Coping with Domestic Abuse: A Help Guide
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is an association for UK-based counselling professionals. It supports practitioners, enabling them to provide a better service.
Domestic abuse can be experienced in a number of different ways. The abuse can be categorised as physical, psychological, sexual or financial. Domestic abuse can take place within intimate relationships or family relationships in a household. The behavior of a perpetrator is controlling and coercive.
Domestic abuse affects many people. The exact number of cases is unknown due to many cases going unreported. However estimates show that 45% women and 26% of men in the UK have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse since the age of 16 years (Walby and Allen, 2004). The same research indicates that women are much more likely to be victims of multiple incidents of abuse.
Further research shows that women are more likely to experience domestic violence from an intimate partner/former partner. Men are also much more likely to be repeat perpetrators (Coleman et al., 2007). Shockingly, two women per week are killed by a current or former partner in the UK.
As domestic abuse is such a concern, there are many services that offer support and advice for victims and their children.
There are a number of obstacles that can get in the way of a domestic abuse victim changing their situation. There can be many psychological and practical difficulties when ending a relationship.
Some victims may be in denial about the severity of their partner’s/ family member’s actions. They may create excuses in their mind and to other people such as, ‘they have been having a bad time recently’, ‘they have a problem with anger and can’t help it’, ‘they were drunk’, ‘they suffer from mental illness’ or ‘my partner is allowed to do that to me’. It is important to note that there are no excuses for abusive behavior and that it is always wrong.
Victims may also minimize what has happened, ‘It was only a couple of pushes’ or ‘They didn’t hit me that hard’. This is another way of trying to cope with the reality of such a bad situation which can often lead to an abusive relationship lasting for a long time.
Some victims can falsely believe as if they deserve the abuse and that it is their fault. Some perpetrators can make the victim feel in this way by saying statements such as ‘you drove me to that’, or ‘that was all your fault’. However, it is very important to note that there is no excuse or justification for abusive behavior and that the victim is not to blame.
Some victims fear how the perpetrator will respond if they do something to change their situation. For example, they may fear that if they end the relationship or leave the household, that the perpetrator will become very aggressive and even more violent (post-separation abuse). The police and domestic abuse organizations offer safety support and advice.
They may also fear other possible consequences of ending a relationship such as changes in housing, family, friendships, location and finances. We have an underlying fear of the unknown; however in the case of domestic abuse, the ‘unknown’ option can often be much better and safer. In this case it is also important to know that there are services available that specialize in keeping victims safe.
Many people stay in abusive relationships in the hope that their partner will change and will stop being abusive. This can especially be the case for co-dependent relationships. This can mean that the victim is dependent on the perpetrator for something, such as financial stability. Again it is important to know that there are services available to support and advise victims regarding co-dependency issues.
Some victims who have children remain in abusive relationships when they would like to ‘keep the family together’. However in many cases both the victim and children are happier and safer when the abusive relationship among parents ends.
In addition, many victims struggle with the idea of being single and can fear loneliness. This is natural to feel this way however in time a social network can be formed among anyone willing to try.
It can be seen that there are a number of different reasons for why some victims do nothing to change their situation. Importantly, these can all be overcome, especially with the right support.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse focus on themselves and do not care about the needs of their victim/s. They generally have a deep rooted desire for power and control in which their behavior reflects. Abusers generally have very low self-esteem and can have a fear of abandonment.
Physical abuse involves any physical contact which is intended to cause intimidation, threat or injury. Some examples include pushing, scratching, holding tightly, twisting arms, hitting, spitting at, poking, scalding, burning, tripping over, kicking, biting and beating.
Psychological/emotional abuse can be very varied and can involve deliberate manipulation, tormenting, and causing trauma, anxiety and depression. This can also involve lowering someone’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Many perpetrators will emotionally attack their victim’s identity, confidence, sense of independence and dignity. Some forms of common psychological abuse involve not letting the victim have any control over their own life, telling them that no one else wants or likes them, blackmailing and threatening them.
Sexual abuse involves sexual activity of any kind whereby the victim is forced to do something against their wishes. This can involve intercourse, touching, violence during sex, forcing someone to have sex with others or in front of others, forcing someone to view sexual material and forcing someone to be sexually photographed against their wishes. All of these acts are also classed as sexual abuse when you are in a relationship or marriage with someone. No one has a right to sexually abuse you including your partner.
Financial abuse is when the perpetrator uses money as a way of controlling someone. This can include withholding money, preventing the victim from getting a job, demanding all the available money, making the victim live in poverty and forcing the victim to beg for money.
