maintain Power and Control in Relationships

Economic Abuse

Trying to keep her from getting or keeping a job

Making her ask for money, giving allowance, taking her check

Sexual Abuse

Making her do sexual acts against her will

Physically attacking the sexual parts of her body

Treating her like a sex object

Using the Children

Making her feel guilty about the children

To deliver messages, threatening her

Using visitation to harass her

Mistreating or abuseing the children to hurt her


Making or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her

Threatening to take the children, commit suicide, or report her to child welfare

Using Male Privilege

Treating her like a servant

Making all the decisions

Acting like the “king of the castle”


Making her fearful by using looks, actions, gestures, a loud voice, or by smashing things or destroying her property


Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, or where she goes

Emotional Abuse

Putting her down or making her feel bad about herself

Calling her names

Making her think she is crazy

Playing mind games

(from In Our Best Interest: A Process for Personal and Social Change by Ellen Pence)

Back To Table of Contents


The Five Main Characteristics of Battered Women

Accepts blame for her abuse:

“In reality a woman has no control over her abusive partner’s behavior. No matter what she does or does not do, the batterer chooses to hurt her.” In spite of this truth, “the batterer works hard to convince the woman the abuse is her fault.” His blaming escalates until she ‘can do nothing right’, and she often begins to believe she actually causes his abusive behavior.

Lowered self-esteem:

This occurs through constant devaluing and shaming by the partner. Women eventually come to believe their partner is right – they are inadequate in almost every aspect of their lives.


When a woman experiences a sense of almost constant failure and is not allowed to express her feelings or frustrations, her inability to express herself leads to anger. If there is no place for her to express her feelings, especially anger, she usually turns it on herself. This often becomes guilt, and she feels guilty for almost any behavior. Some battered women turn the anger back toward the abuser or to other family members.

Feelings of hopelessness and passivity:

Over time women who are blamed, constantly belittled, and not allowed to express their feelings, become hopeless and passive. They may even be unable to act, make decisions, or think through problems. What appears to be complete docility is in effect a survival strategy which includes denial, attentiveness to the batterer’s wants, and fondness mixed with fear (for the abuser), fear of interference by authorities, and adoption of his perspective.

Denial and Minimization of Abuse:

Women may “turn off” their feelings in order to cope with everyday life, and use denial to cope. Such denial may include:

assumption the batterer is a good man whose actions stem from problems she can help him solve,

denying the abuse occurred, denying the batterer is responsible for the abuse, saying external forces always cause it,

believing she is the reason for the abuse and deserves the punishment,

denying she could survive without him,

believing marriage/religious vows are more important than her personal well being.

(From When Violence Begins at Home by Dr. K. J. Wilson, a formerly battered woman)

Back To Table of Contents



In Healing the Child Within, Dr. Charles L. Whitfield writes “I believe, as do others, that growing up, or living in a seriously troubled or dysfunctional family or similar environment brings about or is associated with PTSD (post traumatic stress). The PTSD is said to be more damaging and more difficult to treat if:

the traumas occur over a prolonged period of time, e.g., longer than six months; and especially so if

the traumas are of human origin; and if

those around the affected person tend to deny the existence of the stressor or stress.

****Effects of family abuse on children from their viewpoint:

Rising inner tension while waiting for next incident of abuse to occur (p 47)

Knowing the warning signs and fearing the results

Seeing the parent getting drunk and knowing they would hurt, yell, or otherwise harm you or someone else in family, and would forget the next day.

Living in a constant state of alertness, especially victims of incest or other sexual abuse

Experiencing irregular but repeated abandonment either physically or emotionally or both (when parent not reliably caring for and nurturing child because of own abuse or abusive behavior)

Experiencing recurrent flashbacks or dreams of abuse incidents

Learning it’s okay to hurt the people you love and live with over and over again

Lacking ability to trust

Lacking self-esteem

Becoming unresponsive or uninvolved in the world, feeling detached from others, lacking interest in significant activities

Learning to survive by suspending feelings. Split between one’s self and one’s experience does not heal easily.

Having difficulty falling asleep/concentrating, remembering (may be diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder?)

Experiencing triggers that recall abusive incidents to mind

Continuing to operate on a survival level even when it is not necessary (later in life, other times even during childhood)

Lacking in healthy relationship skills

Learning fixed beliefs/operating principles about how to live, what kind of person they are, what other people are like, and how life works. These beliefs carry on into adulthood and generally mold the way a person lives and relates to others.

Learning to make life and death decisions at an early age – when to lie, be quiet, obey, mistrust, etc.

Choosing death over life when in abusive situation, may do so unconsciously but often comes out later in some form

Repressing all emotions, not just ones that helped survive abuse

Becoming a split personality/schizophrenic is possible (little or no contact with reality)-degree of split is key

Living with prolonged and severe abuse with little or not outside support can cause very deep splits in personality

Giving up spontaneity, creativity, innocence, carefree experience.

Needing protection and safety even above love – “only when a child feels safe and protected she can truly let herself love or feel loved” (Page 55, Adult Children of Abusive Parents)

Learning rigid controls for protection not otherwise provided, carry over into adult roles and behavior

Developing a role within the abusive family to be as safe as possible (perfectionist, invisible, caretaker, rebel, abuser, scapegoat)

Blaming self for parent’s fighting and other abusive incidents including sex abuse

Acting “happy” to cover up hurting as long as in abusive relationship; if taken out of situation may dramatically change affect/behavior (disclose abuse when not in home)

(Adult Children of Abusive Parents by Steven Farmer)


Abused children take on various roles, most common: perfectionist, caretaker(parent), invisible and rebel


desire for achievement and perfectionism

inwardly waiting for others to find out how inadequate they are

“it is never be good enough” (whatever they are doing) because they believe they aren’t good enough

carry load of guilt

Perfectionist role can lead to continuous dissatisfaction and restlessness – also much time is devoted to how they look to others

Some behaviors:

sometimes immerse themselves in whatever they do – have to know it all and do it all

relationship standards often so high rarely able to make or keep friends – those who become friends face risk of continual rejection

it is difficult to be tolerant of others when they are not tolerant of self

keep distance from others

agenda has to be kept or upset

try to fix others to get them up to their standards

Other notes

People raised in family that experiences frequent crisis may gain a sense of purpose from a crisis event – gives them the role of keeping things together or putting back in order – may start crisis to gain feeling of purpose and role

Hurting child personality often attracted to abusive partner

Choosing to live or die – traumatized children and adults may go through this choice when life is unbearable or overwhelming. Go through steps to make a critical decision.

Death/survival judgements (The Scindo Syndrome, Marilyn Murray) occur when a person experiences trauma or deprivation – go through a series of definite choices toward life or death

Back To Table of Contents


Using Sabotage to Keep Her Home

“The first week I worked my husband hid the keys, disabled the car, and reported it stolen when I finally got to the job.” Sandy’s story is not uncommon. In our country as many battered women work as non-abused females, but they often end up with low paying, intermittent jobs because their spouses and boyfriends sabotage their efforts. As Sandy’s experience shows, transportation is a major barrier for many women.

“It was finals week, and he was my only ride to college. The day of the first test he refused to take me to class. I called a friend for a ride and he pulled the phone out of the wall. Then he started cursing and hit me. I would have graduated the next semester,” recalls Dana when she talks about her ex-husband. Teenagers who have abusive boyfriends are often kept from completing high school through similar methods.

Sabotage occurs frequently when a woman attends school, gets job training, or goes to work. Nationwide studies show the most common method of interference by a partner is starting a fight that may include hours of verbal abuse and lead to physical assault. A woman who is kept up half the night cannot do well on an exam or interview. When her face is deliberately bruised, it is difficult to seek employment or attend school.

“I told him I was going to start job training, and he reminded me of the time he put me in the hospital,” says Valerie. “I only went one day because I was afraid of what he would do to me or the kids. After I told him I quit, he slapped me around anyway, and said there was plenty more of that.”

Promising to take care of the children and backing out at the last minute, neglecting the kids or mistreating them while she’s at work, and making problems with sitters are other ways abusers interfere with their partner’s working. Sometimes he follows her, calls constantly throughout the day, or floods her e-mail with harassing remarks. Concerns about child care and continual interruptions make it difficult to work. Even when a woman leaves her abusive partner, he may disrupt her work or training.

Employers and educators need to be aware that employees and students may be experiencing partner interference. Training staff in domestic violence issues, and referring women for support services are important steps businesses and schools can take. For more information call the Family Refuge Center at 304-645-6334 in Greenbrier County, 772-5005 in Monroe, and 799-4400 in Pocahontas.

Back To Table of Contents


Bridges to the Future:

Eliminating Domestic Violence in the New Millennium

(August 2000 National Conference in Philadelphia)

Summary of facts and information:

64% women on welfare experience domestic violence in their lifetime

21% women on welfare currently in abusive relationships

55% of teen mothers are currently being abused by partner

As many women who are in DV relationship work as those who are not

Screening for battered women – main question to ask:

Do you have a driver’s license?

Battered women most likely to have a variety of low-paying jobs with reliance on welfare intermittent with situation and ability to work

Most significant reason battered women don’t work: batterer threatens to kill them or kill/hurt children if they do

Women are most likely to say lack of transportation and childcare are the reasons they don’t work rather than disclose abuse to DHHR (Most see no tangible benefit to disclosing, fear of batterer)

Women most likely to disclose abuse when asked directly along with other questions about health and general information

Batterers routinely sabotage their partners work or training

Starting a major fight which may last through the night is the most common method of interference

Batterers often do not allow spouse or partner to use birth control

25% of battered women ( and numerous children) suffer from asthma

In one study 42% of battered women on welfare experienced major mental health problems including depression and post traumatic stress syndrome

Overall stats show 25% of women on welfare experience depression

Drug and alcohol use or abuse is 8 times higher for recently battered women than all women

Violence increases when women gets GED and partner does not have same

Women on welfare are real “magnets” for abusers: he sees her as lower than him and everyone else on society’s scale

Offer job training, education, and life skills to batterer to change the cycle

Domestic Violence is a major cause of women’s and children’s poverty

Women who lose benefits may become more dependent on the batterer

Most hate crimes in Philadelphia during the 90’s were committed by 15-25 year old males who experienced DV/abuse as children

Traumatized people who receive healthy therapy can recover but “forces against getting help are very strong (poverty, misunderstanding of issues, etc)

Impact of abuse diminishes with time if out of situation but slow process and need help to heal

Living in a violent family causes cumulative trauma for children

Children learn to survive through many behaviors. Some of these are: not trusting anyone, lying, keeping secrets, becoming aggressive or passive, school is not important, denying feelings, trying to protect parent or become parent, miss out on most child and teen years normal development stages.

Teachers, counselors, and law enforcement officers need in-depth training on domestic violence, especially in regard to children

Back To Table of Contents


Children of Trauma by Jane Middleton-Moz

“It is impossible for a youth who is a member of a group which is powerless in the community to grow to maturity without some trauma to his perception of himself because of the compromised position of his group in communal life.” (Dan Dodson, Power as a Dimension of Education)

Dodson states as a result of trauma children often develop apathy, low levels of aspiration, and a sense of low self-worth. Some develop “learned helplessness”, suffer depression, or experience intense free-floating anxiety. Others have felt “numb” all their lives.

Four elements necessary for resolution of grief and trauma:

Someone else is present for them in a trusting relationship (therapist, mate, friend, worker)

Validation of traumatic event(s) occurs

Validation of feelings by other


Children and adults who have suffered neglect or abuse need to be able to openly express their feelings with at least one other person they can trust.

Expressing anger in front of this person can be a test to check trust level in relationship. If it is “okay” to voice anger, then they know they can be experience their true self in front of the other person.

“Many survivors of childhood trauma…force themselves to stay in relationships that feel unsafe.” (168)

Forming new healthy relationships is difficult or nearly impossible if they can’t trust other person and they often do not trust themselves or anyone else.

Survivors of childhood abuse usually feel extremely isolated in their experiences and emotions. They often feel they are unique, inherently bad, or secretly crazy.

The helping person can assist in building a bridge made of knowledge and validation of feelings.

“Safety and validation comes from hearing and reading…what it means to be a survivor of sexual abuse…neglect, emotional abuse, parental alcoholism, or to be a member of an ethnic or cultural minority.” (168)

Support groups can increase knowledge and validation, decrease sense of isolation, (that they are the only ones with the problem or issue). Learn their experiences are/were real and they aren’t “crazy”.

Support groups that provide a safe environment are most helpful to (abused) children and adults: allow acceptance of feelings and freedom of expression, and assist in increasing self-awareness and personal growth.

Support groups for all family members, together and separately, or in sibling and parent units, helps reduce isolation within family and develop healthier boundaries.

Family members need counseling/support until they can develop and identify their own boundaries. (To be allowed to be a separate person within family)

Controlling behavior (of self/externals/others) is a way some people try to protect themselves from hurt. When a person works through the trauma they no longer have to live in a world of rigid control to feel safe. (174)

The underlying reasons for current behavior – identifying and working through the trauma from abuse – needs to be addressed instead of “just” trying to fix symptoms (depression, alcoholism, etc)

“”Behavior change comes from the retrieval of the discarded self.” (174) This is the self that was not able to learn to trust, share, love, etc. because of trauma in family).

