How did you endure an abusive relationship
Violent relationship - what's holding you / her there? (2009), updated 2017
Domestic violence is more common than we think. It is estimated that every fourth woman experiences violence in a relationship in the course of her life. To what extent men are affected as victims is difficult to determine, since the taboo and the number of unreported cases are greater here.
In 2008, 16,382 cases of domestic violence were reported to the Berlin police, which is almost 45 incidents per day. This also includes repeated assignments with the same people over the years. In recent years, the number of reports to the police in Berlin has remained almost constant. In 2016, 14,655 cases of domestic violence were recorded, an average of almost 40 per day. 71% of the victims were female, 8 lost their lives in the process to murder or manslaughter.
Outsiders wonder why those affected often persist for years in a relationship marked by violence and why some people repeatedly come across violent partners.
In the following I simplify the presentation by starting with a male perpetrator and a female victim, knowing that it can also be the other way round and of course homosexual partnerships also suffer from the phenomenon of domestic violence.
The amplified illusion
A partnership goes through different phases. At the beginning everything seems to be okay, outbreaks of violence by the partner are an exception and seem to be explainable by the circumstances and stress, the loving sides and the time in which the partner reacts normally predominate. It may also be that the violence only emerges when important steps are taken, such as moving in together or getting married, having the first child, returning to work, or separating.
Violence does not usually happen every day. The cycle of violence shapes what happens, in the phase of tension build-up the perpetrator can still hold back, stress in the relationship and other areas of life is not compensated, but suppressed or brought under control with addictive substances, until the stress level is too high and Little things bring the barrel to overflow.
After the act of violence, there is relief and the perpetrator regrets his behavior and promises never to do it again. The partner draws hope because she has experienced and remains him as a loving man. Over time, the intervals between outbreaks of violence become shorter and men try to justify their behavior. They are always looking for new reasons to excuse the deed with the reactions of the partner and to give the impression that she has provoked him to the outbreak. So both come into a spiral of violence from which there seems to be no way out.
In addition to financial, cultural, religious and family dependencies, the attachment to a perpetrator is often explained with the Stockholm Syndrome.
The dangerous bond
This phenomenon was observed in Stockholm in 1973 during a bank robbery and hostage-taking. Several bank employees were at the mercy of the armed perpetrator for 6 days. The hostages cooperated with the perpetrator and prevented the police from freeing them. It was also astonishing that a hostage later fell in love with the perpetrator and everyone campaigned for a suspension of the punishment or a reduction in the sentence.
The construction of Stockholm Syndrome as a special disease is doubted by many experts. It refers to a situation in which the violent situation is prolonged and there is close contact between victims and perpetrators, which is not all negative. Psychologists attribute this to the close bond during the dangerous situation, the hostages' dependence on the mood of the perpetrator and survival strategies. At the mercy of an armed and therefore superior perpetrator, people hope to be spared by agreeing to the aggressor and submitting to him unconditionally. This hope is nourished if the perpetrator behaves respectfully in some moments and reveals his vulnerable side.
On the other hand, there is the explanation of identification with the aggressor, which helps victims to survive mentally a danger to which they are helplessly exposed. Because as crazy as it sounds, the hopelessness of the situation is reduced for the victims by the psychological construct of making the acts explainable from the perspective of the actor. The mirror neuron, newly discovered by brain research, could play a major role here.
Mirror neurons are areas in the brain that map the actions, emotions and intentions of the other person with their neural networks and enable empathy.
The self-sacrificing savior
In an intimate relationship with an ups and downs in the partner's behavior - one time he shows violence, another time maybe shame about the act committed and vulnerability, it stands to reason that the partner thinks she can help the man.
This idea is nourished by possible insights and wishes for improvement of the perpetrator in the relaxation phase, but also by reproaches to the partner that she contributed to the aggression through her behavior.
In a situation in which the partner has to cope with an irreconcilable paradox - at the place that is intended to serve her refuge and protection, she can be attacked at any time for no reason - and in an intimate relationship that is supposed to guarantee protection and love, she can be attacked by to be humiliated and beaten one moment after the other - the psyche constructs a way out. It leaves the victim in the belief that their behavior can actively contribute to the peace at home. And there may be situations in which it is possible to avoid further aggressiveness on the part of the partner and an escalation of violence through silence or submission. An affected woman, who was eight months pregnant, said that she had not exchanged a word with her husband for three months and was thus able to protect herself and her child-to-be.
If the woman threatens to break up, the perpetrator may admit that he cannot live without the partner. Some also threaten suicide. If the man has professional or financial worries, or an addiction problem, the partner may feel superior to him, and women then lull themselves into the illusion that only they can save the partner. They keep thinking about new strategies or attempts to get the man to change their behavior or therapy and get more and more entangled in codependence.
