Domestic abuse can manifest in many different ways, with the abusive partner using a range of behaviours or tactics to exert power and control. These can be physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, and financial/economic in nature and have an immense impact on the person experiencing the abuse. Other types of abuse can include coercive control, stalking and harassment and online/digital.
Karen is a Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador and told us about some of the emotional and psychological tactics and behaviours exhibited by her abusive partner during their relationship. The effects of this kind of abuse can be difficult to explain as they are often not as visible as physical injuries, but nonetheless cause significant and long- lasting repercussions for the person experiencing the abuse.
Even now, Karen reflects on how the abuse came to happen and questions herself due to the effect it has had on her self-esteem and confidence. This is very common as the constant onslaught erodes any feelings of self-worth and leads us to question everything as we come to doubt everything that we knew and believed about ourselves.
“I’m very much a trusting person, maybe a bit too trusting possibly, I don’t know, but I am, and I guess because of the values that I have within me, I automatically expect that I’ll get that back. What you put in you get back again. Whether that’s naïve or not, possibly, but that was how I was.”
Mind games become an everyday occurrence;
“He would even call me from work and then obviously I’d pick up the phone knowing that it was him, but then he’d kind of play games and talk to me as if I’d rung him. Or he would pretend he wouldn’t know who I was; it was weird little things just to put you on edge. You’re just on edge all the time. I can’t even believe really when I look back now, being out of that relationship, how I continued to survive living in that way. You’re constantly living on fight or flight mode, you’re ready for the next instalment of when you’re going to get verbally or psychologically abused.”
False accusations are a powerful way to shift the blame from the abuser to the non-abusive partner;
“The constant accusations of having affairs and things like that made me feel like I couldn’t talk to anybody in the end. If my phone rang, and it was a number that I didn’t recognise, if I didn’t answer it, he’d straight away start accusing me of it being somebody that I was having some sort of affair with. So, every time my phone would beep, or my phone would ring, I’d start getting palpitations, my body would get all hot, just through the fear of the accusations. I spent all of our relationship literally just making him believe that I was a faithful woman, which I absolutely was. It was quite crazy how it made me feel like everything I did I had to justify.”
The onslaught of emotional and psychological abuse is exhausting.
“When you’ve got somebody that’s controlling you, it is literally every second of every day. I would constantly have to think about what I was saying before I had even said it. That was how much I had to be, like 20 steps ahead of everything, all the time. I had to think about the safety aspect of every single thing. So, I was analysing everything I said, thinking ‘what will that mean to him, will he take that the other way’. I was completely analysing even the simplest of things. And like I say that was a daily thing.”
“When I was with him, I literally felt like someone had got my head in a vice and they were squeezing it constantly, the pressure that I felt in my head, it was just awful. I just lived with the trauma every single minute of every day. As I say, I never knew what I was going to wake up to the next day. Was there going to be anything that I had done, was my body language wrong, did I look at him the wrong way? I remember him calling me all the names under the sun because we’d got a new TV unit, and he was putting it together. He wanted to put some speakers in, and the wires needed to go through the top of this unit. I didn’t want it to be drilled through because it was a new unit, and I just thought it would look a bit ugly, but we weren’t having a bad moment or anything like that leading up to that. All I said was ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if I really like it like that’. That was it, he completely blew up at me, completely lost his temper and was screaming at me. I was so shocked and scared. I’m not a crier, I’m not somebody that gets emotional really that easily. But I was crying every day. He’d upset me so much that I was in tears more often than not. And I just was not myself anymore, I completely changed as a person.”
The effects of emotional and psychological abuse last long after the relationship ends.
“It knocked my confidence and made me feel worthless all the time. Even now, logically I know that that was down to his issues, that it wasn’t anything to do with me, but it has knocked my confidence. It affects me on an everyday basis really, everything that he’s done to me. It’s been two years now, and it’s not something that you can just block out of your mind. Even now I still have flashbacks of different things, or I’ll picture his face, just out of the blue when I haven’t thought of him for a few days or whatever. It’s just a constant thing you’re living with.”
“When I left him one of the hardest things I think that I found to cope with, was that I literally didn’t know who I am anymore.”
Thankfully there is support and assistance for people like Karen who have experienced domestic abuse. The Healthwatch Essex Information & Guidance service is a registered J9 Domestic Abuse Reporting Centre and can offer confidential support if you feel that you may be experiencing domestic abuse. We can help you find support and access local and national specialist services, depending upon your individual needs and wishes. Contact us on 0300 500 1895, email [email protected] or text/WhatsApp on 07712 395398.