As a therapist specializing in the treatment of trauma and PTSD, I have worked with many survivors of domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) who come into my office unsure of the abuse that is present. I hear a lot “Well he hasn’t hit me so it must not be that bad”. Part of the education process I do with patients is around power and control. The Power and Control Wheel mentions eight specific forms of abuse that are common in intimate partner violence.
- Using Intimidation- This includes things like breaking things, destroying property, violent gestures, and displaying weapons. Perpetrators will used intimation to gain power and control and frighten the survivor.
- Using Emotional Abuse- This includes things like putting their partner down, name calling, humiliating their partner, playing mind games, and gas-lighting. Often when I see physical violence in a relationship, emotion abuses is almost always present prior to the physical abuse.
- Using Isolation- Unfortunately this is extremely common in DV relationships. The goal here for the perpetrator is to isolate their partner in order to gain control. This includes controlling who their partner sees and talks to, controlling where they go, limiting outside involvement, and often isolating their partner from friends and family. I once had a patient who came to me who’s partner had her believing that friends and family are unimportant and all she needed in her life was him. Perpetrators will use this tactic to create dependency and make it more difficult for survivors to leave.
- Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming- This includes making light of the abuse, shifting responsibility for the abuse, saying the partner caused it or deserved it, and saying the abuse didn’t happen. This can lead survivors to questioning themselves and minimize the abuse themselves.
- Using Children- This form of abuse can be particularly damaging to both the partner being abused and the children who are being put in the middle or used. This includes using children to relay messages, using visitations to harass their partner, threatening to take the children away, and making their partner feel guilty about the children being separated. When children get put in the middle it can create long lasting trauma for them.
- Using Male Privilege- While intimate partner violence can happen in same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships where the male is being abused, in heterosexual couples where the female is being abused, this is often present. This includes treating her like a servant, making all the big decisions, and being the one to define gender roles. An example of this may be not allowing her to work because “Women are supposed to stay at home” which is a common theme I hear with survivors.
- Using Economic Abuse- Often this contributes to further isolation for survivors and makes it harder for them to leave. This includes keeping their partner from getting or keeping a job, making them ask for money, taking all of their money, and not letting them know about or have access to family income. This is a common thing I hear when survivors are wanting to leave but feel unable to because they feel they have nowhere to go due to their partner controlling all the money.
- Using Coercion and Threats- This includes making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt their partner, threatening to commit suicide if their partner leaves, making their partner do illegal things, threatening to report partner to immigration, and making their partner drop charges.
While this is in no way a fully comprehensive list of ways survivors can be abused, it goes to show that intimate partner violence includes much more than physical abuse and assault. As mentioned above, intimate partner violence can happen in same-sex relationships and can happen in heterosexual relationships where the man is being abused. Regardless of the kind of abuse, abusers use tactics to gain power and control over their partner.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, education can be a key factor in creating a plan to leave the abusive relationship. Safety planning is a big part of the education process because studies show the most dangerous time in a DV relationship is when the survivor is attempting to leave. While there is no way to guarantee safety, creating a plan can help minimize dangers and help survivors take steps forward toward finding freedom.
Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors. Call Shannon today to book your first appointment.