Over three million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year, and that includes men as well as women. One-fourth of U.S. women and one-third of women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime.
What isn’t talked about, but is serious, is emotional abuse that ranges from withholding to controlling, and includes manipulation and verbal abuse. The number of people affected is astronomical. Emotional abuse is insidious and slowly eats away at your confidence and self-esteem. The effects are long term, and can take even longer to recover from than blatant violence.
Facts about Abuse
Here are some facts you should know:
- Usually, abuse takes place behind closed doors.
- Abusers deny their actions.
- Abusers blame the victim.
- Violence is preceded by verbal abuse.
- It damages your self-esteem.
The Typical Abuser
You may not realize that abusers feel powerless. They don’t act insecure to cover up the truth. In fact, they’re often bullies. The one thing they all have in common is that their motive is to have power over you. This is because they don’t feel that they have personal power, regardless of worldly success. To them, communication is a win-lose game. Their personality profile is a person who is:
- Often jealous
- Needs to be in control
- Blames their behavior on others
How to Respond
Most victims of abuse respond in a rational way. They explain themselves and believe that the abuser is interested in what they have to say. This lets abusers know that they’ve won and have control over you. You must design your own strategy and not react, thereby not rewarding the abusive behavior. You can do this by not engaging or by responding in an unpredictable way, such as with humor, which throws an abuser off-guard. You can also ask for the behavior you want, set limits, and confront the abuse. Most victims do the opposite and placate and appease an abuser to deescalate tension and risk of harm. It never works. Abuse continues.
The Truth about Violence
If you’ve experienced violence – and that includes shoving, hair pulling, destroying property - then it’s essential to get support and learn how to set limits. Abusers deny or minimize the problem – as do victims – and may claim that they can’t control themselves. This is untrue. Notice that they aren’t abusive with their boss – when there are consequences to their behavior. They also blame their actions on you, implying that you need to change. You’re never responsible for someone else’s behavior.
You may recognize the Cycle of Violence:
- A build-up of tension
- The attack
- Remorse and apology
- A honeymoon period of loving gestures
Sometimes, the threat of violence is all the abuser needs to control you, like a terrorist. The best time to abort violence is in the build-up stage. Some victims will even provoke an attack to get it over with, because their anxiety and fear is so great. After an attack, abusers say how sorry they are and promise never to repeat it, but without counseling to treat the underlying causes of the abuse repeat itself. DO NOT believe their promises.
Why Victims Stay
There are many reasons why victims stay in a relationship. Statistics show that victims of violence endure up to seven attacks. The dominant reason is dependency. Control by the abuser, shame about the abuse, and the dysfunctional nature of the relationship lowers the victims self-esteem and confidence and often cause the victim to withdraw from friends and family, creating even more dependency on the abuser. The abuse itself is experienced as an emotional rejection with the threat of being abandoned. This triggers feelings of shame and fears of abandonment in the victim, which are then relieved during the honeymoon phase. Then victims hope the abuser will change. After all, there are good times in between episodes of abuse. There are reasons why the person loves or did love the abuser, and often children are involved.
Abusers can have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. Dr. Jekyll is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love Dr. Jekyll and make excuses for Mr. Hyde. You don’t see that the whole person is the problem. If you’ve had a painful relationship with a parent growing up, you can confuse love and pain. Victims also stay for the following reasons:
- Nowhere to live
- No outside emotional support
- Childcare problems
- They take the blame for the abuse
- They deny, minimize, and rationalize the abuse
- Low self-esteem and confidence
- They love the abuser
If you’re a victim of abuse, you feel ashamed. You’ve been humiliated by the abuser and your self-esteem and confidence have been undermined. You hide the abuse from people close to you, often to protect the reputation of the abuser and because of your own shame. An abuser uses tactics to isolate you from friends and loved ones by criticizing them and making remarks designed to force you take sides. You’re either for them or against them. If the abuser feels slighted, then you have to take his or her side, or you’re befriending the enemy. This is designed to increase control over you and your dependence upon him or her.
Steps You Can Take
It’s essential to build outside resources and talk about what’s going on in your relationship. A professional is the best person, because you can build your self-esteem and learn how to help yourself without feeling judged or rushed into taking action. If you can’t afford private individual therapy, find a low-fee clinical in your city, learn all you can from books and online resources, join online forums, and find a support group at a local battered women’s shelter. Do this even if it means keeping a secret. You’re entitled to your privacy.
To avoid getting involved with an abuser when you’re dating, beware of someone who:
- Insists on having his or her way and won’t compromise
- Has outbursts of anger
- Is rude to others
- Criticizes you or your family
- Is jealous or possessive
- Is paranoid
Pay attention to these signs despite the fact that the person is pursuing you and expressing love and affection. An abuser won’t risk becoming abusive until he or she is confident that you won’t leave. First, he or she will try to win you over and isolate you from friends and family. Often, violence doesn’t start until after marriage or the birth of a child, when you’re less likely to leave.
If you’re threatened by abuse, call 1-800-799-SAFE. Some steps you can take to prepare for an emergency are:
- Open bank and credit cards in your own name.
- Have a safe place to go at a friend or relative.
- Have a bag packed at that place with necessary valuables and important legal papers, passport, bank information, credit cards, phone book, and money. Also pack clothes for your children and some toys.
- Alert neighbors to call the police if they hear loud suspect danger.
- Make extra car and house keys. Hide a car key outside so you can get away.
Remember, by not confronting abuse to avoid the risk of losing someone’s love, you risk losing your Self.
©Darlene Lancer, MFT 2012