how-to-help

Helping a Parent in an Abusive Relationship

how-to-helpWhen abuse is happening in a relationship, it can affect whole families, including children who are witnesses to the abuse and violence.

Watching your parent deal with an abusive relationship is extremely tough and can cause a range of emotions, like resentment, guilt, fear, grief, and anger. It can be especially difficult if you are still living at home or have younger siblings still living at home. Having feelings of love and attachment to our parents is very normal, even if one of them is abusive in some way. If you feel like something isn’t right in your family, but you also have those feelings at the same time, the situation can become confusing, complicated, or overwhelming.

We are often contacted by people of all ages whose parents are in abusive relationships. Like anyone who witnesses the abuse of someone they love, these callers and chatters want to know how to help the abused parent. They are understandably focused on making the situation “right” and ending the abuse. While every situation is unique and there is no “one size fits all” approach, we try to emphasize a few things:

It’s not your fault!
Above all, you need to know that the abuse is never your fault, and it’s never the victim’s fault. The choice to be abusive is the abusive person’s; only they are responsible for their behavior, and only they can change it. It is also not your responsibility to “rescue” your parent(s). It’s normal to spend a lot of time and energy looking for a way to fix something that’s causing so much pain, but you don’t deserve to be under this kind of pressure.

Why does a person become abusive? That’s a really tough question to answer, because every person is different. What we do know is that abuse is about power and control; an abusive person wants all the power and control in their relationships. Their abuse might be directed toward just one person, or their whole family. No matter what, no one deserves to live with abuse.

Leaving can be very difficult for a victim, for a lot of reasons
Leaving might seem like the best decision, but often a victim has many reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. Since an abusive person will do anything to maintain his or her power and control in the relationship, we know that leaving can also be a dangerous time for a victim. Leaving could be something your parent might want to plan for and work towards, but in the meantime it’s important to focus on staying as safe as you can and taking good care of yourself.

What can you do to help?

It’s really great that you want to help your parent, but something to remember is that we all have boundaries and that those boundaries should be respected. If your parent is being abused by their partner, their boundaries are not being respected by that person. Even though you may have the best intentions in helping your parent, it’s important to be respectful of them not wanting to talk about it at that moment. If that happens, you can work on the following suggestions:

Offer loving support
It’s hard to know what to do in situations like this, but what many victims need most is support without someone telling them what they “should” do. You can be a source of support for your parent if they are experiencing abuse. Finding ways to spend time alone with your parent – like watching a movie at home together, going to lunch, or doing an activity together – can give you the opportunity to talk safely and let them know you love them. You can remind your parent that you are concerned about them, and that they don’t deserve to be treated badly. If you don’t live with your parent(s), you could send your mom or dad funny or loving texts or emails, or call them to say you are thinking of them and you love them. It may not seem like much to you, but letting your parent know that you care about them can be incredibly validating and supportive for them. (Communicating directly about the abuse, especially through text or email, may not be safe.)

If you feel comfortable doing so, you might give your parent the number to a local resource or encourage them to contact the Hotline. Remember, though, that your parent has to take these steps for him or herself only if/when they feel safe and ready.

Encourage self-care, and practice it yourself
By self-care we mean taking care of yourself in any way that feels good to you, supports your well-being, and brings you comfort. People who experience abuse often don’t do self-care because they are made to feel like they don’t deserve love or care. It’s normal to lose sight of ourselves when we’re dealing with very stressful and scary situations. But self-care is just one healthy way to cope. Remind your parent that self-care is important for everyone – and try to practice it yourself.

Why is taking care of yourself so important? Because by doing what you can for your own well-being, you can enable yourself to continue being a source of support for your parent or siblings. Being able to create a safe mental space to help you stay grounded when things get tough not only helps you, but also the people around you.

Create a safety plan together
A safety plan is a personalized plan that includes ways to remain safe while in an abusive relationship, planning to leave, or after a person leaves. Safety planning can involve how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more. Whenever you can, sit down with your parent and your siblings, away from the abusive parent, and make a plan together about how you all can stay safe. If you need help brainstorming or finding resources in your area for your safety plan, you can always call the Hotline or our friends at loveisrespect.

If you are living with an abusive parent and they ever become abusive toward you, you have the right to seek help. If you are under 18, you can call the Child Abuse Hotline to speak directly to a hotline counselor.

We understand that this is such a difficult thing to experience and that you know your situation best. These tips are very general, and you should never follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. Looking for support, help, or information is a huge step and shows incredible strength. Remember, you do not have to go through this alone. Our advocates at the Hotline are here for you 24/7 if you need to talk to someone; just call 1-800-799-7233. You can also chat online here on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time. Just be sure to call or chat from devices that your abusive parent doesn’t have access to.

partner-suicide

When Your Partner Threatens Suicide

partner-suicide“I’ll kill myself if you leave me.”

It seems like a no-win situation. When someone you’re close to says something like this, it can feel like the world just stopped spinning.

People who have a mental illness, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, typically have a higher risk for suicide. Depression, a history of substance abuse, and other disorders carry risks as well. If your partner truly wishes to die and has a plan and intention to follow through, get immediate help. Call your local emergency number, or call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

But what if your partner regularly threatens suicide, particularly whenever you’re not doing something he or she wants you to do, or when you’re trying to leave the relationship? First, understand that this is a form of emotional abuse: your partner is trying to manipulate you by playing on your feelings of love and fear for them. You might get angry when this happens, but you also might feel like you have to give in to them in order to avoid a potential tragedy. When your partner makes these threats repeatedly, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and possibly help your partner as well.

Tell your partner you care about them, but stick to your boundaries. Giving in to threats over and over does not make a relationship healthy, and it only creates anger and resentment on your end. You could say something like, “You know I care about you very much, and I understand you’re upset right now, but I will not _____.”

Put the choice to live or die where it belongs – on your partner. You can’t be responsible for another person’s actions, no matter what – and this includes when your partner chooses to be abusive. An optional response is: “I think our relationship should be based on love and respect, not threats. I really care about you, but this is your choice and I can’t stop you from making it.”

Remember that no matter what your partner says, you don’t have to prove anything. Even though they might be saying something like, “If you really loved me, you’d stop me from killing myself,” the real truth is that there are unhealthy patterns in your relationship. Until those unhealthy patterns are addressed, they will most likely continue no matter how many times you give in to your partner’s demands.

If your partner often says they’re going to kill themselves when things aren’t going their way, they’re not showing you love – they’re likely trying to control your actions. If this is the case, consider the tips above and try to get help where you can. You might try talking to a counselor or other professional therapist, if that’s an option for you. But remember, you are not your partner’s counselor, and you can’t force your partner to get help if they don’t want to. They have to make that choice for themselves.

Please keep in mind that these tips may not be right for everyone; you know your own situation best. If you’d like to talk through these tips with one of our advocates, please get in touch with us by phone 24/7 or online chat everyday from 7am-2am CST. We’re here for you!

couples-counseling

Why We Don’t Recommend Couples Counseling for Abusive Relationships

couples-counselingTherapy can be very effective for some couples who are working through difficult relationship issues. However, if abuse is present in the relationship, we do not recommend that couples seek counseling together.

In order for couples counseling to be successful, both partners must be willing to take responsibility for their actions and make adjustments to their behavior. Abusive people want all of the power and control in the relationship and will focus on maintaining that imbalance, even if it means continuing unhealthy and hurtful behavior patterns. Many callers to the Hotline have related stories of trying and “failing” at couples counseling because of an abusive partner’s focus on manipulating the sessions to place blame, minimize the abuse, and attempt to win over the therapist to their side. If the therapist tries to hold the abusive partner accountable for these tactics, they will often refuse to attend further sessions and may even forbid their partner to see the “biased” therapist again. The abusive partner may even choose to escalate the abuse because they feel their power and control was threatened.

The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship” problem. Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.

Both partners should feel and be safe in order for therapy to be effective. A victim may not feel safe with their abuser present and could be hesitant to fully participate or speak honestly during counseling sessions. Alternatively, a victim may have a false sense of security during a session and reveal information they normally wouldn’t disclose. Then, back at home, the abusive partner could decide to retaliate with more abuse.

