When we think of domestic violence all too often we immediately envisage the male of the species as the perpetrator and the woman as the victim. Research shows that 1 in 4 woman in their lifetime will be the victim of domestic violence however the figures also show 1-6 men will be the victim. Domestic violence has no gender boundaries and affects all types of relationships.
Often we think of the physical violence that the victims suffer when the words domestic violence are spoken. However the lawmakers are now understanding that domestic violence is not just confined to physical violence but also psychological violence, it is my firm belief that this type of domestic abuse is far more prevalent that people suspect. I am not trying to lessen the impact that physical domestic violence has on its victims, physical attacks often go hand in hand with psychological violence. We need to be aware that the psychological attacks can often be the first steps towards physical violence.
Psychological domestic abuse can leave as many scars on the victim as those caused by fists. The Labour Party in the Uk have just appointed the first ever Shadow Minister for Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls, Seema Malhotra. Unfortunately, although I do applaud Labour for taking this first step, it still feeds into the myth that only females suffer from domestic violence etc. Men are still left out in the cold and their suffering is still ignored. There are so few shelters for the male victims of domestic violence and lets not forget those victims are often fleeing from abusive female partners. I know many feminists take a hardline view on domestic violence barely acknowledging that men can be victims too. I would call myself a feminist but I acknowledge that domestic violence is gender neutral.
As a survivor of psychological domestic violence from which I bore the scars for many years, I feel its important that we start taking psychological abuse more seriously.
The perpetrators main aim in any type of domestic violence is one of control, the victim feels so powerless in the relationship that they feel can not escape.
My relationship with my abuser started off the same way that many other victims do, I was showered with gifts and compliments for the first few months and everything felt perfect. Then small elements started to change, I was constantly criticised for the smallest things. I was young and naive and didnt stand up to him, if hubby ever dared to criticise me like that he would swiftly be told to go and F$$k himself. Because I let my then boyfriend get away with what I perceived at the time to be small things his campaign to make me feel worthless intensified.
At the time of the relationship I was doing a lot of creative writing. I submitted a play for competition and won. It was the first creative writing piece that had been acknowledged by "outsiders" I was thrilled. The reaction from him was muted, I gave him a copy of the play to read through. Three weeks later I asked for it back. It was covered in coffee stains and he told me he "just hadn't had the time to read it". I was devastated that he failed to acknowledge what I had achieved. It was just another part of the psychological game he was playing. By not giving me his approval or praise he knew it would make me doubt my abilities despite just winning a competition. The effect this had on me was to slowly bring my creative writing to an end, never to be revisited until over 20 years later.
I was very frightened of him as he had explosive rages that left me cowering in fear of what he might do. Anything and everything was deemed to be my fault. He would shout at me constantly and it got so bad that I never spent any time with him where he didnt reduce me to tears and of course that would start another tirade that I was immature crybaby.
He also did another thing that abusers like to do, he slowly created a wedge between me my friends and family. Friends were considered immature, family were controlling and jealous of me. It was amazing that at one moment he would be shouting at me for being immature and the next I was too intelligent and grown up to be mixing with people my own age.
Such is the control that the perpetrator has over their victim they actually start believing the lies that they have been told. You may wonder how this could happen to an intelligent woman from a loving family. Its easy because the transformation from the loving kind person into the abuser is a slow insidious one. The first criticisms you receive you brush to one side or accept and try to change to please them. Once they have got a on hold you, they know they can continue their campaign without any resistance.
I was lucky I escaped from the relationship after 12 months. My whole role in that relationship was to feed his ego, he needed constant positive affirmations. Towards the end of the relationship I started to realise that I was desperately unhappy, I was so confused I thought I was unhappy with college and my homelife. Really I was unhappy with the way I had been treated, I had been so brainwashed by him I just couldn't identify that the problem was him.
A few weeks before the end of the relationship he moved away and I think the distance helped me to start seeing him for what he really was a bully and an abuser.
After a series of phone calls where he demanded I come and see him at his new home despite the fact I couldn't drive, I finally realised that I no longer wanted him in my life. I did not want to be in a relationship where I was in constant fear of what would happen next. His moving away had given me the space I needed to come to my senses and I ended it soon after.
For a few days I felt terrified. Its hard to explain but instinctively I knew he wasn't going to let me go that easily. I was constantly looking over my shoulder believing that he would find me and hurt me. If I saw anyone that looked remotely like him I would try and hide. This was particularly difficult at work because I was unable to escape from the shop floor without drawing attention to myself.
True to form, as with most abusers when the victims escape from their control he tried to win me back. Big bouquets of flowers arrived daily. After a few days I spoke to the florist and had them refuse to take his orders.
When that avenue had been closed down to him the letters started. Once he realised that the letters were not getting the response he desired things turned nasty. He sent a card telling me "In a few more years maybe you will have more manners" - obviously in his mind I was being rude by not replying but why would I? It just goes to show how desperate he was to exert his control over me. The card finished with "I am marrying XXXX". I felt truly sorry for XXXX and hoped she had never had to endure the things he put me through.
I have no idea if XXXX was imaginary or not, obviously the suggestion that he was going to marry someone else was designed to provoke some sort of response. Again his attempt to hurt me or get me to respond to him failed. He had lost control and I was free.
It has taken over twenty years for me to finally get over the psychological damage that relationship did to me. To finally start believing again that I could write and that I was worth something. I think getting sick helped me find my voice and stand up for myself.
I look back now amazed that I put up with that crap. It feels like I am taking a glimpse into someone elses life. If he had been physically violent to me I would like to think I would have left him earlier because every woman is taught that if they hit you once they will do it again, no matter how sorry they are.
With psychological abuse there can be no outward signs, there are no black eyes or hospital visits. To the outside world the abuser can seem charming or arrogant. The abuser is clever enough to only reveal the narcissist that exists within the relationship when you are alone.
Due to The Labour Party's appointment of Seema Malhotra there have been a plethora of headlines in the newspapers such as "You could go to prison for calling your wife fat" - this makes a joke of psychological abuse. Calling your partner fat isn't acceptable, a one off event really isn't comparable to a sustained campaign of control. The right wing media seemed to jump on the fact that, that one sentence could be classified as abuse.The Minister was actually warning people that those kind of comments can be a slippery slope into a psychologically abusive relationship a point many of the newspapers failed to grasp.
Psychological abuse can take many forms these are just some of them:
- Constant criticism of weight, clothes, appearance.
- Separating you from friends and family.
- Telling you who you can and can't be in contact with.
- Telling you when you are allowed to go out of the house and with whom.
- Monitoring your movements.
- Expecting you to be available 24/7 and becoming angry or abusive when you aren't.
- Criticism of anything you do outside the home. Its not on the same level as their job or hobbies.
- Controlling the finances so that you have no access to them or have to beg or plead for your own money.
- Locking you in or out of your home.
- Blaming you for things that go wrong in their life.
- Belittling you at every opportunity.
- Not acknowledging your success.
- Turning every situation into being about them.
- Threatening to kill themselves should you leave them.
- Making you feel that you are unable to make decisions alone.
- Telling you that you can't exist without them.
The sole aim of these actions is to undermine your self confidence and force you into a situation where you come to depend on them through fear that you are unable to cope alone.
It has taken me twenty years to be able to talk about this relationship without feeling immense shame or blaming myself for allowing him to treat me in this way. I now know I have nothing to be ashamed of, I should feel relieved that I identified there was a problem and got the hell out of there.