Abuse: The Family Epidemic

The Cancer In Our Homes


Domestic Violence: The information I will be providing in this page is just that: Information...

The information I will be providing in this page is just that: Information...Nothing else. I am not giving advise as to what you should do or how you should live your life. Everyone has a right to live as they please as long as it is not infringing someone else's rights to live as they please. Unfortunately that is what abuse is about and thus the reason for this page. I will be providing a lot of information here that I feel to be correct. at least it has proven to be correct for me in my ten years of study in recovery. I want to stress, however, that true healing comes when all this information moves about six inches south in your body...into your being..your heart..when you can really feel it...thus..I feel..If we don't mix the knowledge..(information) with feelings, we will stay bound to the past.
We are the "normies"...
We are "The Family"...
We are "The Abusers"...
We All "Need Help"...
Domestic violence is a crime against the people of the state. To some degree, this has always been the case. However, during the first part of the 2Oth Century, it was considered lawful for a man to abuse his wife so long as the stick he used was no bigger than his thumb. The term "rule of thumb" came from this law.

Currently, in most states, physical violence perpetrated against a spouse is handled under assault laws. What is different about domestic violence is that a police officer can arrest on "probable cause," which is not the case for any other misdemeanor offense. This means that an officer can enter the home, see bruises, scratches, bloody nose, broken up furniture, and make an arrest based on "probable cause" that domestic violence has occurred. In other words, the victim of the violence does not have to file a complaint; in fact, the victim can do nothing to further the case, nor can the victim have the case dropped.

The reason for this dramatic change in attitude about domestic violence in the last 75 years is a complex issue. At the core of this issue is the change in how men and women relate. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, families were survival units. 95% of all produce was grown on family farms. After the Industrial Revolution, about 5-10% of all agricultural products are grown on massive farms. The population underwent a cultural shock that is still being felt. During the two World Wars, women entered the marketplace and began to achieve financial independence. Women received the vote, which entitled them to full protection under the U.S. Constitution. In the 50's and especially in the 60's, women again rebelled against the male dominated system. This time, many men joined with them and expanded the revolt to include civil rights activism and anti-war protesting. A full-scale assault on the patriarchal system began.

This massive power struggle, which began when the Age of Agriculture ended, is the sociological root of domestic violence. Until that power struggle is solved at a national level, there will be no clear-cut set of values for men or women to measure themselves against when dealing with the same power struggles in the home.

To some degree the two primary issues of this power struggle can be reduced to: Men are in charge of the financial health of the family; women are in charge of the emotional health of the family.

Women are set-up in this struggle to lose, in that they are 1) financially dependent; and 2) stuck with the impossible task of being responsible for everyone's feelings. It is a woman's job to make men happy, while at the same time they have no claim to financial security.

From these dual issues, a clear direction has developed for women's issues. 1) the woman's right to the opportunity for financial independence; and 2) relief from the burden of being the caretaker of anyone's feelings but her own. This direction challenges men to deal with women as equals in the marketplace, and to become emotionally self-responsible.

In spouse abuse treatment, women, then, are shown how they have taken on the job of making men happy (and when they don't, they "deserve" to be hit or emotionally abused); then they are led to a new "job"—taking care of themselves. Men are introduced to the fact that no one can make them feel anything; rather, their feelings are sources of information about how they are responding to various stimuli, both internal and external. Another causative factor in the development of spouse abuse within a family system is high stress. Domestic violence treatment, prevention and education programs, therefore, center on stress reduction, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

In recent years, it is also becoming more apparent that the progression of domestic violence within a family looks like the progression of alcoholism. Many domestic violence workers now approach spouse abuse as a potential addiction problem. In the addiction model, addiction can be defined as: Chronic abuse of self in favor of a substance (like alcohol or drugs), a person (as in co-dependency), or a process (like care-taking, or using violence for stress release.). Spouse abuse as an addiction means that there is a continuum from very mild emotional abuse, which if untreated, will progress into extreme physical abuse over time. The addiction model also predicts that there is some kind of short term pay-off within the abusive system. In other words, each of the people in the marriage will get some need met by staying together. In treatment, workers teach ways of getting those same needs met in other ways.

The addiction model also tells us that as stress increases, the number of addictions also increase. This explains the high correlation between domestic violence and alcohol/drug abuse, child abuse, gambling, workaholism, sexual addiction, and eating disorders.

