The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 11, 2001 Issue
Counselor's Corner

'My parents fight; I fear dating'

There are signs that indicate whether a person will become an abuser

By Valorie Helander-Paque

QUESTION: While I have been growing up, I know that my parents fight too much. They yell at each other all the time and say things to each other that really hurt. I know that my Dad hits my Mom sometimes. I am thinking about dating a guy in my class but I am afraid to date. What should I do?

ANSWER: A Your awareness of your family's pain and your desire to avoid continuing the violence that you grew up with is a sign of hopefulness for your own future.

There are a variety of behaviors that begin in the early stages of a relationship that may indicate the potential for violence. Let's take some time to look at some of these behaviors.

A first and obvious behavior that indicates the probability of ongoing violence in a relationship is an incident of physical violence. Typically a batterer is remorseful and expresses regret after a physically violent act. There are often promises of such behaviors not occurring again, or that the victim is to blame, or the act is seen as not a big deal.

Sometimes when a woman is invested in making the relationship work, she will quickly deny how she has been hurt by the incident and will believe her partner when he says that it will never happen again. It is very important for you to know that if such an incident occurs once, it will probably occur again and the intensity of the physical violence will only increase.

Emotional or verbal abuse is another early indicator of an abusive relationship. Name calling, verbal put downs, or acts toward you that feel humiliating or embarrassing are typical examples of emotional abuse. When we are being victimized by emotional abuse, we typically feel badly about ourselves and we begin to question our decision-making process. We may have a sense of feeling "crazy" and we begin to not trust our feelings or intuition about the world around us, even when our partner is being kind or loving toward us.

As your relationship with such an individual progresses, it is natural that the two of you will have disagreements or differences of opinion, as disagreements and arguments are a normal and necessary part of any relationship. It is very important for you to understand that it is the behaviors that are displayed during arguments that determine whether your relationship is healthy or abusive.

In a relationship where power and control dominates, during times of argument, you will sense an increasing feeling of fear both during and after the argument. Your partner may begin to make statements of hurting you or himself if you choose to leave the relationship. He may want you to believe that you are a bad partner and no one else would ever want to date you. He may begin to demonstrate abusive behaviors toward your friends or family members and then tell you that his behaviors are all your fault.

Unfortunately, when women are dating and become fearful or concerned about the behaviors of their partners, their partners may begin to pick up on their apprehensions and begin to blame them for their abuse.

If you find that happening in a relationship, you need to realize that your partner may minimize your concerns or fears by telling you he would act differently if you would act differently. He may tell you that he was drunk or under the influence of some other substance when he was abusive.

It is very, very important that you know that you are not responsible for another person's behaviors or choices.

Your precautions in dating and better understanding of some of the early warning signs of an abusive relationship may help to safeguard you in the future. We have only begun here a conversation on early warning signs of potentially abusive relationships.

Please know that there are a variety of community resources available to help you learn more about abusive patterns in relationships. Such services are available through your school, and programs dealing with domestic violence for both men and women that are available at Catholic Social Services.

If you are interested in exploring the resources through Catholic Social Services, please look in your telephone book for the office in your area.

(Helander-Paque is a counselor with Catholic Social Services, Green Bay.)

Send questions to Counselor's Corner, c/o Catholic Social Services, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay 54305-3825. All questions will be answered in print or through the mail. Identities will remain confidential.

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