What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse and violence is usually thought of as physical altercations, however abuse comes in many different forms. Domestic abuse is all about control- it is one partner trying to control the other. They will try to isolate you, or make you feel crazy in order to achieve that control. 

Any type of action or behaviour that your partner does to scare, threaten, hurt, embarrass, and manipulate you are all forms of domestic abuse. Abuse is not only physical, but it is emotional, economical, and sexual. 

Domestic abuse does not discriminate- it does not discriminate against gender, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnic background. Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes, and abuse can happen to anyone. 

Abusers use a multitude of techniques to gain control. Some of these being, domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, and then they will deny their actions and/or blame them on the victim. 

Physical signs of abuse are typically very severe, and can be visible, however the mental and emotional trauma and turmoil is invisible, and often not talked about. The psychological consequences of domestic abuse can sometimes be the most severe and dangerous part of it. 

Oftentimes, people find themselves trying to stick up for their abuser- “they only hit me a few times,” or “they’re just having a bad day,” or even sometimes, “I deserve it.” No one deserves abuse. No one deserves to have their mind manipulated, and actions coerced by another. 

I’ve learned that abuse is not something that can be justified- abusive behaviour is a choice. They don’t abuse everyone in their life, it is typically the people they claim to love. They are also able to control where they abuse, and that usually is not in public. As well, abusers are able to stop, for example if the police or family members show up. They are not out of control animals, they are manipulative, cold, and calculated.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting, in my opinion, is one of the most dangerous techniques of psychological abuse. Gaslighting involves one person making their partner question themselves, their sanity, their memories, and reality around them. Gaslighting can result in confusion, anxiety, and mistrust. Abusers are able to achieve their goal by:

COUNTERING

You never remember things correctly, are you sure?

WITHHOLDING

I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re just trying to confuse me. 

TRIVIALIZING

You’re way too sensitive, you always make a big deal out of nothing

DENIAL

That never happened, you’re making that up

DIVERTING

Your friends always put ideas in your head, your friends don’t like me, they have something against me

STEREOTYPING

Well you’re a girl, so you’re just crazy and overreacting / you’re a man, you can take it. 

People who are being gaslit often do not even know they are being manipulated, because they love and trust their partner. It often starts slowly, and develops to become more serious. 

Gaslighting is so dangerous because after long periods of time of someone telling you that you have a bad memory, or that you’re crazy, you’ll start to believe it. Instead of believing yourself, you believe the person who is hurting you, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you don’t even realize that it’s going on. 

Why is it so hard for people to leave abusive relationships?

Why do people stay? It’s a difficult, and complex question to even try to attempt to answer. In some cases, it could be extremely dangerous to leave. There may have been threats made to hurt the victim or others if they were to leave. Taking into consideration that their past actions and behaviours had probably been violent, it makes sense that these threats should be taken seriously. As mentioned, abusive relationships are about power. If the victim chooses to leave and become independent, the abuser risks losing that power, and so may retaliate violently.

In a lot of abusive relationships, the abuser will have control over the finances, and so the victim may fear becoming independent at all and risk losing the little security they have. Questions such as “where would I live,” or “where would I work” can be very daunting and challenging to answer and deal with on your own. Isolation can play a large role, and so without a support system, victims are often left with no where to turn to.

Gaslighting also plays an important factor in why it’s nearly impossible to end an abusive relationship. Typically, abusers will begin the relationship by “love bombing” their partner- this can include being overly affectionate, buying gifts, etc. That is why when they begin to act violent, it is so shocking and leaves the victim feeling as if they did something wrong. In the beginning of any relationship, it is easy to ignore the red flags when we want to see the good in people, especially if they are portraying that that they are good people. The whole purpose of gaslighting is to make a person doubt themselves and their thoughts, which is why the slow and gradual growth of emotional abuse is so dangerously effective. As humans, we tend to try to rationalize the behaviours of others, and unfortunately in these types of relationships this often means we end up blaming ourselves. Because your intuition has been distorted by the abuser, it is nearly impossible to identify whether or not you’re in an abusive relationship while you’re in an abusive relationship. The fact of the matter is that most times, our abusers are people that we love and it is hard to see them as anyone other than that. Yes, sometimes this love may be manipulation but nonetheless the feelings elecited are real.

In some abusive relationships, there are children involved. This makes the decision to end a relationship extremely difficult, as there is a lot of guilt involved. Not wanting to split up the child’s familial support system, which parent will win custody, and wanting your child to grow up with two parents are all valid concerns some parents may have. These concerns can be heightened when the child doesn’t know about the abuse, or isn’t being abused themselves.

Oftentimes, you’ll hear people that have gotten out of abusive relationships say, “I can’t believe I stayed for so long,” or “I didn’t even realize what was going on.” The fact of the matter is that it is not the victim’s fault for being abused. Just because they stayed, does not mean that they deserved the abuse they received. 

In all cases, however, asking victims why they stayed in an abusive relationship is an inappropriate question to be asking. The victim is not to blame for the abuse. Alternatively, questions such as “how did the abuser stop the victim from leaving,” or better yet, “why do people abuse their partners” should be asked. 

Am I in an abusive relationship?

If you find yourself questioning whether or not your partner is abusing you, chances are, they are. However there are some helpful guidelines to help identify whether or not you are being abused. 

  • If your partner tries to embarrass you or make you feel bad in front of friends and family 
  • If they use threats and intimidation to get what they want
  • If they tell you that you are nothing without them
  • If they act violent and roughly towards you- grabbing, pushing, hitting, etc. 
  • Use drugs and alcohol as an excuse for their behaviour towards you
  • Pressure you into preforming sexual acts
  • Call or text several times a day / night to make sure you are where you say you are going to be, and with who you say you are going to be
  • Generally distrustful / hateful of your outside relationships 
  • If they isolate you from your friends and family
  • If you are afraid of them
  • Blame you for everything 
  • If you constantly are having to make excuses to justify their behaviour 
  • If you change yourself in order to try to change your partner
  • Walk on eggshells / avoid talking about your feelings and concerns in order to not cause conflict
  • If you are staying with them because you are afraid of what would happen / what they would do if you broke up

If any of these things are happening, you should seek help. Not a single person deserves to be abused, and abuse can never be justified. What is happening is not okay. 

How to help

If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, it may be frustrating to watch them keep getting hurt. However the most important thing you can do for them is be there to support them. They may not know that they need help, however once they do, having a strong support system can make all the difference in successfully leaving an abusive relationship.

Resources

24/7 Helpline for domestic abuse at 310-1818

Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) Call or text 1-866-403-8000

Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS)

If there is an emergency, call 911