Sarah* believes she is worthless. The reason she believes this is because her husband tells her so – every single day. She has been verbally, emotionally, physically and financially abused. She has no friends and is completely isolated from her family.
She is one of the estimated 1 in 4 women worldwide who will experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives, yet she believes she couldn’t survive without her husband Frank*.
After all, he’s her life, her son’s father, her only friend, her financial provider.
Sarah will tell you Frank wasn’t always this way – in fact, in the first few months, maybe even a year, everything was fantastic.
But as Jim O’ Shea, accredited counsellor and author of new book Abuse, Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying (www.jimoshea.net) will explain, in the beginning everything will seem wonderful.
“Few relationships begin in an abusive way,” says Jim. “You may find your partner charming, charismatic, attentive, loving, romantic, polite, amusing, helpful and handsome. Equally desirable, he may share many of your interests. You may think you have found a real soul mate.”
Jim explains how the classic abuser will sweep you off your feet, and demand a quick commitment from you, putting you on a pedestal and making you think you really have met ‘the one’.
“If your self-esteem is low, that person’s initial attention will make you feel wanted, flattered and fortunate,” explains Jim.
But as soon this Jekyll and Hyde character has got you to commit, the mask will slip.
“Abusers cannot hide their tendencies for very long. Apparent love, affection and support are at some stage supplanted by the more dominant feelings of jealousy and envy. You might find yourself subjected to put downs and anger, rather then praise and nurturing.”
Signs of abuse
Abuse occurs in cycles – the tension, the explosion and then the ‘calm’ or the honeymoon phase. The abuser will get close for a while and then withdraw again as they cannot handle intimacy.
Abusers not only try and isolate you physically from those they consider a threat to their control over you – they’ll also do their best to isolate you psychologically. They do this by putting down those people who you hold dear. Maybe they’ll suddenly suggest you move house away from everyone you know, or start criticising your parents, your siblings or your friends. They also will usually have a violent temper which comes out on a regular basis.
“This temper may be evident in how they show road rage on a frequent basis or how they show disrespect and dislike for authority figures,” says Jim. “The abuser will ridicule, criticise, belittle and judge the opinions of others. He may be kind to you but show no consideration to the feelings of others. You will notice he refuses to listen to others and behaves like a know-all.”
There are clear signs you are attached to an abusive relationship. One of the most obvious is feeling uncomfortable or frustrated and not knowing why you feel this way. You may often feel upset, or find yourself never being listened to. Everything you say seems to be wrong.
Why do people abuse?
“All abusers have a low sense of self-esteem and self-worth,” explains Jim. “They think in extremes and tend of over-exaggerate their partners behaviour.
“They have a strong intolerance to any type of discomfort, and have rigid opinions about how a person should be.
“The abusive personality type believes the partner is the problem and must be controlled and made subject to his will.
“He does this by controlling the emotional distance between them.”
Can abusers change?
Only if they get help, and even then – it can be tough for them to do so, especially since it might be difficult to admit they are an abuser in the first place.
“Abusive characteristics are hardwired into the right side of the brain,” explains Jim.
“The abusive personality is programmed in early childhood as a result of an insecure attachment to the parent or carer. Therefore, abusers are programmed to control as a way of easing feelings of being worthless, vulnerable and unlovable.”
“Abusers have distorted thinking but also plan in a logical way and carry out a well thought out campaign of torture. Abusers are liars and generally deny their abusive behaviour. An abuser may have a strong sense of denial that they are an abuser.”
How can you get help?
You might be afraid to leave for a number of reasons – guilt, conditioning, lack of resources, children – the list can be endless. But remember you still can. The resources are there to help you do so in a safe way.
“If you are in an abusive relationship you can recognise what is going on and take steps to reclaim your life,” says Jim.
Only through counselling, and recognition of their problem, can an abuser can learn to change. If you’re a victim, don’t wait until they do.
If you suspect you or someone close to you may be a victim of domestic abuse call Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900 or go to www.womensaid.ie
Abuse: Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying, written by Jim O’Shea and published by Cork University Press, costs €14.95.
- Domestic violence is the most common source of injury to women – it is more common than car accidents, muggings, and rapes by a stranger combined.
- 5-10 % of domestic violence victims are men, although this is a highly under-reported number due to society’s stigmas.
- 15 % of women and 6 % of men suffer severe domestic abuse (amen.ie)
- 29 % of female victims (1 in 3) and only 5 % of male victims (1 in 20) report to the Gardaí (amen.ie)
- In 2010, there were 13,575 incidents of domestic violence disclosed to the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline. That included 8,351 incidents of emotional abuse, 3,031 incidents of physical abuse and 1,605 incidents of financial abuse. In the same year, 588 incidents of sexual abuse were disclosed, including 213 rapes. (Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline and Support Services Statistics Report 2010)