5 Things You Need To Know About Domestic Abuse

5 Things You Need to Know About Domestic Abuse

When it comes to understanding domestic violence, it can be surprisingly easy to fall prey to assumptions. We know that it occurs regularly, and most may even speculate that it happens more frequently than we might guess upon first thought.

We know that there’s almost always more to it than physical violence, and that escaping a domestic violence situation is far easier said and done. But for a lot of us who may not have experienced domestic abuse directly, that’s about as far as understanding goes.

Basic awareness is never a bad thing, of course. Where this issue is concerned, however, more is often required. A more thorough knowledge of domestic violence can lead you to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and even to better understand the consequences that victims deal with every day, all around the world. So keeping that in mind, here are five things everyone should know about domestic abuse that some may not be aware of.

Domestic Abuse – What You Need to Know

  1. Abusers know what they’re doing.

    A few years ago Cosmopolitan wrote up a very interesting article about some of the most common misconceptions about domestic violence, and it’s well worth a thorough read. Perhaps the most interesting point therein was that we’ve sort of been conditioned to think of abusers as people who lose control or have fits of rage. That may be the case for individual instances of abuse but generally speaking, most abusers are in full control of their actions and are thus following patterns of behavior. This is important to understand because it indicates that abuse isn’t an aberration.

  2. Calling police is a first step.

    Another point made in the Cosmopolitan article was that many victims of abuse hesitate to call the police for various reasons. Some don’t want their partners arrested; some don’t believe the police can stop the violence; and some, particularly in LGBT relationships or in minority communities, even fear that the police will make things worse. These are legitimate concerns, and psychologically speaking they’re more than understandable. However, it’s important not to think of a call to the police as a potential solution, so much as a first step. As the article put it, police are simply the first responders. If they don’t help directly, they can put victims in touch with people and organizations that offer the proper support.

  3. Abuse can cause chronic illness.

    Too often, we fall into the habit of thinking of abuse as something that inflicts short-term physical harm and psychological consequences. But, as part of its effort to make an impact in healthcare, Verizon has pointed to a somewhat shocking problem related to domestic violence. Research indicates that it can actually cause chronic illness issues in victims. Examples include migraines, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disease, not to mention individual injuries that never fully heal. This is incredibly important to grasp as it speaks to the fact that people who suffer from domestic violence aren’t victims for a limited time. In many cases, the impacts can be permanent.

  4. Men can be affected too.

    It’s fair to say that domestic abuse is an issue that predominantly affects women. At the same time, however, it’s horribly misguided to hold men out of the conversation about victims altogether. Plenty of men experience relationship abuse (both physical and non-physical), not only from women but also from other men in gay relationships. All of the concerns in this article and in other conversations about this issue are applicable to men.

  5. Reading Help

    It may sound like a cliché, but staying informed about issues like this one can only help. Domestic-Violence-Law wrote up its own list of five things that it’s vital to know about domestic violence and included “the proliferation of knowledge, facts, information, support, and assistance” as a key point. That doesn’t mean that simply by reading this article you’ve prevented an incident of domestic violence or provided support for a victim. But this is certainly an issue that is best addressed through widespread understanding and awareness. The more you know about domestic violence, the better positioned you are to help when you do have an opportunity to do so.

Sadly, domestic abuse remains an incredibly common problem in society, and there are no sweeping solutions to be had. But as stated within the last point, education is a key part of the battle against abuse. The better we comprehend the ordeals of victims and the situations that lead to domestic violence, the more we can all do to help.


About the Author: Rachel Hodges

Rachel Hodges is a freelance writer and community organizer currently working on a project that aims to increase awareness about the widespread impact of domestic abuse. In her downtime, she enjoys reading, spending time friends and family, and training for her next 5K.

6 Comments

Pam

I feel there should be one more thing t o know about domestic violence. It doesn’t always mean you get battered physically. It’s also about mental abuse, which in a lot of ways can cause as much or even more long lasting scars. You can’t see them but they are there, and depending on how severe, they can affect you clear into your soul. It’s not easy to prove and I found out that although it is accepted as a form of abuse, there isn’t the protection aimed at it, as the physical. That’s why I thought that should belong here, it is time that it is recognize and treated nearly the same. It is hard to get help because you can’t prove the pain, if there are no bruises.

Reply
Victoria

Have studies been done on the long term effects of an abusive relationship, after the abuser is no longer in the picture?

Reply
Hey Sigmund

What we know is that toxic stress can have long-term effects on the brain and body. The brain is very resilient though, and always open to change so if you have been in a toxic environment, it is vital that you do things that will take care of your brain. Things like exercise, meditation or mindfulness, social connection, sleep, and the right foods are all great for the brain and will help it to heal from toxic stress. Here is some information here https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-stress/.

Reply
Harley

The longitudinal Dunedin study in New Zealand showed that men and women abuse each other in equal numbers. While it’s “fair to say the domestic abuse is an issue that predominately affects women”, what was surprising to me was that this was because of hospitalisation rates not abuse rates.

Reply
Leigh

The reason being is that in most cases, men physically abusing women inflicts more serious physical injuries than when women physically abuse men.

Reply

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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