First, let me remind everyone that domestic abuse is a crime. Whether it is man on woman or woman on man, it is a crime. Don't ever forget that. If you are being abused by someone, they are committing a crime against you. Quit making excuses for them, because it is not your fault they are behaving this way. They bear the responsibility for being criminal, not you. You are powerless to control or change them, but you are not powerless to change your circumstances.
Not all abuse is physical. Mental abuse is just as bad, and perhaps worse. Bruises will heal, even broken bones will heal. A person's opinion of him-or-herself will be much harder to heal. What's done to a person's mind will never disappear. One learns to deal with it, but it doesn't ever go away. You may be wondering how I know. I have strong feelings about this from seeing two sisters be physically abused, to the point of broken bones and surgery, and seeing a child mentally abused.
What are some signs that your partner is abusive? How about these:
- Your partner is controlling and manipulative. That person may insist on choosing your clothing, your friends, your foods, your behavior. It's always for your own good, of course. There's always a plausible sounding reason. The bottom line is you are being trained to believe that the person knows what's best for you, and you are incompetent to make those decisions. He or she is saving you from being a disaster.
- Your partner has unpredictable mood swings. One minute you are being cuddled and the next, you are being pushed and shoved, emotionally or physically. You cannot ever come to depend on anything good that is going on, because it is always followed by something hurtful. This puts you in the position of being on edge at all times, never knowing what's coming next. Many people have mood swings, and that is not, in itself, the problem. The problem is when those mood swings are aimed at a partner, as described here.
- Your partner isolates you from friends and family. This is so insidious that at first many people don't realize what's happening. It can be very subtle, right up to the day you look around and realize that except for your partner, you are completely alone. This often causes a hopeless feeling, that there's no one who cares what's happened to you, or causes you, initially, to feel grateful that your partner has stayed with you and loves you. Your partner may have convinced you that you really aren't lovable and the only reason he or she has stayed with you is because of the partner's greatness, compassion and wonderful qualities.
- Your partner may use force against you. This starts with a push or a shove or a slap, usually, but may be a full out beating. Of course, the partner is always sorry, in the beginning. He or she may bring flowers, cook your favorite meal, give you jewelry, take you out on the town, and there are apologies all over, and promises that it will never happen again. The only way it will never happen again is if you escape that relationship, the majority of the time. In almost every case, unless a partner gets intervention and help, the first time will be the beginning of a life of abuse. Do not fall for the tears, the abject apologies and the gifts. Insist on counseling, or get out of the relationship.
- Your partner will almost certainly be verbally abusive. Initially, this may involve put downs and criticism, but it will escalate over time into much worse than belittling. You do not deserve this kind of treatment! People who love each other, normal people, do not do this to one another. This is not normal. I don't care where else you've seen it, or who else in your life has done it - parents, for example - it is not normal. It is abuse.
- Before the actual violence begins, there may be threats of violence. It's only a step away from the action of violence on you. Don't miss this warning sign. I'm not talking about when I say to my husband, "Stop that before I smack you." We both know I'm kidding. Neither of us would ever, ever, ever, hit the other. That is not the way to solve disputes. I'm talking about the menacing look, the raised hand or fist, the shove that either misses or pushes you into the wall. It isn't always accompanied by yelling and screaming. Some abusers are very calm as they tell you that if you ever look at another man/woman that way again they will slice you into pieces and throw the pieces in the trash can where a slut like you belongs. Yes, men can be referred to as sluts, or cheating, lying whores, too.
The bottom line is that an abuser tries to isolate the victim from all help, to be in total control, to frighten the victim into believing there is no one who would help someone as useless and worthless, to instill total dependence and hopelessness. Don't fall for it. There are things you can do. What are they?
- The very first thing you have to do is decide that you are going to do something. No, even before that, you have to admit that something needs to be done, then decide to do it.
- One place to start is the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) Memorize that number for the day you decide to use it.
- Make a safety plan. Most abusers are not going to let you just walk out the door. You must have a plan and a place to go, you must have resources to help you get there.
- Make a list of people you can trust for help, and their phone numbers. Be very careful with this list! Do not let it come to the attention of the abuser. Hide it as a list of things like the telephone numbers of people you would normally need to call, the school, the dry cleaner, the drug store. Don't just hide a list with names and numbers in a place you think the abuser will not find it. Abusers are very clever and they know their ownership of you depends on keeping you helpless. They will be looking for any clue that you plan to run. The safest thing is to memorize those names and numbers, or disguise them in plain sight.
- Make an emergency kit with money, medical cards, car keys, ID, medications, important papers, etc. Make sure it's somewhere you can get to quickly. Off the premises might be your safest bet, but wherever you put it, make sure your abuser isn't likely to stumble across it. Not in the tool box in your trunk if your abuser is likely to need to go in there to fix something. *Maybe* in the freezer wrapped in foil and labeled meatloaf. Be creative and think it through before you stow it somewhere.
- Above all, don't change your behavior! Once a decision is made, it tends to make us feel more secure, more in control, and this will show. Don't be nicer than you usually are. Don't be more sarcastic than you usually are. Try to change nothing about your behavior.
If your abuser becomes violent, there's a short list of things to do. It's better to run before the next time, but sometimes you can't. You may not be ready, you may not see it coming. Remember, the abuser is keeping you off balance at all times.
- Call the police or someone else, if you can. If you call the police, be ready to press charges. Some states now don't need the signed complaint from a victim in domestic violence. Pictures of the result of the abuse, or the testimony of the policeman who responds is enough in some states. They know that abused people are rarely able to sign a complaint after the emergency is over. The fear comes back and keeps an abused person from believing they can "get away" with signing a complaint. This is particularly true of men who are abused. They, even more than women, don't think anyone will believe them. They are typically much larger than the woman abusing them. Get over it. Call the police. Your life may depend on it.
- Grab your emergency kit and get out as soon as you can. Take your children with you. If they have not previously been abused, they will certainly be the target when you are gone.
Therein is the best reason to get out of an abusive relationship. If you have children, do you want them to grow up believing that all the abuse you have received is how a normal relationship progresses? Whether male or female, do you want them to believe that it is either okay to be abused, or it is okay to abuse someone else? Of course you don't!
The first time it happens, get out. Let it be the last time. Domestic Violence is a *pattern* of behavhior. Abusers are all clever liars, because they truly believe they will not do it again! For many of them, it is not a plan they have made. They think they are normal. They believe the things they say. This makes them the most dangerous kind of person. Let them go on believing. You get out and move on in your life.