Cobras and Pit Bulls
“Why don’t you just leave?” It sounds so simple. Pack up your bags and go.
My bags were packed. I was ready to go. He found out, and all hell broke loose. The problem with the simplistic advice is that it ignores the fact that a pit bull would rather see you dead than out of his/her life.
I am deeply distressed that so many well-intentioned celebrities seeking a spike in ratings are offering advice to Rihanna on an issue they have steadfastly refused to fully grasp. Yes, I’m talking about Dr. Phil and Oprah.
I don’t know if y’all watched their shows on March 12, 2009. I taped and scrutinized both shows.
Dr. Phil and Oprah both blamed victims for the abuse they experienced. Dr. Phil went so far as to say one woman was “contaminated.” That’s emotional abuse, people. Yes, low self-esteem is a well-known factor in domestic abuse dynamics. But, people don’t stay in abusive relationships because they have low self-esteem. They stay because their partner has threatened to kill them if they leave. They stay because their partner has reinforced that threat with physical abuse and stalking.
Oprah knows better. It was an Oprah show that introduced me to When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationshipsby Neil Jacobson and John Gottman. It is a must read book for anyone deciding whether to stay or leave.
Why? Professors Jacobson and Gottman discovered there are two types of abusers: “pit bulls” and “cobras.” These descriptions are brilliant. A pit bull can’t and won’t let go. A cobra will strike to kill when it feels threatened. These same characteristics are found in abusive people.
The domestic violence paradigm and system deals quite effectively with cobra abusers. Cobras don’t tend to waste time or energy making threats. Cobras strike to kill. If you can get safely free from a cobra, he/she will likely slither on to his/her next victim.
A pit bull, however, has serious abandonment issues. All stalkers are pit bulls. A person who threatens to kill you and reinforces the threat with physical violence is likely a pit bull. A cobra strikes to kill. A pit bull cannot accept the relationship is over ~ “good-bye” is too painful for them to handle. A pit bull is the person who decides, “if I can’t have her/him, no one can.” These are the abusers who commit murder/suicide. When the pit bull realizes the relationship is indeed over, the object of their “affection” is in mortal danger.
How do you know the difference? The police affidavit from the Rihanna/Chris Brown case that Gayle King read on Oprah’s March 6, 2009 show is illustrative:
“I’m going to beat the shit out of you when you get home. You wait and see.” Robyn [Rihanna’s legal name is Robyn Fenty] faked a call to her assistant: “I’m on my way home. Make sure the cops are there when I get there.” After Robyn F. faked the call, Brown looked at her and stated, “You’ve just did the stupidest thing ever. Now, I’m really going to kill you.”
Brown resumed punching Robyn F., and she interlocked her fingers behind her head, brought her elbows forward to protect her face; she then bent over to her waist placing her elbows and facing her lap in an attempt to protect her face and head from the barrage of punches being levied upon her by Brown. Brown pulled her close to him, bit her on the left ear; she was able to feel the vehicle swerving from left to right as he sped away.
She stopped in front of the car, she turned off the car, removed the key; Brown did not know what she did with the key and began punching her in her face and arms. He then placed her in a headlock position ~ the front of her throat between his biceps and forearm. Brown began applying pressure to Robyn F.’s left and right carotid artery causing her to be unable to breathe, and she began losing consciousness.
In the first paragraph, Chris Brown makes the threat. In the last paragraph, he almost kills her. But, he doesn’t. A cobra would have killed her.
A wise teen on the Oprah show observed the similarities between the dynamics of Ike and Tina Turner and Rihanna and Chris Brown. I am disappointed that Oprah chose to make a public spectacle of Rihanna rather than set up a private meeting between Rihanna and Tina Turner in Switzerland. I am a strident believer in getting the sage counsel of someone who has walked in our shoes and lived to tell the tale. The similarities between Ike Turner and Chris Brown are chilling. Ann-Margaret gave Tina Turner sanctuary when she desperately needed it. I believe Ms. Turner would gladly pay this forward with Rihanna.
Instead, Oprah had Tyra Banks on her show. Ms. Banks was obviously well-intentioned, but she has not walked in Rihanna’s shoes. The emotional abuse she experienced never escalated into physical violence, and her former boyfriend did not exhibit the obsessive behaviors of a pit bull. Still, Ms. Banks realizes she was able to exit this abusive relationship because she had a plan. Rihanna too needs an exit strategy. I was deeply disappointed that Oprah cut Ms. Banks off when she suggested that because Rihanna and Chris Brown are “just kids” that they should not be perceived as role models:
Rihanna is a normal girl just like everybody else who is watching the show right now. She is a very successful singer. She is here to entertain our world. We have to look at her as a human being. She’s just a vulnerable girl who sings and is famous for singing. She is just as easily pulled into the cycle of abuse as everybody else. She should not be attacked. We need to send her love and hope for her to make the right decisions for herself.
Rihanna and Chris Brown both discussed growing up in abusive homes on Ms. Banks’ show. Abuse is the only kind of love they know. It explained why Rihanna hasn’t turned to her parents for sanctuary. It also explains why Chris Brown is unable to let her go.
Tyler Perry, who also experienced child abuse, offered this advice to Mr. Brown:
Looking at another side of this, I would love for him to consider [that] this could have been much worse. She could have died. If this actually happened and he’s strangling her, she could have died. He really needs to take that into consideration and get some counseling.
Oprah referred her viewers to the Liz Claiborne Foundation’s National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline and their web page:loveisnotabuse.com. She was remiss in failing to refer people to the Family Violence Prevention Fund’s “Coaching Boys Into Men” or their “That’s Not Cool” campaigns.
“Why don’t you just leave?”
Nicole Brown Simpson left OJ years before he killed her. He murdered her the day he finally realized their relationship was indeed over.
Tacoma Police Chief David Brame lured his estranged wife Crystal Judson Brame into a Gig Harbor parking lot the day after he realized she wasn’t coming back. He shot her in front of their kids before turning the gun on himself.
We need to develop a fail-safe paradigm for people leaving pit bulls. Until we do, we need to stop telling people to “just leave.” Yes, it is horrid to be beaten. But, it’s better than dead.
Note: Please visit these links for more information: What Happened on Oprah’s Domestic Violence Show? Revealing Answers which will link you to an excellent review at Salon.com: “Oprah and Tyra Talk Domestic Violence”. I also encourage you to visit the Family Violence Prevention Fund’s website.
If you want to stay current on Rihanna’s case, please visit Barbados Free Press.
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