This is the second in my series on domestic violence, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness month. There are many types of domestic violence. It can be verbal, psychological, physical or financial. The social view of domestic violence has changed over the years as we have evolved from a view where women and children were possessions of the man, to a woman being an equal under the law to a man.
Historically there were few if any limits on domestic violence. The English rule was that a man could only beat his wife and children with a stick that was no thicker than his thumb, hence the “rule of thumb.” That law is no longer the case, and in its place we have gone to the rule that physically beating a spouse or child is unacceptable.
Abusing someone verbally has a wide range of meanings. On one end of the spectrum it is the mean-spirited, sarcastic remark, and at the other end, it is screaming and terrorizing with threats of violence.
Verbal abuse is hard to define because so much meaning is included in our spoken words by tone and inflection. I can say, “You jerk,” to my partner and depending on the way I inflect the words I can convey a meaning of sarcasm, love, anger, frustration and any mix of those.
The law in California, and many states across the country, has become that abuse is in the eye of the abused. This makes it a very subjective matter and one that does not allow for hard and fast rules when it comes to verbal abuse.
While verbal may be subjective, physical abuse is very easily described and identified. Whenever one person makes contact physically with another that is unwanted, it’s possible to define it as physical abuse.
Physical abuse can also be done with objects. If a glass is thrown, or a TV is tossed, or a coffee table is overturned, these are all examples of physical abuse that can result in restraining orders being issued by a court.
Psychological or emotional<p>
Psychological or emotional abuse can be very difficult to demonstrate, but is perhaps the most insidious of the abuse types, because of the subtleties involved. Emotional abuse can be the withholding of love and affection, (i.e. the “silent treatment”) or the intentional showering of love on another designed to hurt someone. If a woman has an affair on her husband, and deliberately flaunts it in front of him, that would be emotional abuse, just as his affairs would be abusive to her.
If one party hides the money and assets, that can be financial abuse. When a woman overspends or a man drinks away his paycheck, these are examples of financial abuse in a relationship. Abusing the credit cards is also a major form of financial abuse in relationships and it can have devastating effects on the marriage or partnership.
Generally men realize that they are in an abusive relationship only after many, many incidences of questionable behavior. Men are taught that it is their role to satisfy a woman’s desires, whether they be material or emotional. So a man will persist in trying to satisfy a woman long after it is obvious that she is abusing him.
It is very hard for most men to admit that they have been abused, particularly by a woman. It is even harder for a man to admit that a woman has physically assaulted him, as this strikes at the very heart of being a man. For a man to admit that a woman hit him is very emasculating. One of the first insults a boy learns is to say that someone “hits like a girl” or “throws like a girl.” When boys call each other “woosies” what they mean is you’re acting like a girl, a whiner, a complainer, a wimpy little boy who can’t fight like the big boys.
It is at this point that many men begin to experience a slow meltdown of their self-esteem and ego. As they become more abused, they also become more passive, which leads to greater abuse. The level of potential embarrassment increases with each new incident, thus making it harder for a man to admit that there is a problem.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of “A Man’s Guide To Domestic Violence.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.