Types of Abuse


abuse1We tend to think of Domestic Abuse as physical violence or assault on a partner. In reality, however, domestic abuse is the summary of physically, sexually and psychologically abusive behaviours directed by one partner against another, regardless of their marital status or gender.

Domestic Abuse does not just affect people of a certain race, age, gender or background, but knows no ethnic, cultural or personal borders.

Generally, when one type of abuse exists, it is coupled with other forms as well, they might just not be quite so noticable unless you are aware of the types of abuse and how the belief systems associated with abusive behaviour manifest themselves.

Abuse usually seems absent at the beginning of the relationship, and the majority of victims feel that they have found their perfect partner or soulmate, but gradually (it might take months or even years) the abusive behaviour increases and the perpetrator is likely to use various different types of abuse:

"The first few months were perfect and then I noticed small things were different. At first it was just arguments but it got worse and soon he would push and slap me when we were arguing, but he started to be excessively jealous of my male friends, and always be asking where I'd been, he would accuse me of cheating on him all the time. This progressed to him calling me names, finding faults, mocking me and throwing things at me." (Ingrid's Story)

The Function of Abuse

Domestic abuse may also be defined by identifying its function, that being thedomination, punishment or control of one's partner. Abusers use physical andsexual violence, threats, money, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse to control their partners and get their way. The different personas within theDominator show very clearly how the different types of abuse are used to control and dominate the victim.

Sometimes Domestic Abuse is better understood by it's effect on the victim than by the specific actions of the abuser. Check out the characteristics of abuse victims which give an insight into the effect that ongoing abuse has on them.

"I had no self confidence and still struggle to have any, but I am slowly getting there. When someone tells you you are ugly or stupid every day of your life it is hard to find that you are no other than that." (Danna's Story)

The main effect of this violence was that I started to change - I stopped being myself. I would avoid any conversation with friends when we were out that would have anything to do with my life before him, I didn't look at or talk to other men. (Amelia's Story)

Abuse in the home is not a rare problem, it is just rarely admitted as one.

Check out the Wheel of Power and Control, which provides a visual representation of the interconnection of the differing forms of abuse.

Power and Control Wheel in Abusive Relationships


This information and the Power and Control Wheel of Abuse (pictured below) is provided courtesy of Kim Eyer.

POWER and CONTROL

Abusers believe they have a right to control their partners in the abusive relationships by utilizing the tactics found in the power and control wheel, by:

  • Telling them what to do and expecting obedience
  • Using force to maintain power and control over partners
  • Feeling their partners have no right to challenge their desire for power and control
  • Feeling justified making the victim comply
  • Blaming the abuse on the partner and not accepting responsibility for wrongful acts.

The characteristics shown in thepower and control wheel are examples of how this power and control are demonstrated and enacted against the victim.

Isolation

  • limiting outside involvement
  • making another avoid people/friends/family by deliberately embarrassing or humiliating them in front of others
  • expecting another to report every move and activity
  • restricting use of the car
  • moving residences

Emotional and Mental Abuse

  • putting another down/name-calling
  • ignoring or discounting activities and accomplishments
  • withholding approval or affection
  • making another feel as if they are crazy in public or through private humiliation
  • unreasonable jealousy and suspicion
  • playing mind games

Economic and Financial Abuse

  • preventing another from getting or keeping a job
  • withholding funds
  • spending family income without consent and/or making the partner struggle to pay bills
  • not letting someone know of or have access to family/personal income
  • forcing someone to ask for basic necessities

Intimidation

  • driving recklessly to make another feel threatened or endangered
  • destroying property or cherished possessions
  • making another afraid by using looks/actions/gestures
  • throwing objects as an expression of anger to make another feel threatened
  • displaying weapons

Using Children or Pets

  • threatening to take the children away
  • making the partner feel guilty about the children
  • abusing children or pets to punish the partner
  • using the children to relay messages

Using Priviledges (perceived or cultural)

  • treating another like a servant
  • making all the big decisions
  • being the one to define male and female roles
  • acting like the master or queen of the castle

Sexual Abuse

  • sex on demand or sexual withholding
  • physical assaults during sexual intercourse
  • spousal rapes or non-consensual sex
  • sexually degrading language
  • denying reproductive freedom

Threats

  • threats of violence against significant third parties
  • threats to commit physical or sexual harm
  • threats to commit property destruction
  • threats to commit suicide or murder

Physical Abuse

  • biting/scratching
  • slapping/punching
  • kicking/stomping
  • throwing objects at another
  • locking another in a closet or utilizing other confinement
  • sleep interference and/or deliberately exhausting the partner with unreasonable demands and lack of rest
  • deprivation of heat or food
  • shoving another down steps or into objects
  • assaults with weapons such as knives/guns/other objects

Who are the Abusers?


Who are the domestic violence abusers? What makes them tick? Is there any way of recognising someone who perpetrates domestic abuse? Can a 'normal' person suddenly become abusive? Can they be helped and will they stop abusing or is it likely to just get worse? Do they suffer from mental illness or personality disorders?

After the more dramatic and publicised Domestic Abuse stories hit the headlines, one often hears comments such as "what sort of Monster would do that" or "Nobody I know would do that sort of thing!". The assumption seems to be that all abusers walk around with a big A for 'abuser' on their forehead, are easily discernable by anyone 'normal' and always comply with the stereotypical image.

In actual fact one of the main problems encountered by victims, friends, family and various agencies dealing with the consequences of an abusive relationship, is how 'normal' the perpetrators of domestic violence seem, how unlike the image so frequently portrayed by the media. In much the same way as we have a mental image of the 'stranger' on the street we have to be wary of as children, we grow up with an image in our minds of the sort of looks, gender, class and behaviour or other criteria by which we might expect to be able to recognise abusers. The basic message though is that there are no definite criteria which allow us to instantly recognise a potential perpetrator of domestic violence, though there are warning signs of an abusive personality.

This section of Hidden Hurt tries to address the question of who the abuser actually is, are there any tell-tale signs which could indicate an abusive personality, how does an abusive relationship actually work, if you think you may be abusive, where do you get help, and above all, why does one person abuse another, and is there any hope of the abuse stopping?

Please click on the links below for some of the possible answers to these questions.

Sometimes we think of abuse as being singular, ie only one form of abuse taking place in a relationship, eg 'he is sexually abusive', or 'she is emotionally abusive'. In reality perpetrators will often use several different types of abusive behaviour to control and manipulate their partner. Abuse is not a one-off incident, but a systematic method of maintaining power and control within a relationship.

The Power and Control Wheel helps us to understand just how central the issues of power and control are no matter what form the abuse takes, and can also help us realise different areas in which abuse occurs. While the Cycle of Abuselooks at the phases typically experienced by someone suffering from domestic abuse.

Warning Signs of a Domestic Abuser


If we can recognize the warning signs of a domestic abuser, or someone who is likely to have an abusive personality, we can save ourselves (and our loved ones) a lot of grief and heartache. Many survivors of abusive relationships have so often said that if they had just known the warning signs, they would never have got involved with their abusive partner.

The good news is, that it is possible to predict the likelihood of the person you are currently with or are about to become involved with being a domestic abusive It is simply a matter of having the knowledge of the warning signs to look out for and being sufficiently aware to notice them (which includes not being to blinded by love, lust or desperation!).

Below are a list of behaviors, traits and beliefs which are common in abusive personalities. These are commonly known as Warning Signs of abusive personalities .

While not all abusive people show the same traits, or display the tendencies to the same extent, if several behavioural traits are present, there is a strong tendency toward abusiveness. Generally, the more warning signs are present, the greater the likelihood of violence. In some cases, an abuser may have only a couple of behavioural traits that can be recognized, but they are very exaggerated (e.g. extreme jealousy over ridiculous things).

Often the domestic abuser will initially try to explain his/her behaviour as signs of his/her love and concern, and the victim may be flattered at first; as time goes on, the behaviours become more severe and serve to dominate, control and manipulate the victim.

Jealousy

At the beginning of a relationship, an abuser will always say the jealousy is a sign of love. He/she may question you about whom you have spoken to or seen during the day, may accuse you of flirting, or be jealous of time you spend with family, friends, children or hobbies which do not include him/her. As the jealousy progresses, he/she may call you frequently during the day or drop by unexpectedly. He may be unhappy about or refuse to let you work for fear you'll meet someone else, check the car mileage or ask friends to keep an eye on you. Jealousy is not proof of love, it is a sign of insecurity and possessiveness.

