Secondary Research – Psychology of domestic abuse, abusers and victims. 

To get a better understanding of how my characters should speak and act I have decided to look at the psychology behind domestic abuse including the reasons people become abusive and the effect it can have on the victims. I am especially interested in how abuse effects the victims mental health as this is a big part of my short film. 

I have used to look at a variety of articles on the subject, starting with one called ‘Anatomy of a Violent Relationship.[1]’ which looked at the inner workings of violent relationships and the factors that made them violent. In order to observe and analyse abusive behaviour in a relationship psychologists Neil Jacobson and John Gottman used a public service announcement to obtain a sample group of 63 couples suffering marital conflict or abuse. They also used a control group of couples who were having marital issues but had no history of domestic violence. The experiment was conducted in a laboratory and filmed, safeguardes were provided to ensure the victims safety. The study continued for eight years and at the end the psychologists concluded a number of things including: 

  • Abusers share a common profile: they are all unpredictable in the moods and actions, they are uninfluenced by their wives and often hard to stop once they become violent which means they have the upper hand either physically, mentally or have set out to physically hurt their partner.
  • Abused women are neither passive not submissive; sometimes they are just as angry as the abusers. 
  • Woman are almost always the victim and not the abuser 
  • Abusers can be categorised into two types, those whose temper slowly rises until it erupts into violence and those who strike out immediately. The difference is important for women trying to leave abusive relationships. In this article they are categorised under the terms ‘pit bulls’ and ‘cobras.’ 
  • Emotional abuse goes hand in hand with physical abuse as it undermines a woman’s confidence. 
  • Domestic violence can decrease over time but hardly ever stops completely.
  • Abused women do have a high rate of leaving despite the fear and danger they face. 

The majority of these facts correspond with the information I found in the other section of my secondary research where I looked at the facts and statistics of abuse towards women. Personally I disagree with the second and third point as other research I have done  shows that women most likely become submissive to the abuse as it continues and rarely fight back as they are afraid. In the years since this article was written it has been found that there has been an increase of women abusers with male victims. 

It is then stated that ‘battering’ (physical abuse) is physical aggression with a purpose, to intimidate, control and manipulate another human being. It is always accompanied by emotional abuse and often involves injury, making the victim more fearful. In the study conducted it was found that the ‘bartering’ couples had at least two or three episodes of hitting and kicking or at least one incident of possible lethal violence including strangling. My opinion is that the fact that these actions have happened in a controlled environment, in front of people, show that the abuser either has no control over their aggression or simply doesn’t care about being caught or seen inflicting it. 

Types of violent personalities: 

The Pitbull and The Cobra. 

The Pitbull is a term used to describe abusers with a gradually increasing temper. They are described in this article as pitbulls because they grow more aggressive until they finally attack. Pitbulls seem to have unrelenting contempt for women, yet they are dependent on them. Everything the victim does is seen as wrong because it is never enough for the abuser. An example of this is a couple, Dom and Martha, from the study conducted by Jacobson and Gottman. No matter what Martha did to please Dom, including taking their car to be fixed, it wasn’t good enough for him and he often faulted her and called her stupid etc to undermine her. Control and manipulation is important to these types of people because they feel as if they will be abandoned if they do not keep vigilance on their partners. A particularly cruel type of control used is called ‘gaslighting’ and involves a systematic denial of the victims experience of reality. In simpler terms, the abuser tells the victim that everything they do or think is wrong. An example of gaslighting is when the abuser physically injured the victim and later denies it, or tells the victim they are ‘only doing what’s best for the victim’ or that the victim is making the abuser feel a certain (bad) way through their actions or words. This technique can be so effective that when combined with other methods of isolation the victim will start to doubt their own sanity. This is the ultimate form of control – control of the victims mind. These types of people have been found to constitute around 80% of the sample group of abusers. 

Gaslight Analysis. 

The name of the term comes from the film Gaslight (1944) directed by George Cukor[2]. In the film the male character Gregory Anton (played by Charles Boyer)  convinces partner Paula Alquist (played by Ingrid Bergman) that she is going insane. The trailer[3] shows examples of this through different scenes. 

The first scene is a wide shot and shows the couple, Gregory and Paula in a room in their house. Paula is reading a letter from her deceased aunt and mentions that it is from a man called Sergius Bauer, who is in fact Gregory which is unknown to her. He is also her aunts murderer. The same shot type is used when Paula says the name of the sender, Gregory becomes angry and snatches the letter from her and demands she give it to him. 

The next scene is a two shot of Paula and Gregory talking about Paula’s concerns that she is going mad, Gregory speaks to her in a calm, controlled voice and says “you’re not going out of your mind, you’re slowly and systematically being driven out of your mind” to which she replies “why? why!”

The end of the trailer, which is the end scene of the film, shows a two shot of Gregory tied up whilst Paula is pacing and ranting. She talks about how she is mad and because of this she cannot help Gregory anymore.

The Cobra is a term for the second category of abusers, those who turn to physical violence immediately. They are called this because of how fast they strike. An example of a cobra from the sample group is George, who is married to Vicky. He would often threaten to kill her and his first reaction to anger was always violence. The experiment conducted found that 20% of the sample group were cobras. 

The difference between cobras and pitbulls is that cobras are often more emotionally aggressive towards their victims at the start of an argument. Another difference the study discovered is that cobras often comes from bad backgrounds with chaotic childhoods, influencing their personalities and decisions later on in life. If I were to use one of these terms to describe the abusive character in my film I would use ‘the pitbull’ as the physical abuse will start small and then escalate and emotional abuse is also a big part of my film. 


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