Living with domestic abuse is something that many people suffer with in silence. I believe that domestic abuse is hugely underreported. Many people are ashamed to admit to what they are enduring. Some don’t even acknowledge that they are victims of domestic abuse. When I refer to domestic abuse, I am talking about physical violence as well as mental and emotional abuse.
The pattern of domestic abuse
I grew up with domestic abuse. My mother and both her sisters had experiences with men that hit them. The boyfriend who used to beat my mother, Phillip, would lose his temper and hit my mother. He would then go through a phase of remorse and would buy her gifts and promise never to do it again, but he always did. I was petrified of him. I remember being four years old and hearing my mother in the lounge whimpering. It was night time and I was in my bed. I came up and pleaded with Phillip not to hurt my mother but he just snarled at me to get back to my room. Phillip had my mother on the floor and was towering over her. I was too afraid to disobey him. I never forgot that incident but thankfully blocked out most of his violent episodes.
Watch out for these signs at the beginning of the relationship
Abusers often operate in a smilar way. They have often had screwed up childhoods and have learned an uncanny way of tuning in to other people’s strengths and weaknesses. They use this in an almost psychic fashion to pick partners who will be easy to manipulate. They will often be especially complimentary initially, highly romantic and will ‘reel’ you in with attention and compliments.
Once they have you hooked emotionally, the abuse starts, often slowly at first but gaining momentum as time goes by. They may display controlling tendencies – wanting to know where you are all the time. They may be quite jealous and might start to subtly alienate you from family and friends.
Then the criticism will begin – you don’t dress well, you don’t keep the house clean enough or your cooking is awful. Slowly but surely they erode your confidence and this can also make it harder to find the energy to get out. They can get into the habit of insulting you, things like “You are a slut” or “You are a whore” or “No one else will put up with you or love you if you leave me”.
People often ask why women don’t just leave but it is rather more complicated than that. There is an odd psychological bong between the abuser and the victim and the victim often ends up blaming themselves. They think that if only the cleaned the house better they wouldn’t get the abuse. This is erroneous thinking. The victim never deserves the abuse – ever.
When I think about my own childhood and exposure to domestic abuse and consider my work as a counsellor with victims of domestic abuse, I find the phenomenon hugely alarming. I believe that it is a huge concern and that as many as 4 in 10 households experience some form of domestic abuse at one time or another.
How to deal with domestic abuse
Are you constantly criticised? Can you never do anything right? Is everything always your fault? If this is the case, you are being emotionally abused. Unfortunately, perpetrators of domestic abuse rarely change. Their mental ‘wiring’ is faulty and only intense therapy and the real desire to change would bring about a posiitive change.
Victims of domestic abuse often have low self esteem and this assists the unhealthy dynamic, keeping the victim under the control of the abuser for longer. When you respect yourself and love yourself, it is easier to feel that you don’t deserve to be criticised and be made to feel you are useless. It doesn’t make it easier to leave but psychologically psyching yourself up can help you to build the strength to one day leave and find a happier more loving realtionship.
Don’t keep quiet. Talk to a counsellor or find a local domestic abuse charity, Yes, it is a big step but be more afraid of the consequences of staying rather than leaving. You are almost certainly inviting misery into your future life by staying. Take it one step at a time.
Find out what help there is, speak to others and begin to devise a plan to get out. Be careful though as victims are at their most vulnerable when they leave their abusive perpetrator.
If you feel really stuck, write to me. I will do my best to support you. I have been through it personally as a child and have also been in a relationship that involved emotional abuse. I now want to help other women to break free of this destructive cycle. You owe it to yourself. Life is too short for fear and daily misery.
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