Controlling Behaviour

Controlling behaviour is often disguised or excused as concern. Concern for your safety, your emotional or mental health, the need to use your time well, or to make sensible decisions. Your abuser may be angry or upset if you are 'late' coming back from work, shopping, visiting friends, etc., even if you told him/her you would be later back than usual. Your abuser may question you closely about where you were, whom you spoke to, the content of every conversation you held, or why you did something he/she was not involved in. As this behaviour gets worse, you may not be allowed to make personal decisions about the house, clothing, going to church or how you spend your time or money or even make you ask for permission to leave the house or room. Alternately, he/she may theoretically allow you your own decisions, but penalise you for making the wrong ones. Concern for our loved ones to a certain extent is normal - trying to control their every move is not.

Quick Involvement

Many victims of abuse dated or knew their abuser for less than six months before they were engaged or living together. The abuser will often claim 'love at first sight', that you are 'made for each other', or that you are the only person whom he could ever talk to so openly, feel so at home with, could understand him so well. He/she may tell you that they have never loved anyone so much or felt so loved by anyone so much before, when you have really only known each other for a short amount of time. He/she needs someone desperately, and will pressure you to commit to him/her or make love before you feel the relationship has reached 'that stage'. He/she may also make you feel guilty for not committing yourself to him/her.

Unrealistic Expectations

The abuser may expects you to be the perfect husband, wife, mother, father, lover, and friend. He/she is very dependent on you for all his/her needs, and may tell you he/she can fulfil all your needs as lover, friend, and companion. Statements such as: 'lf you love me, I'm all you need', 'You are all I need.' are common. Your abuser may expect you to provide everything for him/her emotionally, practically, financially or spiritually, and then blame you for not being perfect or living up to expectation.

Isolation

The abuser may try to curtail your social interaction. He/she may prevent you from spending time with your friends or family and demand that you only go places 'together'. He/she may accuse you of being 'tied to your mother's apron strings', not be committed to the relationship, or view people who are your personal friends as 'causing trouble' or 'trying to put a wedge' between you. He/she may want to live in the country without a phone, not let you use the car, stop you from working or gaining further education or qualifications.

Blame-shifting for Problems

Very rarely will an abusive personality accept responsibility for any negative situation or problem. If they are unemployed, can't hold down a job, were thrown out of college or University or fall out with their family, it is always someone else's fault, be it the boss, the government, or their mother. They may feel that someone is always doing them wrong, or out to get them. He/she may make a mistakes and then blame you for upsetting him/her or preventing him/her from doing as they wished to.

Blame-shifting for Feelings

The abuser will deny feelings stem from within him/her but see them as reactions to your behaviour or attitude toward him/her. He/she may tell you that 'you make me mad', 'you're hurting me by not doing what I ask', or that he/she cannot help feeling mad, upset, etc. Feelings may be used to manipulate you, i.e. 'I would not be angry if you didn't ...' Positive emotions will often also be seen as originating outside the abuser, but are more difficult to detect. Statements such as 'You make me happy' or 'You make me feel good about myself' are also signs that the abuser feels you are responsible for his sense of well-being. Either way, you become in his/her mind the cause of good and bad feelings and are therefore responsible for his/her emotional well-being and happiness. Consequently, you are also to blame for any negative feelings such as anger, upset or depression.

Hypersensitivity

Most abusers have very low self-esteem and are therefore easily insulted or upset. They may claim their feelings are 'hurt' when they are really angry, or take unrelated comments as personal attacks. They may perceive normal set-backs (having to work additional hours, being asked to help out, receiving a parking fine, etc.) as grave personal injustices. They may view your preference for something which differs from their own as a criticism of their taste and therefore themselves (e.g. blue wallpaper rather than pink, etc.).

Cruelty to Animals

The abuser may punishes animals brutally, be insensitive to their pain or suffering, or neglect to care for the animals to the point of cruelty, e.g. not feeding them all day, leaving them in areas he/she knows will cause them suffering or distress. There is a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and domestic violence which is still being researched. (For more information and personal experiences, see Domestic Violence and Cruelty to Animals.)

