What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence can be physical or psychological, and it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. It may include behaviors meant to scare, physically harm, or control a partner. And while every relationship is different, domestic violence typically involves an unequal power dynamic in which one partner tries to assert control over the other in a variety of ways.
Insults, threats, emotional abuse and sexual coercion all constitute domestic violence. Some perpetrators may even use children, pets, or other family members as emotional leverage to get their victim to do what they want. Victims of domestic violence experience diminished self-worth, anxiety, depression, and a general sense of helplessness that can take time and often professional help to overcome.
A clinician who works with victims of domestic violence may be able to help an individual extract her or himself from the situation, as well as offer psychological support. Find a professional near you.
How Abuse Impacts Victims
It can take time before victims of domestic violence recognize their situation for what it is. Abuse often leaves physical marks, from bruises and broken bones to shortness of breath and involuntary shaking. Seeming more prone to “accidents” than the average person can be a warning sign that someone is being abused. Abuse victims can also suffer both short and long-term emotional and psychological effects, including feelings of confusion or hopelessness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Do You Identify an Abusive Partner?
Abusers aren’t easy to spot. They hide in plain sight, often exhibiting Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior. In public, they seem smart, trustworthy, and charming with a personality that draws people in, but in private, they are a waking nightmare. Many abusers learn violence from their family of origin and repeat the toxic patterns with their own partner and/or children. They are also more likely to have trouble with the law as well as substance abuse problems.
Abusers often isolate their victims from family, friends, work, and any other outside sources of support. They may have explosive tempers and may become violent during an abusive episode; afterward, they become remorseful and try to woo their partner back with charm and affection and promises to change, but the abusive behavior rarely stops.
Heterosexual male abusers often believe in traditional gender roles, particularly that women’s main priority should be to care for their partner and children. They have to be in control and are especially prone to jealousy, accusing their partner of cheating without any reason and needing to know where their partner is at all times.
How Do Survivors of Domestic Violence Cope?
Even after leaving an abusive relationship, people may have trouble trusting others and painful flashbacks to traumatic incidents of abuse. They may continue to struggle with high levels of stress and face a greater risk of health conditions like asthma, arthritis, chronic pain, and heart disease. They are more likely to develop sexual problems and sleep conditions and attempt to self-medicate using alcohol and drugs. Victims of abuse may have low self-esteem and often find themselves trapped in repeating cycles of violence. Being exposed to domestic violence from a young age can lead to similar long-term issues, as well as trouble with anger, hostility, disobedience, and other emotional and behavioral problems.
Fighting Against Domestic Violence
Women are most often the battered party in a violent relationship, although men are frequently victimized as well, in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. More than 38 million American women have been victims of domestic violence. The internet has opened up new ways for abusers to dominate, intimidate, and control the people in their lives through manipulation, cyber-stalking, and emotional blackmail. But new research, and the rise of the #MeToo movement, have exposed ways for abuse victims to fight back and free themselves from the fear and control of dangerous, narcissistic abusers.