Recently, I’ve been reading in the media about various cases of violence against women and I continue to be amazed by the many different descriptions or excuses that are given for the act of violence. ‘I only hit her once,’ ‘he didn’t mean to hurt me,’ ‘he promised not to do it again,’ ‘I have no choice, I don’t have anywhere to go,’ ‘It was the devil that made me do it,’ ‘he doesn’t actually hit me that hard;’ and so many more.
Things to note in your partner’s behaviour if you are in an abusive relationship include being humiliated or yelled at most of the time, or if you are being criticised and put down. Also, if you feel so embarrassed at how you are treated that you prefer to avoid seeing friends and family as a couple, this might be an indication that your relationship is unhealthy.
Other more violent behaviour by your partner might include having a bad and unpredictable temper; actually causing you bodily harm by physical violence or always threatening to hurt you, or to send you packing out of the house. Acting excessively jealous, possessive or forcing you to have sex against your wishes are all abusive behaviours. It might be that your partner demands that you let him know everywhere you go and what you do; he may also limit your access to money if he is the sole or significant provider in the relationship.
You might feel none of the examples mentioned above are representative of your own personal situation; however, if you are being honest to yourself, you will know if anything you have read so far reflects some aspects of the type of relationship you are in.
There is a difference between domestic abuse (DA) and domestic violence (DV). Domestic abuse occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.
DV and DA are used for one purpose, which is to gain and maintain total control over a person/partner. Where an abuser is concerned, fear, guilt, shame and intimidation are used to wear you down and to keep you under their thumb. The abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.
DV and DA do not discriminate. They occur across society, regardless of age, ethnic backgrounds, educational and financial backgrounds. And while women are more commonly victimised, men can also be abused, mostly verbally and emotionally.
Shocking statistics in the United Kingdom, according to a crime report for the last 3-5 years suggest that DV accounts for 20 per cent of all violent crime and it is said to claim the lives of two women each week. The report further goes on to say DV is known to be the largest cause of morbidity worldwide in women aged between 19 and 44, which the report says is greater than war, cancer or motor vehicle accidents.
It is believed that one in four women will suffer DV in their lifetime. I don’t know about you, but these are pretty abysmal and staggering statistics. I wonder what our statistics in Africa would tell us. We all know that gender-based violence around the world and in Africa in particular are pretty horrendous. A lot of people reading this at this stage might begin to think that this doesn’t really apply to them, and that is the misconception about DA and DV. There are very subtle variations of it that still qualify.
DA often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to physical violence; and while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of DA can be equally severe. The point is that no one deserves this kind of pain, and there is nothing that gives it any credibility.
There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel you have to walk on egg shells around your partner, constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a massive argument, chances are the relationship is unhealthy. There are many behaviours and habits we settle for in the erroneous belief that it is fait accompli, or culturally acceptable, regardless of the physical, emotional or psychological collateral damage that accompanies it.
Other signs that might suggest that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you. Also, if you have feelings of self loathing, helplessness and desperation, these may also be signs of abuse.
Other inner thoughts and feelings you may have if in an abusive relationship include: avoiding certain topics out of fear of annoying your partner, feeling that you can’t do anything right for your partner. You might even believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated. I can’t count the number of times I have heard my AEB fans say that they believed they had provoked their husband or partner in some way and they could understand why he felt he had no alternative but to pummel them.
Some of them would even go on to say that at least they knew their partners felt passionate about them, which was evident in the beatings they got. I have always struggled at times like this in the consulting room, because I sometimes instinctively want to reach across and give my client a good shake and ask them, most of who are professionals, if they can hear what they are saying, and if they turn on their intellectual brains, would it make sense to them? But then, that is the insidious nature of DA and DV, or what is commonly known as Battered Wife Syndrome. You feel emotionally numb, helpless, with very little self-esteem and self worth.
Despite what many people believe, domestic violence and abuse are not due to the abusers’ loss of control over their behaviour. Abusive behaviour and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control their partner… It is about power!
There are three important steps to take if you are in an abusive relationship. Recognise that it is happening to you, accept that you are not to blame or responsible for your partner’s behaviour, and try to get some support in whatever form that is right or comfortable for you (at the very least, tell someone). Most of all, remember you really don’t have to live with it!