Let’s be very clear about this: most people who are victims of domestic violence think that domestic violence happens to other people, not to them.
There are many reasons why people, more commonly women, stay in a toxic relationship way too long. Mostly, they stay as long as they do because they aren’t even aware that what they are experiencing is domestic violence. They tell themselves it isn’t domestic violence because of any, or all, of the following:
a) They are middle or high income – and they know that domestic violence is something that only affects the people at the very bottom of the social heap.
b) Their partner doesn’t hit them.
c) Their partner only hits them when he has been drinking.
d) He is a well regarded member of the community, or church.
e) That was what they witnessed in the home, when they were growing up.
f) Their partner repeatedly tells them that something they did, triggered his behaviour.
g) He may apologise, seem sincerely sorry, and vow that it won’t happen again – although it always does.
h) Their partner tells them that they are ‘too sensitive’ and are exaggerating the importance of their fights.
These are only some of the reasons why victims of an abusive relationship tend to doubt their own feelings.
In reality, domestic violence affects people of all races, religions, and social and economic groups.
Nor does the violence have to be physical to qualify as domestic violence. Any relationship in which one partner is consistently hurt – emotionally and/or physically – by the other is a relationship of domestic violence. A relationship in which humiliation, criticism, superiority, contempt and fear are consistently visited on a partner is a relationship of domestic violence.
Never underestimate the power of words to inflict damage. I have heard many, many mentally, emotionally abused women say: “Ah, but it can’t be domestic violence, because he doesn’t hit me“. What they don’t realize is that their fear of receiving a tongue lashing from their partner is every bit as effective a weapon of control as is the threat of physical violence. Their partner may choose not to hit, for his own reasons, but he has no qualms about using words to intimidate and brutalize.
Brutal words cause as much enduring damage to the mind as physical violence ever causes to the body.
But, you may still be wondering if this information applies to you. If you are like most abused women, you will be saying: “Yes, but, my partner is really not that bad. He loves me really…” Maybe he does still tell you that he loves you from time to time, to keep you on side. An abusive partner will declare their love occasionally, especially when they feel that they may have pushed you too far.
The real clues to whether or not you are in an abusive relationship lie with you and your feelings. So let’s take a quick look at some of the key indications that you are in an abusive relationship.
- Walking on eggshells. Most of the time, you feel like you are walking on eggshells. You know that it doesn’t take very much for your partner to become angry and pick a fight with you. You spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep him happy, yet he can find fault with you about absolutely anything. You can never guarantee getting through any situation whatsoever without him finding fault with you.
- You constantly obsess about him. An abused woman tends to lose sight of herself: she spends her whole life worrying about her partner’s mood, his behaviour, and whether or not he loves her. In their mind everything is about him, not about you.
- You are generally unhappy. If you are in an abusive relationship, you will laugh rarely, because you have a very heavy heart. You view your life as a difficult, painful affair that you feel powerless to change, much as you try. Misery has become your default state.
- You feel bad about yourself. You spend your time either blaming yourself, or wondering if everything that happens is your fault – and therefore you should blame yourself. Your partner has trained you in this pattern by blaming you for anything and everything that goes wrong in his life. You end up disliking yourself as heartily as he dislikes you.
- You shoulder the responsibility for the entire relationship. It takes two people to make a relationship work. It takes two people to do the work in a relationship. A functional relationship is all about reciprocity, or mutuality, if you prefer. It is about two people caring for each other, supporting each other, actively, and sharing. One key indication of an abusive relationship is that one partner spends time desperately trying to make the relationship work, while the other spends the time taking it apart.
- You are constantly minimizing, denying and excusing. You manage to find a number of “reasons” to explain and excuse his behaviour: stresses at work, a difficult childhood, bad past relationships… You also tell yourself that things are not really that bad. In fact, you have become so good at denial (that is, lying to yourself) that you can manage to overlook his contempt, his affairs, his meanness, his ill treatment of the children, his bad behaviour with other people. Even when you find yourself actually apologizing for him, you still tell yourself: “It’s not that bad.”
- You give up on your own life. You give up on yourself, and your own right to happiness, fulfillment and even your own interests. You tell yourself that “it is all over for you”, and that staying is the best thing for the children. You put yourself a very poor second to him in everything. You come to believe that you have nothing to look forward to, and that you would be lost without him. In reality, you have lost sight of yourself with him.
Does any of this sound like you? If it does, you are in an abusive relationship. You may still be hoping that if you just pour enough love into your abusive partner, then one day, he will finally return that love. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. The reasons why your partner stays with you, and treats you the way he does, have little, or nothing, to do with love.
The good news is that it is not too late for you to get out, build a more rewarding life for yourself, and provide a better role model for your children – if you have children.
If you would like to walk away from the skewed, wretched world of abuse, hold this thought: a much, much better life awaits you. Only take action, take that first step, and you can grow your self-esteem, create a happy life for yourself, and find the fulfillment you deserve.