Understanding Abuse, Misconceptions, and Warning Signs
“He’s not abusive, he would never hit me.”
These are words I hear often in my practice. Women describe controlling or abusive behavior in their relationship and then follow up with something about how their partner would never cross that obvious line between verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse and physical abuse. Often these women will describe horrific, demeaning, and belittling behaviors from their partner, but shudder when I label it abuse. This article is not just for women who are in a physically abusive relationship. Please do not be turned off by the word abuse and think it automatically doesn’t apply to you if you have not been battered. Abuse is not a cut and dry issue, and often relationships that don’t feel right are confusing. It is imperative that women know what is acceptable treatment and what is not.
Abuse is improper treatment, or mistreatment. The patterns of any type of abuse are similar. When I use the term “abuse,” I am referring to all types of abuse: verbal, emotional, psychological and physical. I have never seen a physically abusive relationship that was not also verbally, emotionally, and psychologically abusive as well.
There is a common misconception that abused women come from abusive families and that they are just going back to what is familiar. Often these women think that what they’ve experienced in their childhood is normal and they don’t know that there is an alternative. Sadly this is true for many women. However, there are many women who’ve had perfectly happy childhoods and unknowingly walk into an abusive relationship. These women are often confused and don’t understand what has led to such a hurtful relationship. In many cases, the woman has no idea why she feels so bad in the relationship, because she can’t quite put her finger on it. Her partner may be perfectly charming to everyone else, making it all the more confusing to her. She may doubt her own sanity since everyone else thinks he’s fabulous. He may be gregarious, shy, ambitious, or laid back. He may have money and power, or not. Abusers come in every shape and size, which makes it all the more difficult to spot one early in a relationship. However, there are some classic warning signs that are important to pay attention to if your relationship isn’t feeling right. In his book, Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft highlights early warning signs of an abuser.
-He speaks disrespectfully about his former partners
-He is disrespectful toward you
-He does favors for you that you don’t want or makes you feel uncomfortable
-He is controlling
-He is possessive
-Nothing is ever his fault
-He is self-centered
-He abuses drugs or alcohol
-He pressures you for sex
-He gets too serious too quickly about the relationship
-He intimidates you when he’s angry
-He has double standards
-He has negative attitudes towards women
-He treats you differently around other people
-He appears to be attracted to vulnerability
Abuse includes any behavior that is designed to frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone. Abuse can come in many forms including physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or economic. This includes any behaviors that are controlling or isolating. Again, there is no profile of an abuser. Abuse is prevalent across all races, ethnicities, age groups, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and family backgrounds (Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, n.d).
The dynamics in any relationship can be difficult to observe objectively for those who are in it, and this is particularly the case in abusive relationships. The abusive and remorseful roller coaster ride in an abusive relationship can be very confusing. Pay attention to how you feel in the relationship. Everyone has the right to feel free to speak up and assert themselves in a relationship, without fear of punishment. Everyone has the right to feel respected and valued.
If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship, help is available. There are plenty of resources available to women needing to exit an abusive relationship safely. Don’t be afraid to reach out, it may be the most important step you can take to reclaim your life.
Bancroft, L. (2002). Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: Putnam’s Sons.
Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Domestic Violence Info. Retrieved October 19, 2015, from http://ccadv.org.
National Domestic Violence Hotline- 1.800.799.7233
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence- 303.839.1852
Montgomery County Women’s Center-281.292.4155