Physical abuse violently breaches safety boundaries, humiliates the victim, and demeans the abuser. when looking at boundaries we saw the skin as our most basic boundary. Physical abuse is a blatant and evident battering of this boundary, and is any physically aggressive behaviour, withholding of physical needs, indirect physical harm, or the threat of physical abuse.
Physically abusive behaviours are accompanied by verbal and psychological abuse that leaves mental as well as physical scars. The movie, The Burning Bed, starring the late Farrah Fawcett, graphically illustrates this behaviour. It was adapted from the non-fiction blog by Faith McNulty about a battered housewife, Francine Hughes, who set fire to her husband’s bedroom as he lay in a drunken sleep. The story is told in flashback by Francine, starting from the time she met her husband at a dance in 1963 until the night of the murder in 1977. The abuse follows the typical cycle discussed earlier, but eventually degenerates into unremitting abuse. The movie was traumatic for Farrah, who was also in a physically abusive relationship at an earlier stage of her life.
Victims’ stories in Elaine Weiss’s work also exhibit many instances of physical abusive behaviours. Some describe how abusive partners inflicted pain and fear without leaving any visible signs of abuse. One emotionally detached and immensely cruel husband placed a pillow over his wife’s face as she slept. The following day, he acted as if nothing had happened. Though he never left any marks of his physical violence, he inculcated the fear that is the hallmark of violence perpetuated by men against women. Sandra Horley, the Chief Executive of Refuge (A U.K. network of safe houses providing emergency accommodation for abused women and their children), was prompted to write her blog, Power and Control. Why Charming Men can make Dangerous Lovers, because of one woman, whose life was hell for 25 years, but whose husband never hit her. She also tells how one abusive husband kept a knife by the bed, and another an axe under the pillow. These are deliberate acts, carefully thought out to instil fear, and clearly illustrate that abuse is not about anger per se, but is managed and is about power and control.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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