I wish to continue the discussion on spousal abuse which lasted last week by first appreciating everyone who sent messages, showing their solidarity and keen interest in this topic. The main reason why I can write about spousal abuse in this manner is simply because of my experience as a specialist mental health physician. Most of us are aware that the potential outcomes of being involved in an abusive relationship include various degrees and subtypes of mental illness. This is alongside the possibility of the victim of abuse dying from the effect of the abuse. Death can be physical death (loss of life) or emotional death. Some victims of abuse walk around like zombies due to the effect of the abuse on their psyche. A lot of well-dressed and seemingly gorgeously looking persons are really dead within them. When you relate with them closely, you will find out that something within their essence is missing. Hence, I agree with everyone that this is timely and very important.
Sincerely, I believe no one should be allowed to continue to be in an abusive relationship without getting help. That is why I also agree with everyone who opined that this issue cannot be over emphasized. Many of our siblings, friends, neighbors, workplace colleagues are indeed suffering in silence. Spousal abuse is experienced across human life span. I just received a call from an elderly woman who informed me that she is currently out of her home due to her husband’s behaviour. While a recent study conducted by one of my teachers (who is passionate about gender issues) among undergraduates in a university in southwestern Nigeria, revealed that 4 out of every 10 of the students in the study population had experienced various forms of dating violence. These do not include those who had suffered emotional abuse. It is indeed a public health issue!
Types of Perpetrators of Spousal Abuse
I will first like to clarify that spousal abuse is not just the physical punching, kicking, biting, slapping, spanking, strangulating, stabbing, cutting, etc., that we commonly read about or watch on the internet. There are some forms of abuse that you might not be able to see the effect with your eyes. In this dispensation of skilled make-up artists, a serious black eye from being punched in the face can be cleverly covered up. Asides the covering up of physical features of abuse, there are other forms of abuse like emotional abuse and neglect which have greater impact on the mental health rather than the physical health of the victims. Understanding the profile of the abuser or the context of the abuse will also help us determine the suitable approach towards helping the victim out of the abusive relationship.
Egocentric vituperators are individuals who are simply full of themselves. They have a superiority complex over their spouse. They engage in verbally demeaning their spouse at every opportunity. Most of them will never physically assault their partner. But can engage in bouts of verbal abuse and invocation of derogatory remarks towards ensuring that their spouse or partner is aware of their superiority in the relationship. Some of these bouts could last for hours. They make their spouse feel worthless and try to ensure that the spouse believe that they cannot do without them or make any progress in life without their input or permission. It is a form of brainwashing.
The egocentric vituperators at times have a valid reason for being annoyed with their spouse. But their reaction and the verbal onslaughts is beyond the proportion of the trigger. There are also some I will call the reverse egocentric vituperators who enjoy giving their spouse the silent treatment. Their own superiority complex makes them trivialize the wants of their spouses. They believe they know what the spouse needs and exactly in what quantity and when they need same. Their partners undergo much emotional trauma which they never see and this is also never obvious to others. If the perpetrator is a man, people will see the woman as being unnecessarily demanding.
The victims also find it very difficult to describe what they are going through. Some victims begin to throw tantrums in response to other insignificant issues. The victim ends up nagging and might even begin to also respond by either verbally fighting back or even resort to physically assaulting the perpetrator. Eventually the victim gets blamed for the problems in the relationship. Some of these reverse egocentric vituperators can even deny their spouse all forms of intimacy. This can be very difficult for most spouses to complain about to third parties. Many people live in mansions and apparent affluence but are surreptitiously experiencing intense abuse. This is because most perpetrators of this type of abuse are able to provide all that the spouse will need. It is always difficult for outsiders to see through the smoke screen.
THE INSECURE AGGRESSOR
These types of perpetrators have feelings of insecurity about the relationship. They are suspicious of their partners and are always trying to “confirm” their suspicion. Their inability to confirm their suspicion always gets them edgy. Over time they engage in verbal aggression which eventually becomes physical. The physical aggressions are almost always preceded by threats of same. These insecure aggressors could either be men or women. There have been cases of female insecure aggressors who end up killing their partners and vice versa. It is important to note that without intervention; most initially verbally aggressive insecure aggressors will resort to physical aggression to put additional pressure on their spouse.
