Speaking to the Survivor: Why People Abuse, Types of Abuse, and Safely Leaving

Speaking to the Survivor: Why People Abuse, Types of Abuse, and Safely Leaving

Sad girl sitting. Your brain on trauma Triune Thrapy Group Los Angeles, CA.

The image of domestic violence is often painted as a woman clad with bruises; an image that depicts the physical pain her partner put her through. Visuals of women with black eyes and black and blue limbs are jarring and mostly empathized with more than hidden forms of abuse. Physical violence is a horrifying, real experience that many women and men unfortunately experience, but what happens when the abuse one is experiencing is not visible? How do you visually demonstrate the pain someone goes though when their partner is constantly lying and gaslighting them? How do you visibly showcase the post traumatic stress someone can experience when they endure prolonged verbal abuse, name calling, put downs, and character assassinations?

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a topic that deserves a voice, understanding and empathy. The most prolific style of abuse is physical, but many people fall victim to more covert and insidious types of abuse as well – sexual abuse, emotional and verbal abuse, and financial abuse. These types of abuse are harder to visualize because the pain can not always be seen with the eyes. The pain is often emotional and mental and sometimes survivors do not even know for themselves that they are in a toxic relationship. In order to understand the complicated and nuanced dynamic of abusive relationships, it’s important to understand why people abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. The abusive partner often feels an entitlement or right to control their partners and oftentimes even enjoy the feeling that exerting power over their partner gives them. In a healthy relationship, both partners’ needs lie on an even playing field, whereas a partner that has abusive tendencies often believes that their needs are a much higher priority. The effects of these tactics, over time, start to erode the non-abusive partner’s confidence, trust, and self-esteem which makes the idea of leaving their partner feel impossible.

Abusive behavior is learned, oftentimes in early childhood. People with abusive tendencies may have learned abuse by seeing it in their own family dynamic or through the culture or environment they grew up in. In these situations, abusive tendencies are normalized and the cycle continues in their relationships, eventually potentially exposing their own kids to abuse and further perpetuating the cycle. It’s important to note that even if someone develops abusive tendencies because of witnessing or experience abuse or trauma as a child, it does not excuse the abuse that person is placing on others. As individuals, we are responsible for our own actions and should work on developing the strength and self-awareness around behaviors that are toxic and need changing.

In order to understand the types of abuse that exist, it’s important to know what the more covert strategies are.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes actions that pressure or coerce a person into doing something sexually that they do not wish to do. It can refer to actions and behaviors such as rape and restricting access to forms of birth control. It is also very important to note that consent plays an important role in sexual abuse. In many toxic relationships where an individual is being sexually abused, they often do not feel safe to say no, especially if they are dealt consequences for rejecting their partner’s sexual advances. A few signs of sexual abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Unwanted kissing or touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
  • Rape or attempted rape.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
  • Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.

Emotional/Verbal Abuse

Relationships can be abusive, even if a partner is not physically violent. Verbal and emotional abuse may not cause physical damage, but the psychological damage covert abuse can have can be significant and long-lasting. Signs of emotional and verbal abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling you names and putting you down.
  • Yelling and screaming at you.
  • Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.
  • Telling you what to do and wear.
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.
  • Stalking you.
  • Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.
  • Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.
  • Using gaslighting techniques to confuse or manipulate you.

Financial abuse can be extremely traumatizing as money is a large part of one’s security. It pays for food to eat, a place to live in, and other expenses that one needs in their lives. A partner is being abused financially when they have limited or no control over their financed. Specific red flags of financial abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Giving you an allowance and closely watching what you buy.
  • Placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it.
  • Keeping you from seeing shared bank accounts or records.
  • Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours you do.
  • Getting you fired by harassing you, your employer or coworkers on the job.
  • Using your social security number to obtain bad credit loans without your permission.
  • Maxing out your credit cards without your permission.
  • Refusing to give you money, food, rent, medicine or clothing.
  • Spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same.
  • Using their money to hold power over you because they know you are not in the same financial situation as they are.

Physical abuse occurs when someone intentionally makes contact with another person that is unwarranted and non-consensual. Physical abuse can be anything from assault that is painful or leaves marks/bruises, but it can also take the form of grabbing, pulling, and forcing someone in a way that isn’t necessarily visible to the eye. Physical abuse can include, but isn’t limited to:

  • Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.
  • Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, shoe or plate.
  • Pushing or pulling you.
  • Grabbing your clothing.
  • Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapon.
  • Smacking your bottom without your permission or consent.
  • Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.
  • Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.

Violent and otherwise abusive relationships are debilitating to the individuals that endure them. Being in an abusive relationship can feel very isolating and shameful. It can be extremely difficult for someone experiencing any type of abuse to come forward out of fear, guilt, and other complicated emotions one may feel towards their partner. The process of leaving these toxic relationships are vastly complicated and oftentimes terrifying. It’s important for individuals in abusive relationships to know that they are not alone and they do not deserve the pain they are enduring. As scary as leaving a toxic relationship may be, it is possible.

The stigma around abusive relationships is one major factor when individuals attempt to leave toxic relationships. “Why did he/she stay?” is a question that is often unfairly asked of survivors. Even if the person asking that question does not mean to harm the survivor, it can still feel shaming to the survivor’s experience and invalidating. For survivors, reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, domestic violence resource hotline, or mental health professional is a first step in asking for help and eventually safely leaving the relationship. It is also advantageous to develop a safety plan if a survivor has made the decision to leave. A safety plan is an organized, mapped out strategy for a survivor to leave their abusive relationship. A safety plan can involve strategies to leave their abuser, especially if their abusive partner is threatening or has threatened violence or retaliation against them should they decide to leave. Safety plans are also crucial if other parties are involved such as children and pets. For more information on developing safety plans, The National Domestic Hotline provides a thorough planning strategy for many types of situations.

Posted on behalf of Triune Therapy Group