We're Talking One Hit. That Left No Mark.

Posted by Lizzie on Thursday, June 04, 2009
I've known way too many people who have been abused in the past. And you'd think that, based on statistical chance, I'd have met my quota for the amount of people I know who have suffered some kind of domestic abuse. But the cases just keep coming, so at this point, who knows.

Because of this exposure, my initial reaction is that hitting is never ok in any circumstance and should a person ever hit you, the best plan of action is to terminate that relationship at all costs. But my actions contradict my beliefs.

The two most significant times I've been hit by someone else (which is absolutely nothing compared to a lot of people, so don't think that I'm playing pity party here by using these as examples. That's not my intention. They're merely a way to initiate gray area thinking and serve as reference points for my conclusion):
- My mom smacked me pretty hard in the face when we were fighting about something when I was around 15 or so. My face wasn't visibly damaged aside from redness. And she said she'd never do it again. My mom's not that great of a person, but she held true to her promise.
- My friend, who was nasty fucked up on drugs at the time, slammed me against a chair and bruised my back enough that I had to fake sick and miss four days of school. We were talking about his drug problem. I was 16, he was 17. He felt horrible and never did it again. I survived, he left a few months later for other reasons. His dad was not a good guy and his mom was killed by a drunk driver a year or two earlier. So he had a history of being abused and his mom was dead. And that's why he did drugs. And nobody really cared enough to help him not do drugs. And the few of us who did were powerless to do anything.

In short, I forgave both of them.

Sometimes situations arise that fall into gray areas and I don't know what's ok and what's not ok.

So, here is the question that I presented to a group of people with diverse backgrounds and life perspectives, the common factor being that I greatly respect each of their opinions. Some have been abused, some probably don't even explicitly know of anyone that's been abused. But most have probably been hit by a person at one time or another. I imagine that we've all been hit by a person at one time or another.


Do you think it's possible for a person to hit a spouse/significant other/son/daughter and not really mean it and never do it again?


"No. No one should be hitting anyone. Ever. Maybe a spank for a child but that's it."

"No way. It would definitely happen again. It would be in the person's nature."

"Yes, if they are remoreseful enough."

"My dad never went all the way to beat the shit out of my mom or anything but every time he hit her, he always said he'd never do it again. So, no."

"Once isn't really a telling precedent for possible future hits. But twice is."

"Most often when someone hits another person they mean it at some level. People hit others out of anger or frustration, it is typically a physical expression of an intensely emotional response. They may not "mean" to do it in that is was spontaneous rather than premeditated. Like many other responses, hitting is often a learned response (from a behavioral perspective) in that there is usually a negative reinforcement paradigm attached (e.g. I hit you, you get out of my face, and my frustration temporarily goes away). Sometimes, there can also be a positive reinforcement paradigm attached as well (e.g. bullying you increases my sense of power).

On the other hand, people can learn more constructive, less violent, responses to frustration and anger. A good beginning is to learn behavior replacement strategies where a person learns to respond to anger and frustration by replacing hitting with behaviors that are non-violent and "incompatible" with hitting (e.g. you can't hit and walk away at the same time).

In addition, this behavior replacement strategy can be aided by cognitive reframing, where a person learns to "rethink" the cause of their anger and frustration, and thus reduces the emotional intensity of their emotional response, which in turn acts as a mediating variable that enhances the probability that the replacement behavior will be chosen rather than the "hitting" behavior.

Cognitive reframing may provide a neurological advantage as well. The initial sympathetic nervous system response to frustration and anger is quick but less intense that the "full" emotional response that occurs with the hormone release (e.g. adrenaline) that supports the intensity of the "fight or flight" response. There is a brief delay between the sympathetic and hormonal responses. Cognitive reframing (e.g. the type used in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)) may assist in reducing (or perhaps even eliminating) the hormonal support of the emotional response which in turn reduces the prolonged (and sometimes increased) intensity of the behavioral reaction."

(My dad's a school psych professor. Always so scientific. You can imagine why I felt like I had to go it alone when it came to figuring things out as as kid. As informative as that was, it's almost 100% useless to me in my quest. But I proceeded to ask more questions to try and get an answer that fit my needs. The following conversation is the continuation.)

Liz: So, I don't get what that means in terms of whether they're likely to hit a person again. Without the whole cognitive reframing business. Like if they just did it as a quick response to something that wasn't really entirely emotion and it's not something they're prone to doing. Is it likely that they'd start hitting the person regularly?
Dad: If it was an uncharacteristic hitting response, it is less likely that it will occur again. In this situation the "habit strength" of the response is weak and as such it is more likely that the person will not hit in a similar situation. However, I would be curious to know what the elements were in the situation that led to hitting, and to help that person understand what led to this uncharacteristic response. This would help make sure that person can recognize a situation where they might be vulnerable to hitting, and take steps to avoid the potential to hit.
Liz: Well, I'm not sure what the exact details were, but is it possible for a situation to exist when someone hits you and and you don't cut them out of your life? Like is hitting always that big of a deal? I mean, it's a pretty big deal even if it was only one hit, but is it possible for the person to actually not hit again if they say they won't? Or should you always distrust them because they said they didn't think they'd ever hit someone in the first place but they ended up hitting you anyway? I mean, Mom definitely smacked me hard in the face once and we still associate with one another. Like I'm still her kid and she's still my mom and for the most part, I forget about it to the point that it's a non-issue. So maybe that's an example of when hitting isn't bad, but I'm not sure if there are others or where you draw the line. So I pretty much have no idea what to say to anyone that this happens to.
Dad: A single hit is generally not the end of the world; is often impulsive; and doesn't mean a relationship has to end. In my clinic days I worked with women and children who were physically abused. Abuse is a serious thing, however, a hit is not abuse. The problem arises when the hits occur frequently and with serious violence.

An emotional response is more black and white because it's that person reacting inappropriately for the purpose of expressing what they're feeling. And since this is how they've chosen to express emotion, it's more likely that they'll use this method to express emotion in the future. What I'm trying to say is that it's less likely to be a one-time deal because they're not entirely removed from the decision-making in choosing to hit someone.

But my personal history of being hit involves two cases which were emotional responses, and I forgave both of the people involved with no long-term psychological damage and no future physical damage.

So, if it's possible to forgive a person's emotional response and suffer no future consequences, then in an entirely non-emotional response situation, is one hit ok to ignore?

I wish I had a better answer for anyone who's ever been hit by someone else. But I have nothing. Only more questions. More hypotheticals. The gray area exists ceaselessly.



Cognitive reframing is something that is WONDERFULLY helpful in almost any circumstance where you're angry. Thinking about WHY something someone ELSE did pissed you off so much and figuring out the real reason you're angry can mute or even eliminate your anger and generally will also lead to siginificantly fewer expectations in the future. Which I think is a good thing! People have far too many unspoken expectations of their friends, parents, children, significant others. If you understand your expectations and why they weren't met, you can vocalize or eliminate the expectations. In a more casual relationship, elimination might usually be the better choice; in a serious/romantic relationship, ideally, taking a break to figure these things out will calm you down and allow you to try and work things out for next time.


that isn't something most people actively think about and do, and when someone just hauls off and smacks you, I really think it depends on whether or not you really truly think they're sorry. How well you know the person, whether or not they admit to THEMSELVES that they were completely in the wrong to do that (it REALLY helps with MY temper to know that I could justify the hell out of it later. that's disgusting). Situational.

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