Relationship abuse is part of the same dynamic and same problem as bullying.
Bullying is about power and control. People who bully do so because it gives them power and control over others. Which is why we do see bullying in relationships. And because bullying is so destructive, it’s consider abusive – whether or not this bullying or harassment involves physical threats or battery.
And, really, we should consider that as we think of school bullying or workplace bullying. In a romantic relationship – this behavior is clearly abusive and clearly inappropriate and yet, in a school relationship or a work relationship – we tolerate it.
There is a great article by Jennie Withers on what to do if the bully is your romantic partner – http://stop-bullies.com/Blog/?p=846&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-the-bully-is-their-boyfriendgirlfriend and while this advice is geared towards teens and the people helping them, it’s also good for advice for people dealing with adult abusive relationships as well.
Here is Jennie’s advice:
- Model assertive relationships
- Rehearse the break-up with the teen
- Set age appropriate dating limits
- Create a safety plan that includes places, people and resources that make the victim feel safe
- Listen to the teen and guide (which is not giving advice) their decision making
- Assure the teen they don’t deserve to be abused and real love doesn’t involve abuse
- Encourage the teen to report or seek help from an adult they trust
- Report the abuse to the authorities if you feel the teen is in physical danger
Listen to the teen and guide them in their decision making – is important. And she is correct to note that this is not the same as giving advice. The person in a destructive relationship has to decide for themselves what to do. Helping them understand they have options – is what will help them make a decision for themselves.
Helping them to create a safety plan for themselves will also go a long way. As someone who was in an abusive relationship and who ended up being stalked, I can tell you that the advice I was getting wasn’t really helpful. I knew people were right, but the abuse is so manipulative that the victim really can’t think straight. Their behavior is being controlled through by their abuser, even when they don’t want it to be.
It really speaks to the power of variable conditioning to strengthen behavior. It’s mind blowing for those on the outside. It would seem like the variable response a victim of relationship abuse receives from their abuser would make it easier to leave – but it doesn’t, it makes it harder.
Anyway – I know for me, I was given information on the stalking laws by someone 6 months before I admitted to myself I was being stalked. It wasn’t that I was in denial – I was seeking help. I just didn’t realize from my vantage point, just how bad it was. The best thing that therapist told me when I told her I wasn’t being stalked and didn’t need the information was “hang on to it anyway, just in case.”
To get people away from abusive situations takes time, compassion and restraint. But mostly time and consistency of support, over time.