“Is this abuse?” When the question first comes to mind, the initial answer might be dismissive. Something along the lines of, “Well, if I was being abused I wouldn’t have to ask, would I?”
The truth is abuse can often be difficult to recognize when you’re in the midst of it. When you care about and love someone, it’s normal to not want to think of them as abusive. It’s easy to make excuses for behaviors when lives are intertwined with children, houses, etc. On top of all this, a single statement from a well-meaning – but misguided – family member, friend or religious leader can make questions surface with new fervor. Add an even further hurdle that the abuse may have been happening for years, leaving someone in a state of trauma and “numbness,” and you have a perfect storm of self-doubt. In short, it’s not a silly question to be asking.
Nor is it an uncommon one. The 24-hour hotline here at CORA answers tens of thousands of calls a year and a statement such as, “I’m not sure if this is abuse or not, but …” is the beginning of quite a few of them. People generally feel that something is wrong, but since we live in a society that does not openly discuss domestic violence, it’s difficult – unless there is direct physical violence – for many to feel confident in the decision.
Let’s take a moment to look at and dispel some common reasons people overlook abuse.
DON’T SAY “IT’S NOT ABUSE BECAUSE ….”
You weren’t hit or strangled.
The vast majority of people recognize domestic violence when it involves physical violence. While hitting, strangling, slapping and other forms of harm are obvious signs, physical attacks are not the only indicators of abuse. Abuse takes emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial form, just to name a few. Just because you don’t have a bruise, doesn’t mean you aren’t in an abusive relationship.
The abuser uses drugs and alcohol.
“They didn’t mean it. They were just drunk.” There’s a common belief that drugs and alcohol can cause domestic violence. Many people use drugs and/or alcohol and are never abusive. Drugs and alcohol do not cause abuse. However, the violence may intensify when using drugs or alcohol and abusers will sometimes use them as an excuse for their behavior. Abusers who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol have two separate problems – abusive behavior and substance abuse.
You’re a man.
While it’s true that the vast majority of those who will experience abuse are women, being a male doesn’t mean you won’t experience it. The CDC tells us that 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Also, male survivors of domestic violence often have to deal with extra hurdles when seeking help. There’s a cultural stereotype of abused men as “farcical” or “weak,” so many men are reluctant to admit their situation. This is compounded when many organizations don’t offer assistance to male survivors. A Y chromosome doesn’t repel domestic violence.
(At CORA, we’re proud to say anyone experiencing abuse can utilize our programs. In fact, last year, roughly one quarter of those receiving assistance were male.)
THERE’S NO “ONE THING”
Abuse is not a single action. It is a cycle. Because of this, there is no one thing you can point to as the sole indicator of domestic violence. Instead, understanding and recognizing the cycle is essential to diagnosing if a relationship is abusive or not.
The common pattern of domestic abuse – the “Cycle of Violence” or the “Cycle of Abuse” – looks like this:
The cycle can happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship and each stage will last varying lengths for each situation.
SOME GENERAL RED FLAGS
While there is no single sign of abuse, there are some telltale signals that serve as excellent indicators. They are:
You are fearful of your partner a large percentage of the time.
You feel so badly about yourself that you believe you deserve to be physically hurt.
You fear your partner may physically harm you or take your children from you.
You sometimes wonder if you’re going crazy; that perhaps you’re overreacting to your partner’s behaviors.
Your partner is jealous and possessive, always keeping track of where you are.
You avoid certain topics in order not to anger your partner.
Your partner has threatened to commit suicide, especially as a way to keep you from leaving.
You feel emotionally numb or helpless.
If you’re experiencing any of these warning signs of abuse, you should take them very seriously and call CORA’s 24-hour hotline (1-800-300-1080) or your local domestic violence resource organization to explore the situation with a trained professional.
When many people say “domestic violence” they are normally referring to physical abuse. (Domestic violence takes many forms other than physical, of course.) Physical abuse is causing injury or otherwise endangering someone with physical force. Often called “battering,” this form of abuse has the distinction in that it is a crime and law enforcement has the clear power to intervene in these instances if needed.
Of course, being physically harmed by your partner is a sign of abuse. However, threats of violence also fall into this category. Some signals to be aware of are:
Your partner threatens you with physical violence.
Your partner has forced you to have sex when you didn’t want to.
Your partner is cruel or violent to animals.
Your partner destroys things that belong to you.
Also, remember that it’s still abuse even if the physical action seems minor or has only happened once or twice. There is not “better-to-worse” scale regarding physical abuse and studies indicate that if a partner has injured you once, they are likely to continue.
Just because you don’t have bruises, doesn’t mean you’re not in an abusive relationship. Emotional abuse can be just as destructive as physical abuse and, sadly, is far more likely to be overlooked or minimized … even by the person experiencing it.
The goal of emotional abuse is to destroy the other’s feelings of independence and self-worth. It can take the form of shaming, yelling, name-calling and intimidation (among others). This type of abuse can have severe, long-term effects, like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In short, emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse. Don’t disregard it.
Some signs of emotional abuse are:
Your partner treats you so badly you’re embarrassed for your friends and family to see.
Your partner regularly points out your flaws, mistakes or shortcomings.
Your partner is intolerant of any seeming lack of respect.
Your partner uses neglect or abandonment to punish or frighten you.
Your partner blames you for their problems, life challenges or unhappiness.
The end goal of all abusers is to control the victim. One of the easiest ways for an abuser to control another is to limit or remove their financial options and freedom. This is especially true in places like the Bay Area where the cost of living is astronomically high.
Some signs of financial abuse are:
Your partner withholds money or credit cards.
Your partner controls the money you earn.
Your partner withholds basic necessities (like clothes or medicine).
Your partner prevents you from working or choosing your own job.
Your partner sabotages your job (making you miss work, etc.).
Financial abuse is exceptionally prevalent, happening in roughly 98% of abusive relationships. It’s also especially dangerous in that it is an extremely powerful tool for trapping individuals in a domestic violence environment, essentially forcing someone to choose between an abusive relationship and poverty and homelessness.
Luckily, CORA and other community organizations are here to help in such occasions. If you’re experiencing financial abuse, you’re not trapped. At CORA, we offer emergency housing and long-term assistance to ensure there’s an escape from abuse.
If the thought– “Is this abuse?” – has crossed your mind, then the question definitely deserves more of your attention. If you need help with the process, don’t hesitate to call the CORA hotline (1-800-300-1080) and speak with one of our trained counselors. We’re here to help in any way we can, including lending a hand and empowering you to deal with any abuse you may experience.
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