Let me first say a little about my ex-partner, Edith. She was a well known media figure, a political staffer and candidate for election to the State senate, left wing activist, leading feminist, and the ultimate sexual athlete. So, we had many, many things in common. After a bit under three years she was away in Melbourne, Australia for health reasons and I had stayed to run my IT consultancy in Adelaide. At a party I was taken aside by a woman and told Edith’s history: she had attempted suicide some years earlier, had been hospitalised and diagnosed with severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) for which there is rarely any effective psychiatric treatment. At the time I paid inadequate attention even when the woman said “she’s really dangerous, she will destroy you if she can, then move on. Get out now”.
With the benefit of hindsight I now see that Edith was consistently psychologically violent, and what follows was just the most extreme example.
About a year before this warning, Edith and I were discussing some topic when she said “All men are aggressive”. I said “That may be mostly true, but I am not, the last time I hit anyone I was nine, and I never have, and never will, hit a woman. I now recognise that what followed a couple of hours later was intense psychological abuse, she wanted to drive me to violence to prove her point.
Perhaps three hours later we were sitting in her lounge when she proceeded to tell me my faults: I was egotistic, I was passive aggressive, I drank too much, etc. I tried to defend myself but doing so was according to her just more passive aggressive behaviour. This went on for two or three hours until it was well after midnight and although Edith repeated her accusations several times and at length, she never once repeated herself in the same terms.
Finally I couldn’t take it any more. There was a glass ashtray on the table between us and I remember looking at it and thinking “If she goes on any longer, I’m going to pick it up and throw it” — not at her, at the wall — which I now realise was exactly what she wanted me to do, thus proving her proposition that “all men are violent”. So instead I picked up my keys, said “We’ll talk again tomorrow, I’m going”, left and drove home (we were living apart but very close to each other — why is another story).
When I opened the door to my apartment the phone was ringing and I picked it up. It was Edith, she was very angry, she said I was a coward, I was running away from the truth, and so on. After a very few minutes I got tired of listening to this, and I said a few words and hung up. The phone rang again almost immediately and Edith was by this time hysterical. I rapidly hung up, took the phone out of the wall, turned off my mobile and went to bed.
I was seriously upset and I thought I would have trouble sleeping, but in fact I fell asleep almost immediately and slept extremely well for nine hours — one of the best night’s sleep I have ever had. The next day, nothing was said about the events of the night before.
Recently I have thought about this a lot and wondered why I had such a dream-free and refreshing nights sleep. I came to the conclusion that the reason was I had won; rather than lose control and act violently, I had “walked away”. It occurred to me that this is the message I wanted to convey to potential DV perpetrators: “when you feel you are starting to lose control, don’t stay and lash out, walk away, go for a walk, clean the car, watch TV, water the garden, whatever, just don’t stay in a situation where you will get violent. When you have calmed down completely, go back, but don’t get back into the argument, just kiss your partner and say something like ‘we will talk some more tomorrow’ and then do something inconsequential like watching television. You will have won over your emotions and you will feel good. The chances are the next day you may both decide the whole issue wasn’t very important”.
So, “Walk Away” is part of the answer for anyone who recognises they have a tendency to be physically or emotionally violent, and it can be of value to victims of violence also. I now advise them to find some excuse to (if possible) leave a situation that has the potential to become violent before it gets out of hand. It also gave me an insight into just how valid the definition of Domestic Violence is: it can be physical, psychological, threatening, financial, in fact any situation where the victim feels coerced or belittled.
I will give just one example: I was talking to a man who said he had on occasion slapped his wife when he had lost his temper “and there was no other way to shut her up”. I said “You don’t want to be violent, so just walk away”. He said “I can’t do that, that’s cowardice”. I said “No, cowards RUN away, strong men WALK AWAY with their head held high, they know they have won over their anger. Try it”. I later heard he had tried it and while things were not perfect, it had helped, and although there had been some serious arguments still, there had been no more physical violence.
I need to place one caveat on this. DV escalates; what starts as a push or a slap becomes a punch or a kick, then several, and ultimately serious injury or even sometimes murder. What I have described here only has a chance of being of any use before things escalate very far. The general advice remains ‘if the violence is other than minor, is recurrent, and is getting worse, get out before you get seriously hurt’.
(A note for Heather, note the Oxford comma in the last sentence — I just couldn’t resist. LOL).