The Tara Treatment Center Blog

Substance Abuse Meets Domestic Abuse: Nicole Emerson’s ‘Turning Point’

domestic violence substance abuse

Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse, and "Character"

When she started as a case manager for Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, Nicole Emerson‘s favorite clients were the ones who successfully left their abuser and gained their own financial stability. 

Nicole is quick to add that the clients’ definition of success isn’t always the same as her own.  She hopes to help each individual according to their widely varying personal situations.  While victim situations tend to take many different forms, Nicole notes that abusers all share one particular character trait in common.

"Not an anger management problem"

We asked Nicole to explain what she has observed to be common in all abusers.  She reports that the problem is actually a desire for power and control over the world around themstarting with their partner.  

“People like to think its an anger management problem [when trying to understand someone who is abusive]…but this isn’t the case.  People who abuse their loved ones can go to work, the store, seemingly anywhere without their anger flaring up.  They can look quite functional…yet they create dysfunction in the home they return to every evening.  At home, everything turns into a power struggle.”   

Nicole’s description reminds us of a passage in “How it Works“, explaining that those of us in addiction are “Like actors who want to arrange the whole show; forever fiddling with the lights, the scenery, and the rest of the actors”. 

It seems that the domestic abuser and the substance abuser may share one common delusion:  the belief that everything will be wonderful if everyone else simply obeyed.  Nicole notes that  “Alot of this has to do with the abuser experiencing abuse themselves growing up“.

Recognizing “the importance of gender”

Nicole has a strong stance towards gender-specific group programming.  “Its a completely different dynamic when its all girls or all guys!  Same-sex groups make it possible to openly discuss matters that usually ‘feel’ like deep, dark secrets.”  Once a domestic abuse victim comes out of the closet, a Turning Point case manager helps with things like transitional housing, childcare, and protective services.

Nicole reports similarly productive meetings in men-only groups.  She says,  “The guys often open up about female partners who are very emotionally controlling.  Its the sort of cathartic sharing that rarely happens in a co-ed group. It leads to those ‘eureka’ moments of clarity and helps us to  re-evaluate our relationships.

“Relationships exist on a spectrum”

Because relationships exist on a spectrum, it can be hard to tell when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or even abusive. Nicole recommends the use of these warning signs to see if your relationship is going in the wrong direction, taken from Turning Point’s website:

  • Checking your cell phone or email without permission

  • Constantly putting you down

  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity

  • Explosive temper

  • Isolating you from family or friends

  • Making false accusations

  • Mood swings

  • Physically hurting you in any way

  • Possessiveness

  • Telling you what to do

  • Repeatedly pressuring you to have sex

Does this remind you of your own situation, or that of a loved one?  If so, remember that help is out there–both for domestic violence and for substance abuse.  

Caryn Burton substance abuse Domestic Violence
Caryn Burton with Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence