Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy A Spotlight on Domestic Abuse and the Signs of a Potential Abuser

A Spotlight on Domestic Abuse and the Signs of a Potential Abuser

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It was widely reported during the pandemic that cases of domestic abuse rose significantly and according to ONS we are still seeing an increase. For many of us this issue is featuring in our consciousness at the moment due to a recent high-profile celebrity defamation case. Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott looks at some of the myths surrounding domestic abuse.

Some facts about domestic abuse

  • Domestic abuse makes up 18% of all recorded crime and is widely accepted to be significantly underreported. 
  • It affects women and children disproportionally, women make up 73% of reported cases, 76% of domestic homicides, with 93% of domestic sexual abuse cases being women.
  • Men are affected by domestic abuse as victims and for the more severe end of the abuse spectrum such as domestic homicide and other violent offences, age is a determining factor. Men over 75 experience the most severe violence offences. With women age is reversed and they experience the more severe violence, homicide, and sexual violence younger (with the highest proportion in the 30–34 age range).
  • Men experience non-domestic violence and homicides more than domestic ones by a huge factor, with men making up 86% of non-domestic homicides.
  • Where there are children, they experience abuse at similar levels to their mothers.

Behaviours associated with domestic abuse  

Domestic abuse exists along a spectrum of behaviours from angry and controlling behaviours to coercion, force, sexual assault, physical assault, and murder. Controlling and coercive behaviours are precursors to violence and coercion and control is often an outcome of violence (the threat of assault used to assert coercive control). Domestic abuse victims are often groomed into the role of victim with their abuser being a long term angry, controlling, and violent person. Many perpetrators are known to be serial abusers who will progress onto another victim if their current one gets help and moves on. The perpetrators would in that light be viewed as predators, that is they actively seek people to groom and abuse in similar ways to sexual predators. 

How to spot a potential abuser

Spotting a potential abuser at the dating stage and or identifying abuse in a relationship is possible and a crucial skill to learn, and here are a few tips:

  • Self- awareness as with risk of grooming in other areas if you have experienced violence in domestic settings as a child or other intimate relationships you are at higher risk of choosing a violent partner. If you have experienced previous domestic abuse then get professional help to process, learn your red flags and triggers and repair any disorders thinking patterns you may have developed as a consequence.
  • Other awareness, if the person you are dating, or your current partner has experienced domestic abuse or IPV as a child or adult, they are at greater risk of being perpetrators and it’s important to to gender differential here in terms of perpetrator/victim. Women are more likely to be victims and hurt themselves and men are more likely to be perpetrators and hurt others. If your partner has a history of violence, they are more likely to be violent now.
  • Spot the controlling and grooming – controlling and coercion in domestic relationships is a huge red flag and in the UK is illegal now. If your partner, your date etc is angry and tries to control you – what you wear, who you see, what you do for socialising etc, if they undermine you and emotionally put you down, then you should be moving on. If they ever threaten you with violence then leave, if they ever use violence leave and involve the police.
  • A presence or history of substance misuse or alcohol problems

It’s important to remember as a victim you are not to blame, even though you will blame yourself and others may too. Never allow your children to be exposed to threats, violence, or coercive control. Even as a non-abusive parent you could well face prosecution for neglect and abuse. It’s also important to recognise spotting this at the red flag stage and leaving (i.e., preventing the harm to you and your kids) is hugely preferable to waiting till you have been sexually and or physically assaulted. It is in no way necessary for you to have bruises or broken bones etc to establish you are the victim of abuse by another person. In exactly the same way it’s not necessary to wait until a stranger hits you on the street to be ‘assaulted’ in law. The threat of assault is enough in the street scenario for the police to be contacted and arrest and charge the perpetrator. 

Abuse thrives in shame, in the darkness

Abusers know this and they will work to make you feel it is your fault and to isolate you from people who can challenge what is happening to you. Other classic tactics of abusers are minimisation, ‘I didn’t hit her that hard, it was just a tap’, ‘I didn’t hit I just shouted’. Gaslighting, directly denying an event happened or your memory of something happening is wrong. As are threats to harm people you love. Blaming, it’s your fault I snapped because you know I don’t like it when…’ shifting responsibility ‘it’s because I’m under a lot of pressure at work’.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: ‘While anger can and does exist in relationships, we all know it’s wrong, so take responsibility for it and apologise when it happens. That is the healthy response and additionally guys should and do know they can be a lot more frightening to women and kids when we kick off. So, most of us have learned to reign it in and take responsibility. Being afraid of your intimate partner or your dad or mum is abnormal and unhealthy”. 

Types of psychological problems associated with domestic abuse are

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal behaviours
  • Self-harming
  • Eating disorders
  • Severe and enduring mental health problems (psychosis, bi-polar)
  • Personality problems and disorders in kids 
  • PTSD

These symptoms can emerge if there is never any overt violence and you have had to live with fear, and the threat of dreadful things happening. Walking on eggshells is what it is called, and it can have disastrous consequences psychologically. Prevention is so much better than cure, get out of the line of fire.

Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and coordinate personalised care teams for the individual.

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