A better option for abusive partners who want to change is a program designed specifically to address their abusive behaviors. These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although what they are called can vary from state to state. BIPPs focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, or if you are an abusive partner who wants to change, please give us a call at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online everyday from 7am-2am CST. Our advocates are here to support you and talk through your options.

man-to-man

Man-To-Man: Talking About Sexism and Domestic Violence

man-to-manWhen our coworker logged onto Facebook a couple of weeks ago, he was bothered by some insensitive jokes a good friend had posted about the #YesAllWomen campaign. He had a choice: let it go, or say something.

We asked him what he thought when he saw his friend’s post. He explained:

“I felt responsible. I talk a good game [about speaking out] but am I going to do it when I have the opportunity? I had a challenge for myself. I could either stand for something or not say anything. You can’t just talk; you have to stand every now and then, and this was an opportunity, even though it was outside of my comfort zone.”

We asked him how he felt when he sent a personal message to his friend:

“I was nervous about how he was going to react. But his response was good— I didn’t have to sell it to him. It just spoke for itself. I just basically put it out there and let it sit. In speaking up about something like this, you’re not trying to correct, you’re just trying to highlight an error that lots of people just do unknowingly without intending to be offensive.”

This got us thinking: what’s a good way to call attention to something you hear or see, perhaps without being overly confrontational? There a lot of reasons even the most well-intentioned people won’t speak up if they witness violence or hear something that condones it. We may fear our instincts are wrong or worry that we’re being nosy or intrusive. We worry that we’ll be perceived as too “politically correct” or that it wouldn’t be cool to call someone out on something.

The truth is, silence can be harmful. It’s tacit support of what’s going on. It’s an affirmation that what you’re witnessing or hearing is OK.

What Can You Do?

You don’t have to make a huge ordeal out of calling someone out. Even the simplest of actions or words can make a difference — and it doesn’t need to be done in front of everyone or in the moment. Send a Facebook message, or pull someone aside later to talk about it.

Begin to pay more attention to phrases that attribute gender to an action. Certain societal norms and the ways we talk about masculinity and femininity can encourage dominance or violence (EX. Telling other guys, “You’re acting like a girl.”)

Sexist, racist, homophobic, and other prejudiced sayings and remarks can have the same impact. Do you or people you hang out with say things or tell jokes that would fall under one of these categories? Next time you hear something like this, say something.

Do you know someone who is being abusive to their partner? Speak up if you suspect it’s happening or if you see it firsthand.

Actions speak volumes as well. Treat those around you with respect. Treat women respectfully in front of men who are friends with you, care about your opinions, or look up to you.

Being an active bystander means more than just stepping in between a man who’s being abusive toward a woman. It means stopping violence before it starts — by stopping behaviors or actions that normalize violence.

What Kinds of Things Should You Say?

White Ribbon has some helpful info about talking to other men and challenging violence-supportive comments or jokes:

  • Provide information. Highlight the facts and debunk the myths.
  • Question the assumption. Challenge the logic of the statement. No one deserves to be raped, beaten or stalked. No one asks for it. No one likes it.
  • Convey your feelings and principles. Show emotion and passion. Show that you’re affected by what was said or done and doesn’t think it’s right. Tell them that these types of statements make you uncomfortable.
  • Use humor to playfully question sexist and derogatory remarks.
  • Ask for an explanation. Ask, “What are you saying?” to invite critical reflection.
  • Invite group pressure. Say in front of others, “I don’t feel good about this. Does anyone else feel uncomfortable too?”

It’s important to keep in mind that men can also be the victims of domestic violence. Regardless of gender, these methods and techniques for intervention and talking to others can be helpful tools for anyone.

Change begins with one action or assertion, and everyone has a stake in ending domestic violence. After all, it’s not just a women’s issue or a men’s issue — it’s a human issue.

