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The Entangled Tempest of Verbal, Emotional, Psychological Abuse

Not all abuse is physical. There are numerous types of abuse and abusive tactics other than bodily harm that are equally or often times more detrimental to the victim. Verbal abuse is an extremely common and enormously hurtful form of abuse, the effects of which can last a lifetime. In a survey of nearly 2000 survivors, DomesticShelters.org asked, “Did you find verbal abuse more or less damaging, long-term, than physical abuse?” 62% responded that verbal abuse did feel more damaging than physical, 36% felt that all types of abuse they endured were equally damaging, and only 2% felt that physical abuse was more damaging than verbal. Verbal abuse can be difficult to define and to identify. It overlaps substantially with emotional abuse, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Emotional abuse also intersects, and is frequently used synonymously, with psychological abuse. All of these terms are linked in a cacophony of insidious manipulation and control.

Verbal vs. Emotional vs. Psychological Abuse

Verbal abuse is a pattern of speaking with intent to demean, humiliate, blame, or threaten the victim. It may involve shouting or an angry tone of voice but can also be any manner in which the abuser speaks to the victim to degrade, intimidate, or control them. With emotional abuse, an abuser specifically targets feelings, either those of the victim toward the abuser or vice versa, to achieve the same goal of power and control. They may use verbal tactics to make their victim feel like the abuse is their own fault, that no one else will love them, and/or that the abuser is controlling because they love the victim and want to keep them safe. Psychological abuse is very similar to emotional abuse but includes manipulating more than victims’ feelings to make them dependent on the abuser for the “truth”. Psychological abusers may use techniques such as gaslighting and brainwashing to alter their victims’ sense of reality and perhaps even cause them to question their own sanity. Though less common, the term “mental abuse” is also used in place of, or as a combination of, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse.

For more information on abuse terms and definitions, as well as the difficulties the physical-abuse-focused legal definition of domestic violence presents in seeking protection or prosecution

Common Tactics

There are a plethora of methods abusers use to emotionally and/or psychologically abuse their victims. As this post is exploring the intersection of these forms of abuse with verbal abuse, it will focus on tactics that use words. However, to better understand the complete picture, here are a few common examples of non-verbal techniques used to emotionally or psychologically abuse victims: use of size or physical positioning to intimidate, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, isolation, limiting access to information, reckless behavior intended to cause fear, and forcing drug and/or alcohol use.

  • Belittling
    name-calling, insults, put-downs

    eg: “You b*tch!”, “You’re too fat!”, “You’re so bad with money!”, “You’re a terrible mother!”
  • Judging/Criticizing
    being unfairly negative and critical

    eg: “You’re never going to be successful.”, “Don’t even try, you totally screwed it up last time!”, “You’re useless!”
  • Blaming
    everything is the victim’s fault, including the abuse
    eg: “You don’t have any friends because you never listen.”, “You didn’t get the promotion because you’re not good at your job.”, “You made me so angry, I just snapped!”, “Look what you made me do!”
  • Jokes/Teasing
    Disguising digs and insults by making the victim the butt of a joke or teasing comment
    eg: “Not like this slut over here!”, “She not only kept her hourglass figure, she doubled it! Just kidding!”, “Don’t be so serious; it’s just a joke!”
  • Trivializing
    minimizing accomplishments and abuse, making things seem less/not important
    eg: “It wasn’t that good of a dinner!”, “You got the job, but we’ll see how long you can keep it!”, “Any five-year-old can do that!”, “Come on, that didn’t really hurt!”, “You’re too sensitive!”
  • Disdain
    putting down the victim’s interests and preferences
    eg: “That’s so old fashioned!”, “You’re such a bore!”, “Nobody likes those but you!”, “What a waste of time!”
  • Undermining
    questioning the victim’s ability, knowledge, skills, etc.
    eg: “Are you sure you’re right? I don’t think you are”, “Can you handle that?”, “Check it again.”
  • Pressure
    pushing the victim to make quick decisions and/or to go with the abuser’s choice
    eg: “Hurry up, we don’t have all day!”, “Don’t you trust me? Just do it!”
  • Humiliation
    any of the above tactics used in front of others, particularly friends & family, designed to embarrass the victim
    eg: “What are you doing? That’s so stupid!”, “I can’t take you anywhere…”, “Why can’t you be more like her?”
  • Jealousy
    displaying overt/unwarranted jealousy and/or attempting to cause jealousy by paying attention/flirting with others
    eg: “She looks so much better than you do tonight!”, “I don’t want you to be alone with him!”
  • Monopolization
    always needing to know where the victim is and with whom, keeping tabs on everything a victim does to the point that the victim always has the abuser on their mind, worrying what they will think or do
    eg: “Your friends are taking away from our alone time!”, “I need you more than your mother does right now!”, “Where were you?!”, “You should have told me!”
  • Double Standards/Mixed-Messages
    the abuser becomes upset and evades or refuses to respond if the victim questions them
    eg: “How dare you ask me that?”, “You don’t need to know where I was.”, “None of your business!”
  • Brainwashing
    manipulating how a victim thinks, defining the relationship
    eg: “You don’t really want that job. You know you’re not smart enough to do it.”, “You don’t want to hang out with her anymore. She’s not a good friend to you.”, “It will make me so happy if you do that for me!”
  • Using Children
    turning children against the victim or having children carry messages to the victim or spy on the victim
    eg: “Mom didn’t do a very good job of cleaning the house, did she?”, “Who do you like better, Mommy or Daddy?”, “Go tell your father to get in here right now!”, “Did mom talk to anyone when you were in the park today?”
  • Abusive Anger
    yelling in a rageful/intimidating fashion
    eg: “S#*%! F^@$!”, “What the hell!”, “Arrrgh!”
  • Threats
    telling the victim they will do/say something or not do/say something if they do not comply with the abuser’s wishes, trapping them using fear
    eg: “If you tell anyone, you’ll regret it!”, “No one will believe you!”, “Just do it, or I’ll leave you and take the kids!”, “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!”
  • Silent Treatment
    shutting a victim out, ignoring them, not talking to them at all for hours or days to make them feel isolated, despondent, and desperate for the abuser’s acknowledgement and approval or threatened, like they are walking on eggshells and the abuser could explode at any moment
    eg: “…………………………..(Silence)………………………..”
  • Blocking/Interrupting
    preventing the victim from speaking by cutting them off or accusing them of talking out of turn
    eg: “Shut up!”, “Hey – I’m talking now!”, “Don’t bother!”, “Enough!”