The divided father
In many partnerships, the husband and father show themselves from two sides - they are loving and attentive to the children, the partner is treated disrespectfully. Even if the children have to witness the violence or are beaten from time to time, many mothers hesitate to end the relationship. They think that they have no right to take the father away from the children and put their own happiness on the back burner.
Unfortunately, the father's loving contacts hide the fact that children also indirectly experience the mother's fears, even if they are not witnesses, and are traumatized as a result. You get into an insoluble conflict. They have to experience that the mother cannot protect herself, although she usually takes care of the children and they experience powerlessly that the source of the violence comes from their father, whom they also love.
If the parents stay together if the violence continues, one can observe that they polarize the children. While some children take the mother's side and even stand in front of her in an argument to protect her, others imitate the perpetrator, curse and humiliate the mother whom they secretly despise.
The women affected then find it even more difficult to break away from the family and stand against their children, who support the side of the apparently stronger and superior.
Sometimes the woman's perception does not correspond to reality. A mother had taken her husband back into her home after serving a prison term for domestic violence. The 11 year old son skipped school for fear that something terrible could happen to his mother again in his absence.
On the other hand, there are pairs of parents who are so caught up in their own problems that they neglect their children, to the point of neglect.
The horrific repetition
In conversations, one often learns from those affected that they themselves were victims of violence in childhood and that the perpetrator was also beaten as a child or had to witness domestic violence against the mother.
Examples are: The woman experienced sexual abuse in childhood, the man was regularly beaten up as a boy by an irascible father and locked in the cellar. The woman was raised in a family with an alcoholic father, the man as a child by the mother, who wanted to remarry, given to a foster family.
It then looks as if everything that went wrong with the parents and often with the grandparents will be repeated - and as if this will continue in the future generation because the children and grandchildren have not got to know anything better either.
The phenomenon of repetition - be it as a victim repeatedly slipping into violent relationships or situations or as a perpetrator repeatedly breaking out into unsustainable aggression - is a characteristic of the "complex post-traumatic stress disorder".
This term was coined by Judith Herman, an American therapist who worked with women who had been sexually abused by a loved one in childhood. The following areas are affected by persistent childhood violence:
The regulation of affects and impulses
Anger is difficult to control, some aggression is directed against oneself up to self-harm, there is a tendency to suicide, there are disturbances in sexuality, not only among victims of sexual violence - and excessive risk behavior can occur.
Attention and awareness
are disturbed, there are periods of time that one does not remember, regardless of alcohol consumption, those affected describe that they are standing next to themselves or that they experience themselves and their surroundings as strange.
There is no such thing as self-confidence, nor is there a healthy self-assessment. Affected people feel guilty, feel shame, do not want to confide in others and isolate themselves or trivialize the act or danger.
As compensation for the suppression of feelings such as anger and fear, pain, gastrointestinal problems and other complaints up to severe chronic diseases such as cancer arise.
Attitudes towards life
resemble those of hopeless and powerless children who are helpless in life. With the loss of basic trust, despair, resignation and depression prevail. Relationships with others
are based on distrust. If an intimate relationship occurs temporarily at all, it comes to revictimization and victimization, i.e. victims will find themselves in situations in which they are victims again, or they make other people victims.
The mutual entanglement
It gets even more complicated when you look at the dynamics of the couple relationship. As a rule, both of them experienced violence in the family of origin as a child. At the moment of the experience, both parts of the perpetrator and the victim are internalized, especially when the process is repeated in childhood and the survival strategies become chronic. This means that the victim not only experiences the pain, powerlessness and helplessness, but at the same time the anger, aggression and relief function of violence in the perpetrator. And the perpetrator not only experiences his own powerlessness and hopelessness shortly before the exonerating act of jumping into an aggressive outbreak, but also the submission, the dead reflex and reduction of pain sensations in the victim.
People who have experienced constant violence in the family unconsciously fall in love with someone who has similarities to people in this family and who can activate old traumas. This is supported, among other things, by the binding hormone oxytocin, which has a stronger effect on women and weaker on men.
As a rule, both of them have - presented here in a roughly simplified manner, because the interior of a person is organized in a very complex manner after long-term trauma - a victim portion and a perpetrator portion. The part that does not fit into the self-image is outsourced and projected onto the partner and there despised and fought.
Due to the prevailing role model, for men this is more the helpless, self-devaluing part of the victim and for women the powerful, brutal, aggressive part of the perpetrator.
In the partnership, this outsourcing and projection - the projective identification - encounters an injured part in the partner, which is reinforced or brought into being by the expectation of the other person - the reciprocal self-fulfilling prophecy - which repeatedly stimulates the spiral of violence.
This explains why the violence not only increases with the length of the relationship, but also that it is difficult for both of them to leave this hell and exchange it for an "unknown heaven".
