Domestic violence, also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and spousal abuse, refers to physical abuse of an intimate partner; including sexual violence and marital rape. This type of behavior is the most commonly recognized form of domestic abuse, which is usually only noted in the news when violence escalates to the point of extreme situations or fatality. Celebrity incidences of domestic abuse such as that between Rihanna and Chris Brown, and 50 Cent and Daphne Narvaez, also often draw headlines. Physical violence is only one aspect of domestic abuse, however, which is more than a series of standalone events caused by anger. Instead, it is a means of gaining power and control over an intimate partner using various abusive behaviors increasingly over time. These behaviors may or may not include physical violence.
While it is easy to view domestic abuse as a temporary loss of control, the reality is much more complex. In these situations one individual intentionally uses emotional and mental abuse to undermine an intimate partner's sense of self worth, causing this person to increasingly doubt his or her own thoughts and perceptions. These forms of abuse are gradual and can be difficult for the targeted partner to recognize as the actions themselves may not be overtly aggressive until later in the relationship.
Some tactics of abusers are constant criticism, belittling, talking negatively of family and friends, threatening self-harm or violence against a partner, and destroying property. These behaviors can and do occur in relationships that are not abusive, which is part of why domestic abuse can be hard to recognize. It is suggested that people in abusive situations keep a journal, which can be helpful for many reasons. One of them is so that someone experiencing odd behaviors can establish if they form a larger pattern comprising an intentional attempt to maintain power and control, or not.
Usually, abusive tactics will increase in severity over time. Abusers will work slowly away, undermining their partners until they are left feeling insecure about personal thoughts and capabilities. By this point, even if the abuse has been recognized, it can be very difficult to leave as the partner may feel powerless and completely run down by the situation. Even if physical violence has not occurred, threatening behavior may cause the victim to fear for personal safety and the safety of family, friends, and pets.
The need abusers have for power and control does not stop once their partner has left, either. At this point mind games may increase in severity, with abusers feeling provoked into extreme behavior. These power games are not really games to the abuser, they are a negative psychological response to the everyday stresses of life. The need to exert control over another in such a way is a result of mental and emotional insecurities among other potential psychological problems. This can, and does, result in extreme violence once the person who anchors the abuser's sense of self leaves. The next article in this series will discuss the psychological aspects of domestically abusive behavior in further detail.
Other domestic abuse articles in this series: