The Behaviors We Fail to Define as Domestic Violence


Remember that the primary strategy of domestic violence is to control; to establish control; to maintain control; to exert control over another human being, in this case a partner.  This is the fundamental premise of domestic abuse: to control a domestic partner in order to preserve and perpetuate one’s identity, agenda & existence.

Theorists debate the reasons for domestic violence.  Why do people domestically abuse?  Feminists believe that it is due to the overarching patriarchal constructs in society that value the male experience over that of female experience.  In patriarchal societies male dominance, which lead to abuse is viewed as acceptable aspects of masculinity.  Family system therapists have questioned if it is an issue of learned behavior.  Do abusers learn to abuse by what is modeled in their home?  Ecological psychologists consider environmental systems.  Are those who are exposed to the stressors of poverty more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors under the pressure of extreme stress?

I get it– in identifying root causes perhaps we can predict and prevent (this is especially important for legislative and policy making purposes).  What we’re finding in the domestic violence literature is these root causes are complex and there can be overlapping contributing factors to abusive behaviors.  From an individual perspective, we can’t always identify someone as an abuser based on these variables alone.  In fact, sometimes reviewing these variables alone can be problematic, as some will utilize justifications for someone’s abusive behaviors when they can’t simply place the person or his/her abusive behaviors into a categorical box.

Whatever the cause/reason for domestic abuse the outcome remain: a domestically violent individual uses abusive behaviors and strategies to produce fear, submission and oppression of their partner in order to control.

Let’s talk behaviors.  For the majority of us physical aggression and violence in a relationship is recognized as domestic abuse.  Although, you will find people creating justifications for physical abuse, especially when they are having difficulty believing that a family member or friend could act abusively.  Research shows that only half of those who are exposed to domestic violence report it.  Statistically speaking between 25-34% of women are domestically abused (1 in 3 or 4 women; 1 in 7 men) and only half of these survivors will report.  The reasons for this include: 1) they fear retaliation from their abuser, 2) they believe they will not be able to access help (i.e. police won’t help, will not be able to access resources needed like housing, financial assistance, etc.), 3) they have had family and friends tell them that the partner’s behaviors are not abuse and that perhaps they are making a big deal out of nothing.  This is why advocacy and education is tremendously important because those that justify are complicit to the harm that domestic violence produces for the survivor.

Now imagine– if it is easy to justify or ignore an individual’s experience with physical violence– when there are physical representations of domestic abuse on the individual’s person– how easy is it deny a person’s disclosure and experience with psychological and emotional abuse?

Yes, domestic violence occurs in many different forms.  One form of domestic violence that researchers are documenting have to do with abusers using a partner’s credit and ruining their credit to make it difficult for the survivor to leave or to obtain housing on their own.  Some abusers use contraception as a form of control by poking holes in their condoms to increase the chances of the survivor getting pregnant.  The belief for the abuser is if she gets pregnant then 1) they will be linked permanently and 2) having a child makes it more difficult to leave and to live independently.  These are strategies of control and more often than not there are multiple strategies that are being used to control another person.  In times of domestic violence where the abuse is more subtle or difficult to quantify survivors are less understood or believed.

Psychological and emotional forms of domestic violence occur.  At times, these forms are difficult to identify for the survivor and that is why it’s important we talk about it.  These forms of abuse are often ignored by family and friends, which further isolates and makes confusing the process of identifying emotional abuse for the survivor.  We all need more education around this so that we can support survivors’ agency and human right to do what is in her best overall health and interest.

Survivors need this information to alleviate the isolation one feels when being emotionally abused.  Survivors need to hear that you are not alone and that you are not crazy.  The abuse is meant to make you feel crazy and to make you doubt your own inner voice, but you are not crazy.  Survivors need to hear that the pain you feel is legitimate and real and although you don’t carry visible physical signs of your wounds the pain is excruciating and can lead to many complex feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Psychological/Emotional abuse:

Character Assassination: When an abuser picks apart the character or personality of their partner by stating that their character/personality differences are wrong or weird or unacceptable.  We all are different.  We all have different ways of navigating the world.  We all think and process things differently.  An abuser who uses this tactic views the difference of their partner as less than.  The abuser will see their way of being or character as superior to the other person and will make comments or emotionally sabotage the other person by planting seeds of doubt about what the other person does or thinks.  Abusers who sabotage their partner’s character do this in private, as well as by demeaning them in public or putting them down in front of family or friends.

