Many people have experienced physical violence and abuse during their relationship usually, along with other forms of abuse, such as emotional psychological abuse, controlling behaviour, sexual or financial abuse. Physical violence may include hitting, slapping, kicking, pinching, pushing, burning, strangling, punching or being beaten up.
Being a victim of any assault can leave you feeling very vulnerable and very lonely, never sure whether to speak out to family and friends to retain a relationship.
Most people stay in abusive relationships for many years, knowing things are not right but the abusive relationship became a normal way of life. Their partners’ abusive behaviour often escalated gradually over time and they were too involved, too controlled to see the reality of their situation.
At its extreme end, the viciousness of these assaults can lead to serious, even deadly, injuries. Injuries may be inflicted many times, causing collective damage such as numerous black eyes or broken bones. Physical violence can also be directed at children. Violence and damage towards the home and property is also a common factor.
It is not just being injured by a partner which can cause physical harm. Research shows that domestic abuse can be related to a range of poor health issues including gynaecological problems, irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal issues; the effects of domestic violence and abuse on their body and mental health included being unable to eat properly or experiencing long-term progressive health problems.
For many people, emotional-psychological abuse can often be as damaging as physical abuse. Unlike the impacts of physical abuse, the emotional and psychological scars are not instantly visible; one of the major issues that people must contend with is that if it can’t be seen then it doesn’t exist. Yet constantly having to deal with the changing demands of an abusive partner wears both men and women down, so that they develop a range of problems, such as finding it difficult to sleep and eat and symptoms of anxiety, self-harming and even suicide attempts.
Both men and women have described how their partners would stop them from seeing family and friends, constantly criticise their behaviour or appearance and punish them if they failed to meet their exacting demands. By isolating people through emotional and psychological abuse, a partners’ control often increased. The impact of emotional-psychological abuse can be profound and long-lasting and leave a person feeling very alone. Once they were able to leave the abusive relationship, many people were able to regain their confidence and boost their self-esteem.
Not recognising that they were experiencing domestic abuse was the biggest barrier for both men and women in getting help and leaving an abusive relationship. They knew very little about domestic abuse. Some people said that generations of abusive and controlling relationships in their family, or a succession of recent abusive relationships distorted their understanding of what a normal relationship is like.
Recognising abuse is very important, since only when people realise what is going on did they feel able to seek help. For the majority, this was after many years of abuse or after the relationship ended. For some men and women, learning about domestic abuse came from a chance encounter with a poster or news clipping and even websites.
Understanding about abuse has a major impact, like a light suddenly coming on. People began to realise that their partner’s behaviour was not at all normal, and the realisation that it was not their fault was the first step towards getting help and leaving the relationship or, if they had already left, recovering from their experiences.
Both men and women made excuses for their partner’s behaviour or thought that it was all their own fault and felt they should work harder at their partnership to make it happier.
A major problem for both men and women was the image they had of an abused spouse was one who has been beaten up and is covered in bruises. But some people were never physically attacked, and it took most people a long time to realise they were being manipulated, bullied and brainwashed by their partner.
Friends and family were generally unaware of what was going on, and domestic violence was just not something people talked about. People felt that there was a general lack of awareness and education in society about domestic violence.
Investigations which have charted survivors over time shows how dealing with the emotional impacts of grief, anger and fear can be a long-term process.
Feelings of shock and grief after recognising abuse for some people, when they realised that they had been in an abusive relationship, the emotional and psychological impact was almost like experiencing a bereavement as they came to terms with the loss of the relationship they wanted, or thought, they had.
Alongside feelings of shock and grief, both men and women also experienced anger at their ex-partner, but quite often the anger was directed towards themselves for allowing the abuse to continue for an extended period without doing something about it.
Contributor | Brian Klein