We all have the stereotypical image of the victim of domestic violence emblazoned in our heads. Movies portray a woman who is typically uneducated and helpless. A woman who makes excuses for her partner’s behaviors . . . blaming it on his addictions, his stressful job, his lousy ex-wife. Anything other than him.
A woman with a black-eye or broken ribs who fabricates a creative tale about how she whacked herself with a kitchen cabinet or laughs about how clumsy she is and that she fell down the stairs, yet again. This physical abuse scenario of the vulnerable little lady is portrayed time and time again in novels and film. But what about the other side of domestic violence?
What about the type of abuse that doesn’t leave a blue and purple bruise, a broken bone, a blood stained towel or bed sheet?
Emotional abuse is prevalent in our society, yet rarely talked about. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence cites that 48.4 percent of women have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner. We teach our daughters to be fearful of males who are strangers when the reality of the situation is that statistically, we should be teaching our daughters to choose better husbands and boyfriends. Women have a greater likelihood of being abused by the men closest to them than they do by a random stranger in the street.
So, what is emotional abuse? A simple Google search provides the answer of “psychological abuse (also referred to as psychological violence, emotional abuse, or mental abuse) is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post traumatic stress disorder. But what does that mean? Women in abusive situations often times do not recognize their partners’ behaviors as abusive.
The power and control wheel is a tool designed to help counselors assist domestic violence victims in identifying psychologically abusive behaviors (see graphic courtesy of the National Domestic Violence Hotline www.thehotline.org).
Examples of such behaviors include but are not limited to the following:
- Name calling that isn’t playful, criticism that is not constructive, humiliation, game playing that is hurtful (the silent treatment, making her feel inferior, guilty, etc.)
- Denying access to financial resources, preventing one from obtaining employment, providing one with an “allowance”, monitoring one’s spending.
- Using intimidation by making one feel afraid through actions, looks, gestures; breaking things, glaring, hovering over her.
- Using male privilege by making all major household decisions, treating the woman as a possession, acting as the “king” of the castle, being the one to define gender roles.
- Using isolation by controlling what she does, who she befriends, what she reads/watches, and limiting her involvement with the community (work, church, friends, and family).
- Making threats to do something to hurt her, threatening to divorce her, crying suicide.
- Making light of the abuse, accusing her of being crazy, denying that the behaviors occurred, victim blaming.
- Withholding sex, affection.
- Stalking: following her, having her followed, hacking her iCloud, enabling parental controls on her phone to access her data, installing cameras/recorders in the home, etc.
- Using children as a pawn: to relay inappropriate messages, to degrade her, using visitation exchange as an opportunity to harass her, isolating the children from her, threatening to take the children away from her.
Emotional abuse is difficult to prove as there is little to any hard evidence. While physical abuse leaves a mark on the skin, emotional abuse leaves invisible scars that are damaging to the entire family. Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence does not always involve physical abuse, nor does it discriminate.
It impacts women of every race, religion and socioeconomic status. The effect of abuse on victims and their families are everlasting. Violence in the home impacts children, whether emotional or physical. Love should never hurt.
By educating ourselves, we are able to recognize and combat patterns of abuse in our lives. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse please contact the National Domestic Violence hotline 1−800−799−7233 or First Step 734-426-1111 a local organization that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence. Both provide anonymous, 24/7 support.
“But he didn’t’ hit me” is no excuse for being an emotional punching bag. You are not crazy. You are not alone. There is help. Be strong and be safe.