Emotional and verbal abuse is sometimes difficult to recognize. It does not leave a bruise or require a visit to the hospital. But it can be just as hurtful as physical abuse, leaving its victims just as traumatized, says Lundy Bancroft, author of "Why Does He Do That?" and a consultant on domestic abuse. Victims often return to their abusive spouses because they suffer from low self-esteem, are financially dependent on their spouses or they feel their spouses are good fathers, if not good husbands. The right supports and resources can assist with the process of breaking the cycle so victims can begin the healing journey.
1. Recognize the Pattern
Abusive relationships often follow a cycle. The abuser is initially very kind, thoughtful and sensitive. Then, controlling behavior escalates and things become tense, until an explosive incident occurs. It might involve a verbal assault or taking away the victim's phone or car keys, for instance. The perpetrator of the abuse then tends to become very apologetic, reverting to the earlier sweet and considerate behavior. This is a tactic of control, and is implemented specifically to keep the victim in the relationship. Take caution if your ex-partner appears remorseful and promises to change. Because batterers usually don't believe they are doing anything wrong, that their behavior is justified, they rarely change -- even with participation in therapy or batterer intervention programs. Identifying the phases of the cycle will help you to see the control and manipulation more clearly, and will help you to anticipate what to expect from your spouse next.
2. Identify Available Resources
Abusive people tend to behave they way they do in order to maintain power and control over their partners. Tactics include preventing victims from securing education and employment, prohibiting access to their own transportation and issuing an "allowance" and demanding receipts for all purchases. This is to ensure that the victim remains dependent on the batterer. Seek assistance from trusted friends, family members and community agencies instead of accepting help from your abuser. They may be able to assist you financially, provide transportation or childcare or refer you to employment opportunities. If you do not need to depend on your spouse for these things, some of the pressure to remain in the relationship will be relieved.
3. Maintain a Strong Support System
Isolation from a victim's friends and family is another common tactic of abuse. Be sure to maintain contact with supportive people in your life. Make a list of people you can reach out to, should you be tempted to return to your abusive husband. This list could consist of people such as friends, family members, advocates at your local battered women's program or your therapist. You may also consider inviting a family law attorney into your support system. Many family law attorneys provide free consultations and flexible payment options. A lawyer can provide guidance regarding divorce, financial and property disputes, custody matters, child and spousal support and restraining orders. Often the only information an abused woman receives is from her batterer, which tends to be fabricated in order to make her believe she is stupid, will never make it on her own or will lose custody of her children. Accurate information and kind words will help you understand your rights and raise your self-esteem, minimizing the perception that you will be alone if you leave him.
4. Take Care of Yourself
Verbal and emotional abuse can take an extreme toll on your physical and mental health. Nourish your self-esteem by working with a counselor. Eat well and exercise. Respond to your physical needs and see a doctor regularly. Read books and spend time in the sun -- anything that brings you joy and helps you to feel good about yourself. These steps will help to reduce the exhaustion of day-to-day survival and provide you with the energy necessary to plan and execute your permanent separation.
5. Safety Plan
Even if your ex has never been physically abusive, the potential for danger is still very real. The time of separation can be volatile, as the abuser senses a loss of power and control. It is possibly the biggest, most dangerous step toward breaking the cycle, and planning ahead will offer a more successful, sound safety plan than if you have to act unprepared during a crisis. If your ex is attempting to reconcile, begging you to return, stalking and harassing you since you left, contact your local battered women's program for assistance with planning for your safety.
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