Patterns of Verbal, Emotional, Psychological Abuse

Beyond these frequent tactics, there are familiar patterns that verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse often take as far as when they occur and how the victim and abuser interact. Here are some of the most common, drawn primarily from those identified by Patricia Evans’ in her book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship.

Love-Bombing

showering a victim with attention, adoration, gifts to make them fall in love, then beginning to degrade and intimidate them, convince them no one but the abuser will ever love them, and/or being overly sweet and loving after an abusive incident

Escalation Over Time

incidents slowly increase in severity, from joking comments to verbal tirades, for example, and often eventually include other types of abuse

Lasting Effects

The ramifications of verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse can be sneaky and enduring. Victims may become confused that the person they love(d) and trust(ed) has become their biggest critic and start to question themselves. They may feel responsible or that they deserve the abuse and try to “behave better”, to not make any “mistakes” that trigger it. Some feel guilty for being unhappy with the situation or ashamed that they are experiencing the abuse. They can become subservient and passive, withdrawn and almost invisible, a shell of themselves. Over time, the constant tearing down of the victim’s self-esteem and confidence, sprinkled with moments of positive validation, makes the victim feel dependent on the abuser for their sense of self-worth. Often abusers try to separate victims from their friends and family, but even if they don’t, victims may begin to feel a growing distance, more isolated from their support system, which can compound their reliance on the abuser.

Verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse often lead to issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and thoughts of self-harm.

The Enduring Impact of Abuse on Mental Health” for more details and context. The prolonged stress of dealing with abuse can also compromise one’s immune system and lead to a variety of illnesses and physical issues such as back pain, exhaustion, digestive problems, and chronic headaches (Evans, DomesticShelters). Even after leaving a verbally, emotionally, or psychologically abusive partner, survivors may have a skewed perception of what a healthy relationship is due to that experience. They may have a difficult time trusting people, romantic partners or not. Feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem can persist and bleed into many aspects of their lives and relationships.

Identifying Verbal Abuse

 

Because of all of the mind-games, mixed emotions, manipulation, and confusion, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse can be extremely difficult to recognize. There are no physical bruises to act as a visible sign to victims or those who wish to support them. Domestic Shelters created a “pop quiz” to help identify emotional abuse. It illustrates five examples of how easy it is for victims to think that abuse is normal, that they are imagining things, or blowing things out of proportion. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, psychology professor, and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist says of her clients, “…I always try to bring them back to their sense of instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.” People wondering if they are being verbally, emotionally, or psychologically abused can think about how the things their partner says make them feel. Do they often feel demeaned or insulted by their partner? Are they afraid? Are they always “walking on eggshells” around their partner? Does their partner show sincere remorse if they express hurt at their words?

 

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Toxic Triangulation – Third-Party Manipulation

Abuse is not always easy to recognize. While some forms of abuse leave obvious bruises or hateful words ringing in the victim’s ears, there are other stealthy techniques abusers use to influence and control their victims so that they don’t even notice it is happening. DVSN’s July 2021 blog post, “Fostering Self-Doubt: The Manipulative Abuse of Gaslighting” delves deeper into the way abusers brainwash their victims into doubting their own reality and sanity. An equally subtle and injurious technique abusers utilize to exert gradual and often undetectable control is through toxic triangulation.

What is Triangulation?

Triangulation is a psychological term applied when one person in a relationship uses a third individual to bypass, communicate with, and/or influence the other person in the relationship. The word “triangulation” implies that three (or more) parties are involved. It’s about playing people against each other. Often, the triangulated individuals have limited or no contact with each other except through the manipulator, who strives to create conflict, miscommunication, and/or jealousy to influence their feelings and actions. The abuser seeks to spread their own desired narrative by controlling the flow of information through other people so that they are the one in charge. Triangulation reinforces their sense of superiority, specialness, and entitlement while leaving others confused and unbalanced. By devaluing one person, the abuser makes themselves look better and prevents others from aligning against them (Healthline). Triangulation can be used in any type of relationship, be it romantic, familial, friendly, or professional, and can manifest in various ways. It is possible to triangulate someone without meaning to, but when used deliberately, it is a highly manipulative, toxic tactic that makes it easier for abusers to assert control over their victims.

 

Comparing

One way abusers can bring a third party into the relationship is by comparing their partner unfavorably to someone else. This is typically done in an indirect way so that the victim does not necessarily feel attacked but notes an area where they should improve to please their partner. The abuser may bring up an ex, for example, and mention how good they were together or how attractive they are.

“She keeps texting me saying she wants to get back together. Look, she’s so hot in this pic! Honestly, I don’t know why we broke up in the first place.”

Without outright saying that they are unhappy in their current relationship, the abuser is setting up a comparison with this idealized former partner who they could be with if they wanted to. They are setting themselves up as a prize to be fought over. This makes the victim feel insecure, that they are not good enough or that their partner may leave them at any time for their ex, and thus they work harder to please the abuser and accommodate their needs. It causes the victim to want to prove that they are just as good, if not better, than the appealing and available ex, so that the abuser will choose to stay with them. Abusers can use this desire to please to get the victim to do what they want. In this toxic triangulation technique, the third party may be completely oblivious that they are being used in this way.

 

Competing

Even if they are not being directly compared, such as a current partner with a former partner, abusers can triangulate their victims by making them compete for the abuser’s attention with someone else the abuser is close to. They may favor a friend or family member, spend more time with them, or even use them to communicate with the victim.

“He told me to tell you he’s not coming tonight. He needs some space for a while. He said not to call him, he’ll call you when he’s ready.”

“Oh my god, we’re busy! Tell her to go away, maybe she’ll listen to you!”

In this way, the abuser controls all communication in the relationship. By not speaking directly to their partner but getting someone else to deliver their message, they are suggesting that they are closer to that person, that maybe they trust them more than the victim. They make the victim doubt their relationship with the abuser or spark jealousy of the relationship the abuser has with their friend. It is an attempt to prompt the victim to try harder, to be what the abuser wants them to be so that the abuser will choose them over the third party, to spend more time with them, talk directly to them. Being forced to compete for attention can also make a person feel like they are not worthy of other people’s affections (Regain).

