Intimate Terrorism

The term “intimate terrorism” is another way to describe domestic violence or violence within our inner circles.  Although the terms “violence” or “terrorism” may seem too intense to describe the fear and anxiety of living or working with a controlling or angry person, the effects can nevertheless be devastating.

Intimate or interpersonal violence is especially complicated when it occurs in a close relationship that is thought to be built on love and trust.  In these types of relationships, one’s guard may be let down, and the victim begins to believe that he or she is the cause of the abuse.  The perpetrator often suggests this with statements that say, “You make me . . . .”  In fact, as violence progresses from word to action, the perpetrator looks for reasons to justify his or her behavior toward the victim, further damaging any possibility of having a true relationship.

As we struggle to formulate a psychology of violence so that we can prevent or reduce it on a societal level, we are finding that violence in an intimate setting has some of the same underpinnings as on a larger stage. Those who carry out mass violence often have demonstrated their illness also in domestic settings.  Those whose violence has not been addressed in early years with bullying and causing injury to others often continue the pattern in later years as well.

Violence is the dark side of self esteem.  While we spend a lot of time and energy to build up healthy self esteem, some bypass the work and effort that make self esteem real, and take a “shortcut” to control and dominance.  This shaky type of self esteem feels threatened by the slightest real or imagined confrontation and strikes out to defend and regain power, sometimes preemptively.  Whether subtle or bold, this is violence and interpersonal terrorism.

Awareness of the difference between being submissive, assertive, and aggressive is a foundation for identifying violence in ourselves and in others.  It is a starting point for parents talking with children about behaviors.  It can be a concrete beginning discussion for couples and families who want to find a more functional way of living together peacefully. As with many important societal values, it all begins at home.