SIX CATEGORIES OF RATIONALIZATION OF WOMEN IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
From article, How Women Experience Battering: The Process of Victimization, by Kathleen Ferraro and John Johnson
Arizona State University
Catalysts for Change
- The appeal of the salvation ethic: This rationalization is grounded in a woman's desire to be of service to others. Abusing husbands are viewed as deeply troubled, dependent on their wives nurturance for survival. Battered women place their own safety and happiness below the commitment to "saving my man".
- The denial of victimizer: This technique is similar to the salvation ethic, except that
victims do not assume responsibility for solving their abusers' problems. Women
perceive battering as an event beyond the control of both spouses, and blame it on
some external force. The violence is therefore seen as situational and temporary.
- The denial of injury: For some women, the experience of being battered by a spouse
is so discordant with their expectations that they simply refuse to acknowledge it.
routines quickly return to normal. Men may refuse to discuss or acknowledge
- The denial of victimization: Victims often blame themselves for the violence, thereby
neutralizing the responsibility of the spouse. Battered women don't generally believe
that violence against them is justified, but some feel it could have been avoided if
they had been more passive and conciliatory.
- The denial of options: This rationalization is composed of two elements: practical
options and emotional options. Practical options, including alternative housing,
sources of income, and protection from an abuser, are clearly limited by the
patriarchal structure of Western society. However, there are differences in the ways
battered women respond to these obstacles, ranging from determined struggle
to acquiescence. For a variety of reasons, some battered women do not take
full advantage of the practical opportunities which are available to escape, and
some return to abusers voluntarily even after establishing an independent
- The appeal to higher loyalties: This appeal involves enduring battering for the sake
of some higher commitment, either religious or traditional. The Christian belief
that women would serve their husbands as men serve God is invoked as a
rationalization to endure a husband's violence for later rewards in the afterlife.
clergy may support this view by advising women to pray and try harder to please
- A change in the level of violence: The severity of abuse is an important factor
in women's decision to leave violent situations. A sudden change in the relative
level of violence is often the catalyst for change.
- A change in resources: Although some women rationalize cohabiting with an
abuser by claiming they have no options, others begin reinterpreting violence
when the resources necessary for escape become available.
- A change in the relationship: Violent incidents are usually followed by periods of
remorse and solicitude. Such phases deepen the emotional bonds, and make
rejection of an abuser more difficult. But as battering progresses, periods of
remorse may shorten, or disappear, eliminating the basis for maintaining
a positive outlook on the marriage.
- Despair: Changes in the relationship may result in loss of hope that "things will
get better." When hope is destroyed and replaced by despair, rationalization of
violence may give way to the recognition of victimization.
- A change in the visibility of violence: Creating a web of rationalizations to
overlook violence is accomplished more easily if no intruders are present to
question their validity. Since most violence between couples occurs in private,
there are seldom conflicting interpretations of the event from outsiders. If violence does occur in the presence of others, it may trigger a reinterpretation process.
- External definitions of the relationship: A change in visibility is usually accomplished by the interjection of external definitions of abuse. External definitions vary depending on their source and the situation; they either reinforce or undermine rationalizations. Battered women who request help frequently find others- and especially officials- don't believe their story or are unsympathetic. When outsiders respond with unqualified support of the victim and condemnation of violent men, their definitions can be a potent catalyst. Friends and relatives who show genuine concern for a woman's well being may initiate an awareness of danger, which contradicts previous rationalizations.
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