The phenomenon that trauma can be passed on to close relatives, especially children, over generations, especially if the family did not talk about it or even made it a secret or a taboo, should only be mentioned incompletely here.
This means that a person does not have to have personally experienced trauma in order to be traumatized and develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This could also explain the frequency of violence in families whose ancestors experienced war, political persecution, racism and other man-made violence.
As a way out of the repetitive cycle of domestic violence, trauma therapy can be used. Even a relationship built on violence could have a future if both partners were ready for therapy and couple counseling. Unfortunately, only a few men realize that they have to work on themselves and avoid the first step of taking part in anti-violence training. It can be assumed that their fear is too great to give up their facade of self-protection and their image of masculinity and to face the horrors of the past.
The use of homeopathy would also be worth a try. Homeopathic medicines can support the therapy and also alleviate physical symptoms. Many remedies show symptoms of violence such as Stramonium, the thorn apple: people who need this remedy lash out when they feel cornered, or Aurum, gold - these people do not tolerate contradiction and react aggressively.
The Berlin Center for Violence Prevention, Tel. 030/95 61 38 38 and the Advice for Men Against Violence, Tel. 030/785 98 25 are mentioned as contact addresses for training groups.
There is also advice for people who stalk (see below) Stop-Stalking, Tel. 030/22 19 22 000.
However, trauma therapy is only meaningful and successful if the clients and their children live in safety. So it may be inevitable for many women to separate. On the part of the state, police and legal measures are planned to protect the victims.
Police in acute danger
In acute danger it is necessary to call the police on tel. 110. Many civil servants in Berlin are now trained on the subject of domestic violence. In each police section there is a representative and a coordinator for domestic violence for each of the 6 directorates, whom you can turn to in case of doubt. If the woman concerned is no longer able to pick up the phone, neighbors can also inform the police. However, the officers rely on the woman's testimony to take further action, unless the injuries are obvious. The police have the right to expel the perpetrator from the apartment for 14 days and to prohibit him from contacting his wife and children. The woman concerned receives a copy of this order with a file number.
If the woman does not want to stay alone in the apartment, the police officers look for a place in the women's shelter and accompany them and the children there, provided they have free space.
Sometimes the woman is too afraid to call the police and report the perpetrator. It is possible to file a complaint with any police section in Berlin up to three months after the offense if the wife and children are safe, e.g. in a women's shelter.
Violence Protection Ambulance and S.I.G.N.A.L. - Legally secure documentation
In order to keep all channels open, such as filing a complaint and taking legal action, the woman should have physical injuries certified. She can arrange this at her family doctor or at the emergency services of the nearest hospital.However, legally secure documentation is recommended.
The Charité's violence protection outpatient clinic in Berlin Mitte is the best address, registration on weekdays at Tel: 030-450 570 270. There you can also get an initial consultation from employees of the BIG hotline.
In addition, the following hospitals offer documentation according to S.I.G.N.A.L. The employees in the rescue centers have been trained in the signal intervention program and are ready to provide assistance under the keyword Signal:
- Catholic Hospital Gertrauden, Wilmersdorf, Tel. 827 22350
Evang. Forest Hospital Spandau, Tel. 370 217 40
Charité, Campus Mitte, Tel. 450 531 000
Charité Campus Rudolph Virchow, Wedding, Tel. 450 552 000
Charité Campus Benjamin-Franklin, Steglitz, Tel. 844 53 015
Medical practices in the model project "Medical intervention in the event of violence" / SIGNAL e. V. can be obtained from the BIG hotline, Tel. 611 03 00. Legally secure documentation can also be created there.
Short-term help with post-traumatic stress disorders can be found at the Charité
Intensified trauma therapy in the Center for Intensified Psychotherapy and Counseling (ZIPB)
St. Hedwigs Hospital
Große Hamburger Str. 5-11
A trauma clinic for children and adolescents who are always affected by domestic violence as witnesses or victims can be found in the Charité in Wedding:
Augustenburger Platz 1
Tel: 030 - 450 566 229
Anyone looking for a trauma therapist can go to
Therapists with health insurance can be found at the bottom of the page using the "statutory health insurance" filter.
Further steps according to the Protection Against Violence Act, among others
The Violence Protection Act was enacted in 2002 and offers those affected civil law opportunities to protect themselves against perpetrators.
If the woman is determined to separate, she has the option of applying for an allocation of accommodation, a protection order and the provisional right of residence for the children within the two weeks of the police eviction.
These are urgent procedures and the application can be submitted to the responsible family court in Kreutzberg, Pankow, Schöneberg or Köpenick after extensive consultation and preparation in one of the 5 women's advice centers (see below).
Women who have little money can apply for legal aid and do not have to pay anything.