 

Isolating

Another common way abusers use triangulation to control their victims is by isolating them from the third party. They become sociable with the victim’s family and friends and talk to them about the victim behind the victim’s back. Often, it sounds like concern for the victim or the relationship, but is, in fact, purposeful miscommunication designed to cause conflict between the victim and their loved ones.

“I’m worried about her. She just seems off and I found some empty bottles she hid in the garage. Can you text me if she drinks too much when she’s with you? Let me know if you think she’s hiding something.”

“Look, I really shouldn’t tell you this, but I thought you should know that he makes fun of you when you’re not around. He says you’re clingy and not a true friend.”

The abuser is commonly very charismatic and likeable. They deliberately establish bonds with the victim’s friends and family so that they think of the abuser positively and subtly drop hints of concern that cause the loved ones to see the victim more negatively. This deviously drives a wedge between the victim and their friends or family members, often leading to estrangement from their support system. It may make them more hesitant or reluctant to tell anyone about the abuse for fear of not being believed. The victim becomes more and more alone and more and more in the abuser’s power. According to clinical psychologistCarla Marie Manly, PhD, “Abusers know that the more control they have over the life of the abused, the greater chance they will have of maintaining the toxic relationship. Thus, the abuser will often manipulate the abused individual’s friends and relatives into taking sides with the abuser—leaving the abused person feeling hopeless and unloved… asking, ‘Where did my support people go? They all love him and hate me.’” Beyond losing support, the victim may begin to question their perceptions if they feel differently than everyone around them.

 

Sabotage

Besides isolating the victim from their support system, cozying up to a third party who is in some sort of position of authority over the victim can lead them to make changes that negatively impact the victim. For example, the abuser gets chatting with the victim’s boss at a work function and through maliciously inaccurate comments, the abuser begins to insinuate that the victim cannot handle their job.

“He doesn’t want anyone to know, so don’t tell him I told you, but he’s been having some personal problems lately. He’s so stressed about this project on top of that, and I’m really worried about him. He can’t keep track of tasks and deadlines. You know his co-worker really wrote most of that report…”

All of a sudden, the victim finds themself relieved of certain responsibilities or with another co-worker supervising them with no idea why. The work environment now feels untrusting and uncomfortable. Their employer may express concern to the victim over the supposed issues the abuser hinted at, which the victim knows nothing about. The victim then wonders why their boss is concerned and thinks they have done something wrong or that they are somehow failing to carry out their job satisfactorily. This creates real stress and could have many implications for their career. The abuser used toxic triangulation to sabotage the victim’s position and professional relationships, creating more dependence on them, all the while seeming like a concerned and supportive partner to both the victim and their employer.

 

What Can You Do?

Toxic triangulation can be very difficult to identify, both for victims and for those trying to support them. Even when a victim does recognize that they are being manipulated, the abuser can still sway third parties against the victim. They attempt to control the narrative, to “get in front of the story”, to ensure others are on their side. Though it may be challenging, it can be helpful for victims to remember who they have known the longest, who they trust the most and to talk to them. When the two isolated corners of the toxic triangle connect, it can be easier to see how the abuser manipulated them and what lies were told to play them against each other, sow distrust, or drive them apart.Manlyreminds family members that they know the survivor best: “They grew up with them. They know them inside and out… ‘Wait a minute. This is my daughter. I know her—let me talk to her.’”

 

Forming new friendships or speaking to a counselor or mentor can also help the victim distance themselves from the abuse and find support outside of the manipulation. Victims can also speak directly to the abusers. By letting them know that they are aware of and understand what they are doing may make them pause before trying to do it again. For those outside of the triangle, things like anxiety, depression, a lack of interest in activities, sleeplessness, weight gain or loss, and avoidance of family activities may be a red flag that something is wrong (DomesticShelters). Keeping the lines of communication open, asking what is wrong, and reiterating their support can be crucial to helping victims.Healthy communicationis key to avoiding toxic triangulation.

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WHY DO DOMESTIC ABUSE VICTIMS STAY?

When it is a viable option, it is best for victims to do what they can to escape their abusers. However, this is not the case in all situations. Abusers repeatedly go to extremes to prevent the victim from leaving. In fact, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder.

A victim’s reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they will harm or kill pets or others, they will ruin their victim financially — the list goes on. The victim in violent relationships knows their abuser best and fully knows the extent to which they will go to make sure they have and can maintain control over the victim. The victim literally may not be able to safely escape or protect those they love. A recent study of intimate partner homicides found 20% of homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders.

Additional barriers to escaping a violence relationship include by are not limited to:

  • The fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave.
  • Unsupportive friends and family
  • Knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances
  • The victim feeling that the relationship is a mix of good times, love and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear.
  • The victim’s lack of knowledge of or access to safety and support
  • Fear of losing custody of any children if they leave or divorce their abuser or fear the abuser will hurt, or even kill, their children
  • Lack of means to support themselves and/or their children financially or lack of access to cash, bank accounts, or assets
  • Lack of having somewhere to go (e.g. no friends or family to help, no money for hotel, shelter programs are full or limited by length of stay)
  • Fear that homelessness may be their only option if they leave
  • Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce or may dictate outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship
  • Belief that two parent households are better for children, despite abuse

Societal Barriers to Escaping a Violent Relationship

 

In addition to individual obstacles victims face when escaping violent relationships, society in general presents barriers. These include:

  • A victim’s fear of being charged with desertion, losing custody of children, or joint assets.
  • Anxiety about a decline in living standards for themselves and their children
  • Reinforcement of clergy and secular counselors of “saving” a couple’s relationship at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
  • Lack of support to victims by police officers and law enforcement who may treat violence as a “domestic dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person. Often, victims of abuse are arrested and charged by law enforcement even if they are only defending themselves against the batterer.
  • Dissuasion by police of the victim filing charges. Some dismiss or downplay the abuse, side with the abuser, or do not take the victims account of the abuse seriously.
  • Reluctance by prosecutors to prosecute cases. Some may convince the abuser to please to a lesser charge, thus further endangering victims. Additionally, judges rarely impose the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
  • Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating abuse.
  • Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for victims fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep victims safe.
  • Some religious and cultural practices that stress that divorce is forbidden.
  • The socialization of some made to believe they are responsible for making their relationship work. Failure to maintain the relationship equals failure as a person.
  • Isolation from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or because they feel “ashamed” of the abuse and try to hide signs of it from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
  • The rationalization of the victim that their abuser’s behavior is caused by stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors.
  • Societal factors that teach women to believe their identities and feelings of self-worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
  • Inconsistency of abuse; during non-violent phases, the abuser may fulfill the victim’s dream of romantic love. The victim may also rationalize the abuser is basically good until something bad happens and they have to “let off steam.”

