Domestic violence and emotional abuse are not uncommon

An estimated 1.3 million women experienced domestic abuse across the UK in the year ending March 2018. During the same period, just under 700,000 men also experienced domestic violence of their own. In reality, those numbers may well be much higher. Fear, stigmatisation and lack of trust in police support means that many cases of violence go unreported.

It’s staggering to believe that 25% of women and 15% of men will experience domestic violence at some point over their lifetime. So what should we do if we find ourselves forming a part of those statistics?

The symptoms of domestic violence and emotional abuse can be subtle

More often than not, we won’t realise that we’re in an abusive relationship until, well, until we’re really in it. It may start with a partner exerting more control over the outfits you wear or the time that you arrive home. This can quickly escalate into coercion and manipulation. Your partner may restrict the people you see, the activities you do, and where you choose to go. In short, it can get to the point where your whole life is controlled.

“He seemed so charming when we first met. He spotted my insecurities and played them to make me feel as though I needed him. It was a few months later that it all started to fall apart as he began to control me more and more.” – Domestic Abuse Survivor

Control and manipulation can often be a precursor to the other side of abuse – physical violence. This is where a vicious cycle can begin. It could start with a ‘punishment’ for being home too late, or perhaps a fit of jealousy. Such violence includes hitting, punching, scratching, spitting and more.

The cycle of abuse means that an abusive partner will often display signs of regret and remorse after a violent episode, promising that it will never happen again. This may be followed by a few days of caring and charm. Some perpetrators will even shower their victims with gifts in a bid to make up for their indiscretions. Unfortunately, the cycle will typically repeat itself with another violent episode some days later, which is then followed by another period of remorse.

Spotting the Signs of Abuse

Are you worried that you might be in an abusive relationship?

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Restrictive behaviour and control over your schedule: Are they controlling where you go, who you see and what you wear?
  • Irrational bouts of jealous: Do they get irrationally jealous whenever you talk to someone of the opposite sex?
  • Derogatory comments: Are they always putting you down? Are they making negative comments on your appearance and intelligence that undermine your confidence?
  • Loss of privacy barriers: Do they demand to know where you are and what you’re doing throughout the day? Are they checking up on you by reading your messages or emails?
  • Fits of rage and violence: Have you experienced violence or extreme anger from your partner?

Even if an incident occurs once and appears to be a one-off, it’s still domestic abuse. If your partner is making you feel uncomfortable or scared for your safety, then this is a sign to seek help and contact the police.

“Whenever I mentioned leaving, he would threaten to kill himself and say that he needed me. Other times he would threaten to hunt me down. This prevented me from leaving for a long time until I finally found the courage to escape.”– Domestic Abuse Survivor

Are you concerned that a friend might be experiencing abuse?

Signs of abuse may include:

  • Withdrawn behaviour: Are they declining invitations to spend time with you when their partner isn’t present? Do they appear quieter and more reserved than usual?
  • Change of appearance of habits: Have they changed their appearance or dressing in a way that seems at odds with their usual style? Are they socialising less than they used to?
  • Anxiety and worry: Do they appear anxious or worried when around their partner? When without their partner, are they continually checking in on their phone or receiving frequent phone calls?
  • Lack of confidence: Is their partner putting them down or making derogatory comments about them? Have they become less confident?
  • Signs of bruises or physical harm: Are they wearing more makeup than usual? Are they dismissing signs of bruises or injury on their body?

How to Take Action

Even the concept of leaving an abusive relationship can seem incredibly daunting. There are so many questions that feel unanswered – where will I go? Who will support me? Will I be safe? Understandably, it’s a scary process and one that is best undertaken with professional support to help guide you through.

There are some excellent charities located all over the UK who are poised and ready to offer advice when it comes to the leaving process. Whether you’ve decided to leave or are considering your options, these organisations will be able to guide you along each step and share practical advice to help you through.

Couples therapy is generally not indicated when domestic abuse is taking place. The reason is that domestic abuse is not a relationship problem and the abuser may also feel threatened by the therapeutic process and escalate the abuse.  This said, couples therapy may be useful in a number of occasions when the incidents of violence are situational.

Many charities also offer accommodation services in case you need somewhere to stay.  Organisations include Refuge, Women’s Aid and other more local services. Unfortunately, there is currently very limited support for male victims of domestic violence. If you are in immediate danger, please call 999, and the police are trained to be able to help you appropriately.

If you are worried about a friend or family member experiencing abuse, there are several ways that you can offer support. Firstly, reassure them that this is not their fault. Abusers will often make their victims feel as though they are the ones to blame, so it’s important to offer reassurance that this is not the case.

If they’re in physical pain or experiencing physical harm, then offer to go to the hospital with them. Otherwise, show that you are ready to support them and here to listen whenever they need to talk. Remember that it is ultimately your friend’s decision whether to leave or not, so take the time to be kind to yourself too and remember that you can’t fix everything for them.

What Happens Next?

The impact of domestic abuse is often long term and inherently complicated. This is where finding the right support becomes incredibly important. Talking therapies such as counselling and psychotherapy with an experienced psychologist are a great starting point.

What is Anxiety and how to get rid of itCounselling enables you to review past trauma in a safe and supportive setting, enabling you to take back control of what has happened to you. Your counsellor will guide you through your journey, helping you to rebuild your confidence and recover your self-worth.

It’s natural to feel nervous about moving forward and starting a new life. As you adjust, your therapist will be able to share helpful and practical strategies for you to make this process that much smoother. During this period, it’s useful to remember that you will get to a stage where life feels ‘normal’ again. It just might take a bit of time.

Many domestic abuse survivors will experience periods of anxiety and depression as they process what has happened to them. It’s essential to seek help during this time either via your GP or from a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist, who has training and experience with these matters.

Irrespective whether you are the perpetrator or the victim if you require counselling at any stage of your journey, then do get in touch and Dr Nick can provide the appropriate support and treatment to you.