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Domestic violence and abusive relationships: Spot the signs

Cary Carr
by Cary Carr Published on October 17, 2013

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October, 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Its aim was to connect battered women’s advocates across the country who were working to end violence against women and their children. Today, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds in the U.S., making the discussion on domestic violence and its impact on our society still vitally important.

According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women (25 percent) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. And it’s not just physical abuse that accounts for these assaults; forms of domestic violence include emotional, psychological, verbal, physical and sexual. This includes physical and sexual assault, harassment, threats, name-calling, controlling behavior, stalking and more.

Abuse is not normal and should never be tolerated. Relationships are about respect, love and feeling safe to be yourself. You should never feel scared or threatened in a relationship, whether that threat comes from emotional manipulation or the fear of physical assault (neither is acceptable).

Despite any stereotypes or myths about domestic violence – like that abuse only happens to minorities, that some women deserve it, or that abusers are always easily identified – the truth is it can happen to anyone. But there are ways to identify the signs before it gets out of control, and there are plenty of resources if you’re feeling scared or alone.

Defining domestic violence

The Domestic Violence Resource Center defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of coercive behavior aimed at gaining and then maintaining power and control over the behavior of an intimate partner.” Never a one-time occurrence, domestic violence is a pattern that has distinct stages.

According to the Helpguide, abuse begins with the set-up phase, when the abuser creates situations that, in the abuser’s mind, justify his or her abuse. This is followed by abuse, when the abuser perpetrates the violence, leading to feelings of guilt and fear of reprisal by the abuser. The abuser may then use rationalization, stating it’s the victim’s fault. Between incidents of abuse, the abuser may act as though nothing happened, forcing the victim to agree to the cover-up, and he or she may also fantasize about past and future abuses, circling back to the set-up phase.

This never-ending cycle cannot be broken without zero tolerance for all forms of violence or oppression. Victims of domestic violence end up suffering from all types of problems, including medical injuries, depression, isolation and sometimes even death.

Before it becomes dire, there are warning signs to look out for.

Recognizing the signs

There are many signs of an abusive relationship, and the first may be fear of your partner. Here are some important questions to answer when trying to determine whether your relationship is abusive:

  • Do you feel afraid of your partner?
  • Do you believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Do you feel objectified?
  • Does your partner humiliate you or yell at you?
  • Does your partner put you down?
  • Does your partner blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • Does your partner have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Does your partner act jealous and possessive?
  • Does your partner control where you go, what you do and who you see?
  • Does your partner pressure you into having sex?
  • Are there rigid gender roles?
  • Is there gender-based economic dependency?

Of course, there are other signs, and each relationship is different. If your partner exhibits jealousy and possessiveness, controlling behavior, hypersensitivity and explosive behavior or threatens you and uses violence, it’s important to seek help immediately.

Seeking support

It’s tempting to believe that your abusive partner will change, but it’s likely the behavior will continue until you end the relationship for good. While it’s natural to want to help your partner, you can’t fix his or her problems. By staying, you accept the abuse and therefore reinforce the behavior.
There are safe ways to leave an abusive relationship and people and organizations who are dedicated to helping victims of abuse.

Contact a domestic violence/sexual assault program: If you’re still in the relationship, there are people who can help provide emotional support, peer counseling, safe emergency housing and other services while you make a plan of action to leave. All calls are treated confidentially.

Find a local violence shelter: By calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE), you can find your local domestic violence shelter. Shelters will provide you with information and support and some even have counselors who can help you deal with your emotions and legal advocates who can assist you with important paperwork. Safety is just a few steps away.

Create a safety plan: If you’re not ready to leave your abuser, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Identify safe areas of the house, keep a list of emergency contacts, practice an escape route and look out for your abuser’s red flags (the things that make them angry or violent). Once you’ve left, you may need to take extra precautionary measures, like getting an unlisted phone number, applying to your state’s address confidentiality program and cancelling old bank accounts.

It’s intimidating to leave an abusive relationship, and the trauma of being in one can linger long after you make the decision to leave. But with the right support system and confidence, you can overcome abuse and heal. No matter who you are, you don’t deserve to be abused in any way. No one does.

Do you have any advice for those suffering from domestic abuse? Tweet us @wewomenusa

by Cary Carr

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