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

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Hidden Traumas

Domestic violence (DV) can affect anyone of all races, genders, age, and sexual orientation. The CDC reports that one in every seven men in the U.S. over the age of eighteen are a victim of DV. The actual statistics may be even more, as men are far less likely to report instances of domestic violence (which may be because of societal stigmas that socialize men to not be vulnerable or seen as victims). In this blog, we will explore the different traumas that men may face as victims and how they relate to domestic violence. Including: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger issues, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Psychological Effects  

Men tend to suffer psychologically when subjected to domestic violence. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that typically follows a traumatic event. PTSD can affect one’s daily living by triggering memories or flashbacks, causing one to be avoidant when it comes to their feelings, having negative thoughts, isolating oneself, memory problems, being easily frightened/startled, and having trouble sleeping. With all these effects, it is easy to see how many other challenges can unfold.

Additionally, anxiety and depression are two mental health issues that often go hand-in-hand for victims of the domestic violence cycle. Perpetrators of DV are typically looking for control and this desire to be in charge causes the victim to feel dependent on their abuser. With dependency comes a lack of self-esteem and low self-confidence that belittles how one views themselves. This control-dependence-abuse cycle causes psychological damage.

Men can also develop anger issues, as anger and trauma are linked. When personal boundaries are crossed or violated, there is a follow-up of persistent anger. When someone is violated emotionally, mentally, physically or psychologically, a certain ‘survival instinct’ takes over, and that is associated with anger. Anger management is hard to deal with when things progress over long periods of time, such as in a domestic violence relationship.

Physical Health Problems

Following the psychological factors, it is not far off for men to develop physical health problems. Issues such as eating disorders, substance abuse, and isolation from others are examples of the unhealthy coping mechanisms prevalent among male victims of domestic violence.

Eating disorders often stem from vulnerability. Being verbally and/or mentally abused may cause someone to adopt unhealthy eating habits as a way of feeling in control of their own lives again. Ultimately, this causes further harm to the victim.

Substance abuse also ties in directly with domestic abuse – many men often look for an escape, as leaving a DV relationship is not an easy task. Substance abuse numbs the emotional turmoil, but cannot address the true source of the problem.

Isolation from the outside world is also extremely common in these situations. A male victim of abuse may self-isolate out of a sense of shame due to his situation. The abusive partner may not allow the other to do certain things or has belittled their confidence so much that they have completely disconnected from their environment. Isolation leaves a victim without resources to improve or escape the situation.

Societal Factors  

Many people incorrectly think that men cannot be victims and, therefore, don’t report the abuse. In society, men are often taught to be strong and to hold things together. This stigma causes issues when we think on a large scale about domestic violence. Coming forward to ask for help or to state a claim may be more difficult for a man to do because of the fear that either he will not be believed, he could be shamed, or that he won’t be taken seriously. This opens the gates for men to internalize their struggles in order to avoid appearing vulnerable.

The stereotypes that surround men encourage them to downplay the abusive situation. The man is seen by society as someone who wouldn’t be the victim of a domestic violence case. This can be hacked down to our images around masculinity. Especially in instances of DV, society views victimization as emasculating which, in and of itself, can lead to even more psychological issues for male victims. With this thought process as a society, we are inadvertently belittling a physical and mental health crisis that is very prevalent in the lives of men today.

It is difficult to assess everything that occurs when a man is a victim of domestic violence because of how underreported and misunderstood it is. Men are often reluctant to come forward, and judgement from peers or having their masculinity put into question does not make it any easier for them to do so.

With all the effects that surround the victim of DV, it is important to remember that men are victims, too. Support is available for people of all gender identities, sexual orientation, race, and age. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please reach out for help.

Hotlines are available 24/7 for assistance:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
  • BTSADV Support Line: 855 – 287 – 1777
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Inviting Men to Break Their Silence

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AFFECTS EVERYONE

It is not just a female issue.

When people hear about domestic violence, the image of a female experiencing abuse often rushes to mind. Contrary to popular belief, women are not the only people experiencing domestic violence. Men are victims too. The Centers for Disease Control estimates, “About 1 in 3 men [experience] contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.” I’m sure this is an underestimate of the actual number of men in the population who have faced domestic violence—society’s expectations on men do not make it easy for them to acknowledge that they have been victims. Society often characterizes men by their physical prowess. When they voice that they have been victimized, men are stigmatized as less capable or weak. This creates a barrier to their stepping up and speaking out about domestic violence. Even though many men have indirectly or directly been affected by domestic violence, it is still overwhelmingly seen as a “female issue.” Men don’t feel welcome in the conversations about domestic violence.

It is important that men feel included in the fight against domestic violence since they are valuable members of the team fighting against this issue. So, what can we do to better partner with men in the fight against domestic violence? What can men who want to break their silence do to fight domestic violence?

Encourage Men to Tell their Stories of Domestic Violence 

Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by domestic violence. Inviting men to share their stories of situations involving domestic violence gets them talking about the problem and brings them into this important conversation. Hearing other men talking about the topic may inspire male victims to come forward, seek the help they need, and/or tell their own stories.

Their stories may involve being a direct victim of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, sexual coercion, and/or a childhood victim powerless to help a parent who was being abused.  Their stories also may include witnessing abuse but not knowing how to address it. They may have also experienced being a partner to someone who has suffered abuse, and perhaps not knowing the best ways to be supportive.

Invite Men to Volunteer for the Cause 

Recently I attended a movie screening for a film depicting various forms of domestic violence. This event took place on a college campus. We invited fraternities and sororities on campus to volunteer as ushers and attendants. Several young men from one of the fraternities came to volunteer. It was deeply encouraging to see so many young men engaging in this important topic. As a result, one volunteer revealed that his mother was a survivor of domestic violence. By coming forward and sharing his story, he encouraged a couple of others to engage in a conversation about the topic.

I encourage all organizations fighting for the cause to invite men’s volunteer organizations to these kinds of events and open a door to those who may have suffered as victims & child witnesses.

