Domestic abuse, a grave concern in today’s society, is becoming alarmingly common. This surge is deeply unsettling, and no justification, be it anger, jealousy, or the influence of alcohol and drugs, can excuse such behaviour. Despite the increasing frequency of these incidents, it’s disheartening to note that often little is done to address or prevent them. Recognising the severity of this issue, October has been observed as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month since 1987, aiming to unite individuals and organisations to combat this global menace.
The spectrum of relationship abuse
Abuse in relationships transcends boundaries of sexual orientation, marital status, gender, race, and height. It’s not confined to heterosexual couples, nor does it discriminate based on colour or stature. Abuse is about power and control. It’s not just physical violence; emotional manipulation, where one person dominates, controls, and exerts undue power over another, is equally harmful. This may manifest as derogatory name-calling, humiliation, or threats. Sexual abuse within relationships is another grim reality where consent is disregarded.
Understanding the dynamics of abuse
Abusers often display a pattern of dominance, seeking complete control over their relationships. They might belittle their partners, eroding their self-worth, or isolate them from their loved ones, making them increasingly vulnerable. Intimidation, threats, and blame games further trap the victims, making them feel utterly worthless.
Additionally, abusers might employ gaslighting techniques, making victims doubt their own perceptions and memories. This psychological manipulation exacerbates the victim’s feelings of helplessness and confusion, further solidifying the abuser’s control. Social media and technology can also be weaponised by abusers, using them to monitor, stalk, and harass their partners. Financial abuse is another tactic where abusers restrict access to money, forcing the victim to be economically dependent on them. Over time, these repeated patterns of abuse can lead to a phenomenon known as “learned helplessness”, where the victim feels powerless to change their situation, believing escape is futile.
Why victims stay
The reasons victims remain in abusive relationships are multifaceted. The fear of escalated violence upon leaving is paramount. Abusers may threaten harm not only to the victim but also to their family and children. Financial constraints can be another tether where the victim is financially dependent on the abuser. Thus, when we encounter someone enduring such a relationship, it’s crucial to listen and understand their reasons, offering support rather than judgement.
The emotional toll of abuse can’t be underestimated. Many victims grapple with feelings of guilt, believing they may have done something to cause or exacerbate the abuse. External pressure, whether from peers or family, may push victims to ‘repair’ the relationship rather than abandon it. Mental health repercussions, such as depression or anxiety, can also incapacitate victims, making the idea of starting anew seem insurmountable. It’s imperative for friends, family, and communities to foster an environment where victims feel safe, understood, and empowered to make decisions in their best interest.
Recognising the signs
Here are several warning signs of an abusive relationship:
- Extreme jealousy
- Controlling behaviour
- Rapid involvement in the relationship
- Unrealistic expectations from the partner
- Forced isolation
- Blaming others for personal mistakes
- Cruelty towards children or animals
- Drastic mood swings
- A history of violent behaviour
- Coercive use of force in intimate situations
- Verbal abuse and threats
- Actual violence or the threat of it
The aftermath of enduring such a relationship can be lasting and profound. WebMD indicates that survivors often grapple with feelings of isolation, embarrassment, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, addictions, injuries, and financial hardships.
Awareness and intervention are vital. Engage in discussions about the signs of abuse with your circle. Extend your support to someone you believe might be enduring abuse. Contributing to domestic violence shelters or volunteering can make a significant difference. If you’re a victim or know someone who is, consider reaching out to authorities or helplines like the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800 799-SAFE (7233). Your actions could save a life.
Howard Diamond is a New York State-certified peer specialist from Long Island.