Domestic Violence Information and Prevention

Domestic Violence

Definitions and Dynamics

First, definitions:

Violence can be defined as an "explosion of energy."

Abuse can be defined as the "violation of another person."

Domestic violence is defined as "punishment of a spouse in order to have control of him/her or the situation."

Battering is "habitual physical abuse."

Psychological battering is "mental/emotional abuse that is backed up by prior physical abuse."

Domestic violence, then, has a purpose—control.

The question becomes: Why would someone want control over another, or any particular situation?

The motivation for this runs deep. For kids who grew up in dysfunctional family systems, control is what they saw as both the means to safety and the means to personal power.

These kids learn that whoever is in control is the one who is safe, and with that safety comes power.

As adults, these same kids have come to believe that to keep from being hurt by others, they have to have control over them. This belief cancels out the truth—no one can have control over anyone who is past the age of 3 yrs. Another way of saying this is to view relationships as a paradox:

I have to be vulnerable to have intimacy, but if I'm vulnerable, I can't be emotionally safe. And, if I'm safe (i.e., invulnerable), I can't have intimacy. This paradox is solved, seemingly, by controlling the other person. The problem is, however, that the other person is acting off the same belief system, and is also trying to control while at the same time refusing to be controlled.

In alcohol treatment terms, this kind of relationship is called the "hostage-captor" relationship. Each sees the other as "mine," but refuses to be owned in return.

We are also socialized to the concept of control differently. Men are taught by the culture to be in control at all times. To be "out of control" is seen as bad, unmanly, and is somehow feminine, soft, weak. Women are taught that control is equivalent to responsibility. What a woman is supposed to be responsible for, then, is what she is also supposed to have control over (e.g., children, the house, budget, etc.).Men and women socialized this way will have to solve an inherent power struggle in order to live together. It boils down to: Who is in charge of what? And, how do each of them act towards others in pursuit of dealing with their responsibilities?

developing in a system, their fear is that there is probably high levels of emotional and physical abuse going on also. This fear comes from the fact that sexuality is that last form of intimacy to crumble in the abusive system.

Social Abuse can be constructed on two continuums.

One form of social abuse is similar to emotional abuse. The difference is that the abuse involves a third party. Punishing jokes with others present to laugh is an example; Embarrassing a spouse in front of friends; Causing a public scene; filing a false police report. The other form of social abuse is more systemic. It is how the society at large encourages or condones abuse.

On this continuum would be family secrets, rigid male/female role expectations, media treatment of men and women (men—strong, unfeeling, in control; women—sex objects, weak, powerless), medical system (excuses violence in men; medicates women), economic system.

Environmental abuse is abuse that occurs when one person punishes the other by forcing the other into places that are toxic. Pushed out of the car to walk home, made to stay in the car against one's will, barefoot-pregnant-on the outskirts of town, forced to stay at home, forced to be in any location that is detrimental or toxic (at a bar, in a home or with friends/family that maltreat the spouse or children, or at a base). All these are considered environmental abuse.

Cycle Of Abuse

Research and experience tells us that domestic violence is predictable. By contrast, personal growth patterns are not predictable. In fact, one of the compelling features of domestic violence is its predictability. It is somehow comfortable to be in a system that repeats itself, that is a known quantity, that is secure. This repeatability has been described as the cycle of abuse.

Typically, this cycle begins with a build up of tension, resentment, and stress. when one person in the system has "had enough," there is a blow up of some kind. After the blow up, both people feel bad—the designated abuser feels remorse and guilt; the designated victim feels hurt, outraged, and violated. If each person were to now act in accordance with what s/he feels, the cycle would be broken. Instead, the abuser seeks forgiveness (which means that he wants to avoid the natural consequences of his abuse), and the victim does forgive him (which means she "rescues" him from the consequences of the abuse, usually in return for something she has wanted, or out of fear of more reprisal). At this point, the couple enter the "honeymoon" part of the cycle. They fall in love all over again; they pledge all sorts of things to fix the marriage; gifts and affection flow freely. Then, one of them realizes that this is silly—that no one really wants to actually make a counseling appointment, much less show up for it. And the resentments start to build again.

