October: Domestic Violence Awareness month

  • Published
  • By Lee Sasse
  • 28th Medical Group Mental Health Clinic
We hear the phrase domestic violence quite a bit, especially during October- which is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

We tend to think of domestic violence as a couple getting into a physical argument and ending up with an injury. This type of case is clear: it involves a couple and involves a tangible assault. But what about domestic violence that doesn't leave visible marks?

There are many individuals involved in psychologically abusive relationships- there may be no physical marks, but their partner makes them feel like they are stupid, worthless and ugly. Psychological trauma is not visible, but it damages a person just as much as physical trauma and it is a warning sign that future physical violence may be possible in the relationship.

The key psychological ingredients of an abusive relationship are isolation and destroyed self-confidence. Once a person is isolated and lacks self-confidence, they are far less likely to leave an abusive relationship, and the risk of harm increases. Dr. Joseph Carver is a clinical psychologist who has written articles and taught workshops on identifying abusive partners. Dr. Carver recommends a person pay attention to some key warning signs. In each sign below, look for how the action/behavior will isolate the victim and destroy their self-confidence:

Quick attachment

They insert themselves into your life very quickly and share a lot of highly personal information before it seems appropriate. If your gut tells you that the person is moving too fast in the relationship, you are probably right. Quickly sharing deeply personal information and letting them dominate your time makes you bond more quickly with the abuser and makes it harder to separate from them. If the relationship is ever threatened, they also tend to have a major breakup panic, where they will sometimes manipulate and threaten to harm you, others, or themselves to keep you from leaving.

Frightening temper and stories

Even if they aren't yelling or hurting you, if they display a frightening temper in front of you, it is a form of power, control and intimidation. By punching a hole in the wall or harming others in your presence it shows you and warns you that you better not make the abuser angry because they are dangerous. Also, abusers tend to tell stories and jokes that revolve around violence, revenge and what happens to those that "wrong" them. Seeing the violent temper and hearing these stories can make you more likely to submit to whatever the abuser wants in fear of getting hurt.

Kills your self-confidence

The lower your self-esteem, the more likely it is that you will stay with the abuser. They make you feel stupid, ugly and worthless and make you believe that no one else would want you or would put up with the way you are. Eventually this becomes a public event where they embarrass you in front of people you know. By doing this in public, it teaches you that in the future you should politely smile and never offer your personal comments or opinion and makes you fear a public humiliation or scene. You quickly decline social and family gatherings due to the potential for an embarrassing social scene.

They cut off your support system and personal interests

If you have people who care about you, and have regular contact with them, they are a danger to the abusive relationship. If you have an interest and pursue it, it takes time away from the abuser and is a threat to the relationship. The abuser can isolate you from your support network/interests in a number of ways. They can do it bluntly, and no longer allow you to do what you want or allow your friends and family to contact you. They can move to a new location where you do not know anyone. They can also use a more passive approach where they allow you to go out with friends and family but make the time you spend with them a hassle or not enjoyable. For example you go out with friends for a night out and the abuser texts or calls you constantly until you come home and pay attention to them. It becomes such a pain to go out without the abuser that you start staying home with him/her instead of spending time with friends.

The mean-sweet cycle

The abuser cycles between being mean and being sweet over and over. They will verbally threaten or make hurtful comments and then become remorseful, apologize, give presents and make promises to never do it again, but then they turn around and do it again. If nothing interrupts this cycle, it becomes more frequent and more intense over time, escalating from verbal abuse to physical violence.

The abuser blames you for everything

The abuser blames you for their behavior, their anger and their difficulties. The abuser never accepts responsibility for their behavior toward you. Whatever happened (abuse, cheating, etc.) was a response to your behavior and they try to make you believe that you actually caused it rather than admitting they chose to do it. For example, a couple got into an argument and the woman insulted the man. He walked out and left. The next morning she noticed that he had broken all of the windows out of her car. He told her that if she hadn't said those hurtful things to him, she would still have the windows in her car. Therefore, it was her fault the windows got broken out.

Paranoid control

The abuser constantly monitors your behavior, whereabouts, mail/email and social contacts. In public, waving at someone produces "20 questions" and further interrogation at home. You will be accused of cheating, lying and misleading the abuser. They may follow you, tape your phone calls, check your computer, etc. The abuser begins to tell you what to wear, who you can speak to and where you can go. During dating, the abuser tells you they will call each night, which is a technique to keep you at home, fearing accusations if you are not home to answer the call. When this is going on you start to feel defensive and do crazy things like sever contact with others, refuse to provide phone numbers and e-mail to friends, in fear they might contact you and set off an argument if discovered by the abuser.

So, how do we ensure a healthier relationship? We need to recognize that all relationships have conflict and we all can act like jerks some of the time. We need to keep it real, while also making good decisions. We will disagree, but the important thing is to stay away from hurtful words and actions. There are a number of classes offered by the Family Advocacy Program that helps a couple repair a damaged relationship and can help you keep a relationship healthy and a source of happiness and support.

When starting a dating relationship, Dr. John Vann Epp states that you need talk-time and togetherness to begin a successful relationship. You need to talk to the other person and those they associate with to make sure that you know who they are, what they are like and what their friends and family think of them. You need time to see how stable the person is and how they act or react in many different situations. He says you should always allow a 90-day "probation period" in a new relationship where you have fun and are free to get to know the other person without making any serious commitments or actions that lead to major alterations to lifestyle such as marriage or having a child. And lastly, togetherness is the most important ingredient to a successful and healthy relationship. In this day and age of internet relationships we sometimes neglect the togetherness. Internet relationships allow a person to present their best traits to you and filter what you know and see. This keeps you from seeing if they are "walking the walk" as well as "talking the talk."

For more information on where to get help with a current relationship or learn more about establishing a healthier relationship contact:

Family Advocacy Program at (605) 385-3486
Classes- Marriage LINKS and How to Avoid Dating a Jerk/Jerkette
Limited confidentiality

Chaplains at (605) 385-1598
100 percent confidential, does not have to be religious-based

Military and Family Life Consultants at (605) 430-0332
No records, but have duty to warn

Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647
Provider downtown