The Elephant in Our Society

Domestic abuse is more than a personal problem – it’s a societal problem.

Any abusive relationship has intensely personal effects, and our first response should be to help victims address these:

  • First, their safety needs – making a safety plan that is tailored for them
    • Domestic abuse programs specialize in this; some therapists and medical professionals can also assist or direct to resources.
  • Meeting them where they are by finding out what would help them now
    • Common mistakes are assuming what they should do rather than starting where they are.
  • Validating for them that what is happening is abusive
    • Confusion often reins because the abuser is invested in convincing them they have the problems.
  • Helping them with battered self-esteem
    • Abuse affects confidence, self-trust, and sense of who they are.
  • Figuring out any negative beliefs that have been implanted by abusers
    • An example is they will never find anyone else to love them.

At some point during the healing process, it is important to make connections between what has happened personally to what in our society contributes to an epidemic of abuse.  

Dominance beliefs lie behind the veil of violence and abuse of power in our society. 

The reason survivors meet with so much minimization, denial, and victim-blaming lies in how embedded dominance beliefs are. This is the true elephant that we don’t see. My future book, “Controlling Relationships: the Elephant in Our Society” contains chapters that:

  • Illuminate the beliefs and attitudes that support controlling behavior and
  • Demonstrates the ways abuse shows up in other types of relationships.

Recognizing the similarities to their own stories frees survivors from seeing it as purely a personal problem. Peeling back the shame that often exists behind the question “Why me?” helps to empower them in standing up to any abusive behavior.

Examples of abuse of power in other relationships:

  • Families – The criticism Sara suffered in her family continues as an adult so that she constantly doubts herself. (See my last post on The Elephant in Families.)
  • Work – Tim’s boss constantly criticizes his work and threatens to fire him if he doesn’t work long hours without being paid overtime; he has lost confidence that he can find a better work environment.
  • School – Lena’s classmates constantly bully her for being different and she feels helpless because teachers do not stop it.
  • Professionals – Fay’s therapist insists that she needs weekly therapy and claims that her complaints they aren’t making progress are evidence of her denial and dysfunction.
  • Religious leaders – Bobby’s priest asks him to stay after religious instruction and begins touching him sexually, claiming it is part of god’s plan. 

These give you an idea of how control occurs in other types of relationships. How much people are affected depends upon how much power abusers have over them. Each of these examples are in vulnerable positions that hamper assertiveness.

In addition, each of these relationships are ones in which we don’t expect to be mistreated. It’s much clearer when a stranger abuses you than when someone you trust or go to for assistance abuses their power.

Over time, the corrosive effect control has on self-esteem serves to keep survivors trapped.

I encourage those who find themselves under control’s spell to reach out to someone they can trust for help. Sometimes this means friends or family; other times we need to rely on specialists who understand what we’re dealing with.


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