Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

How much subjectivity is needed to understand our lives objectively?



It is March 17, 2001. Robert [i] and I are driving up to a popular tourist attraction � Rainbow Lake, with a friend. Ahead of us, one lone person on a mountain bike pulls out onto the road. His black tights have blue knee inserts � the same as I bought my former husband. The biker is wearing a blue cowl. It is identical to the one my former husband bought himself in 1991. I see the biker뭩 shoes. They are black with yellow stripes. I have seen these same shoes on the shelf where I once lived.

I look at the man뭩 face. It is 밾im.� His cheeks are thinner than they were three years ago.� My mouth begins to sour. I turn to Robert, 밳ou aren뭪 going to believe this,� I say, � but that is 멻im.뮅 I think to myself what an easy target he is. How can I still think this? The steering wheel I am holding gives me a sense of power over his fate. One small jerk of the wheel and I could run him over. I stop myself form thinking these thoughts. I feel as though I am entering into dangerous territory. 밒t is a very unhealthy place to be,� I tell myself. 밳ou have moved beyond this.� Where does such anger come from? It lies dormant and then it all comes back. It is all so clear again. The pain that I try to leave behind is ever present. Why can뭪 I let all of these feelings go? Is it because I have seen him?


Doug rarely spoke about his father other than when he told me stories of hunting trips he and his father would go on. He said that hunting was the one escape that his father had from Doug뭩 mother. Doug once told me the story of having to 밹arry out� a ram for his father from the place where it had been shot to his father뭩 truck. He told me that the journey took two hours and that he carried the animal out by himself. He had slung the carcass over his shoulders and had not stopped to rest even once. To this day, Doug is unable to stand either the smell or the taste of mouton � He told me, 밫he smell of tallow remains engraved in my memory. Every time that you cook it, the smell drives me from the house. I never thought that the smell of food could make one so violently ill, but lamb does it to me.�

The body remembers and brings back to the surface that which you try or do not wish to remember. It is not uncommon for people to forget unpleasant experiences only to have the memory return in later years.

The Politics of Naming a Condition

As I enter this work, I am continuing to face the same words that have plagued me for the past ten years. If there are no fixed 몀eanings� ascribed to particular words, how is one to know what is 뱊ormal behavior� in the post-modern world? The phrase 밶busive behavior� is frequently used to refer to violence that can cause serious injury and death rather than to the 뱊ormal� conflict and stress that occur in all close relationships. If a person does not consider name-calling and put-downs personally, is there no abuse? How does subject-position shape the meaning of words? When does an 밒-didn뭪-see-you-there� bump turn into an abusive shove? How can conflict be circumvented when one person relentlessly considers his behavior to be normal and the other person adamantly does not?

The pages that follow resonate my uncertainties about what it means to be 밶bused� as opposed to what society decides constitutes 밶cceptable/unacceptable.� This text representsa conversation between the tissues that weave the fabric of the academic discourse and my experiences and memories as one who lived in the spaces marked as 뱕ictim.� Heidegger (1971) writes

To undergo an experience with language꿲eans to let ourselves be properly concerned by the claim of language by entering into it and not submitting to it. If it is true that [we] find the proper abode of [our] existence in language � whether [we are] aware of it or not � then an experience we undergo with language will touch the inner most nexus of our existence꿅loundering in commonness is part of the dangerous game in which, by nature of language, we are the stakes (p. 57).

Language of labeling helps us come to terms with atrocities inflicted on some persons by others. I do not feel like the 밶bused� or the 뱕ictim.� I do, however, feel that I have been violated. It is not just my body, but also my mind, my being. There is no boundary, but rather an interconnectedness that allows the emotions to permeate my every fiber. I am as the child who Metcalfe and Game (in press) describe. A child who has been abused is asked to tell where it hurts. The child is unable to articulate the pain; rather, the child points to her heart. I do not feel that the words of my writing can adequately convey what I feel.

The recollections of my experiences do not knit together in a linear way much in the same way that abuse is not always linear in all its facets. Nor do they weave into a coherent text, as does the scholarly discourse of the academy. Such is the predicament of a subject (me), being subject to a word like 밶buse.� My memories remain as fibers that, as they work along side the scholarly discourses of abuse, might begin to weave a richer less 멵ertain� text. It is in the ambiguities and ambivalences that I remain the author of a story that is told alongside the attenuated discourse of the scholars who study 밶buse.� I have attempted to engage a number of tissues/issues that are the areas in which I wanted to gain insights. In particular, I would like to find answers as to what constitutes abuse through to what are the facts and the effects of abuse one particular woman who endures it.

Within these pages unfolds memories (those written in a journal and those that this writing has made resurface) and my struggle for coherency in the present, which can be situated along one axis. Along the other axis lie the public and private spaces. The public being that which is open to others and the private that holds our secrets. I cannot situate myself along the axis, as I cannot 밷utton� myself with a label. In part, it is my ineffability that drives me to write as well as my body뭩 inability to contain its secrets. Van Manen and Levering (1996) hypothesize that we are unable to keep secrets because secrets act as a mediator that separates us from those around use. Our secrets give birth to our feelings. Through the act of keeping secrets, I increasingly became a stranger to myself as I increasingly cut myself off from the world.

Because of my own subject-position in relation to family violence, I have decided to limit my investigation to violence against women. I do, however, acknowledge that women can equally impart violence and that there are hosts of ramifications concerning females abusing males and that the results can be equally as devastating for men as they are for women. This text resists simple categories like abuser/abused and victim/ perpetrator. As you enter into the text that follows, remember that the words, at times, come after much consternation. At other times, they flow with ease. Gadamer뭩 (1989) work acts as a canvas for me:

Everything that is experienced is experienced by oneself, and part of its meaning is that it belongs to the unity of this self and thus contains an unmistakable and irreplaceable relation to the whole of this one life (p. 67).

This text remains as a witness to violence, a maker of an experience that is one woman뭩 story. It is divided into two columns, the left representing scholarly works and researched data while the right holds sections of the journal I kept during my abusive relationship with Doug. Following each section of research/journal is a section of reflection. All three texts act together to create the tension of reaching an (im)possible space where meaning, experience, and thought intersect. As with life, contrasting realities do not fall into one specific pattern, however, a pattern of sorts does suggest itself.

The 멑acts� � 젨
  Tyrannies of Coherence
Women are more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence. The statistics that support this claim are staggering. In Canada, Fitzgerald (1999) reported that there were over 22,254 cases of spousal violence reported in 1997. Women accounted for 88% of the victims (19 575) and men for 12% (2 679). Women were 8 times more likely than men to be assaulted by a spouse. Out of the 1 575 reported cases of spousal violence against women in 1997, 75% of the women were victims of assault. Of the 19 575 cases, 13% suffered assault with a weapon or assault causing bodily harm and aggravated assault. 7% were victims of criminal harassment, and 5% suffered other types of violent offences such as sexual assault, intentional firearm shooting, abduction, hostage taking, robbery, extortion, homicide and attempted homicide, criminal negligence and other offences causing death (p. 51). According to a report released by Statistics Canada in 1995, among women aged 18 and over in 1993, almost two out of three victims of assault by a current or former spouse had previously been assaulted on more than one occasion. 35% of the victims had been assaulted once, 22% from 2 to 5 times, 9% from 6 to 10 times, and 32% had been assaulted 11 times or more. Due to a lack of information, the number of incidents was not determined in the case of 2% of the victims (Statistics Canada, 1995, p. 180). Fedorowycz (1999) reported that women made up one third of the victims in the 555 cases of homicide committed in 1998. Data on solved crimes indicate that women were almost five times more likely to be killed by a spouse than by a stranger (p. 15). In a report entitled Family Violence in Canada published by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, illustrates that women who live in Alberta and British Columbia are most at risk from spousal abuse when compared to rates of other provinces in Canada (

Studies in the United States concur with those conducted in Canada; they support the irrefutable conclusion that women are, by far, the gender that is 밶t risk� should spousal abuse be a living reality within a relationship. In 1996, the American Psychological Association reported that nearly one in every three women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. [ii] 90-95% of domestic violence victims are women. 70% of intimate homicide victims are female. [iii] One out of every four American women (26%) report that they have been physically abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year. [iv] From 1992 to 1996, victimisation by an intimate accounted for about 21% of the violence experienced by females. It accounted for about 2% of the violent crime sustained by males. In 1996, approximately 1 000 murders were attributed to intimates; nearly three out of four of these had a female victim. [v] Three in four women (76%) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that a current or former husband, cohabiting partner or date committed the assault. Just 18% of the male adult victims of rape and/or assault said an intimate partner attacked them. [vi]

  젨젨젨젨젨 Journal entry, December 14, 1996.
        I have decided that I need to start keeping a record of what is happening in my life. It is the life that I share with Doug and of what I have lived with for the last three years. I guess that this is a way of trying to help myself to recover some sanity and dignity in my life as well as to have documentation of what I have experienced in my life with Doug. On one hand, I do not know why I have to write, on the other hand, I know, however, that I have to. I know that I can no longer live the way that I have been. I need to have some sort of point of reflection where I can reaffirm myself as a person; a place where I can re-find myself and reconnect with the person that I am. I feel my life spiraling downward into an abyss from which I will never be able to survive nor come through in one piece. This journal is, I hope, a safe place where I can maintain some sense of me.

젨젨젨젨� Where do I start? I stare at this empty page. I am afraid to write. I am afraid to face that which I want to ignore. I can no longer delude myself. Things have not been good between Doug and I for quite some time.� I am no longer able to stand listening to him 밼reak� an average of 10 times per hour, one to two minutes each time. Every time that I see his hands move up to his face, every time he places one hand on either side of his mouth, then splays his fingers as he lets out absurd noises and utterances, the hairs on the back of my neck begin to rise. I can feel my entire chest tighten as he removes his right hand from his face and he points his index finger at the sky and begins to shake it.

젨젨젨젨� I cannot bear to listen to his 뱇ittle ditties� which are vulgar beyond belief (밾e lit a match to his grandmother뭩 snatch and watched as she pissed through the flames�). I am extremely upset with what happened last night after my staff Christmas party, which also happened to be my birthday. I cannot stand the man, or what he is doing to me. This is why I am sitting in my classroom on a Sunday afternoon writing this journal. The last journal I kept was when I was a teenager. The journal was a place where I kept my secrets. Now, I can no longer keep my secrets silent. I must acknowledge them, but only to myself.

젨젨젨젨젨 After the party, Doug wanted to make love; I didn뭪.� He told me that I had drunk too much and that is why I did not want to make love to him. He wouldn뭪 take no for an answer. He pestered and pressured me to make love with him for a half an hour. Then, he called me a 밺umb cunt�; this is one of his terms of endearment for me. When he is angry with me he also calls me a 뱒tupid piece of shit.� I put on my pants and shirt to leave the room, but Doug would not let me leave. He grabbed me and got a hold of my ankle; he tried to pull my pants off and to get me back into bed. I got into bed fully clothed because I did not want to force the issue. He swore at me again because of this. His fist smashed into the pillow beside my head. I could not speak. I was afraid. Two inches closer and he would have hit my face. I rolled over and curled up into a ball. I thought that if I said or did nothing that he would forget about me. He did. I slept in my clothing last night.

젨젨젨젨� There are many reasons why I am so unhappy. I know that I am no angel, but I do not know why I have to live like this. I wish, I have wished, for many month that either one of us would die so in that way, the one remaining would have some sort of peace. Is it me who is driving Doug crazy or is it he doing it to me? I am so unhappy right now that I could kill myself.젨젨젨젨�

        Even though I am now part of these statistics and am no longer physically in the situation, part of me remains in my old life. I will forever lose that part of me just as do the faces of all the women who make up these statistics become lost and meaninglessness in the numbers and statistics that act as indicators of abuse. What I did not realize at the time was the power and control that I had given up to Doug � this makes me no less of a person than who I am. It does not make me stupid or na�ve. The change happens so slowly for the person living in the situation and far more quickly for the observer. As I lost control, I garnered a different type of control. It was as though I had information that no one else had that I could use. It was my secret. Why does abuse become a secret? For me, perhaps it was the loss of dignity, the sense of violation, the sense of shame that I felt that made keep my secret to myself.

The word 뱒ecret� can be traced to its Latin root secretus meaning alone, special, retired, solitary, hidden, and secret. Secrets allow us to keep our sense of being our very own. People choose that which they wish to divulge as 밺ark secrets are often repressed because they make use feel shameful, guilty� (van Manen and Levering, 1996, p. 50). These feelings are ones that I have lived over and again. Even as I write these words, as I attempt to write this paper, these feelings evoked from my experiences are undeniable. Does divulging my secret wash away the associated feelings? No. Why then do we feel compelled to tell our secrets? Is it a hope for catharsis? Is it the hope to come to terms with the meaning and significance of experiences?

젨젨젨젨젨� Finding a hiding place for my secrets was an attempt to 뱈ake myself invisible� (van Manen and Levering, 1996, p. 21). I believed that if I did things the way that others wanted, I could 뱆eep the peace.� My submission forced me to become an other person. The blow was multiplied by becoming yet an other for my colleagues and peers. The resulting fa�ade was my attempt to present a woman who was in control of her own destiny. A woman who had it 밶ll together� and 뱆new how to get what she wanted.� When does a secret become a lie?

Types of Abuses: Person-to-Person

  Shadows and Lights
젨젨젨젨� When one thinks of an abusive relationship, the vision of battering comes into mind. Such was my vision of abuse only a few years ago; it is an erroneous assumption as there are many types of abuse ranging from physical to sexual to emotional.

Physical abuse is characterised by 뱎ushing, hitting, whipping, biting, holding down, throwing, slapping, and spanking� (Brinegar, 1992, p. 13) 뱋r using a weapon to threaten or injure (DeKeseredy and MacLeod, 1997, p. 5). It is the most pervasive type of abuse and can escalate from 뱈inor expressions of anger into severe assaults (Kakar, 1998, p. 46).

Sexual abuse is also known as marital rape as a person is forced to perform sexual acts against their will or to endure pain during sex (DeKeseredy and MacLeod, 1997). It is the most difficult form of abuse to prosecute due to societal views of what is consensual and non-consensual sex between couples (Kakar, 1998). According to Zuckerman et al. (1990), the sanction of marriage offers a safe haven for rapists.

Psychological and emotional abuses are difficult to define; it does, however, 뱈ore than the usual form of cursing, blaming, threatening and manipulation. It includes humiliation, deprivation, and conversations that tear down self-esteem� (Brinegar, 1992, p. 15). It is known that psychological and emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse. The effects of psychological and emotional abuse are not apparent to the onlooker, however, the damage manifests itself in the victims 뱒elf-esteem, self-worth, ability to take initiative and ability to feel independent�.This form of violence leads many to self destruction like self-mutilation, suicide, and poor mental health� (Kakar, 1998, p. 51-53). Definitions of what constitutes psychological and emotional abuse are less than adequate � some cursing, blaming, etc. is acceptable but how much? Does it depend on the person who is the object of the words and how much that person can 뱎ut up with?� Destruction of property or pets are two other forms of abuse; they usually are predecessors of physical violence (Brinegar, 1992).

  젨젨젨젨젨 Journal entry, December 19, 1997. This morning, Doug said that he would see me that evening. I tried to explain to him, one more time, the situation. My Aunt is very sick and will probably not be alive by the summer time � when we usually go to visit. I am scheduled to leave after school tonight to spend Christmas with her. I will be back on the 29th of December. I am so mad at Doug for keeping me up until 2:30 this morning. The conversation returned to the question of my love for him. He barraged me with the routine of 밯hy don뭪 you love me? Why aren뭪 you spending Christmas here? Why aren뭪 you coming back on the 26th of December?� I am glad that my mother stayed over last night. I know that it helped to stop the physical abuse that would have followed. I just know that she could hear parts of the verbal slurs that Doug hurled at me. Now, tonight, as we drive to Friday Harbor, I know that I will have to be honest with my mother about what is happening in my relationship with Doug.

Journal entry, January 6, 1998. I had an interesting one-sided conversation with Doug last night about what happened on New Year뭩 Eve. He started badgering me about having sex with him again, last night꿌 gave in. After he was finished, I told him how I felt. I used the New Year뭩 Eve incident to make my point. He told me that I bruise too easily and that he hardly even touched me. He did not say anything else. I told him that I wanted to talk about the incident that transpired on the bathroom floor.

The Incident: After pushing me, he pinned my down on the floor and raped me. He grabbed my wrists and held them on either side of my head during the entire time. I couldn뭪 believe that this was happening. I couldn뭪 scream the children, Jason and Nat, were asleep in the room next to ours. I wanted to be taken away. Then, I felt as though I had left my body. I remember my breathing became faster. I was breathing through my nose. My jaw was clenched so tightly that it hurts to chew today. As I was lying on the floor with his body on top of mine, tears began to stream from my eyes and rolled into my ears. I was looking at the light hanging from the ceiling. I could feel myself slip into a trance. I feel as though I am spiralling downward into a hole that I can뭪 get out of.

I was not able to find research that addressed the likelihood of one abuse being linked to others being manifested. From my experience, all three types of abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual) were linked together and used, but always within a given, predictable pattern from the verbal/emotional onto the physical (but not always) ending with the sexual. This was a realization that I made as I wrote this paper. Perhaps it was something that I was aware of but that I refused to acknowledge before. The awakening screams at me as I write these words. What I realize is that every abused woman experiences it in uniquely different ways. It is the language that we use that makes it all seem the same.

