Domestic Abuse is an issue which affects many people in our society; Women’s Aid state that on average the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour.
Karen is a Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador and told us about her experiences how abusive relationships can develop.
“I’ve actually had a few abusive relationships within my life, but they’ve all been different levels of it. I’ve had financial abuse, I’ve had physical abuse, I’ve had sexual abuse, but the most recent relationship I would say, was the most difficult.”
Abusers can be very good at hiding the abuse to everyone else.
“He was very charming, on the face of it he seemed to have lots of friends, he had a really good job, his own place, he had children, grandchildren and all of that kind of thing. The whole persona that he had was of a respectable person. So at the beginning of the relationship, it’s all very lovely, taking me out, wanting to pay for everything and going out and doing all sorts of wonderful things, very, very loving. As I say, because of his decent job, good home, family seemed to get on well with him, and all of that sort of stuff, I never really had a reason to doubt him. And now I know that that was a classic trait of someone that’s going to abuse you because at the beginning they come across like they’re your knight in shining armour. And you get completely sucked in.”
People often ask why we don’t leave at the first sign of abusive or controlling behaviour, but the reality is much more complex.
“In the beginning of the relationship and even the first year or so really, there were the odd little things that popped up, but generally on the whole, it was a really good relationship. But the thing is, everything that they do that’s a red flag is done very intermittently, it’s not all in one go. They don’t frighten you and carry it on, they move on to do something loving that backs that good side of them up. It would be he would do something nasty, but then he would completely change again back to the person that I fell in love with.”
When the abuser is constantly changing their behaviour, it creates more confusion.
“To start off with it was probably silly things. It would be really subtle, for example, when he had an alcoholic drink. And because he was so nice to people outside of the relationship as well, because he was always one of these people that everybody would say ‘he’s so patient, he’s so helpful’, even stories that I’d hear from his work colleagues and things like that, it would all be about how wonderful he was. So, you’re always doubting yourself if something did happen, you do genuinely feel like it must be a one-off, because now he’s lovely to me, apologising profusely, for anything that was done out of turn. And it’s really hard to describe the feelings that it gives you, and I think without really realising it, it makes you constantly doubt yourself – gaslighting I now know it’s called. He used to accuse me of having affairs with people, messaging people and all this sort of crazy stuff. Which I wasn’t doing, that’s not me, I don’t do that kind of thing because I don’t agree with it. But he would always drop things in and make out everything was my fault, but as I say, it wouldn’t happen all the time, so I’d end up making excuses then for those little moments where he was putting me down and saying something that wasn’t nice.”
The mental and emotional effects are exhausting and leave you doubting yourself.
“It completely confuses you. And as time goes on and the more and more you’ve got that up and down struggle emotionally with things that are going on and because he’s so different to the outside world, you think ‘oh I must have got it wrong, it must have been the drinks, that’s why he’s verbally abused me that day’. Or maybe I have done something, because everything was always my fault, anything that went wrong he’d take it out on me. If he had a bad day at work, it would be me that would get it when he came home from work. It got so bad in the end that it got to a point where I was completely on eggshells the whole time. It got so bad with me doubting myself and fearing myself doing anything that was going to aggravate him or make him turn on me. Every morning I would get up and I’d be thinking to myself, ‘oh god what’s going to happen today.’”
All relationships are different, but in many that are abusive, the abuser wears down the self-confidence and self-belief of their partner over a sustained period of time. As Karen explains;
“They plant the seed and sometimes it can be really subtle, or it could be outright telling you that you’ve done something wrong. But when this is over a prolonged period, it affects you, you start to doubt yourself. You could know 100 percent deep down that you haven’t done something, but they’ve got such a way to try and manipulate you, that you actually start questioning yourself, and you think ‘did I do that?’”
When we enter a relationship, none of us expect it to become abusive, and as is clear from Karen’s story, the power and control which the abuser exercises are built up gradually and effectively. It is important to listen to your instincts, and if you feel that something may be wrong in your relationship, listen to your intuition and try to seek help and guidance safely from a reputable agency.
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.
Everybody has the right to live life free from abuse and control.