There was a time not so many years ago when domestic violence was considered to be an extreme rarity.  There was no point in reporting it to the authorities, who also believed it to be a rarity and additionally believed that women were lying or exaggerating.  In many countries today, it is still legal and normative for a man to hit his wife, as she is considered his property.

Yet attitudes have changed drastically in the West and are starting to change, as well, in Eastern countries, such as India.  There are public and private services for victims of violence. 

Sill it is hard to believe the frequency of intimate partner abuse.  One out of four heterosexually partnered women to one out of three in same gender relationships has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.  Lesbian women are still more reluctant to report due to such unique dangers as possibly being “outed” at work,  losing custody of children or being seen as lacking solidarity with the community.

In all cases, it appears that psychological and emotional abuse are harder to get over than physical abuse and may be more common in relationships where there is not a difference in size or strength.  The most pernicious physical abuse appears to be what is known as “gaslighting.”[1]  This term comes from a 1938 play where the husband tries to drive his wife crazy by such nefarious behaviors as lowering the lights (gas lights were still being used at the time) and pretending not to see the difference.

 In other words, the goal is to convince the victim that she is imagining things that are not happening.  She begins to doubt her own sanity, as she seemingly doesn’t remember correctly discussions that have been had or not had, etc.  This is perhaps the most powerful form of abuse and the most difficult to heal from.  “Gaslighting", like other forms of abuse, tends to develop slowly in a relationship.  Abuse is often analogized to the parable of a frog placed in hot water.   If you start at a comfortable temperature and slowly increase it, the frog will not budge.  Obviously if you dropped her into a pot of boiling water, she would immediately jump out.  Few if any women would enter a relationship where they are being tortured.  When it does begin, the woman is already questioning her own mind, her own perception and her own memory.  She is in hot water as much as is the frog.  Gaslighting can be the most difficult kind of abuse to recover from[2].  It requires taking back your own mind, not just waiting for an abrasion to heal.  This process is often more complicated for women with children to try to heal in a way that the children are affected as little as possible, as children in these relationships learn that abuse is "normal" and often wind up as adults in abusive relationships.  

The abuser is often very articulate and charming, as convincing to the outside world as to the partner that her/his perceptions are the correct ones and would never be suspect of such behavior by others.

Much of this applies to same gender relationships between men, which I will discuss in detail in a future blog.  Suffice it to say for now that feminist and other therapies are currently occupied and preoccupied with the results of intimate partner abuse.

[1] The National Domestic Violence Hotline, What Is Gaslighting? May 2014,

[2] Kaschak, E.  Intimate Betrayal: Domestic Violence in Lesbian Relationships, 2002, Haworth Press.

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