Each remembers the other's shortcomings, the broken promises, the chronic stupidity, etc. The cycle of abuse is characterized by long periods of frustration, resentment, and stress build-up, interrupted by short, intense periods of anger, guilt, and violence; then, limerence (the feeling of being in love).

By contrast, a healthy family system is characterized by long periods of comfort (because each person is getting their emotional needs met), interrupted by short periods of problem-solving (i.e., resentments are not allowed to build; problems are identified and solved instead).

In defining the cycle of abuse, it can be seen that there is a payoff for both the abuser and the victim—each gets what they want; the abuser, at the front end of the cycle; the victim, at the back end. It is because of this payoff that the cycle continues—abuse works. And it's the workability of the system that frustrates friends, workers, the police, and the court system.

In order for a man or woman to actually leave the cycle of abuse, s/he would have to learn a new way to get needs met. To complicate this further, most people who end up in abusive situations come from abusive home atmospheres. In other words, they grew up with this system; therefore, it's "normal." For them to break free of the cycle of abuse would, in some ways, be an act of disloyalty to their family of origin.

Doorways To The Abusive System

Labeling—similar to name-calling, except name-calling is targeted on behavior, whereas labeling targets one's essence (as in, "you're stupid," or "you, bitch").

Dishonesty—for whatever reason: To spare the other person's feelings; to manipulate the other; to protect oneself.

Denial—comes in three forms: Absolute denial ("nothing's wrong!"); minimizing ("well, something's wrong, but it's not as bad as it may seem"); and blaming ("there's something wrong, but it's his/her fault—if s/he would just not push my buttons everything would be OK. ")

Defensiveness—means that something is being protected. Until this protected information can be dealt with, resentment will continue to build.

Perfectionism—ends up sending the message that "nothing you can do will ever be good enough."

Fear—once a person is scared, s/he goes into survival mode. Typically this means that they revert back to the strategies learned in childhood to survive in the family of origin.

Self-Centeredness—everything is seen as "for or against" the self. In this state, a person respects no one's personal space or boundaries. This shows up oftentimes as "either-or" statements, as in "either you love me and do what I say, or hit the road."

Illusion of Control—this tends to start when a crisis occurs, as crisis proves the need for someone to be in control; depression follows from the inability to control when control is deemed possible and right; stress builds and becomes normal as well.

Tunnel Vision—narrowly focused view of reality that does not allow competing points of view.

Power Struggle—conflict set up as either win/lose or lose/lose; or conflict is seen as a "failure." Also includes one-upping.

Negativism—"Whatever is wrong is your fault." Focus is on what is wrong, bad, or negative. Nothing is ever said in praise because of the belief: "Doing a job right is its own reward.").

Scarcity Model/Zero Sum Game—the belief that there isn't enough to go around, and you better get yours before it is all gone. In relationship this shows up as jealousy about a spouse giving attention or love to someone else, including or especially the children. Abuse that stems from this element can be seen as "protecting your supply"—something that drug and alcohol addicts learn to do.

Maintaining Dependency—this is classic co-dependency. Dependency is maintained through fear, guilt, and/or the other person's needs ("you need me, because you can't do it on your own"). To some degree, co-dependency. is the necessary precondition to abuse.

Maintaining Dependency—this is classic co-dependency. Dependency is maintained through fear, guilt, and/or the other person's needs ("you need me, because you can't do it on your own"). To some degree, co-dependency. is the necessary pre-condition to abuse.


There are a series of beliefs that surround and support the abusive system. These beliefs are myths.


1. You are not important.

2. whatever is wrong is your fault.

3. Nothing you do is good enough.

Fact 1. Each person is important and has special gifts/talents, as well as limitations.

2. Each person is responsible for his/her own behavior, not any one else's behavior

3. All you can expect of yourself is to do the best you can with the information you have at that time.

4. Your needs don't count.

5. There is something basically wrong with you.

6. You are responsible for the success or failure of this relationship.

7. If the relationship fails, you are a failure.

8. You can't/don't ever do anything right.

9. You don't deserve to be happy or respected.

10. If you get hurt, you deserved it.

4. Every person has a right to be treated with respect for their dignity and personal space.

5. God did not make a mistake when He created you.

6. You have always done the best you could with what you had. Take credit for it.

7. Merely surviving an abusive relationship takes special skills. You have special skills and coping mechanisms.

8. The only behavior anyone can change is their own behavior. It is difficult to change any behavior that is established.