Cruelty to Children

The abusers unrealistic expectations of their partner are often mirrored in their attitude toward children. He/she will think of children as 'small adults' and blame the children for not being responsible, having common sense or understanding. He/she may expect children to be capable far beyond their ability (e.g. is angry with a two-year old for wetting their pants or being sick on the carpet, waking at night or being upset by nightmares) and will often meet out punishments for 'naughtiness' the child could not be aware of. Abusers may tease children until they cry, or punish children way beyond what could be deemed appropriate. He/she may not want children to eat at the table, expect them to stay quiet, or keep to their room all evening while he/she is at home. Since abusers want all your attention themselves, they resent your spending time with the children or any normal demands and needs the children may have. As above (cruelty to animals), there is a very strong link between Domestic Violence and Child Abuse.

'Playful' use of Force in Sex

He/she may pressurise you to agree to forceful or violent acts during sex, or want to act out fantasies where you are helpless. A male abuser may let you know that the idea of "rape" excites him. He/she may show little concern about whether you want to have intercourse and uses sulking or anger to manipulate you into compliance. Starting sex while you are sleeping, demanding sex when you are ill or tired, or refusing any form of intimacy unless you are willing to go 'all the way' can all be signs that he/she could be sexually abusive or sexually violent.

Rigid Gender Roles

Abusers usually believe in stereotypical gender roles. A man may expect a woman to serve him; stay at home, obey him in all things - even things that are criminal in nature. A male abuser will often see women as inferior to men, more stupid, unable to be a whole person without a relationship. Female abusers may expect the man to provide for them entirely, shift the responsibility for her well-being onto him or heckle him as being 'not a real man' if he shows any weakness or emotion.

Verbal Abuse

This is a fairly important warning sign and really quite easy to spot once you can tell all the little ways in which you are being verbally abused. In addition to saying things that are meant to be cruel and hurtful, either in public or in private, this can include degrading remarks or running down any accomplishments. Often the abuser will tell you that you are 'stupid', could not manage without him/her. He/she may keep you up all night to 'sort this out once and for all' or even wake you at night to continue to verbally abuse you. The abuser may even say kindly things to your face, but speak badly about you to friends and family. (Check outVerbal Abuse for more information)

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

Very rarely do abusers conform to the stereotypical image of a constantly harsh, nasty or violent person, either in public or in private. More frequently the abuser portrays a perfectly normal and pleasant picture to the outside world (often they have responsible jobs or are respected and important members of the local community or Church) and reserves the abuse for you in the privacy of your own home. Nor are abusers always overtly abusive or cruel, but can display apparent kindness and consideration. This Jeckyll and Hyde tendency of the abuser serves to further confuse the victim, while protecting themselves from any form of suspicion from outsiders. Many victims describe "sudden" changes in mood - one minute nice and the next explosive or hysterical, or one minute happy and the next minute sad. This does not indicate some special "mental problem" but are typical of abusive personalities, and related to other characteristics such as hypersensitivity.

Drink or Substance Abuse

While neither drinking or the use of drugs are signs of an abusive personality, heavy drinking or drug abuse may be a warning sign and do increase the risks of abuse, especially violence, taking place. Often an abusive person will blame the drink for his/her abuse. However, a person who, knowing there is a risk he/she could be violent when drinking or on drugs, chooses to get drunk or high, is in effect choosing to abuse. The link between substance abuse and domestic abuse is still being researched, and it is apparent that while neither alcohol nor drugs necessarily cause violence, they do increase the risk of violence. (SeeWhat about alcohol and domestic violence?)

History of Battering or Sexual Violence

Very rarely is abuse or violence a one-off event: a batterer will beat any woman he is with; a sexually abusive person will be abusive toward all his intimate partners. Situational circumstances do not make a person an abusive personality. Sometimes friends or family may try to warn you about the abuser. Sometimes the abuser may tell you himself/herself that he/she has hit or sexually assaulted someone in the past. However, they may further go on to explain that "she made me do it by ..." or in some other way not take responsibility and shift the blame on to the victim. They may tell you that it won't happen with you because "you love them enough to prevent it" or "you won't be stupid enough to wind me up that much". Once again, this is denying their own responsibility for the abuse, and shifting the responsibility for the relationship to remain abuse-free on to you. Past violence is one of the strongest pointers that abuse will occur. If at all possible, try to speak to their previous partners.

