Misconceptions and myths regarding domestic violence

From the perspective of the public eye, domestic violence deals with two roles: The uncontrollable, angry perpetrator and the delusional individual who chooses to stay in the relationship.

After all, it would seem that no normal person would willingly choose to harm someone they claim to love, and likewise, very few individuals with all their wits would voluntarily remain in harm’s way.

Myths about the relationship between mental illness and domestic violence saturate common perception, creating stigma and misunderstanding regarding a complicated issue.

While a correlation between intimate partner violence and mental illness exists, the understanding of the relationship between the two often become muddled by popular thought. For the most part, mental illness does not cause domestic violence.

Frequently, perpetrators of abuse fare well on psychological tests. Most abusers do not have any diagnosable mental illness, according to the domestic violence expert and counselor Lundy Bancroft.

While an abuser’s outbursts may seem to be the result of uncontrolled anger or a lapse of reason, at heart, the actions result from conscious choices rather than through emotionally driven impulse. Abusers may act volatile or wildly when they are in the privacy of their own homes, but in public, they maintain the ability to manage their emotions, according to Bancroft.

This suggests that violent incidences are not crimes of passion or the result of embroiled, untamable rage.

On the flip side of the coin, domestic violence survivors exhibit a higher incidence of mental health problems following their separation from their abusive partners. Nearly 50 percent of battered women develop depression and nearly two-thirds of survivors experience the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Journal of Family Violence.

To put the numbers into perspective, the prevalence of mental illness among domestic violence survivors mirrors that of war veterans. Of the Iraq War service members who reached out to VA care services, 48 percent were diagnosed with some form of mental illness relating to their trauma, according to the National Center for PTSD.

The incidence of mental illness among victims and survivors of a traumatic experience suggests a causal relationship between the incidence of violence and the corresponding mental response.

The tumultuous nature of an abusive relationship manifests itself as a cycle of violence. Within this dynamic, abusers follow a stringent pattern: at one moment, they may commit acts of physical violence or emotional assaults, but in the next moment, they may become apologetic, loving or kind. 

The abuser takes on a Jekyll and Hyde persona, often making it difficult or confusing for their victims to understand or predict their partner’s moods.

Additionally, abusers often exert inordinate power over their partners, often seizing control over financial resources, means of communication, and access to help. By removing their victim’s autonomy, abusers hold their partners hostage, supposedly under the façade of love.

Under these circumstances, the prevalence of mental illness among victims is no surprise. The unstable nature of the relationship creates a confusing and often scary environment. By understanding the dynamics of domestic violence we can better understand the experiences of victims and the mentality of the abusers.

While obtaining recognizing the facts of the situation will not solve the societal problem, it helps us as a whole gain a foothold in the issue.

It’s not about passion.