We welcome guest contributor psychologist Voula Antoniadis, Psychologist © 2020 Adelaide SA, to share her expertise on family violence.
I regularly see a lack of understanding regarding domestic violence and abuse and I spend a lot of time using a psycho-educational approach in my work in private practice to increase the understanding of this very important issue. It is important that everyone is aware of the types of behaviours that are indicative of coercive control, emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse in a domestic violence context.
Some of these behaviours are more subtle and more may become evident over time. These behaviours can escalate over time and then may lead to property damage such as smashed crockery, holes in walls, smashing a phone or TV, a door being ripped from its hinges, etc, or, may then include physical abuse, such as pushing, grabbing, slapping, biting, punching, kicking, or threatening or actually using weapons. Whilst some people have a personal boundary and will say “if I was ever touched as in the person got physical I would leave” so many do not realise the ongoing slow, subtle accrual of non-physical abuse which slowly erodes self-esteem and identity, creates confusion, can result in walking on eggshells and is energy draining and traumatising.
Red Flags and Warning Signs
The more of the behaviours and attitudes that are being exhibited as described below, the more likely you are dealing with someone with narcissistic personality traits or someone who has a diagnosable personality disorder. I have deliberately used gender neutral language as these behaviours are damaging, irrespective of whether they are coming from a male or female. The list below is not exhaustive, but if you or anyone you know is ticking some or many of these, please be very concerned.
- Their words and actions don’t match, you catch them in telling lies;
- They present as charming to others but behave differently at home;
- They comment negatively as a deterrent or even try to actively control what your wear, where you go, what you eat, what hobbies you do;
- They may relentlessly question decisions you have made or seek to make, to attempt to create self-doubt in you;
- They may mock and ridicule you for a mistake and keep bringing it up;
- They will raise / create issues around your family and friends and subtly or not so subtly, try to isolate you;
- They are secretive with their phones, they have cheated or you have caught them chatting / flirting with others or they may have secret online dating profiles that you discover;
- They may make accusations that you are cheating and /or show jealousy (eg, because you smiled at a shop assistant, you could be accused of flirting and that you have an interest in pursuing something romantic with that person);
- They may frequently call or text to check up on you and get very angry if you haven’t promptly responded;
- When you argue on an issue they will bring up past issues and create a big scene or discussions go around in circles, such that that the issue at hand is lost and nothing is resolved;
- They can give you the silent treatment for days as a form of punishment;
- They have a need to be right and may relentlessly argue their point, it can feel exhausting;
- They are highly competitive and hate to lose;
- They may consider everything is always someone else’s fault and won’t take responsibility for their actions;
- If you bring up an unresolved issue, you will be accused of being a nag;
- You may hear them re-write history,( eg, they will talk about a past event and your recollection of what transpired will be different to what the partner is now telling others or telling you);
- They often have poor impulse control such as throwing things in anger or have a quick temper, eg, going from 0 – 10 in an instant;
- They may have substance abuse issues or other addictions such as porn addictions, gambling etc;
- They are arrogant and will put you down, highlighting all of your supposed failings according to their standards;
- Be critical of you and they can lift you up by giving a compliment, only to cut you down, sometimes
you can feel damned if you do, damned if you don’t. No matter what you do, it will not be enough;
- They can make promises and then not deliver, essentially letting you down, often at a critical time for you;
- They may keep shifting the goal posts so you cannot please them, they then have something new to complain about;
- They will focus on their needs being met as their priority even at the expense of yours or the children’s;
- They can ridicule you for expressing needs or they will string you along saying that they will do the thing you are seeking them to do but will chronically procrastinate;
- Some are chronically bad with money and may keep seeking for you to bail them out (eg, sometimes giving a story designed to get your sympathy to give them money yet again);
- Others are very miserly, cry poor and retain their funds, whilst expecting you to use yours, or, alternatively, will seek to control your funds and only release you small amounts;
- They can pressure you to engage in sexual activities that you do not wish to pursue and they will repeatedly bring it up;
- They will use emotional manipulation (eg, pull on your heart strings, try to make you feel guilty or even use blackmail) to get what they want;
- They are attention seeking and can create drama at social functions or events such as birthdays, Christmas, and even at funerals, so the focus diverts to them;
- If you are attending something that they don’t want to go to, they may pick a fight to ensure you are upset and don’t enjoy the outing;
- They will make ‘jokes’ at your expense, and then, if you are upset, they will accuse you of being too sensitive and can’t take a joke;
- They may actively dislike being told what to do, have an issue with authority figures and like to challenge authority;
- They can be rule breakers who brag about things they have ‘gotten away with’;
- They believe they deserve special treatment, eg, may hate waiting in lines and complain loudly;
- Being stuck in traffic can cause them to get so restless and agitated and even exhibit road rage behavior. (Others should get out of their way);
- They may talk down to others acting superior or haughty;
- They can act uncaring and show a lack of empathy for the suffering of others, even laugh at the misfortune of others and say they probably deserved it;
- They can also be highly manipulative and good at reading people and telling them what they want to hear when it suits them;
- You may discover they have exaggerated their achievements or that some of them have been made up;
- Image can be important and they can be a particularly focused on appearances and presentation; eg, clothes, type of car, house or holiday, lots of photos showing a happy couple, a happy family, a
thriving business, however, what is really going on behind closed doors, remains hidden from the
- Beware of what I call the ‘Too nice syndrome’. Are you being too nice, too giving, too understanding, too quick to forgive, too accommodating, too quick to make excuses for someone’s poor behavior? Are you being too self-sacrificing?
- Ensure there is sufficient give and take in the relationship. It can’t be you doing all the giving, compromising and sacrificing. There needs to be a balance.
- Sometimes, just because you can give, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t over function in a relationship, ie, doing too much for someone else when they are able to do so for themselves but choose not to do so.
- Be clear on your values and where your line is and what the consequences are when someone crosses that line. Boundaries are critical, they need to be clear to you and to others.
- Don’t make a threat or issue an ultimatum about leaving if you do not carry it through, otherwise you will lose credibility and will no longer be taken seriously and you hand power to the abuser.
- When someone shows you who they are, believe them! If someone has shown you they repeatedly lie, then they are a liar, believe them. If they have cheated on more than one occasion, they have shown you they are a repeat cheater, believe them. If they have shown ‘crocodile’ tears and pleaded with you and said ‘Come back, it will never happen again’ and it does, then they have shown you they are not a person of their word and are not trustworthy, believe them. Giving someone too many chances is not helpful to you and just makes you feel worse about having given someone so many chances hoping for a different outcome and still getting the same result… an ending in heartache.
- Trust your gut instinct. If something feels off, chances are something is off. We pick up so many bits of information through our observations and interactions with others, some of it at the conscious level and some outside of our consciousness. A gut feeling is a trigger, a little alarm bell, basically saying “warning! Warning! You need to be paying more attention, ask more questions, look for more answers, something is not right”. Do not ignore gut feelings, you are being given an important message to look deeper at something important.
- Check in with how you are feeling about yourself regularly. Self-esteem is critical. If you do not feel respected and nurtured after interacting with your partner, perhaps you are not in a healthy relationship?
1800 RESPECT: www.1800respect.org.au/
Australian Childhood Foundation: www.childhood.org.au/
Kids Help Line: www.kidshelpline.com.au/
No to Violence: ntv.org.au/
Police or ambulance: www.triplezero.gov.au or call 000
Relationships Australia: www.relationships.org.au
Translating and interpreting: www.tisnational.gov.au