Song of Sorrow: Recognizing the Signs of Domestic Abuse

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More than a year ago now I gave the eulogy at the funeral of my best friend of 30 years.

Full1111.jpgAs young girls we shared secrets and helped each other through the ups and downs of high school. I was her maid of honor at her first wedding. Being a best friend has many honors and benefits. We often talked about growing old together and becoming a couple of feisty old ladies. I never imagined that our friendship would end so soon. My friend was dead at the young age of 43, murdered at the hands of her estranged husband.

According to author Jeanne Warren Lindsay: “One-third to one-half of all American women are, at some time, beaten by their husbands or lovers. Somewhere in the United States a woman is beaten every 18 seconds.” These are cold, hard facts –ones that came into focus for me after my friend became a domestic-violence statistic. And none of these facts can reflect the huge toll domestic violence takes in the lives of the victim’s family and friends.

As I recall many telephone conversations with my friend – who had moved across the country – I now hear clues and warning signals of what was going on in her life. She was giving me hints about the horror her second marriage had brought. I just wasn’t aware enough to pick up on the signs she was sharing as best she could.

I wish I had understood that victims of domestic violence feel ashamed, even guilty for the abuse they are suffering and that my friend probably felt embarrassed and damaged in some way. For this reason, it was difficult – if not impossible – for her to tell me exactly what was going on in her life. In the end, she was receiving help from a domestic-violence assistance program, she had obtained a restraining order against her soon-to-be ex-husband and was beginning to put the pieces of her life back together. She never got the chance.

Often, the time a woman and her children are most at risk is when leaving the abusive relationship. It is much too late to help save my friend, but if there is one life that’s made better by understanding this devastating lifestyle, then, perhaps the loss of her life won’t be totally in vain.

Some 30 percent of us know someone who has suffered some form of domestic violence within the last year. Take some time to learn about the patterns of abuse and the warning signs of domestic violence:

Warning Signs of a Potential or Actual Batterer

  • A push for quick involvement. Comes on very strong, claiming: “I’ve never felt loved like this by anyone.”
  • Jealous of time with coworkers, friends and family.
  • Controls comings and goings, money and insists on “helping” make personal decisions.
  • Isolation. Cuts off supportive resources such as telephone pals and friends at work.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Expects a “perfect woman” to meet his every need.
  • Blames others for his problems. Unemployment, family quarrels, etc.
  • Hypersensitivity. Easily annoyed by daily life occurrences. Makes everyone else responsible for his feelings: The abuser says, “You make me angry” instead of, “I am angry” or “You’re hurting me by not doing what I tell you to do.”
  • Cruelty to animals or children. Insensitive to pain and suffering; may tease and/or hurt children and pets.
  • “Playful” use of force in sex. May throw the partner down and hold her down during sex. May demand sex when she is ill or tired.
  • Verbal abuse. Says cruel and hurtful things, degrades and humiliates; wakes partner up to verbally abuse.
  • Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality. Sudden mood swings and unpredictable behavior.
  • Past history of battering with the excuse that he was “pushed over the edge.”
  • Threatrens violence. Says, “I’ll kill you,” or “I’ll break your neck.”
  • Breaking or striking objects. Breaks possessions, throws objects at partner and children.
  • Rigid sex roles. He expects service, obediance and his wife at home.
  • Uses force during arguments. Holds her down or against a wall. Pushes, shoves, slaps or kicks. This behavior can easily escalate to choking.

– reprinted from Dear Abby

Helping a Friend in an Abusive Relationship

  1. Tell her it’s not her fault. She can never let someone else hurt her.
  2. Tell her she’s not crazy. A person who’s been abused often feels upset, depressed, confused and scared. Let her know these are normal feelings to have.
  3. Don’t try to pretend that the abuse isn’t happening, or that it isn’t that bad. Let your friend know that you take it very seriously; pretending it’s no big deal doesn’t make it go away.
  4. Tell her good things about herself. Let her know you think she’s smart, strong, and brave. Her abuser is telling her she is stupid and tearing down her self-esteem.
  5. Try to help your friend break out of the isolation her abuser has put her in. Keep in contact with her on the phone or by taking her out.
  6. Don’t spread gossip – it could put her in danger.
  7. Don’t try to make her do anything she doesn’t want to (it won’t work unless it’s her decision).
  8. Encourage her to build a wide support system – go to a support group, talk to friends and family.
  9. Don’t blame her for the abuse or her decisions; leaving an abusive relationship is hard and usually takes a long time.
  10. See if she needs medical attention – she may not realize her injuries.
  11. Give her good information about abuse – she can call a local crisis line and get information about the impact of abuse on children.
  12. Tell her that domestic violence is a crime and she can call 911 for help. If it’s not safe to stay on the phone with the operator, run or go to a safe place.
  13. Help her develop a safety plan for the time while she stays and when she leaves.
  14. Listen. Let her express all her fears and other feelings. Even giving her good advice in a kind and respectful manner can be received as pressure and/or a reminder of everything she is not doing “right.”
  15. Don’t initially challenge or reject her feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment. Give her time. She needs to come to her own conclusions about her self-defeating thinking. If she follows what you say, then she has substituted one kind of dependence for another.
  16. Don’t blame or attack the abuser. It will confuse her and, perhaps, make her feel the need to defend him. Up to now she may have found some internal peace by making excuses for the person who says he loves her yet can abuse her so badly.
  17. Be patient. Her self-empowerment may take longer than you want. Go at the victim’s pace, not yours, unless the danger is imminent.
  18. Ask her about the children. Encourage her to talk about the effects this is having on them. Validate those concerns. It may help her decide to leave.
  19. Don’t give up. Let her know you will always be there for her when she may need help or just needs someone to talk to.

– Adapted from Women’s Rural Advocacy Program,
“The Basics of Being Supportive” at letswrap.com.

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