Men Who Have Spoken Up

Check out these men who have received media attention for being outspoken about domestic violence (but you obviously don’t have to be famous or in politics to talk about the issue!):

  • Star Trek star Patrick Stewart has spoken about the necessity of men getting involved to help stop domestic violence.
  • Dallas, Texas mayor Mike Rawlings held a rally to get Texas men involved
  • Some awesome NFL players like Jason Witten, William Gay, and Chris Johnson have challenged norms about masculinity and helped spread awareness about domestic violence

Further Reading

fathersday-blog

Celebrate Father’s Day with the Hotline

fathersday-blogThis Father’s Day, we want to spread the message that male victims of domestic violence deserve support, resources, and hope for a healthy future. We know that regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation, men suffer from domestic violence. According to the CDC, one in seven men will be a victim of intimate partner violence – including emotional, verbal, and physical abuse – in his lifetime. At the Hotline, we believe that all people have the right to feel safe, happy, and respected in their relationships.

We also want to honor the many men who work to end abuse and serve as positive role models for their families and communities. Male voices can play a crucial role in the movement to end domestic violence – in fact, they are often on the other end of the line when people contact the Hotline or our partner organization, loveisrespect. Andrew, one of our advocates, had this to say when asked about his role:

The gift of doing this work as a man is that you find that you can be a source of strength and a trusted ally. No matter what we are told (or what we believe about ourselves, our male voices, or our masculinity), we can be among those empowering voices of care, compassion, and support. No one can ever truly walk in anyone else’s shoes, but we can learn to see things we hadn’t seen before. What I think we start to see as more men get involved in [this] work is that common ground is always out there to be found.

Evan, also an advocate at the Hotline, says:

“I think being a male advocate can be helpful to women who contact us because it lets them know there are men who are on their side, working to end domestic violence. It is also important for male victims and survivors, because they have a safe place to share their stories without the fear of judgment from family and friends.”

Is there a man who has made a positive difference in your life? Celebrate him during the month of June by:

  • Sharing on social media. If you tweet at us (@ndvh) about a male friend or family member you respect and admire, we’ll retweet you!
  • Making a donation to the Hotline. Your generosity will help ensure that our advocates are on the other end of the line for men and families who need assistance. Donate directly to the Hotline here.
  • Shopping with AmazonSmile. Need a Father’s Day gift? Shop through the AmazonSmile program and Amazon will donate an extra $5 to the Hotline.

Additionally, we’d like to acknowledge the numerous organizations that are dedicated to engaging and supporting men in healthy ways, including:

  • A Call To Men works to “create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.”
  • White Ribbon is “the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity.”
  • GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project envisions “a future where individuals, communities, institutions and policymakers are all working together to increase awareness, reduce the incidence of domestic violence, and foster an environment in which all survivors have equal access to quality services regardless of their gender identity/expression and/or sexuality.”
  • Men Can Stop Rape’s mission is to “mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.” Their website also has a list of men’s anti-violence organizations across the country.

Please join with us this Father’s Day to support the men and fathers suffering from domestic violence, and honor those who work to create a world free from abuse.

mothersday

Honor Mothers This May with the Hotline

mothersdayMother’s Day is a time to recognize mothers for the immeasurable contributions they make every day to better our world. Whether you are a mother, have a mother or know a mother who has impacted your life, you are aware of the many amazing qualities that the finest mothers possess – kindness, self-sacrifice, strength, generosity, courage, love, humor, selflessness, bravery and so much more.

This May, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is inviting you to acknowledge and thank your mom or a special mom you know by sending her a virtual Mother’s Day card and making a donation of $30 to the Hotline in her honor.

The cards were designed by Hotline advocates who provide compassionate, one-on-one support to those suffering from abuse. Our advocates speak daily with domestic violence victims – many of whom are mothers – who go to great lengths to keep their children and themselves safe despite facing numerous cruelties, including:

The need for additional help is great.

In the United States, 1 in 4 women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. Due to lack of resources, thousands of calls to the Hotline go unanswered each year. Your generous support can help us reach more people who need crisis intervention, safety planning, resources, and hope. This Mother’s Day, please celebrate moms everywhere with the Hotline. You can make a difference!

hopeline

Celebrate Earth Day with HopeLine from Verizon


hopeline
Are you looking for a way to reuse and recycle this Earth Day AND help victims of domestic violence? Look no further: the hotline has partnered with HopeLine from Verizon, a program
that accepts no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories and turns them into lifelines for victims. Through HopeLine, Verizon has donated hundreds of thousands of phones and awarded millions of dollars in cash grants to partner agencies.

HopeLine phones are refurbished phones that are equipped with 3,000 anytime minutes of airtime and texting capabilities. Any wireless phone, regardless of manufacturer or service provider, can be accepted. The refurbished phones come with Verizon Wireless Nationwide Coverage, Call Forwarding, Call Waiting, 3-Way Calling, Caller ID, Basic Voice Mail and texting. HopeLine phones are available to survivors affiliated with participating domestic violence agencies.

For many victims and survivors of domestic violence, access to a wireless phone and voice mailbox can help them rebuild their lives and provide a safe way to communicate with friends, family, agency and shelter support staff, and current or prospective employers. If you would like to start a phone drive in your community on behalf of the hotline, just fill out your information and we will be in touch with you.

This Earth Day, join with Verizon and the hotline to reuse, recycle, and provide much needed support to victims of domestic violence!

 

teen-relationship

Signs Your Teen May Be in an Abusive Relationship

teen-relationshipIt’s natural for kids to become a bit more secretive during their teen years. They’re maturing, testing boundaries, and learning how to be more independent as they head toward adulthood. Checking in with them regularly to learn about what’s going on in their lives, at school, or with friends is important. But what if you suspect that something unhealthy or even dangerous is happening to your teen? If you start to notice any of the following signs, your teen might be experiencing abuse:

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive to the point where your child stops spending time with other friends and family. When asked how they feel about this, your child might say something like: She thinks my friends don’t like her, so she doesn’t like spending time around them. Or, She thinks they’re a bad influence on me, and she’s just trying to help.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • You notice that your son or daughter is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child begins to dress differently; for example, wearing loose clothing because their partner doesn’t like for them to show off their body or attract the attention of someone else.
  • Your child worries if they can’t text/call their partner back right away because their partner might get upset.
  • Your child expresses fear about how their partner will react in a given situation.

Staying tuned in to your teen takes patience, love, and understanding – plus a little bit of effort. If you are concerned about any of your teen’s relationships, reach out and get them talking as soon as possible. There are several ways you can help, including passing along some useful resources.

This month is teenDVmonth, and our advocates are always here if you or your teen have questions. Give us a call at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.

digital-safety

Talking to Teens About Digital Safety

digital-safetyTeens are online a lot these days. Whether they’re updating Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, using Snapchat, or “checking in” with various location tools, technology has become highly integrated into their lives. While we definitely support using technology in healthy, fun, and productive ways, sometimes it can make life difficult or dangerous for teens.

Nothing ever really disappears from the internet – whether it’s a photo, a status update, or a tweet – so it’s important to have regular, open and honest conversations with your kids or students about safe ways to use technology. During teenDVmonth, we want to encourage you to start having these conversations as soon as possible! Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Open the conversation by using current examples of how sharing online can quickly escalate out of control. In one brilliant experiment, a teacher received a LOT of attention when she posted a photo of herself online to show her 5th grade students how anything can be widely shared or digitally manipulated on the internet.
  • Talk to your teen about privacy. How does he or she define privacy? What types of things would they like to keep private? Be sure to talk about using apps to “check in” to places online, or tagging their location on Instagram and Facebook, and how that might compromise their safety or their friends’ safety.
  • Create “Digital Safety Guidelines” with your teen. Let them have input, and talk through what they are comfortable sharing online and why. Together, you can learn about privacy settings for social networks and how to use them.
  • Talk to your teen about establishing digital boundaries with their boyfriends or girlfriends. These boundaries might shift and change as the relationship progresses, but it’s important for both partners to continue communicating about what they’re comfortable with. Some good questions to discuss are:

– Is it okay to tag or check in?
– Do we post our relationship status?
– Is it okay to friend or follow my friends?
– When is it okay to text me and what is the expectation for when we return it?
– Is it okay to use each other’s devices?
– Is it okay to post, tweet or comment about our relationship?

  • Go over the signs of digital abuse. Ask if they’ve ever experienced any of these signs, or if they know someone who has. Brainstorm ways to deal with this type of abuse.

The internet isn’t going away any time soon, so it’s unrealistic to expect your teens not to use it. By learning more about how the teenagers in your life are using technology, you can help them determine how best to keep themselves safe and healthy.

