Abuse is a word that carries a lot of weight. When I think of abuse, I think of a little puppy who was left in a kennel for too long without food and water and looks sick with scurvy. When I think of abuse, I think of a little child who was sexually assaulted. Abuse does look like those things, but it looks a lot more familiar too. The definition of abuse is “any unwanted action taken against another person.” So when your spouse calls you a name, that is verbal abuse. When your spouse tells you that you are not allowed to have access to your finances, that is financial abuse. When your spouse tells you that you have to have sex with them because it states in the Bible, “wives, submit to your husband,” that is sexual abuse as well as spiritual abuse (the verse goes on to say “…as unto the Lord” who has never once forced anyone to do anything sexual).
Abuse comes in many cruel forms that go unnoticed by many, especially those who are in it. It can be verbal, sexual, physical, spiritual, and emotional in form. How do you know if you are possibly in an abusive relationship? Take a look at these steps to see if you, or anyone you know, can relate.
Isolation has many forms. It starts out very mild, with things any of us might run into, like, “Oh hey, your friend makes me feel uncomfortable, would you mind hanging out with them less often?” Sometimes it looks like jealousy, or maybe like you are being given the power to help them feel safer. It usually looks like they are trying to be helpful to you too. For example: “You know what, why don’t you just stay at home with the kids and I’ll work. Besides, the kids are a 24/7 job and it’s the most important thing you can do for our family.” See how easy it is to miss? Who doesn’t want a supportive spouse like that? There is nothing wrong with a spouse suggesting these things to be helpful, but when one relationship after another gets quietly shut down (you no longer have any friends of your own, you are not allowed to hold a job, or, in later stages, you may not even be allowed to see your family) you are in the midst of serious abuse. Abusers want you to be isolated because if you feel alone, if that power is taken from you, then you have nowhere to run. If this is the case for you, you need help, you need to get out. Make sure to read #3 for vital suggestions on how to do so.
- Emotional Abuse
According to the many people I know who have escaped abusive relationships, emotional abuse is the worst form. Manipulation, constantly getting put down, being called names, and much more all cumulates into a person whose very core gets crushed. The victim is no longer able to understand the truth about who they are, what reality is, or how to live life because the abuser is so good at convincing them of the lies. A true story of a woman who was in the hospital because her husband hit her in the head with a chain saw says that she was asked what the worst thing her abuser ever did to her. She responded by sharing about how they had finished having sex and he shoved her off the bed and told her the prostitute he had slept with the prior week was so much better than her. This moment, over and above the terrible physical abuse she had endured, was the worst thing in her memory. When he said those horrible things to her, it crushed her. He had just literally crushed her skull with the chain saw, but she understood that the body heals. It was his words that strangled every last drop of dignity from her. We all know the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.” This is the exact opposite of a true abusive relationship. Sticks and stones will never hurt as much as the words of an abuser who knows how to shatter their victim’s spirit. If you know someone who has become distant to you because of a new relationship, try figuring out exactly why. Some new relationships take people away from friends for a period, this is normal human behavior, but if they start making excuses, and it continues, this may be a red flag for you to help.
- It’s not as easy as “just leave.”
75% of deaths related to domestic violence are because the victim tried to leave. That is a sobering statistic and it shows us that leaving is not simple. So, how can you leave safely? Depending on how far progressed the abusive relationship is, one place to start is seeking guidance from an unbiased individual (like a counselor or the pastor of an unfamiliar church). This is important because the abuser is often talented enough to manipulate the people around you into believing that, “They could never do something like that.” Finding objective guidance can help with setting boundaries, healing the relationship, or setting up a plan to leave safely. If the abusive relationship is far progressed, you may need to use a safe house; these are places that help victims disappear because abusers can become incredibly violent, sometimes only after the victim has slipped away. Yet even this is not simple because many abusers will threaten to kill the family dog, themselves, or even the children if the victim ever left. The victim is manipulated into thinking they are in the position of keeping the peace. The need for experienced guidance comes into play here. One option to attain experienced guidance is to call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. Although there are many safe houses that can help, leaving the abuser is a very difficult transition that leaves most victims exhausted and believing it is easier to just go back to their abuser. This is why, statistically, the victim will leave and come back 7 times before they leave for good.
- Name Calling
Calling your spouse names, especially in public, is never appropriate. It is abuse. If your spouse feels like they can call you names, this may be a red flag. It may not lead into physical abuse, but it is certainly past the threshold of verbal abuse. This one comes along with feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around them. Having that feeling is a big red flag as well. It is not a safe relationship to be in if you have to walk on eggshells and be called names. You may not need to leave, but you certainly need some help. Feeling like your spouse is against you is the start to a long, terrible relationship that will likely not end well, so start working to turn things around early. Admit you need help and get going toward a healthier relationship!
- Not All Abusers Are All Bad.
Male or female, abusers can be wonderful loving people. The “honeymoon” phase is the phase where the abuser stops all abuse and creates a utopia life for the victim. The abuser will do anything to make the victim happy. Many times, this period reminds the victim of “what it was like before we got married.” The abuser will shower their spouse with gifts, words of affection, explanations on all the ways they will get help for their previous behavior. It will create the picture of what the abused spouse wants to see in the relationship, their “perfect” marriage. It gives them a hope, a reason to stay and wait it out to see if the abusive spouse will really change. Others around the abused spouse may tell them, “They have changed, I saw them do (insert any behavior) and they really mean it this time.” Unfortunately, it is not often that the abuse ends. Studies show that the tension will build again, the explosive abuse will happen again, usually with worse severity, and the honeymoon phase will happen again.
Notice I put this one last. A bruise is typically the last thing you will see for someone who is in an abusive relationship. You will see the above signs long before you see bruises. If you know someone whom you suspect is in an abusive relationship, try to reach out to them. Abuse can be very embarrassing and their abuser typically makes them feel like it is their fault, so don’t be offended if they lie and try to cover it up with make up or some lame story. Just be there for them.
There are so many more signs of abuse, I could write a book. Abuse happens to people in every type of relationship: Male to female, female to male, female to female, and male to male. It does not matter weather you are Christian, homosexual, Muslim, Atheist, African American, Asian, White, child or elderly, rich or poor; it can happen to you. Domestic Abuse does not discriminate against any race, religion, or gender. It does not care about your income, how many children you do or don’t have, or what kind of house you live in. It happens to every people group, every race, every income level, and every country. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, get help. Go to someone you can trust, get objective guidance, research safe houses, or call the hotline. TESSA, here in Colorado Springs, is a great resource. They help thousands of men, women, and children who fall victim to Domestic Violence every year. Out of everything I have written here, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about how abuse works.
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