Am I in an abusive relationship?

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by Tina de Benedictis, Ph.D., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
www.helpguide.org and www.aaets.org

How do I know if I am in an abusive relationship? What are the signs and symptoms of an abusive relationship?

The more of the following questions that you answer Yes to, the more likely you are in an abusive relationship. Examine your answers and seek help if you find that you respond positively to a large number of the questions.

Your inner feelings and dialogue: Fear, self-loathing, numbness, desperation

  • Are you fearful of your partner a large percentage of the time?
  • Do you avoid certain topics or spend a lot of time figuring out how to talk about certain topics so that you do not arouse your partner’s negative reaction or anger?
  • Do you ever feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • Do you ever feel so badly about yourself that you think you deserve to be physically hurt?
  • Have you lost the love and respect that you once had for your partner?
  • Do you sometimes wonder if you are the one who is crazy, that maybe you are overreacting to your partner’s behaviors?
  • Do you sometimes fantasize about ways to kill your partner to get them out of your life?
  • Are you afraid that your partner may try to kill you?
  • Are you afraid that your partner will try to take your children away from you?
  • Do you feel that there is nowhere to turn for help?
  • Are you feeling emotionally numb?
  • Were you abused as a child, or did you grow up with domestic violence in the household? Does domestic violence seem normal to you?

Your partner’s lack of control over their own behavior:

  • Does your partner have low self-esteem? Do they appear to feel powerless, ineffective, or inadequate in the world, although they are outwardly successful?
  • Does your partner externalize the causes of their own behavior? Do they blame their violence on stress, alcohol, or a “bad day”?
  • Is your partner unpredictable?
  • Is your partner a pleasant person between bouts of violence?

Your partner’s violent or threatening behavior:

  • Does your partner have a bad temper?
  • Has your partner ever threatened to hurt you or kill you?
  • Has your partner ever physically hurt you?
  • Has your partner threatened to take your children away from you, especially if you try to leave the relationship?
  • Has your partner ever threatened to commit suicide, especially as a way of keeping you from leaving?
  • Has your partner ever forced you to have sex when you didn’t want to?
  • Has your partner threatened you at work, either in person or on the phone?
  • Is your partner cruel to animals?
  • Does your partner destroy your belongings or household objects?

Your partner’s controlling behavior:

  • Does your partner try to keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • Are you embarrassed to invite friends or family over to your house because of your partner’s behavior?
  • Has your partner limited your access to money, the telephone, or the car?
  • Does your partner try to stop you from going where you want to go outside of the house, or from doing what you want to do?
  • Is your partner jealous and possessive, asking where you are going and where you have been, as if checking up on you? Do they accuse you of having an affair?

Your partner’s diminishment of you:

  • Does your partner verbally abuse you?
  • Does your partner humiliate or criticize you in front of others?
  • Does your partner often ignore you or put down your opinions or contributions?
  • Does your partner always insist that they are right, even when they are clearly wrong?
  • Does your partner blame you for their own violent behavior, saying that your behavior or attitudes cause them to be violent?
  • Is your partner often outwardly angry with you?
  • Does your partner objectify and disrespect those of your gender? Does your partner see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

In my workplace, what are the warning signs that a person is a victim of domestic violence?

Domestic violence often plays out in the workplace. For instance, a husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend might make threatening phone calls to their intimate partner or ex-partner. Or the worker may show injuries from physical abuse at home.

If you witness a cluster of the following warning signs in the workplace, you can reasonably suspect domestic abuse:

  • Bruises and other signs of impact on the skin, with the excuse of “accidents”
  • Depression, crying
  • Frequent and sudden absences
  • Frequent lateness
  • Frequent, harassing phone calls to the person while they are at work
  • Fear of the partner, references to the partner’s anger
  • Decreased productivity and attentiveness
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Insufficient resources to live (money, credit cards, car)

If you do recognize signs of domestic abuse in a co-worker, talk to your Human Resources department. The Human Resources staff should be able to help the victim without your further involvement.

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