Name Call: Emotional abusers verbally put down their partner.  They may yell at them and call them names and make them feel less valued or dumb or insignificant in the world.

Emotional Manipulation: Abusers typically know triggers and areas that are sensitive to their partners.  They know what kind of emotional dynamic or language to use to get a certain kind of outcome from their partner.  The survivor may have even said, “no” or “I’m not comfortable with this or that” and the abuser may use previous information or knowledge about the survivor to derive guilt or shame in order to get the outcome that they wanted in the situation.

Gaslight: Emotional gas lighting is a recent term that refers to the absolute denial and displacement of emotional abuse/manipulation by the abuser.  In other words, the survivor at some point may call out these behaviors and how it creates feelings of hurt and pain and the abuser will deny the behavior.  Additionally, they will use this opportunity to question the survivor’s emotional stability and acuity.  “Are you okay”?  “Why don’t you see that I just love you”?  “You know you’ve always had trust issues”.  “Why can’t you assume the best of me”?

Insistence that they are the Experts in your life/experience: Psychological abusers believe that they know the survivor’s experience better than the survivor.   They believe that they know what the survivor needs and what they need to be doing.  A survivor may try to explain that this or that doesn’t work the same in their experience and the abuser is convinced that they know the situation better.  They undermine the survivor’s experience by saying things like, “you know you have this habit of…” They will insist that the survivor submit to their perspective and opinion on the situation.

Emotionally Withholding and Angry: When the survivor is unable or unwilling to go along with (fill in the blank) the abuser will be emotionally withholding, cold, distant and pout.  The cold stance may shift to anger over time and will manifest in putting pressure on the survivor to do what it is the abuser wants.

What happens to the Survivor?

The emotional and psychological consequences of this sort of abuse is extensive.  Survivors describe everything from depression to anxiety to feelings of inadequacy.  Survivors talk about how they have difficulty trusting their judgement.  They struggle to identify their own needs or desires because they hear the voice of their abuser overriding their own.  I’ve had survivors describe to me a sort of brain fog where they had difficulty thinking or focusing on anything.  When they did feel that they had an idea or opinion on a matter they weren’t sure if they could trust the new information.  Survivors describe feelings of doubt and self-blame about their situation.  I’ve heard women describe a somatic pressure on their chest or abdomen that are associated with exposure to emotional oppression and suppression.  For some the pain is indescribable– it is difficult to find language to describe the invisible pain.  Still others describe feeling completely isolated– left to navigate this emotional landscape on their own while in incredible pain and confusion.

I think one thing this blog can provide is a place to affirm that this suffering is real.

The suffering is real and survivors must not endure this suffering alone.  As one sojourner, I know the benefits of community and advocacy support.  There are no easy or quick solutions but I can’t leave this entry without giving some information to those who may need to reach out for assistance.  You can find that information below and know that I believe you and I hope for you– safety & relief from this pain.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://wscadv.org

LifeWire: http://www.lifewire.org // 800-827-8840


Human Rights, Choice & Coming Out

rainbow steps in Istanbul

When, how, to whom, and if one comes out is a human right.  It is a process of personal choice and human agency.  

I’ve been in Istanbul for the past week conducting a research study on the disclosure process of gay men between the ages of 18 to 21.  This wonderful privilege came to me when Dr. Robert Cleve asked me to join the research team, as his assistant.  This research is a cross-cultural emerging grounded theory design, which initially identified cultural cohorts in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Chicago.  This year we received funding to expand the research to Istanbul, Turkey.  So here we are…

Our hope is to get an interior view and perspective on the process of disclosure of identified LGBT individuals, as it relates to their culture of origin.  What we’ve found in our flourishing analysis is that the disclosure process is informed by various elements: family of origin, culture of origin and religion.  What has been true of all the cultural cohorts that we’ve looked at is: a social constructivist structure within culture is a primary determinant and mediator to one’s awareness and acceptance of sexual identity.