Children in “victim” families become keenly sensitive to the pain of others, frequently enter the helping professions, and rarely let themselves enjoy success or accomplishments. Working in support groups and with a therapist or other helping person can help this person develop a healthier life process.

Back To Table of Contents


Surviving the Cycle of Abuse

A formerly battered woman tells how her abusive husband controlled his family. One summer day the kids were excited and started talking at dinner, although they knew Dad didn’t allow any talking at the table. He stood up, picked up the dog, and tossed it out of the third floor window. Then he turned around, looked at his wife and children, and said, “I run this place. If you keep talking at the table I’ll give you the same.” They all believed him. This man never hit his family. He maintained a high level of fear and control through frequent threats and frightening behavior.

There are three phases in every relationship: rising tension, conflict, and the calm or “honeymoon” period. In a family like this one the calm period is usually very brief if it exists at all. Generally tension and conflict follow each other rapidly. The family doesn’t always know why the batterer becomes upset and “blows up” at them, but they recognize rising tension and their fear increases with it.

The mother left her husband soon after this incident because she realized his anger was at a higher level than she had witnessed before. It is important for battered women to recognize signs of increasing abuse. Neighbors, family, and friends can help a woman identify expanding conflict in her family and choose a safer life.

These are some indicators of accelerating abuse:

Increased frequency

Abuse gets rougher

He tries to choke or chokes her

He forces sex

Abuser hurts or kills pets

He hits when she is pregnant

He uses drugs/gets drunk more often * Threatens to kill himself or others

He is more suspicious, jealous, and/or possessive

He starts getting into fights with others or this increases

There is a gun in the house and he reminds her of this in some way

Every women has choices, although some no longer believe they do. They can

stay with the abuser and watch for danger signs, develop a safety plan, and call police for help.

Have the abuser removed from the home through the court system.

Leave the abuser – go to a shelter or stay with a friend or family member.

If you see any of these signs in a family encourage them to call for help. In Greenbrier, Monroe, and Pocahontas counties Family Refuge Center staff are available 24 hours a day. Call 645-6334 for assistance or information.

Back To Table of Contents


Top Warning Signs of an Abusive Personality

“Extreme jealousy is number one,” says a former lay minister’s wife. Permanently disabled by her ex-husband, “Mandy” speaks first about jealously when describing the warning signs of an abusive personality. She tells others to be wary of any partner who is highly jealous of their friends, family, or other people they are around. Mandy is not talking about those ordinary twinges of jealousy everyone experiences in a relationship.

This form of jealously often leads to extreme isolation, another top indicator. At first Mandy didn’t mind seeing only “Ralph” after their marriage, but when she asked to go home and he said no, isolation became a tormenting reality.

Controlling is another major sign of abuse. When they moved to town Mandy asked Ralph if she could take nursing aide classes. He agreed after she promised to give him her wages. Since he was free during the day Ralph took Mandy to school. If she was one minute late after class he yelled at her for hours. The day of her final exam Ralph refused to take her.

“He always blamed someone else when things went wrong,” Mandy says of her ex-husband. “If he hit himself with a hammer while working on the house, he’d yell at me.” With an abuser it is always someone else’s fault when they get in trouble at work or get fired from a job. They usually blame their spouse or girlfriend for anything that doesn’t suit them.

After a year of marriage Mandy felt like she was “walking on eggshell’s”. At a holiday dinner Mandy found herself alone with his mother and quietly asked about Ralph’s past. His mother looked scared as she whispered, “He nearly beat his first wife to death. I told him to leave her alone but he wouldn’t do it.” Mandy was shocked as Ralph’s mother continued, “Don’t tell him I said anything!” Mandy didn’t know Ralph had been married before. Just then he looked in the door and grinned. Her thoughts whirled. ‘ Maybe he is a “man’s man” like he says and I’m a terrible wife. He’s never hit me.’

When she told Ralph they were going to have a baby he was thrilled. He took Mandy to visit her folks and showed her off to all his friends. Everything was like when they dated – wonderful. One night the baby kicked and Ralph punched Mandy’s abdomen. Physical abuse frequently begins when a woman is pregnant. In the next few months Ralph began calling her names and saying she was crazy. He beat her and forced her into sexual acts she didn’t want to do.

When their second child was eight, Ralph’s fists crippled Mandy. In the hospital a new physician took care of her. The second day he stopped in and told Ralph to leave the room. “I want to call someone to help you, ” he said. “You don’t deserve to be hurt. Can I call?” Mandy’s eyes filled with tears as she tried to nod her bandaged head. “Yes,” she whispered. “Yes.”

Abuse can happen to anyone. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these signs of abuse call the Family Refuge Center for assistance. No one deserves to be hurt! (24 hour hotline: 645-6334)

(By Nancy Malone, Family Refuge Center, POB 249, Lewisburg, WV 24901 645-6334)

Back To Table of Contents


Working With Pregnant Clients

Who May Be Abused

Many abusers begin physically assaulting their partners or wives during pregnancy. When you have a pregnant client be aware of this fact. Look for indicators of abuse in their history and their behavior in your presence.

When you interview a female client that you know or believe may be involved in a violent relationship look for these indicators:

Comments about controlling behavior: “When I go to the store he won’t let me take more than one of the children. Once when I asked him why he said so I would come back.” “He won’t let my mother stay with us after the baby is born but I need help with my little ones. He gets drunk a lot so he can’t take care of them.” “He has to go to the doctor and stay in the room with me whenever I have an appointment.”

She says a “friend” is having trouble with her boyfriend and is worried about what will happen when “her” baby is born.

Signs of anxious behavior (especially when by herself): crying, sighing, minimizing statements, searching for eye contact or avoiding it all together, laughing inappropriately or “tittering”, depression.

When she is with him she is obviously afraid of him or defers to him about everything. You can see her visually checking out her responses with him.

The man stays close to her side. He speaks for her when you do the interview. He says things like “I don’t know if it’s really my kid.” He may appear anxious and tries to keep interview with worker short. He shows impatience with her when she talks or responds to your questions. He may push her through the door when your interview is over.

She tells you she has missed many or most of her pre-natal appointments. She misses your appointments unless he can come with her.

If you notice these signs remember:

It is essential for this woman to be assessed separately from her spouse or partner. It is not safe for her to be asked about domestic violence in his presence. Ask to interview her separately if you can. If not, refer her to the domestic violence worker in the office. We will try to make the safest contact possible.

Back To Table of Contents


Why Do Men Hit Women?

A woman I know has been thinking about this question since the guy she was dating in college threw her to the floor. Twice. Fortunately her roommate walked in on the second crash, and together they chased him off for good. She knew why he did it – she said “no” to sex. But why did he do really do it?

Why does a man hurt the woman he professes to love or at least like?

Some folks complain that women also hit men. A few women do hit or hit back, but generally women don’t put men into intensive care. 95% of family violence victims are women. Being physically hurt by a male is the number cause of injury to women in our country. This includes car wrecks and everything else.

So why he does he hurt her? Why does he call her crazy, put her down constantly, and blame her for all his troubles? Why does he keep her from friends and relatives, show extreme jealousy when she talks to almost anybody? Why does he control her time as much as he can? Why does he hit his wife or girlfriend? Why does he hurt the kids?

There are almost as many reasons for abuse as there are men, but a few stand out. One of the major reasons men abuse women is our culture’s acceptance of violence, especially related to families. As a group we still consider the family sacred in some ways and are reluctant to interfere. Until the community says no to family violence it will not stop. Our culture also teaches boys and men to act macho, hide their feelings, and be the boss. And most of all boys and girls learn violence from their abusive parent and other relatives.

“I have to hit her or she won’t do nothing.” “She’s really crazy so I have to keep her in line.” Abused women often hear statements like these. After awhile many of them believe they are completely inadequate or crazy or both. The worst part is society, the community that could help, frequently agrees with the batterers and blames the women. Common comments we all hear: if he’s so bad why did she get involved with him, why does she stay, what did she do to him, it can’t be just his fault.

Folks in the community get confused about what domestic violence means. The main thing to remember is if it’s family violence the victim is genuinely afraid of the abuser. Afraid of talking, moving, displeasing him in any way, waking up in the hospital, dying, never getting away from him. Afraid she will lose her children to him or the system if she leaves. Afraid to ask for help.

Women may not show this fear to everyone or anyone. They learn to hide it along with the bruises and scars. But it’s real and lies right under the surface. When the community forces abusers to take responsibility for their behavior, countless women and children will benefit. It’s time for all of us to stop asking ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ – and ask instead ‘how we can teach him not to hit?’

This entry was posted in Domestic Violence and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.