Battered and bruised : a case study illustrating the complex nature of a woman's separation from her physically abusive husband

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This research study employed the single case-study method with the aim of illustrating the complex nature of a woman's separation from her physically abusive husband. An alternative framework for analysis is proposed, which incorporates literature stemming from psychoanalytic and feminist origins into a unified understanding of the battering and escape process. Instead of focussing on society and context, the proposed model initially takes into account the effect of the battered woman's impoverished developmental history in relation to her paradoxical attachment to her abuser. Thereafter, the impact of such an upbringing is kept in mind when considering the broader factors that such a woman encounters within society and her context as she negotiates her separation and escape process. Material was gathered over an eleven-month treatment period that highlighted ambivalence on the part of a 37-year-old woman to truly separate and prosecute her abusive partner. It was shown in this study how it is possible to make sense of this behaviour by utilising the psychoanalytic concept of splitting, as well as by taking account of the developmental hurdle of separation-individuation. The impact of socialised, patriarchal religious values about a woman's role in relationships was also taken into account and shown to reinforce her powerful psychological defences and attachment to her abusive partner. In addition, inefficiency on the part of the police and the courts were shown to exacerbate her sense of helplessness, and frequent courtroom postponements served as a vehicle for ongoing harassment. Within this context, her ongoing exposure to violence, harassment and verbal abuse served to isolate and tap her already limited resources, which further hindered her ability to manage herself and the complex process of severing her ties to her abusive partner.

Includes bibliography.