In other words cultures where language, social systems, legal systems, healthcare systems and government systems that uphold a heterosexist view as the correct or preferred or normative orientation tend to inform individual’s about how he/she will be accepted and embraced.  Furthermore, this system tells one how she/he should accept and embrace self– such that individuals’ basis for disclosure is linked to how the individual understands where she/he will fit within the society at large.

What I want to really say is that the decision to come out is a painstaking, cost-benefits decision all the time.  It is not a one time decision– it is a moment to moment, person to person, context to context decision.  I always say how the large majority of LGBTQ people are not Ellen… They do not have the privilege of a one time coming-out on national television experience, like Ellen and other celebrities.

Coming out is a decision that has to be considered in every context– family, work, school, social group, church and so on…  It is never one time… It is continual and it requires energy, consideration, wisdom, assessment and discernment every-single-time.

In Turkey the consequence of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is risky and dangerous.  This week hearing stories of men fleeing their homes after being ‘discovered’ or coming out was a theme that consistently presented itself.  One man from a small village had to run away from home, because he would have been killed by his family as part of an honor killing.  There are almost no legal protections for LGBTQ identified persons in Turkey.  When harassment or violence is reported to the police the authorities typically state that the LGBTQ individual provoked the situation and brought it on him/herself.

This is the climate and tone in many parts of the world.  You can lose your job, your home, your family, your church, your community, your support… your life– that’s the reality of being open and authentic about who you are.  Just being you can get you killed.

The thing is I am completely aware that in this cross cultural work I bring my Western– US of A lens to the table…  In the US of A where we are so focused on marriage equality as a human rights issue for LGBTQ people– we forget the many other issues of human rights for LGBTQ that are needed– like the rights to life.

Marriage equality is a worthy cause.  I get why it’s needed.  I voted for it.  Stories like Charlene Strong’s makes this cause so evident.  However, let us not forget that the struggle does not end there and perhaps our single focus on that issue has distracted us from the many other human rights issues.

In fact, on much of the globe the right to live is a primary concern for the LGBTQ community.

– In Nigeria you can face up to 14 years in prison.

– Uganda passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposes execution to people identified in same sex relationships.

– 1,341 LGBTQ Brazilians were murdered from 2007-2012.

Even in the U.S. bullying and harassment is a prevalent issue, which can often lead to suicide.  9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth report being bullied in school.  (Bullying Statistics).

This past year in New York city gay bashings were on the rise.  Several gay men reported being beaten while just walking on the street.

These are a few of the reasons why choosing to disclose is a risky decision.  When one comes out he/she faces potential harms that range from rejection to physical violence.  In Turkey, physical harm can take place within the family of origin.

Yet, even when physical harm is not a risk there is the risk of losing family and relationships and being disowned.  LGBTQ men and women all over the world face these types of risks.

And this is why the decision to come out is a human right.  This is a right that each person gets to make on his or her own terms.

When participants were asked if they would go through the process of coming out to family and friends again (in that initial step) almost every participant echoed a resounding yes… stating that there is nothing like being one’s authentic, true and open self.

However, each one recognized just how personal, intimate and unique the process of coming out is for each individual.  There are no two stories that are exactly the same… Yes, there are shared fears and anxieties, but the outcomes vary from one person to the next.

We finally asked, “Would you recommend coming-out to other closeted LGBTQ identified people”?  One person’s answer stood out to me powerfully.  He said, “Yes!  Of course!  There is absolutely nothing like liberating yourself to be who you are.  However, I also recommend doing so cautiously, because no one knows your circumstance better than you.  No one knows your family better than you do”.

This is true… No one does know your circumstance or your family or your support system or your dreams, hopes and goals better than you…  You are the one that bears that knowledge.  In the end, whatever decision is made the decision to choose is your choice alone– it is your human right to disclose when, how, where and to whom you choose to.


