Recognizing and Naming Abuse
Those of you who read this blog know that I recently experienced an abusive relationship. During the time when I was involved with this man, I was so numbed by the emotional pain he inflicted that when the physical violence started, it was almost a relief. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like being hurt. It was a relief because I was finally able to say, “Yes, this relationship really is unhealthy, he really is an abuser.” This knowledge gave me the ability to take action for myself and to finally leave the relationship, though it took me over a month to break free. Recognizing abuse for what it is can be very empowering; it certainly was for me. Once I named his abuse – emotional, physical, and sexual – I was able to release myself from that cycle and begin healing.
It would have been very helpful for me to have a domestic violence checklist to consult during the earlier days of that relationship. I might have recognized warning signs and have gotten out much sooner. Instead, I ended up waiting until I had been threatened with a knife, coerced into sex by his threats of self-harm or harm to others (which is rape by definition), and punched in the head and mouth. Below I’ve added a common domestic violence check-list that I found very recently, with my responses filled in. (Turning Point Services, 2010). I hope that it helps someone else recognize abusive patterns before violence occurs.
EMOTIONAL ABUSE CHECKLIST
• Do you have to get permission to socialize with your friends?
I did not have to get permission, but it was very clear that he did not want me to contact my friends or family. When I did speak to friends or family on the phone, he always asked me if we had talked about him and demanded to know what was said.
• Are you accused of flirting or cheating on him when you leave the house to do errands, etc.?
He often accused me of being too flirtatious with men, especially when men would compliment me or ask me out or for my phone number. He accused me of cheating on him when we had agreed to break up and see other people; though he had expressed that our relationship was over, when I went out on a date with someone else, he became furious and abusive.
• Does he blame you or others for the things that go wrong in his life? Does he refuse to accept responsibility for his own actions?
Yes – every time something went wrong, it was always someone else’s fault, usually mine.
• Does he have control over the money and monitor your spending?
He insisted that I give him money for groceries and other expenses, though I often paid for groceries and covered many of our expenses myself.
•Does he tell you no one else would ever want you?
Yes, he used to tell me no one else would ever accept me because of my children.
• Does he threaten to harm himself if you leave him?
Yes, he threatened to harm or kill himself and to burn down his home and to burn a church if I left.
• Does he go through your purse or open your mail?
No, not to my knowledge
• Does he use things against you that you've confided to him in the past?
He knew about my past hurts and used those against me; for example, he knew I had been sexually assaulted as a teen, and once forced me to look at rape-scenes as a way to hurt me.
• Does he express romantic or sexual interest in others in front of you?
Yes, he did this all the time.
• Are you nervous about being on the phone when he is around?
Yes, because he always seemed to be listening in.
• Is it okay to return home later than scheduled without being fearful?
I knew he’d be angry if I was late, especially if the kids were home.
• Does he withhold affection, give you the silent treatment when you want to talk or work things out, or refuse to answer the phone when you call?
He did all these things, all the time.
• Does he try to turn the children against you?
We did not have children together so this doesn’t apply.
• Do you feel manipulated by his kindness or gifts?
He rarely gifted me and was more unkind than kind, however, after the physical abuse occurred, he brought me flowers and an engagement ring, which I rejected, and I believed this to be an extremely manipulative act.
• Do you feel obligated to be sexual with your partner? Does he threaten or coerce you for sexual contact? Does he threaten to leave you or harm himself if you don’t have sex?
I was more than willing to be sexual with him until he began using pornography constantly in our relationship; after that, my interest level decreased. We had agreed to part ways on the night when he forced me into sex by threatening to drive drunk - thereby harming himself or others - if I didn’t comply. He used threats of leaving, threats of harming himself or others by his actions, and withholding affection if I didn’t watch pornography with him and have sex the way he wanted to. He became verbally abusive when I refused to consider having group sex or allowing others to watch us have sex via webcam.
• Are your activities and interests looked upon as unimportant and trivial?
Yes, often. He also interrupted me continually and told me in many ways that I had no rights in our relationship and that my emotions and needs were unimportant.
