Sadly, abuse is still very common in our 21st century culture. As a psychotherapist, I often see clients who are tolerating abusive relationships or abusive behavior in their everyday lives.
Although I’m always very grateful that the person I’m working with has made the choice to see professional help, I also feel sad that there are so many others out there who are still being abused. Too often, the most beautiful people simply don’t realize what the problem is or that they could make a choice to better their lives.
Why You May Allow Abuse to Continue
There are many reasons why you may allow abuse to continue in your life. Some of these include:
- Believing that abuse is normal. Maybe you don’t realize that you are being abused. If you grew up in an abusive home, you may not know what a healthy relationship is or what you should tolerate or not tolerate in your life today.
- Feeling embarrassed. If you are being abused, you may not want your friends or family to know, or you may be embarrassed that you have stayed in the abusive relationship as long as you have.
- Having low self-esteem. Low self-esteem or low self-worth generally comes from your dysfunctional family of origin, where you were treated like you were not valuable or important or like your feelings and needs didn’t matter. An abuser takes advantage of your low self-esteem and uses it to control you.
- Believing you love the person who abuses you. Maybe you think you are still in love with the abuser and you don’t want to give up on your dream of growing old together.
- Afraid no one will believe you. If your abuser is popular or well-known, you may be afraid that everyone will believe him (or her) and will think poorly of you if you leave.
- Allowing the abuser’s manipulation to influence you. Abusive people can be very charming and manipulative. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s true. You may be allowing the abuser to convince you that you are actually causing the abuse and that you are the one who needs to change your behavior.
- Being afraid of the abusive person. An abusive person often makes threats or comments that cause you to fear what could happen if you were to leave the relationship. You may be afraid of you or your children being hurt. Sometimes you may fear that the abuser will hurt him (or her) self or even commit suicide if you are not there.
- Cultural or religious beliefs. If you have strong cultural or religious beliefs, you may believe that it is your duty to stay in an abusive relationship no matter what happens. Maybe you are afraid of bringing shame on your family or possibly you’re afraid that you’ll go to hell if you leave.
- Lack of money. Maybe you are financially dependent on your abuser and you are truly afraid you can’t survive or that you can’t raise your children on your own.
- Having nowhere to go. Sometimes the abuse has destroyed your self-esteem so completely that you don’t think anyone would want to help you. You may feel resigned to staying in the abusive relationship because you simply can’t see any viable alternatives.
It’s never too late to stop the abuse in your life. It’s important to know that no matter how things look at the time, there is always a way out.
How to Recognize Abuse
There are many different types of abuse and many different levels of intensity. A general rule of thumb is to check your own gut feeling if something doesn’t feel right to you. If a behavior doesn’t feel loving and respectful, it probably isn’t.
Verbal abuse consists of shouting, swearing, name-calling, threats, belittling, criticizing or blaming. It can also be control, making jokes at your expense, arguing, countering or discounting what you are trying to communicate.
Physical abuse involves hitting, shoving, grabbing, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, smothering or scratching. It can also be posturing to intimidate you or physically forcing you to do something against your will.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual interaction, where someone forces you to do sexual things you don’t want to do. It can also be sexual comments, sexual jokes or putdowns, voyeurism or pornography.
Emotional abuse consists of mind games, manipulation, control, intimidation, humiliation, or simply conditional love. Sometimes it occurs as treating you as less than human or depriving you of friends or support.
What to Do if You Are Currently Being Abused
- Ask to be treated with love and respect. When you use ‘I-messages’ andspeak in a non-threatening way, sometimes your partner will realize that something is wrong and that both of you need to seek professional help.
- Walk away from a bad situation. If a situation looks like it could become abusive, tell your partner that you’re going to take a break and you’ll come back when you’ve calmed down and you can treat each other with love and respect.
- Get professional help! It’s very hard to overcome abuse alone. You absolutely need to find someone who can help. Whether you reach out to a counselor, a church, a community center, a hotline or the police, you will definitely need to get help to get yourself out of the abusive situation.
- Create a safety plan. If you feel afraid for any reason, it’s very important to have a safety plan so that you will know what to do if a bad situation arises.
- If things get out of control, call 911! Don’t let your fear stop you from calling for help when you need it. You may be saving your own life, the lives of your children or even helping the abuser him (or her) self so that you can all have a better life in the future!
Who to Call in a Crisis
- Call your local Law Enforcement Agency (911)
- Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency Room
- If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call your local hotline and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) (TTY 1−800−787−3224)
- If you are being sexually assaulted, RAINN provides support for sexual assault victims and their loved ones through two hotlines at 800-656-HOPE and Online.RAINN.org.
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline: If you need support, call 800.656.HOPE, and you will be directed to a rape crisis center near your area.
- The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: is the first secure web-based crisis hotline providing live and anonymous support through an interface as intuitive as instant messaging. For more information visit http://rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline.
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