Category Archives: Domestic Violence

Beliefs Prejudicial toward the Abused in Abusive Relationships

cartoon couple with telescopeOne of the problems people have who have grown up with emotionally abusive parenting or who have lived with an emotionally abusive partner is that when they try to describe their experiences to others, people think that they are exaggerating. Others will try to normalize the abused person’s suffering, saying that everyone loses their temper occasionally. Much of our popular psychology advice addresses relatively normal problems between people. Even family and couple’s counseling addresses emotional abuse as a matter of problems that gradually escalated out of hand over time, whereas, when one party is an emotional abuser and personality disordered, the abuse suddenly escalates after the other partner has been swept off their feet and the “honeymoon” phase is over.  For someone with an emotionally abusive partner or parent, the abuse can be relentless and/or over-the-top and out-of-proportion every time the abuser is upset. If a person hasn’t experienced it, it is highly difficult to imagine.

Another caveat of family and couple’s counseling that fails people with emotionally abusive partnering is the die-hard conviction that people in a relationship are equally sick. And sometimes that is true. And often, it is not. Subconsciously, people with personality disorders sometimes seek partners who are highly flexible and highly patient and good-natured. They have uses for these traits and can readily manipulate their partners’ benevolence toward tolerating their rigidity and self-centered insistence that others tolerate their difficult moods and need to control.

While the abused may be “too good for their own good,” that is a far cry from being personality disordered. Often the abused partners in these relationships are highly functional, but somewhat uncertain of themselves and their boundaries after growing up with a highly critical or otherwise abusive parent. The abused partner often has worked hard on themselves and has all or most of the basic skills needed to maintain a satisfying relationship, but are partnered to someone whose disorder makes it impossible to maintain a healthy relationship. In counseling, an abuser may present charming, flummoxed, or may perfectly model the role playing exercise prescribed by the therapist in session, only to berate their partner all the way home. With counseling, emotionally abused partners in my practice go on to find much more loving partners after leaving their abusive partner. All too often, abusers drop out of counseling and go on to find another victim or someone who is also personality disordered.

These are not patterns that would be predicted by the theory that both parties in a relationship are equally dysfunctional. Yes, everyone has issues, but that is far different from equally disordered. A common complication is that the abused party in an abusive relationships often develops an anxiety and/or depressive disorder due to the stress of the relationship. Both courts and counselors may target the abused as the problem, ignoring the personality disordered person who presents well because they have developed intense defenses like being super charming, highly skilled at lying, being highly resolute, etc. (and have unloaded all of their stress on their partner and/or their children).  Counselors and the court system need to become more sophisticated about the dynamics of abusive relationships, including emotionally abusive relationships. Otherwise both the mental health field and the legal system collude in enabling abusers and persecuting the abused.

Abusive Political Tactics resemble the Tactics of Emotional Abusers


A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation. – James Freeman Clarke

It is an apt time to discuss the tactics of abusers, including political abusers. With climate change and ocean acidification looming in our future with an ever narrowing time frame in which to react, it is urgent that we be able to identify abusers in the public arena and cease electing them to public office. Knowledge of the dynamics of abuse is a start:

Abusers wear their opponents down by being unfairly Relentless, Rigid and Repetitive. The goal of emotional abusers is to confuse people, even members of their own party or household. They intuitively know that all they have to do is to create doubt to immobilize resistance.

Abusers play head games. They engage in and promote all or nothing thinking. A particularly nefarious head game is entrapping others in Catch-22 situations, often utilizing cultural mores for destructive means.

Abusers insinuate that you have major character flaws or have violated ethical principles without giving specific examples or by giving examples that are relatively insignificant. Their communication tends to remain in the abstract, but the inference is that you are bad or have done something really bad. Abusers harp on a minor complaint as if it were a big deal. Abusers traffic in innuendo.

Abusers make it difficult or impossible for you to do something, and then complain when it doesn’t get done or raise the bar when you succeed against the odds. An abuser is never satisfied – that is not the goal. The goal is to keep you off balance and playing by their rules by continually discrediting you.

Abusers adamantly protest that something isn’t true if the truth doesn’t serve their goals. The truth rarely supports their goals. An abuser will swear up and down that they haven’t done something when they have.

