What is domestic abuse?
What counts as abuse in relationships and marriages?
As human beings, we all crave a sense of safety, belonging, being cared for and loved; feeling like we matter.
This is especially essential for our brains and functionality and our general wellbeing. This is why we seek connections with others with the hope that we will have that sense of belonging, that sense of safety and feeling like we are cared for and loved. So we form groups, teams, friendships, relationships…
Then there is marriage and families, the most valued and treasured forms of connections.
When you get into a marriage, your hope is to create a home and a family that will be your source of peace, joy, comfort…where you can all thrive, laugh and learn, the foundation of all these being love, respect, trust and a sense of being cared for.
But for many, peace is replaced with anxiety, joy robbed by unhappiness, comfort taken over by worry and walking on eggshells. Fear and lack of trust are what you know. You have lost meaning to what love and respect are.
Plagued by domestic abuse, families have largely become a threat to individuals.
Someone aptly said, “Today, intimate partners, not strangers or men with guns, INTIMATE PARTNERS are the greatest threat to an individual’s life, health and sanity.”
The many cases we see, hear about, bear witness to, the experiences we have out here are evidence enough.
Domestic abuse is far much common than many will care to admit.
And then there is a dangerous assumption that it is only abuse when it is physical. The reality of abuse takes a much bigger scope than just someone being physically violent. In fact, physical abuse in MOST cases comes after the abuser has already subjected their victims to more serious, non-physical forms of abuse.
Unfortunately, many people in abusive relationships/marriages are unaware of what is considered abuse. We have been taught to see abuse in a certain way and when we don’t see that, however hurt we are, we don’t know whether to consider it abuse or not.
Before we dive into the specifics of abuse, let’s quickly define what it is in general.
Simply put, abuse is any pattern of behavior used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another.
Domestic abuse is all about power and control. Right at the center of it all, there is the need for the perpetrator to feel more powerful and in control. There are many things that will lead to a person seeking power and control over another. I will talk about that in my subsequent posts.
Let’s dive into the specifics.
“What if there are no bruises during physical abuse?” someone asked?
When you think of physical abuse you are thinking commotion, screams, bruises, scars, swellings…
Reality is many times physical abuse is happening in silence, behind closed doors. You don’t have to hear screams and commotion. You don’t have to see bruises or scars.
Physical abuse is any INTENTIONAL action by another that causes or MAY cause injury or trauma, or result in physical pain or impairment.
It can also be defined as INTENTIONAL and UNWANTED contact with you or something close to your body
- Beating, punching, kicking, strangling, hitting, biting, scratching, slapping, whipping
- Throwing something at you for example a shoe or phone
- Pulling your hair
- Using a weapon like a knife, a panga, a bat…
- Pushing you or shoving you
- Smacking your butt without your permission
It is extremely rare for physical abuse to be present without other forms of abuse already in play. It mostly happens where there is already existing emotional and verbal abuse. It starts with demeaning and controlling behavior before it escalates into violence.
Many times it develops from the most seemingly “harmless” acts like pushing and violent grabbing, maybe a slap or a shove and gradually gets worse over time.
One thing you should know, when a person gets physically abusive with you once, chances are they will do it another time and it will get worse.
Another thing that you should be on the lookout for is how the abusive person tries to make it look like you, the victim, “made” them abuse you. You will even hear people close to you ask things like “what did you do for them to beat you like that?” Remember this; you are NOT responsible for the perpetrators actions. IT IS NOT your fault that they cannot think of a better way to resolve a conflict or to communicate. Violence or abuse CANNOT be justified.
“He would say he loves me. He would always say I was the only reason he would ever be happy and if I ever left him he would kill himself. But he treated me in ways that made me want to kill myself.”
They treat you in bad ways…but claim if you left them they would kill themselves or even kill you. Love or manipulation? We will get to know soon.
