Psychological abuse is still abuse
Working with victims of domestic violence, I've heard some very bad cases of women being physically hurt by their partners. Most of them knew from beginning that what was happening was not right but they've continued the relationship hoping it won't happen again.
After going through all the phases, keeping vigilant and trying to prevent, making efforts to understand and help their perpetrator, in the end they had no regrets in leaving the relationship. Hard, sad, dangerous but obvious - abuse.
What happens though when the victims are not really aware or sure that they are in an abusive relationship? I've heard clients say: "I don't think I know how to explain myself - I'm just not good at it" or "I am not good at making decisions" or "I think I'm going crazy". In all these cases I notice that it is not hard to understand their storys, they are actually very coherent and fluent, and the simple fact that they are in front of me involves making a decision of being there. They also have a routine (looking after their children, have a job, doing housework) that a person with severe mental health issues wouldn't be able to do.
When I notice this, in most of the cases the answer I get back is: "my partner never listens when I talk to him so I just assumed I can't express myself" or "my partner makes all the decisions, he never asks me" or "he keeps telling I'm crazy". Sometimes, hearing themselves saying that, they understand that all these ideas have been induced to them. Some other times their beliefs are so strong that they are surprised somebody really understands what they are saying.
There are also situations where victims may feel confused because at one moment he is lovely and caring, a good father and friend and it's only when he drinks or gets upset for different reasons that he loses his temper. In most of the cases where addictions are involved, these work very well as an excuse for the abuser and a scape-goat for the victim. The truth is: he should not call you names, should not humiliate you, threaten you or swear at you, shout and destroy your belongings even though he is under the influence. In some cases victims really feel for their perpetrator and try to help them recover. This is a very vulnerable position they adopt, because every time they will try to stop the perpetrator from consuming, he will punish them and answer back with abuse.
Unfortunately, perpetrators don't wear a hat saying abuser, they may actually have a very good job, support their family financially, they are cheerful and full of joy. They get upset only for a few hours, or minutes and then they become nice again.This sounds really confusing: they have so many qualities, if only they didn't have this bad temper.
In some situations, being told they are crazy, victims start to believe they really are. And after all who is going to believe a crazy person? In most of the cases victims chose to keep quiet, to accept and carry on with their life, losing their self-esteem, and putting themselves down. They become dependent of their abuser, losing any hope they can live without him.
Many times I've heard clients say: "I wished he just slapped me then, rather than having to listen his long speech about how useless I am and how I can't do anthing for our family". Of course, physical abuse is not accepted but this shows how powerful and damaging psychological abuse can be.
Psychological abuse is still abuse, it's not less important than the physical one, it's not less damaging. Victims can even commit suicide thinking they are worthless and helpless.
One first step to find a way out is to accept you are part of an unhealthy relationship, it's not your fault and you should ask for help.
There are cultures where this behavior is acceptable: sometimes men do drink and become aggressive. If this was your mothers story, you don't have to repeat it. There are people out there who will believe you and try to help you.
If you are not sure about your partner behavior, answer yourself this: how do you feel when he says/does this? Of course, in a couple, partners do argue but nothing he says or does should make you feel bad about yourself. Try to set strong boundaries and don't accept any excuses.
Search for support, talk to a family member, friend or counsellor. Don't keep quiet, it will only make it worse...
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About Roxana Trelia
Qualified counsellor and registered member BACP