Negative Attitude toward Women

Some men may tell you that you are different to all the women they have known before, who display a lack of respect of women generally or who talk negatively and disrespectfully of their previous wives or girlfriends. They may tell you that you are special, not like the others and that they consider themselves to be the luckiest man alive to have found the last decent woman. It is not likely to be long before they remember that you are a woman and don't deserve their respect.

Threatening Violence

This would obviously include any threat of physical force such as "If you speak to him/her again, I'll kill you", or "If any wife of mine acted like John's did, I'd give her a right seeing to". Threats are designed to manipulate and control you, to keep you in your place and prevent you making your own decisions. Most people do not threaten their mates, but an abuser will excuse this behaviour by saying "everybody talks like that.", maintaining he/she is only saying this because the relationship or you are so important to him/her, tell you you're "over-sensitive" for being upset by such threats, or obviously want to hurt him/her. Threats can also be less overt, such as "If you leave me, I will kill myself", or "You are so wonderful, I will never let you go/couldn't live without you".

Breaking or Striking Objects

The abusive personality may break your treasured object, beat his/her fists on the table or chair or throw something at or past you. Breaking your things is often used as a punishment for some imagined misdeed on your part. Sometimes it will be justified by saying that now that you are with him/her, you don't need these items any more. Breaking your possessions also has the effect of de-personalising you, denying you your individuality or literally trying to break links to your past. Beating items of furniture or throwing objects will often be justified by saying you wound him/her up so much they lost control, once again shifting the blame for this behaviour on to you, but is actually used to terrorise you into submission. Only very immature or abusive people beat on objects in the presence of other people in order to threaten or intimidate them.

Any Force during an Argument

BIG warning sign! What starts off in early courtship as a bit of a push or a a shove, can turn into fullblown beatings not long down the road. An abuser may physically restrain you from leaving the room, lash out at you with his/her hand or another object, pin you against a wall or shout 'right in your face'. Basically any form of force used during an argument can be a sign that serious physical violence is a strong possibility.


Emotional Abuse


abuse2Many forms of abuse are obviously cruel. Emotional abuse is more subtle. Quite often such abuse goes unseen, as even the victim does not recognize that she is being abused. Although emotional abuse does not leave black eyes or visible bruises, it is often more seriously damaging to your self-esteem.

I thought Domestic Violence always meant that someone had to be beating someone else up. I never realised the daily belittleling, shouting, demands and isolating were all part of the same problem ...

Emotional abuse is cruel and scars your soul. Physical or sexual abuse is always accompanied and often follows emotional abuse, i.e. emotional battering is used to wear the victim down - often over a long period of time - to undermine her self-concept until she is willing to take responsibility for her abuser's actions and behaviour towards her or simply accept it.

He would move things around, switch the heating on when I thought I’d put it off. I thought I was going insane. (Allison's Story)

There are many categories of emotional/psychological abuse. They encompass a variety of behaviors that will be easily recognisable by those experiencing them, and often remain completely unnoticed by others. They include isolation, crazy-making, verbal abuse, belittleling and other humiliating or degrading behaviours.

Maybe the easiest way to spot emotional abuse is less by the behaviour, and more by the effect. Emotional and psychological abuse has much the same intention as physical abuse and threats: to control and dominate. If you feel as though you, your feelings, your needs, your opinions are being devalued, are given no importance or credence, then chances are you are experiencing emotional abuse. Sadie expresses this lack of appreciation for her needs very well:

"Our family life revolved around what Pat wanted, how he wanted it and when he wanted it. Our three kids’ needs and wants came next, and I came last. Dead last. My needs basically never got addressed because I wasn’t important, and since I wasn’t important, they weren’t important." (Sadie's Story)

The ultimate result of emotional and psychological abuse is that the victim ends up believing that she is going crazy, that her own needs and opinions are of no value. It is a subtle form of control and domination which leaves no visible marks, but has a profound effect on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the victim.

