• Inverness Women's Aid

Domestic abuse - the BIG questions

A personal reflection of surviving domestic abuse, reaching safety, and beginning a journey towards healing. This post talks about domestic violence and may be triggering for some.

Public awareness has also come from the courage of many, who finally, finally feel they will be supported enough, to ask for help. Do not underestimate the courage that this takes because it oftentimes results in losing everything. Your familial home, business interests, income, car, possessions for example & your dignity.

Landing in the refuge, is an experience that those, fortunate enough to have ‘normal relationships’ often cannot comprehend. Be grateful for that, if you are reading from the other side. In reality, domestic abuse is in one of every four homes in the UK. If you have daughters, sisters, loved ones etc. you might want to read on.


Although great strides have been made recently in raising the profile of domestic abuse with political, police, legal & media support, the consequence is, that the available infrastructure is now outstripped by demand. Please do not be complacent. It's time to pay attention.


Enter left stage ‘Covid 19’ and every woman - with or without children lucky enough to have

a flat in refuge - felt literally sick, for those who weren't during lockdown. An abuser's paradise.


Support systems evaporated in the chaos of the global pandemic. No way out, an already dangerous position, fuelled by frustration, financial strain, and a lack of control. 210% in your face. No respite from it, by going to work, school, the gym or seeing friends for example. Communications monitored full time. It came up, a lot in the communal laundry room, corridors and shared garden. Fear.


Domestic abusers can go from zero to insanity in a heartbeat, this is most often exclusive to

your home setting, behind closed doors. You are blindsided by these episodes, effectively reeling on the back foot because there is no rational validity or explanation for what's going on.


If you protest, appeal for fairness, effectively fight back verbally, get ready to join the “you are mentally unstable” club or, be prepared to expect “no recollection” of events as you remember them clearly - which will leave you at best crying, traumatised and at worst in hospital, or in the mortuary.


When this dynamic becomes bothersome for the abuser, you can eventually expect to enjoy complete indifference and feel grateful by this point to be ignored. The discard. That, however, does not mean the control has been relinquished.


With no recourse, apologies, or ability to address the relationship issues, moving forward in a positive way is not an option available to you. This level of gaslighting and abuse, will most likely never get better, and only get worse. If you have any concerns about a loved one, arm yourself with knowledge, now.


Escaping an abusive relationship can take many years to achieve. On average, a victim of domestic abuse makes seven unsuccessful attempts to leave and many years of suffering in silence before ‘getting out’.

Public awareness has also come from the courage of many, who finally, finally feel they will be supported enough, to ask for help. Do not underestimate the courage that this takes because it oftentimes results in losing everything. Your familial home, business interests, income, car, possessions for example & your dignity. Your children are psychologically damaged by this point.


Escaping an abusive relationship can take many years to achieve. On average, a victim of domestic abuse makes seven unsuccessful attempts to leave and many years of suffering in silence before ‘getting out’.


It is not an easy read. It's an uncomfortable social subject. The nuances, harm, be it financial, physical, emotional, or psychological remain largely unrecognised by society today.


The bruised face images catch attention. A visual ‘hook’; yet many people still instinctively look away, when abuse comes to light and things get a bit too publicly ‘messy’. A cruel consequence, along with the unwanted triangulation of awkwardness that comes with separations; the lost family, friendships, through no fault of your own.


Relationships break down every day. THIS, is completely different. It is highly likely that you will pay a price for speaking your truths, so prepare. It's time to get smart. Get help. In the same way that society has embraced the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and they absolutely should; society also needs to be challenged and educated on the full spectrum of domestic abuse, which extends far beyond the classic image of a 'black eye'.


Physical abuse plays a key role in discovery but most in refuge would agree that it's the additional elements, commonly perceived as less of a problem, are emotionally catastrophic and can drive victims to self-harm or suicide.

The abuser (male or female) habitually uses an arsenal of ‘weapons’ including emotional, financial, and psychological abuse. Physical abuse plays a key role in discovery but most in refuge would agree that it's the additional elements, commonly perceived as less of a problem, are emotionally catastrophic and can drive victims to self-harm or suicide.


The daily drip, drip of public and private demeaning, oftentimes in front of your children may, on the face of it seem harmless enough, at best rude even, but collectively and combined with instilling fear, controlling your income, what you wear, how and where you shop, iron, clean, means your social life evaporates along with your personality. The outcome mentally is devastating. Many of us have PTSD.


Social media is a problem. Your true friends; who will have noticed the change in you - and in time, can't bear to watch on helplessly and frankly detest your abuser so the couples' social invitations thin out, and with that, so do your opportunities to get out. It's about isolation and control. Isolating you from your support system.


The refuge is home to professionals and people from all walks of life. Domestic abuse is like cancer, it is indiscriminate.