For further information on identifying domestic abuse, see the women’s aid website, ‘The Survivors handbook’. This is a useful questionnaire that allows you to identify domestic abuse.
There are many possible consequences of domestic abuse, especially if the abuse is long term.
Firstly, there is the risk of harm for the victim, both physically and mentally. During physical and sexual abuse the risk of harm is very high. Many victims suffer injuries which can sometimes be fatal. During physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse, victims are highly likely to suffer psychologically. Many victims can develop psychological difficulties and mental health issues. Such problems include depression, anxiety disorders, psychosomatic symptoms, high stress levels, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction and very low self-esteem.
If children are subjected to domestic abuse this can have a high impact on them too. In general, children will be badly affected in terms of psychological health and well-being when observing domestic abuse or being a victim themselves. Some children will also grow up to believe that abusive behavior is acceptable and they may become abusive themselves. There is also a risk of physical harm to children when a parent is abusive around them.
Pregnant women and unborn babies are particularly susceptible to harm. Domestic abuse is found to be one of the leading causes of death whilst pregnant or during childbirth.
There are a number of options that individuals can consider when experiencing domestic abuse.
One option is to stay in the relationship in hope the perpetrator will make some changes and the abuse will stop. In this case, the perpetrator will need to be very remorseful of their actions and be highly motivated to change. It may be that extra support is required for an individual to learn how to control their anger. For further information please see our other free guide available, ‘anger management’. Unfortunately, many perpetrators will never change which is why the victim should be realistic and set firm boundaries if considering this option.
Another option is to end the relationship and breakaway from the abuse. There are many services, locally and nationally that specialize in supporting victims in this way. Services offer varied types of support including emotional support, housing advice, financial advice, counselling and therapy and victim safety.
Call 999 if in immediate danger.
Women’s Aid - (Women's Aid is the key national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. They work with victims in supporting them in a number of different ways) - www.womensaid.org.uk
English National Domestic Violence Helpline - 0808 2000 247 - www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk
Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline - 0808 80 10 800 - www.allwaleshelpline.org.uk
Women’s Aid Federation (Northern Ireland) - 0800 917 1414 - www.womensaidni.org
Scottish Women’s Aid - 0800 027 1234 - www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk
Men’s Advice Line - 0808 801 0327 - www.mensadviceline.org.uk
Forced marriage Unit- (To support victims of forced marriages) - 020 7008 0151 - www.gov.uk/forced-marriage
Karma Nirvana- (Supporting victims of honour crimes and forced marriages) - 0800 5999 247 - www.karmanirvana.org.uk
The Domestic violence disclosure scheme- (Commonly known as Clare’s Law, after Clare Wood who was murdered in 2009 by her boyfriend. This gives members of the public able to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, when there is concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner)- https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/domestic-violence-disclosure-scheme
Speak to 999 or your local police station to report domestic abuse- it is a serious crime.
Many victims benefit from further support in overcoming the trauma of domestic abuse. The helplines above may be able to suggest some specialist services. In addition, some refuges will offer counselling services.
Further methods of seeking therapeutic services can include via the NHS. This could involve seeing your GP and asking for a referral to see someone regarding overcoming domestic abuse.
Local charities or organisations may provide support groups, therapy and advice in your local or near-by area. Try the internet to search for local domestic abuse charities and organizations.
Search through online directories or contact your council for organisations that offer can therapeutic help. (Harley Therapy is one such clinic)
When seeing a healthcare professional you are likely to be offered an initial assessment. You will be some questions to identify the issues, causes and problems with a view to understanding and assisting you to recovery.
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Coleman, Kathryn, Jansson, Krista, Kaiza, Peter and Reed, Emma (2007) Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate violence 2005/6: Supplementary. Volume 1 to Crime in England and Wales 2005-6. Office for National Statistics.
Walby, Sylvia and Allen, Jonathan (2004) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey (London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate)
Women’s Aid- www.womensaid.org.uk
World Health Organisation (WHO) (1997) Violence against women: A priority health issue (Geneva: WHO).
Disclaimer: This Guide has been produced to complement but does not replace any advice, guidance or information from a health professional. See here for full disclaimer.
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Harley Therapy Ltd. “Domestic Abuse Help Guide.”. Harley Therapy, 16 Sep. 2019, https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/domestic-abuse-help-guide.htm. Accessed 18 Sep. 2021.
Harley Therapy Ltd. (2019, September 16). Domestic Abuse Help Guide.. Retrieved from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/domestic-abuse-help-guide.htm
Harley Therapy Ltd. "Domestic Abuse Help Guide.." Last modified September 16, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2021. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/domestic-abuse-help-guide.htm.