""I want us to be happy." Those are Lauren’s own words. For there to be an ‘us’, we both need a voice. I needed to matter too. "What’s that supposed to mean?" or "You’re telling me...." I felt like I was being analyzed, interpreted, manipulated, lead to a witness stand confession and forced into another apology for something I didn’t really say or do. I heaped anger on me for feeling beaten down and damned to silence by the very person I wanted to spend a life with."(Donald's Story)

Part of the problem of mental abuse is that it is so often not recognised: neither by outsiders, not by the victim. It gradually erodes the individual over months or even years. If and when you do realize that you are being mistreated and try to stand your ground, chances are that the abuse will escalate. Many people have found to their detriment that once the emotional abuse is no longer effective, physical violence follows. Again Sadie expresses this very clearly in her story, when after 20 years of being in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship she makes a conscious decision not to tolerate it:

"I began fighting back. Instead of backing down right away and jumping to do his commands, I began standing my ground and arguing back if I felt that he was being unreasonable, but that just made him even angrier and nastier and more intimidating and threatening to the point where I was afraid that I was going to get hit." (Sadie's Story)

More often than not it is the emotionally abusive behaviour which leads to so many of the characteristics which abuse victims share - the lack of self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence, the depression and anxiety, the feelings of guilt and of 'not being good enough'. Many victims find that it is less painful to build an emotional wall around themselves, leaving the impression that they don't care or have tough skins. This can only work for so long - sooner or later the subdued feelings and emotions demand to be addressed, if not consciously, then in ill health.

The Freedom Programme© in the UK is particularly good at showing up all the myriads of ways in which emotional abuse is used within abusive relationship, also explaining which belief systems drive such behaviour and why we fall for it and don't recognise it as abuse. To find out more, check out the Freedom Programme.

Isolation within an Abusive Relationship

The abuser will control whom the victim sees, where she goes, whom she speaks to and what she does. This can take the form of simply not allowing her to use the phone, have her friends round or visit her family, or ensuring it simply isn't worth it by being in a bad mood because she left some housework undone, making her feel guilty that she was out enjoying herself while he worked, or even encouraging her - theoretically - to make friends, and then discounting them or complaining that she cares more for her friends/family/hobby than she does him or is neglecting him. Some abusers may move home frequently to prevent their victim from building a social support network.

Many abusers justify their control over their victim by stating that it is proof of their love, or that they worry about their safety when out, etc. In reality however, the abuser needs to isolate their victim to feel secure themselves, they feel as though any relationship, be it family, friend or colleague, will undermine their authority over and take their partner away from them, i.e. poses a threat. The effect of this isolation is that the victim feels very alone in his/her struggle, doesn't have anyone with whom to do a 'reality check', and is ultimately more dependant on the abuser for all social needs.

Forms of Isolation can include:

  • checking up on you
  • accusing you of unfaithfulness
  • moving to an isolated area
  • ensuring you lack transport or a telephone
  • making your friends or family feel uncomfortable when visiting so that they cease
  • punishing you for being 10 minutes late home from work by complaining, bad moods, criticism or physical abuse
  • not allowing you to leave the house on your own or taking away your passport
  • demanding a report on your actions and conversations
  • preventing you from working
  • not allowing any activity which excludes him
  • finding fault with your friends/family
  • insisting on taking you to and collecting you from work

In extreme cases the victim may be reduced to episodes of literally becoming a prisoner, being locked in a room and denied basic necessities, such as warmth, food, toilet or washing facilities. Other family members or the perpetrators friends can also be used to 'keep an eye on' the victim, acting effectively as prison guards.

Verbal Abuse

When thinking of Verbal Abuse we tend to envisage the abuser hurling insulting names at the victim, and while this obviously does happen, there are many more forms than name-calling.

The abuser may use critical, insulting or humiliating remarks (e.g. you've got a mind like muck; you're stupid; etc.), he may withhold conversation and refuse to discuss issues, or she may keep you up all night insisting on talking when you need sleep. Verbal abuse undermines your sense of worth, your self-concept (i.e. who you think you are) by discounting your ideals, opinions or beliefs.

