LinkedinTwitterThe DetailsConnectBlog Facebook Meet the TherapistHome For Writers

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Abuse Cycle Elements

This week's assessment comes from Hayley. She's writing about Alana*, a girl who has experienced a fair share of neglect and abuse from a very young age. She eventually ran away from home and became a beggar in a major city before she fell in with a gang, where she is grouped with Corban*, the antagonist who is 10-years older than Alana. Corban takes a liking to Alana, but when she doesn't reciprocate, he pursues her more forcefully, and his intent grows from an infatuation to an obsession over several years.

Alana finds herself in an abusive relationship with Corban as progressive incidents of physical and verbal abuse maker her increasingly complacent. She adopts a survival mentality, accepting a lesser pain to avoid the greater and to cooperate rather than anger him. Her addiction to alcohol increases as a means of escape, as well as occasional use of opiates. She hates him, is terrified of him, yet he holds an incredible sway over her image of self-worth now. When Corban nearly rapes her, she flees at the age of 17. The novel starts 2 years later when she circumstances force her back to the city and get her involve with the gang and Corban again.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Hayley wants to know several things:

1) Does it make sense that Alana tries to avoid, fight, or resist Corban in their scenes together, but also has a level of complacence after several years of his abuse? 2) What are the side-effects of this type of abuse? 3) Do the presence of drugs/alcohol make sense? To what degree? 4) Is it believable for Corban to still have so much influence over Alana after two years apart, and how difficult would that be to overcome during the course of the novel? 5) Would it be believable for a romantic subplot to take place during all of this, helping her towards greater self-worth and showing her such treatment isn't normal?

This is a lot to cover, so I'll jump right in. What you're writing is tricky, mainly because you are making it clear to the reader that Alana doesn't want to be with Corban. In order for the domestic violence (also called interpersonal violence now) cycle to work, there is that vital link of the abused actually being co-dependent on the abuser that's implied, yet that's missing from what you've described. She doesn't want to be with him at all, but he's pressed her into submission anyway?

My initial thoughts for question #1 are this: either you're going to have to have Alana's motivation to stay in the gang be so compelling that she'd rather deal with Corban than the awful, dangerous, life-threatening alternative waiting for her outside the gang, OR you'll need to write in an initial attraction of Alana to Corban (which I think would work because she's young and impressionable, and he's older, maybe handsome...) that changes a bit when she realizes that he's not very stable with his emotions.

The situation as you've described it is totally appropriate for domestic violence (DV) situations, given that the abused actually CARES for the abuser in a co-dependent kind of way. Let's just say Alana actually did have feelings for Corban initially, but they get buried in fear as he becomes increasingly possessive and aggressive. You can set the story up for a traditional DV situation with just one little tweak. There are a few things missing for this to fit into Stockholm Syndrome, as well, because generally, victims/hostages with Stockholm come to love/respect their abusers, and you don't have Alana doing that, either.

If there isn't something added or tweaked, the reader might be suspicious...I mean, why the heck doesn't she just LEAVE him if she doesn't have some sort of residual feelings/attraction for him? (Let's face it...this is the question we always ask of women who are in DV.) The important difference being for Alana is that you have her not liking Corban at all with no reciprocation of his it would bound to raise this question in the reader's mind as it did in mine. One-sided relationships don't quite fit the bill for the cycle of abuse, of that makes sense.

You did write that she "still responds if he's kind." In the cycle of abuse, women generally want to believe the abuser when he swings back to the honeymoon phase. When he says he'll never hit her again, or destroy something meaningful to her, she believes it because she desperately needs to believe it. By doing so, she gives validation to her remaining with him as long as she has. If there isn't some redeeming factor about the guy, women probably would leave quicker. As it is, the national statistic is that women leave an abusive relationship an average of eight times before they leave it for good.

So that sets up the situation of Alana coming back to the city/gang/Corban very nicely (question #4). He's still have a great influence over here, even after 2 years. Women who have been in these type situations never forget the feelings of inferiority and helplessness. It'd be akin to shrugging into a coat of oppressive memories again, and all too easy to slip back into that mindset.

The side effects (#2) of abuse to this degree are serious. Women who are abused as a child often end up in abusive relationships, accepting this type of treatment as the norm. Using alcohol and drugs (#3) to escape their present circumstances and past trauma is totally feasible and psychologically appropriate (in that it makes sense, not in that I'd recommend it to a client!). They have trouble with long-term relationships a lot, as well as with intimacy once they've found a great guy. Lots of PTSD can be involved in their day-to-day lives, flashbacks, avoidance of certain places, etc. (And men who have been abused in their childhood are more likely to become abusers as not sure how Corban lines up with this, but of course, this isn't 100% necessary.)

As to question #5, whether it's feasible for a romantic subplot to happen, my answer is that it's feasible, but probably not within the same novel. Maybe you could hint at an attraction to someone else, an attraction she's scared of, but I'd save delving into it for a sequel. In reality, it takes a while for women who have been abused to trust again. But a hint or two wouldn't at all be inappropriate, because the reader will want to have some hope that she will eventually see that there are better ways to be treated and that she won't settle for something less. After leaving Corban, she needs to have a strong inner resolve that she'll never settle or get involved in something like that again. Once she returns, this resolve will be tested, but perhaps interactions with this other man will fortify it? You could go different directions here...just think about it.

Okay...all for now! Any other questions, please ask! You have a lot going on in this story that a lot of women will be able to relate to, which is great. Good luck with it!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

You can still enter to win Kaye Dacus' A Case for Love by clicking here!

Wordle: signature


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Fabulous Jeannie, this is really lovely. A good sense that I'm on the right track with a few extra options to explore. Would you mind if I emailed you a quick follow-up question? I think I can address one of the things you've mentioned, but it might be a bit long for a rambling comment :) I'd love to know your thoughts as I continue working on this WIP.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

absolutely, haley. by all means....although you wouldn't be the first author to leave a rambling comment. :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hah! My thanks. I try to keep my ramblings away from the public (who don't need to be inundated with it), or at least on my own blog ;) I will send you an email shortly.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Jeannie, this was so helpful for ME! I am recovering from an abusive relationship and I can see myself in some of your analysis. Also, I'm writing a script where the MC is in a controlling relationship and needs to see the light. Thank you for this great post!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

you're welcome, mary. glad it's helpful. i never know if my treatment tuesdays will apply to other people besides the original author writing in. so very glad you responded to let me know. :)

Post a Comment

Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.