Psychological abuse can be hard to recognize because it doesn’t produce physical scars. Yet many women agree that it is actually much harder to bear than physical abuse, according to Elaine Weiss, Ed.D. of the Department of Family Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Weiss is author of Surviving Domestic Violence: Voices of Women Who Broke Free.
Need help for domestic violence? Call toll-free: 800-799-7233 (SAFE).
No one knows exactly why some people are abusers. Researchers agree that abusers may share certain characteristics. For example, many grew up in violent homes themselves. Many abuse alcohol or other drugs. If you are afraid that your partner may have abusive tendencies, you should trust your instincts.
Dr. Weiss recommends thinking twice about continuing a relationship if your partner:
- ignores your wishes
- makes you feel guilty
- acts excessively jealous or possessive
- ignores your personal boundaries
- does not listen to you or disregards your opinions
- has a history of fighting, loses his temper quickly, or brags about hurting others
- breaks or hits objects during an argument
- becomes hostile when you say “no”
- makes you feel sad or afraid
Helping Someone You Care About
If you know someone who is being abused, it may be hard to approach her. “Begin by realizing that your friend or relative probably does not see the situation clearly; if you are not careful, she or he will react by defending the abuser or becoming angry with you,” Dr. Weiss says.
Dr. Weiss recommends telling her that you care about her, and you’re worried about her. Tell her that you are there for her if she ever wants to talk.
“Be as specific as possible,” Dr. Weiss says. “Refer to specific incidents you have witnessed, not to the entire relationship. You might say, ‘When he was so sarcastic about your makeup yesterday, I could see it really embarrassed you. Then when he grabbed your arm, it made me feel scared. I’m worried about your safety.’”
“Offer to get information for her, or to go with her to see a teacher, counselor or advocate,” Dr. Weiss continues. “Understand that she may not be ready yet. But she will remember that you cared enough to make the offer. Don’t make her feel ashamed, be judgmental, or tell her what to do. She’ll end up apologizing for his behavior and dropping you as a friend.”
Reassure her that she can trust you, and that you will support her no matter what happens. Tell her not to wait for the abusive situation to get better—it won’t.
Getting Help for Yourself
It’s hard for many people to recognize or admit that they are being abused. It’s even harder for them to take action. Leaving the abusive situation, Dr. Weiss says, is a process. People often need to become strong — emotionally, financially, etc. — within the relationship before they are able to successfully get out of it.
If you are being abused, you may think that if you could do better, the abuse would stop. You may be ashamed of people finding out what has happened to you. You may believe it when your partner says you’re overreacting, and it won’t happen again. You may not want to believe that your partner would hurt you. You may simply be afraid to be hurt more.
You need to know that you’re not alone, and it’s not your fault. You deserve to have your life back. You don’t deserve to be hurt anymore. Don’t wait for the person who’s abusing you to stop. He can’t stop without getting professional help.
Tell someone you trust what is happening to you. This might be a friend or a member of your family. It might be your doctor, a classmate or coworker — anyone who you feel safe confiding in and who will help you get the information and support you need to safely get out of the relationship.
You can also start by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).