If you have any other suggestions for how to talk to teens about staying safe online, please leave them in the comments!

cool-off

Seeing Red? How To Cool Off When You’re Angry

Please note: this post includes suggestions for people dealing with anger issues that affect others in their lives, not just their intimate partners. Keep in mind that anger management programs are not recommended for abusive partners, as abuse is not the result of anger issues but rather the desire to control an intimate partner.

Anger is one of those electrical emotions that all of us experience — some more often or more easily than others — and different things provoke us and rile us up. It can be a healthy emotion up to a point. For instance, anger about a cause, an injustice or a political issue can motivate us to act for good. A lot of the most influential movements and changes in our country began with a feeling of anger or frustration.

But anger can also be very dangerous. Anger can get out of control and have negative effects on yourself and others, depending on how you deal with it and express it. The emotion manifests itself in different ways, and if you find yourself getting angry frequently and intensely, you can probably begin to notice physical symptoms first. Your heart beats faster, your breathing rate increases, your muscles tense up, and more.


If you feel yourself getting angry, what should you do?

  • cool-offTell yourself to calm down. Slowly repeat gentle phrases to yourself like “take it easy,” “cool off,” or whatever works for you.
  • Force yourself to leave the situation. Take a time out, walk away, and avoid coming back too soon. Take a walk or go for a run.
  • Use visualization to calm down. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your favorite place.
  • Count to 10 (or 50… or 100) if you feel like you’re about to do or say something harmful. It’s a quick, easy way to separate yourself mentally from the situation.
  • Splash some cold water on your face.
  • Slow down and focus on your breathing. Conscious breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose, and slowly out through your mouth.
  • Phone a friend. Do you have a supportive friend or family member who can lend an ear and calm you down?
  • Try to replace negative, angry thoughts with positive, rational ones. Even if you’re feeling upset, remind yourself that getting angry isn’t going to fix the way that you’re feeling.

Now what?

Make time for yourself to de-stress and focus on an activity that makes you happy, whether that’s reading, spending time with friends, or whatever else. Getting enough exercise weekly can also help alleviate stress.

Practice relaxation techniques such as listening to soothing sounds or songs, or doing meditation or yoga.

Keep a journal or log about your anger. Record the feelings you experienced, what factors contributed to your anger and how you responded to it. Try to write down the thoughts that were going through your mind and the time, and then reflect on these instances and see if there’s any sort of pattern to your anger.

Think about the consequences that come with angry outbursts. Is your anger causing strain on your relationship? Scaring your children? Take time to reflect on how your anger could be affecting those around you.

Try to note any other emotions you’re feeling alongside anger. Are you feeling depressed? Frustrated? Confused?

Learn about communicating with others in a healthy way. Being able to talk rationally and calmly when you start to feel angry can be an important part of relieving anger.

Consider taking an anger management course or going to counseling.


Further Reading


If you’re taking out your anger on your partner, give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233). You can speak confidentially with a non-judgmental advocate about these behaviors and discuss steps for getting help.

 

minimizing-abuse

Blame Shifting and Minimizing: There’s no EXCUSE for Abuse

minimizing-abuse

Why do we make excuses? You tell a friend that you’re busy with something else because you’d rather just put your feet up and watch the game. You tell yourself that eating that pint of ice cream was fine because you went running the day before so that cancels it out.

To some extent, everyone makes excuses.

When it comes to people making justifications about their unhealthy actions, it can be difficult to see through these excuses or recognize them for what they are.

Why do we want to believe the excuses a partner makes when they’re treating us badly? Sometimes the justifications sound really good. Especially when we’re looking for something — anything — to help make sense of how the person we care for is acting toward us. It’s normal to want to rationalize what’s going on, because abuse is pretty irrational.

Abusive partners are also skilled at coercion and manipulation. They use excuses to make you feel like what’s happening is your fault.

Let’s take a look at common excuses that abusive partners use and talk about why these, like all “reasons,” aren’t justification for violent and hurtful behavior.


  • “I was drunk/I was using drugs.”

