8 Truths About Domestic Violence: It’s Not Just Physical

domestic violence awareness month

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) designates October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The NCADV aims to increase awareness of domestic violence issues and support domestic violence victims and survivors. The organization is also engaged in advocacy work to ask for legislation and law enforcement changes that can help to hold abusers accountable while providing necessary support for victims.

Domestic violence is a national mental health issue because 33% of women and 25% of men have experienced intimate partner violence. Victims of domestic violence have an increased risk of developing conditions that impact their mental health, such as low self-esteem, chronic pain, disability, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol, tobacco, or drug abuse.

Leaving an abusive relationship is often only a tiny part of domestic abuse survivors’ battle. They battle the stigma associated with being the “one who stayed” and often struggle financially immediately after leaving the relationship. The lack of resources combined with a fear of judgment can keep survivors and victims stuck far longer than they would otherwise stay. This blog will help uncover some truths about domestic violence, help you spot warning signs, and give you resources if you or a loved one need help to leave a violent relationship.

8 Truths About Domestic Violence

Domestic violence comes in many forms and can affect anyone. Victims of domestic violence can be confident and independent people. Victims and abusers come from all age groups, all communities, all education, economic levels, all cultures, ethnicities, and religions.

Even with all the advancements in understanding domestic violence, a stigma still exists that prevents many victims from reaching out for help or leaving the relationship. In the spirit of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re spreading some truths about domestic violence to reduce stigma and increase access to helpful resources and healing.

1. Abusers Want Control

The hallmark of an abusive relationship is an abuser who uses various methods to attempt to control their partner. The controlling behavior abusers can include any behavior meant to isolate, dehumanize, intimidate, threaten or coerce their partner. Domestic violence can include violent behavior, the threat of violence, and even verbal abuse. All forms of domestic violence affect the victim’s mental health.

2. Isolation is Dangerous

person putting their hand up to stop someone

Abusers often attempt first to isolate their partner. They may forbid their partner from seeing certain friends or family members, limit their access to social media, or deny them access to medical care. Isolating behaviors can start with snooping through their partner’s phone, questioning them about relationships with co-workers, and being overly possessive in ways that may feel normal, depending on how the victim is raised.

A partner who attempts to isolate you is not loving. Healthy relationships involve people who have their own lives, friends, and priorities and choose to build a life together. This behavior typically escalates to name-calling and even violence.

3. It’s Easy to Miss Red Flags

The red flags that indicate the beginnings of intimate partner violence are often subtle. An abuser attempting to see what they can “get away with” may start out saying they’re just so jealous when you talk to other people because they fear you’ll leave them. That can feel like love, even though it isn’t.

Red flags can also be easy for a victim’s loved ones to miss. Someone victimized by domestic violence may stop participating in their favorite activities, avoid social situations, seem anxious and check their phone often when they are away from their partner. The biggest red flag is any behavior change, and often, having a friend, or family member ask if everything is okay is all it takes for a victim to ask for help.

4. Domestic Violence is Cyclical

Abusive relationships involve patterns of behavior that include control and violence, as well as times of calm attentiveness. Often, an increase in tension follows times of relative peace. The tension increases until the abuser peaks with abuse. This abuse is usually more severe than previous episodes, and the cycle becomes more intense over time. Abusers use a variety of tactics during the increase in tension to maintain power and control over their victims.

5. There Are Many Types of Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence comes in many forms, but every form can affect a victim’s mental health. Often, abusive relationships involve more than one of these types of domestic violence.

Emotional abuse is behavior that intentionally harms a person’s self-worth. This type of abuse may include

  • Using name-calling, humiliation, or constant criticism that affects your self-worth.
  • Acting in a jealous or possessive manner.
  • Attempting to isolate you.
  • Monitoring your whereabouts and communication.
  • Withholding affection as punishment.
  • Threatening to hurt you, your children, your family, or your pets.

Economic abuse limits a victim’s access to money and assets. Financial Abuse may include

how to stop violence checklist
  • Preventing a victim from going to work or harassing them at work to affect their performance.
  • Demanding the victim quit their job.
  • Preventing their victim from accessing family funds.
  • Forcing victims to hand over paychecks and other income.
  • Putting all resources in only their name.
  • Withholding necessities such as hygiene products and food.
  • Taking out credit cards or loans in the victim’s name.