Actively Recruit Men to Work for Domestic Violence Organizations 

Since women are often the face of domestic violence organizations, men often don’t feel welcome in these spaces. Men may feel more welcome to come forward and seek help from these organizations if they feel represented by the organizations. Having men working with these organizations sends the message that we see they are victims, too, and they are welcome to break their silence.

Offer Positive Examples of Healthy Interactions 

In daily life, men can set positive examples of healthy male and female interactions in society. When fathers allow their children to see them modeling kindness towards women, this plants a seed in their mind for how they should treat women. Children learn by observation, so if they observe positive interactions between men and women they learn from these interactions.

Men can model healthy ways to resolve conflict that do not involve abusive tactics.

This quote by Will Young says it all, “Violence needs to stop. All of us, Men and Women need to speak up and teach our children that violence is never the solution.”

Men Can Lead Conversations about Domestic Violence in their Meeting Spaces 

 

Let’s start a movement of men who aren’t afraid to stop violence against women.

-Carlos Andres Gomez

Men should have conversations with other men about domestic violence. This can raise awareness about all the facets of domestic violence. Specifically, they can inform other men that domestic violence exists in many forms. Sometimes people think that if they didn’t hit someone, no abuse has occurred. By discussing some of the less commonly known forms of abuse with other men (for example: verbal, financial, and psychological abuse) they help to raise awareness. This awareness could help to discourage other men from perpetuating abuse. These conversations can take place in the meeting spaces where men typically gather (for example: the barbershop, church groups, sports clubs, etc.)

How can we expect men to show up if they are not invited? We must actively reach out to men and let them know we want them to be a part of the fight against domestic violence. Men can be valuable members of the team fighting against this issue. This article offers some potential ways men can be included in the fight against domestic violence.

This quote by Patrick Stewart summarizes the valuable role men can play in the fight against domestic violence:

The people who could do the most to improve the situation of so many women and children are in fact men. It’s in our hands to stop violence towards women.

Resources:

Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Among Men by the CDC

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/men-ipvsvandstalking.html

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How to help someone in a Domestic Violence Situation

Domestic violence can affect anyone. Knowing what to do or how to help when it is someone you know can be a real challenge. It is important to reach out and offer support, but doing so can be cumbersome and many may not know where or how to start.

RECOGNITION

While you may want to be straightforward with the victim and talk to them about their situation, they should always be the one to decide on what terms they break their silence.

Knowing your role and being there to hear them is the best thing that you can do when first reaching out with concern. You can let the victim know you are worried for them or are apprehensive on the road their relationship is going. Many victims of domestic abuse are extremely vulnerable and can be defensive when faced with the truth from others. It is important to take a step back and help the victim look at the bigger picture, without making him or her feel forced to do so.

 

WARNING SIGNS

You may notice warning signs:

  • lack or change in communication from the victim
  • differences in general behavior
  • physical signs such as bruising

All these things can raise alarms – this is when it is important to get a conversation going. You can ask them how they are feeling or let them know you are beginning to worry. They may not tell you anything right away (and typically won’t), but you have opened the path of communication. Remind the victim that you are there for them when they are ready to talk, but take it slow & gentle. Make sure that you don’t come off as judgmental or emotional, as that will only make it harder for them to feel safe coming forward.

 

BE THERE FOR THEM

Remind your friend of his or her worth. Be available for them to come to you with whatever they have on their mind.

You can ask them what or if they need anything, spend time with them, or just check in every now and then. Small gestures can mean the world for someone who is dealing with domestic violence considering they often feel isolated.

Make sure to listen to what they have to say. You can offer advice, but do not expect or force them to take any. Letting the victim know about different resources available to help them is a great step. This allows the victim to work on the relationship in their own time.

Let them know that none of the things happening to them are their own fault. You can work with them to figure out their next steps if they want you to… and, if not – you can remind them that you are there for them whenever they choose to do so.

ENCOURAGEMENT

Overall, the best thing you can do is assure the victim you are there for them – while also being there for yourself.

Take it slow but be consistent. You can help them develop a safety plan, or even a code word when they may need you. Knowing you are there for them can make all the difference in the world. Support, no matter how small or large, could be all someone needs to be able to get help and escape an abusive relationship.

 

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Once is Too Many Times

Most relationships don’t start off with physical abuse. Often the first sign is subtly controlling behavior. Maybe calling and texting you many times throughout the day. Not allowing you to go out with your friends alone. Always demanding a reply to questions or texts right away. This can make us anxious, but we brush it off thinking, “Oh, they are just worried about me… they just really care about me”. We sometimes feel guilty for overthinking the control too much because at this point it really isn’t too bad.

Next, we may deal with verbal abuse. This can often come in forms of being talked down to, belittled, or being told we did things we didn’t actually do. When being talked down to, we often shrug it off thinking they must have had a bad day and they don’t really mean what they said. When we are accused of certain things, such as cheating, and take it thinking the abuser had been cheated on before. Maybe they just need our reassurance.

But finally comes the point where the physical abuse begins. Now what? What are the excuses we tell ourselves then? First, let’s take a look at what physical abuse is. The definition is any non-accidental harm done to the body by the use of force, which results in pain, injury, or a change in the person’s natural state. Seems pretty vague so let’s dive deeper.

How it Started

 

My first experience with physical abuse was by a man who pushed and pinned me against a wall and began screaming in my face. I bumped my head and was certainly frightened but did not have any injuries. I knew he was having a bad day and fighting with his brother, so I just stayed quiet and kept my distance to ensure I didn’t make him more angry. It was the first time it happened, so in my mind, it wasn’t that bad.  I prayed it would never happen again. But it did.

“When walking he often held onto my upper arms very tight. To others it appeared like we were the happy couple, the man holding his women near him and he must be proud of her. What they couldn’t see was the bruises he left on my arms.”

 

As time went on, the bruising began. When walking he often held onto my upper arms very tight. To others it appeared like we were the happy couple, the man holding his women near him and he must be proud of her. What they couldn’t see was the bruises he left on my arms. He often held me so tight that his fingers left black and blue marks all up my upper arms. He wasn’t doing this because we were the happy couple that everyone admired, he was doing it to control where I went or who I talked to.

