Friday, July 30, 2010

How Can I Tell If I Am in an Abusive Relationship?

It's heartbreaking to me to hear tales of abuse. In the last five years, I have heard stories past and present of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. I am not a trained psychologist, but as a bishop, I have been a little too keenly aware of some of the hallmarks of abuse. I think it might be helpful to some of my readers to share the tell-tale signs of abuse, and how you can seek help.

One of the reasons why I want to share them is because often the abuser and the abused have a hard time seeing what is going on.

The abused (usually female) fears more abuse or retaliation, so she doesn't want to rock the boat. She is quiet about her suffering. She is afraid of severing her marriage or other relationship. There is fear that someone she loves—but can't trust—will go to jail. There is also denial, another form of fear, which is the feeling that what is going on isn't that bad and she can make it through another day.

The abuser (often male) doesn't see how his behavior is affecting others. He usually was a victim of abuse himself, but doesn't realize that consciously. He doesn't know how normal families operate, because he has never been in one. He is hurting deeply from the scars of past abuse, so he lashes out to hurts others. He models what he experienced as a child. He covers his shame with rage and schemes of control. But he does a great job (most of the time) of covering up and looking good to his neighbors, co-workers, and fellow church goers.

It is an awful cycle of shame and denial, of fear and hiding. It is daily torture.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may not realize it until you have shared what's going on in your private life with someone you trust, such as a bishop or other religious leader or a counselor or a kind voice on an abuse hotline.

Here are some signs to look for:

Is there yelling and anger going on in your house every day or nearly every day?

Is there constant name calling or put downs or vulgarity?

Does someone you love fly off the handle at the slightest provocation on a regular basis?

Do you feel threatened or unsafe in your own home? Do you fear for your health or even life? Are you afraid for your children?

Do you feel like you can never express yourself or your point of view?

Do you feel like you are not respected or valued?

Do you feel that you have no say or control over your life?

Does the advice in my past blog posts on marriage relationships seem "out there" and like it absolutely would not work or apply in your marriage?

Do you feel like you could comment on this post or any other post on abuse, but are afraid to do so for fear that someone might find out?

Are you told not to tell of events you have witnessed in your home, and threatened if you do tell?

Do you feel trapped, like you can't talk about your personal life with anyone?

Do you feel worthless and depressed most of the time, like you can't do anything right? Are you told that you are worthless?

Do you feel guilty for enabling bad behavior because you are too afraid to speak up about it?

Do you feel like you actually deserve the abusive behavior that is coming your way?

Do you loath night time?

Do you emotionally cover your eyes and ears, unable to deal with what you are seeing and hearing?

Does someone in your life appear to be hiding things, sneaking around, overreacting when you surprise him by walking into a room or coming home, won't let you go in a certain room of the house, staying up late, or otherwise acting mysteriously?

Have you ever been struck or punched or drug? Have you seen someone in your family physically harmed in any way?

Do you feel or have you ever felt forced to do things that you know are wrong?

Do you have fantasies of brutally retaliating against another person, in defense of yourself or your child?

Are you looking for ways to run away or hide or even ending your own life as a way to escape all the pain?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you need to talk to someone soon. You need help.

Pick up the phone, send an email, write a note, make an appointment as soon as you can. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your bishop or stake president or minister, tell a trusted friend or parent first. Look up the LDS Family Services office near you and call them or stop by. Go to Google and type in "abuse hotline" and find a number to call and then call it. Or you can send me a personal message on Facebook and click "Send Mike Fitzgerald a Message." I will gladly do what I can to help you find the help you need. (I cannot counsel you if you are not a member of our ward, but I can point you to some ways to get immediate help.)

No one and I mean NO ONE deserves to feel this way or to be treated this way.

You are loved by your Heavenly Father as much as anyone. He doesn't love anyone more than He loves you, even though you might not feel that way right now. He wants to help you. He has not betrayed you. He would never do that. He has to send angels to do much of his work, some of them mortal. Let them help you. God bless you.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. There is one thing I'd like to add. In my relationship, most days were fine. We hardly ever argued, and when we did there was almost never yelling. He hardly ever lashed out physically (only about once per year.) When he did, he never hit me. He "only" hit/kicked pets, walls, broke things and came at me aggressively (but always "checked" himself). He never even touched me until the very last time.

Yet, I always felt I was walking on eggshells, and having to apologize for everything I said. I felt like I was a horrible communicator, never able to get across my meaning, no matter how careful I was to word things the right way. If he brought up one of his issues with the relationship, I always had to carefully weigh each response, and it would still make him feel attacked. Nothing but "I'm sorry" and some self-deprecation would satisfy him that I had listened.

I thought everything was my fault, and the things I felt weren't valid. Like I was crazy for feeling a certain way, there was no reason for me to feel it.

I was terrified of hurting his feelings, and was willing to do anything to make him happy.

I think those feelings can be the best measuring sticks for a person who is in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Anonymous said...

I am in the helping profession and i am struck by how often the vitim is convinced, either deliberately by the offender and/or sometimes non-deliberately by an outsider, that they are responsible for the abuse. "Maybe if I was smarter, more clever, more attractive, made dinner on time, just went along with the flow--this would not happen." The clarity of responsibility can become very fuzzy in the trauma/survivor mentality that seems to purvade for the victim living in this kind of relationship.

The folks I have worked with tell me that although all abuse is bad that emotional abuse can be the most difficult to handle because it leaves the deepest scars that are most difficult to heal. And there is little tangible evidence of its aftermath.

Recently a client asked me how she could know if his apologies and claims of wanting to change were sincere. I believe that the number one sign is if that person is willing to take TOTAL responsibility, no "buts" allowed! This includes attempting to restore the reputation of the victim if he has told family or others that she was lying and, as is often asserted by the offender, that she is mentally unstable. This confession also needs to include the Bishop for those who are LDS and professional treatment is critical. Without a full confession to the victim and others who have become involved, I would be VERY wary.

Great blog based on the experience of a bishop who is willing to listen and be involved.