This is one of the phrases that victims of domestic abuse regularly say. ‘He did this, he did that, he took my children, he told me I was mad, a bitch, stupid, incapable… But he has never actually hit me…’
The complete misconception that physical abuse is the only form of domestic abuse worth talking about is still frighteningly prevalent.
We at MSV feel very strongly that before anyone is ever hit, there are other forms of abuse, and often, never any physical abuse of any kind. Violence can be expressed in many, many different ways.
Victims of abuse are rarely aware that they are being abused. In a normal, healthy, loving relationship, there is a sharing. A sharing that is almost imperceptible. A sharing of ideas, opinions, responsibility and love.
In an abusive relationship, though it would first appear that this is happening, very, very slowly over time the sharing is stopped.
It may be something little, a small disagreement. He is displeased with something she did. A disproportionate reaction. The first one. This leaves the victim feeling confused and worried and probably a little scared. It is often resolved quickly, apologies are dished out, gifts bought or favours promised. A lavish bunch of flowers to say how very ‘sorry’ he was for over reacting. Attention and admiration are adorned upon the victim, making her feel safe again, helping her to forget that first reaction. The victim writes it off. ‘It was a one off’ they tell themselves. ‘He’s had a bad day at work’ they think.
And life, for a while, returns to normal.
Another explosion, the victim is taken by surprise. She thought everything was ok, but it’s not. Clearly not. She’s upset him again, she’s sorry. She didn’t mean to upset him so much. She didn’t realise something so small would hurt him so badly. He forgives her, wipes her tears, tells her it isn’t her fault, she wasn’t to know. But she does now.
Over time these incidents happen with increasing regularity. Perhaps it starts out as the same thing each time. Then perhaps it migrates to other things. First it was the messy house, so she cleans up the mess. Then the TV is too loud, so she makes sure the TV isn’t too loud. The kids are too disruptive at dinner, so she calms them down and then worries all through dinner that she’s not keeping them quiet enough for him.
In tiny, creeping incremental stages, control is established. Little things, unimportant things.
‘Oh, he’s just funny about these things, I don’t mind doing the extra, it keeps the peace. Men, eh?’ she says and she rolls her eyes.
One little give from her. One little step forward for him. Two, three, ten, fifteen, twenty… And before she knows it, a million little things have taken over her life.
‘I must make sure of this, check that, oh no I forgot to do this!’
And still, no matter how many things she does right, there is always something else. He keeps changing the goal posts. She thinks she’s done it all right and, BOOM, something else. He tells her she is stupid, thoughtless, inconsiderate. He says he wonders why he ever puts up with her, no one else would. He oozes discontent. Without saying a word she knows he’s unhappy with something and it’s her job to find out what and rectify it. She knows the price she will pay if she doesn’t. She becomes anxious, nervous and worried. He asks he what her problem is. When she answers he tells her he takes such good care of her, he doesn’t know what her problem is, everyone gets cross occasionally.
He decides today she is on a pedestal, the best thing that has ever happened to him, without her he would be nothing, he praises her and her skills and makes her feel special. Then the next day she is stupid and useless again.
He shouts and screams and then apologises and ‘makes it up’ to her. But after a while even that stops. Now he just refuses to accept that it ever happened. He makes excuse after excuse. He says it was only because of the traffic that day, or he didn’t sleep that well, so he’s tired, or he needs some sex, ‘you know what I’m like when I don’t get enough sex’.
He confuses her. She is struggling to keep track of what is next, her life becomes about avoiding his temper about maintaining the peace. Her anxiety, depression or panic attacks become an almost daily occurrence. He says she should see someone about that, he can’t stand her being so miserable, she used to be so much fun. That’s why he’s so angry, he feels cheated. The woman he adores is not the same woman she used to be. What is her problem?
He tells her she is unstable and needs help. His help. He says there’s something wrong with her head. He takes the reigns of the finances, tells her she’s in no state to deal with such important things. He says he is looking after her, making sure she is safe from herself. Because he loves her.
He tells her she’s too stupid to know what’s going on. He says that she is the one with the mental health issues, not him. He says she ought to look at herself. He says she is pathetic, crying all the time. He says she is weak. This is why he has to do what he does. If she would just pull herself together, then he wouldn’t be so angry all the time. He says everyone knows she’s mad, and she should be grateful that he is still here. He says anyone else would leave her.
He shouts, why can’t she think of him? Why doesn’t she realise how she makes him feel? After everything that he has done for her. She’s told she is ungrateful, her behaviour is disgusting, everyone thinks so, not just him, everyone. Her friends, her family, everyone that she knows thinks she’s pathetic. He tells her they told him. He says that he defended her, and told them they shouldn’t say that. He says that she just needs his help. He says if only she would let him help her she would be ok.
Abuse is insidious. Women from all walks of life fall prey to it. This is just an example of how control is established before anyone’s fist gets planted in anyone else’s face. If, indeed, it ever does.
Abusers are not out of control, mindless thugs, they are doctors, solicitors, unemployed, sportsmen, couch potatoes, comedians, chefs, builders, painters. They drive sports cars, they don’t drive at all. They have degrees, they have no formal education. They’re tall, they’re short. They don’t fit a stereotype anymore than the victims do.
And they are NOT out of control.
Emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, psychological, spiritual, physical… to name just a handful. Abuse has many, many different forms, and within those forms so many different expressions
‘But he never actually hit me…’
He doesn’t need to hit you to be abusive. Fact.
Abuse happens in all kinds of relationships, though abusers are often men and victims are often women, we know very well that this is not always the case.
We are looking for your stories of abuse to feature. Many small voices make one LOUD voice.
Domestic abuse damages in whatever form and here at Many Small Voices we hope to gather the stories of those who have survived abuse into one resource to help and support those who are still victims. We also hope to support survivors through recovery once the abuse has stopped because the scars are still there and will remain forever. Support after abuse is just as important.
We are not experts, just people who are passionate that domestic abuse, in whatever form it takes, must be stopped.
If you think you or someone you know needs help please take a look in our links page to find a list of organisations that strive to help support victims of abuse.