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  • Writer's pictureMaria Alda Gomez Otero

How to know if you are experiencing domestic abuse

Recognising an #domesticabuse is crucial, yet often challenging, as abuse manifests in many forms beyond the physical. It's important to understand that abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual, and sometimes a subtle combination of these. This article aims to shed light on the various facets of abuse in relationships, providing insights into identifying its signs. Understanding what constitutes domestic abuse is the first step towards seeking help and reclaiming control of your life. Remember, abuse is never justified, and everyone deserves a relationship based on respect and safety.

domestic abuse

Understanding Abuse

Abuse in a relationship goes beyond physical violence; it's a pattern of behaviours used by one partner to maintain power and control over another. Types of abuse include physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual. #Physicalabuse is often the most visible, involving any act that inflicts physical harm. Emotional and psychological abuse, however, can be more insidious, involving tactics like #gaslighting, #belittling, and isolation that damage self-esteem and mental health. Financial abuse occurs when one partner exerts control over the other’s financial resources, limiting their independence. Sexual abuse in relationships involves any form of non-consensual sexual activity or coercion. Misconceptions about abuse often include beliefs that it only happens in certain demographics or that it’s always physical. Understanding the broad spectrum of abusive behaviours is essential to recognising them in a relationship. Here are four types of common forms of domestic abuse:

1. Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the most overt form of domestic abuse and involves any action that inflicts physical harm, whether hitting, slapping, pushing, or more subtle forms like denying medical care. The signs can range from visible injuries like bruises, scars, or broken bones to less apparent symptoms like rough handling or making someone purposefully uncomfortable. Abusers may also use physical intimidation, such as standing too close or blocking exits, to assert control. It’s important to note that the abuse is not always constant; it can occur as isolated incidents that gradually escalate over time. Victims may try to cover up injuries or offer unconvincing explanations for their occurrence. Recognising the abuse is vital because it can quickly escalate in severity and poses an immediate risk to the victim’s safety.

2. Emotional and Psychological Abuse

#Emotionalandpsychologicalabuse can be more difficult to identify than physical abuse, as it leaves no visible marks. However, its impact on mental health is profound. This form of domestic abuse involves a pattern of behaviour that undermines the victim’s sense of self-worth and security, often including verbal attacks, constant criticism, humiliation, intimidation, and gaslighting. Gaslighting, a particularly insidious tactic, involves manipulating the victim into doubting their own memory or sanity. Other signs include isolating the victim from friends and family, #extremejealousy, and threats. Over time, victims of emotional and psychological abuse may experience decreased self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and a sense of helplessness. Acknowledging these signs is crucial, as emotional and psychological abuse can be damaging, leading to long-term emotional scars.

3. Financial Abuse: The Silent Controller

#Financialabuse is a less recognised but equally destructive form of domestic abuse. It occurs when one partner exerts control over the other’s financial resources, limiting their ability to use, acquire, and maintain financial assets. Signs of financial abuse include one partner taking control over bank accounts, withholding access to money, or restricting how and when money is spent. The abuser might also forbid the victim from working or sabotage their employment efforts, leading to financial dependence. In some cases, financial abusers accumulate debt in the victim’s name or engage in other forms of economic manipulation. This form of abuse traps victims in the relationship, as they lack the financial means to leave. Understanding and identifying financial abuse is essential for victims to regain financial independence and seek appropriate help.

4. Sexual Abuse in Relationships

Sexual abuse within a relationship involves any form of #non-consensualsexualactivity. It is a violation of trust and autonomy, where one partner coerces or forces the other into sexual acts without their consent. This can range from unwanted touching and sexual coercion to rape. Often, the abuser uses guilt, manipulation, or threats to force compliance. Signs include feeling afraid of or uncomfortable with a partner during intimate moments, experiencing unwanted sexual activities, and the partner disregarding concerns or boundaries. Consent is a critical component of a healthy sexual relationship; its absence signifies abuse. Sexual abuse in relationships can have devastating psychological impacts, including feelings of shame, guilt, and trauma. Recognising and addressing it is vital in protecting the victim’s physical and emotional well-being.

The Cycle of Abuse

The cycle of abuse is a recurring pattern often observed in abusive relationships, typically consisting of four phases: tension building, incident, reconciliation, and calm. During the tension-building phase, stress and strain increase, leading to a sense of walking on eggshells. The incident phase is where the actual abuse occurs, whether physical, emotional, or otherwise. Following this, the reconciliation phase happens, where the abuser may apologise, justify their actions, or deny the abuse occurred, often promising it will never happen again. The cycle concludes with a calm phase, sometimes referred to as the 'honeymoon period,' where the relationship seems to return to normalcy, giving the victim hope for change. Understanding this cycle is crucial as it explains why leaving an abusive relationship can be so challenging and why victims often feel trapped.

Impact of Staying in an Abusive Relationship

Remaining in an abusive relationship can have long-term, detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Physically, the stress of constant abuse can lead to chronic conditions like hypertension, heart disease, or worsened symptoms of existing illnesses. Mentally, the ongoing trauma can result in anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and lowered self-esteem. It may also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse. The emotional toll can extend to a general sense of hopelessness, impacting the victim's ability to make decisions, work effectively, or maintain social connections. For children who witness or are aware of the abuse, it can lead to developmental challenges and emotional distress. It's essential to recognise these impacts as they underscore the importance of seeking help and finding a way out of abusive relationships.

Seeking Help and Support

If you recognise that you're in an abusive relationship, the most important step is to seek help. Start by confiding in someone you trust, whether a friend, family member, or colleague. Professional help is also crucial; consider speaking with a psychotherapist or counsellor who specialises in abuse. There are numerous resources available, including hotlines, support groups, and shelters that offer assistance and guidance. Legal advice can also be necessary, especially in situations involving physical abuse or children. Remember, leaving an abusive relationship can be complex and dangerous, so it's important to create a safety plan. This might involve arranging a place to stay, securing financial resources, and ensuring your physical safety. While reaching out for help can feel daunting, it's a critical step towards reclaiming your life and well-being.


Understanding and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship are the first steps towards healing and recovery. Whether you are experiencing abuse or know someone who might be, it's crucial to recognise that help is available and that nobody deserves to be abused. Taking action, seeking support, and prioritising safety are essential. Remember, breaking free from an abusive relationship is not just about ending the cycle of abuse; it's about embarking on a journey towards healing, empowerment, and a better, safer life. Your wellbeing matters, and taking steps to protect it is both brave and necessary.

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