An abuser is not concerned that your friends don't like them. Any aspirations you may have had for yourself, are gone. Any respect you had for yourself or self-esteem, is gone. Regardless of your intelligence or social standing in life.


The refuge is home to professionals and people from all walks of life. Domestic abuse is like cancer, it is indiscriminate. Even the mighty can be conned in life. In the simplest terms, your life is no longer your own. You lose your voice.


Within the refuge, you quickly learn that abusers of this magnitude all do and say the same things, in varying shades of darkness. It's like they are reading from a malignant script of words and tactics, and it becomes easy to finish the sentences of new arrivals to refuge, in sharing your toe-curling journeys in basic but welcome accommodation.


Every woman and child arrives with the same facial expressions, that display raw trauma ….but quickly learn acceptance whilst being flanked by unconditional support from your new ‘flatmates’ and refuge staff.


The BIG questions:

  • Why didn't you leave? How could you stay all those years and subject yourself and your children to this?

  • If it was that bad, he/she would surely have left? I've known this person for years, It can't possibly be true.

Victims of abuse spend years, many years - just trying to break free. You had no idea? Let me explain why.


Abusers and narcissists to this degree are accomplished liars, effectively conmen who often target those they perceive as vulnerable. If you weren't vulnerable at the outset, you certainly will be on departure. Abusers have skill sets you do not wish to experience. They cannot control themselves and upon losing control of you and attempting to leave, it is the most dangerous time for a domestic abuse victim.


As things get out of hand, it feels truly unbelievable and incomprehensible. The shame and embarrassment is so overwhelming that you are too frightened to tell your friends and family. Leakages of truth come at a price.


The fact that your abuser may be popular, an alcoholic, a gambler, a man of standing in the community, a wealthy or a churchgoer for example, with veiled respectability, becomes the strongest chain of your silence - because you are reminded often that “no one will believe you anyway”.


The problem is you. Your silence hands them the control, to continue. This will be carefully managed, with tactical isolation from your family and friends. You can expect less nights out and to dramatically drop off your social scene.


Abusers believe they operate above society, the law and often see themselves as ‘God’ like, without any shame. Self-congratulation will be a theme in conversation. There will be little interest in you, as a person, professional, or mother. It's all fair game to the abuser.


Many abusers hide in plain sight, have outgoing personalities, and even show others the kindness you deserve and long for within your family unit, but the behaviour is most likely not exclusive to you.


You will reassure yourself that 'it wasn't always like this', in the hope that things will get better. During this masquerade and in the throes of ‘True Love’, you could expect to be lovingly stripped of your assets, financial security, career, secrets, style, life preferences, the person you were.


You will endure having those deepest secrets and insecurities thrown back in your face. It's one of the sharpest weapons in the box. Taking things that are sacred to your core and bashing you with them.


Control of you; is everything in their world. In order to achieve this - enter, the person you fell in love with, ‘The Imposter’. Victims of abuse hold on longer than fathomable in the desperate hope that the person they fell in love with, that would never lay hands on you, the person who was so loving, kind, generous, and caring, will return. It’s highly unlikely to happen; it doesn't exist in this reality. It's simply what they do.


It's the first step on the domestic abuse journey, akin to being conned. The beautiful life promises you have taken on, in good faith, are equivalent to rotten carrots on sticks. These heartfelt promises will come out at times of crisis often with fake tears, purely to draw you back into control. The only thing you can count on is that you cannot count on an abusive partner and it will never change.


Periods of normalcy keep you going in hope, but never last for long without an unexpected spike in behaviour, effectively kicking the legs from under you. You can expect every special occasion you genuinely look forward to, in your lives together, to be ruined by abuse. You're not allowed those moments. I wasn't allowed to wear high heels but ultimately, it was my choice if I “wanted to look like a tart”.


Why would you have children with an abusive partner? If you realised the precarious position you were in? Because they were planned, on a promise of a beautiful life, that you yearned for, that turned out to be a nightmare.


Never assume all children in an abusive setting are optional. It is a means of tying you to their home and demands = more control. Like financial domestic abuse, it effectively contains you and limits your options. It holds your head underwater, removes your social options.


There is little partnership in parenting, in my experience, and you will be responsible and held accountable for your own desperate emotional state and that of your children. Everything is your fault.


When did things change? Typically on the back of a change in your position within the relationship. Becoming pregnant, getting engaged, moving in together etc. Why? In my view, because this is giving you a form of commitment, you are later deemed unworthy of. It is a commitment, that even when planned, backfires because it symbolises gifting you some significance in the relationship.


Abusers don't like to give anything away, for free. By this point, you are in shock and existing in a high state of anxiety. Your world as you knew and expected it to be, has gone. Welcome to your monster.


There is no correct response in the face of being verbally or physically abused in front of your children. Children will be used in the weaponry arsenal and forced to watch you being lambasted daily but will, like you ‘bleed’ emotionally or physically. No one escapes unscathed.