• Does he sabotage your schedule and outside commitments?
Yes – he often made me late for work and often called and kept me from sleeping at night.
Answering yes to any of these questions denotes a potential problem. I answered yes to almost every single one! During the early months of our relationship, these behaviors were scattered and sparse. But as time went on, more and more of the pattern became clear. Finally, the emotional and verbal abuse escalated to physical violence. Here are some markers for that type of behavior as well:
Domestic violence usually starts small and becomes more severe and frequent over time. Many times it progresses through the following stages, and I’ve noted my responses in italics:
1. Pre-battering violence
Hitting or breaking objects, threats of violence, verbal abuse. My abuser did these things – he threw glasses, plates, and books. He punched walls. He damaged some of my belongings. He shouted at me, cursed me, and called me names. He accused me of “chasing him” when he had, in fact, always been the one who pursued me (he admitted this several times when he was drunk). He accused me of ruining his life and of destroying his marriage, when he had communicated to me that his marriage was dysfunctional and he was seeking a divorce before our relationship began.
2. Beginning level violence
Pushing, restraining, blocking doorways, holding down, shaking. He engaged in these behaviors also, but most of them happened after the actual physical abuse – the night I left, he kept pushing me down onto his sofa and onto his bed, holding me down by sitting or lying on top of me. Before he hit me the first time, he did shove me and grab me by the shoulder, shaking me.
3. Moderate level violence
Slapping, punching, kicking, pulling hair, spanking. He punched me with his fists on two separate occasions, hitting me in the forehead, in the side of my head above my left ear, and in the mouth. He also threw things at me.
4. Severe level violence
Choking, beating with objects, use/threat of weapons, sexual abuse. He physically threatened me with a knife, threatened and tried to wreck his car with me in it, and forced unwanted kissing and touching (by definition, this is sexual assault) as well as coercing me to have sex by threatening to harm himself and others.
I was lucky to get away from my abuser. However, for a month after I had ended the relationship, he continued to call me, often just to “talk” as he said, or to ask for my advice about another relationship he had entered. During each call, I would request that he stop calling me, and he would promise that this would be the last call. Finally, after a month of this, I blocked him from being able to call me. Then, a month later, I moved to a different city because I did not feel safe and because our paths still often crossed. After a peaceful few weeks, I began seeing him near my new home and at my work place. He did not attempt to make verbal or physical contact, but my apprehensions grew as it became obvious that he was continuing to turn up nearby. Because of his patterns of behavior in the past – revisiting relationships, trying to coerce renewed involvement with an ex-wife over a year after their divorce – I called the police to ask for their advice. After hearing about his physical abuse and his threats with a deadly weapon, the officer I spoke to advised me to quickly apply for an order of protection, and told me that his current behavior – unwanted phone contact coupled with recurring proximity – constituted stalking.
I did apply for the order, but not right away. It took seeing him nearby several more times and him actually contacting my employer before I had the courage to apply for the protective order. That is currently in process. However, the process is hampered because I did not report his behavior to the police when he physically abused me. If I could go back and do one thing over, it would not be to keep him out of my life entirely (though that is certainly tempting). It would be reporting him immediately for what he did. At the time, I was so afraid that I felt paralyzed and unable to act. I was numb from all the pain he had put me through. And I admit that when he hit me the first time, I still cared about him, and cared about what happened to him. I did not want to see his life destroyed. Now, however, those feelings are gone. I understand that I have a responsibility to more than myself; there were other women who came before me, whom he hurt – he admitted this to me. There are other women who will come after me. If my willingness to tell the truth about his behavior saves even one person from harm, then it will have been worthwhile.
Bottom line – if you read these checklists and if you answered yes to some of these questions, take a long, honest look at your relationship. Believe me, you deserve to have healthy boundaries. You deserve to be treated with kindness, not with violence. No one should have to live in fear. Get help – talk to the police, a trusted friend, or a family member. You are worth saving.
Domestic Violence Checklist. Turning Point Services. Retrieved online from http://www.turningpointservices.org/domesticviolence.htm on 6-12-2010.