The women we have spoken to over the years have always been upset about the abuse they have experienced. One of the issues they raise is that there are times that they are afraid of their partner. Depending on how a perpetrator treats their partner, she may only be afraid when they act in intimidating, controlling, or aggressive ways. Other women have been treated badly by their partners so often that they are always afraid.

Fear is a natural response to abuse.

Fear tells victims that their safety is at risk and warns them to be careful. When a perpetrator’s behaviour escalates, their partner and/or children will take actions that will increase their safety. For example, they may try to calm or please the perpetrator, fight back with words or actions, or reach out to others. Because fear is an emotion that identifies unsafe situations, being afraid is one of the important ways that people resist abuse.

Since abusive situations can be dangerous, victims must often disguise their resistance. For instance, they may have to hide their fear and act calmly or put on an appearance that everything is okay, even though it is not.

Sometimes men miss the fact their families fear them because there are times their wives and children stand up to them very strongly. We have talked with men who have said, “She can’t possibly be afraid of me. You should have seen how she talked to me the other night. If she were really afraid of me, she would have backed down and been quiet.” Like all people, victims may sometimes feel that they have to put aside their fear in order to stand up for something they feel strongly about. This might include wanting to keep their self-respect, their dignity, or values that are important to them.

Who is responsible for the abuse?

When abuse occurs, often the wrong people end up taking responsibility for the abuse. If children feel they must be quiet in order to avoid “setting dad off” or a wife feels she must go without necessities such as a winter coat in order to avoid being verbally abused by her husband, then the wrong person is feeling responsible for making things better.

Only the person who chooses to act out with verbal or physical aggression can make the decision to do things differently. If you are the aggressor, this requires you to look at your choices, admit that you can do better, and change your behaviour.

Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter