Five Themes For Escaping Domestic Violence

Sometimes domestic violence or “Intimate partner violence” (IPV) seems like an unbeatable phenomenon.  Abused and abuser are bound together by a force stronger than pain or hope.  Police officers and social workers  are rendered powerless by this mysterious attachment.  Arrests and well-intended referrals end with a defense of the abuser and a return home.  It’s a hard thing to understand so some will think of her (it’s often a ‘her’) as foolish or even careless about her children’s safety.  She’s not only abused but misunderstood as well, a lonely state indeed.

A victim of IPV is a person desperately in need of a “turning point”.  Domestic violence (like addiction) can take a person to the very edge of what they can survive, but not so far as to prompt a change. Like the saying about “cooking a frog”, the heat is turned up so slowly that the  victim remains unmoved. For some victims it’s a lifetime of this abuse, with memories of it living on in the children (some having as much resentment towards the abused as they do the abuser). Many others will have a magical change in perception and find a way out of the violence.  And perhaps as a result of the strength of the abused, the abuser themselves (who often feel equally trapped), can now find their own separate road to recovery.

So change does happen.  But how? And when?

Turning Points

Judy C. Chang, M.D. and her research group unearthed 5 common roads out of domestic violence:

Through a series of interviews of women that “made it out”, there were five distinct themes that consistently emerged:

  1. Protecting others: Change often happens when it becomes obvious that the violence will include their children.
  2. Increased severity:  The abuse can gets so severe that they seriously fear for their life.  With that comes the thought of how their death will impact other people, especially their children.  Another turning point is when the abuse suddenly becomes more degrading sexually or otherwise.
  3. Increased awareness of options, support and resources:  A way out has to feel possible and realistic.  Often it’s the compassion of a believable person, perhaps another IPV survivor, who can convince them that that they are worth saving and that there is a way out.
  4. Fatigue: The victim may come to a realization that the abuser and the abuse will not change.  In the addiction world they refer to this as getting “sick and tired of being sick and tired”.
  5. Betrayal:  Infidelity on the abuser’s part is a common ticket out of the violence.  It may seem odd that a person will be willing to accept life-threatening abuse for many years only to leave abruptly on a suspicion of unfaithfulness.  It’s as if the abused is accepting the abuse for the sake of the relationship and the intrusion of another person destroys the reason for their hope.

Motivation and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence (like addiction) is one of those inscrutable things that defies logic, having its origin in some primitive instinct that’s taken advantage of by a drug or a person.  To outsiders it seems like a problem with a quick and easy path out: “Just leave.”  To the victim the path of leaving seems narrow, long, and full of hazards.

Motivation is a hard thing to understand sometimes.  As we’ve said before, it’s not simply an emotion, it’s a more like balance with two competing sides and a tipping point in between.  We don’t have to understand the ‘logic’ of why someone would stay in an abusive relationship.  All we have to know is that if she (or he)  is staying, it’s because there are stronger reasons to stay than to leave.  Sometimes things have to get just bad enough so that they can get better.


The great thing about understanding these five key themes is that you can promote the change sooner.  What do these themes have in common?


Each one causes the victim to see themselves, their partners, or their options differently.  While some of these factors can’t be forced (i.e. I don’t recommend planting lingerie in the perpetrators briefcase or bedroom), some of the items are things that a friend or counselor can talk about.  In the hands of someone who understands stages of change and Motivational Interviewing techniques, these five themes could be especially helpful in saving a life.  Domestic violence is beatable.  Even if you are a victim yourself, consider the experiences of the women in this study.  If you can find a safe place to look into resources, perhaps a work computer, etc., then take a look.  It doesn’t mean that you’re ready to make a change or that you’re giving up. It doesn’t mean that you will ever need to leave.  You may be simply weaving a safety net for your own survival.  Just in case.

You can read the full research article here.

For other resources on Intimate Partner Violence, look here:


If you enjoyed this article please share on Facebook or using one of the other buttons below!

Leave a Reply