If you are not quite sure whether your actions could be considered abusive or not, read through the Warning Signs of an Abusive Personality and search your heart. Are any of those actions or attitudes ones you tend towards? You may also find it helpful to read the article by John Stibbs on healthy and unhealthy relationships: Emotional Boundaries. Does your relationship tend more towards a healthy or an unhealthy one?
Maybe you could ask yourself some of the following questions:
- would you treat your boss, mate or next-door-neighbour the same way as you do your partner?
- if someone else were treating your daughter, son, brother, sister or friend the same way as you treat your partner, would you consider it okay or not?
- has your partner told you that your behaviour is unreasonable or abusive?
- has your partner either left you or threatened to leave you if you don’t stop being nasty to her/him?
- have previous relationships gone to the wall due to your behaviour?
If you have answered NO to either of the first questions, and YES to any of the last three, then the chances are pretty high that you are abusive towards your partner.
First of all, if you have realised that some of your actions and attitudes towards your partner may be abusive, you have already made a very important step toward change and being able to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Well done! It is difficult and painful to realise that you may be hurting someone you love, but it is the first step towards change.
The only person who can make a difference is YOU! One of the main problems with repeat abusers and perpetrators is denial of the abusive nature of their actions and attitudes, and denial of any ‘real’ effect on their victims. Acknowledging to ourselves that we have a problem, or that we are hurting someone we love is very, very difficult and painful, and many people can never quite admit it to themselves. Other people or organisations can help the abuser become more aware of their behaviour and beliefs, but only the abuser themselves can change them.
A lot of abusive behaviours are ingrained, they may have been part of your personality and coping mechanism since childhood, and they are difficult not just to recognise, but also to crack. Nobody else can do that for you, you have to take responsibility for your actions and beliefs yourself – fully. This means recognising when you are saying something hurtful or doing something harmful to your partner; learning to recognise your reactions within yourself, how you feel when you get wound up, how you feel after an abusive episode; the thoughts and excuses you make to yourself to allow you to deny you are really doing anything wrong. Ask yourself some of these questions:
- do you regularly vent your frustration on your partner?
- do you tell yourself that your partner is overreacting to ‘being told off’?
- do you tell your partner they are ‘making a fuss about nothing’ or ‘making a mountain out of molehill’?
- do you tell yourself what you do is not that bad, so-and-so would be far worse?
- do you think that if your partner just didn’t ‘wind you up on purpose’ then the abuse would not happen?
- do you tell yourself that your partner deserved the abuse, because they are not perfect either?
- do you tell yourself that because you only get nasty when you are drunk, it isn’t really the same as if you were really abusive?
If you answered YES to any of the above, you may still not be taking full responsibility for your actions. It may be a good idea to discuss the abuse, your feelings about it and attitudes towards your partner with a third person, preferably someone not involved with either of you, such as a counsellor or helpline volunteer. Check out thelinks below.
There are several Perpetrator Programmes available throughout the UK (though not in all areas as yet) and many of these accept self-referals. To my knowledge, there are none at present that cater for female perpetrators of Domestic Abuse, but there are several counsellors and other professionals who are qualified to do so. RESPECT (see Links below) can provide you with a full list of either programmes or professionals in your area.
To find out what these Perpetrator Programmes entail, please check out with Respect which Perpetrator Programmes are available, and the BBC website Hitting Home also has some details and some personal stories and impressions from men and women who have been involved in such programmes (see Links below for the link to Hitting Home).
The Freedom Programme© also runs Home Study Courses for abusers which look at the underlying beliefs and attitudes which create an environment in which domestic abuse can occur together with the tactics employed to control or abuse. This course was designed and is now run by Pat Craven who worked for years with the most dangerous domestic violence offenders in the country. She knows her stuff!
If you are facing prosecution for violence towards your partner, the Court has got the option of referring you to such programmes, and there are further programmes organised and run by the Probation service – though these do not usually take self-referals. Attendance at one of these will often be included if you are on probation.
Several of our contacts have tried accessing help via their local GP or NHS service. Generally these have proven inadequate to their needs, and there is the usual problem of waiting lists. However, it is always worth checking with either you local GP or Health Center whether there are any local charities or organisations they can recommend or even refer you to. In a similar fashion, your local Social Services should have details of any perpetrator programmes or related services in your area, and are also able to refer.
