Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person.
Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.
Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.
Domestic violence and abuse does not discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused—especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes even physically as well. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.
Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.
Signs of an abusive relationship
There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.
To determine whether your relationship is abusive, answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.
Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse involves an abuse of power and an abuse of trust – the abuser being an adult, or sometimes, an older child.
As children we look to adults and older children for guidance about how to ‘be’ in the world, to show us what is acceptable and what is wrong. If a manipulative adult /older child abuses that trust and coerces a child into a sexual situation, possibly saying it is right, or that something bad will happen if the child does not do as they are told, it is hard, if not impossible for the child to disobey even when it results in distress and confusion in the child’s mind. ‘Grooming’ a child is common practice amongst abusers who will spend time and effort insidiously compelling a child to do as she or he is told. Often bribes or threats are used to maintain compliance.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse it is possible that you will be feeling recurrent depression or anxiety; you may suffer panic attacks, phobias and/or flashbacks. Maybe you are filled with anger and shame and/or feel worthless. You cry a lot or you find it difficult to show emotion. Perhaps you suffer from disturbing thought patterns and intrusive memories, and your feelings reveal themselves in physical symptoms, unexplained illnesses – maybe you find relief by self-harming – cutting or burning yourself, neglecting your needs or drinking too much. Feeling sick or afraid when you hear the abuser’s voice or a similar voice, seeing an object or place that reminds you of the abuse, feeling confused about what happened, remembering only parts of what happened or remembering it in vivid detail, blaming yourself for what happened are all common responses to childhood sexual abuse.
If you have been sexually abused as a child you may recognize that you experience some of the effects mentioned above. Maybe it feels quite frightening to see all the possible ways that you may have been affected written down. Whatever those effects are, there are also ways of improving your life that you can benefit from. It is important to understand that however you have been affected, and whatever your feelings about the abuse, it is OK to feel whatever you do – your feelings are individual and normal.