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Abuse of women

The interview between Oprah Winfrey and our international star Rihanna has had a profound impact on my niece and her young friends. She (my niece) has been very concerned about Rihanna’s feelings about Chris Brown, given his abusive attack on her.

I am sure she is not alone and that several other young girls were influenced one way or another by the reported responses of Rihanna to questions about her existing feelings about Brown. I then decided to listen to the interview and draw my own conclusions about it. So after listening to it, I thought that I would share a little bit about battered women’s syndrome with my readers.

Before I do so, I will say a bit about violence against women. I do recall that soon after the abusive attack on Rihanna, by her then significant other Brown, a lot of people had some negative things to say about her on the social media Facebook. Some of them felt that she must have done something to deserve that treatment while others suggested that she had been abused before, so it was nothing new. Please allow me to state unequivocally that “no woman or man deserves to be abused by anyone” and such treatment should not be understated in any way.

I will now provide you with a definition of battered women syndrome. According to Walker (1984) BWS “is … a woman’s presumed reaction to a pattern of continual physical and psychological abuse inflicted on her by her mate”. Since the word syndrome is used, one may conclude that the symptoms are all similar but research has shown that this is not so.

As cited in Wrightman (2001) researcher Mary Ann Dottin noted that each battered woman’s reality is unique and hence does not fit into a particular profile. Actually, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (an instrument used to measure the mental health of individuals) has identified five different profile types of women who have been battered.

However, although the behaviour of women who have been battered is unique to the individual, Walker has identified about ten common components but due to the short space allocated for the article I will only list a few of them here.

1. Learnt helplessness — where the individual who has been exposed to painful stimulus recognises that they do not have any control over the situation and cannot escape and hence will give up even when escape is subsequently provided.

2. Low self esteem — will follow as the individual starts to accept the negative feedback (criticism, name calling, insults, demanding an account of whereabouts, increased strain, restricted access to family and friends and minor physical abuse etc) from their abuser. They also develop their self worth from this feedback.

3. The individual may then demonstrates an inability to function or plan daily activities without contribution from the abuser.

4. There is now increased focus on survival within the relationship instead of on trying to find ways out of it.

5. Finally, this is usually followed by the acute battering stage where the batterer may explode into uncontrollable anger and the woman may sustain physical injuries. However, at this time the woman may be too involved with the batterer and may find it difficult to break the relationship. They often reminisce about the good times and think that if only they do the right thing these times will return. So the abused may blame themselves for the abusive treatment.

6. Meanwhile, the batterer is going through what psychologists identify as the contrite phase where the abuser uses promises (I will not do it again and provide gifts) that increases the individual’s beliefs that the individual will change. But sadly the cycle of abuse will start all over again (Wrightman, 2001).

Although myriad research has revealed these factors listed above, abuse has been such a part of Barbadian life style that many of us have become desensitized to its damaging impact. I am sure that some of you have heard the myth that women do not think that the man loves them unless he abuses them. It is sad that despite the many inroads into education they are many who would propagate this social stigma of violence against women and allow it to continue.

Therefore, to all young girls out there I will say that abuse of any kind is a terrible action and must not be condoned by anyone. In relation to the battered women’s syndrome, this is a dangerous state to be in as research has shown that relations between the batterer and the victim can result in violent death to one or the other. So what happened to our Rihanna was very wrong even in the face of her continual profession of love for her batterer. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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