Toxic relationships, violence and abuse: how to identify the signs and get out of them in time

Of stories of violencethroughout his career, Elise Caponetti he’s heard a lot. A 53-year-old Roman psychotherapist, official technical consultant and court expert, party technical consultant in civil, criminal and juvenile court proceedings, Caponetti has carried out various institutional tasks and collaborated with the State Police. But above all, she listened to people’s stories, mainly women but not only that they have been victims of abuse and decided to collect them in a book entitled “Victims of violence. Stories of ordinary everyday life” (Albatros Edizioni), in which he recounts anonymous experiences in the third person, but also reports testimonies of those who wanted to tell themselves in the first person, with courage and resilience, despite the traumatic experience they suffered. “The purpose of this book – comments the author – is mainly to help those who live in a condition of violence to get out of it, identifying themselves with real people who have concretely succeeded. This is because often women, or in any case those who suffer violence, tend to play down, to underestimate their condition of risk, to normalize it or even to blame themselves, assuming responsibility for having triggered violent reactions”.

Throughout her career, Elisa Caponetti has been involved in the protection, treatment and psychic rehabilitation of minors victims of abuse and abuseand for years he has been a guest of important national TV and radio programs to spread the culture of possibility of rebirth by people who have suffered abuse, starting from the recognition of the signs that can identify a toxic relationship, close to leading to violence. Not only testimonials, in fact: Caponetti’s book also offers concrete tools for recognizing and fighting one sick or destructive relationship, and draws on the contributions of the lawyer Maria Letizia Sassi and the Quaestor of Caltanissetta Emanuele Ricifari, which offer the reader considerable food for thought to understand what drives so many women and men not to report the violence suffered and how prevention can be done in an area so complex.

Elisa in her book recounts experiences that remained anonymous, but also reports testimonies of those who wanted to tell themselves firsthand

Doctor Caponetti, what should we expect from your book?
“Many things, it is a small and easily readable volume, but with very intense contents. It is the result of thirty years of professional experience. It is a text dedicated to both ordinary people and professionals. The book wants to offer not only food for thought in those who, like me, carry out their activities in the forensic and criminological field, but also want to have the ambition to hope to arouse some form of awareness in all those who find themselves living a situation of violence and who have difficulty recognizing it and asking for help. I tried to capitalize on my work experience as a psychotherapist, but also as a technical consultant and expert witness for the Court, describing my assistance to cases of violence in two different areas of intervention: the clinical and the legal. As a psychotherapist I mostly meet women who are struggling to get back on track and who are asking for help to get away from toxic and dysfunctional relationships. But the condition of victim of violence does not concern only the female sphere. Even men turn to me, albeit in smaller numbers, and for this reason I also wanted to include their testimony in the book”.

However, the national news almost always speaks of violence against women…
“It is true, because the number of cases of violence perpetrated on women is higher. But if in Italy the world of violence against women is still too submerged, what concerns violence against men is even more so. We don’t have precise numbers of those who suffer ill-treatment, because men are even more afraid to go and report. Often they think that by doing so they may lose their manhood or that they will not be believed. I’ve had cases where a patient didn’t know whether to report bites to the face or other signs of violence deemed embarrassing.”

So there have also been cases of physical violence against men perpetrated by women…
“In Italy the phenomenon is little studied and numerically lower, but there is also physical violence against men, even if women usually exercise more psychological violence. Male partners, on the other hand, generally, unlike women, act more like physical violence, which is also due to a biological component that sees them more endowed with strength. Violence against men by women occurs both during cohabitation and after the end of the relationship. Among the most widespread forms of harassment acted on husbands, partners and former partners are stalking and threats. In the book I told the story of Giuseppe Morgante, a national case also covered by the show “Le iene”, a boy who was slashed with acid, but he’s not the only one to have happened”.

So in the book we all meet true stories?
“Yes, all of them really happened. Some narrated by me, others by the same protagonists who lived them. Usually the media focus on stories with an unfortunate outcome – as in the case of feminicides – or in any case dramatic, the stories I wanted to tell are instead positive testimonies, of resilience. Also, I wanted to make people understand that there are many types of violence, not just the physical one. There is also more subtle, subtle and excessive violence, based on jealousy, psychological or economic control. There can be many facets and nuances. It is a multifactorial and transversal phenomenon, which affects different social strata, without any age limit. It has a global dimension”.


Psychotherapist Elisa Caponetti

What do you mean by economic control?
“For example, at the beginning of a relationship, there are men who tell their partner “Stop working, I’ll take care of supporting you”, so as to generate economic dependence that makes it more difficult for the woman to break off the relationship. Other forms of control can be those aimed at isolating the partner from family and friends, or at belittling, insulting and making her insecure and fragile, continuously criticizing her, preventing her from having contact with other people, being excessively possessive and jealous. The use of any form of control, in men who perpetrate violence, increases their own safety”.

Not only testimonies from victims of violence: your book also boasts important contributions…
“Exactly, starting from the preface by Gian Marco Chiocci, director of Adnkronos. In conclusion, there are also the testimonies of specialists working in the field, such as the Chief of Police of Caltanissetta Emanuele Ricifari, who provides a series of indications and tools implemented by the state police for those who have suffered violence. Because in order to fight violence it is necessary to do networking, as underlined in her speech by the lawyer Maria Letizia Sassi of the Court of Rome. Among the stories of mistreatment there is also that of Roberta Beta, journalist and columnist, and an interview with Filomena Lamberti. In short, as I said, mine is a small book but full of content and ideas. In the first part I explain the phenomenon of violence from a cultural point of view, the role played by TV, mass media in general and music, dealing with the different faces of violence ranging from the most extreme, femicide, to emotional addiction, and emphasizing that violence should not be considered a gender issue”.

But if it is true that men are endowed with greater strength, how is it possible that they do not react to physical abuse by their partner?
“It is first important to understand the difference between abuse and conflict. With abuse, there is an imbalance of power within the couple in which one partner suffers and the other inflicts. The relationship is therefore manipulated by the person who seeks to destroy the other. In conflict, however, each partner plays an active role and both can get to exercise psychological and physical violence. We are talking, for example, of heated marital conflicts, in which there is mutual violence. In these cases, the whole family nucleus must be helped, including the children who often assist. That of children is a separate chapter, because when children are at stake, women find it increasingly difficult to get out of the spiral of violence, for fear that they may be taken away from them. Furthermore, unfortunately, those who suffer violence are often victims of a sense of guilt and shame, women think they are somehow responsible and have provoked the man. In short, that of violence is a very complex phenomenon, so complex that it is not possible to identify a single profile of an abusive person, precisely because the abuse is perpetrated in situations and conditions that are profoundly different from each other. However, one can and must get out of violence”.

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