In situations of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, the dynamics of power and control are central to the situation but, all too often, the victim does not know how to recognize the signs early enough to get out of the relationship when it is still in the beginning stages. Later, when the victim is willing to get out, they are often unable to do so and friends and family don’t know how to help. This will be an ongoing series discussing the dynamics of power and control in relationships. The entire pdf is free to any email subscribers. I try to avoid using any personal pronouns whenever possible because I do not intend to leave out any potential victims in this discussion.
The dynamics of power and control involve using; isolation, emotional abuse, intimidation, coercion and threats, economic abuse, claiming privilege, children, and minimizing, denying, and blaming. You won’t often see any of these things in the early stages of a relationship. When they do show up, these pieces are often used in small amounts at first and built up over time. Isolation is often the first step, for example, and once the victim is isolated then the abuser adds other layers. Also, keep in mind that these all feed on each other. For example, with economic abuse, the abuser may create problems for the victim at their workplace. If she loses her job, that further isolates her. Usually, by the time the physical or sexual abuse starts, the abuser has already created an environment that will make it extremely difficult for the victim to get away.
Isolation is often the first dynamic that the abuser deploys. It never starts as an obvious attempt at isolation though. The abuser is often overly romantic in fact. He may show up with flowers unexpectedly, perhaps shower you with praise and romantic endearments. “I have never met a woman like you. I feel like I can be myself with you. Now I know why my other relationships didn’t work out, I was meant to be with you.” These are all very sweet-sounding sentiments, but they often come at a very early stage in the relationship and are used to quickly develop a sense of obligation for his feelings and emotional health. He will manipulate this sense of obligation to slowly isolate the victim from those closest to her. He may get jealous and then say something like. “I am sorry. I know I shouldn’t worry. I have just been so hurt by others in the past. It scares me because I love you so much and I just can’t imagine living without you.” Or blame the friend/family member for the reaction and say something like, “I know they don’t like me, and I can tell they are trying to get in between us.” Or shift the feelings of jealousy to the friend: “They are jealous of what we have. They know it is special. Shouldn’t your friends be supportive of your happiness?” These are just a few examples to give you an idea of what might be said. The purpose of this is to sow doubt. When friends or family try to warn the victim of the red flags they are seeing, the victim will doubt their intentions and it may lead to a rift in the helpful relationship. This gives the abuser a chance to increase their efforts at control with fewer supports for the victim. If you notice someone using language like this, get out of that relationship. This is not a person who is truly wounded from their past relationships. These are attempts at manipulation. If this person is truly worth being in a relationship with, they will take the time to work on getting themselves emotionally healthy. More often though, these are manipulative and/or abusive people who are trying to see if you are vulnerable to their manipulations. Get out now while it is early.
Next week, I will discuss the dynamic of emotional abuse. If you need help, please see the resources list located here.