When Love Hurts: Five Warning Signs of Domestic Abuse

We all want and need to receive and express love. It is a fundamental human need and primary driver of many of human behaviors. It starts from the moment we look into our parent’s eyes, and them into ours, and continues to develop and evolve throughout our lifespan. It provides a sense of security and safety in an often uncertain world. Sometimes, those we love justify hurtful actions and statements as evidence of their love. In those circumstances those we love may not really love us, but rather they love having a sense of power and control over us. They may honestly believe they love us, and attempt to convince us that such displays are a representation of their love, but they are not.  

Did you know that one in 4 women (22.3%) have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, while 1 in 7 men (14.0%) have experienced the same.(1)  For more statistics and information about the startling prevalence of intimate partner violence follow the link to a CDC fact sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-Fact-Sheet-2014.pdf Historically, women have been primarily identified as victims in domestic violence relationships; however, men are often targets but are less likely to report it.

There are many warning signs, but for the purposes of this blog I am only going to provide you with 5. I selected signs that are more subtle, cause the victim to question reality and make excuses for their partner’s behavior, and may be a precurser to physical violence. Psychology Today published an excellent article on the topic of gaslighting. It is a technique used to convince people not to trust their intuition, to second guess themselves, and often take the blame for the perpetrators abusive behavior. It is a hand abuser’s play well--all bluff. It is highly effective at establishing and maintaining systems of power and control. 

1.)    “I know it’s only been a few weeks, but I think we should move in together.” Moving too far, too fast may be one of the first signs of an abusive relationship. When the victim is in need of help, the abuser acts as the hero and rescuer vowing to take care of him or her. “You don’t have a job or money to contribute to the bills, no problem, I will take care of you,” the abuser might say. This creates a system of dependence and a scenario which the abuser can easily exploit. Typically this is followed by other attempts to make the victim completely reliant on the perpetrator creating the perception that the victim is unable to take care of her or his self without the perpetrator.

2.)    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. or Mrs. Hyde personality.  At the onset of any new relationship, we all put our best foot forward and try to show our best selves. The abuser may at first appear charming, charismatic, the prince or princess of childhood fairy tales, and liked by many. They may pull out all the stops to demonstrate how amazing they are, and convince the victim that they will never be able to find someone quite as special. It is a lot of fancy bait! Once they have the victim on the hook, the cycle of abuse begins.  Any compliments and praise once provided may quickly turn to harsh criticism and mean spirited comments directed at making the victim question themselves. (Refer to the link to gaslighting article above)

3.)    Once hooked, they want the victim to remain uninfluenced by those with objectivity on their relationship. They find systematic ways to isolate the victim from friends and family. Always needing to be with the victim or never allowing them to be alone with someone else may be an indicator to friends and family that your loved one is not in a healthy relationship. In some instances, this may even play out in requests that the victim quit their job, schooling, and other areas of interest and social engagement.  In recent years with the emergence of computers, social media and cell phones, perpetrators will monitor their victim’s social media accounts, track internet searches and history, demand that they have their user name and passwords, check messages,  and/or forbid them from using social media altogether. This leads me to warning sign #4.

4.)    Loss of all privacy. The abuser will work hard to convince the victim that in a committed relationship, there is no expectation of privacy. This could not be further from the truth. In a healthy relationship, it is important that each person retain their right to privacy. A healthy intimate relationship is comprised of 3 independent relationships: the relationship that each partner has with his or herself and the relationship that they have as a couple. Without the right to privacy and the ability to maintain important relationships with friends and family members independent of the abuser, the victim loses the ability to safely process their fears, doubts and concerns. To do so in the presence of the abuser would result in either a minimization of the victim’s fears or retaliation for having such thoughts and concerns.

5.)    Huge overtures, grand apologies, and promises to never act that way again. Initially, the abuser may be the one making the apologies with grand gestures (shopping sprees, expensive dinners, anything that resembles the Dr. Jekyll ), but often times victims report that they begin making the apology and begging for forgiveness from the perpetrator in hopes of making the violence stop. Victims often describe the experience as a rollercoaster- with extreme highs (the best relationship I have ever had) and even more extreme lows. The extreme highs are known as the honeymoon phases that follow the fights. During that time, it may seem like everything is great and it will not happen again until it does. 

If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, there is help! If you live in Lee, Hendry or Glades County, the Abuse Counseling &Treatment Center has resources to assist you to safety and reestablishing your independence. Their 24 hour number is 239-939-3112. If you are in another area, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to find resources in your area at 1-800-799-7233.

Have you been in an abusive relationship in the past? Do you have a desire to work towards empowering yourself and rebuilding your life? Are you ready to live with more confidence, purpose, and reinvest in a life worth living? If you answered yes to any of these questions, let us help you achieve those goals. Through a combination of educational resources, creative counseling approaches, and the support of caring clinicians to guide you on your journey, we can help you reach your goals. Call us at 239-297-7099 or email reina@floridaarttherapyservices.com to talk to a counselor and set up an appointment. 

1.        Breiding MJ, Smith SG, Basile KC, Walters ML, Chen J, Merrick MT. Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. MMWR 2014; 63(SS-8): 1-18