Is it Abuse?
Every relationship is different. Recognizing domestic violence can be difficult, especially when someone you care about is behaving in an abusive way. Knowing the common signs is the first step to getting help.
A Pattern of Control
Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling, coercive behavior used to establish power over another person who is often a family member, spouse, dating or intimate partner.
This power and control is maintained using different types of abuse to instill fear, destroy confidence or remove resources. These tactics may be directed at the victim, other family members, children, or pets in an attempt to control the victim.
More than Physical
Domestic violence is the result of a person’s feeling of entitlement to have power and control over another person in their life, and their choice to cause harm to maintain that power and control. These behaviors may involve physical violence to instill fear, but can also include tactics that are less easy to recognize
Domestic violence can lead to other significant issues. Homelessness, mental health challenges, head injury, medical complications and substance use, all have long-term physical and emotional issues for the victim and their children.
Some examples of abuse include:
Emotional + Psychological: extreme jealousy; stalking; harassing messages; withholding important documents or medications; limiting how & with whom you communicate; sabotaging your work or school; or isolating you from friends or family
Financial: taking your paychecks; refusing to provide money or contribute to necessary or shared expenses like food, medical costs, transportation, etc.; refusing to pay bills; opening credit cards in victim's or childrens’ names without permission
Sexual: forcing or coercing you into any sexual activity in which you do not want to participate; taking or sharing sexually explicit photos without your consent; denying or sabotaging contraception
Tech/Digital Abuse: using technology/GPS to monitor your location; forcing you to provide account passwords; controlling social media activities or friends; posting embarrassing or compromising information about you on social media; using 3rd parties to threaten you online
Litigation Abuse: using the court system to control and harass the survivor, including filing false or repeated motions often causing the victim to lose time from work and financially draining the victim
Physical: Hitting, pushing, choking, etc.; throwing or breaking objects to intimidate you; disrupting your sleep patterns to make you feel exhausted; hurting or threatening to hurt your children or pets
Recognize the signs, then act.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy
Domestic violence is complicated and can look different in different relationships. The abuse may begin immediately or may slowly progress over time. What is respectful communication in one scenario becomes a sign of control in another. The following are some things to consider when deciding if a relationship is healthy or abusive.
Can I voice my thoughts without fear? Am I afraid for my safety or that of my children? Are you making decisions because you are afraid of the consequences or actions your partner might take?
Are there times when you set a boundary, but the other person crosses it anyway? Do these boundary violations continue to happen? Who is making all of the decisions and consistently getting their way?
Does your partner take responsibility for their mistakes? Are you constantly being blamed for things going wrong in life or the relationship? Is your partner constantly dismissive about your feelings? Do they see how their actions may impact you and have they made efforts to change their behavior?
Impacts on Children
Kids tend to know more than we think they do. Domestic violence is a learned behavior, so by addressing the abuse that kids have experienced while they’re still young, we give them the skills and resiliency they need to have healthy adult relationships.
Some common behavior that you may notice in very young children include speech delays, delays in toilet training, regressive bed-wetting and thumb-sucking, and severe separation anxiety.
Changes in Behavior
Your teen may be experiencing an abusive relationship if they start to become withdrawn, begin getting bad grades, start to engage in risky behaviors, or start fighting and bullying. For pre-adolescent children, you may notice anger, expressions of guilt and blame, and poor grades.
When children can see, hear and feel the abuse occurring in their homes, they may mistakenly learn that violence and threats get you what you want. Other negative lessons may include: victims are to blame for the violence; people who love you will hurt you; or a person can either choose to be a victim or to be in control.