In the Name of Love: A Quest for Consciousness, Meaning and Solutions to Domestic Violence
By Dr Desiree Saddik
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‘…Each man kills the thing he loves…’ (Oscar Wilde 1898), The Ballad of Reading Goal).
In this age of consciousness and outing, the more glamorous cousins of domestic and social violence movements, such as #MeToo, and those of race and gender emancipation, risk dwarfing awareness and the chance for change in the domestic violence arena. For this reason(1), succumbed to the task of writing on the subject of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a social disorder, the casualty or the shadow of love. Culture and creativity, psychological knowledge, reflection and understanding provide some solace, but to truly change ourselves and society, we need to soar the skies(2) and search for something else.
‘In the Name of Love’ is a two part series on domestic violence and consciousness raising, written from a psychological and cultural/artistic perspective, not a socio-political angle. Philosophical writers, for example Camille Paglia(3) will argue that violence is part of nature, and culture, a defence against violence. Part one maps out the nature of violence and psychological antidotes. Part two ‘soars the skies’ in search of antidotes to violence in the arts and culture.
To change a society, we need to change but one individual, each a vital piece of a social puzzle.
Part I: The nature of violence and psychological antidotes
Violence not only includes the obvious physical abuse or murder; it can be subtle, undercover, veiled, difficult to decipher, covering emotional abuse and sexual abuse. How one defines domestic violence is a matter of discern. I would like to define it as being in the eyes of the beholder, and in the realm of feelings and sensibility. It is dialogical in its nature, it happens in relationship with another or others, among people, and within one’s relationship with oneself above all else. It is without consent, implicit or explicit, and invokes harm. It may be unintended or unconscious. In the history of a couple, one incident of domestic violence, defines a relationship as ‘violent’(4). One incident paves the way for more. Even if the violation never occurs again in the course of a relationship, the other may cower, relive and re-enact the violence forever more, it becomes a part of them, always burning, an eternal torture. Couples are bound in a cycle of guilt, blame and self-blame, surviving in a pit of booby-traps, dragons and snakes.
Homo-sapiens are a warring race. Countries at war have a greater incidence of domestic violence. In the presence of domestic violence, there is a heightened risk of murder, matricide, patricide and infanticide. In families where there are high levels of conflict, there is a higher risk of mental health disturbance. Substance misuse, undetected mental health difficulties and domestic violence often occur together. The perpetuation of domestic violence trans-generationally is well established. Abuse can often be part of an identity, one is not ‘macho’ unless one is violent.
Violence is part of initiation ceremonies and peer experiences. Sadomasochistic metaphors are used to describe office politics.
Domestic violence has permeated the language and beliefs about coupling - ‘cruel to be kind’, ‘treat them mean keep them keen’, ‘relationships hurt’, ‘you are not whole until you have had your heart broken’, ‘love and hate are flip sides of the same coin’. Eve Hewson in a talk back show on ‘Behind her eyes’ said ‘the Masses find murder sexy’, her reflection on a story about a love triangle. Platforms such as Netflix count on us needing a stable of diet of gratuitous violence, on which to binge. In the wise words of one group psychoanalyst, ‘families keep murder off the street’. Motive(5) (in murder) is relational.
The development of a culture of violence starts at home. The couple will set the scene. A warring couple creates an atmosphere of threat and danger that will harm a small child. Donald Meltzer(6), psychoanalyst, will argue that an infant will internalise not the bond with their primary care giver, but the nature of the relationship between the couple. A warring couple are likely to expose an infant to risk of death. The smaller the child, the higher the risk. If the child survives, and survival is the name of the game, what they have internalised from their family life will contribute to experiencing a repetition of similar abuse situations, a lifetime of self-doubt, low self-esteem, unpleasant dysphoria, confusion, alienation, dissociation and angst and an incapacity to trust the other. Early experiences of violence will impact on the very nature of that person and how they perceive themselves and the world within and outside of themselves. Male infants, for example, exposed to hearing domestic violence in the first year of life are more likely to have difficulties with empathy and grow up to rape others. Males and females alike who are exposed to domestic violence in early life may perpetuate constellations of victim/abuser in their relationships, playing out perpetrator/victim as their destiny. For some, to reverse such backstories takes years of therapy, a great deal of personal discipline and intent. Early family dramas and trans-generational patterns become the go to setting. Like a stone thrown into a pond, this resonates into the fabric of societies. No race, creed or class is beyond violence. The torture and trauma literature recognises that torturing one individual can contaminate a whole society, by breaking down bonds of trust(7). One person not trusting another, due to exposure to harm, can set this off. There are often unbreakable bonds between victim and perpetrator.
The dance between victim and perpetrator, is as thick as thieves, each carrying invisible cues and secrets. It’s not necessarily a conscious conspiracy. Victims and perpetrators, sadistic personalities, ‘dark triad personalities’ (with clusters of personality traits that include narcissism, Machiavellian traits, and anti-social psychopathology), may find themselves in the psychological consulting room for one reason or another. Psychology does offer some solutions. The likelihood of rapists reoffending, for example, is reduced radically by just their sheer attendance at psychological groups for perpetrators. Psychological knowledge provides a language by which to label, acknowledge and understand untoward behaviours. The therapeutic relationship offers a space to reflect on the behaviours of ourselves and others, to be understood, to not be invisible. Therapy may challenge the other to experiment with new behaviours and break undesirable habits. The psychological literature on such matters is broad based and important, and thoroughly critiqued elsewhere. ‘Being in Love; Therapeutic pathways through psychological obstacles of love’ by Judith Pickering, a Jungian Psychoanalyst and couples therapist makes sense of many psychoanalytic ideas, through case examples of ordinary experience and myth. The myth of Orpheus is used to describe the breakdown of trust in a couple, for example. Interestingly Pickering does not mention domestic violence in her writings, but she does reference ‘Blue Beard’ a man who locked up and murdered each of his wives. I have been raised on such psychoanalytic, psychological and mythical ideas for decades. I value them, but is this enough for an individual or for society to address the entrenched problem of domestic violence? Is psychological insight and some change in behaviours enough? Or do we need a metamorphosis?
Dr Desiree Saddik, Consultant Lead Child, Adolescent, Family and Adult Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Founder of ‘The Pink Couch’ 8) at 10 Harley Street London.
Help for domestic violence:
The Met Police. If there is an emergency call the police on 999.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 08082000247References:
J. W. Von Goethe (2008)
Faust: Part One
A new translation by David Luke, (Oxford World’s Classics) , Penguin Classics Edition - ISBN: 978099536207
D. Meltzer and M. Harris Williams (2008) The apprehension of beauty: the role of aesthetic conflict in development, arts and violence. The Harris Meltzer Trust. Karnac. ISBN 781855756243
C. Paglia (1992) ‘Sex and Violence or nature and art in Sexual Personae’: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Chapter one. Penguin Books ISBN 0-14-015731-X
J. Pickering (2008) ’Being in Love; Therapeutic pathways through psychological obstacles of love’ Routledge East Sussex ISBN 978-0-415-37160-5
Oscar Wilde (1898) The Ballad of Reading Goal. Copyright British Library shelf mark: Add MS 81634
(1) Rebeca Riofrio, Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Society for Arts, Fashion and Sports (see www.parlimentarysociety.com) asked me to write an article on domestic violence and mental health for the Parliamentary newsletter, soon after Valentines day, and I protested. After a 40 plus year career as a consultant clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, working mainly with young women, and women and children, I resisted. I
(2) shunned the idea, I cast a blind eye, much like Sigmund Freud and much like our society today. From Goethe’s
(3) Faust ‘Sex and violence or nature and art’ (1992).
(4) Commonly agreed by domestic violence workers.
(5) Dr Ann Morgan, group psychoanalyst and paediatrician, Melbourne, 1990.
(6) The Apprehension of Beauty: The role of aesthetic conflict in development, art and violence.
(7) Amnesty International.
(8) ’The Pink Couch' is a psychological concierge service offering psychological consultation and treatment for those who find themselves in difficulty. The Pink Couch moto is ‘This couch changes everything’. It provides services across the lifespan, cradle to grave. (Contact: DrDes@thepinkcouch.org).
Dr Desiree Saddik,
Consultant Lead Child, Adolescent, Family and Adult Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Founder of ‘The Pink Couch’ 8)
at 10 Harley Street London.