Recognizing An Abusive Relationship

It is a sad fact, but abusive relationships come in all shapes and varieties. While we rightly see and hear more and more attention being focused on physical manifestations of domestic violence, abuse does not have to be physical. It can be mental and emotional as well: just because there are no physical bruises, does not mean that there is no abuse.

Abuse is any repeated or sustained pattern of intimidation, coercion, threats, belittlement, neglect, violence, or intentional infliction of mental, emotional or physical pain. Abuse can occur within romantic and dating relationships (irrespective of gender orientation), within families, and within outside relationships such as those with co-workers and classmates, where it is usually called “bullying.”

While women as a group are the most common victims of reported physical abuse -domestic violence is the No. 1 cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, and made up 20 percent of all non-fatal injury for women over the age of 12 in 2001 – but men are victims of abuse as well. Some research conducted with college-aged students showed higher rates of attack on men than women for this age group when all forms of abuse are considered.

While physical violence, hitting, shoving, or grabbing, is never justified or called for, it is important to remember that simply getting angry, having an argument with someone, or even calling someone a nasty name during a heated argument, is not necessarily a sign of abuse. People get angry and occasionally lash out; and, unfortunately, they do say nasty, hurtful, or spiteful things when they’re upset. This is not nice, it isn’t pleasant, and it shouldn’t happen, but it isn’t necessarily “abuse.”

Abuse is not an emotional reaction to a specific and singular event. Abuse is something that happens over and over again. It is something that one person does to another as a way to exhort control over that person; it is a way that some people express deeply felt hostility or resentment toward someone else. Further, despite what many people believe, domestic violence and abuse is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his or her behavior. In fact, abusive behavior and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control their partner.

It is important to realize what the signs of an abusive relationship are. Clearly, if someone is constantly showing up with bruises or injuries, that is a strong indicator that that person is being physically abused. But there are other signs of abuse as well. Among these are:

Name Calling and Belittlement: Someone who consistently calls another person names, harshly criticizes them (especially in front of others), or makes fun of them or of their physical characteristics, of their mistakes or failures, is abusing that other person., Abusers seek to break down their victim’s self-esteem and make them feel inadequate. This is both a form of hostility and part of a pattern of exerting control over someone else by making him or her feel dependent upon or subservient to the abuser.

Blame and Fault-finding: Abusers blame their victims for their bad moods, for their failures, and even for their violence and ill-treatment as a way to demean them. They consistently criticize virtually anything the victim does, especially things the victim does to appease or please them, as a way to keep the victim off balance and afraid. The abuser wants the victim to believe that he or she is the cause of his or her own victimization, and deserves it.

Threats: Abusers often threaten their victims and those their victims care about with physical violence. While perhaps not striking every time, they will repeatedly raise their hand as if ready to hit, as a show of power and to remind their victim that they can hurt him or her any time they wish to. They also undermine victims’ sense of social, economic, and domestic security with threats of dramatically changing conditions the victims considers important to his or her everyday happiness, or by taking away things important to him or her.

Isolation: The abuser often tries to isolate the victim, cutting him or her off from friends, other family members, and even outside social outlets as a way to further his or her dominance and control. It is also a way for ensuring that the victim will not tell anyone else what is going on, or that others may see and recognize signs of the abuse that is occurring.

Neglect: Neglect is the intentional and sustained denial of something the victim needs for his or her physical, emotional, or mental well-being. Children and the elderly are frequently abused in this way by being denied food, adequate clothing, or personal hygiene. Adults, particularly geographically or socially isolated individuals, might be denied financial or transportation resources. Abusers also deny their victims sex, conversation, emotional support, and even their company. All of these measures are intended to get across to the victim the notion that the abuser has ultimate control over not only their well-being, but their happiness as well.

Most people who are in abusive relationships do eventually leave their partner, but the abuse can often go on for too long before that happens. The reasons why these relationships continue include fear, a lack of financial resources, the children, guilt, even religion. For men, pride and societal disbelief about the reality of battered men, are often sited. And of course, love and the promise of reform are almost always a factor. But none of these are an excuse or a good reason to stay, and without professional intervention the support of friends and family, the situation almost never changes.

No one deserves to be in an abusive relationship.

If you or someone you know is being abused, or if you think that you are in an abusive relationship, we urge you to call Capital EAP immediately and speak to one of our trained counselors.

The Helpguide.org website provides an excellent overview of domestic violence and abuse, questions you can ask yourself or another, and an explanation of the Cycle of Violence.

You can also get help by contacting the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, or the New York State Coalition against Domestic Violence.

If you suspect that a child or teen is being abused, you can call 1-800-342-3720; and if you have reason to think that an elderly person is the victim of abuse anywhere in New York State you can call 1-800-342-3009.