Listen to this:
“In my previous marriage I dealt with a lot of physical abuse and sexual abuse. I knew what they were and I knew they were wrong but it took me a while to leave. However, what I didn’t notice at the time was that since the start of our relationship there had been emotional abuse too. He was controlling and manipulative. I had a young son and he started looking after him. He was overly loving to him. He would seem like such a gentle man. He never allowed me to go out by myself. He came out on girl’s night outs with me. He integrated himself in every single aspect of my life. At the time I was so confused and honestly brainwashed and saw all that as a sign he was kind and caring. It was when he raped me for the first time that the rose tinted glasses fell off. It got worse and scary after that. It affected my mental wellbeing a great deal.”
Emotional abuse is not always obvious.
It is one of the hardest forms of abuse to recognize.
Emotional abuse is consistent pattern of abusive words and behaviors that wears down your self-esteem and compromising your sanity and mental health
You may know obvious signs of emotional abuse but when you are the MIDST of it and are the one on the receiving end it can be easy to miss the persistent abusive behaviors.
It creeps in relationships slowly, sometimes disguised as acts of care and kindness. You will see the control that many times is justified or claimed as a show of care and need to protect you. But it ALWAYS gravitates towards the worst. Many times they get physically even sexually abusive. Like we saw above, physical abuse is MOSTLY preceded by emotional abuse.
Here are a few examples of emotional abuse. Remember, many of these acts or behaviors start off so subtly that many people are confused and may not detect at first. But that doesn’t mean the damage isn’t happening. It is important to learn the early signs.
- Discrediting, isolating and controlling you. Isolation and control is a strategy used by almost most abusers. Emotional abusers are no different. For example:
- They control when you leave the house, for how long, when you should be back…
- They control who you see, who you talk to, who you spend time with. These include family and friends.
- They constantly monitor or check your phone calls, text messages, social media, emails…
- They falsely accuse you of cheating and are jealous of any outside relationship you may have with others.
- Demanding to know where you are even tracking you
- They treat you like property or possession. They act like they own you.
- They criticize and make fun of your family or (and) friends.
- They use jealousy and envy as a sign of love
- They control the finances
- Emotionally black mailing you, making you feel guilty. For example,
- They deny an event happening or lie about it.
- they humiliate you in public or private, cutting into your self-esteem and making you believe you are worthless
- They use your fears, weaknesses, and compassion, values to control you or the situation.
- They exaggerate your flaws, pointing them out to deviate attention or avoid talking about or taking responsibility of their mistakes and poor choices.
- They punish you by withholding affection and the silent treatment.
- They create a chaotic environment by:
- Having drastic mood changes
- Sudden emotional outbursts. They make you feel like you are walking on eggshells. You have to tiptoe around their emotions.
- Picking on little things about you for example your hair, cloths, your work, etc.
- Making confusing and contradictory statements.
- They just start an argument for the sake of it.
- Name calling and putting you down. (This can fall under verbal abuse as well. But, it directly has an impact on the emotional wellbeing of an individual.
- Invalidating you. “How” you ask. Here is how
- They refuse to acknowledge or accept your opinions and ideas as valid.
- They consider your requests and wants as merely ridiculous and unmerited even dismissing them.
- They constantly undermine, dismiss and distort your reality and how things really are. For example, you know the relationship is strained because of how they probably are acting but they will make you think you are merely overreacting and your perceptions are not the reality.
- They refuse to accept your feelings even try to define how you should feel. For example, you are hurt by the fact that they are cheating on you but instead of accepting that your realistic feeling is hurt “you should be happy I married you.” They expect you to feel happy in a situation that is clearly making you feel pained.
- They accuse you of being too sensitive or over reacting or being too emotional even crazy when you express your concern about their actions or their words
- If you express your needs or wants they accuse you of being selfish and needy and self-centered.
- Having unrealistic expectations from you or unreasonable demands. For example:
- Expect you to put everything aside and meet their needs
- No matter how you try to please them, they will still show dissatisfaction
- They criticize how you do things and how you don’t meet their standards
- They expect you to unquestioningly share their opinions.
- They act superior to you and exude a sense of entitlement. For example:
- Their words and action show that they see you as inferior to them.
- They blame you for their mistakes and shortcomings.
- They doubt everything you say and are always trying to prove you wrong.
- Make jokes at your expense.
- They tell you or insinuate that your ideas, opinions, thoughts are illogical and stupid, they don’t make sense.
