Her friend asks, “did he beat you?” She pauses for a moment as a million memories flash through her mind. She remembers the brutal names she’s been called. She remembers all the accusations he’s made and how she was afraid to be in public for fear of what he would think and how he would retaliate. She remembers the walking on egg shells so that she wouldn’t upset him and the fear of what if he goes too far in his rage this time. She remembers the loaded gun he has threatened her with, the one he carries all the time, and the holes he has punched in the walls. She remembers the items he has destroyed to get back at her and to “teach her a lesson”. She remembers the all of the suicide threats. She vividly remembers being shoved, grabbed, screamed at and forced into things she didn’t want to do. She clearly remembers being threatened, abandoned, ignored, controlled and humiliated but not really beaten. So finally she answers, “no, he didn’t beat me”.
So, was she abused? Did she really have a valid reason to leave? The lingering questions turn over in her mind. Did she try hard enough? Was she crazy? Was she just making a big deal out of nothing? Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was…after all he really is a good guy, every one says so.
This story has repeated itself a hundred times in my counseling office. The names and specific details change, but the basic story line is the same. They meet and everything is wonderful. Slowly over time things begin to deteriorate. First it is small remarks to let you know that you are not living up to their standard or meeting their needs. Then it increases to some yelling and arguing, then name calling, belittling and shaming. These behaviors increase and usually stem from one persons jealousy or need to control the other person in some way. This is quickly followed by bouts of increased displays of aggression and/or intimidation to help keep the partner in line. When the partner complains or shows any type of negative reaction they are called crazy or stupid, and the shaming, control, and intimidation become more frequent. This pattern continues and increases in aggression or the partner leaves temporarily (until things change) or permanently.
Being in a relationship that is marked by abuse can be really difficult to articulate. For the person who is in that relationship the lines are often blurred between what constitutes normal relational conflict and what constitutes abuse. Things they never thought they would tolerate they now allow to occur on a daily basis without even giving it a second thought. Typically the abuser adds to the misconstrued reality by insinuating that the person is crazy and/or over re-acting. This further breaks down the individual and causes them to have doubts about what is really happening, which can make it even more difficult to get someone to accurately share what is going on in their relationship.
Here is an exercise that I use with my clients whom I suspect may be involved in a potentially abusive relationship. I simply share with them that we are going to assess their relationship. I give them a sheet of paper with the wheel of Power and Control.
Carefully read each of the statements on this wheel. Highlight any areas that occur in your relationship. Share your thoughts, or journal your thoughts about the things you highlighted.
Put the wheel aside for a moment. Read and answer the following questions.
QUESTION: What do you think a person who is in an abusive relationship would look or act like?
“Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education level.” (https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/)
QUESTION: Is abuse REALLY all that dangerous? How many people are really truly in abusive relationships?
Statistics from National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
- 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
- The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
- Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner.
- 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the United States have been stalked in their lifetime. 60.8% of female stalking victims and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
- 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.
- Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
QUESTION: We all struggle in relationships so what really constitutes domestic violence and abuse?
“Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation.” (https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/)
QUESTION: Emotional abuse, isn’t as bad as physical abuse and isn’t really considered domestic violence is it?
Psychological abuse increases the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, and a number of studies have demonstrated that psychological abuse independently causes long-term damage to a victim’s mental health. Victims of psychological abuse often experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem, and difficulty trusting others. Subtle psychological abuse is more harmful than either overt psychological abuse or direct aggression. (https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence_and_psychological_abuse_ncadv.pdf)
Review your wheel again. How many items did you highlight? How many items do you think need to be checked for your relationship to be marked by domestic abuse?
ANSWER: If you highlighted even one of the statements your relationship may have marks of domestic violence.
NOT ALL RELATIONSHIPS ARE MARKED BY ABUSE! Sadly, for people who have been in abusive relationships they may not be aware that it doesn’t have to be like that. There are relationships that are marked by mutual respect, love, and acceptance. Here is how healthy relationships function:
If you are recovering from an abusive relationship, seek help in your recovery. An abusive relationship leaves it’s mark on you even after you have escaped. You may need help working through some of the trauma and rebuilding a life outside of the chaos you were in. Additionally you may find it helpful to work with a therapist to learn how to pursue and grow healthy relationships. A good therapist can provide you with insights and tools to help you become whole and healthy again.
If you feel your current relationship may be in trouble or that you may be in a relationship that is marked by domestic violence please seek help. See a counselor that is skilled in dealing with domestic violence, trauma, and abuse. Leaving the relationship may be dangerous, things tend to escalate quickly, it is wise to seek counsel and have a plan BEFORE ending the relationship.
If you know someone who may be struggling in an abusive relationship encourage them to get help, BUT EVEN IF THEY DON’T, continue to listen and love them. Leaving an abusive relationship is not only incredibly hard it is also very dangerous. One of the most important things you can do for them as they struggle through each day is to simply be a person who they know will always be there for them.