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The official definition of domestic violence is: “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are or have been in a relationship together, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.” This is a broad description and covers a range of behaviour.
A common thread however is the element of control. In most cases, one person is using violent actions to control or manipulate another. Domestic violence can take many forms and can affect anyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, race or age. On this page we will explore how this behaviour can affect you, warning signs to look out for and where you can find domestic violence support.
What is domestic violence?
As its name suggests, domestic violence describes threatening or abusive behaviour in a domestic environment. This could be within a romantic relationship, or it could be within a family setting. The word ‘violence’ refers to aggressive, controlling or manipulative behaviour. This can be physical or emotional.
Physical violence can involve punching, kicking and sexual abuse. The repercussions of this are serious and in some cases can be fatal. Using physical violence in this way tends to follow a pattern; what at first may appear to be a one-off incident can quickly become more frequent.
Psychological violent behaviour is harder to spot, but can be just as damaging. The abuser may threaten the victim, use intimidation tactics or even blame them for their actions. Controlling behaviour is often seen. In many cases the abuser will be keen to control aspects of the victim’s life - for example their phone or email account. This may start off as jealousy, but can escalate into psychological harm.
Coercive behaviour may also occur. This happens when a victim is subjected to threats, intimidation or humiliation in order to punish or frighten them. ‘Honour’ based violence falls within this remit; this is considered when a victim is forced into marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM).
Isolation is also seen within domestic violence. This involves limiting the victim’s contact with other people. Over time the victim can feel dependent on the abuser, making it feel more difficult for them to leave.
Dominance is another common theme. The abuser may feel the need to be ‘in charge’ of the relationship, or the family, and will use this as an excuse for the way they act. They may make decisions for the victim and tell them what to do, explaining that it is ‘in their best interest’ to obey.
If you find yourself behaving in ways that could be considered abusive, seeking help early is key. Speaking to a professional can help you understand yourself better and can help you develop healthier ways of thinking.
Domestic violence against men
In the past people typically associated domestic violence as an act men would carry out on women. While this is statistically more common, it is crucial to understand that women can be violent towards men too.
According to the British Crime Survey, in 2010 over a quarter of incidents involved domestic violence against men. In reality however, this number is likely to be higher. Domestic violence against men has been somewhat of a hidden issue in the past, this is thought to be because men are often afraid to talk about it.
For both men and women, the situation can be difficult to talk about. Men in particular can be reluctant to label themselves as a victim, or simply fear they won’t be believed. In recent years, there has been more awareness of domestic violence against men, and more support lines/shelters have been set up. This is helping to reiterate to men that they are not alone, and that there is help available.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, remember that speaking out and seeking help does not make you weak. In fact, it is a testament to your strength.
Signs of a violent relationship
For many people, recognising that the relationship they are in is abusive can be difficult. Relationships, whether romantic or platonic, are incredibly complicated by nature. There are lots of emotions at play and at times it can be hard to see the difference between right and wrong.
Perhaps the most telling sign of an unhealthy relationship is feeling fearful. If the way your partner or family member acts scares you, it indicates that something is wrong. Think about the way they speak to you. Are you left feeling belittled, desperate or helpless? Does your self-esteem fall when they are around? Do you feel you have to do what they say? Are they jealous or feel the need to control you?
All of these examples suggest your relationship isn’t healthy. This is often how domestic violence begins - with exaggerated behaviours and a need for control. If this isn’t resolved, it can lead to physical violence.
For some, even when the physical violence begins, they don’t believe they are in an abusive relationship. Often, this is because the abuser makes the victim feel like they deserve it. They may beg for forgiveness, promising that it will never happen again. When you love someone, you want to believe they are telling the truth. This is why, sadly, many people find it hard to escape the cycle of violence.
The cycle of domestic violence
Most of our behaviours follow some sort of pattern, and this includes violent behaviour. Domestic violence tends to follow a pattern; this is referred to as the cycle of domestic violence.
- Abuse - This is when the harm is caused, either physically or emotionally.
- Guilt - After the pain has been inflicted, the abuser may feel incredibly guilty and ashamed. This may be to do with what they’ve done or, more commonly, because they fear getting caught.
- Excuses - At this point the abuser may try to rationalise their behaviour, making excuses to justify what they have done.
- Back to normal - To regain control, the abuser may return back to normal, acting as if nothing has happened. They may make loving gestures at this point, making you feel as though the violence will stop.
- Fantisising - Some abusers will spend time fantisising about when they can next be violent, or how they can catch you doing something ‘wrong’.
- Set-up - To create the right environment for violence, the abuser may set-up certain situations. This is a way for them to rationalise what they’re doing.
As tough as it may be to think about - understanding this pattern can help. If you recognise these behaviours in your relationship, it is important to understand that it is not OK. No matter what you are told, violence is never justified and should never be ‘acceptable’. The effects of these kinds of relationships are far-reaching and serious.
When we talk about domestic violence, it is easy to focus on the physical effects. And yes, these should not be overlooked. The injuries that can come about can be life-changing and can even result in death. It is important however to also consider the impact this behaviour can have on your mental health.
Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem are typical by-products of a violent relationship. The abuser will often make you feel as though you deserve the abusive behaviour and the violence. They may also be derogatory about you, to make you feel bad about yourself. Telling you things like this is designed to make you feel powerless and scared to leave.
They may make you feel as though you are lucky to have him/her in your life and that if you leave, you will be lonely and unloved. All of this is likely to make you feel incredibly anxious and depressed. You may find your personality changes too. When once you would have been confident and outgoing, you may now be quiet and withdrawn.
These psychological effects can be incredibly destructive. Many victims report feeling suicidal. What is important to note however is that there is support out there - not only to get out of a violent relationship, but to help you recover psychologically.
Domestic violence support
Being in a violent relationship can feel incredibly isolating. Although it may feel as if you are alone, it is important to know that there are people who can help. The first step of reaching out is often the hardest, but it is the only way the violence will stop. There are lots of organisations that have been set-up to offer support to those in need, including Women’s Aid and Refuge.
Talking to someone you trust, such as a friend or family member is a great place to start. You could also speak to your doctor, who will be able to recommend local organisations/shelters. There are also phone lines you can call confidentially; the responders will be able to offer advice and pass on details of your local shelter.
If you are considering leaving your relationship, it is important that your partner doesn’t know where you are going. This means planning is essential. If you can, it will be helpful to take the following:
- Personal documents such as passports, medical records and mortgage/rent details.
- An address book with contact numbers and addresses (or your phone with this information).
- Your house keys.
- If you are planning to take your children too, take anything they may need.
Once you have made the decision to leave and you are in a safe place, you can begin to deal with the emotional repercussions. At this point, it can be useful to talk things through with a professional, such as a counsellor. A counsellor who offers domestic violence support will be trained to help with issues commonly associated with abuse, such as anxiety and low self-esteem.
Talking about your experience with a counsellor can offer a new perspective, helping you understand that it was not your fault. Over time, you can work together to help build up your confidence again.
Worried about someone else?
If you suspect someone you know is in a violent relationship, be sure to speak up. It can be easy to think ‘this isn’t any of my business’, but voicing your concern could save someone’s life. Talk to the person you think is being victimised in private and tell them you are there for them if they want to talk. Reassure them that there is domestic violence support available and that they do not have to suffer alone.
Remember that abusers are very good at manipulating their victims. This means the victim may be emotionally battered, depressed, ashamed and confused. They may believe that they deserve the violence. Your support can make the world of difference to someone struggling to get out of a violent relationship.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Currently there are no official rules or regulations in place that stipulate what level of training a counsellor dealing with domestic violence needs. However, it is recommended that you check to see if your therapist is experienced in this area.
A Diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in domestic violence counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone this type of specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation representing counsellors dealing with domestic violence.
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