Posted by: counselorcarmella | July 12, 2011

Property, Not A Person: Abuse and Domestic Violence, Part One

Originally published on



When I decided to become a counselor, I didn’t  have a particular interest in  helping people who were in abusive  marriages or dating relationships. I had no idea that, in my role as a therapist at a general counseling practice in a  nice town,  I would hear stories about  partner abuse on a regular basis.  I  knew I would encounter my share of unhealthy relationship dynamics and unhappy couples who weren’t exactly nice to each other.  I knew  I would  be dealing with people who were  taking childhood damage into their adult relationships. I  knew  abuse was bound to come up.  I  never imagined I would hear about  it so often.

Domestic violence doesn’t just mean weapons, hitting,  or pushing.  It means physical intimidation, including grabbing the other person, blocking doorways,  standing over the person in a menacing way, getting in the other person’s face,  punching walls, or using physical force to damage the other person’s property.  Domestic violence takes place in all sorts of relationships.  It happens with teens, adults of all ages and races, those who are well-educated and those who aren’t, homes with  lots of money and homes  where finances are tight.  It happens  with straight couples and gay couples, those who are married and those who aren’t. .  It  happens  where you might expect it and where you would never expect it.

The thing is,  most people don’t go from having a happy healthy relationship to all of a sudden being  involved in domestic violence.  There are usually   other types of abuse that take place first. Other types include  emotional, verbal,  financial, and spiritual abuse.

Words like “permission” and “allowed”  do not have a place in  healthy relationships. Neither does  lecturing,   telling  one’s partner what they will and won’t do, or   issueing threats. Again, these  ways of relating   take place in  adult/child  relationships  where one person has assumed the role of authority figure and the other has  taken the “one down” position.  The person  being bullied has taken on the role of  a child who   accepts being bossed around or controlled.  They don’t want to be “in trouble” or  to be  left to fend for themselves, so they  do what they need to  do in order to keep their partner happy.  This means they’ll  begin letting go of self-respect, values,  and  outside interests and  family  relationships. No adult should live in fear of being  “punished” or “grounded” by another adult. This is not how grown-ups interact. At the very least, such dynamics are emotionally unhealthy.  At worst, they are abusive.

Abuse  doesn’t have to  be hitting and  pushing.  It can also be  put downs, giving the silent treatment, name calling,   blowing up their  partner’s phone until they answer,  or starting a fight so they’re partner will decide not to go  out with friends or visit family members as planned.

Abuse can be   threatening to     spread  lies,  relentless accusations about unfaithfulness,  controlling  finances,  or taking the person’s keys or cell phone  so they can’t leave or call for help.  

Abuse can be    withholding affection from the children just to “get back at” their partner for  stepping “out of line.”  Abuse can be  saying it will be their partner’s fault if they kill themselves or have a heart attack. Abuse can be throwing things,  breaking  things that matter to  the other person,  disappearing for a period of time just to make their  spouse worry or wonder what they’re doing, leading their partner to believe they’ve  been  unfaithful or even actually cheating, or  even forcing  their spouse into unwanted sexual activity.

Abuse can be claiming God or the Bible told them to act this way and  that their partner is  sinning or in danger of going to hell if  they  don’t do as they’re told.

These may seem like extreme behaviors, but they happen  far too often. When I  hear about  this kind of control and abuse dynamic, what is clear to me is that   the dominant person has lost sight of their partner as a distinct human being. They see their  partner as their personal property. This means they view the other person as existing for their amusement and  to  meet their needs and that  they are not concerned about  any needs or feelings their partner  has.  It is about  what makes them comfortable or what makes them feel good and that’s all that matters.


This is a deeply held  thought pattern that isn’t just going to go away.  People who act this way  can say they’re sorry and  promise they’ll make changes, but they   are usually  unable or unwilling to do so.  They  need  extensive individual and group counseling to address  and take ownership of this aspect of their personality and to learn to   act and think differently.  Oftentimes,   abusers  only enter such programs because they’re  court ordered to do so.  Unless they truly  want to change,  the abuse will probably continue sooner or later.


It is  not too much to ask to expect treatment  based on dignity and respect. No one deserves to be treated like property. People are living things with hearts, souls, and feelings. In  my belief, each one is uniquely  created by God  with certain characteristics and preferences.  Just like snowflakes, no two people are exactly alike. Each person should have a reasonable amount of freedom to make  decisions and   to be who they are. I believe we each have  things we were put on this earth to accomplish. Call it purpose or destiny or whatever.  The thing is, that  purpose or destiny is  not to eat, sleep,  live, and breathe to  please another human being  or to fulfill the every wish and whim of   other people.


There is help for   partners and spouses who are  being abused.  They don’t have to stay in  an unhealthy or dangerous relationship.  Leaving is the most dangerous time and  needs to involve careful  planning and safety considerations, but it can be done. It isn’t easy to  find the courage to set limits and stick to them, but  people have done it and  are thankful they   got out of a toxic situation.  With  support and counseling, they  are able to  have perspective on  what made that relationship unhealthy and dangerous and   heal the wounds they’re  carrying that would make them vulnerable to  repeating the pattern with someone else.

Many   people who have experienced  physical or emotional abuse by a romantic partner go on to find  someone who will  enter into an adult to adult relationship with them. This means that person   loves them for who they are and  treats them like an equal deserving of respect and  sensitivity.     

For further information,  you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)




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