Physical Abusers may

  • Throw objects, punch walls, kick doors, or engage in other destructive behaviors when angry.
  • Use physical violence like pushing, hitting, biting, kicking, burning, or choking.
  • Drive recklessly when angry to scare you.
  • Use weapons.
  • Make you leave your home, or trap you inside the house.
  • Prevent you from seeking medical attention.
  • Hurt your children.

Sexual Abuse may include

  • Frequent jealousy or accusing you of cheating.
  • Making you dress a certain way.
  • Using sexual insults.
  • Forcing you to perform sexual acts or sexual assault
  • Demanding sexual acts when you are sick or after beating you.
  • Using weapons or objects to hurt you during sex.
  • Forcing you to engage in sexual activities with other people.

Psychological Abuse may include

  • Intimidation.
  • Threatening physical harm to loved ones.
  • Destroying victims’ pets and property.
  • Playing “mind games,” gaslighting, and trying to make the victim feel “crazy.”

Domestic Violence Escalates

Abuse can escalate in intensity, or from one type to another. It’s common for controlling behavior to become psychological and physical or sexual abuse. The escalation of abuse can happen suddenly in response to an event (or for no reason). Escalation can also be gradual. It’s common for abuse victims to feel surprised by the escalation because they don’t think their partner is capable of more intense abuse.

6. Domestic Violence Can Happen to Anyone

People once thought intimate partner violence only happened to women in heterosexual relationships. The truth is that domestic violence victims are male, female, and nonbinary. They are in heterosexual relationships, homosexual relationships, and both monogamous and nonmonogamous relationships. Abusers also come in all genders and sexual orientations.

Leaving Isn’t Easy

woman upset with hand over head while a man berates her

Abusers in intimate relationships go to great lengths to make leaving complex for their victims. They isolate them from friends and family, so a support system isn’t available to help them. They withhold financial resources so the abuse victim cannot afford to support themselves if they leave. They threaten death or physical injury to the victim, children, and pets with violence or death if they leave. Many victims stay because these threats are real. Separation is often a precursor to deadly violence from the abuser. In addition to these factors, abuse victims may choose to stay because of

  • The difficulties of single parenting.
  • A pattern of behavior that leads to hope and love intermingled with the abuse and intimidation of the relationship.
  • A lack of knowledge of or access to support.
  • A fear of losing custody of children.
  • A lack of means to support themselves because of a lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets.
  • Not having anywhere to go.
  • Religious or cultural beliefs and practices.
  • Reluctance by prosecutors to prosecute cases of domestic abuse.
  • The rationalization of the abuser’s behavior as caused by stress, alcohol, trouble at work, etc.

The Trauma Can Take Years to Recover From

Domestic violence is trauma. Recovering from trauma can involve intense fear, numbness, shame, anger, or other upsetting and traumatic emotions. Survivors feel these emotions and also may feel a pull to return to the relationship. Getting the proper support, at the right intensity is vital to making a recovery and building a healthy future.

Seek Help From a Therapist With Experience Guiding Domestic Violence Survivors

woman's face and mouth covered by someone's hand

At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, many of our providers have experience working with survivors of domestic violence. Our clinicians have experience leading domestic violence survivor groups and working with people in individual counseling. They can guide you through healing and connect you to community resources to help you or your loved one exit the violent relationship and build a life where you can thrive.

Anyone can experience domestic violence, and leaving an abusive partner is incredibly challenging. If you or a loved one need help to leave an abusive relationship, recovering from domestic abuse, or building a new life after leaving, reach out to our office to schedule an appointment.

A list of domestic violence services and resources:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 
1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

National Dating Abuse Helpline 

National Child Abuse Hotline/Childhelp 
1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

National Sexual Assault Hotline 
1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 
1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Human Trafficking Resource Center/Polaris Project 
Call: 1-888-373-7888 | Text: HELP to BeFree (233733)

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights 

National Coalition for the Homeless 

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence 
www.nrcdv.org and www.vawnet.org

Futures Without Violence: The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence 

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health
1-312-726-7020 ext. 2011

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