Resources & References:

Homophobia: Human Rights First

not an illness or a crime LGBTQ equality in Turkey

Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act’s Heavy Toll

World Report 2012: Nigeria

World Report 2012: Uganda

It Gets Better


Well…Hello, Istanbul!!

Taksim square people & statue

I arrived in Istanbul 2 days ago to begin a research project here at Bilgi University.  I’ll write more about the research that we are doing, but wanted to at least post a few pictures.  The city is an international hub.  It is alive and buzzing.  The culture and the sights have been thrilling and I look forward to sharing more soon.

Taksim statue

This is Taksim Square.  This week marks the one year anniversary of environmental demonstrations in this square.  This year police were everywhere to ensure that a 2nd demonstration would not take place.

 Taksim square statue 1River scene

As you can see from the pictures Istanbul is densely populated with approximately 15 million people living in this city.

taksim neighborhood poverty

The locals tell me that many of the gypsy neighborhoods like this one are becoming gentrified.

catholic churchJesus catholic church

Istanbul is known for its beautiful mosques.  Here in the shopping district is a beautiful Catholic church: Church of St. Anthony of Padua.  I’ll be visiting Hagia Sophia and will be posting pictures soon!

Jesus statue

Christ statue in the courtyard of Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

Bilgi sign

This is the university where I am working for the next week.  This is finals week here on Bilgi’s campus.  The architecture students have placed their final projects on the lawn of the university  Here is a beautiful structure on campus:

Bilgi hanging boat

red flower


A new adventure ahead


A few weeks I learned that I was accepted into a doctoral program in an International Psychology program.  The concentration of my research will be on women & trauma.  The Chicago School’s program is one of kind– I’ve seen nothing else out there like it.  Depending on the direction & concentration of my research on women & trauma I will be traveling to our international partner sites to conduct field study.  This opens up a plethora of pathways for partnerships, learning and expansion on the research I’ve been dreaming about for years.  

All that to say, I will still be blogging & writing.  I imagine that my posts will include many of my thoughts on the research, stories, statistics– blah-blah-blah.  I hope to keep it relevant and interesting.  I want to use this space to keep expanding dialogue.  

Lately I’ve been asked why I do this work.  At some point I think I’ll be able to share more of my own personal story– as it is connected to the dialogue and the work, but for now I can share this–  I am passionate.

I am passionate about women.

I am passionate about the voices of women.

And I am unapologetic.

I have seen churches and schools and businesses and institutions and families, most established on systems of patriarchy, dismantle and undermine the development and freedom of the feminine voice.

I have been with women who have been literally beaten and smashed told that their only worth is that of serving the men in their lives.

I have sat across from women bruised and scarred from years of sexual abuse told that no place within themselves or their bodies is sacred or private or intimate or wholly their own.  

I have heard stories from women who have been told that real sacrifice has to do with compromising their own hopes, dreams, desires in service of others.  When feelings of confusion or disillusionment arise they are told that to dream or hold desire is to be selfish and self-serving.  Thus, leading them to believe that to be ‘good’ is to let go of any personal hope or dream.

And so you see, I am passionate about joining women in finding and freeing their beautiful voice– a voice full of wisdom, insight, purpose, laughter, sorrow, joy, vision and hope.  

And so I hope to continue to expand my understanding and my awareness through this research to create spaces of safety and healing that will ultimately lead to liberation and realization of the feminine voice.  

This is not an easy or quick work.  I am reminded of this through Caroline Knapp’s writings.  In her book Appetites, Knapp says:

“Defining desire in new ways is achingly complicated, painstaking work; it requires developing a vision that runs counter to consumerism, counter to a corporate an political culture that’s still tightly structured to meet male needs, perhaps even counter one’s own deeply-ingrained assumptions…Anything that connects you–to the body, to the self, to other women–can free.  Anything that frees may also feed”.

It’s a three-year program, but really this is my life’s work and I’m thrilled to embark on this next leg of the journey!