Daniel Sonkin, PHD. Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist HOME | CONTACT | ABOUT
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Do you have a problem with violence?

This is an important first question to ask yourself. However, before you answer that question, let's define more clearly just exactly what violence is and is not.

When people come into group counseling they quickly learn that everyone has a different definition of the word "violence." Some people feel that a slap or a shove is not being violent, while others think that any angry physical contact can be considered violence. You probably have different definitions of domestic violence than your neighbor or the person sitting next to you in your group. In order for everyone to understand each other when we use words such as "violence," we need to have a definition that each person can begin with.

My definition may be different than yours, but at least you will know what I am talking about throughout this website. So, according to Webster's Dictionary:

Violence: Exerting physical force so as to injure or abuse

This definition is good, but not quite complete for our purposes. When I speak about domestic violence, I am talking about three different types of violence. They are:

  1. Physical violence.
  2. Sexual violence.
  3. Psychological violence.

Let's now try to clearly define each of these types.

Physical Violence

Physical violence is probably what comes to most people's minds when we talk about domestic violence. This includes: hitting, slapping, grabbing, shoving, pushing, kicking, choking, scratching, punching, pulling, hitting with weapons or objects, physical force to make a person do something or go somewhere against that person's will. "I just grabbed her by the arm, is that violence?" Yes. No one is justified in using violence outside of self-defense. Even then, it takes considerably less force to get away from someone than to engage in a fight, retaliate or try to teach someone a lesson.

Sexual Violence

When someone forces another person to have sexual intercourse by means of physical force, the threat of force, intimidation, or by use of a weapon, it is considered rape. And that is one form of sexual violence. Sexual violence is not something that occurs only between strangers. In fact, a good number of rapes occur between individuals who know each other. Other forms include forced sexual activity (oral sex, sodomy, etc.), forced sex with animals, forcing a person to have sexual intercourse or sexual activity with another person, or forced sexual activity with objects. In many states, it is now against the law for a man to force his wife to have sex with him. It is called spousal rape, and has already been tested successfully in the courts.

Psychological Violence

This can be expressed in a number of ways, but essentially it is a systematic attempt to control another person's thinking and behavior. Psychological violence includes the following categories of behaviors, isolation, induced debility, pathological jealousy, threats, degradation, forced alcohol and drug use, brainwashing and occasional indulgences. Lets look more closely at what each category of psychological violence may look like.

  • Isolation would include, not letting her socialize with friends or family members, forcing her to stay at home with you all the time or not letting her leave the house without you, moving away from all her support systems, such as friends or family members.
  • Induced debility producing exhaustion including keeping her up all night during a fight, waking her up to argue with her or abuse her physically or sexually, making her do all the work at home, forcing her into a servant role, keeping her pregnant, or not allowing her to have support in taking care of the children.
  • Pathological jealousy and obsessivenss, having to know where she is all the time, who she is with, acussing her of being with other men, looking at other men or wanting to be with other men, following her, controlling finances wo she can not leave him, stalking her after a separtion or divorce, or refusing to obey restraining orders.
  • Threats to kill her, kill others or yourself are common forms of psychological abuse that are intended to control her and to get what you want.
  • Degradation or verbal namecalling and putdowns are another common behavior that men use when feeling angry, hurt or fearful. Like physical abuse, the verbal namecalling has as much, or sometimes more, impact on the victim in that is serves to damage the victim's sense of self-worth, to make her feel powerless. She has to give up her own values, her point of view, in order to keep him from being out of control.
  • Forcing your partner to use alcohol or drugs.
  • Invalidating your partner's perception of the situation. Such as, trying to convince your partner that she is crazy or is hearing or seeing things that did not happen. Convincing your partner that the problems are actually all her fault, or that you didn't do the things she thinks he did, or that she can't live without you.
  • Occassional indulgences illustrated by the statement, "I promise dear, I'll never do it again." This is followed with loving behavior, such as gift giving, sensitivity, tolerance for a short period of time before the old behavior sets in again.

What is the net result of all forms of violence? Violence is used to gain control over others and maintain dominence over them. In the short run, this may be what you want. In the long run, though, psychological violence, like physical and sexual violence, almost always destroys the relationship.

What to they have in common?

These three types of violence have several other characteristics in common.

  • First, they are all against the law. Physically or sexually assaulting someone, threatening to assault or kill or assault another person are all against the law.
  • Second, they each can have serious emotional or physical consequences for the victim, unintended victims such as children, and the offender himself.
  • Third, they are ways in which someone can dominate, control and intimidate another person.
  • Lastly, any type of violence will ultimately destroy the love and trust in a relationship and will lead to separation and divorce.
    There are other ways of dealing with your feelings without infringing upon the rights and wellbeing of other; this is what Learning to Live Without Violence is all about!

Your Violence History

Exercise #1

What type of violence have you perpetrated? Admitting to violence is going to be difficult for you. You are likely to feel embarrassed, shameful and afraid of others response to you. Acknowledging your violence forces you to look at a part of yourself that you of which you are not particularly proud. However, doing so will also ultimately help you to change those behavior patterns that are likely to lead to violence.

  • What types of physical violence have you perpetrated in the past?
  • What types of sexual violence have you perpetrated in the past?
  • What types of psychological violence have you perpetrated in the past?

Click here to view a violence history form. Print it out and use the list to identify your past acts of violence.

Exercise #2

Describe three acts of violence that you perpetrated towards your partner.

  • What was the worse incident?
  • What was the first incident?
  • What was the last incident?

In writing about each act of violence describe the circumstances leading up to your violence? What specifically did you do to your partner? What did you do afterwards. How do you think it affected your partner? How about your children? Be specific!