By Grant J Everett
One in three women will experience abuse from an intimate partner, but your chances of suffering domestic violence are even higher if you have a mental health issue. The Vic Health Report (2004) found that intimate partner violence is the top cause of injury and death for Victorian women aged 18 to 45, and there are similar patterns across the rest of the country. Being a survivor of abuse is also a very common life factor among people who develop clinical depression, anxiety disorders, insomnia, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.
Inflicting abuse is a choice made entirely by the abuser. A lot of violent people will blame their partners for “making them angry” to avoid taking responsibility, or try to blame their behaviour on some variety of personality disorder. However, research has shown that most men who are violent towards their families are able to behave in other settings, which indicates they have control over their actions when they really want it.
There’s no such thing as a standard abuser. Abusers can come from any cultural group, religion and social class, as well as both genders.
The “psychological” form of domestic violence is the most common, as it is easier to hide, but it’s also just as damaging as the other two kinds. Working out whether you’re in an abusive relationship might not be as straightforward as you might think, though. Does your partner get jealous easily? Insult you? Are you denied access to your own money? Do they yell at you? Forbid you from seeing certain people? Play mind games?
If your partner controls your purse, this is ECONOMIC abuse. This can include stealing your money or using your cards without your knowledge. This form of control makes it hard to escape, as it’s difficult to run with no cash. If somebody has absolute control over where you go and who you see, this is SOCIAL abuse. Yelling, threatening, swearing, belittling and attacking a person’s self-esteem are all VERBAL abuse. Using religion to manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do is SPIRITUAL abuse.
Been there, defeated that
KRISTY MOUNSEY, a regular at our Embark Cottage day-to-day living centre, spoke about the psychological abuse she received from her former fiancé, as well as how she took back her life.
Kristy: ‘After our engagement ended, I went through seven months of horrid depression while I grieved for the life that I thought I was going to live: husband, babies, gone. I received counselling at my local women’s service, which was extremely helpful, and started seeing a psychiatrist. Medication played a role in helping me get through the hard times, as did yoga and acupuncture. Ending a six year relationship takes a toll on your body, mind and heart, and a great tip I learned was to realise that what had happened was a major life event, and not just something I could forget or ignore. I couldn’t just “pull myself together” and get over it. Although I didn’t use a face-to-face domestic violence support group, I joined a Facebook group called “Empaths and Survivors of Sociopathy” in order to vent to like-minded people and to hear their stories. It turned out my ex wasn’t unique or special: there are many, many others just like him. Realising I wasn’t alone was very helpful. A lot of the women taking part in the online group were going through a crisis, and I talked to some of them every day. It really helped that my family and friends were so supportive, which is a blessing that not everybody has. I felt that the most important thing for me was to have no contact with my ex. I had to block him, his mother, and his friends.’
A matter of choice
Even the most violent people aren’t ALWAYS violent. An abuser may act loving at times, and even seem ashamed of their bad behaviour. While abusers can be charming (especially if they’re being manipulative), saying and doing anything they can to get a second chance is a common tactic. Although this may make it hard to stay angry at them, remember: once violence has entered a relationship, the chances of further abuse are very high. If an abuser is serious about putting an end to their ways, they’ll have to take responsibility for their past, present and future behaviour, and seek professional help. Such change comes slowly, if at all. Whether an abuser goes into therapy or not, violence is an absolute deal-breaker in any relationship, and nobody should tolerate it.
Help for survivors
The top priority in all abuse situations is the safety of the victims. A new government scheme called “Staying Home, Leaving Violence” has rolled out in many locations across NSW, and it allows victims to remain in their homes while the perpetrator is forced to leave (which is the exact opposite of what usually happens). Once the abuser is gone, safety upgrades like new locks, bars and alarms will be installed. This is a real paradigm shift, and will empower a lot of people who would otherwise end up on the street.
“Gaslighting” is a form of mental abuse where a person deliberately twists or falsifies the truth with the intention of making a victim doubt their own memory, and even their own sanity (Wikipedia)
Ending the cycle of abuse requires professional intervention. Unfortunately, many victims will continue to endure terrible conditions for years before finally seeking support. This “stalling period” is often due to fear, or in the vain hope that things will get better.
The British Journal of Psychiatry
The Health Cost of Violence: Measuring the Burden of Disease Caused by Intimate Partner Violence, VicHealth (2004)
NSW Domestic Violence Line: 1800 656 463