- They constantly talk down to you
- They use sarcasm when interacting with you
- They act like they are always right.
“Throughout my childhood, my father could verbally abuse my mother in front of me and my older siblings. It psychologically scarred my adult life. I grew up feeling worthless. I guess this is also why I was always frightened of any male teachers throughout my school years. I also grew up afraid of any males in general. This caused me to have anxieties and depression.”
Words can be a weapon
They cut deep
They leave wounds and scars
They can hurt
When hurtful words are being thrown around by people in a marriage, they can hurt more than just one person…the kids around that environment end up damaged as well.
When someone repeatedly uses words to demean you, frighten you, control you, it can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. It is considered abuse. Many times, it escalates to physical abuse.
Here is the thing,
We all get into arguments sometimes. But healthy arguments SHOULD NOT involve name calling, character assignation, SHOULD NOT happen every day, there are NO punishments or threats involved. You both maturely reach a mutual compromise and move forward without having attacked the other.
Also note; verbal abuse doesn’t always have to be someone yelling or screaming at you. Most times these verbal abuses are calm, camouflaged remarks intended to put you down or devalue you. A lot of these remarks are made behind seemingly kind spiritual masks yet their true intent is to control you, your thoughts, your actions and how you generally live your life.
Here are some verbal forms of abuse:
- Name calling. “You are dumb”, “No wonder you are ugly…”
- Using words to belittle you. For them to feel superior, they resort to using condescending words on you. They are repeatedly sarcastic. For example they will make snarky comments about how you look and say they were joking. They will even go ahead to label you “too sensitive” for being hurt by their comments
- Persistent, harsh criticism. “You can’t do anything right.”
- Humiliating, shaming, and making you feel bad about yourself. They slowly eat into your esteem and confidence. “Without me you are nothing.” “You can’t have a better life without me.”
- Using words to manipulate you into doing something. They will make you agree to things you are not naturally comfortable with. They will make remarks like “If you love me you will agree to what I’m saying.”
- Blaming you for their behavior. Listen to this, “I called you that because you made me.” They make their actions and choice of words towards you your fault.
Take a look at this;
“He would accuse me of moving my hips during sex and use that as an excuse to hurt me sexually. He could hold my legs down so firm that it left bruises. I could just lay there and cry as he proceeded to finish himself off. If I tried to move he could accuse me of trying to hurt his penis. I felt weak, pathetic and scared. I could curl up in a ball disgusted and crushed. I finally accepted I needed to see a therapist and seek help to leave.”
Another one says;
“I was raped through coercion, use of Ambien (a sedating drug) and simply being ignored when I said No for 20 years. I spoke to lawyers, police, and women’s advocates, no one helped. He made me feel unsafe, abused my kids and mocked me about raping me. No one cares if this happens to you. No one!!! He will never even pay the price of social embracement for his actions. It doesn’t matter if you know it is rape. No one gives a damn!”
When it comes to sexual abuse, especially in relationships and marriage, our eyes are WIDE SHUT!
We have been taught to think sexual abuse can’t happen between two people that are in a relationship or are married. In fact, the only sexual abuse that lingers our minds is rape by anyone aside of the one the victim could be involved romantically with or married to.
But you will be surprised to know just how much sexual abuse is happening between intimate partners.
The teachings that spread around especially directed to women that if your husband wants sex, you HAVE TO give in regardless of the situation or circumstances. When you HAVE TO do it against your own wish, it doesn’t matter if the person demanding is married to you or not, it is an act of sexual violation, sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something they don’t want to do sexually. Behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the CIRCUMSTANCES in which sexual activity occurs. These include rape and restricting one’s access to birth control and condoms.
Side note: Just because someone didn’t say NO doesn’t mean they meant YES. Sometimes victims’ attempt to resist puts them in bigger danger and risk of further sexual or physical harm. SILENCE DOESN’T MEAN CONSENT.
Let’s look at some of the actions and behaviors that count as sexual abuse.
- Rape or attempted rape. Of course, what most of us know. And yes, rape is happening even in relationships and marriages. We shall talk about that in details in our subsequent posts.
- Unwanted rough and violent sex.
- Unwanted kissing and touching.
