Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it. No one should live in fear of the person they love.
When one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person is known as domestic abuse. And when there is a physical, emotional and economic violence involve, it is called domestic violence and can affect people of any age.
The only purpose of having a domestic violence and abuse is to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser may threaten you, hurt you or those around you. They use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to put you down and keep you under his/her control.
What are the causes of domestic abuse or domestic violence?
A strong predictor of domestic violence in adulthood is domestic violence in the household in which the person was reared. For instance, a child’s exposure to their father’s abuse of their mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting domestic violence from one generation to the next. This cycle of domestic violence is difficult to break because parents have presented violence as the norm.
Individuals living with domestic violence in their households have learned that violence and mistreatment are the way to vent anger. Someone resorts to physical violence because:
- they have solved their problems in the past with violence,
- they have effectively exerted control and power over others through violence, and
- no one has stopped them from being violent in the past.
Some immediate causes that can set off a bout of domestic abuse are:
- provocation by the intimate partner
- economic hardship, such as prolonged unemployment
Who abuses their spouse or intimate partner?
- Ninety-two percent of physical abusers are men. However, women can also be the perpetrators of domestic violence.
- About seventy-five percent of stalkers are men stalking women. But stalkers can also be women stalking men, men stalking men, or women stalking women.
- Domestic abuse knows no age or ethnic boundaries.
- Domestic abuse can occur during a relationship or after a relationship has ended.
What are the results of domestic violence or abuse?
The results of domestic violence or abuse can be very long-lasting. People who are abused by a spouse or intimate partner may develop:
- sleeping problems
- anxiety attacks
- low self-esteem
- lack of trust in others
- feelings of abandonment
- sensitivity to rejection
- diminished mental and physical health
- inability to work
- poor relationships with their children and other loved ones
- substance abuse as a way of coping
- Physical abuse may result in death, if the victim does not leave the relationship.
What is the effect of domestic violence on children?
Children who witness domestic violence may develop serious emotional, behavioral, developmental, or academic problems. As children, they may become violent themselves, or withdraw. Some act out at home or school; others try to be the perfect child. Children from violent homes may become depressed and have low self-esteem.
As they develop, children and teens who grow up with domestic violence in the household are:
- more likely to use violence at school or in the community in response to perceived threats
- more likely to attempt suicide
- more likely to use drugs
- more likely to commit crimes, especially sexual assault
- more likely to use violence to enhance their reputation and self-esteem
- more likely to become abusers in their own relationships later in life
Types of intimate partner violence
Below are some of the forms that domestic violence may take:
Physical - Physical abuse is physical force or violence that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment.
Physical assault or physical battering and inappropriate restraint is a crime, whether it occurs inside a family or outside the family. The police are empowered to protect you from physical attack.
Physical abuse includes:
- pushing, throwing, kicking
- slapping, grabbing, hitting, punching, beating, tripping, battering, bruising, choking, shaking
- pinching, biting
- holding, restraining, confinement
- breaking bones
- assault with a weapon such as a knife or gun
Sexual abuse often is linked to physical abuse; they may occur together, or the sexual abuse may occur after a bout of physical abuse. And this includes:
- sexual assault: forcing someone to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity
- sexual harassment: ridiculing another person to try to limit their sexuality or reproductive choices
- sexual exploitation (such as forcing someone to look at pornography, or forcing someone to participate in pornographic film-making)
Sexual abuse often is linked to physical abuse; they may occur together, or the sexual abuse may occur after a bout of physical abuse.
Emotional -It’s a bigger problem than you think. This form of violence is often unrecognised and can be very hurtful. The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at a person’s feelings of self-worth and independence. In an emotionally abusive relationship, a person may feel that there is no way out of the relationship or that without their partner they will have nothing.
The impact of emotional abuse can feel equally as destructive and damaging as physical abuse and can do a terrible amount of damage to a person’s mental health. The scars of emotional abuse are real and long lasting. Emotional abuse can leave a person feeling depressed, anxious and even suicidal, as well as having a negative impact on self-esteem and confidence. It’s common for physically abusive relationships to also include aspects of emotional abuse as this is how power and control is maintained within the relationship.
Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, rejections, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
Stalking is harassment of or threatening another person, especially in a way that haunts the person physically or emotionally in a repetitive and devious manner. Stalking of an intimate partner can take place during the relationship, with intense monitoring of the partner’s activities. Or stalking can take place after a partner or spouse has left the relationship. The stalker may be trying to get their partner back, or they may wish to harm their partner as punishment for their departure. Regardless of the fine details, the victim fears for their safety.
Stalking can take place at or near the victim’s home, near or in their workplace, on the way to the store or another destination, or on the Internet (cyberstalking). Stalking can be on the phone, in person, or online. Stalkers may never show their face, or they may be everywhere, in person.
Stalkers employ a number of threatening tactics:
- repeated phone calls, sometimes with hang-ups
- following, tracking (possibly even with a global positioning device)
- finding the person through public records, online searching, or paid investigators
- watching with hidden cameras
- suddenly showing up where the victim is, at home, school, or work
- sending emails; communicating in chat rooms or with instant messaging (cyberstalking: see below)
- sending unwanted packages, cards, gifts, or letters
- monitoring the victim’s phone calls or computer-use
- contacting the victim’s friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors to find out about the victim
- going through the victim’s garbage
- threatening to hurt the victim or their family, friends, or pets
- damaging the victim’s home, car, or other property
Stalking is unpredictable and should always be considered dangerous. If someone is tracking you,
contacting you when you do not wish to have contact, attempting to control you, or frightening you, then seek help immediately.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is the use of telecommunication technologies such as the Internet or email to stalk another person. Cyberstalking may be an additional form of stalking, or it may be the only method the abuser employs. Cyberstalking is deliberate, persistent, and personal.
Spamming with unsolicited email is different from cyberstalking. Spam does not focus on the individual, as does cyberstalking. The cyberstalker methodically finds and contacts the victim. Much like spam of a sexual nature, a cyberstalker’s message may be disturbing and inappropriate. Also like spam, you cannot stop the contact with a request. In fact, the more you protest or respond, the more rewarded the cyberstalker feels. The best response to cyberstalking is not to respond to the contact.
Cyberstalking falls in a grey area of law enforcement. Enforcement of most state and federal stalking laws requires that the victim be directly threatened with an act of violence. Very few law enforcement agencies can act if the threat is only implied.
Regardless of whether you can get stalking laws enforced against cyberstalking, you must treat cyberstalking seriously and protect yourself. Cyberstalking sometimes advances to real stalking and to physical violence.
How likely is it that stalking will turn into violence?
Stalking can end in violence whether or not the stalker threatens violence. And stalking can turn into violence even if the stalker has no history of violence.
Women stalkers are just as likely to become violent as are male stalkers.
Those around the stalking victim are also in danger of being hurt. For instance, a parent, spouse, or bodyguard who makes the stalking victim unattainable may be hurt or killed as the stalker pursues the stalking victim.
The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at a person’s feelings of self-worth and independence. In an emotionally abusive relationship, a person may feel that there is no way out of the relationship or that without their partner they will have nothing.
Emotional abuse can feel equally as destructive and damaging as physical abuse and can do a terrible amount of damage to a person’s mental health. It’s common for physically abusive relationships to also include aspects of emotional abuse as this is how power and control is maintained within the relationship.
The impact of emotional abuse is also serious like the physical violence.The scars of emotional abuse are real and long lasting. Emotional abuse can leave a person feeling depressed, anxious and even suicidal, as well as having a negative impact on self-esteem and confidence.
Economic - Having money and being able to make decisions about it, is one means of being independent. Economic or financial abuse includes:
- Rigidly controlling your finances
- Withholding money or credit cards
- Making you account for every penny you spend
- Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)
- Restricting you to an allowance
- Preventing you from working or choosing your own career
- Sabotaging your job (making you miss work, calling constantly)
- Stealing from you or taking your money
Social – Social violence occurs in relationships that often include other forms of violence. If someone is insulting you or teasing you in front of other people, keeping you isolated from family and friends, controlling what you do and where you go, then they are being violent and you may need to take some action.
Spiritual – This type of violence involves a situation where you are not allowed to have your own opinions about religion, cultural beliefs, and values, or your spirituality is manipulated to keep you feeling powerless.
