Abusive relationships: know the signs

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Valentine’s day is here and for some, it’s not a rose filled mushy warm day. For some it’s just another day of surviving a relationship that feels difficult, or even abusive. It can be hard to know how to define abuse, and when we are ‘in’ an abusive situation, it can be hard to ‘see’ that it’s abusive. But you might have a niggling feeling, your friends or family may have expressed concern.

You don’t have to be with someone for long to be already suffering the effects of abuse, no matter how subtle. You don’t have be over 18 or 21. You don’t have to be living with someone to be in fear of them (Check out the #2in2U campaign on Twitter).

You don’t have to be bruised to be hurt.

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The nature of abusive relationships and domestic violence is such that we are not always certain that we are a victim. It is this subtlety that ‘helps’ the abuser continue their abuse. Sometimes the abuse is subtle – invisible yet felt keenly by the abused. Like death by a thousand cuts. And for this reason, men and women who are emotionally abused find it hard to ‘justify’ feeling unhappy, tell someone about what’s happening or taking the huge step of leaving their relationship. The huge, brave, scary step.

For some of you reading this, be aware that it may bring up some difficult feelings. Please know that there is support available, services designed specifically to help you (listed below).

Some of the warning signs that you are being abused (and that it might escalate, because sadly, it usually does)

Your partner:

  • Shouts at you
  • Criticises you
  • Mocks you overtly or subtly in public
  • Blackmails you (if you don’t X then I will X)
  • Blames you for his/her mood or violent behaviour
  • Coerces you into unwanted sex/drinking/drug taking/ illegal activity
  • Slaps/spits at/ shoves/ pushes/ pinches/ cuts or pulls your hair
  • Hurts your pet(s)
  • Threatens to or hurts your child
  • Withholds affection or money from you
  • Insults your choice of friends
  • Controls your social life
  • Monitors your social media and phone activity
  • Gets jealous frequently
  • Promises to change, especially if you don’t report it (the tears will look real)
  • Uses drugs or alcohol to excess and blames his/her unacceptable behaviour on them
  • Invades/ doesn’t allow your privacy

Research tells us that the risk factors for victims of domestic/spousal abuse are consistent and they are these:

  • substance abuse
  • unemployment
  • depression
  • abuse during pregnancy
  • any kind of estrangement
  • the presence of a stepchild
  • an undocumented immigrant status
  • an age difference of ten years or more (see Neil Websdale for more)
  • Christmas and other holidays (According to UK government figures from 2012, assault and domestic murders increase 25 per cent during the festive period and incidents go up by a third on Christmas Day itself. Women’s Aid here in Ireland issue annual warnings to women (and men) who are in abusive relationships – here is this year’s appeal and offer of support). Valentines Day can be another ‘trigger’ day.

At it’s worst, domestic abuse ends in murder. Male domestic abusers kill in a state of what is called “humiliated fury,” shame that has gone into overdrive for any number of reasons: She is moving out and he is losing control of her, or he has lost his job and is drinking more. Does this feel familiar?

And we are all aware of our collective drink problem here in Ireland.

This is a year round problem. One of which many of us are blissfully unaware – because abuse does not survive without secrecy. It is likely that whoever you are reading this, whatever your age or background, that you are in, or have been in, and/or have a friend who is in an abusive relationship.

Male or female, if you believe you are at risk or have an uneasy awareness of a friend’s situation, please feel OK about telling someone: call a friend, the Guards, get help, call Women’s Aid , the Rape Crisis Network or AMEN. Feel OK about getting help and getting out.

The shame is not yours.

Nobody deserves abuse.

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