Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Identifying an Emotionally Abusive Relationship


Identifying an abusive relationship when there is no physical abuse is very difficult. Too often, we want to see proof of the abuse. Is there any black and blue? A shove, a push? Violent language? When we don’t see anything tangible, we ignore the signs until the abuse becomes the norm of the relationship.

When is the right time to do something? Do we even have the right to interfere when there is no physical abuse? The first time I heard him say, ‘I get the groceries because she doesn’t know what to buy,’ tipped me off to the abuse in the relationship. It wasn’t so much what he said, rather how he said it. After all, I myself like to go grocery shopping with my husband because if I don’t, I get ten calls per aisle on what to buy. Does that mean I’m controlling? I go grocery shopping with my husband because I sure won’t do such a boring task alone. I ask him what he wants and needs. Yes, I laugh and roll my eyes at how he wants to stock up on toothpaste because he’s afraid we’ll run out, but we both have a say in how things are done. I started noticing more and more power and control issues as I got to know this couple more. I kept brushing these thoughts away, after all, I thought, how is it possible that a highly educated person like Mrs. Wilkinson can tolerate abuse. But it is possible, and it is true in this situation. A doctor by education she is oblivious to her abusive relationship.

Domestic violence is a complicated issue, an issue to broach cautiously. I observed this person further, found more clues, then talked to someone Mrs. Wilkinson loves and trusts and can comfortably rely on. Of course, the one statement above made by her husband is not a strong enough reason to assume they have an abusive relationship. There were other very strong indicators like how he had convinced her to stay at home with the kids and be completely financially dependent on him. He gave her an allowance, to which she didn’t even protest. He imposed his will on her with unreasonable requests using manipulation, which again she never did protest or refuse. He controlled the family cell phone plan and refused to get a land line or allow her to make calls after 9pm. There were countless clues, but I had to be sure I was sound and reasonable in my assumptions before I acted. I knew I didn’t have a strong enough relationship with her to approach her personally and being a DV advocate I have to be careful around my own social circle, as people think I am too close and sensitive to the issue.

I used the Power and Control Wheel to make sure I wasn’t jumping to conclusions. Here is what I used as evidence to identify the abuse did exist in the above stated relationship:

Using Economic Abuse:

-         Preventing her from getting or keeping a job
-         Making her ask for money
-         Giving her an allowance
-         Taking her money
-         Not letting her know about or have access to family income

Using Isolation:

-         Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes
-         Limiting her outside involvement
-         Using jealousy to justify actions

Using Emotional Abuse:

-         Putting her down
-         Making her feel bad about herself
-         Calling her names
-         Making her think she’s crazy.
-         Playing mind games
-         Humiliating her
-         Making her feel guilty

Using Male Privilege:

-         Treating her like a servant
-         Making all the big decisions
-         Acting like the “master of the castle”
-         Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles

Using Children:

-         Making her feel guilty about the children
-         Using the children to relay messages
-         Using visitation to harass her
-         Threatening to take the children away

All of the above can be found in both physically and non-physically abusive relationships. Other parts of the Power and Control Wheel include:

Using Coercion and Threats:

-         Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her
-         Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare
-         Making her drop charges
-         Making her do illegal things

Using Intimidation:

-         Making her afraid by using looks, actions, gestures
-         Smashing things
-         Destroying her property
-         Abusing pets
-         Displaying weapons

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming:

-         Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously
-         Saying the abuse didn’t happen
-         Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior
-         Saying she caused it

If you suspect anyone of being in an abusive relationship take actions to stop the abuse before it escalates. If you’re in an abusive relationship please call the hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE from a safe location and phone.

Power and Control Wheel is available here:

18 comments:

  1. Thank for helping others to recognize non-physical forms of abuse. From what I've read, it's amazing how subtle emotional and psychological abuse can be, yet how damaging.

    Woman to Woman recently published an article you might find interesting. Do follow this link
    http://woman2womansite.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/emotional-and-psychological-abuse-silent-destroyers/

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