Domestic abuse is often seen as physical violence. But it encompasses much more than that. Abuse comes in all kinds of shapes and disguises.

This happens to men and women, although cases against women are far higher, we should all be mindful of respecting each other.

Physical abuse

This is totally unacceptable, no one has the right to inflict a cut, burn, bruise or broken bones on another. Too often I hear women saying -‘it was only once, he said he was sorry and couldn’t wait to make it up to me’. He promised never to do it again’. Very often after talking to them some more, I discover it didn’t happen just once. They brush aside the black eye, saying they stupidly walked into a door. Other bruises are blamed on tripping over steps, missing their footing on the stairs. But many times, the bruises are inflicted in areas that don’t show, because the abuser is clever.

Sexual Abuse

Did you know that rape within marriage wasn’t considered a crime until May 2004? Up until that time a woman had to comply with any kind of sexual behaviour their husband wanted. Horrifying as that sounds, too often women are still subjected to sexual acts they are unhappy about and don’t want to take part in. Sex is not just a physical act, it’s the connection of two loving people, who agree together what is ok and what isn’t. Coercion doesn’t come into it. It’s important that you talk to each other about what you enjoy and what you don’t. If you don’t enjoy anal or oral sex or a particular position, say so. Don’t suffer pain or discomfort, either intentional or unintentional.
A loving, caring partner will respect your feelings.

Emotional Abuse

This can so often be explained as them showing their love and attention, wanting the best for you. That’s the reason they worry who you spend time with, that your friends aren’t the best company for you, complaining they are a bad influence. They criticise the way you dress. You comply with their wishes, not only because you want to please them, but they have told you of their concerns that someone might make a pass at you, or even worse, you could be raped. They check what time you will be home because they are worried you may have had an accident. They reason they couldn’t bear for anything to happen to you. They explain they take care of the finances as they don’t want you fretting about them, and actually, they have a much better head for finances, so it’s easier not to argue.

It feels like your world is closing in on you, but if you complain or speak about your concerns, they fly into a temper, which they turn around and blame you for. They say it’s because you provoked them. They may even resort to threats of violence towards you, or a loved one in an attempt to control you and keep you in your place, (the place they want you in). They constantly put you down, often in front of others, saying you are stupid, that what you say is rubbish. When you speak up for yourself you are told you are imagining it, they were only joking and where is your sense of humour! You doubt yourself, in the end believing that you are in the wrong.

Why don’t you leave?

This question is asked of so many women, and it really isn’t as easy as it sounds.

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  • If you have children it means uprooting them from family, schools and friends.
  • You don’t have enough money to survive
  • Your partner threatens they will harm themselves, you or family members if you do
  • You don’t have the confidence to live alone
  • You can’t bear being alone, you reason it’s not that bad anyway
  • You don’t know where to start to find help.
  • They tell you they love you, and you believe they don’t mean to hurt you.

There is a list of resources at the end of this article.

Childhood trauma and its effects

This affects children who grow up in a family where they are subjected to abuse inflicted on them directly or where they witness it between others, most importantly between their caregivers. Children learn how to form healthy relationships from the significant people in their lives. They learn to trust others, how to regulate their emotions, and how to interact with the world. They develop healthy boundaries, and a sense of themselves in the world around them. So you can see that if the world they experience is unsafe, they will learn not to trust and believe that they can’t rely on others. They view the world and those around them as a bad, terrible place. As a result, they may find it difficult to form healthy, romantic relationships.

They struggle to control their emotions and have even more difficulty in expressing them. Often reacting inappropriately or violently. They may be hypervigilant to situations and people’s moods. Always on guard, because they are unsure of reactions of those around them at any one time. Others cope with trauma by switching off, numbing themselves against trauma, so they don’t feel affected. They can appear distant and unable to connect with their emotions.

So be aware of the effects on your children who are also subjected in some way or another to the abuse you are experiencing.

My own experiences

As a child my mother was controlling and emotionally unavailable. My father, whilst never displaying anger, was holding onto an incredible amount of suppressed anger, and being around him felt like being close to a ticking time bomb at times. As a result, I felt unsafe and unsure of what kind of mood either was in. I developed antennae, always on my guard. I tried to second guess their moods, and how I should behave, an impossible task. As a result, I lacked self-esteem, and became a people pleaser with everyone I met.

Later in life I got into a relationship with a man who had been sexually, emotionally and physically abused as a child.The stories he told of abuse metered out in one form or another by close family members were horrendous. As a result, he displayed many of the traits and behaviours I described above as emotional abuse.
The relationship became extremely difficult as his behaviour became more and more controlling. I felt so sad that he had experienced such an horrendous childhood, and so I made allowances for his behaviour –to my detriment.
I tried so many times to leave him but he threatened he would harm me or my family. I felt so ashamed that I had got myself into such a toxic relationship. I began to believe him when he blamed me for his outbursts, and tried to do everything in my power to appease him. I even agreed to marry him in an attempt to prove my loyalty and commitment. But that made his behaviour even worse.

I felt imprisoned, he listened to all my phone calls, questioned me if I was a few minutes late from returning from work.
He created rifts between me and my friends and family. The only time I had for myself was having a bath. But even then, I would hear him pacing up and down in the bedroom waiting for his turn to use the bathroom!
The sad thing was that his behaviour towards me – his lack of trust and inability to control his emotions all stemmed from his childhood experiences. At the same time, my childhood experiences also played into the mix. As a people pleaser I didn’t have strong boundaries, my lack of self-esteem also meant I settled for a less than ideal relationship.
Many of us haven’t had perfect childhoods, and each of us carry baggage into our adulthood relationships. I often refer to relationships as ‘two imperfect people doing their best’.

Just be aware of when behaviours are unacceptable.

(iii) Crown Prosecution Service website and search ‘Rape and Sexual Offences’,
(iv) Survivors’ Trust –
Rape Crisis –
Wendy Capewell MBACP (accred). Adv. a qualified counsellor, who works with couples and individuals to deal with issues that affect their everyday life.
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