From bad to worse: the escalation of violence

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From bad to worse: the escalation of violence

Reading time : 5 min

The goal of intimate partner violence (IPV) is to gain and then maintain power in the relationship. Of course, this dynamic does not happen overnight. IPV tends to develop gradually and increase over time.

Scaling up through engagement

At the beginning of the relationship, the partner shows affection, interest, patience, gentleness, openness, generosity, etc. Unfortunately, this expression of love is not entirely genuine and disinterested as it would be in a healthy relationship, but rather it aims to prepare the ground for violence and control. It is therefore already a form of psychological. Indeed, the term love bombing is used to describe this technique of manipulation through seduction. Later on, the fact that the victim has seen her partner in this better light will contribute to feed their hope throughout the relationship, and to maintain them in the relationship.

The search for sensitive areas

By fostering attachment and investment in the relationship, the partner makes the victim open up. The victim confides different past experiences, talks about their dreams, their fears, their regrets, their failures. Through these discussions, the abuser gains access to all the information needed to gain power over the victim: their frailties, their difficulties and their vulnerabilities. The abuser is then able to target those sensitive areas to slowly install a hold on the relationship. 

Slowly but surely : gaining power over the relationship

The abuser begins, very slowly, to «force» his partner's boundaries in order to put her in a state of inner imbalance and begin to gain power over the relationship. For example, an abuser who knows that his partner is sensitive to rejection might use distance or silence tactics when he wants to get something. If he knows she is insecure about her weight, he may use «heavy» looks or make comments about other people's weight. If he knows that she is shy, he may voluntarily make comments about her in front of friends to amplify her social discomfort. Because he targets very sensitive areas, he can use very subtle violent behaviours, but it will still be effective in affecting the victim. Of course, the relationship is also characterized by the ups and downs of the cycle of violence and the victim is increasingly hurt by the violence she experiences, which also contributes to building and maintaining the hold on the relationship. 

Scaling up through engagement

When the relationship is more seriously invested by the victim through various events that mark their commitment (making promises of eternity, publicly showing oneself as a couple, having long-term plans, moving in together, following the partner to another city, buying a car or a house, getting engaged, getting married, having a child, etc.), the violence often increases more markedly and suddenly becomes more intense and more frequent. 

Because of the increased commitment of the victim, the abuser can use more overt violence because it becomes increasingly difficult for the victim to break off the relationship. Undue pressure becomes rules and then obligations, innuendoes become insults or threats, dark looks turn into punches, harsh words become shouts and then blows, etc. The most striking evidence of this process is the fact that it is often during pregnancy or after a child is born that physical violence first occurs. 

All the way to murder ?

IPV can escalate to extreme forms of violence, and can become a threat to the victims's physical safety and even to their life. However, because it is unstable and unpredictable, it is impossible to guess how far violence can go in a given relationship. Nor can it be assumed that the situation is still relatively «safe» if the violence has never been physical, because escalation can occur very gradually, as it can happen all of a sudden. However, one factor is known to be particularly conducive to a sudden escalation: when the victim questions the violence or the relationship. This is why it is far preferable that a separation in a situation of IPV be prepared rather than precipitated, and why it is essential to respect the victim's feelings and instincts regarding this sensitive decision.

The trap of hindsight

When victims of IPV examine their relationship after the fact, it is often fairly easy for them to identify the subtle violence and manipulation they experienced early in the relationship. They may then feel shame and guilt for not having realized the trap that was building around them or for not having reacted quickly enough. It can be very painful, especially since it's one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to IPV: «I would never have accepted that!»

It is important to help victims to realize that it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify IPV at the beginning of the relationship, since the subtle violent behaviours were skillfully camouflaged through expressions of love. It is only by knowing what happened next, in hindsight, that the psychological abuse and manipulation of the early stages of the relationship become visible. 

It is also important to remind victims that it is normal (and healthy) to have believed in a partner's good faith, to have given them the benefit of the doubt, to have accepted apologies, and to have believed in their potential for change. It is the abuser who chose to use the victim's qualities of openness and trust against them... and thus the abuser remains solely responsible for the situation of IPV.

Bien que la violence conjugale touche majoritairement des femmes, elle peut aussi toucher les hommes et les personnes issues de la diversité sexuelle et de genre. Les services de SOS violence conjugale sont offerts à toutes les personnes touchées par la problématique.

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