When things went his way he was wonderful. When they didn't, well, he snapped at me and blamed me whether it was my fault or not. If I got upset or challenged him, he'd get even angrier and then bellow and threaten until I backed down. (fromSadie's Story )

Verbal abuse can include:

  • yelling or shouting at you
  • making threats
  • insulting you or your family
  • being sarcastic or mocking about or criticising your interests, opinions or beliefs
  • humiliating you either in private or in company
  • sneering, growling, name-calling
  • withholding approval, appreciation, or conversation
  • refusing to discuss issues which are important to you
  • laughing or making fun of you inappropriately
  • leaving nasty messages
  • accusing you of unfaithfulness, not trying hard enough or purposely doing something to annoy
  • blaming you for his failures or other forms of abuse

All of these abusive behaviors prohibit normal, healthy interaction between two adults as well as a lack of respect for individual thoughts, feelings, and opinions. A healthy, mutual interaction and conversation between two persons respects and promotes the right of each partner to their own individual thoughts, perceptions and values.

Domestic Violence and Abuse

Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. 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. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the following warning signs and descriptions of abuse, reach out. There is help available.

Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.

Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.

Domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate; it happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused—especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes even physically as well. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.

Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help

Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.

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 like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—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
Do you:
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Your Partner’s Belittling Behavior
Does your partner:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
Your Partner’s Violent Behavior or Threats
Does your partner:
  • have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • force you to have sex?
  • destroy your belongings?
Your Partner’s Controlling Behavior 
 
Does your partner:
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?

Physical abuse and domestic violence

When people talk about domestic violence, they are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack.

Emotional abuse: It’s a bigger problem than you think

When people think of domestic abuse, they often picture battered women who have been physically assaulted. But not all abusive relationships involve violence. Just because you’re not battered and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused. Many men and women suffer from emotional abuse, which is no less destructive. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often minimized or overlooked—even by the person being abused.

Understanding emotional abuse

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing.

Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, though, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.

Economic or financial abuse: A subtle form of emotional abuse

Remember, an abuser’s goal is to control you, and he or she will frequently use money to do so. 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

Violent and abusive behavior is the abuser’s choice

Despite what many people believe, domestic violence and abuse is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his or her behavior. In fact, abusive behavior and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control 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.

Recognizing the warning signs of domestic violence and abuse

It's impossible to know with certainty what goes on behind closed doors, but there are some telltale signs and symptoms of emotional abuse and domestic violence. If you witness any warning signs of abuse in a friend, family member, or co-worker, take them very seriously.

General warning signs of domestic abuse

People who are being abused may:

  • Seem afraid or anxious to please their partner
  • Go along with everything their partner says and does
  • Check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing
  • Receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner
  • Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness

Warning signs of physical violence

People who are being physically abused may:

  • Have frequent injuries, with the excuse of “accidents”
  • Frequently miss work, school, or social occasions, without explanation
  • Dress in clothing designed to hide bruises or scars (e.g. wearing long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors)

Warning signs of isolation

People who are being isolated by their abuser may:

  • Be restricted from seeing family and friends
  • Rarely go out in public without their partner
  • Have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car

The psychological warning signs of abuse

People who are being abused may:

  • Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident
  • Show major personality changes (e.g. an outgoing person becomes withdrawn)
  • Be depressed, anxious, or suicidal

Speak up if you suspect domestic violence or abuse

Do's and don'ts

Do:

  • Ask if something is wrong
  • Express concern
  • Listen and validate
  • Offer help
  • Support his or her decisions

Don’t:

  • Wait for him or her to come to you
  • Judge or blame
  • Pressure him or her
  • Give advice
  • Place conditions on your support

Adapted from: NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, speak up! If you’re hesitating—telling yourself that it’s none of your business, you might be wrong, or the person might not want to talk about it—keep in mind that expressing your concern will let the person know that you care and may even save his or her life.

Talk to the person in private and let him or her know that you’re concerned. Point out the things you’ve noticed that make you worried. Tell the person that you’re there, whenever he or she feels ready to talk. Reassure the person that you’ll keep whatever is said between the two of you, and let him or her know that you’ll help in any way you can.

Remember, abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their victims. People who have been emotionally abused or battered are depressed, drained, scared, ashamed, and confused. They need help to get out, yet they’ve often been isolated from their family and friends. By picking up on the warning signs and offering support, you can help them escape an abusive situation and begin healing.

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