If violence has been, and especially if it currently still is an issue in your relationship, then Couple Counselling is not recommended. Nor is Mediation if you are going through separation or divorce. Basically the abuse itself has to be dealt with BEFORE any form of joint counselling or mediation can be effective, and in the meantime can, at best, deflect from the actual problem and fudge responsibility issues.
In the past Anger Management courses have been recommended for abusers, especially men who have been violent towards their wives or female partners. However, more and more research seems to be indicating that such courses are not effective in dealing with abusive behaviour as such, as abuse is less about being able to control anger, and more about basic attitudes and control issues. In short, anger management may be part of the problem, but is usually not either the main problem or the root cause of Domestic Abuse.
It may, or it may not. Often by the time the perpetrator realises he or she has a problem, too much has already happened and the trust cannot be rebuilt. Sadly a lot of men will refer themselves to perpetrator programmes in a bid to stop their partner from leaving or even in a bid to persuade her to come back and give it another try. If you are seeking help with the sole intention or keeping or regaining a partner who has decided to leave due to your abuse, then you are probably approaching it with the wrong motives – more as a tool to get or keep what you want than as a necessary change in yourself.
Perpetrator programmes or counselling can really only help if YOU want to change. You may have to accept that due to your behaviour you have lost the person you love, but at the very least you can try to ensure that you do not cause more pain and hurt to the next person you get involved in.
Alcohol or Drug abuse. Frequently Domestic Violence is related to alcohol or drug abuse. It is easy to turn around and ‘blame’ the drink for the abuse, telling yourself that you really don’t want to be nasty, but that when you are drunk, you just don’t realise what you are doing. I am sorry, but this in itself is another form of denial and blame-shifting. If you know that you get violent or nasty when you drink, or that there is a risk that you will, why do you continue drinking, and putting your partner at risk? If you are serious about wanting to change your abusive tendencies, then the first thing you will do is deal with your alcohol or drug addiction, and then you will be free to deal with the underlying issues within yourself which ‘allow’ you to turn violent or nasty while either drunk or on drugs. (Read Alcohol and Domestic Violence for more information)
Survivors of childhood abuse. A percentage of abusers were victims of childhood abuse themselves. If you are one of them, know that it is not uncommon to internalise and in some way ‘act out’ the abuse you experienced in later in life on other people. There is help for you, and you would probably benefit from counselling to help you come to terms with your own experiences as a child and understand how they have affected you throughout your life and in respect of your relationships. Often there are a lot of suppressed feelings of anger, betrayal and pain which may in part be an underlying issue in the abuse you perpetrate on others. There are loads of support groups and counsellors qualified to help (please note that since Hidden Hurt does not in itself deal with child abuse, we do not include at present a list of suitable links or websites – check out the internet search engines or directories where many other websites deal with this issue in very adequately).
Taking time out. One tactic or coping mechanism that many abusers have learned to use effectively is ‘taking time out’. This basically involves recognising when you are reaching the point at which you are likely to become abusive, and literally removing yourself. You may go for a walk, go into another room or go down the garden and do some weeding. The important thing is to remove yourself ‘from the boil’, take time out, and learn to calm down again. Obviously it would be a good idea to tell your partner you intend ‘taking time out’ before the event occurs – or they may be left wondering what you are doing! It is not suggested that you use this coping tactic instead of counselling, but simply that many have found it helpful in avoiding abusive actions and making themselves more aware of what they are feeling and thinking.
Links and Helplines which may be useful:
The Freedom Programme – Runs courses on Domestic Abuse Awareness as well as training programmes for professionals. They now also have a home study course for perpetrators of domestic violence. Give it a try! For more information read our page about the Freedom Programme.
Blain Nelson’s Abuse Pages – A website created and maintained by an ex-abuser. Very descriptive pages on the cycle of abuse especially; his feelings and denial; ‘his’ and ‘her’ stories – a MUST READ for anyone who is concerned that they may be abusive!
RESPECT – The National Association for Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes and Associated Support Services. RESPECT hold a full list of Perpetrator Programmes in the UK (including those that accept self-referral), together with counsellors, etc trained in this field. Emai firstname.lastname@example.org .
Hitting Home – Part of the BBC Hitting Home website on Domestic Abuse. This link will take you straight to the page “Help for Abusers/Perpetrators”.