Abusers Lie as a tool of manipulation and control. Lies can take several forms:

  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
  • Bluff and Bluster
  • Obfuscate with word salad
  • Double Speak: Use lofty sounding principles using code that has a different and specialized meaning relative to their own psychological make-up, or in the case of politicians, their own political group. In other words, what is spoken is not what is meant in normal parlance. It has a secondary meaning or purpose.
  • Say one thing, do another. Politicians make use of the fact that Americans rarely follow any issue consistently.
  • Lie Blatantly.
  • Use the exception to prove the rule.
  • Make arrogant comments.
  • Debates facts, like Climate Change, as if they were opinions
  • Rapid fire, sentences or short phrases (incomplete ideas).
  • Braggadocio

Abusers are often Economically abusive. One glaring political example is the shaming of poor people after the Great Recession. Abusive politicians worked in concert with economic power brokers to set up an economic system like a row of dominoes, and then blamed the dominoes when they fell.  Abusers blame the victim for the mess that the abusers themselves orchestrated. Economic abusers hide resources, lie about finances, steal, cheat, and mishandle resources.

Abusers violate their agreements and the basis for the relationship. ALEC, an alternative legislative process has been established by corporations, acting outside of the constitution. This is the political equivalent of leading a double life.

Abusers have no tolerance for mistakes by you, but claim laxity for themselves. For them the Double Standard is the Golden Rule. They don’t play fair and live by their own set of Rules.

Abusers equate the inequitable. You do It too! This common tactic ignores that fact that the abuser does it to a much greater extent. Since everyone makes mistakes, there is often a smidgeon of truth to what they say, but it is a truth stretched to the max.

Abusers refuse reasonable compromises and insist on unreasonable compromises. Then they complain that you won’t compromise. Abusers will accuse you of the thing that they are doing. If you hold them accountable for their bullying ways, they will complain that they are being bullied.

Note that failing in an earnest attempt at improving the common good is not abusive. Also note that occasional abuses do not an abuser make. Abusers engage in a pervasive pattern of multiple abuses.

Abusers have no intentions of fixing problems because problems serve their dysfunctional goals. Abusers obstruct if they don’t get their way. In families and the culture at large, abusers create conditions that promote physical, emotional, and environmental illness. It is time to learn to recognize bullies, rather than elect them.

©Noreen Wedman 2014

Noreen Wedman is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, WA. Ms. Wedman has been registered or licensed to practice counseling in Washington state for 24 years. She is author of a Toolkit for Healing from Verbally Abusive Relationships and author of the forthcoming Journal for Healing from Emotionally Abusive Relationships.

Domestic Violence Risk Factors for Lethality or Severe Injury

Risk Assessment for Lethality in Domestic Violence Cases

  1. Leaving an Abusive partner
  2. Leaving an Abusive partner for another partner
  3. Stalking: One Study indicated that 76% percent of female intimate partner murder victims had reported being stalked to the police.[1]
  4. Rape or other forms of Forced Sex[2]
  5. Intimate partner physical assault
  6. Threats to Kill
  7. Prior Attempts to Strangle
  8. Escalating Physical Violence over Time
  9. Threatening partner with a knife or a gun
  10. Multiple forms of abuse
  11. Presence of firearm in the house
  12. Threatening to shoot pet or person the victim cares about
  13. Cleaning, holding, or loading a gun during an argument or during time when tension is high
  14. Firing a gun during an argument
  15. Short Courtships
  16. Male abuser not the father of children in the household
  17. Abuse during pregnancy
  18. Use of Illegal Drugs[3]
  19. Estrangement from a controlling partner
  20. Separating from an abusive partner after living with them, especially If abusive partner is highly controlling
  21. Highly controlling partner
  22. Injury to family pet [4]

Risk Markers for Severe Injury

  1. Alcohol or other drug use
  2. Intermittent Employment or Recent Unemployment

In all domestic violence cases, there is a significant overlap of domestic violence and other criminality, both violent and non violent.



  1. Under optimal conditions, with prompt response by officials and continued oversight, a prior arrest for a domestic violence charge can have an inhibiting effect.
  2. Having never cohabitated with partner.
  3. Electronic Monitoring of Abuser[5]


[1] McFarlane, J., J. Campbell, and S. Wilt. “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide.” Homicide Studies 3(4) (November 1999): 300-316, NCJ 179872.

[2] National Institute of Justice. “Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges.” (Published April 2009):

[3] Jacquelyn C. Campbell, PhD, RN, et al. “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study,”(2003 July; 93(7): 1089–1097, Am J Public Health.

[4] Danger Assessment,

[5] Connecticut restores a program that used GPS to track high-risk domestic-violence offenders

Extra Difficult Divorces

What makes highly difficult relationship dissolutions extra difficult?

divorce heart lamp clockProtracted. Reasonable people attempt to get through a divorce as efficiently as possible and with as little drama as possible. They often seek mediation. An abusive person often continues to abuse their partner through the divorce process regardless of whether mediation or the court system is involved.

Abusive partners will use the divorce process to punish their partner economically. Examples are delaying signing financial documents, hiding financial documents, sabotaging the sale of the home, pressuring their partner to sign a financial document that is not in their best interests, etc. are a few examples of economic abuse tactics used by abusive partners.  Prolonging the Divorce unnecessarily and pecayune tangents is a common way of economically punishing the other partner, even though both suffer.