Family and relationships enter into the circle of abuse. The etymology of the word 뱑elationship� is that which we return to. It is a derivative of the word 뱑elate� (relatus) to carry back (Klein, 1971). The shadows mentioned as the journal heading represent that which we do not want to acknowledge, that which we suppress, that which we live but do not let anyone else see. It is the secret that remains hidden in the relationship, between those implicated, as a 밺irty little secret.� The light is that which is positive, that which draws us back to the relationship. Things were not always bad in our relationship. Before the abuse began, the relationship was strong, loving, and nurturing. As the relationship became abusive, the good remained as a glimmer of hope. I hoped that things would, that they could, return to what they had been. When do we know that things cannot be returned to?

젨젨젨젨 젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨� 젨젨젨젨젨� 젨�

Cycles of Abuse젨�   Patterns that Defy Coherence?
Familiar patterns of spousal abuse often develop in three phases: the tension-building phase, victimization phase, and the reconciliation phase (Kakar, 1998, p. 123). The tension builds over a series of small occurrences. It is during this time period, Kakar argues, that 뱓he victim believes that she can change the offender and his behavior� (p. 123) as well as her responses to the minor assaults. What follows is an increase in tension that leads to 뱒ever episodes of violence� in which the perpetrator wants to 뱓each (the other) a lesson� (Kakar, 1998, p. 124). The violent acts of violence characterize the victimization phase.

Once the violence has subsided, the couple moves into the phase of reconciliation. The batterer is intent on reconciling with the victim, claiming feelings of love towards his partner. He is sorry and may become loving toward her. He assures his wife that he will never do anything violent or hurtful to her again. At that moment, he may believe he will never hurt her again. She wants to believe him, hoping that he will change. Kazar (1998) claims that the victim does indeed forgive her abuser and lives with the hope that it will never happen again. The cycle can repeat itself over and over again.

  젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, October 18, 1996.

Moira told her father to fuck off last night. She was a half an hour late coming home and Doug was irate with her. Even before she arrived home, Doug had made up his mind that she was going to be grounded for a month. Doug leapt out of his chair and he lunged at her. She moved too quickly for him to grab her. She headed into the dining room and Doug reached out to grab for her. She was able to get away from him and headed to the front door. Doug met up with her there and she slunk down to the floor, covering her head. He was holding her by the nape of her neck. I was yelling at Doug to let her go and finally grabbed him and pulled him away from her. I thought that Doug was going to beat her. I can뭪 remember if it is my imagination or not, but, I saw a fist going up in the air. Somehow, Moira got herself free and I told her to go upstairs, to lock herself in the bathroom and that I would be up shortly.

젨젨젨젨� I calmed Doug down. Everything is such a blur of confusion now. It is all so surreal. I told Doug that he was to stay downstairs in the kitchen. I then went upstairs to check on Moira. She was sitting on the bathroom floor sobbing. I locked the bathroom door and moved toward her. Suddenly, my legs became weak. I slumped to the floor beside her. I held her in my arms. I could no longer tell myself that this was not happening. The tears filled up in my eyes. How could he have done this to his own daughter?

젨젨젨젨� Moira said that she wanted me to take her home. She told me that she hated her father and that she never wanted to see him again. I can뭪 blame her for feeling the way that she does � I feel the same way.

젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, November 1, 1996. Moira is spending the weekend with us.

Even though viewing the types of violence as events that fall into cycles might be a stretch at best, the abuse that I experienced did fall into the three distinct stages. I was aware of the cycle before I had read work done in this area from work that I have done in dealing with student violence. When the cycle of abuse would start over again with Doug, I was always filled with dread; I knew what to expect next. As with the research, the cycle we went through was quite predictable. Every time the cycle hit stage two, the violence intensified. When I was hit, I was told that I deserved it. I was told that I was the one responsible for pushing the envelope. How much of it was I truly responsible for? It cannot be looked at in percentages, but, yet, I cannot help myself in my attempt at trying to assign responsibility. Can patterns become familiar and then acceptable? Can reality be formed within our mind뭩 eye and is then distorted by influences external to us? One seems to see clearly at times, but it is like a kaleidoscope, always changing rapidly leaving the viewer with little time or energy to recognise the pattern.

In my diary, I use the term 밿ncident� to describe being raped. One of my peers questioned my use of this word. She stated, 밒t is a tragedy, not incidental to life or feelings.� I cannot speak or write the word. Language minimizes the pain. Is it possible to minimize our pain by renaming events? Merleau-Ponty writes that 뱖e are condemned to meaning, and we cannot do or say anything without its acquiring a name in history� (p. xix). It is in this regard that I have softened a very painful memory. In the writing of this paper, it has become labeled an 밿ncident.� My original diary did not include the word 뱑ape.� I could not write it. To me, being raped by my own husband was one of the worst experiences that I had lived through. Today, I look at the experience as part of a cycle that escalates and oscillates over time.

Remaining in Abusive Relationships젨�     Reminders of Abusive Places
There are a number of theories that try to attain an understanding for why a woman might stay in an abusive relationship. McNair et. al. (1981) indicate that women have learned that it may be their own feelings of fear, guilt, or shame that keep them in a relationship that is physically abusive. Such a character trait may be present before abuse begins or it may be a result of living in an abusive situation. Kakar (1998) supplements McNair뭩 observation by suggesting that very few women leave an abusive relationship after the first incident of violence, as there is hope that it will not happen again. As violence escalates with each cycle, so does the fear that acts as an intimidation factor increases.

Low self-esteem is another contributing factor as to why women may remain in abusive relationships. Research in this area remains divided; it is not known whether women in violent relationships had low self-esteem at the onset (Cascardi et al., 1992) or as a result of the abuse (Oates and Peacock, 1985).

