The prevalence of family violence in Australian households is wide-spread. Abuse may be of a physical, sexual, emotional, social, spiritual or economic nature.
Women in violent relationships often feel that it is their fault that their partner acts abusively toward them. This impacts the way they feel about themselves and what they do or don’t do about it.
For many people in Australia family violence is an everyday experience.
Relationship violence affects many people from all socioeconomic, religious and racial groups. It can happen to men as well as women, and those in same-sex relationships.
Some examples include:
A common pattern over time is that:
Therefore, if only they acted differently the abuse would stop.
If I have dinner ready on time or if I keep the kids quiet then this wouldn’t happen to me.
Often the partner leads the woman to believe it is her fault, accusing and berating her for whatever she did to cause him to act abusively towards her. Even though the woman may initially doubt that she is at fault, she questions herself when the abuse happens over and over.
The emotional nature of an intimate relationship compounds this difficulty, as there are often confusing mixed emotions such as love and hate, or hope and despair. Promises that the abuse won’t ever happen again, and being showered with apologies and love after the violence can confuse how the victim feels. These factors lead to self-doubt, self-blame and a sense of powerlessness.
As a result, women frequently find it difficult to acknowledge what is happening and to seek assistance. They often get into a pattern of trying harder to please the partner, frantic to ensure they don’t upset him. When this doesn’t work they blame themselves and wonder what they are doing wrong for the abuse to continue.
They often feel guilty about their behaviour and work hard at hiding what is happening to them. even though they are deeply distressed, fearful and unhappy.
They may go to great lengths to hide any physical injuries they may have incurred and minimise the impact of their distress to themselves or others who may notice.
Over time it becomes apparent that it doesn’t matter how hard they try, the abuse continues. Hence they take responsibility for the abuse they are experiencing. The victim takes the blame for the abuser.
There is no reason or excuse for anyone who abuses another and then blames them for it! Acting violently towards another is not the inevitable result of provocation or any other problem a person may be experiencing (e.g. substance abuse, being tired and having a bad day, or a bad childhood). Individuals are responsible for their own behaviour. Physical and sexual violence and the threat of such violence are criminal offences. It is never the victims fault.
It is an ongoing pattern of abusive behaviour whereby one person seeks to control another. It is an indicator of a lack of respect for the other. As a result the abused person’s confidence is undermined. This makes it incredibly difficult for them to leave the relationship or to speak up about what is happening to them.
For many people it is not until there is an extreme experience of violence that results in a hospitalisation or police involvement that they do something about it.
Experiencing abuse in a relationship jeopardises general health and wellbeing, creates a sense of hopelessness. and increases the likelihood of mental illness, depression and anxiety.
Children are adversely impacted by abuse in adult relationships. They are often also the target of abuse. They need to be protected from direct abuse and from witnessing abuse. Personal safety and ensuring a safe environment for children in the relationship are key factors to consider when contemplating how to best manage a difficult abusive relationship.
It is not your fault! The first step is to acknowledge what is happening and trust another person with your story.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.