Signs of an abusive relationship
There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel that your partner is constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.
To determine whether your relationship is abusive, answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.
|SIGNS THAT YOU’RE IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP|
|Your Inner Thoughts and Feelings||Your Partner’s Belittling Behavior|
|Do you:feel afraid of your partner much of the time?||Does your partner:humiliate or yell at you?|
|avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?||criticize you and put you down?|
|feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?||treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?|
|believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?||ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?|
|wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?||blame you for their own abusive behavior?|
|feel emotionally numb or helpless?||see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?|
|Your Partner’s Violent Behavior or Threats||Your Partner’s Controlling Behavior|
|Does your partner:have a bad and unpredictable temper?||Does your partner:act excessively jealous and possessive?|
|hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?||control where you go or what you do?|
|threaten to take your children away or harm them?||keep you from seeing your friends or family?|
|threaten to commit suicide if you leave?||limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?|
|force you to have sex?||limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?|
|destroy your belongings?||constantly check up on you?|
Abusers use a variety of tactics to manipulate you and exert their power:
- Dominance – Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his or her possession.
- Humiliation – An abuser will do everything he or she can to make you feel bad about yourself or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
- Isolation – In order to increase your dependence on him or her, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. He or she may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone.
- Threats – Abusers commonly use threats to keep their partners from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. He or she may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, or report you to child services.
- Intimidation – Your abuser may use a variety of intimidation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
- Denial and blame – Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abusive partner may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. He or she will commonly shift the responsibility on to you: Somehow, his or her violent and abusive behavior is your fault.
Abusers are able to control their behavior—they do it all the time
- Abusers pick and choose whom to abuse. They don’t insult, threaten, or assault everyone in their life who gives them grief. Usually, they save their abuse for the people closest to them, the ones they claim to love.
- Abusers carefully choose when and where to abuse. They control themselves until no one else is around to see their abusive behavior. They may act like everything is fine in public, but lash out instantly as soon as you’re alone.
- Abusers are able to stop their abusive behavior when it benefits them. Most abusers are not out of control. In fact, they’re able to immediately stop their abusive behavior when it’s to their advantage to do so (for example, when the police show up or their boss calls).
- Violent abusers usually direct their blows where they won’t show. Rather than acting out in a mindless rage, many physically violent abusers carefully aim their kicks and punches where the bruises and marks won’t show.
The cycle of violence in domestic abuse
Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:
- Abuse – Your abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show you “who is boss.”
- Guilt – After abusing you, your partner feels guilt, but not over what he’s done. He’s more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for his abusive behavior.
- Excuses – Your abuser rationalizes what he or she has done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for the abusive behavior—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
- “Normal” behavior – The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
- Fantasy and planning – Your abuser begins to fantasize about abusing you again. He spends a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how he’ll make you pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
- Set-up – Your abuser sets you up and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing you.
Your abuser’s apologies and loving gestures in between the episodes of abuse can make it difficult to leave. He may make you believe that you are the only person who can help him, that things will be different this time, and that he truly loves you. However, the dangers of staying are very real.
How can you keep yourself safe?
At times we underestimate the amount of danger we are in, either because we don’t realise or don’t understand how dangerous a situation is. Part of an abuser’s control can be minimising the seriousness of what they are doing. Being safe is important and there are things you can do to ensure your safety.
Sometimes it is hard to work out the danger or risks yourself. Police, and the state and territory support lines can help you work out risks and how to stay safe.
Steps to ensure your safety:
- Is there immediate danger? How likely is it that someone will hurt you? If necessary, you may have to move to somewhere safe. See ‘What should I do’ for detailed info
- Do you have support? Making a decision to leave a situation where you feel unsafe may be hard and scary. If possible, talk to someone you trust, like a friend, counsellor or youth worker
- Talk to the police: If you feel unsafe the police are good people to talk to. If you or someone you know has been hurt, the police will be able to help
- Believe in yourself: If someone is hurting you or threatening to, it can be hard to maintain your self-confidence. Remember it is never ok for someone to hurt or threaten to hurt you
- Know your rights: It may be a good idea to check out your legal rights. Laws vary from state to state. To find out about your rights check out the Lawstuff website.