In my role as a Domestic Violence Strategist and Solutions Consultant; I spend a great deal of time speaking about domestic violence I have heard many stories, a great deal of them hard to hear. A common theme I hear is ‘I was never hit or physically abused, so does it even count as abuse’
I was discussing domestic violence with a acquaintance, someone I have a great deal of respect for. She is funny, sassy, beautiful and smart, she runs a very successful business We were discussing an abusive relationship she had been in. What struck me was she started the conversation with ‘He never hit me, so this probably doesn’t count as abuse and it is nothing like you went through’
Being hit became a relief.
She then went on to describe what could only be called psychological torture. It was a hard story to hear. As she was talking I kept thinking ‘If even you don’t get that this is abuse, then no wonder it goes under the radar’. Far from thinking she was lucky to have avoided physical assault, thought how hard it must be to keep sane in an abusive relationship where physical abuse is absent.
The truth is for me, being hit became a relieve. Which I understand must sound weird to someone who has never been in an abusive relationship.Being physically assaulted could seem like true abuse. To truly understand the dynamics of domestic violence we need to think about the mental and emotional control an abusive has over their partner.
It was good to trust my own mind.
The thing about being hit is there is no black and white (at least there wasn’t for me) it is wrong, it is never okay to hit someone. Once the punch, kick or whatever form of abuse the physical took place, it was a relieve. A feeling of knowing this was wrong and not my fault of trusting my my sanity for the first time in months.
Mind Games are a terrible torment.
The mind games that go on in a psychologically and verbally abusive relationship erode the sense of self. It got to the point where the abused person does not trust their own thinking.
‘Am I insane?’ ‘Did I imagine it?’ Does everyone think I am a nasty person?’
These were constants in the thinking as everything they say and do gets twisted by the abuser. The abused becomes convinced nobody would believe them? Why would anyone believe when they can not believe themselves. They are likely to stop seeking support from friends and family about the abuse they being subjected to in their relationship, so the abusers opinion becomes the only one they hear.
If it difficult to reach out to friends and family, imagine just how hard it would be to reach out for help in the workplace.
The verbal abuse soon becomes self talk.
The abused constantly find themselves apologizing for things they don’t remember saying or doing. They believe their abusive partner loves them. So it made no sense they would be purposely sabotaging them. So the belief becomes that the abused is the problem in the relationship becomes complete. The abusers insults and put downs become internalized. So that:
‘You are a lunatic’ becomes ‘I wish I could stop being such a lunatic’
‘Everyone thinks you are such a bitch’ becomes ‘I am so lucky he stays I am such bitch, no wonder nobody likes me’
The list goes on with their self worth eroded, to the point they forget who they used to be. The abused believes they are fortunate their abuser stays with them. They start to second guess everything they say and do.
In this state of confusion, it can be a relief, when the abuser escalates physical violence,. Being hit means, for the first time in a long while, there will be mental calm as they realize they have not imagined the ill treatment as a definite line has been crossed. Because as awful it is to realize they was in an abusive relationship. It was better than believing they was slowly going insane.
Employers need to set an environment where it feels safe to disclose abuse.
So, it is important that companies know how fractured the thinking will be of someone in a psychologically abusive relationship. And how dangerous the implication that if they were not hit they were not abused.
They are struggling to understand the abuse that has been happening to them. So employers need to understand the dynamics of all forms of abuse not just physical. Otherwise there is a real danger of making the situation worse.
Knowledge is power, and with that knowledge companies are in a position to empower.