Substance abuse isn’t an excuse for abuse. There are people who drink and use drugs and don’t choose to abuse their partners. Ask yourself: how does your partner act when they’re drunk around their friends? How do they treat you when they’re sober?

A statistics teacher would tell you, “Correlation does not imply causation.” Just because two things happen together (like drinking and violence), it does not mean that one causes the other.

  • “I control you because I care about you.”

Acting jealous, controlling or possessive is not a way to show someone you care. 

  • “You got in my face/made me mad/got me wound up on purpose, and I had no other choice. I can’t control it.”

Stress and anger issues don’t cause abusive behavior. An abusive partner’s actions are always a choice that they make. Ask yourself: how does your partner react when they are angry with other people? Would they fly off the handle at their boss? Chances are probably not, because they know they can’t get away with that behavior around others.

  • I have mental health issues or a personality disorder — ex. I’m bipolar, I have PTSD.”

There are people who have mental health issues and don’t act abusive toward their partners. If an abusive partner is dealing with a mental health issue, ask yourself: have they been diagnosed by a professional? Are they seeking help or taking medications? Do they act abusively toward others (friends, family, coworkers), not just you? Learn more about mental health and abuse.

  • “I grew up in a violent home where I experienced or witnessed abuse”

There are a lot of people who grow up in violent homes who choose not to abuse their partners. Many choose this because of how they grew up — they know how it felt to live in that situation and they want healthier relationships for their partner and their family.


Do you find yourself making these excuses for how you act toward your partner? Or, on the other hand, do any of these excuses sound similar to what you’ve heard your partner tell you when they’re treating you badly?

Being able to recognize excuses for what they are — blames, minimizations, denials — can be a step toward realizing that abuse is never the fault of the person on the receiving end. Remember: partners who are abusive always have a choice about their words and actions.

We’re here to talk: 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

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How I See DV: Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen

Today’s How I See DV perspective comes from Barbara Van Dahlen, named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Dr. Van Dahlen is the founder and president of Give an Hour. A licensed clinical psychologist who has been practicing in the Washington, D.C., area for over 20 years, she received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Maryland in 1991. We’re excited to have her share her voice during our DVAM campaign.

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Please help us understand what post traumatic stress is and how it differs from post traumatic stress disorder?

When a human being is traumatized, whether it’s due to combat, physical violence, natural disaster or something else, there are certain reactions that we expect people to have. Many of those are the symptoms that are now captured in the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress.

So if I’m in a car accident, we would expect that for quite some time I might be more jumpy, hyper-vigilant when pulling out of my driveway, I might have flashbacks of what happened, I might have bad dreams, I might get depressed…  so all of these reactions are what we expect for the situation that I’m in following my accident. It only becomes a disorder if it doesn’t get resolved, if I don’t heal, if I don’t receive the support I need to address all of my understandable reactions and symptoms  associated with this trauma.

What are some misconceptions around post-traumatic stress in the military and domestic violence?

Most people assume that PTS looks the same for everyone – many think of the Rambo version of PTS. That’s not the typical reaction at all. People who have experienced trauma, whether its due to combat or another event, can experience trauma differently from other folks who may have experienced the exact same event.

You might have two people who were in the same firefight — one person might become withdrawn and depressed, the other might become very anxious, agitated. A third person in the same fight might show no indication of stress – no interference  with their functioning. People assume that PTS looks similar and in fact, the manifestation of PTS really varies. In addition it exists on a continuum. What it looks like today is not what it necessarily looked like six months ago and not what it will look like in six months.

Another misconception is that most soldiers/service members come home with PTS. That is not true either. Depending on the studies you look at — 18%, 20%, high is 35% depending on what we are assessing or measuring. Not everyone comes back with PTS.

Even if someone has PTS that doesn’t mean that they’re an ineffective partner, parent, employee, student. Many people function with the aftermath of trauma. There are some people with severe and possibly disabling PTS – but that’s not the case all of the time.

Also, domestic violence is not a symptom of PTS. That’s really important. PTS, especially when it’s very severe, might, in some people, make them more likely to be violent towards a partner if they’re already agitated and aggressive, if they’re not sleeping or if there’s substance abuse. PTS can be one unfortunate risk factor that may make violence more likely.

It depends on who the person is with PTS. We all carry around our predispositions, our tendencies, our personalities, our view of the world. And that will be compounded or affected by PTS. If someone was already a fairly controlling person, or tended to be hot-tempered but wasn’t ever violent before… if they become distressed and aggressive as a result of trauma, they may be more likely to engage in domestic violence.

Returning servicemen and women may experience PTS and exhibit violent behaviors when they didn’t before they left for duty. What do couples in this situation need to know?

PTS for both the person experiencing it and their partner can be very unnerving and scary because the person who has PTS may not know when a trigger may elicit a reaction, anxiety or aggression. So both partners need to come to understand what PTS is going to look like in themselves or their loved one. It doesn’t mean that the person cant be a good partner. It’s like being diagnosed with diabetes — if you don’t recognize what that means, if you don’t take it seriously, you can get yourself in serious trouble.

If the spouse/ partner reacts angrily to the PTS, because they’re hurt and miss the person they love and they’re angry that the person is having trouble sleeping, doesn’t seem to be the same, etc., it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. The partner’s reaction can exacerbate a difficult and potentially volatile situation. It’s the same for the person experiencing PTS. I’ve heard soliders say that they learned to be aware of what triggered them and their  reactions. They can also learn how to be more careful with their spouses – learn to be understanding of the feeling their spouses may have that are in reaction to the PTS.  Couples can learn together – to decrease the risk of violence. But they have to work on it.

It’s important to take PTS seriously because under the wrong combination of circumstances, that can really lead to a very dangerous and very upsetting situation … especially if you add alcohol to one or both of the partners. A fight or anger that would normally dissipate with them going off to their own corners, may turn into something far more violent than it ever would have before.

And just because we can understand how/why the violence occurred, that doesn’t mean that we can – or ever should – tolerate it.

What are some behaviors that a person who experienced trauma might exhibit?

There are many ways a person might show that they are processing trauma, especially if they are a victim of domestic violence. Their self-esteem may deteriorate. You can see that both in what they say – they say negative comments about themselves, negative perceptions of themselves – and also how they take care of themselves or don’t. Their self-care will start to be affected, falter, fail. They’re not dressing the way they used to, with care. They’re not working out, they’re not eating healthy. Or maybe there’s substance abuse. So anything that is a self-care clue that somebody is suffering, we can often see those in people we care about and notice them.

We all go through ups and downs in our lives, but if you see people who don’t seem like themselves for extended periods of time, several days or weeks, it may be a reaction to trauma.

What are some myths around mental health and domestic violence?

One myth about mental health is that someone with mental illness is having mental illness makes you more likely to be violent. In fact, having a mental illness makes you more likely to be the victim of violence.

People with severe mental health issues, maybe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence because they are often less able to take care of themselves, they are more vulnerable, their thinking is not always as clear.

In addition, mental health issues place a person at risk in other ways. Someone who is severely depressed may be less likely to step out of or seek help to get out of a domestic abuse situation. They may get more entrenched, and feel like “I’m worthless” because low self-esteem is part of the depression, so they see abuse as confirmation of how they feel. Or if someone has severe depression and is prone to being abusive, they might be more likely to become violent because of their mental health issue.

Those conditions — depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse — they don’t create domestic violence, or victims. They’re just risk factors on both sides .

About Our Contributor

Concerned about the mental health implications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Van Dahlen founded Give an Hour in 2005 to enlist mental health professionals to provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones, and their communities. Currently, the network has nearly 7,000 providers, who have collectively given over $9.4 million worth of services. 

Dr. Van Dahlen, a featured speaker at the October 2012 TEDxMidAtlantic “Be Fearless” event, has joined numerous panels, conferences, and hearings on issues facing veterans and has participated in discussions at the Pentagon, Veterans Administration, White House, and Congress. She has become a notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families and a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans, and their families. Working with other nonprofit leaders, Dr. Van Dahlen developed the Community Blueprint Network, a national initiative and online tool to assist communities in more effectively and strategically supporting veterans and military families. 

Dr. Van Dahlen and Give an Hour have received numerous awards, including selection as one of the five winners of the White House’s Joining Forces Community Challenge, sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.