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The Painful Ties That Bind

By Esther Rand  

Who is she? What does she look like? Does she bow her head in shame as she walks down the street? Is she a loner without friends who sticks close to home? Are her bruises covered by long sleeves and a high neckline? Is there a prototype of an abused woman? 

The answers to these questions are not apparent, nor are they simplistic. An abused woman can be found in the boardroom of a corporation as commonly as she can be your sociable and very competent next door neighbor, housewife. She can be self-assured, bright, articulate and charming. She can be a leader in the workplace in charge of a large staff and able to assume huge responsibilities. 

The painful truth is that the capable wife and mother who stays at home with a large family and the working woman who appears to be completely in charge can have much in common. The tie that binds them can be stronger than their differences. Marriage to an abuser is their common denominator. 

The gradual erosion of the self-esteem and the essence of the woman is at the heart of abuse and can make even the most confident woman begin to doubt her sanity and stability and jeopardize her very identity and sense of self. Years of abusive reinforcement can change the core personality of a victim and transform the most open, self-assured and trusting woman into an insecure, traumatized, fearful and self-doubting individual. 

Victims of abuse suffer the gamut of emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Emotional abuse entails the withholding of affection, silent treatments and separation of victim from family and friends. Verbal abuse or put-downs can be as painful and perhaps more insidious than physical abuse. Comments such as "You’re stupid and will never amount to anything" or "You are nothing without me" can effectively wear down a woman’s positive self-view over time. Financial abuse can be the withholding and or controlling of money which is withheld or doled out with every penny having to be accounted for. Sexual abuse includes forcing sexual relations as a marital right and using sex as a weapon to establish control. Black and blue marks that result from a beating, slapping, pinching, etc. define types of physical abuse. Psychological abuse can be defined by the "mind games" that the abuser plays with the victim. He can "gaslight" his spouse by negating her experiences or creating false ones, i.e. "You must be crazy to leave the gas burners on all night" (In fact, he turned them on after she went to bed). After a few of these experiences, the victim can indeed become convinced that she is losing her mind. 

The common goal of these different types of abuse is the calculated control and degradation of the victim by the abuser. As the victim’s self-esteem is eroded over time, the abuser feels more empowered and in control. There can never be equality in this type of relationship as the abuser cannot be at peace with the equilibrium and compromise necessary for a healthy marriage. He must, at all costs, maintain control and power over the relationship. (It should be noted that men can also be victims of abuse.) 

We, in the Ohel Domestic Abuse Treatment Program are licensed professional therapists who have been trained in the many complex and sensitive issues of domestic abuse in the orthodox Jewish community. Professional staff work hand in hand with rabbis and leaders in the frum community who help guide us in the treatment of these women and their children. Ohel operates a shelter for abused women as well as outpatient and referral services. Most important, the professional staff work to recognize the difference between marriages where marital therapy can succeed and the severely abusive marriage where the primary treatment goal is the woman’s safety and survival. 

In a relative number of abuse cases, the staff has had some success in working with husband and wife and have been able to help the couple reconstruct their relationship in a healthier manner. The process of reconstructing the marriage can be both lengthy and intense and requires the personal investment and participation of both partners in the relationship. The therapist’s role is crucial in this process as she helps each partner recognize his or her role in the presenting problem and then helps the marital unit work together towards finding solutions. 

If you know of someone who needs assistance or if you are that someone, reach out for help. Ohel (718) 851-6300. There is no charge for services. 

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