An abusive relationship can be physically violent, but not necessarily. Sometimes the abuse can be psychological.
When you are in a psychologically abusive relationship you are conditioned to believe that the abusive behaviour is normal and that any doubts you have about the relationship are your fault and not the fault of the abuser. You learn to accept the abuse. You are worn down, confused, mentally and emotionally controlled. You will get to a point where you would swear night was day and black was white if your partner told you so – and you would believe it. This is the important point. It may start out that you agree with them for the sake of peace, but eventually you begin to doubt your own reality and you think that maybe they’re right. Then not long after this your self-esteem and sense of self has been eroded so much that you actually believe that what they are saying is right.
At this point we are accepting abuse. We accept it as the normal way of being, this is how life is, how it should be and how it always will be. I do not want anyone to think that this remark is to lay any blame at all at the feet of the victim, not at all! As someone who has experienced abuse, I can say with certainty that it is never the victim’s fault. Sadly however, we start to accept abuse as normal because we are conditioned to do so. Our mental and emotional defences have been broken down and we have, in effect, been brainwashed to accept bad behaviour as normal.
This can also be true of any relationship, it doesn’t have to be a romantic partner. We might be talking about parents, children, friends, your peer group, your work environment, your religious group. If they make you doubt your own reality and then control how you think, feel and act by using psychological manipulation, this is an abusive relationship.
It doesn’t help that the effects of psychological abuse are often treated as if they are less severe than physical abuse. So many who have experienced psychological abuse will have, at some point, thought to themselves I wish he would just hit me. Why would they have this horrific thought? Because if the outside world can see the bruises, perhaps the abuse victim will be believed. Victims of psychological abuse are invariably treated as if they are exaggerating or even lying. Their experiences are dismissed, they are told that “everyone argues” or that “you can’t always get your own way” to apportion blame to the victim. The fact of the matter is the psychological abuse can be life threatening too. If you are mentally beaten down for long enough there is a high risk of self-harm or suicide.
The victim doesn’t realise they are a victim very often. I know I didn’t. It took my 14 year old daughter to tell me that her father was abusing me. I was shocked. Shocked that my 14 year old daughter was astute enough to recognise it for what it was. Shocked that I hadn’t recognised it myself. Shocked and ashamed that I’d allowed it to go on for so long. This is another point. I was ashamed. Even though it was not my fault, I felt as if it were. I felt that I had abused my children because I had allowed this to continue in my home.
Many of you may be wondering why I am writing about this on my ex-JW activism page. It’s simple, I was conditioned from a young age by the Watchtower organisation to accept extreme control of my thoughts and feeling by others. I was taught that my authentic self was wrong and Satanic. I never learned the skills to protect myself. And although anyone can become a victim of abuse, I was particularly susceptible because I was already conditioned to accept abuse.
What are the signed of psychological abuse? This is a very helpful list. You don’t need to be on the receiving end of all of these in order for your relationship to be abusive. Any of these by themselves are a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship, either with an individual or with a group.
Psychological abuse can look like:
- Humiliating or embarrassing you.
- Constant put-downs.
- Refusing to communicate.
- Ignoring or excluding you.
- Extramarital affairs.
- Provocative behaviour with opposite sex.
- Use of sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
- Unreasonable jealousy.
- Extreme moodiness.
- Mean jokes or constantly making fun of you.
- Saying “I love you but…”
- Saying things like “If you don’t _____, I will_____.”
- Domination and control.
- Withdrawal of affection.
- Guilt trips.
- Making everything your fault.
- Isolating you from friends and family.
- Using money to control.
- Constant calling or texting when you are not with him/her.
- Threatening to commit suicide if you leave.
How to get help
If you think that you are in an abusive relationship, realise it is not your fault. Talk to someone you can trust to keep your fears confidential. If you don’t have someone in your life like this, speak to your GP or telephone a domestic abuse support hotline. But the most important thing is that you reach out and get support and help.
How you can be an ally
If someone confides in you, it’s important that you just listen. The person needs to feel in control. Don’t advise them what they should do. Support them in whatever they want to do. If they wish to approach a support agency, ask them if they’d like moral support. The most important things to know about an abuse victim is that they feel powerless. It’s essential that they are given their power back. These are a few of my personal tips as someone who has experienced decades of domestic abuse:
- Reassure them that none of this is their fault;
- Support them in what they want to do;
- Ensure that they are making the decisions not you;
- Don’t judge;
- Don’t assume you know what should be done;
- Listen – seriously I can’t emphasise this enough – don’t talk over the person, take your lead from what they want.
There is a lot of excellent advice also found here:
Victim or Survivor?
I recoil at seeing myself as a victim, but if I’m honest I was for several decades. However, I don’t see that as a shameful thing, as to do so would be to victim-blame myself. I’ve been blamed by enough people, I won’t be one of them. So yes, I was very much a victim of abuse, but I’m also a survivor. I’m also a fighter. I now fight for me, for you, for everyone who has experienced abuse at the hands of a partner, a family member, a peer group, a religious organisation. I fight because we are worthy human beings and none of this was our fault. I fight to take back my power, and to help others do the same.