Helping women who are refusing to be abused: Stage 4

Speakoutloud.net Stage 4 Clare Murphy PhDStage 4 of making change is the time when new actions take place. Dienemann and colleagues (2007) suggest this stage in women’s relationships in which men abuse and control them, entails breaking away from their relationship – or – it entails the man curtailing his abuse and control.

This is a time when women assess how safe it is to stay or how safe it is to go. Either choice may be frightening, but during this stage women are more willing to commit to putting themselves first to enhance safety. If a woman is in a psychologically controlling relationship where there is not physical violence – this still entails a great deal of fear. Ongoing systematic long-term abuse and control means women may lose themselves, lose confidence and come to doubt themselves. The man’s non-physical tactics of control can also involve making threats – threatening to harm or kill pets, family or friends. So never doubt that safety and fear are issues for many women at this juncture.

Facing religious beliefs and social prejudices

Women with religious beliefs that prioritise loyalty to the male partner may battle with guilt and feelings of sin. It requires courage for women to re-prioritise such values and shift her wellbeing to a higher position on her list of values. However, feelings of anger, and the need to regain power and control over her own life, are drivers that help women take self-determined action to care for themselves at this point.

Social prejudices also create problems for women who leave their partner (whether he is abusive or not). My research shows that many women lose friends when they leave their partner. Some people now consider her a threat – as if she is back on the sexual ‘market’ and will take away someone’s husband. This suspicion, on the part of others, causes disruption in women’s lives, for instance, one woman who left her psychologically controlling husband told me that a man who used to help with car pooling children to school was prevented, by his wife, from continuing to do so.

With the enormous numbers of single parents in our contemporary society, you might assume that there will be no social prejudices for women becoming sole mothers. But research shows this is not the experience for many women. Institutions, such as social support agencies that provide benefits for single mothers, can show prejudice and so can many ignorant bystanders who consider single mothers to be low on the social hierarchy.

Change can cause chaos

If a woman leaves her partner, it still does not mean she is safe, nor does it mean she will remain separated. She might experience emotional turmoil. I liken such change to the chaos that road works create. Before road works begin there are problems with the flow or safety of traffic. The road works are a short-term messy dusty noisy costly business aimed at creating a new safer road that eases traffic problems long-term.

Despite the chaos many women might experience when they start making big changes, this stage is a lot easier for family and friends who want to help, because women are more determined to seek and accept help and they are more able to reject what is not helpful.

How you can help during this time of major change:

  • Affirm the woman’s right to stay in a relationship, and affirm her right to become single
  • Help women connect with their strengths and courage
  • Remember if she leaves, some men will continue to abuse and control her – Don’t blame her if she returns
  • Don’t shame her if she makes decisions you disagree with
  • Let her talk through issues she might have to face: loneliness, financial problems, social stigma of being a single mother, possible stalking, or intimidation, or physical harm by her ex-partner
  • Ask women what small things you can do or say to help her create a new life – whether that is making changes in the relationship, or developing a life outside of the relationship

References:

  • Burman, Sondra. (2003). Battered women: Stages of change and other treatment models that instigate and sustain leaving. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 3, 83-98.
  • Burnett, Lynn Barkley and; Adler, Jonathan. (2008). Domestic violence.
  • Dienemann, Jacqueline A., Glass, Nancy, Hanson, Ginger and; Lunsford, Kathleen. (2007). The domestic violence survivor assessment (DVSA): A tool for individual counselling with women experiencing intimate partner violence. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 28, 913-925.
  • Kramer, Alice. (2007). Stages of change: Surviving intimate partner violence during and after pregnancy. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 21, 285-295.
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Meet the Author

Clare Murphy PhD is the founder of SpeakOutLoud. Her website is dedicated to providing in-depth research about coercive control and psychological abuse. Clare mentors, supervises and trains professionals to recognise and work safely with domestic violence. She offers one-on-one counselling and consultation to those who are ready to make sense of coercive control and abuse, and to Grow and Flourish Beyond Trauma.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jenn Jan 12, 2015, 10:11 pm

    I feel as I have been through every stage but now I’m at stage four. I want freedom and a safe environment for my children to grow. I want to continue on my healing journey outside of abuse. My religious beliefs allow me to live but never remarry unless death. And we cannot pray or hope for such evil, even against someone who has been truly evil. I’m thankful for the ability to leave at the least, and have emotionally become okay with being alone. It actually seems comforting to the contrary. I struggle with the social view of being a single mother but I know I can overcome that. I fear my children will be mad that I left and can only pray they’d grow to understand. I have to believe I’m giving them a better chance at being healthy by leaving. Most likely they will still see him. I’m scared of him kidnapping my children. He wants us to leave this country for his own sick reasons which he has tried to use the bible to justify his craziness. He has already told me in a calm manner that the last time I left he was planning to take the children away to another country without me.

    My mom is scared he will snap one day. He has never hit me. He has held me down and trapped me in rooms before though. I have left 7 times I think. The last three I really made an attempt. The very last time I was very brave and acquired a domestic violence restraining order for 4 years, he then got one on me. In the beginning after an hour or two of his constant berating I would attack him physically. He had me convinced I was the abusive one. I was scared I was. But I learned to stop reacting once I had understanding of what was actually happening and that he was abusive.

    Of course in court I was honest and told them that he abused me and purposely provoked me to try and get me to think I was crazy. They still granted him the order despite the tons of testimony and evidence given for his abuse and current state of mind. I only came back because some friends from church got involved. At first they were affirming but he stood up in church when we were split and made a so called “confession”. He also was baptized. They told me and said he was sincere. I didn’t believe it and knew it was only a way to get me back. But the church friends were probably tired of his constant calls, I came back and we moved farther from my family and four months later all his so-called repentance was a lie. He admitted it to me but no one in church sees it.

    The people from church don’t call anymore as much. I think I’m so upset this time because I was so ready to be free, okay with all the upcoming battles, and I was granted a DV restraining order but because of the turn from my friends at church and them believing his repentance, I allowed it to affect me to the point I thought there was hope. It’s all a lie, my husband is getting better at abusing me since I have become so assertive and strong.

    But my physical and emotional health is wearing from staying in the abuse and being aware when it’s occurring. I stand up for myself and then wait for him to retaliate. Today on our way to church I stood up and he called me disobedient. It doesn’t affect me much anymore though so he comes up with new tactics. He is TWO DIFFERENT people at home and church. I feel like this time no one will believe me and I also believe he got me back and has been working at finishing my character and proving something’s wrong with me.

    He was against the church totally even had arguments with the leadership, but when I left he repented and was accepted and now he has been very charming, no one would suspect what’s happening and he is trying to ruin my character now. I hope I can be confident again about leaving, even get a restraining order again. The biggest evidence I have against him harming me is a note he wrote about cyanide and the definition of what it does. I found it on the kitchen table when I came home after leaving him to get things while he was gone at work. It was and still is creepy. I wonder what it feels like to be free, to not live in fear and anxiety, to allow my brain time to rest and heal. God help me!!