Violence Against Women: Responding to Abuse


Sad person

There is a lot of information and support for people who are in abusive relationships. Traditional support seems to regard people who have experienced emotional abuse or physical abuse as somehow damaged, dysfunctional, and deficient. There is, however, a growing idea that people respond to abuse in a variety of ways, that they do things to try to stop the abuse, that they may thwart the efforts of the abuser, and may actively do things to protect others from abuse. I want to share some thoughts about both approaches.

Traditional ideas:

Traditionally, people who have been abused have been seen as being really affected by the abuse. There is a belief amongst many traditional helping professionals that this leads people to create dysfunctional patterns such as having no boundaries, seeking out further abuse, or passively staying in dysfunctional relationships. The idea goes further by describing people as being damaged, dysfunctional, or deficient as a result. People are discredited, seen as abnormal, inadequate or lacking in some way. Unfortunately, people are viewed as locked in a cycle of abuse.

How dishonouring is that?!?!

Newer ideas : Response-based therapy

There is a growing idea that people resist abuse overtly and covertly–that they do things to show to themselves and others that they object to the abuse. Some overt ways might include telling the abuser to STOP IT! or to run away. Covert ways people resist abuse could include saying something to themselves like, I hate him! or She can get to my body but she’ll never get to my soul!! or I don’t deserve this!!

It’s important to note that resistance doesn’t necessarily mean the person is successful in stopping the abuse. Resistance is making a stand, it’s opposition, and it’s taking action against the abuse through thoughts, feelings, words, or by doing something.

Whether the person is ultimately successful or not is not the point. The point is that people don’t passively accept abuse. They do a variety of things to demonstrate to themselves or others that the abuse is wrong.

Amplifying this in therapy can help conversations transform from I put up with the abuse for years before I left to I did a lot of things to try to stop the abuse; from I’ve never had good boundaries in my relationship to: I told him many times to stop but he refused.

What does it all mean?

People use a variety of tactics to prevent, stop, or resist bad treatment. To say people who have been abused become damaged, deficient, or dysfunctional denies acknowledgement of how people respond to, or resist abuse. Amplifying the ways people respond to abuse is honouring and allows room for other strengths to been seen and heard.

About the author:

Renée Meggs is a Registered Psychologist who works with adults and children to help them do what works, both in counselling and coaching. If you’d like to book an appointment or inquire about my services, please e-mail me at and/or go to my website at I can meet with you in person, on the phone, or on-line.