When around my family, I found that I wore longer sleeves to cover up the marks. Thankfully at the time, no one had noticed. By Summer, he knew enough to stop. He had made his point and I knew not to stray too far from him. In my mind, I thought he just really likes me and doesn’t want to lose me. This was not ok.

I was very young at the time and naive. I was an awkward teen and he was a few years older so, for me, I thought he was bringing me out of my shell. What he was really doing was pushing me deeper into that shell.

Continued Abuse

 

A couple of years down the line, we were at his Aunt’s house and he got into an argument with her. I felt uncomfortable and decided to go to the bathroom. While I was in the bathroom, I heard them arguing about how he had cheated on me. I did not know he had cheated so hearing this of course made me extremely upset. I remember the panic setting in and trying to figure out how to get out of the bathroom and pretend I didn’t hear anything. I just wanted to go home.

He knew I was in the bathroom too long so he came looking for me. I rushed out of the bathroom and ran for my cell phone. I was trying to call my sister to come and pick me up. He got angry and grabbed my phone, then from across the room threw it at my face. It hit me directly in the mouth and busted my lip open. I can remember the shock and then instant regret set in. I knew now that I couldn’t call my sister. I felt like I had to hide my injury.

He began apologizing and saying he didn’t mean to hit me and that the things I heard about him cheating weren’t even true and that is why he was so angry with his Aunt. He convinced me it wouldn’t happen again and that I could stay at his house until the bruising on my face and lip went away.

I felt hopeless. I felt as though I couldn’t go home because my parents had already warned me so many times before that he was no good for me. I felt as though if I went home and they saw the bruising that they would call the police and cause too many problems. Not realizing this is exactly what I needed to happen… I instead hid away at his house.

At this point, what had happened to me was indisputably physical abuse. It was also physical assault. Throwing a phone in general, whether it was meant to hit me or not, was not ok. The phone was still my property and that was abuse. I finally had the courage a few years later to leave and never look back. Swearing to myself that I would never put up with that type of abuse again. I thought it was over. I swore I would never let another man physically harm or leave any kind of bruise on my body again.

“I swore I would never let another man physically harm or leave any kind of bruise on my body again.”

 

Years down the line, I met someone new. While pregnant, I was assaulted by him. Of course, it didn’t start out this way. It began like a normal relationship should, being showered with love and gifts. He seemed proud to be with me, proud enough that he wanted to have a baby. As soon as I got pregnant, he changed. I then learned it was never about me, I was a vessel to carry his child and now that I was carrying his child, he could control me.

Fast forward past a few physical altercations that did not leave bruises, the baby had been born. She was only a couple of weeks old at the time when I walked in to see him sleeping next to our newborn. Out of panic due to the risk of SIDS, I ran over and tried to pick her up off the bed. He instantly woke up and shoved me to the doorway of the bedroom. As he jumped out of the bed, the baby began falling. Although, he was lunging at me, all I could do was stay focused on her and reach for her. He threw all his body weight into mine and flung me onto the hardwood floor. I remember the pain coursing through my body, but my focus was still on the baby. At this point, he picked up the baby while I was still on the floor trying my best to get back up. While holding her, he once again used his body weight and flung me to the floor. This time, I did hit my head as I connected with the floor even harder than the first time.

Thankfully, the baby was unharmed, but I wasn’t. I was left with abrasions on my back and on my arm where I had fallen, and a softball size bruise on my upper leg near my hip. I can still remember the agony I was in the next morning. I met with my mother that day, limping from the pain, and I showed her what he had done. The tears from her were enough to break my heart. I, once again, was in an abusive relationship.

Finally Escaped

 

By the time this baby was 6 months old, I was able to leave. It took all the courage within me to accept who he was and that he was not the person I thought when we first met. I had spent months telling myself he didn’t mean it and that I could somehow manage to get things back to the way they were at the beginning. Deep down, I knew that wasn’t possible. I had been here before and you can’t change an abuser.

“I was never struck with a hand, but I was left with bruises.”

 

Anything, such as being pinned against the wall, being held a little too tight, or being pushed to the ground is still abuse. I was never struck with a hand, but I was left with bruises. Once is certainly too many times. There is no excuse for ever leaving a bruise on another human being. Bruises heal over time, but the pain from the abuse never truly goes away.

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Popular Podcasts on Domestic Violence

Podcasts are the modern anywhere, anytime talk-radio. From education to entertainment, a few minutes to a few hours in length, there are currently over half a million active podcasts available to listen to on iTunes alone. Anyone with a microphone and a little bit of web savvy can create and release their own podcast. Of course, this means some are inexpert or inaccurate, but it also allows many unique and disparate voices to be heard, including domestic violence advocates and brave survivors. With the audio medium and intimate feel, podcasts tend to personalize the difficult topic of abuse. Hear the voices of survivors directly and the emotions of those who take the time to tell their tales and impart their knowledge. Podcasts are a great way to learn on the go by listening while driving, cleaning, exercising, etc. The following are some top-ranked and recommended podcasts on domestic violence. Some educate listeners on various aspects of abuse, others are true crime narratives of particularly horrific or thought-provoking cases, and some give voices to survivors themselves to tell their own stories. While informative and inspiring, keep in mind that these podcasts may be triggering, especially for listeners who are victims or survivors.

 

Survivor Voices

These podcasts are dedicated to survivor stories in their own words. Some are created by survivors, who share their own experiences, and some are discussions between survivors and/or advocates.

