Domestic violence is often characterized by bruises, but it also includes systematic emotional abuse meant to break down the victim. The problem often remains secret due to embarrassment or compromised self-esteem. As a result, victims frequently question whether they are suffering abuse, or deny their own experiences. If you find yourself trapped in this cycle of abuse and disbelief, or if you have a friend or family member facing the same, you must act now to prevent further, possibly worse physical or mental abuse in the future.
Signs of an Abusive Relationship
First, not all abuse is physical. Verbal abuse is not usually criminal, but it can be just as damaging. It often presents the victim with the same feelings as physical abuse, and can manifest outwardly with the same signs and triggers in the victim's behavior. Victims of domestic violence often report the following experiences:
Feeling like they are walking on eggshells; very frightened of setting off a partner
Public humiliation and criticism
Being treated like a servant with no control over how they spend their time
Controlling access to money
Unwanted sexual touching in public and private
Threats to leave, commit suicide, or harm pets or children
Enforcing isolation from friends and family members
Frequently questioning their own thoughts and feelings
Generally, if you feel constant fear and doubt, especially when your partner is around, you may be experiencing an abusive relationship. If you do not feel safe discussing your feelings with your partner (for fear of physical or verbal reprisals), then you are most likely in an abusive situation. Likewise, if you find a friend or family member isolating him- or herself or acting fearful, consider inquiring about the status of his or her relationship.
Not every victim of an abusive relationship can leave that situation right away. This could be because of financial, social, or other constraints. Nevertheless, if you (or someone you know) face this dilemma, there are ways to start getting out of the abusive situation while simultaneously preventing further abuse:
Counseling. Having an impartial and confidential third-party to discuss your situation with can help anyone gain new perspective and insight. It can help one rebuild his or her self-esteem, see the abusive behavior for what it is, and learn to trust his or her own instincts once again. Counselors also have access to resources you may not have considered. If you are not insured, find a non-profit mental health clinic -- many offer free or reduced fee services.
Press Charges. Do not let a physical assault go unreported. Nobody has the right to hit anyone else. While there may be financial or social reasons you may not want to report an incident, failing to report it only makes the attacker less afraid of the consequences of his or her actions. Love does not mean compromising your own physical safety at the hands of your lover. Call 911, seek medical attention, and speak openly and honestly with law enforcement about your experience. You can support yourself without the assistance of your abuser, and there are many programs run by both state and private organizations to help the victims of domestic abuse to get through difficult financial times.
Seek Support from Friends and Family. Many friends and family may not be aware of the seriousness of your situation. Start letting them in on this aspect of your life. Your counselor can also help you start this dialog with others who can assist with safety plans and offer support.
Be the Safe Place. If you have a loved one facing an abusive situation, offer a guest room or even just a couch so he or she has a place to stay when necessary. Do your best to be supportive and become familiar with the domestic violence resources in your community.
File for a Protective Order. When you leave, file a legal action for a protective order immediately. Criminal charges are more serious when a protective order is involved and it will ensure your safety more effectively.
Domestic Violence Affects Us All
It is not always easy to recognize or end domestic violence. Often, the victims can be as reluctant to cause the abuse to end as the abuser. Yet, it is not a situation anyone should tolerate, and it can be overcome. Domestic violence can have a devastating impact on everyone in your life and you community. Thus, you should know the signs, become familiar with ways to combat abusive behavior, and find or provide a safe place for the victim.