THE PSYCHOPATHIC PUGILISTS
Psychopathic pugilists are perpetrators of abuse who derive uncanny pleasure in inflicting pain on their spouses or partners. They seem to derive enjoyment from the adrenaline rush that accompanies their physical encounters with their spouses. They physically assault their partners for the flimsiest of all excuses. They are mostly not good at expressing themselves and have that odd belief that physical assault is one of the modalities for effective communication in a relationship. I must say that no one deserves to be in a relationship with a psychopathic pugilist. The only thing that can change them is a major life event like life threatening injury, death or any other severe adverse consequence of their actions to themselves or their spouses. These adverse consequences could also include legal actions instituted against them.
THE BIGOTED BRUISERS
These are religious or cultural bigots who have a warped mentality about the teachings of the Holy Scriptures (Bible and the Quran). Some of these types of abuse perpetrators also make references to cultural injunctions to justify their dishonorable behaviour towards their spouses. They are typically men. These chauvinistic eccentrics continue to propagate the need for the men to subdue their women “by all means” which includes serial abusive behavior towards their wives or partners.
From my findings, none of the scriptures recommend abuse as one of the modalities for correcting deviant behaviour in one’s spouse. Going into specific details of this issue is an entire topic on its own which I believe religious scholars are more qualified to breakdown. But I can assure you that the so called references in the Holy Scriptures are simply quoted out of context to rationalize their depraved and inhumane actions. There is definitely no scripture to support you beating up your wife in the morning and then going into the bedroom at night to demand for intimacy. Many of us find it unimaginable that some men could actually think that their culture or religion will be a reason to justify their demeaning behavior towards their spouse.
THE PERI-PSYCHOTIC ABUSER
These perpetrators of abuse only exhibit abusive tendencies during bouts of mental disturbance. A psychotic state is a major mental disturbance in which there is significant loss of touch with reality. This loss of touch with reality could distort the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the sufferer. Some individuals could experience disorders of perception which could include hearing things others are not hearing or seeing things others are not seeing.
This could trigger off aggression towards their spouses. There are some psychotic states that can be transiently induced by the use of psychoactive substances. Some perpetrators (which include women) become extremely violent and abusive when under the influence of alcohol, cannabis, stimulants etc. When the influence of the substance wanes, the abusive behaviors tend to subside.
Majority of these peri-psychotic abusers become genuinely apologetic when they are sober. Some even feign ignorance of their actions when confronted with their previous actions. While some might be genuinely ignorant of their actions during the psychotic states others might just be repressing the negative emotions that come with the understanding of the implication of their actions. Hence for them, it is actually safer to completely push everything into the subconscious. Some individuals who experience some types of abnormal discharges from the brains which typically is a type of epilepsy, could also exhibit behaviours which can be interpreted as spousal abuse.
THE REVERSE/SECONDARY ABUSER
These are individuals who in response to the abuse of their spouse or partner (primary perpetrator) begin to fight back by also engaging in serially abusing their perpetrator. They themselves become a secondary perpetrator. Cases that would simply have been tagged; “Assault” becomes that of “two fighting” resulting into “disorderly conduct” of the spouses. Two “wrongs” cannot make a “right”.
Basically, all these types of perpetrators of abuse are quite common worldwide. The diversity of the nature of each of the perpetrators makes it imperative that we come to a succinct understanding that the approach towards resolving spousal abuse depends on the type of abuse. For instance a peri-psychotic abuser will definitely need medication as part of the modalities for managing the condition, while it might be advisable that the victim of abuse from a psychopathic pugilist is separated from the perpetrator by all legitimate means. The separation could be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the abuse and the findings from risk assessment.
Next week, I hope I will be able to conclude the discussion with an outline of “common errors of victims of spousal abuse”, “ how to avoid getting trapped in an abusive relationship” and how to come out of one safe and sane. Before then, kindly share this to save a life and/or a relationship.
Stay safe and sane; help someone do the same by sharing this articles far and wide!
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Dr Ola Ibigbami is a Specialist Mental Health Physician who currently practices in Osun State.
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