Walker (1979) coined the term 뱇earned helplessness� in order to describe the feelings of fear and futility women who are in abusive situations feel after trying to escape the relationship. Women give up hope of any escape as they fall deeper and deeper into despair brought on from, what they view as, the hopelessness of their situation. As Kakar (1998) explains, women feel as thought there is nothing that can be done that will stop the violence; giving up is the only recourse they have. For Gondolf and Fisher (1996), learned helplessness is a form of brainwashing that results from women being controlled and manipulated that results from being 몆sychologically broken�. I link the feeling to a spiraling downward, the abused person eventually believes that what they hear must reflect reality because 뱖ho would be stupid enough to spend their lives listening to it� (Personal Journal, February 18, 1998). Perhaps it is the disassociation from one뭩 social circle that draws you more into the 뱒ecrets� of the relationship, or as Finn (1985) would argue, a lack of motivation to seek outside support.

Other reasons for staying with an abuser may are numerous. Briefly, they span from stress to loneliness, unrealistic views of the relationship being stable, feelings that a divorce is wrong and that the marriage should be kept together at all costs as well as psychological disorders on the part of the woman. The latter will be discussed in the following section.

젨젨젨젨� Apart from the internalized factor above, there are also external variables that may influence a woman뭩 likelihood to remain in an abusive relationship. Often, social and economic pressures compel a woman to stay (Gelles, 1987).

    젨젨젨젨 Journal entry, March 12, 2001. As a child, I was brought up in a loving household. I was taught the importance of standing up on my own two feet and that women were strong people with strength and fortitude. I was brought up believing that I should never accept living in an oppressive situation. I broke up with a boyfriend because he was angry and pushed me aside as he was walking out the door � it was not a violent shove as I was already standing to the side. I did not pursue him as he headed out the door; rather I called him the next day and told him that, in light of his behaviour the night before, that we could no longer continue dating.

젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, October 14, 1997. Cody is a small town where everyone knows you, especially when you are a teacher. Doug will find me and kill me if I leave him. I don뭪 want to have to face the fact that I had made a mistake. If I do not think about it, it isn뭪 so bad � I can 뱓une it out.�…The list of reasons goes on as long as the day is long. I know that I could continue this list for ten pages because they have all run through my mind countless numbers of times before�

I have been divorced before.

I can뭪 be a failure twice.

I can handle this.

Where would I move?

I would have to leave town.

This will kill the kids. They have already been through so much.

If I just ignore him, I can get through this.

He is going to be away for a few days next week and then a week in a month뭩 time � I뭠l have some breathing space then.

It뭩 Spring Break in a week.

It뭩 Moira뭩 birthday in a month.

젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, January 4, 1998. Why does Doug do these things? He always accuses me of yelling at him when I don뭪 even raise my voice. It is as though every time that I am not able to answer his questions the way that he wants them answered or that he feels that I am being defiant, he tells me not to yell at him. Even if I ask him a question about something that he has done that I don뭪 agree with, he tells me to stop yelling.

젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, June 4, 1997. After a fight last night, I went to sleep in the spare bedroom. The door does not have a lock on it and I knew that Doug would want to come in and 밺rag� me back to our bed. I told Doug that I was going to sleep in the spare bedroom and that I wanted to be left alone. I decided to move the dresser in front of the door to ensure that he wouldn뭪 come in. When he tried to come in and couldn뭪, he pushed on the door so hard that the dresser toppled over. He was so mad. He yelled at me for ten minutes. I felt like a child being chastised by a parent. I feel, today, like I acted immaturely but all I wanted was to be left alone�

How is it that I did not leave when Doug first verbally abused me, struck me, and sexually abused me? Are we not told that we are individuals and that we must stand up for ourselves, take care of ourselves? The statistical research discusses 뱇earned helplessness.� This seems so overly simplistic and patriarchal. When the 뱑esearch� asks why abused women stay, the explanations seem so cold and one-dimensional. The situation is filed with ambiguity. Doug was the person whom I loved. He was my husband. Our lives were intertwined in many deep and complicated ways. I didn뭪 want to believe that this was happening to me. It wasn뭪 much, just a push. I wasn뭪 fighting fairly either. I was embarrassed. Who would ever believe that a partner could do this to someone he 뱇oved?� Leaving is not as simple as walking out the door of your home and never returning. You can physically leave a place, but you can also leave a place in an emotional sense. In order to survive I found that slowly, over time, I was leaving. With every verbal slur, with every missed and connected blow, with every act of sexual abuse, I was in the process of leaving. To me, it became a survival strategy. Each act, each incident caused the rift to deepen. In my last few months with Doug, these incidents became a source of empowerment. I knew that in a very short while, he would never be able to hurt me in the way that he was at that moment. I continue to find it quite bizarre that, despite of the repression and vulnerability, unimaginable strength grew.

젨젨젨젨젨� Home is a place for us to return to. My mother뭩 home is the place that I returned to after leaving Doug. It embodies warmth, comfort, and security. As a child, we return home for consolation when we are hurt � we know that there is a parent there to mend our wounds. After being away from home, whether it is to play with friends, go to school, spend a few weeks at a summer camp, the return home to our familiar surroundings returns a sense of peace to use. When entering our house, we are reassured by its familiarity to us. Even the old strive to live independently, in their own homes, for as long as they can. My adopted grandmother was 101 before she moved to a nursing care facility. My cousin who died of cancer insisted in dying in his own home � not in the hospital; so did my aunt. What is the attachment? What gives us this sense of belonging? Why do abused women 뱑eturn� home? How does this translate to an abusive situation?

젨젨젨젨젨� The house becomes a front that hides and screens the inhabitants from the outside world. People cannot see or know what goes on behind the locked doors and drawn curtains. These act as barriers stopping passers by from seeing in and the inhabitants from looking out. They act as a metaphor that underscores the abused person뭩 willingness to look at life beyond the immediate of what is happening. We close ourselves off to the possibilities that lay just beyond, just far enough out of reach. The house holds many secrets.

