Abuse is a pattern of verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual behaviours used by one person in order to gain power and control over another person. When you are being abused you may feel afraid, worthless and helpless. Anyone can be a victim of abuse, regardless of ethnic background, age, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, religion, marital, financial or employment status.
Am I being abused?
Please remember that no one has the right to hurt you. You have the right to be free from abuse. You are not at fault and do not cause the abuse.
The following are some of the signs of abuse:
- Ignoring or minimizing your feelings
- Constantly criticizing, insulting and calling you names
- Humiliating you in public or private
- Refusing to help you when you are sick or injured
- Controlling all the money
- Locking you out of your home
- Isolating you from your family, friends, work and community support
- Controlling where you go and what you do
- Checking up on you constantly
- Blaming you for the abuse that occurs
- Playing mind games
- Threatening to: hurt you, take your children, harm your family, and hurt you with a weapon
- Pushing, shoving, throwing objects at you
- Hitting, choking, punching, biting, slapping, kicking you
If any of these are happening to you, consider talking to someone who can help.
What are my options?
- Stay in the relationship and accept it as it is. This is a very dangerous option. There is a possibility someone will die if no changes are made. Some people are murdered, others are pushed to the limit and they murder, others commit suicide. You must realize that your children are also suffering and these effects may continue into their adult life. For example, they may become abusers, end up in abusive relationships, develop eating disorders, abuse alcohol &/or drugs, etc.
- Stay in the relationship where change is occurring. Abusers need to recognize that they need professional help and that it is wrong for them to abuse you. You cannot make changes for them. Nothing you do will stop your partner’s behaviour.
You also need someone to talk to. Find a counsellor with whom you are comfortable. Together you can explore the dynamics of your relationship and rebuild your self-esteem. Join a support group. You’ll be surprised how many people have experienced a similar situation.
- Leave the relationship and move towards a healthy environment for you and your children. Deciding to leave is a painful decision. However, once you leave, you can start to take charge of your life and begin to make decisions for yourself.
The Cycle of Violence
The “Cycle of Violence” begins in the “Tension-Building Phase”. In this phase, the abuser begins to display less lethal forms of verbal and emotional abuse. The victim may feel as if she is ‘walking on eggshells’. She may try to keep the children quiet or have supper on the table when he arrives home, with the belief or hope that she can prevent the next phase.
The abuser will then move into his “Explosive Phase”. This phase includes the worst of the verbal and emotional abuse and is when the physical and sexual abuse (if any) is most likely to occur.
After the explosive episode occurs, his behaviour in most cases, moves on to what is referred to as the “Honeymoon Phase”. He becomes the man she fell in love with. He promises to never become violent again, to stop drinking, to go to counselling, to go to church with her—he acts in ways he knows the woman desires and appreciates in an attempt to gain back the power and control. However, in a day, week, month or year, the tension begins to build again, another explosive incident occurs and the cycle continues. Over time, the honeymoon phase begins to disappear and the severity and frequency of the violence increases.
The goal of all three phases is to gain power and control over the partner. It is his cycle of behaviour – not the relationship’s cycle and is not a result of her behaviour. There is nothing she can do to prevent his cycle from continuing.
In order for his cycle to stop, he must choose to attend counselling and change his behaviour. If she chooses to leave and he does not attend counselling, his cycle will continue in his next relationship.
What Type of Person Abuses?
People who abuse believe they have the right to have power and control over their partner. They usually blame their behaviour on something or someone else. Their jobs may be too stressful, they are unemployed, and their partner provoked them. The most common excuse for abuse is alcohol. The alcohol does not cause the abuse, it makes it easier to excuse. Again, the reason behind the abusive behaviour is the belief that they have the right to power and control.
Abuse is most often a learned behaviour. Seventy-five percent of men who abuse grew up witnessing abuse in their homes. Abusive behaviour is passed on from generation to generation and without professional intervention, will
How can witnessing abuse affect my children?
Children who witness partner abuse are deeply affected by what they see. Imagine watching the two people you love most in the world fighting. Your father yells, throws objects, hits, pushes and hurts your mother. She in turn forgives him. Everything loves for a while but the violence begins again. This cycle repeats itself over and over again.
Common Reactions of Children Exposed to Partner Abuse:
- Isolation – Often these children experience a sense of shame and a need to hide the chaos at home from others. They may not want peers to come to their home or may not be allowed to have friends over. They may also act aggressively and alienate others.
- Feeling responsible for the abuse – A child may think, “If I had been a good boy/girl, daddy wouldn’t hit mommy”. This is reinforced if the parents are fighting over the discipline or care of the child(ren).
- Helplessness – A child exposed to partner abuse may feel passive and dependent on others as (s)he is unable to protect him/herself or the abused parent.
- Medical problems – In response to witnessing the violence, children may experience headaches, ulcers, stomach aches and asthma.
- Ambivalence – For a child, the idea of having two different feelings about one parent is difficult and confusing, i.e. love and anger or fear.
- Fear of abandonment – Due to the fighting, a child may have strong fears that one or both parents will leave or die.
- Emotional and behavioural problems – Child adjustment problems relate more to witnessing than to separation, divorce or the loss of a parent by death. Witnessing abuse creates the same emotional problems for children as being assaulted themselves. These children usually have greatly elevated levels of both emotional and behavioural problems in their childhood and adult life.
- Fear of physical harm to themselves – If they have left the home, a child may worry that the abuser will find and abduct or harm them, or will be very angry and retaliate if they return home. Unfortunately, these are often realistic fears.
- Pessimism about the future and over-generalization – Many children believe that partner abuse is ‘normal’ and may avoid relationships because of this belief.
- Eating and sleeping disorders – A child may display a fear of going to sleep and have nightmares or dreams of danger.
- Guilt &/or depression – A child may feel depressed, sad &/or guilty because (s)he feels responsible for the violence and is unable to stop it – even though it is beyond their control.
- Detachment, denial of seriousness and fantasies about ‘normal’ home life – A child who appears not to be bothered or barely notices when there is violence has serious problems and should get help immediately.
- Substance abuse and other delinquent behaviours – Children who witness partner abuse often have problems with school and social adjustment, higher rates of delinquency and aggression, problems of attachment, problems with substance abuse, higher rates of running away and higher rates of suicide attempts. Some children are injured or arrested in the process of trying to protect their mothers.
- Violence as a norm – Some children will learn to use violence to cope with stress and conflict in their adult relationships and parenting experiences. Males are at a higher risk to abuse their partners when they grow up. This means, without professional intervention, the cycle of violence will continue into the next generation.
Where can I get help?
Agencies and organizations that can help are listed on this website and in the front of your Direct West phone book. Safe housing, counselling, support groups and referrals to legal and financial assistance are just a few of the services that are available for people living with abuse.
For information about legal issues visit http://www.plea.org/.