We have met René Oehler, a freelance psychologist since 2007, for an interview in regard of the Orange Days. René Oehler is founder of psyvivendi (www.psyvivendi.de), a practice for psychological counseling, psychological coaching, couples therapy, family therapy and psychological psychotherapy in Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Why are there so many women in a toxic, violent relationship?
Very often these women learned in their childhood to be subordinate in order not to get into trouble, possibly it was even the only way to experience less violence. Often such experiences are linked to the conviction that they are not worth anything themselves. In adulthood, some women with such biographical experiences then look for partners with whom they “reenact” these experiences. When this happens, it is usually an unconscious process. The constellation seems familiar and the role a woman takes on in such a relationship is familiar to her. This is fatal, but often the psychological mechanism behind long-lasting, toxic relationships. It is all the more difficult for these women to then break away from such relationships.
Why is it difficult for many women to get out of their partner’s spiral of violence and end the relationship?
The description of the previous question shows that many women only realise late on what kind of relationship they are really in. If a separation is then considered, feelings of guilt towards the partner often arise, but often above all fear of the consequences. After all, these women have often had the experience, especially as children, that the only thing that helps is to keep one’s head down and that any form of self-will can be dangerous. The fatal thing is that in the meantime they can have a partner who could actually react very violently in the event of a separation. The fear of breaking up is all the greater.
Why do many women try to hide their partner’s violence (not only physical but also psychological) from friends and family?
Shame plays a big role and again the fear of possible consequences. The woman can control herself, but if, for example, her angry father confronts the woman’s partner, she cannot be sure how the partner will react. The whole thing is exacerbated when children are involved.
What advice do you give to women who have been victims of domestic violence to regain confidence in a new relationship?
It’s not that easy and usually not done with one piece of advice. Basically, it is about understanding why I got involved in such a relationship and which psychological mechanisms lead to the fact that I did not recognise the danger earlier. Very often there are warning signs such as increasingly aggressive arguments, threats or impulsive outbursts. Of course, it is also important to draw boundaries very early on in a new relationship and to make it clear what you will not let happen to you under any circumstances. But this requires courage and self-confidence. Both should be built up before entering into a new relationship. Furthermore, it is also about a more flexible image of men and also questioning one’s own gender role. Do I have to submit to every man? Do I even want to? And is that really what every man wants from me?
Why are certain women more likely to be victims than others? Previous family problems? The point is that some women immediately rebel and would never allow violence, while others accept it and fall into the spiral.
In fact, childhood experiences have a very memorable effect. If someone had to experience violence as a child and learned that fighting back tends to make the situation worse, this creates a powerlessness that can later contribute to staying in toxic relationships for too long. Sometimes this is coupled with the assumption that one does not deserve any better. An internalised belief from childhood with which the child used to “save” itself. Because if a child assumes that it is itself to blame for the parents’ negative behaviour, it believes that change is possible if it changes. A child could hardly stand the realisation that the parents are really evil.
How do partners become violent, or how have they always been violent?
This can have many causes. Very often, low self-esteem plays a role. The person feels small, powerless, not valued and then uses the partner as an outlet. Such low self-esteem also has a lot to do with negative experiences in childhood, such as devaluation or violence. Some people have not learned any alternative behaviour to violence in their family. If something doesn’t suit me, I throw punches…
How can a potentially abusive partner be recognised, what are the warning signs?
If things get so heated in an argument that violence is threatened, or if someone can no longer control themselves under stress, then these are warning signs that should be taken seriously.
How can we raise kind, gentle men? How can we prevent the problems that men have, that cause their behaviour?
Children, whether girls or boys, must learn that they are loved for themselves. Especially among boys, it is very often about who is better, stronger, more successful etc.. If someone always gets the short end of the stick or is only ever measured by their parents in terms of performance, then a negative self-esteem can develop, which in extreme cases can build up to a readiness to use violence.
What role does the economic situation play? Women who can work are less likely to fall prey to an abusive situation, as they can be independent?
That’s right. Financial dependence often plays a role in the decision to stay in the toxic relationship. Or also the false belief that a separation is always the worse option for existing children. Conversely, it can offend some men when women are more successful than they are. If they have already felt small and inferior before, this feeling can intensify at the side of a successful woman. Of course, this can never justify violence. Rather, it has to do with outdated gender role models that are crumbling and give some men less support.
What causes men to become violent with women? Cultural level? Economic control over women? Again, family history of violence? Children exposed to abuse and violence repeat it in their adult lives?
Again, there are many possibilities. Culture also plays a role, but conversely this does not mean that all men from a culture that strongly emphasises gender differences treat women badly. It always depends on the individual. Difficult economic circumstances can bring emotional frustration and thus more violence. As already mentioned, education also plays a role. But here, too, there are people who consciously behave differently as adults than they did in their family of origin and those who do not manage to change their behaviour. Those who are successful are often those who have had good bonding experiences outside the family.
How often are women abusive?
There are also women who abuse men. Fewer of them than vice versa, but this problem should not be forgotten. Very negative behaviour towards their own sons often plays a role here, in the form of physical violence or by persuading boys that just being young makes them harmful people. In an adult relationship, some women take advantage of the fact that men who are beaten by their wives are often particularly ashamed because such behaviour does not fit in with their own image of men. But they, too, probably learned in childhood to keep their feet still rather than fight back.
The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.