About domestic abuse
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter what age you are, where you live, your ethnic background or what kind of relationship you are in. Although it is more common for women to be abused, men can be too. People often think of domestic abuse as involving physical violence but abuse can be psychological as well as physical. It is extremely difficult to escape from an abusive relationship and its effects are long lasting.
Domestic abuse is used to gain and maintain control over you. This can involve:
- Physical violence. Sometimes those suffering physical abuse will play it down, saying their injuries are not as bad as others have suffered or they have seen on television. They might say that it has only happened once and their partner was sorry afterwards. It is unlikely that physical violence will only happen once, it is very likely to happen again. Physical violence is a crime and the police have the power to take action to protect you from this.
- Sexual abuse. If you are forced to have sex against your wishes, or participate in sexual activities that you do not wish to, this is sexual abuse and can often incorporate physical violence.
- Emotional or psychological abuse. This is an insidious form of abuse and it is often overlooked or played down, even by the person suffering it. This can include threatening to harm you or your children, using threatening and intimidating behaviour, constantly criticising you or giving you the silent treatment for days on end. It may also involve manipulating or encouraging your children to behave in a similar way. Your partner may do conflicting or confusing things which cause self doubt and insecurity, such as move your keys and then suggest you are going crazy because you cannot find them. Isolation also plays a part here as friends and family are usually discouraged from visiting or even contacting by telephone.
- Verbal abuse. This is part of emotional abuse and involves nasty comments and name-calling, such as saying you are stupid, ugly, useless etc. Its constant use undermines and undervalues you and erodes self esteem.
- Economic abuse. If you have no access to any money without your partner’s consent, this is economic abuse because you have no freedom to do anything or go anywhere. It is done on purpose to make you dependent and to make it as difficult as possible for you to leave.
The principal sign of an abusive relationship is if you are afraid of your partner. If you are worried about what you say and do for fear of repercussions, then the relationship is unhealthy.
It is not surprising that the effects of domestic abuse are far reaching. These include poor health, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts and loneliness and fear. Children who grow up in a domestic abuse environment may go on to suffer similar effects and even repeat the cycle because that is their only experience.
If you think you are experiencing domestic abuse, there is help available. The police can protect you if you feel you are in danger. There is a 24 hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline which is 0808 2000 247 and there are local organisations too. Counselling can also help. Sometimes people think that you can only have counselling if you have left the relationship or that counsellors will try to tell you what to do or encourage you to leave the relationship if you are still in it. This is not the case. You will form a contract with your counsellor that will explain the limits of confidentiality but your counsellor will be committed to giving you the time and space to talk about your experiences and feelings in a caring, non-judgmental way.
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About Nicola Wareham
I am a qualified humanistic counsellor with experience in the NHS and in both a charitable and private organisation. I work in Herne Bay in the evenings and am a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.