October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, this topic is something that will affect many people in their lifetime, whether personally or through someone they know.
Tammi Tanner, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Keystone Behavioral Health who is Certified in Clinical Trauma and Child and Adolescent Trauma, sheds light on the subject in today’s Take Care article.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern or cycle of behaviors in an intimate relationship that shifts the balance of power from equals to one partner having control and authority over the other. Initially these relationships are everything one ever wanted, seemingly too good to be true. They often move very quickly through the phases of intimacy. They display an interaction pattern of building tension or “walking on eggshells” so to speak, conflict occurring (verbal and/or physical), then making up or what you might call the hearts and flowers phase. This then repeats over time, generally escalating in severity over the course of the relationship. Domestic violence occurs in both dating and marital relationships without regard to age, sexuality, one’s job or wealth, race, ethnicity or religion.
It can have many facets beyond the traditional physical violence that one initially thinks of. Here are some examples: Threatening behaviors- threats to leave, threats of physical harm to you/pet/child, to make reports to authorities/welfare, or to harm themselves; Intimidation- destroying your things, punching the wall or something close to your person, cruelty to pets, showing off weapons, making vague comments about random accidents that happen to people;
Verbal abuse- putting you down, constant criticism, name calling, making you think you’re going crazy, guilt trips; Isolation- not allowing or restricting time/communication with other family members or friends, limiting activities outside the home, jealousy being used as an excuse for behavior; Denial and Blame- minimizing what’s happening, saying you are just overreacting, saying it didn’t happen, never taking responsibility, saying it is your fault; Using kids as a manipulative tool- to send messages, make you feel guilty, report on your actions or making threats to take them away; Control- they make all the major decisions, act like the boss, decide the relationship roles; Money- they are in charge of how the money is spent regardless of how it is earned, make you ask for money, take your money, control the accounts, keep you from working or refusing to work themselves; Sex and Intimacy- sex and intimacy are on their terms, when they want it, and they may have multiple sexual partners outside of your relationship.
These elements are described in a tool called the power and control wheel which anyone can access at www.PCADV.org as well as resources on what healthy relationship dynamics look like.
When should someone seek help?
When you notice signs or red flags that the relationship may be unhealthy and abusive, seek help as soon as possible. This doesn’t have to mean ending the relationship. It is important to note that domestic violence affects the whole family unit. The couple themselves, those that love the couple and the children. Yes, the children know; they saw and heard more than you think, and they do have thoughts and feelings about it no matter how old they are.
Support is available to all who have been impacted by domestic violence, which can help break the cycle of violence, keep it from passing to another generation and eliminate/reduce mental health concerns that may be connected (trauma, depression, anxiety, anger, behavioral struggles, sleep disturbance and many more). You can talk to a supportive counselor or therapist that is specifically trained in domestic violence and explore your options.
Why is it so difficult for many people to leave abusive relationships?
It can be very difficult to end an abusive relationship and not just because of physical danger. Some of the reasons include the constant emotional abuse/manipulation, feeling guilty, finances, children, religious beliefs, social status, low self-esteem, fear of being alone, hope or thoughts you can change them, their promises and apologies, no support system, others outside the relationship judging/blaming you, their threats, your history together and lack of awareness/insight that you have options and resources available.
What are some signs of abuse that we may be able to recognize in those around us?
This can be tricky as each abusive relationship may have similar components but different presentations. The dynamics and tactics used in an abusive relationship can be subtle or overt. While at other times they can be direct and easily identifiable to those around them.
In general, there is an overall sense of fear about the partner’s reaction. For example, you are out with some friends for drinks and one is continually checking their phone or responding to messages from their partner. They look upset. They may only have had one drink but make up an excuse to leave early. The next day when you connect with them, they brush it off, deny being upset or say you’re making a big deal out of nothing.
Some other examples may be that person in your life who can’t make any decisions for themselves; they always ask their partners permission first, they never go anywhere without their partner or if they do it isn’t for long. You may notice subtle put downs, or verbalizations of guilt “It was my fault really; I should have…” or excuses for bruises like “I’m clumsy.” They often also make excuses for their partner’s behavior, “They’re really nice usually they just had a bad day/are under a lot of stress/had too much to drink.”
These elements individually may not necessarily indicate domestic violence in a relationship. However, identifying multiple factors, a pattern of behavior and an imbalance of power in the relationship may. If you are unsure if you are in an abusive relationship or if you may have a loved one that you are concerned about, you can ask for help. There are ready supports available 24/7 that can help in every county in Pennsylvania.
How can you approach the subject if you suspect someone you know is being abused?
Approaching someone with concerns can be a delicate process due to the layers of emotional abuse and dynamics in the relationship. Remember that even when there are signs of abuse, that your loved one cares about and loves their partner; they blame themselves for what is happening. Try not to attack their partner as they may get defensive and shut you out. Try your best not to be demanding or aggressive; the goal is for them to be empowered so that they can be in control of their decisions. Let them know you care, what your concerns are, that they aren’t alone and that you are willing to help them explore options/resources.
Can you recommend some resources?
Visit www.PCADV.org for a full list of services available by county, statistics, information and resources. The National Helpline phone number is 1-800-799-7233.
Some local resources include: WIN (Women In Need) in Franklin and Fulton Counties: (717) 264-4444 or 1-800-621-6660; Domestic Violence Services of Cumberland & Perry Counties: 1-800-852-2102; and CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused) in Hagerstown: 301-739-8975.
If you are in an abusive situation, please remember that you are a human being who is worthy of being in a healthy relationship and living a happy life. There are options, and help is available.
This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.