9. It takes time to make changes, and it's frustrating. Be proud of your progress.

10. Everyone has a right to personal space and boundaries. No one deserves to be hit.

It follows from the definitions and dynamics of abuse that prevention is a function of creating a healthy family system. The healthy family system is, however, not the norm in our culture. Researchers have suggested that the dysfunctional family system is the norm, with between 96% to 100% of all families experiencing some form of dysfunction. The primary form of dysfunction is co-dependency. Since there are a number of sources on co-dependency., that won't be discussed in any depth. what we will discuss in this section are the elements of the healthy family system.

As noted above, the healthy system is characterized by long periods of comfort that are broken by short periods of problem-solving. The comfort level comes from the fact that each person in the family is getting his or her emotional needs met. If the emotional wants are also met, this creates happiness. The feeling of being in love (limerence) occurs spontaneously, and is experienced as the icing on the cake.

By contrast, the dysfunctional system is designed to manufacture the feeling of limerence --that's the addictive hook, the needle in the arm, the whiskey going down the throat.

For the healthy system to exist, it is imperative for each adult to know what his/her emotional needs are. Since they are emotional needs, the ability to read one's emotions is also necessary. For example, if I feel fear, that means I need safety; or, if I feel lonely, I need companionship; or, if I feel discounted, I need encouragement; etc.

In our culture, we are taught to "numb out," to not feel our feelings. If we do feel them, we are told that we "shouldn't feel that way," or "why do you feel that way?" In other words, others judge our feelings. By their judging our feelings, we learn to judge them ourselves, or repress them, or numb out.

The truth about feelings is that they convey information about what we need. They cannot be judged as right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. They just are. when we accept the information that they are trying to give us, they go away. If we refuse the information they are trying to give us, they get stronger until they crash through our defenses and grab us by the throat That is when we explode. After we get the information our feelings are giving us, then we have to ask for what we need. Just telling someone how we feel and hoping they will do the rest doesn't work. We have to take responsibility for getting our needs met. This is done by negotiation. In a negotiation, the problems-solving skills of each person are brought into play. In short, the problem must first be identified; then a list of possible solutions is created; then a plan is developed and implemented; and finally, the plan is evaluated after a period of time.

The three forms the solution can take are: Win/win, win/lose, and lose/lose. Win/win solutions work best in solving problems if the relationship is long-term. Win/lose and lose/lose work in short4erm relationships. The logic to this is pretty straight-forward. If I'm in a relationship, I'm there to get my needs met. If I don't get my needs met, then I'll eventually leave the relationship. Therefore, each time that I lose a conflict, and don't get my needs met, I become that much less committed to the relationship. It follows, then, that if I want to maintain the relationship I have to 1) get my needs met, and 2) make sure my spouse gets her needs met (so she won't leave the relationship either).

Another element of the healthy system is in the self-care vs. selfishness category. Self-care is: Taking care of self in order to meet one's responsibilities to self and others. Selfishness is: Taking care of self at the expense of one's responsibilities to self and others.

In a healthy system, each person is doing self-care. In the dysfunctional system, each person is doing selfishness.

Self-care can be addressed in five different categories: Physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual.

Physical self-care is about eating right, getting enough sleep, and having some kind of physical exercise program that is somewhat enjoyable.

Emotional self-care is what we have been discussing—feel what you feel and act appropriately in releasing the energy of the feeling. Emotion can be written: E-motion. When looked at this way, emotions can be seen as the energy of action; they motivate us to do things. what we do we are responsible for, so emotional self-care has to do with reading our emotions right, then acting self-responsibly.

Intellectual self-care is also what we have been talking about. The brain is a problem-solving tool. One side of the brain solves problems scientifically (logical, linear thinking), and the other side does it holistically (intuitive, creative thinking). The problems that the brain solves are the problems identified by the emotions. If I'm scared, then the problem is that I need safety --the brain moves into action to solve that problem. If I'm angry at my wife for pushing my buttons, I may have been trained to slap her around for it, so that will be the first solution to the problem, but intellectual self-care means that I continue to problem-solve until I find a solution that really serves my long4erm goals.