Bachelard (1969) writes, 뱓he inner space of an old wardrobe is deep� (p. 78), but only when its door is closed. The door acts to create a container that accommodates its emptiness. The space is secure � the emptiness is only as large as the wardrobe. It creates an inside versus outside space. In C. S. Lewis� The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the wardrobe contains a world accessible only through its back wall. It holds within it all of the possibilities and secrets of a world separate from that which we know. It is the same way that a house separates the outside world from that which occurs within the confines of a house.

Women Who Are Abused�   Profiles with Faces
젨젨젨젨젨� Kakar (1998) discusses the ongoing debate of the psychological disorders associated with abused females. Kakar (pp. 163-164) cites the following:

A pervasive pattern of instability of mood, interpersonal relationships, and self image, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by at least five of the following:

(1) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by alternating between extremes of overidealization and devaluation

(2) impulsiveness in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging e.g. spending, sex, substance use, shoplifting, reckless driving, binge eating

(3) affective instability: marked shifts from baseline mood to depression, irritability, or anxiety, usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days

(4) inappropriate, intense anger or lack of control of anger, e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical behaviour

(5) recurrent suicide threats, gestures or behavior, or self-mutilation behavior

(6) marked and persistent identity disturbance manifested by uncertainty about at least two of the following: self image, sexual orientation, long-term goals or career choice, type of friends desired, preferred values

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom

(8) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. [vii]

Such disorders make the importance of a partner a need rather than a want. Kakar (1998) concludes that women may not possess psychological disorders before they enter into an abusive relationship, but that it is most certain that psychological damage result from abuse.

  젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, February 22, 1998. We had another rip roaring fight last night. It all started when Julie stopped over to invite us out to celebrate her birthday. We were to meet at Boston Pizza at 10:00 to have a beer or two and to watch the Olympic hockey game. Doug said 밒t would be nice to watch the hockey game on something bigger than your 13 inch TV.� No sooner had Julie left than he called to see if the kids wanted to come over; they said, 밳es.� I was a little ticked at Doug for saying that we would go and meet Julie and then turn around and ask the kids to come over, but I figured that I would just go out on my own. At 10:00, Doug suggested that I should go to BP without him. As I was leaving the door, he told me to be home in a half an hour. I was not impressed, but I didn뭪 say anything.

젨젨젨젨� After the first period, I decided to stay for the second. I called home but there was no answer. I left a message on our voice mail. When I arrived home, Doug was livid with me. He started yelling at me as soon as I walked in the door. He said that I was supposed to be home an hour ago. My reply was that I called. He told me that he did not feel like answering the phone. He had not heard the message. The disagreement continued into the bedroom.

젨젨젨젨� I crawled into bed. I really didn뭪 want to make love with him. When I told Doug this, everything blew. He reached over top of me, grabbed the clock radio from the bedside table, and threw it at the wall. The plug hit me in the eye on the way by. Doug then got out of bed and started tearing the sheets off the bed. He started yelling at me and telling me that I am useless. He told me that he wanted to make love to me. I told him that I did not want to make love to him and he suggested making love in the morning. I said 밊ine.� He then proceeded to tell me that he was going to 밠AKE� me love him. He told me that he was sick of my games and that everything that is wrong with our marriage is wrong because of me. When I told him that he was right, he went bananas. I told him that if he was serious about saving our marriage that we were going to have to see a counsellor. Apparently, I am the only person who needs to see a counsellor because I am 뱓he one who is so fucked up that I can뭪 see straight.� I know that I am not perfect and I know exactly what buttons to push to get Doug going, but there are two of us in this relationship � not one. I feel that if I would just do as I am told and never question, never say no to him, that everything would be fine. I feel like I am asking for too much. It would be so much easier if I were dead.

As an abused woman, I always believed that I was in part responsible for the responses that I provoked from 밿t.� It was the name that I chose to call Doug for the first year after I left him. I could not mention nor think of his name without having a flood of memories come rushing back. I have moved beyond 뱓he name� but I have yet to be able to stay in a room where people are having a disagreement � I feel as though the walls are closing in on me and I cannot breath.

I feel badly for Robert. Sometimes, when he moves in a certain way, I totally 뱇ose it;� the body remembers꿌 am sitting at my computer trying to remember a particular incident that happened two years ago with Robert. It was something that Robert did that made me cower into a ball on the bed. I cannot remember what he did, what was said꿲y bodily reaction reverberates through me even now. It is twelve thirty in the morning. I want to get this piece written. Robert pops his head into my 뱋ffice.� He asks, 밃re you coming to bed?� The colour in my checks drains. My heart rate increases. My lips draw in. I snap back, 밳es. In a minute.� I hear myself utter the words. I stop myself. I explain to Robert that I am just going to write this anecdote and then I will join him in bed right after I am finished. He asks me what I am writing about. I tell him. I explain that Doug used to ask me when I was coming to bed, using the same words as he did. I would respond, 밳es. In a minute.� When approximately five minutes had elapsed, Doug would return from upstairs and pose the same question again. This predictable routine would continue until I would present myself for bed. My body remembers the request.

젨젨젨젨젨� I find it far too easy to read through the list from the American Psychiatric Association and to say, 밫hat뭩 me, that뭩 me, that뭩 me,� as a way of trying to rationalize and understand why. It is the cold and detached words that are used to clinically describe situations, instances, and statistics that render the scholarly work cold and meaningless. Perhaps it is this notion that remains in the back of my mind when I use the term 뱈aking love� rather than 뱒exual intercourse� or 뱒exual relations.� These terms are as lifeless and distant as scholarly and clinical data that describes abuse. Why not use words like 밼ucking� or 뱒crewing?� I cannot allow myself to use those words to describe an act of intimacy. To do so eliminates the possibility of being able to ever feel close to another person again; it strips away the beauty of tenderness that envelops the words 뱈aking love.�

젨젨젨젨젨� 젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨젨� 젨젨젨젨젨� 젨�

Men Who Abuse
  The Shadows Cast
Although there is not one profile that characterises abusive individuals, there are some characteristics that are similar. Generally, public opinion supports traditional family relations and male authority. The battering syndrome is both cause and effect of stereotyped roles and the unequal power relations between men and women. No social class is exempt. Spousal abuse occurs in wealthy as well as in poor communities � in middle class as well as in working class families. Individuals who witnessed acts of violence between partners as a child or adolescent, or experiencing violence from caregivers as a child possess risk factors which have been most consistently identified with the perpetration of abuse toward their partner (Hotaling and Sugarman, 1986). Men who are physically violent towards their partners are also likely to be sexually violent towards their partners, and are likely to use violence towards children (Hotaling and Sugarman, 1986). According to Tolman and Bennett (1990), chronic alcohol abuse by the male batterers may be more strongly associated with their (likely hoodlikelihood) to batter their partner than acute intoxication. Hotaling and Sugarman (1990) investigated the link between marital conflict and socio-economic status, the lower the individual뭩 socio-economic status, the higher the likely hood likelihood they were to be abusive. However, Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1980) reported that abuse is not limited to those of lower socio-economic status.

Holtzworth-Munroe (1992) found that individuals who abuse may have interpersonal skill deficits (such as lack of communication skills) in comparison with non-violent individuals, particularly in the context of problematic marital situations. Research findings are mixed on the association between anger and the likely hood (?) of abuse. Some research reports that men who perpetrate violence towards their partners have higher levels of general anger/hostility than the men who are non-violent (Holtzworth-Munroe, Bates, Smutzler, Sandin, 1997). Others report that anger and hostility felt towards a partner is associated with perpetration of violence, while generalised feelings of anger and aggression are not (Boyle and Vivian, 1996). Hamberger and Hastings (1986, 1988) found that a high proportion of batterers were found to have traits consistent with diagnoses of personality disorders, such as schizoidal/ borderline, personality, antisocial or narcissistic, passive dependent/compulsive disorders.

� 젨젨젨젨

젨젨젨젨� In sum, researchers believe that in present-day society, violence in movies, on TV, and in the newspapers is familiar and accepted. Most husbands who abuse their wives have learned that violence, especially against women, is an acceptable form of behaviour. Men who were abused as children or witnessed the abuse of their mothers are more likely to become abusers themselves. A spousal abuser tends to be filled with anger, resentment, suspicion, and tension. Some men experience feelings of inadequacies even though they are outwardly aggressive and thus use violence to express their feelings of low self-esteem. When at home, an abuser is able to express his feelings of incompetence, usually without ramifications.

  젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, April 25, 1998. I am really trying to understand what is going on with Doug. My efforts never seem to be enough. I had a long talk with his sister tonight and have a few insights that I never really thought had a connection to the present, but now I do. People with eating disorders are looking for a means of controlling something. They feel as though they have no control of their world so they control what is put into their bodies and, consequently, their weight. I make myself believe that one of the reasons why Doug is trying to exert control over me is related to anorexia. If Doug perceives that he has control of me, everything runs along smoothly. Since I have been resisting his controlling nature lately by not doing everything myself like the cooking, the cleaning, shovelling the snow, etc. there is a need for Doug to try to regain that control in order to get the equilibrium back. The fights have been getting more and more violent. He regularly hits me when he is mad.

젨젨젨젨� We cannot sit down and discuss the problematic areas in our relationship. Doug does not allow me to initiate any type of conversation beyond discussing everyday things. Problems are not dealt with as he leaves the room if I bring one up. When I discuss seeing a counsellor, he tells me that I am the one with the problem. I told him that something has to be done or I will leave, he tells me, 밒 will never let you leave this house.� I feel like I am in prison.

젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, December 14, 1996. I remember the day that Doug뭩 father was killed in a car accident. His mother had been at the wheel on their return trip to Edmonton from Jasper after visiting the spot where Doug뭩 brother뭩 ashes had been placed above Rainbow Lake. His brother committed suicide five months earlier. Doug never discussed the situation but blamed his brother뭩 newlywed widow for the death. Doug did not seem devastated by his brother뭩 death; life went on as usual. After his father뭩 death, however, Doug was unable to work for four months. He was unable to either eat or sleep, but he continued to train for cross-country skiing, with gusto. He skied at least twenty-five kilometers a day. Finally, he sought help and life returned to 뱊ormal.� I can still remember the comment he made to me shortly after his father뭩 death, 밯hy couldn뭪 it have been my mother?� I did not know Doug or his family well enough to pass judgment at that time and I dismissed the comment.

How do I look at this objectively? How much 뱒ubjectivity� is needed to understand our lives 뱋bjectively?� Doug was anorexic as a teenager; he was hospitalised when his weight fell below eighty pounds. His sister explained to me that she and her younger brother were only told that Doug was sick, the illness was never explained to them. Doug told me some of his childhood stories. He always told me that he hated his mother. He described her as a 뱎erson who always wanted to control my life.� He explained 밒 never thought that I was 밽ood enough� even though I got straight A뭩 in school.� He felt that he was the most responsible of his parents� three children. He explained, 밒 went to university, worked every summer, went straight to work after completing university꿣ut it was never good enough.� When he and his first wife were divorced, he labelled himself a failure. Doug always told me that his marriage breakdown was not his fault. 밫he marriage failed, it was all 밾er� fault뀛 How can a person believe that they are a failure if they blame their failure on another? I, like Doug, look for causes, but doing so is problematic, it leads to ambiguity and contradictions.

