Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of size, gender, or strength, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Emotional abuse is often minimized, yet it can leave deep and lasting scars.
Noticing and acknowledging the warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse is the first step to ending it. No one should live in fear of the person they love.
Intimate partner violence occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person.
Intimate Partner Violence is About Power and Control
Intimate partner violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.
Domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused—especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes even physically as well. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.
Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.
What a Perpetrator Looks Like
There is no typical perpetrator, but psychologists have identified some common characteristics. Many abusers suffer from low self-esteem, and their sense of self and identity is tied to their partner. Therefore, if abusers feel they are somehow losing the victim, either through separation, divorce, emotional detachment, or pregnancy (fearing victim will replace love for them with love for a child), they will lash out. If victims “leave: through any of these methods, abusers feel they are losing power, control, and their self-identity. This is why it is particularly dangerous for victims during periods of separation or divorce from their partner. Abusers will often do anything to maintain power and keep the victim under control.
Many think of intimate partner violence abusers as out of control, crazy, and unpredictable. However, the opposite is true. Use of psychological, emotional, and physical abuse intermingled with periods of respite, love, and happiness are deliberate coercive tools used to generate submission. Abusers may violently assault, then minutes later offer words of regret. Many will buy flowers, candy and other presents in order to win favor and forgiveness. This creates a very confusing environment for victims. Abusers may say they will never harm their partners again, and promise to obtain help or counseling. The violence used by abusers is controlled and manipulative. Victims often can predict exactly when violence will erupt.
Why Victims May Stay
Intimate partner violence has subtle origins. What starts out as love, courtship and concern, may turn into domination, forced adherence to rigid sex roles and obsessive jealousy. Victims may stay with someone who is abusing them for various reasons which include:
- Fear of the abuser
- Threats to harm the victim, loved ones or pets
- Threats of suicide
- Believing the abuser will take their children
- Religious reasons
- Believing the abuser will change
- Limited financial options
- Believing the violence is normal
- Believing in the sanctity of marriage and family
- Limited housing options
- Blaming the abuse on alcohol or drugs, financial pressures, or other outside factors
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of the unknown
- Embarrassment and shame
- Believing no one can help
- Cultural beliefs
- Pressure from friends and family to stay