Apartment allocation (Protection against Violence Act, §2)
If the woman feels strong enough to stay in the apartment and is able to finance the rent, also with the help of the job center, she can apply for an apartment assignment. An apartment assignment means that the woman has the right to stay in the apartment for at least half a year or a year. The perpetrator is forbidden from entering the apartment or staying in the vicinity, even if he is the main tenant. The decision about an apartment allocation always requires a hearing from both sides. The judge will make the appointment as soon as possible, usually within a week. If the application is granted, the perpetrator can collect his belongings under police protection and has to look for other accommodation.
Protection order (Protection against Violence Act, §1)
In addition, the person concerned can apply for a protection order, which means a general ban on contact for at least six months. The man is forbidden to call the woman or use other communication media under threat of a fine or prison sentence and must stay away from the home and the workplace. Should he accidentally meet the woman on the street, he must immediately keep a distance of 50 m. If the facts are clear, the judge can grant the application on the same day and the injunction is immediately handed over to the responsible bailiff for service. The woman receives a duplicate and can use it to inform the responsible police department.
Right of residence determination (§ 1631 BGB)
If there is joint custody and the dispute could be carried out on the back of the children, the woman can apply for the provisional right of residence for the children, which is especially necessary if the man threatens to kidnap the children.
Stalking (Section 238 of the Criminal Code)
Has been a separate criminal offense since 2007 and includes constant phone calls, persecution, threats and defamation, trespassing, property damage and bodily harm. Stalking occurs after a breakup, for example when a partner feels rejected and offended and thinks they have to take revenge or when they think they can no longer live without the other, which can degenerate into a delusion. Free advice is available for victims and perpetrators on Stop-Stalking, Tel. 030/22 19 22 000.
Advice and legal advice
Affected women can call the BIG hotline for domestic violence on 030/611 03 00 every day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. for anonymous and non-binding advice. In addition, women can have personal interviews in one of the 5 counseling centers or take free legal advice there. For women who do not speak German, there is the option of a conference call with an interpreter or counselors with a migration background who speak different languages.
The advice centers are located in
Neukölln, women's meeting point, Tel. 030/622 22 60
Mitte, Frauenraum, Tel. 030/448 45 28,
Schöneberg, Tara, Tel. 030/78 71 83 40
Weissensee, Bora, Tel. 030/927 47 07 and in
Zehlendorf, Intercultural Initiative, Tel. 030/80 19 59 80.
If the woman feels unsafe when going to the family court or if she needs an interpreter, she can ask for assistance from the BIG hotline - called mobile intervention.
Affected men can find support at the men's counseling service in Berlin, Tel. 030/49 91 68 80 and the victim support, Tel. 030/395 28 67
6 women's shelters in different districts of Berlin accept women and children day and night. The stay is free and the addresses are secret. Affected women will be given a meeting point from which they will be picked up.
You can find out where there are vacancies via the BIG hotline Tel. 030/611 03 00.
If a woman cannot go to the women's shelter on her own for various reasons, she can ask for help from the BIG hotline.
Unfortunately, a shelter for men is not financed by the Senate.
In addition to the women's shelters, there are refuges. Here, the assumption of costs by a carrier such as the job center or personal contribution must be regulated before moving in. The apartments are distributed and furnished all over Berlin. There are larger apartments where women and children can live in a shared apartment, and there are also individual apartments.
Women and children can stay in the women's shelters and refuges for as long as necessary. There is help from the employees of the women's shelters or refuges to find a perspective and ultimately to live again in safety in their own apartment.
P.S. The information on aid facilities in Berlin was as of November 2017, changes are possible. Current information can be obtained from the BIG hotline. Aid institutions in other federal states can be found in the online advice guide www.dajeb.de.
Buskotte, Andrea: Violence in a partnership. Patmos Verlag, Düsseldorf 2007
Herman, Judith: The Scars of Violence. Understand and overcome traumatic experiences. Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn 2006
Kavemann, Barbara, Kreyssig, Ulrike (eds.): Handbook children and domestic violence. Publishing house for social sciences, Wiesbaden 2006
Morgan Raffaeli, Ruth: When love becomes hell. Wolfgang Krüger Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999
Ohms, Constance (ed.): Broken more than the heart. Violence in Lesbian Relationships. Orlanda Frauenverlag, Berlin 1993
Peichl, Jochen, Destructive Relationships. Klett-Cotta publishing house, Stuttgart 2008
Peichl, Jochen: Inner children, perpetrators, helpers & Co. Ego-state therapy of the traumatized self. Theory and practice. Klett-Cotta publishing house, Stuttgart 2007
Watkins, J.G. and H.H .: Ego States Theory and Therapy. Carl Auer Systems Verlag, Heidelberg 2003
Trauma therapy, craniosacral therapy and coaching
Counseling for couples and therapy for domestic violence
Mainzer Str. 27
Tel: 030/41 70 59 27
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