젨젨젨젨젨� From where does a sense of guilt emerge? Some would label me as a martyr. For me, when one appropriates the feelings of another, it compares with Merleau-Ponty뭩 (1979) description of how one embodies the experiences of the other. To illustrate this, I draw on a recent experience. I do not enjoy gory, violent movies. They do not disturb Robert. On occasion, he will rent a movie that I find disturbing. When I find the movie disturbing, my body cannot help but react. I will close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears when the 뱖orst� of the parts are playing. Robert will then insist in turning off the movie. He replaces his desire for watching the movie with mine that are to not watch the movie. If we are not able to empathise with the other people in our lives, how can we appreciate others?젨� 젨�

Safe Places   Final Moments

젨젨젨젨� The first shelters in North America, sponsored by Al-Anon, postulated that alcoholism was the root cause of family violence (Ferraro and Johnson, 1985). The first shelter for battered women living in the United States (as opposed to wives of alcoholic men) was established in St. Paul in 1994 by the feminist group Women뭩 Advocates (Johnson, 1981).

젨젨젨젨� One third of all women who flee to shelters return to their abusive partner (Gondolf, 1988). LaBell (1979) conducted a study of 512 abused women living in shelters. The results showed that 74.2% had previously been separated from their partners at least once. Some of the women had been separated up to ten times.

젨젨젨젨� According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, July 31, 1990, in the United States, there are three times as many animal shelters as there are battered women뭩 shelters.

젨젨젨젨� Female victims of domestic violence are more likely to be slain by their husbands while separated from them.

In a study of three large homicide samples in Chicago, Australia, and Canada, researchers found that wives are much more likely to be slain by their husbands when separated from them than when co-residing. Wives are particularly at risk in the first two months after leaving. The New South Wales data available for slain wives found that 47 percent were killed within two months and 91 percent within a year of separating. (Violence and Victims, Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 1993, 밪pousal Homicide Risk and Estrangement�)

젨젨젨젨� In 1997, statistics collected in a one Canadian province indicated that 82% of women accommodated were admitted due to abuse. Clients reported more than one kind of abuse. 72% reported physical abuse while 89% reported psychological abuse. The average age of women admitted was 31. Stays ranged in length from one night to 286 nights, with an average stay of 12 nights.

  젨젨젨젨� Journal entry, June 22, 1998. Doug and I are in a restaurant in Belleville. There is one other couple in the restaurant. They eat, silently, barely aware of each other뭩 presence. Doug and I are talking about nothingness. It is idle chit-chat about backcountry skiing and hiking trips we have been on. As Doug talks, I think of our years together and the future. I am not thinking about the trips. My mind is drawn to the darker side of our lives � the one that no one sees.

Suddenly, my train of thought is drawn over to the other couple. They are asking each other about their meals. I look back to Doug and say, 밒sn뭪 it sad, people fall in love, they get married, spend their lives together and find themselves sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say to each other.� Tears begin to well up in my eyes as I speak the words. My throat begins to burn and my chest tightens up. I bite my bottom lip as I turn to look out the window. What I really want to say is 밒sn뭪 it amazing, with all that you have done to me, that I am still able to sit across the table from you and carry on a conversation.� I am too afraid to say the words. I am too afraid of what would happen when we get home. I am too afraid to open my mouth or to think because to do so puts me at risk of revealing my plan. I keep quite and retreat even further. Doug continues to talk about plans for the summer holidays. I am immersed in my own thoughts but nod and reply 밳es,� when appropriate.

I think of all the ways that my life will be different next week at this time. The words, 밒 will never let you leave this house,� begin as a whisper in the back of my mind. Soon, the sound of those words becomes a deafening roar. What will happen on Saturday night when Doug arrives home from work and I am gone?

When is it that we do not go back anymore? What pushes us to our 밷reaking point?� Three years later, I still recall our meal in Belleville. There were other couples in the restaurant. They hardly spoke to each other. Somehow, Doug and I were always able to talk to each other. We talked during the entire meal. The irony is bittersweet. I can recall times when I loved Doug, when I hated him, and when I felt both at the same time. The ambiguity will forever remain in the interstitial space of where a relationship simultaneously exists and does not exist.

Many people have told me that leaving Doug took courage. Others have commented that it has taken courage for me to write this paper. 밅ourage� is derived from the Middle English corage, from the Old French cuer for heart, and from the Latin cor for heart (Klein, 1971). The OED describes 밹ourage as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. I do not believe that either, certainly the former, takes much courage. How can I be labeled courageous when I opted to leave? Is that not cowardliness? If this is an act of courage, are the women who return to their former relationships cowards?

Aristotle defines courage in relation to pain. For me, a courageous person is one who maintains their humbleness when they encounter positive situations and maintains that same integrity when facing painful situations. A coward is someone who cannot or does not act with integrity because of the threat of pain or the fear of pain. For Aristotle, courage was framed within the context of battle. Cannot all sorts of pains, losses, and risks be considered?

The questions will forever remain as echoes of my past. On one hand, I can tell myself that I had no choice but to leave. This makes me courageous. I left everything behind to start anew. I have been battling for three years to be granted a divorce and to recover my belongings. I am able to give myself my blessings as I continue to face Doug뭩 irrationalities. Every time I receive a letter from my lawyer detailing our (lack of) progress, I am vindicated for leaving. On the other hand, I admonish myself for being so fickle. How could I have left so abruptly? Is this not the act of a coward? How does one reconcile the self?


How then does this paper in some way marginalize me? I have opted to divide each page into two sections � one for academic discourse and the other that reflects my life in an abusive relationship. How has discourse of academia altered that which I have become and that which I will become? What of my former life and its influence on my future? As I first started writing this paper, I had looked at only the research and what others had written. Not wanting to lose my voice, myself, in that of academic discourse, I returned through my work and allowed myself to re-enter it with the hope of not becoming an (im)partial person writing from a world removed from my reality.

[i] All names and places in this paper have been changed.

[ii] American Psychological Association, Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, 1996.

[iii] Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings: Violence Between Intimates, U.S. Department of Justice, November 1994.

[iv] Lieberman Research Inc., Tracking Survey conducted for the Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, July-October, 1996.

[v] U.S. Department of Justice, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, March 1998.

[vi] U.S. Department of Justice, Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, November 1998.

[vii] The Desk Reference to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (1987). (Third Edition), Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association (pp. 146-148).


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