Domestic violence cases are up during this quarantine. Many people are unaware they’re even in an abusive relationship due to their denial. But being in denial could cost you your life or, at a minimum, your mental wellbeing. Emotional abuse is also DV and can lead to physical violence. Emotional and mental abuse could include controlling who you talk to, who you see, what you wear, what you’re allowed to do or where you’re allowed to go. There’s usually allegations of cheating. The abuser can also try to control you financially by convincing you to quit your job or keep you from working because they want to “take care of you.“ These behaviors could be easily disguised as your partner caring for you or wanting to protect your relationship. However, in actuality, this is control and abuse.
There’s not a typical type of victim. Abuse knows no boundaries of gender, economic or social status, education, etc... There’s no “face” to a victim. No one expects themselves to become a victim of domestic violence. The abuse starts so slowly and gradually that once you finally realize you’re in an abusive relationship it feels like it’s too late. Victims feel so poorly about themselves (lack self-esteem, confidence or financial independence) to leave. They‘re in love. There could be children involved or they could be too scared to leave. Abusers often make threats to hurt or kill the victim, the children or other family members.
Victims are sometimes scared to seek help for several reasons: they fear the abuser will follow through on their threats; they don’t want their partner to get in trouble; they want to keep their family together; they believe the abuser can change; etc... So let’s address each one of these:
1. The abuser will follow through on their threats of harm– You are already in danger every day. In most cases, these are just threats. You are usually not in an increased level of danger by leaving. In fact, by seeking help and leaving the relationship you are giving yourself the best chance at safety and freedom. 2. They don’t want their partner to get in trouble– You are not getting them in trouble! They are getting themselves in trouble. Abuse is never OK and there is nothing you could ever do to deserve this. Your protection and safety is just as important as theirs.
3. They want to keep their family together– This is not family and this is not love. The reality is, your family could be ripped apart by DV. Your children could be taken from you if they are witnessing DV and you could be charged with failing to protect them. Your children, nor you, deserve to be in an abusive environment.
4. They believe the abuser can change – if I didn’t believe that change was possible I couldn’t do my job. Change is definitely possible but several factors have to be present for this to happen. The person has to, first, identify that there’s a problem with themselves that they need to change. Most abusers do not take responsibility for their actions and blame everyone else especially the victim. If the abuser is able to take responsibility then they need to actively and regularly participate in treatment with mental health professionals. It takes a great deal of motivation and persistence to change these behaviors. This means it will take time to know for sure if the person really has changed or if they will just revert back to their old abusive ways. It is also a common misperception that confiding in a mental health professional about your abusive situation is a mandated reporting issue. This is not true if the abuse only involves adults. It only becomes a mandated reporting issue when children are involved.
There’s a common pattern and cycle to DV. Know the cycle. (from center4research.org)
Tension Building Phase
When tension builds in the relationship, victims may feel like they are “walking on eggshells” around the abuser. This phase can last for a few hours or for months, or anything in between. The longer it lasts, the more inevitable the a blow-up can start to feel, even if the victim can’t be sure exactly what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The abusive incident usually occurs when the tension finally breaks. This can play out in many different ways. Usually, this part of the cycle is when the abuser physically lashes out at the victim. The abuser may hit, rape or try to rape the victim. In relationships where the abuse is primarily psychological, the abuser may suddenly deny the victim access to basic necessities (by changing the locks on the house or cutting off access to a shared checking account, for example), calling the victim humiliating names, or making threats of violence.
During the honeymoon phase, the abuser may apologize, buy gifts, or be extra affectionate to “make up” for the abuse. Many will promise to change, promise to stop abusing, or promise that it will never happen again. These assurances are intended to persuade the survivor to stay in the relationship. Not all abusive relationships have a honeymoon phase. For some, the abusive incident is immediately followed by increasing tension before the next incident. Once the honeymoon phase is over, the tension building phase begins again, and the comforting promises the abuser made will be broken.
Here are some things you can do if your in an abusive situation:
Call a DV hotline at 800-799-SAFE
File a restraining order against your abuser and be prepared to call 911 if they violate the order
Leave and stay with a friend or family member
Find a DV shelter
Attend a DV support group
Make an appointment with a mental health professional
Look up additional resources online
Do not speak to your abuser
Do not tell them where you’re going
Block them from contacting you or following you on social media