As children grow in years and become aware of abuse, they learn not to rock the boat, and their silence is both for self-preservation and protection, of you.

Children in the refuge are broken and whilst you try to manage your own recovery, this personal healing is often hindered with the hideous bubbling up of truths, now the children are safe to share their experiences and express their true feelings.


Why wouldn't you know what's going on with your own kids in that regard? As a mother, how could you miss that? Simply because, as children grow in years and become aware of abuse, they learn not to rock the boat, and their silence is both for self-preservation and protection, of you.


Option one:

Hang your head in shame and say nothing. Just take it. This sets a very bad example to your children who will normalise the lifestyle. Children can role model themselves on what they see and display inappropriate behaviours, such as bullying at school. Girls may, in the future unwittingly be drawn to this kind of relationship despite understanding the anguish because to them, it's normal.


Option Two:

Defend yourself as best you can, in front of the kids. To let them know this is unacceptable behaviour. This rarely ends well. Like every situation you will be firefighting in this lifestyle, there is no getting it right. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't.


The lives of children in abusive families are far from ‘normal’. Children quickly learn to understand limitations around loud music, fun, choice of TV, haircuts, fashion, glitter mess etc. Children who make it to refuge require therapy for conditions such as OCD, self-harming, anxiety, and physical manifestations of stress such as psoriasis. Control extends to almost every element of your lives, including how you hold a knife and fork. Being left-handed, was a problem in restaurants. Accidental spillages now come with a fear reflex.


Monitoring your movements can be misconstrued as ‘protectiveness’, then it becomes your phone. The boundaries will keep being pushed. It is simply unacceptable and dangerous. If you are experiencing this, it’s most likely going to get more significant.

My goal within the refuge and beyond is to retrain little minds into having fun. Getting dirty is ok. It is no coincidence that many women in refuge have brightly coloured hair, it’s a healthy

defiance. Because they can.


If, by this stage, you are wondering about your own relationship or that of a friend or family member, it is important to understand that what may seem like low-level domestic abuse that seems excusable - for example blocking your exit if you try to leave a room to diffuse a situation, pushing you down to even a soft landing - a couch, bed for example or the floor; can go wrong in a split second and is a step away from serious.


Monitoring your movements can be misconstrued as ‘protectiveness’, then it becomes your phone. The boundaries will keep being pushed. It is simply unacceptable and dangerous. If you are experiencing this, it’s most likely going to get more significant. Tried and tested.


Relearning your freedom takes years. Start now. Do not hesitate. Go. Take back control of your life. You can do this, no matter how bleak the outlook, your prize is your freedom. Take every hand of help available. Remember yourself, your friends and family waiting in the wings to support you. You are loved.

What is unbelievable and sadly common, is the level of cruelty when you are most vulnerable; mourning the loss of a loved one, pregnant or unexpectedly ill for example - it is like a sick punishment, for being sick/unavailable. Perhaps not being able to maintain the status quo and uphold domestic demands, work or look after the children as expected.


You are not supported, because you have disrupted the order of things and it creates domestic and/or financial tension. Illness for example is out of the realms of normal control. You become conditioned to the control and desensitised. As time progresses, the abuser has to find even more horrible ways to affect you. They ramp up the cruelty, to make it count.


You learn that it is the small things in your story that shock people, you daren't tell them the whole truth after seeing initial reactions. Relearning your freedom takes years. Start now. Do not hesitate. Go. Take back control of your life. You can do this, no matter how bleak the outlook, your prize is your freedom. Take every hand of help available. Remember yourself, your friends and family waiting in the wings to support you. You are loved.


Being free is liberating. Realising your self-worth and being able to uphold your values is empowering. As the complex web of lies you’ve been sold for years, peel away like banana skins, it's liberating and validating. Trust in your instincts, if your gut is telling you something is wrong, it’s because it probably is. Do not ignore the red flags and make excuses to yourself, for your partner.


“He hit her with shame. The past, false accusations, control, solitude, judgement, abandonment, indifference. Fake love, control, insults - dressed up as jokes and yet...he never touched her.”


This insight from within refuge has one purpose. To help people understand and with sincere hope, to potentially save even one soul from many wasted and hopeless years in an abusive relationship. A widely accepted and collective response from women in refuge to the most commonly unasked questions and misconceptions. No words required to ask all these questions, we see it in the eyes and the involuntary societal reactions. It's time to challenge public perceptions harder and shine a beacon of light, on the darkness.


- Anonymous

Inverness Women's Aid support women, children and young people affected by domestic abuse. We provide outreach, supported accommodation, & advice. Our support team are available during weekday office hours and phone advice is available out of hours. If you, or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, know that support is available - we are here for you.


More stories are available on the Human Writes blog at Inverness Women's Aid.


Disclaimer: the views expressed in this post are those of the respective author and are not necessarily shared by the #ChangeHerStory Campaign partners.


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