  1. I’m a SurvivorMisty Chaviers is a domestic violence survivor and advocate. In her Purple Ribbon Award winning podcast, she discusses various aspects of her personal experience with abuse and her ongoing struggles that resulted from it. As she told Domestic Shelters, “I felt so silenced because, in Alabama, you don’t talk about abuse. I felt like I could maybe through my voice help women become free.”  Misty also interviews other survivors and advocates to hear their stories and perspectives. Plus, she explains particular aspects of domestic violence, such as gaslighting and trauma bonding. Most episodes are 20 to 30 minutes long. Misty is still publishing new episodes at the time of this posting.
  2. Shatterproof: Thriving After Domestic ViolenceSurvivor and self-professed “change-agent” Mickie Zada was in an abusive relationship for 34 years. She shares her story in this podcast, with episodes breaking down aspects of abuse, things her abuser or family members said that stuck with her, and some of Mickie’s specific thoughts and feelings related to her abuse. She also speaks with many other survivors and hears their stories and perspectives. The focus is on how each survivor reinvented themselves after abuse. Though it is not currently publishing new content, there are over 150 archived episodes available. Episode length varies quite a bit depending on the content, but most fall between 10 and 45 minutes.
  3. Let’s Talk About It / Finding Our Voices
  4. Host Patricia McLean, an award-winning photojournalist, interviews a different survivor or survivors in every episode of this podcast. Along with the survivor(s), some episodes also feature a family member or friend who supported them through their experiences, exploring relationships with loved ones during and after abuse. Patricia delves into her personal experience as well, discussing with her daughter the primarily mental abuse her singer ex-husband Don McLean inflicted upon them. Other survivors’ stories explore protection orders and police involvement, religion, financial abuse, child abuse, and more. This podcast changed its name and so has two feeds, which overlap somewhat. Finding Our Voices comprises a short 9 episodes, while Let’s Talk About It has over 30 and is still being updated with new content occasionally. Episodes in both feeds are approximately an hour long. 
  5. When Does it End…The anonymous survivor who created this podcast reveals her experience with abuse and what happened to her after leaving her abuser. Like many survivors, she continues to be linked to her abuser by the three children they share. Through 16 episodes of around 20-minutes each, she explains her relationship, the continued abuse, her mental health struggles, and her negative experience with the court system, which led to a “decision I never thought I would make”, of leaving her children with her abuser. 
  6. She Is Your NeighbourProduced by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada, each episode shares the story of a survivor with a unique focus. From childhood abuse, abuse and the drug trade, and experiences with the legal system and shelters to violence as a refugee of the Rwandan genocide or as a child bride.  Some distinctive tales are shared. There are also episodes dedicated to the experience of abuse through the lens of different races and cultures, including black women, South Asian communities, and indigenous women. Most episodes feature host Jenna Mayne in discussion with a survivor, though a few guests tell stories of survivors they are/were close to or discuss their experience working with survivors. There are 27 episodes available of 30 to 40 minutes each.

These podcasts are dedicated to survivor stories in their own words. Some are created by survivors, who share their own experiences, and some are discussions between survivors and/or advocates. The wide variety and depth of information available in these podcasts related to domestic violence is remarkable. A broad range of styles, formats, and topics make them accessible to extensive and diverse audiences. With so many survivors willing to share their stories in such a personal way, their voices are being heard and helping to eliminate the stigma surrounding abuse.

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The Enduring Impact of Abuse on Mental Health

Mental health is a broad term that covers a number of illnesses ranging from insomnia, anxiety, and depression to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are significant links between domestic violence and a variety of mental health issues for victims, abusers, and witnesses alike. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to explore these connections, what they mean, and how they may impact the way domestic violence is regarded and resisted.

 

The Link Between Mental Health and Abuse

Two thirds of women who receive mental health services have experienced domestic violence, compared with about one third of the general population (WHO). In a review of 41 studies,PLoS ONEfound that there is a higher risk of experiencing partner violence among women with depressive disorders (2.7 times greater), anxiety disorders (4 times greater), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (7 times greater) than women without mental disorders. In addition, the likelihood of having suicidal thoughts was 3.5 times greater for women who had experienced abuse than those who had not. In some of the reviewed studies, people (especially women) across all mental health diagnostic categories, including psychoses, had a higher prevalence of experiencing domestic violence. This overall correlation between mental illnesses and abuse stems from two factors: 1) domestic violence can cause mental health issues, and 2) those with preexisting mental health issues are more likely to be targets for abusers (Conversation).

 

Effects of Abuse on Mental Health

There are many different ways domestic violence can impact victims’ mental health. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a frequent consequence of abuse (RTOR). Victims and survivors experience(d) traumatic and frightening events, usually repeatedly, which increases stress, anxiety, and depression and may cause lasting mental anguish for years, even after leaving an abuser. Eating disorders, insomnia or disruption in sleep patterns, restlessness in daily life, and the inability to achieve much due to fatigue are other common ways abuse can take a toll on mental health (LivingWell). Abusers often limit or remove their victims’ agency in life, restricting what they can do and say, who they can see, and making life choices for them. This loss of agency can be very damaging, not only in victims’ control over themselves, but also in their sense of self-esteem, worth, and confidence. They often feel hopeless and “shut down” (HCBH). Emotional abuse, in particular, degrades self-esteem, and victims are prone to depression, anxiety, developing phobias, substance abuse, and self-harm (LivingWell).

Ripple Effects

Domestic violence can have lasting mental health effects that can make it difficult for victims and survivors to stay in school, hold a job, manage their own affairs, and/or have healthy and meaningful relationships. Trauma can cause acute and lasting changes in physiology, arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory (HCBH). Some form of financial abuse occurs in 99% of abusive relationships (Forbes) and can lead to enduring economic issues for victims and survivors throughout their entire lives. Stress over a lack of resources, ruined credit, lost jobs, and other effects of financial abuse and/or the inability to support themselves and their children properly can cause anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

 

Long-term mental health issues can also have chronic physical consequences that may not appear for years. The body has a natural stress response, which includes raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol and a reduction in functioning for nonessential systems in a flight-or-fight situation. Continual activation of this response creates an overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that can disrupt almost all bodily processes and lead to health issues such as digestive problems, weight gain, headaches, muscle tension/pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke (Mayo). The mental health impacts of abuse percolate through all aspects of victims’ lives in ways that may not be immediately apparent.

Mental Health is Neither a Cause Nor an Excuse for Abuse

It is often cited that people with diagnosed mental health illnesses are more likely to be violent than those without. While some studies have found this to be true, others have found no significant increase. According to a study by the Battered Women’s Justice Project, abusers are no more likely to have mental health issues than the general public (Domestic Shelters). The overall number of abusers with mental health problems is low, and certainly lower than the number of victims with mental health problems. There is also a strong connection between domestic violence and substance abuse, with an increased incidence of violence when mental health and substance abuse issues co-occur (Lancet). Alcohol and drugs do not make a person abusive, though they may lower inhibitions and self-control in a way that instigates or intensifies their abusive tendencies. Whatever research one uses, correlation is not causation. “Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness,” explains Nancy Erickson, an attorney and consultant on domestic violence legal issues (Domestic Shelters).