Protracted custody battles. The abusive partner fights for sole custody of the chidren to get revenge on the other parent, who is the more nurturing and constructive of the two parents. Triangulation of the children – putting children in the middle is common. This does not mean that parents who ask for sole custody are abusive – many are legitimately trying to protect their children from physical, sexual, and psychological harm. Nor does it mean that parents who attempt to help their children process feelings about abusive behavior are triangulating. There are ways to do this that focus on the behavior and the child’s feelings, but don’t bad mouth the other parent. These parents usually enlist professional help for their children if they can afford it.

Abusive partners lie about their partners blatantly, but often present better in person than their partner (who may present confused, uncertain, depressed or anxious due to the chronic stress of living with an abusive person). Court officials, counselors, guardians ad litem, etc. can be swayed by the abuser’s charm. Their arrogance sometimes passes as confidence.

Abusive partners stalk their estranged partners, physically or via technology and the court system.

Abusive partners may physically threaten or physically abuse their partners.

Abusive partners refuse to be reasonable and make unreasonable demands in ways that are unusual, even for a divorce.

And of course, when both parties are abusive as a style of relating, a highly contentious divorce will result. Note that when even one party is personality disordered, divorces usually get very contentious. The abused party often has to “fight” very hard for the welfare of the children and basic financial security. A mistaken belief is that if a divorce is contentious, both parties are equally at fault or equally dysfunctional. Abusers can be male or female.

Length of time of the relationship – Gray Divorces usually involved complex separation of property and emotions.

If you are in involved in a difficult divorce, it’s important to assemble a profesional support team, including an emotional support team.


Questioning Your Relationship? Red Flags

(Note: Published originally on by Noreen Wedman 2008, published now with updates)

Do you find yourself questioning your relationship? Counseling can help resolve relationship issues or help you sort out whether it is better for you to leave the relationship. Although the list is written using the word partner, many of the problems signal serious problems in any significant relationship.
1. There is a pattern of sexual, emotional, physical, or financial abuse. Any sexual or physical abuse in a relationship is a signal that counseling is urgently needed.
2. Your self-esteem has deteriorated as a result of being in this relationship.
3. Your relationship feels like a contest, battlefield, or some other interminable game.
4. Nothing you do seems to please your partner.
5. You don’t have fun together.
6. You don’t feel respected or don’t respect your partner.
7. Issues don’t get resolved in a way that brings you closer together.
8. S/he maintains that the problems in the relationship are mainly your fault, yet you are usually the one on the receiving end of the abuse or both of you are abusive.
9. Your partner refuses go to counseling or work on his/her issues.
10. You don’t enjoy talking with your partner.
11. Your children are traumatized by your relationship.
12. Infidelity is not a deathblow to a relationship, but it is important to resolve it. It may indicate some problem with the relationship, a sexual addiction, or a childhood trauma/abandonment issue.
13. Sexless relationship. Physical intimacy is important to a healthy partner relationship.
14. Major problems like addiction and personality disorders will destroy a relationship without major intervention. If you have spent years with a person who is chemically dependent or very difficult, and s/he still hasn’t changed, it may be time to consider how much more you are willing to invest.
15. Your child is being abused by your partner.
16. You fantasize about injuring or murdering your partner or wish your partner were dead. You fantasize about Divorce or your spouse threatens you with divorce (whether they seem serious or not).
17. Some life events often require counseling for successful negotiation of the life passage in a way that keeps the relationship intact. Examples include death of a child, serious illness, or loss of a job.Sometimes these issues get resolved. Sometimes, the issues become destroy the relationship. If your relationship has even one of the above issues, you have probably done some serious procrastination. It is time to resolve the issues or move on in as honorable a way as possible (or, in the case of leaving some abusers, with as little damage as possible).
You may wish to see an Individual Counselor to sort out if it is even safe for you to try couples counseling if there is significant abuse in the relationship. Either Individual or Couples Counseling can help you sort out whether the relationship is salvageable, although resolving Couples Issues best benefit by a combination of Couples and Individual Counseling. Resolving problems of interrelating requires couples counseling. Sometimes the problem is that one or both parties have a significant mental health issue, which requires Individual counseling to manage. Couples or Family counseling can help relatives manage and cope with the process of healing to increase the likelihood of success. If there is physical or sexual violence, or a pattern of emotional abuse in the relationship, it is safer and sometimes more effective for both parties to get Individual Counseling until a pattern of safety has been established in the relationship. One big cue that Individual Counseling is warranted is if you answer, “Yes,” to the question, “Are you afraid of your partner or spouse?”