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Am I really being abused?

Dr. Elizma van der Smit July 2017

· Relationships

The different types of abuse

One of the saddest things for me, is that in my clinical practice, not a week goes by without me speaking to someone who is being abused in one way or another. But what saddens me even more, is that they are not aware of it!! I often hear things like “it is not so bad, at least he is not hitting me”, “he is just very protective of me “or “it was my fault, he is actually very good to us”. It is imperative that everyone should know the signs and symptoms of abuse – in whatever form it may present itself. Please inform yourself about the following forms of abuse:

  • Physical Abuse:

Physical abuse includes any intentional act that causes someone physical pain, injury or suffering. An abuser can use physical abuse against you in the form of slapping, pushing, hitting, punching, choking, pointing fingers in your face and physically holding you to keep you from leaving, twisting limbs, throwing objects at you, using weapons, destroying or damaging property, disposing of belongings without consent or locking you in a room. It is physical abuse even if a person only attempts to injure you or make you fearful.

  • Sexual Abuse:

Sexual abuse includes any forced or unwanted sexual activity or an activity that makes you feel uncomfortable. This can include rape; unwanted kissing or touching, or forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do [e.g. looking at pornography]. Humiliation in terms of negative insults can often play a part in sexual abuse.

Reproductive Control: This has links with sexual abuse, but is uniquely related to women’s [particularly young women’s] ability to control their own reproductive health, for example, use or non-use of contraception/contraceptive method, forcing you to make decisions around pregnancy and/or termination, and having little say in the number and timing of your children.

  • Verbal Abuse:

This can include insults, constant put-downs, name calling, yelling, being told that you are unattractive, inferior, incompetent or that you don’t have the ability to cope or succeed on your own. Verbal abuse has a link with emotional abuse.

  • Emotional/Psychological Abuse:

Emotional/psychological abuse occurs when you are made to feel scared, intimidated, insane, stupid or worthless. Examples include threats to harm or kill you, or to abduct or harm children, threatening with guns or other weapons, criticism, hurting or killing pets, denying or minimizing the abuse and blaming you for it. Threatening to leave you or to commit suicide is also constituting emotional abuse. Doing things to confuse you, withholding important information or not including you in important decision-making. Emotional abuse can be verbal or non-verbal.

  • Social Abuse:

Any form of behavior that isolates you from family or friends, is recognized as social abuse. It can be about criticizing or being suspicious of you family and friends, controlling your use of mobiles, phones and internet, and use of the family car, deliberately physically isolating you in your home or making you move away from family and friends, and demanding to know where you and who you are with at all times.

  • Financial abuse

Financial abuse can cause women and children to live in poverty. It involves controlling your money by denying access to bank accounts, forcing the surrender of bankcards and credit cards to gain control of your income preventing you from seeking or maintaining employment and denying you any input into financial decisions. Financial abuse can also include making you ask for money for basic items such as food, petrol and clothing, and forcing you to provide receipts to account for your spending.

  • Spiritual abuse

Spiritual abuse undermines your self-identity by criticizing your spiritual beliefs, quoting religious texts to justify abusive behavior and denying you freedom to speak your own language and practice your own culture.

  • Damage to property

This occurs when the house, household furniture or anything else that you own or use is purposefully damaged or broken. It could include breaking items in your kitchen like plates and cups, breaking children’s’ toys, kicking or punching holes in walls or damaging your car. This kind of abuse is designed to intimidate and frighten you.

  • Stalking

Stalking is intended to intimidate and harass you. It can include following you to your work or place of study, home or when you’re out in public. It can be about the abuser physically watching you, calling, texting, emailing, using social media (such as signing into your Facebook or twitter accounts). It may also involve your family and friends being harassed and intimidated.

  • Technological abuse 

This is an emerging form of abuse that is linked to stalking, psychological abuse and other forms of domestic violence. It can mean that technology is used to directly or indirectly monitor and stalk you. This can sometimes occur without your knowing, such as personal information being posted on websites and tracking devices being installed in cars and mobile phones eg GPS, spyware, listening devices, hidden cameras, and keystroke-logging hardware.


The threat to engage in any of the above forms of abuse is also an act of abuse in itself. Often more than one form of abuse occurs at any one time in a relationship and these can often be interlinked. All forms of abuse are illegal, although some are harder to prosecute than others.

What to do if I am being abused?

You may feel scared or helpless. Most women do if they are being abused. But if you want things to get better, somehow you need to make changes, even though you are afraid. It may be very hard. But try to remember, you are not alone. You can get help along the way.

Many women who have been faced with these choices have decided that they didn't deserve to be abused, so they left for a while or for good. This can be a difficult decision, but everyone deserves to be safe and to be treated with respect. Whatever choice you make, there are people, organizations, and agencies that can make sure you get some support and help.

Talk about it

A lot of women find it really helps to talk to someone about what is happening. You may find it helps to talk with someone you can trust – a friend or relative, a spiritual leader or elder, a doctor, or a social worker or psychologist in your area. You can also seek the help of an organization such as Lifeline (http://lifelinesa.co.za/) or People Opposing Women Abuse (https://www.powa.co.za/POWA/) for dealing with the psychological and emotional implications of abuse.

Open a criminal case, apply for protection and report ongoing abuse at your local police station.
 

What if you stay?

You may decide to stay with your partner, at least for now. Perhaps you feel there is still a chance to keep things together. You may feel that your relationship is really important and you've put a lot into it. Many women do. But you should know that while things may get better for a while, unless he gets help the abuse tends to get worse later in most cases.

Setting Limits and Protecting Yourself

If you do decide to stay, you may need to set some limits. You can decide what has to change and what behavior is acceptable if you are going to stay. And you can decide how long you will give the abuser to make these changes. If changes don't happen in the time you set, you may ask the person to leave, or, depending on the situation, you may decide to leave.

If you do decide to stay with your partner, your safety and the safety of your children come first.

Resources

http://www.bdvs.org.au/resource_files/bdvas/Forms-of-Abuse.pdf

http://www.sfhsa.org/417.htm

http://www.justice.gov.yk.ca/prog/cor/vs/whattodo.html

http://www.w24.co.za/Work/Legal/How-to-legally-protect-yourself-against-domestic-abuse-20130807

This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.

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blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.