 

Believing mental health issues are the cause of abuse may compel some victims to think the abuse will stop if their abusers get help for their mental illness. However, according to Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, “In my 30 years in the field, I’ve never seen significant lasting improvement from an abuser going to psychotherapy. If anything, things have gotten worse. He’s learned new ways to get inside the woman’s head, or new excuses.” Abusers may use their mental illness as a manipulation and deflection tactic. It is not their fault, they declare, it is just the illness making them do these terrible things. Though as Bancroft explains, “No disorder makes you call your partner demeaning and degrading names. They [the abuser] still have choices.”

 

Mental Health Effects of Witnessing Abuse

Children and adults who are exposed to intimate partner violence are more likely to develop a range of mental health problems, develop suicidal ideation, and attempt suicide. Other forms of abuse or neglect are also more likely for children exposed to domestic violence, and they are at greater risk of experiencing abuse as adults. Early exposure to abuse (including in utero!) causes stress and trauma, which can lead to increased risk of mental health problems and neurodevelopmental impairments (Lancet). Children who live in a household where one parent is abusing the other can experience a state of perpetual anxiety. This may cause them to revert to typical habits of younger children (thumb sucking, bed wetting, etc.), develop anti-social traits, and/or struggle with guilt and feel they are to blame for the abuse they witness.

 

PTSD is also common in children who witness abuse, even if they are not direct victims, which can cause nightmares, anger, irritability, difficulty concentrating, headaches, and stomach pains, among other things. Teenagers may exhibit more aggressive behavior, skip school, engage in risky sexual activities, dabble with drugs and alcohol, and get in trouble with the law. Longer term, children who grew up witnessing abuse are more prone to depression as adults and may develop conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (VeryWell).

 

A Need for Research, Attention, and Change

More research and education are required on the connections between mental health and domestic violence in order to better treat abuse victims and survivors with mental illnesses. A study in theNational Library of Medicinefound that “little consideration” was given to the role of domestic violence in precipitating or exacerbating mental illnesses and that mental health services often fail to adequately address violence experiences by their users. TheWHOreports that many survivors who sought services found them unhelpful, harmful, or even retraumatizing. “Rather than strict categories and diagnoses,” suggests Claudia García-Moreno, WHO Unit Head of Addressing Needs of Vulnerable Populations in Sexual and Reproductive Health, “We need an approach that recognizes survivors’ experiences of violence and puts their needs front and center in research, policy and services.”

 

The Lancet Psychiatry Commission on Intimate Partner Violence and Mental Health concluded that mental health systems and providers can make a critical difference in survivors’ healing process if conducted with trauma-informed approaches focused on the intersection of abuse and mental health and coproduced with survivors. Trauma-informed care encompasses the complete picture of a patient’s life, past and present. Instead of concentrating on “what’s wrong with you?”, this approach asks, “what happened to you?” in order to provide more effective healing services. Health practitioners need to not only treat the symptoms with medication, but also provide or refer patients for counselling and/or community support in making changes in their lives that will positively affect their mental health.

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Why is it so hard to change? The hidden costs of behaviour change

Sometimes, we might have a behaviour that we want to change, but never quite manage to actually do it. It could be that you have never taken actual action, have tried repeatedly but keep ‘relapsing’ or that you manage to change for a while but it doesn’t stick.

You might have a habit of people-pleasing, or struggle to give yourself a rest from working too hard. Maybe you find that you don’t reply to your correspondence in a timely fashion, or repeatedly don’t do a particular task Or it may be something bigger; smoking, over or under eating, or drinking too much.

If so, read on.

The Good

It can be easy to focus simply on how good it will feel when we do finally get around to doing that thing, how free we will feel, how light. How competent. How clean. How much time or money we might have. How we will feel better.

Now, I’m not saying that all of those things will not be true. If you smoke and you want to give up, for example, there will likely be a myriad of benefits when you finally do; you’ll feel healthier, your lungs will start to recover, you’ll reduce your chance of getting a number of cancers, your clothes won’t smell, you won’t have to plan your day around smoking, you’ll be able to go out for dinner without sneaking off to have a sneaky fag (or wanting to). And so on.

In fact, it is important to know these things. Being able to imagine them gives you a powerful incentive to change.

List these. Hang onto them. REMEMBER them.

The Costs of Change

 

However, chances are, there will also be a hidden cost to giving up that you might not have spent so much time considering. If this is the case, it might help to look at the following too:

  • What might I lose if I give this up / do this thing / don’t do this thing?
  • What will I need to face if I do change?

Make a list: it might be that all your friends smoke, and you’ll miss their company. Or that you’ll miss the break and the silence in the noise of socialising, the opportunity to dip out for a moment and collect yourself. It might be that you smoke to curb your appetite, and you’ll need to face your hunger, or you’re frightened you’ll put on weight.

List them all. Every one.

Make a plan

 

So now you know what you’re frightened of, avoiding, or worrying about. You can make a plan, or sit with the grief of whatever it is you’re losing.

You might find that you don’t smoke with your friends, but that you find other ways of connecting with them, over coffee or dinner. You might find you need to factor in time out into your socialising, if you’re an introvert, or that you need to find another way to de-stress. You might need to enlist specialist support around your fear of putting on weight.

Some questions to ask yourself in this stage are:

  • What skills might I need to learn in order to get where I want to be?
  • What support might I need to enlist?
  • Are there other changes that I can make that will make it easier to achieve my goal?
  • Can I break it down into ‘mini’ goals?

It’s fine to fail

 

This might seem a funny thing to say, but I mean it. Sometimes, we can’t quite know what we are avoiding until we actually stop the thing we want to stop.

So you don’t need to give up, or beat yourself up for not doing it this time. You can use it to learn more about what you’re struggling with, and adjust accordingly. It can take repeated attempts to change, particularly if it’s something really big or difficult.

When to get professional help

 

You don’t have to be at rock bottom to seek help. It is valid to reach out for support if you’re finding something tricky, or you’d like a professional opinion. Or indeed, it is fine to go the self-help route if that’s what appeals.

However, if you find whatever you’re struggling with is causing you serious unhappiness, distress or worry or is escalating badly, it is worth considering getting some more specialised help. Particularly if it is beginning to get in the way of you living your life; going to work, having close relationships with families and friends, etc.

There are lots of brilliant resources out there; therapists and the like, groups, charities, internet forums… seek out what meets your needs practically, emotionally and financially. It’s fine for this to change as your needs do too.

Take care, and good luck.