CoDependents and Domestic ViolenceIn the course of my work, I have seen people with a remarkable tendancy to remain at the effect of physical or emotional abuse and even violence. Domestic Violence is against the law. Its perpetrators often resist being held accountable for their behavior and may place their partner (who I most typically have, and will periodically continue to work with) and/or children in harm’s way.  Often, perpetrators may seek to disparage and discredit the therapists of their abused partners who only seek to help them address their CoDependence, or their own abusive behavior.  (Here, I would really encourage you to take a look at my article on A Brief Psychology of Narcissism and How to Survive it.) Given my willingness to occasionally work with these CoDependents or even those whose behavior may be abusive, I make the following statement, in the interest of client and personal safety: 

  • Domestic violence is the physical or emotional domination of one person over another.  Generally, the partner who is victimized has had no power in the relationship.
  • Domestic violence is known by various names in professional circles including: conjugal violence; intimate partner violence; partner abuse; woman abuse; and violence against women. Clearly some wording is gender or target specific while other wording is gender neutral and more general with respect to the target.
  • Domestic violence includes a variety of abusive behavior whereby some sort of harm is threatened and/or inflicted upon one or more persons by another person who shares a close and emotional relationship and/or shared living arrangement. Domestic violence in the context of these relationships includes behavior that is often physical and/or verbal and/or psychological in nature.
  • Domestic abuse and violence may however take other forms that you may be surprised about. It is evident in those relationships where one seeks to control any of the behavior or life of the other through means such as:
    • limiting access to finances or making unilateral financial decisions
    • limiting friendships
    • undermining the care of the children
    • not participating in or demanding household responsibilities
    • determining one’s dress and clothing
    • limiting or demanding one’s work
    • limiting or restricting recreational activities
    • demanding sex and unwanted sexual activity
    • threatening other related persons and/or pets
    • limiting access to any shared resources.

 Domestic violence is known to create mental health problems for the target of the behavior. Common mental health problems include depression and anxiety.  Further, the relationship between the person engaging in domestic violence and the target is often marked by cycles of abusive behavior; anger or withdrawal on the part of the target followed by contrite, apologetic behavior by the perpetrator resulting in a lowering of defenses by the target, until the cycle starts up again.

Domestic violence is not healthy for the target or for the person engaging in the abusive/controlling behavior.  While it is understood how such behavior is contrary to the well-being of the target, it harms the person engaging in abusive behavior too as it is self-defeating in the long term with regard to maintaining healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.

Domestic violence is also harmful to children.  Children subject to domestic violence may appear sullen or withdrawn or angry and bitter. These children often have difficulty relating to peers and difficulty focusing at school.  Boys may be seen to bully and girls may be seen to be withdrawn. These children are at risk of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Distorder, depression and anxiety.

When I initially see a client, I pretty routinely ask about the potential history of domestic violence and power imbalances.  I do this, not only to get necessary information, but to provide reassurance that emotionally revealing disclosures in our therapeutic relationship won’t put anyone at risk of harm.

In the event that issues of domestic violence and/or power imbalances are discussed, a safety plan may be created to facilitate the client’s well-being, understanding that safety is ultimately each person’s own responsibility alone.

Given the destructive nature of domestic violence on people and their relationships, these issues really do need to be discussed in therapy.

Victimized CoDependents as well as perpetrators who do well in therapy, tend to be more self-reflective and have an ability to take responsibility for their behavior.  They very often become interested and concerned about their impact upon others. But, there are those who are well entrenched in their behavior and attitudes.  These people tend to not take responsibility for their behavior or their contribution to the pain of others. In those situations, I will make my opinion clear, that the likelihood of a positive outcome is limited. The therapy will be more focused on protective strategies, such as creating a “safe plan”, identifying personal resources, triggering social supports and local agencies, etc...  

Where required by law, Child, and/or Adult Protective Services will be notified in circumstances where a child’s, or more impaired adult’s well being is in jeopardy of violence, abuse, or neglect.  More, police may be called to protect the well-being of the intended target, if necessary.

At times perpetrators who are resistant to change are likely to blame their partner, and may also target the therapist with false allegations and other forms of abuse.  This attempt to discredit or bring financial or professional harm is a ploy to deflect matters from themselves and/or seek revenge for empowering the independence of the client. 

When working peripherally with those who may try to make me the target of false allegations or abuse, I reserve the right to protect myself by any legal means available including taking action at the expense of the violent/abusive person.  Confidentiality will be deemed to be waived by both clients and persons engaging in violent or abusive behavior for the protection of my client, and/or myself and/or my family.

Because of my periodic willingness to work with the CoDependents of abusive partners, I have also been the target of false allegations, attempted abuse and even physical intimidation.  Notwithstanding, I  still tend to work with folks in these circumstances, in the interest of their well-being, their relationships and their children. 

In the Lansing, Michigan area, feel free to email or call me with any questions or comments at the address below.


Peter Roseman Psy.S.
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