November is White Ribbon month and the time when domestic violence is put under the spotlight. Often when people see the White Ribbon or the ‘It’s Not Ok’ campaigns, their attention is automatically drawn to physical abuse. Which, is in fact not the most prevalent form of abuse. Psychological or emotional abuse, is the one experienced most in partner and family relationships. Due to the nature of this abuse, it’s often the hardest to detect. In my previous life as a child protection social worker, I worked with families, for whom this kind of abuse was part of their lives. Sadly, it was not until the abuse became violent and there were signs of physical abuse, did someone speak out and contact the necessary support agencies. There are lots of reasons why people choose to ignore psychological abuse, the most common being that this kind of behaviour in relationships has become the societal norm within some cultures.
I have been the victim of psychological abuse twice in my life, both times when I was in vulnerable situations. The first was when I was living away from established social networks after moving to a different city. I became entangled in a partner relationship that looking back was toxic a long while before we got married. It was not until we had problems getting pregnant that I noticed the cracks in our relationship starting to form. At the time, I put this down to the huge amount of stress that we had been under. It was not until our precious baby had been born, that I started to have real concerns about our relationship and the controls that were being placed on me. Sadly, it took until the first physical outburst, for me to end the relationship. Fleeing the situation and moving away to stay with my immediate family, was when I encountered the second. I was aware that my mother always expected things to be on her terms, but never did I think that she would take advantage of my situation and pounce when I was at my most vulnerable. It was not until I was starting to get back on my feet, did I notice what had been happening and started to fight the control and the wedge that she was trying to place between me and my son. Eventually, my divorce settlement was completed. I was able to gather the recourses around me that I needed to relocate back to the city where I grew up and start to rebuild our lives. Eleven years on from moving back to the city, we have weathered some very rough storms but are now in our happy spaces.
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE?
Psychological / emotional abuse is when there is manipulation and coercion by a partner or family member, that effects your emotional wellbeing, personality, makes you feel anxious and as though the situation is the victims fault. It goes on behind closed doors in every community regardless of culture, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
WHAT CAN I DO?
- Be a proud supporter of family violence campaigns. Purchasing a white ribbon not only provides much needed financial assistance. Wearing the ribbon, lets those around you know how you feel and it may encourage someone to reach out to you and ask for help.
- Ask your employer to support the campaign and arrange for family violence information to be available in the work place.
- Ask questions if you sense things are not ok for someone you know.
- Provide non-judgemental support if someone asks for your help.
- Contact support agencies for assistance.
- Have conversations with your children about respect in relationships.
- Family violence is a social issue rather than a private one and unless we all stand up and say It’s Not Ok, it will continue to happen.