Behind Closed Doors: How to Stop Domestic Violence


In January, the publishing house “Est sense” under the charity fund “Need help” published the book “Behind Closed Doors. Why Domestic Violence Happens and How to Stop It. It was written by Tatyana Orlova, who has been working as a psychologist for more than ten years with people who have suffered from domestic violence. We talked with Tatyana about why domestic violence is a problem not only for the person who finds himself in such a situation, but also for our entire society.

— Tatyana, why did it become necessary to write a book about domestic violence?

— This book should have appeared almost inevitably. I myself experienced the experience of violence in relationships and tried to comprehend it. After that, my psychological practice turned out to be closely connected with the topic of abuse — I worked at the Moscow Crisis Center for Assistance to Women and Children, at the Center for Working with the Problem of Violence (acting as a foreign agent) and at the NeTerpi Center, where together with teams of psychologists, we tried to find methods and practices for the treatment of domestic violence.

At that time, there was no literature that would give a clear idea and description of the internal mechanisms of this phenomenon. And even now, with an abundance of information on this topic, there is still no comprehensive systemic understanding in the psychological literature. I wanted to create a book that could be used by both specialists and ordinary people to understand the psychological processes that occur in such situations.

— Tell us, please, on the basis of what data the material was collected?

— The book is written as a summary of my own ten years of experience in counseling clients with abuse — survivors, abusers, couples and families. And it also has a huge team contribution: as I said, throughout my practice I work together with teams of colleagues — psychologists, volunteers. Weekly intervisions, brainstorming, discussion of complex cases and the application of different approaches to working with such clients allowed us to describe this phenomenon more and more accurately over and over again and find the best solutions in therapy.

It can be said that this is a collective work and ideas of many specialists, which lasted for about ten years, and in the book it was possible to synthesize and generalize its results.

— Can you explain to people who are not familiar with the defense mechanisms of the brain why a person who is faced with constant (family and not only) violence against him often cannot just leave, break off relations?

— Our consciousness from early childhood is tuned in such a way as to maintain affection at any cost. If a child is treated badly, he cannot leave his parents, otherwise he will die. And then his consciousness gets traumatized, but learns to cope with these experiences and live next to violence, develops protective mechanisms, for example, hopes that everything will change, takes the blame or pities the offender. Later on, these skills — repression of trauma and the use of defense mechanisms — are retained and applied into adulthood to maintain unacceptable relationships. That is, the more developed the skills to defend themselves from psychological violence, the more likely that what is happening will seem normal or bearable to a person, he will not look for a way out, but will simply live and hope for changes.

— How to recognize an abuser «at an early stage» — and is it possible at all?

— I don’t like the words «abuser» and «victim». They suggest that there are certain types of people with inherent personality traits. But in fact, almost all people have sacrificial and abusive behavioral strategies. The issue is balance and the adequacy of their use. A person may constantly use abusive strategies and not have any others, or use them only in an anxious situation. If at the same time he has a lot of anxiety that is not related to objective reality (he is not confident in himself, he is suspicious, he is constantly competitive), and he uses abusive strategies to cope with it, then we see him as an abuser.

Recognizing the «abuser» at an early stage is possible only in the most difficult case. We usually notice this in high and unrealistic expectations from a partner, pathological jealousy, quarrels that arise from nothing, prohibitions, pressure, inability to negotiate, a desire to control a partner, in stories of difficult previous relationships. Sometimes we see a pronounced difference between the image that a person demonstrates to others, his disguise — and real behavior, filled with manipulation, lies, threats. All this suggests that a person has serious psychological trauma and closeness with another person causes great anxiety in him. If such relationships continue, then with a high probability domestic violence will appear in them.

— In one of the chapters of the book, you write a lot about how the patriarchal attitudes of society exacerbate the problem. Isn’t it dangerous to say that, say, in countries and regions with such attitudes based largely on religion, domestic violence is more common? This is a very sensitive topic, how not to offend anyone?

— In this case, I am not trying to give some kind of moral assessment of religion or culture, but I act as a researcher and show the connection between different phenomena. Once upon a time, people were offended that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not vice versa, but in the end, now this knowledge helps us. We may not pay attention to some patterns, but this does not stop them from existing. In addition, I myself, as a believer, certainly do not consider religion to be evil. A person puts the brightest and most important thing in his life into his faith, it encourages him to grow above himself and love his neighbor. It becomes evil only when it is used to cover up the abuse of power, cultural or religious dogmas to justify inequality, humiliation and the use of another person.

— What role does the state/culture play and what kind of family? Conditionally — who is more to blame for the prevalence of domestic violence in our society?

— These are components of one process and it is impossible to say who is more to blame. There is a contribution from society, and the state, and the family, and the personal history of a person, and biological factors. When the active part of society matures to a new understanding of some phenomenon, in particular, the permissibility of violence in relationships, it begins to influence the rest of society and the state, demands that laws be changed, and so on. And if this change occurs, even those individuals and families who have not yet realized anything are forced to change.

For example, if cases of domestic violence are discussed online as evil and those who have experienced or are experiencing it join this discussion, then it is easier to find support in their situation, the victims get out of the abuse faster. If the state responds to the request that is emerging in society and adopts a law on the prevention of domestic violence, then it becomes possible to stop situations of domestic violence not only by the efforts of the victims themselves, but also by influencing the offender. And then the offenders have reasons to change and work on themselves.

But if at some stage this process stops, it becomes more difficult to deal with violence, it begins to increase. In our country, at the moment, this process has slowed down at the state level: we have not yet adopted a law against domestic violence, so the victims must cope only on their own. But information about this and public support has obviously increased in recent years, and this is a very good harbinger of further changes.

Why do you think there has been a lot more talk about domestic violence over the past couple of years? Is it important to talk about it in popular culture?

— Under the influence of social networks, where people began to share their personal experiences, the topics of domestic violence ceased to be taboo and became visible, discussed, and the attitude towards abuse changed. There is much less victim blaming (accusations of victims that they allegedly provoke violence or that they themselves like humiliation), which was so typical in such discussions ten years ago.

As a result, the Russian-speaking society increasingly sees domestic violence not as a norm, but as a problem, it becomes unacceptable. All these conversations are, of course, useful. Thanks to them, we are changing society together.

— Suppose these conversations are able to change the mass consciousness of people. We show with concrete examples what the scale of the problem is and what kind of help people who find themselves in a situation of domestic violence need. But can these demonstrations somehow shift the situation at the government level? Why have we still not adopted a law on the prevention of domestic violence?

— I hope they can. It’s just that there is still a large part of people who have not been affected by this controversy, who are still convinced that violence is our tradition and that one should not interfere in the family. Among them are those who use violence themselves; those who are desperate and think that nothing can be changed; and those who are sure that this is a private minor problem of individual women. But the more we draw attention to this topic, the more research and knowledge accumulates, the more clear the scale of the problem and its impact on the physical and mental health of the nation and even on the economy becomes, the more people understand that such a law is needed. I hope that there will be so many of us that the government will no longer be able to deny this problem.

The designation of borders depends on the state. It should indicate that domestic violence is a crime. It should provide protection measures for victims and assistance in their rehabilitation. Should support programs to work with authors of violence. And then the violence will be easier to stop.

— Can we ordinary people do something to help solve the problem of domestic violence?

— Stand up for the law; support non-profit organizations that work with this problem; do not pass by situations where you use violence against those who cannot defend themselves; Seek help if violence occurs in your family.


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