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Sophia's suicidal response to the battering trauma is even clearer if the origins of stress are considered. Gerhardt (1979) proposes that if the origin of particular stresses can be traced to individual sources, personal coping strategies will be appropriate. If, however, the origin of the stress is social, a strictly individual coping response will probably not succeed. What this means is that stress is poised in a complex interactional relation with differential origins, on the one hand, and the nature of the crisis, the strategies for crisis management, and the results of the resolution, on the other. The traditional classification of crisis into situational and developmental types mirrors the theories and practice traditionally posited to explain battering and why women stay: e.g. personality traits, intergenerational cycles of violence, marital stress factors. Just as domestic violence was presumed a 'private' matter, so crisis theories have omitted categories designating the public aspect of this problem.
To compensate for this omission in explanatory models, this study reclassified emotional crises according to the origins of the events leading to crisis. Thus, crisis origins fall into three categories: situational, transitional state, cultural/social-structural.
Situational origins: Crises identified as situational originate from three sources: (1) material or environmental (such as fire or natural disasters); (2) personal or physical (heart attack, diagnosis of fatal illness, loss of limb or other bodily disfigurement from accidents or disease); and (3) interpersonal or social (death of a loved one or divorce). Crisis counseling and grief work (Parkes 1975) will usually result in a positive outcome (unless psychopathology was present before the crisis) from crises originating in such unanticipated traumatic events.
Transition state origins: Crises originating from transition states consist of two types: (1) universal life cycle transitions consist of normal human development phases from conception to death; (2) non-universal transitions are true passages signaling a shift in social status, such as migration, retirement, the change from worker (including homemaker) to student, from a violent to nonviolent marital relationship, or from married to single parent.
Cultural/social-structural origins: The third source of crisis is cultural values and the social structure. Crises from social/cultural origins include job loss stemming from discriminatory practice based on deeply rooted cultural values about race, age, and sex (as opposed to job loss from illness or poor personal performance, which can be viewed as a result of a prior crisis of illness). Also in this category are crises resulting from deviant acts of others, behavior which violates accepted social norms: robbery, rape, incest, and physical abuse. Crises from these sources are never truly expected; there is something shocking and catastrophic about them, as seen from the accounts in this study. In crises originating from complex social/cultural or interrelated sources the implications for intervention are also more complex than in crises arising from universal transition states or other unexpected events. It is most important, then, that social and cultural factors not be misconstrued as individual, personal liabilities producing crises (Gerhardt 1979). To do so is to contribute to the process of victim blaming.
The relationship between the origin of a crisis and its positive or negative resolution is depicted in the Figure below. This model of the crisis process encompasses both the personal and socio-cultural factors involved in a woman's coping with battering. It suggests that if a crisis is to be resolved positively, the aids to positive resolution (or 'resistance resources' against traumatic stress) need to correspond to the distinctive origins of the stress. Battering in this model can be defined as a traumatic event originating from the deviant behavior of one's mate, which in turn expresses certain values about women, marriage, the family, and violence. This is not to say that 'situational' factors such as stress related to job loss or interpersonal conflict around marital infidelity, for example, are not also involved. Since a battered woman usually undergoes a change in marital status, the model depicts that the triple origins of crisis are often intertwined. However, if crisis resolution strategies around an event like battering are not tailored to its complex origins, positive outcomes of the crisis are less probable.
To return to Sophia's situation, all the initial strategies used were confined to the top circle, which includes interpersonal situations. The conflict was defined by the family as only between the couple; formal network members not only were not involved, but they were written off, e.g. 'Welfare won't support you.' (Analysis in Chapters 5 and 6 shows that when formal networks are involved, the definition is still largely a personal or interpersonal one.) Accepting this interpersonal definition of the problem, Sophia returned to her husband as her brother-in-law advised, having been assured that she would obtain no public support if she left. She then tried everything at her 'personal' disposal to resolve the conflict and prevent more battering - talking, 'being nice', fixing coffee, etc. All to no avail. Finally the only recourse she saw was suicide.
Sophia could also be viewed as in the process of passage from a violent to a non-violent marriage relationship. In so far as she had insufficient social support for a successful passage, Sophia could be said to have remained in a 'subliminal' state, with resulting personal security and an ambiguous status in the community (van Gennep 1960) for which 'rites of passage' are indicated, as discussed in Chapter 9.
This interpretation of battering episodes and the emotional crises that may follow from them views the victim as actively involved in the process of crisis resolution. Nevertheless it also reveals that the victim is necessarily limited in producing positive outcomes if social strategies are not joined to her personal efforts. In other words, individual strategies applied to social problems will probably be ineffective. Social problems demand social solutions by collectivities of individuals united in the political pursuit of social change. Inattention to crisis origins with consequent mismatching of strategies toward resolution can result in negative crisis outcomes such as suicide and addictions, or constitute the basis for development of chronic episodes of battering.
Thus a woman may be beaten again and again not because she likes it, has learned to be helpless, or fails to follow through when pressing charges, etc. Rather, she is acting in a pattern that logically follows from a definition of battering as primarily an interpersonal, private matter between intimates. For example, the legal obstacles a woman faces if she presses charges are one manifestation of the predominant interpretation of battering as a private matter. Clearly, then, definitions of the problem can contribute to its perpetuation, as Sophia's case illustrates.14 Static definitions of the problem and consequent masking of its socio-cultural origins also explain the frequent failure of institutional sources of support available to battered women, apart from recently developed refuges.
if such services were sensitive to the socio-cultural and political aspects of
the problem, many battered women either do not know of them, or, since they accept
the problem as personal, something they are responsible for alone, would not think
to use them. For a woman, then, to leave a violent relationship and avoid killing
either herself or her mate, requires external social resources, a 'definition
of the situation' that no longer targets her as the source of the problem, and
her ability to combine these external and internal resources in an action plan
that preserves her own and others' lives.
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