- Refusing to use condoms or restricting a person’s access to birth control.
- Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases
- Sexual contact with someone that is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or unable to give a clear and informed yes/no.
- Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity including oral sex, pornography, stripping etc.
- Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex or perfume sexual acts.
- Using sexual insults towards someone.
Things to note
- Everyone has a right to decide what they want to do or don’t want to do sexually.
- Not all sexual assaults are violent attacks
- Sexual abuse can happen between two people that have been in a good sexual relationship before.
- Sex should be fun for all the parties involved. Once one doesn’t find it fun and wishes it stops or don’t happen, then that is exactly what should happen.
“I started dating my now ex-husband back in college. I didn’t realize how controlling he was until much later. He would be very angry with me if I bought anything without checking with him first including buying food. Everything had to be Okayed by him. It came to a head when he realized that our career paths would leave us with a significant income difference and I would be making more than him. He tried to convince me to quit school and choose a different kind of career and job path so that our incomes would be more equivalent.”
Should you be made to feel bad for making more money than your partner? What effect does that have on you?
Financial abuse is not one that many people are aware of.
Like emotional abuse, financial abuse can be disguised as care and love. Many abusive people will try to control the financial independence of their spouse and call it care.
Below are examples of how one can financially abuse another:
- Forbidding you from working or defining what kinds of job you can take up outside your own comfort. This is common. And many times it is justified if the one trying to control is the man …especially if he is what one you can easily call “a provider.” But financial independence is very important. Provision shouldn’t be a reason to limit the financial independence of another.
- Having total control over money including your own money. This may include having total control over bank accounts, credit cards, investments leaving you with little to no say over it.
- Keeping you from shared bank accounts and records.
- Denying you access to your money
- Forcing or coercing you to stop working. Coercion is basically pressuring you or persuading you to stop working, sometimes using force or threats and ultimatums.
- Preventing you from going to work.
- Getting you fired by harassing you at your work place, talking ill to your employer about you or even harassing your colleagues or employer.
- Obtaining loans in your name without your consent.
- Refusing to give you money for basic things like rent, food, medical care, clothing…
- Using money to hold power over you and control you because they know you are not in the same financial status as them and are helpless.
- Spending money on themselves but won’t allow you to do the same.
- Manipulating you to spend money in a way that you are not comfortable. For example investing in their name.
- Being forced to hand over any money you earn to them.
I have talked about five types of abuses. Of course there are more that have been documented like psychological abuse (Which presents more like emotional abuse and that is why I haven’t mentioned it here), mental abuse, digital abuse, stalking….abuse takes a pretty big margin. It is NOT limited to what I have put together here. As we keep having this discussion, we will definitely talk about each in a more candid way.
The examples I have given under each abuse discussed are not also limited to that. Each abusive situation is unique and the behaviors and acts mentioned don’t have to happen in that exact way. They can take a different form but will have a very similar impact on the victims.
I will conclude this long write up with a few things to note:
- Domestic abuse is more common than you might imagine
- Domestic abuse poses serious danger to the physical, emotional, psychological and general wellbeing of an individual. This includes the kids being raised in that home.
- There are severe consequences following exposure to domestic abuse
- DO NOT ignore your feelings. If your gut instinct tells you that something feels wrong, DO NOT ignore.
- DON’T suffer in silence. Abuse is not something you should hide. Come out, speak up, and talk to somebody. That is the only way you will get help.
- If you are a victim of any abuse, remember, it is NOT your responsibility to fix or change the abuser. Your safety and that of the children (if any) should come first. You can’t pull out thorns from another person’s foot when you are standing in the middle of the thorn thicket. You will end up more hurt.
- Abusive people are damaged people. They are hurting people. But that doesn’t mean you should keep exposing yourself to them. Find a safe space from their abuse to heal. Let them also seek help for themselves and heal
- Denial delays healing. Accept that you are being abused so that you can begin to heal.
- Abused people can become abusers.
- There is ALWAYS a way to get out and a safer place to be. Don’t allow yourself to be helpless.
- IF IT ISN’T LOVE, IT IS TIME TO LEAVE
BY JACKIE WANGWE