How victim’s responses to abuse are mis-labelled, and how abusers’ tactics of abuse are mis-labelled.
Most people (and most of our social institutions) do not know how to honour the many creative ways victims resist abuse, oppression and violence. Rather than seeing and honoring a victim’s resistance, they see the victim’s responses to the abuse as indicating her deficiency or defectiveness. And because they see her as deficient, they put negative labels on her behavior.
Examples of how victims resist abuse and how people negatively label victims’ resistance
If a victim resists the abuse by not sharing her emotions, people may label her as “emotionally detached” or “having flat affect” or “unable to express emotions” or “avoidant”.
If she resists the abuse by not doing what the abuser wants her to do, people might label her as “passive-aggressive” or “difficult/uncooperative”.
If she resists the abuse by refusing to stoop to the abuser’s level of behavior and by doing nice things for him, people might label her as “co-dependent.”
If she resists the abuse by numbing her feelings, people might label her as “dissociative.”
If she resists the abuse by squirreling small amounts of the housekeeping money away so that she can have enough to feed the kids / pay for herself to see the dentist / buy a book she wants to read / have enough money to leave the abuser one day, people might label her as “conniving” or “deceptive” or “secretive” or “dishonest” of “in-submissive to her husband”.
If she resists the abuse by disclosing her plight to someone in church, people might say she is “gossiping”.
If she resists the abuse by making the bed so that the bed cover comes only three and a half inches above the floor, not three inches as her husband demands, people might label her as “obsessive” or “disobedient”.
If she resists the abuse by not giving eye contact to her abuser, people might label her as “cold” or “aloof” or “rude”.
If she resists the abuse by wearing frumpy clothes and no make-up (because her abuser accuses her of flirting with other men if she dresses nice) people might say she has “let herself go”.
If she resists the abuse by always keeping the blinds down, because if she puts the blinds up the abuser accuses her of eying off other men in the street, people might label her as “anti-social”.
If she resists the abuse by getting angry at her abuser for being so immature and for not pulling his weight (or any other legitimate grievance she has against him), people might label her as being “crazy” or having “borderline personality disorder”.
If she tries to keep safe, both at home and in the church, by being the submissive wife – so she doesn’t get accused by him of being unsupportive and so she doesn’t lose church support if they see her as being unsubmissive – she is labelled “too submissive”, especially when they can’t think of why else he would abuse her. (thanks to Anon for that suggestion)
Examples of how abusers exercise abuse and how people positively or leniently label the abusers’ conduct
Abusers love these labels! The labels let them off the hook. The labels help them avoid accountability.
If an abuser exercises abuse by not sharing his emotions in relationships, people may label him as “a poor communicator” or “insecure”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by venting his emotions to browbeat and blame his victim for his behaviour and to pressure her to comply with his selfish vices, people may label him as “hen-pecked” or say “he just snapped” or “he lost control” or “he has an anger problem” or may go easy on him because “he has a problem with alcohol”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by making promises but not keeping them, people might label him as “needing more encouragement” or “needing more prayer” or “needing men to come along side him” or “needing more praise from his wife” or “needing to do a Bible study with the pastor”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by going on rampages of sexual and financial immorality and then feels so sorry for himself afterwards that he deems himself unable to clean up the mess, people might label him as “bi-polar”.
If the abuser exercises abuse by treating his wife like a princess for a few days after
exploding at her having been exceptionally vicious to her, people might label him as “full of remorse” or “repentant”.
If an abuser exercises sexualized abuse by raping his wife or his child, or being addicted to porn, or treating his wife’s sexual wishes and preferences with contempt, people might label him as “suffering from intimacy anorexia”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by avoiding pulling his weight in the relationship and indulging in escapist, hedonistic behaviors, people might label him as having “arrested development”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by not allowing his wife a say in the financial decisions, people might say he is “saving his wife from having to bother with money matters”.
If an abuser exercise abuse by micro-managing the household expenditure, or hiding some of his income and investments from his wife, people might say he is “exercising godly leadership in the home”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by dropping hints to people in church that his wife sometimes gets a little hysterical and has trouble coping with the kids, people might say he is “concerned for his wife”.
If an abuser exercises abuse by weeping to Christians that he really loves his wife and is desolate that she has left him and will do everything he can to restore the marriage, people might label him “a broken man”.
Note: I put this post under our blog-category ‘culture’. The ‘abuser’ category didn’t really cover it, nor did the ‘victim’ category. And the labels I’ve talked about are very much part of our whole culture.
Thank you so much, Anewanon, for your comment! I hope this post helps the fog lift a little bit more. Bless you.