Social self-care has to do with social support systems-- the power of a group. One of the reason why Alcoholics Anonymous works is because of this concept. In fact, any success that may be had by anyone is a function of three considerations: 1) Set the intention (focus on a goal); 2) pay attention (focus on process, or how you are going to attain the goal); and 3) surround yourself with people going the same way (group energy creates a safety net, a way of creatively solving the problems that crop up, and reinforces each success).

Spiritual self-care is about one's relationship to some Higher Power or God-concept. This concept evolves over time. As children, we deified our parents, and our first God-concept was based on our interaction with our parents. As we grew older, this God-concept began to change. Typically we all entered into some kind of co-dependent relationship with God (God the abuser and rescuer, and we, the victim). Most of us evolved out of that relationship and into newer ones.

Domestic Violence Intervention

We have noted that domestic violence is treatable. We have also noted that it mimics addictive processes—that the violence is progressive in nature. And the bias in the treatment community is that without intervention, the violence will continue to escalate in frequency and seriousness until someone is killed. In this last section, we will make some direct suggestions about intervention.

First, if you experience physical violence from a spouse, there needs to be a natural and logical consequence to that violence. By that we don't mean retaliation; nor do we mean that you determine somehow that you "deserved" to be hit. A natural and logical consequence to physical violence is: 1) arrest for assault; 2) leave the person until some corrective measure has been taken.

Second, if you are around a couple who are fighting, report it to the police. Studies have shown over and over again that the only intervention that works is an arrest (i.e., natural consequence).

Third, if you see the cycle building in your relationship, corrective procedures are: Self-care, stress management, and clean communication. Additionally, marriage counseling may work. It does not work when there has been physical violence.

If you are put in a position where you must advise a friend, neighbor, or relative about domestic violence, be aware of the above facts, especially the one about arrest being the only intervention that works. In women's shelters across the country we see the same scenario played out over and over—a woman enters the shelter with bruises, black eyes, etc.; she is encouraged and nurtured by the shelter staff; after about a week, she begins to secretly call her abuser (who swears an oath to change); within a month, they are back together.

The abusive/co-dependent system is all each of them know. It's how they were trained to operate within a relationship. Furthermore, it has addictive qualities, and each person's self-esteem dictates that they don't deserve a relationship any better than this one. This last consideration usually shows up as, "who would have me?"

Expect, in other words, that the friend will have trouble leaving the abusive relationship. Don't judge him or her for this. It sometimes takes years to successfully break out of the abusive system.

In dealing with this friend or relative, you can make an impact by helping them develop a safety plan (this usually means that she has an overnight bag packed, including important papers, checkbooks, etc., and conveniently located); you can reinforce that she does not deserve to be treated this way; and you can hold fast to the advise that she will have to call the police. You will hear a lot of reasons why she cannot call the police: "He's really not like this" (which is true, but beside the point).

This layer of resistance is what counselors call denial. It comes in three forms: Absolute denial ("There's nothing going on here!"); Minimization ("There's something going on, but it's not that bad."; Blaming ("Yeah, I hit her, but she asked for it. ").

It is important not to shame someone in denial, as this feeds the denial system. Indicate, instead, that your friend is not a bad person, but he or she is trapped in something bigger than him or herself, and it is probably a good idea to get some help with it.


Family violence is a plague on our society. It is figured that 1 in 4 couples are hitting each other. Kids are getting beat up with greater frequency. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 13 yrs. About 1/2 of all murders are between spouses, and of the remaining murders, 40% are family members or friends killing each other.


Family violence is epidemic.

The question has become, What are we going to do about it? The answer that society is coming to is, Whatever it takes to end it.

And Always Keep In Mind The Most Important Factor

  "What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
has consequences"...
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.

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(Est. 4.15.96)

DISCLAMER: Before you start to look at the material that I have assembled for you I want to make clear that I claim very little original authorship here. Even where I don't give credit I probably should because there are very few original words of wisdom left in recovery. I want to especially thank Terry Kellogg, whom I do believe has a lot of original stuff, John Bradshaw whom I believe has the ability to synthesize others material better that anyone I know, and I guess if we wanted to be completely accurate we should not quote the serenity prayer out of content nor without giving credit to the author. I also want to give permission to anyone to use anything on this site for the benefit of recovery as long as they do not make any more money off of it. This offer only extends to what I have the right to give.

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