What is abuse?
Are you wondering if you or someone you love is being abused? Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, family violence, and intimate partner violence (IPV) are patterns of behaviors used by one or both partners in an intimate relationship to control the other. Partners may be married or not married. Abuse may be verbal, emotional, physical or sexual. Abuse is progressive and if you are in an abusive relationship the abuse will likely progress to higher levels throughout the length of the relationship.
How do I know if I am in an abusive relationship?
While all relationships have their ups and downs, disagreements and sometimes arguments are inevitable. This is normal. In addition to the red flags which I will discuss, an abusive relationship is one in which you begin to lose touch with who you are. You may begin to suppress your feelings because feeling numb feels better than feeling sad. You may begin to suppress your words for fear of his response and you begin to feel lonelier being with him than you did when you were alone. In a healthy relationship each person is concerned about the happiness and well being of the other person. They seek to alleviate one another’s pain, rather than inflict it. Real love should enhance, not limit who you are!
Can an abuser change?
It is not likely that an abuser will change. It is important to understand that the abuser does not have “anger issues.” Most abusers are very charming and capable of maintaining healthy, pleasant relationships with friends and co-workers. Abuse is a choice that the abuser inflicts on his most intimate relationship and is driven by a sense of entitlement. His behavior towards you is part of his character and you cannot change someone’s character. Stop thinking that if you behave in a certain way, he will change. This isn’t about you or anything that you did or didn’t do, despite what he tells you. An abuser will only change if he can recognize the error in his thought process, stop blaming others for his actions, take responsibility, make amends with those he hurt and most importantly… be consistent. This has to come from his own desire within, otherwise the appearance of change may be part of his manipulation to reel you back in. Again, it is not about anger issues, but about a sense of entitlement and control. Unfortunately, many abusers are never able to break the cycle. If you have been living an abusive relationship, this is the time to start thinking about how to best take care of you!
He didn’t treat me well, so why do I miss him now that he is gone?
Now that you are out of the relationship you may begin to feel emotions that weren’t possible when your main focus was survival. You might start to miss the good times now. He may be apologetic and express his love for you once again, with promises to change. As I have said before, no abusive relationship is outwardly violent all the time… but don’t begin to overlook the abuse now that you are out of it. We are all capable of manipulating our own perceptions. When we want someone to love us, we perceive them as loving. What you may be missing now is the loss of your dreams that you had for your relationship, not so much the loss of the person who was inflicting abuse on you. The end of an intimate relationship frequently results in a sense of loss and grief, even when the relationship was abusive. Your feelings are normal. Just remember that while you are mourning the loss, it is the choices you make now that will predict your future happiness. Remember why you left… you left because you were being abused! Remember how hard it was and how long it took you to get out? You have already come so far! Now is the time to focus on rebuilding your life! When you can let go of the past you will find hope in your future!
I know my husband is abusive to me, but shouldn’t I stay for the kids?
Understanding the long term effects on children who are exposed to abuse may help you make a decision regarding what is best for your children. It is important to know that men who abuse their partners are more likely to abuse their children as well! When children experience violence in the home, they are more likely to carry that abuse into their own families when they become adults. Studies have shown that half of male abusers come from homes with abusive fathers. In their adult lives, female children who were exposed to violence in the home often fall into relationships with men who display similar abusive behavior patterns that their father did. The abuse does not only affect you, but has long term effects on the children, and the cycle of abuse will likely continue in their lives. These children often have higher rates of aggression, substance abuse, depression and behavior problems.
My sister is in an abusive relationship. What can I do to help her?
Don’t ignore signs of abuse! Talk to her when she is alone. Ask her if she will let you help her make plans to get out. She is going to have a lot of mixed feelings and likely feel very confused by the turn of events that her relationship has taken. It takes time for an abused woman to sort through all her feelings. Respect her feelings, even if you don’t agree. It is normal for her to love him. After all, she married him for a reason. Don’t make her feel judged. She needs to be heard. Don’t think for her. Think with her. Listen to her and be patient. If you think she is in immediate danger, however, call the police. It is painful for family and friends to witness the pain and abuse that someone they love is enduring. The best way you can help her get out of the abusive relationship is to listen to her and support her. She needs to know you are there for her and that you are on her side. If she feels she has to defend herself and her feelings she will likely shut down. The best thing you can do is meet her at the same level she is at emotionally and work forward from there. She will be more likely to let you lead her if you are walking with her rather than dragging her or pushing her.
I know I am in an abusive relationship, but now what? I’m scared, but I don’t feel like I can get out.
You have taken the first step by recognizing the abuse and admitting it to yourself. Now it is important to create a safety plan and make preparations. Notify your neighbors so they can call the police if they see what appears to be a dangerous situation unfolding. Have an emergency bag for your pets and children and always sleep with a charged cell phone next to your bed at night in case you can’t get out on a land line. I always kept my purse and my car keys next to my bed in case I had to leave quickly during the night. I will elaborate in more detail additional safety measures and action plans that you can make.
These are just some of the many questions about domestic violence and abusive relationships that victims of abuse, as well as family and friends have. In my book I will share with you what I experienced during my marriage and the domestic violence that ensued and culminated when he loaded a 44 magnum with the intent of a suspected murder/suicide. I will help you understand the cycle of abuse, the “red flags” to be aware of before considering a deeper relationship, and what is going on in an abuser’s head when he alternates between violence and abuse then apologies and expressions of love. Abuse affects not only the person being abused, but the children in the home, as well as family and friends in your life who love and care about you. I understand how difficult it is to talk about it. I understand that he has made you feel badly about yourself and you are confused. You may not even understand your own feelings. You may wonder what people will think about you if they knew what he was doing to you. You do not deserve this! It is not a reflection of you or your choices or your worth, but on the abuser and his inability to respect and love you in the way that you deserve. Do not be embarrassed. So many people love you and want to see you smile again. I will help you understand your feelings and take the steps towards getting your life back.
If you are not involved in an abusive relationship, but concerned for someone who you suspect is being abused I will help you understand what is going on in the victim’s head and provide you with suggestions on how to successfully reach out to her so she can begin taking the steps to get out of the abusive relationship. I will help you understand why she has stayed for so long.
And once you have taken the steps and made the choice to be in charge of your own life again, in all its freedom and light and laughter and beauty… I will help you begin to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving in the direction your life was truly intended to take you… the life where you will feel peace in your heart again and see the world in color once more… the life where you just can’t stop smiling.