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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Livanos

Intimate Partner Violence- Identifying When a Relationship May be Abusive

Today I am going to be discussing a very important topic - Domestic Violence, which is also referred to as “intimate partner violence.” It is a topic often taboo to talk about in our society, yet on average, 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. While there can be a stereotype about who is often affected by domestic violence, statistics reveal it occurs in all cultures, genders, backgrounds, levels of education, sexual orientations, and transcends socioeconomic status. Further, it is important to note that National Coalition Against Domestic Violence research shows 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of violence by an intimate partner.

So, what exactly is Domestic Violence?

United Nations defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, or religion, or gender. It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating.”

Myths about abusers:

As humans, we often try to understand why something occurs, and sometimes that information can be used to rationalize or justify harmful behavior. Lundy Bancroft is an author who spent over 25 years working with abusive men and seeking to understand their tactics and patterns of controlling behavior. Below is a list of myths from his book, Why Does he Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. It is important to note that Bancroft uses the word “he,” but Bancroft notes in his book that the below principles apply to all genders and sexual orientation.


1. He was abused as a child.

2. His previous partner hurt him.

3. He abuses those he loves most.

4. He holds in his feelings too much.

5. He has a violent and aggressive personality.

6. He loses control of himself.

7. He is too angry. He needs to learn anger-management skills.

8. He is mentally ill.

9. He hates women. His mother or some other woman must have done something terrible to him.

10. He is afraid of intimacy and abandonment.

11. He has low self-esteem.

12. His boss mistreats him.

13. He has poor skills in communication and conflict resolution.

14. His abusiveness is as bad for him as for his partner.

15. He is a victim of racism.

16. He abuses drugs or alcohol.

A key take away from the myths is that abuse is not caused by emotional problems, anger problems, or challenging life experiences. Abusers thrive on creating chaos and confusion – even confusion about the abuse itself. Abusers are far more calculated, calm, and conscious of their abuse than they may appear to be.

Types of Abuse:

-Emotional abuse: includes undermining a person's sense of self-worth through constant criticism; belittling one's abilities; name-calling or other verbal abuse; damaging a partner's relationship with the children; or isolating a partner from friends and family.

-Physical abuse: involves hurting or trying to hurt a partner in any way, such as: hitting, kicking, burning, grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hair-pulling, biting, denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use, or using other physical force.

-Psychological abuse: involves causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner or children; destruction of pets and property; “mind games”; or forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work. Using immigration status as a means of control.

-Financial abuse: involves making or attempting to make a person financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, and/or forbidding attendance at school or employment.

-Sexual abuse: involves forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent. Not saying anything is the same as not giving consent.

A common experience that often causes confusion or hope for change with an abusive partner is the cycle of abuse. After an abuser is abusive, he/she often engages the victim in love bombing, apologies, or stating a claim to change in some way. Then things are okay for a little while. Then tension starts building again making you feel like you have to walk on egg shells and then abuse occurs again. There is no specific time limit to the cycle and each stage can last for differing amounts of time.

Recognizing the signs of abuse:

Your Inner Thoughts and Feelings

Do you:

1. Feel afraid of your partner much of the time?

2. Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?

3. Feel that you can't do anything right for your partner?

4. Believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

5. Wonder if you're the one who is crazy?

6. Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Your Partner's Belittling Behavior

Does your partner:

1. Humiliate or yell at you?

2. Criticize you and put you down?

3. Treat you so badly that you're embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

4. Ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?

5. Blame you for his own abusive behavior?

6. See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Your Partner's Violent Behavior or Threats

Does your partner:

1. Have a bad and unpredictable temper?

2. Hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?

3. Threaten to take your children away or harm them?

4. Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?

5. Force you to have sex? Or engage in other sexual acts that you do not like or consent to?

6. Destroy your belongings?

7. Threaten to have you deported or your visa revoked?

8. Threaten you with religion?

Your Partner's Controlling Behavior

Does your partner:

1. Act excessively jealous and possessive?

2. Control where you go or what you do?

3. Keep you from seeing your friends or family (or makes you feel guilty for doing it)?

4. Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?

5. Constantly check up on you?

Answering yes to many of those may be indicative of an abusive or unhealthy relationship.

How can we reduce stigma?

When someone is being abused, there is often feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear, and like the abuse that is occurring is in someway their fault. However, it needs to be stated clearly that abuse is never the victim’s fault. As a society we have a tendency to victim blame; likely as a defensive mechanism to feel safe ourselves. When in reality it is a false sense of control and it contributes to persons in domestic violent situations feeling like it is their fault and that they cannot talk about it or reach out for help. We can help by changing the way we talk about victims/survivors of domestic violence and being mindful to never blame the victim.

“Why don’t you just leave?”

This is a common response to finding out that someone is in a domestic violent relationship that contributes to victim blaming. In short – it is not that simple. Victims are often isolated, without financial resources, help, and with real threats of their pets, kids, or themselves being harmed or killed if they try to leave. We can help by being curious and compassionate. Below are some ideas of helpful ways to respond if a person shares with you that they are being abused.

What you can do to help

1. Believe them when they share

2. Remind them abuse is never their fault

3. Offer resources assistance in finding resources (shelters, psycho-education, and numbers to hotlines)

4. Listen without judgement

5. Learn warning signs (Black eyes, bruises, low self-esteem, big changes in behavior, withdrawing, anxious or nervous around partner. More can be found at

6. Help them identify a network of safe people they can count on and trust

Resources for victims/survivors:

· Safe Harbor is located in Greenville, SC and offers counseling services, emergency shelter, housing assistance, and support. (800-291-2139)

· Find information on National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,, or call their hotline for help at 800-799-7233. Loved ones of persons in

an abusive relationship can also use this hotline for help knowing what to do.

· You can contact the Critical Incident Stress Management Unit (CISMU) if you are concerned that you may be experiencing any form of abuse or are in fear for the safety of yourself or your children. 202-505-CISM or email us at CISM@Natca.Net. You can request the language you feel most comfortable speaking.

As we work together to understand the tactics, warning signs, and mechanisms of abuse we can use this knowledge to decrease stigma and increase awareness of abuse. I hope this serves as a brief overview and provides resources for those who are currently surviving domestic violence and for those who know or love someone in an abusive situation.

Alyssa Livanos

Licensed Professional Counselor at Pettigru Counseling Associates, Greenville, SC



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