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Archive for January 2007

Is your partner emotionally abusive?

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In any successful marriage, you will find that the partners love, care and respect each other.

When you enter into a marital relationship, you expect your emotions to be respected and nurtured and vice versa.

Most people assume that if they’re not being physically abused by their partner, they’re not being abused. That’s not necessarily true. You might be in a relationship that is draining something from you; you may not even be aware that your partner has eroded your self-esteem and happiness.
“Although physical abuse is thought to be the most obvious form of abuse, emotional abuse has the potential to be even more devastating than physical abuse. This is because it is hard to prove and, thus, difficult to stop,” says psychologist Dr Vandana Mathur. Many people find that emotional abuse is difficult to even talk about, as others seldom take it seriously.

What is emotional abuse?

Abuse is any behaviour that controls and subjugates another person by means of fear, humiliation, intimidation, guilt, coercion, manipulation, etc. “Emotional abuse can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics like repeated disapproval,” says Dr Mathur.

Like other forms of violence in relationships, emotional abuse rests on the premise of power and control. “It eventually brainwashes the victim. It systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, self-worth and trust in their own perceptions,” says Vijay Malhotra (name changed), 28, a software engineer at an IT firm in Delhi, Vijay says he experienced emotional abuse in his marriage due to his wife’s constant criticism and diatribes.

Types of emotional abuse

Rejection: Refusing to acknowledge a person’s presence or worth; telling him/ her that he/ she is useless or inferior; devaluing her/ his thoughts and feelings.

Verbal assaults: Degrading, insulting, ridiculing, belittling, criticising, name calling, screaming, threatening, behaviour that, over time, erodes the identity, dignity and self-worth of the person.
Terrorism: Inducing terror or extreme fear in a person; intimidating; placing or threatening to send a person to an unfit or dangerous environment.

Isolation: Restricting normal contact with others; limiting freedom within the person’s own environment.

Unreasonable expectations: Placing unreasonable demands and wanting a person to put everything else aside to tend to their needs.

Constant chaos: Deliberately starting arguments and being in constant conflict with others. The person may be ‘addicted to drama’ since it creates a sense of excitement.

Denial: Denying a person’s emotional needs with the intent of hurting, punishing or humiliating him/ her. Also, denying that certain events occurred or that certain things were said by saying, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc. The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and even question your sanity.

Withholding: Another form of denying. It includes refusing to communicate and emotionally withdrawing from the other person as punishment; this is also known as the ‘silent treatment’.
Domination: Wanting to control your every action. They have to have their own way and will even resort to threats in order to do so. When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

Emotional blackmail: Playing on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, and other ’emotional buttons’ to get what they want. This could include threats to end the relationship, to totally reject or abandon you, or the use of other fear tactics to control you.

Invalidation: Undermining a person’s perceptions of their world. For example, if the recipient tells the abuser they felt hurt by something he/ she did or said, the abuser might say “You are too sensitive. That shouldn’t hurt you.”

Unpredictable responses: Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. This is damaging because it always keeps you on edge. An alcoholic, for example, is likely to act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking.

Irresponsible behaviour: Thinking every chore and duty in the marriage is the partner’s responsibilty. Not assisting in any work relating to the household, family or children. Adding to the burden by making cutting remarks about how poorly you manage the children/ household.

Cycle of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse often follows a pattern.

In the first phase, there is a build-up of tension and a breakdown in communication.

The second phase involves the actual incident of verbal and emotional abuse.

The third phase involves reconciliation. The abuser apologises, offers excuses, blames the victim, denies the abuse occurred, or says it wasn’t as bad as the victim claims.

Finally, in the fourth phase, there is calm. The incident is ‘forgotten’ and no abuse is taking place.

Then, after some time, the cycle repeats itself.

Characteristics of emotional abuse

~ Emotional abuse accompanies other forms of abuse, but can also occur on its own.

~ No abuse — neglect, physical, or financial — can occur without psychological consequences. Therefore, all abuse contains elements of emotional abuse.

~ Emotional abuse follows a pattern. It is repeated and sustained. If left unchecked, it only gets worse.

~ Emotional abuse can severely damage the victim’s sense of self-worth and perception.

Repercussions of emotional abuse

“Repeated verbal abuse such as blaming, ridiculing, insulting, swearing, yelling and humiliation has long-term negative effects on your self-esteem. It contributes to a perception of uselessness, worthlessness and self-blame,” says Geeta Singh (name changed), 27, a teacher who was a victim of abuse in her first marriage but was fortunate enough to get out of it.

The one-up position the abuser assumes by judging or demeaning the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that is the foundation of healthy adult relationships. This can result in what is known as ‘learned helplessness’.

“By threatening to physically harm a partner, the abuser dominates him/ her and shows that he/ she is more powerful. The partner feels extremely terrorised, vulnerable and powerless within the relationship. This kind of emotional abuse makes an abused person feel helpless and isolated,” says Dr Mathur.

“Jealousy, possessiveness and interrogation about a partner’s whereabouts and activities are examples of controlling behaviours that restrict a partner’s independence and freedom,” says Geeta.

“Emotional abuse can have serious physical and psychological consequences, including severe depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation from others, increased alcohol or drug use, emotional instability, sleep disturbances, physical complaints, extreme dependence and feelings of shame and self-blame,” says Dr Mathur.

Eventually, emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating emotional scars that can be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones.

Are you suffering from emotional abuse?

Take a moment to consider these questions. They will help you identify if you are being emotionally abused, and provide some ideas on what you can do about it.

Do you feel your partner controls your life?
Do you feel your partner doesn’t value your thoughts and feelings?
Does your partner ever criticise you, humiliate you, threaten/ intimidate you, or undermine your self-esteem?
Does your partner get angry and jealous if you talk to someone else? Are you accused of having affairs?
Do you get mixed messages, such as the reason you’re being abused is because he/ she loves you?
Does your partner tell you no one else would want you, or that you’re lucky he/ she takes care of you?
Does your partner use the children against you in arguments or threaten you’ll never see them again if you leave?
Does your partner blame you for whatever goes wrong?
Do you do anything you can to please your partner or not upset him/ her?
Have you noticed changes in your eating, sleeping or alcohol usage?
Do you feel sick, anxious, tired or depressed most of the time?
Have you lost self-confidence and are unable to make decisions for yourself?
Does your partner isolate you from friends, family or neighbours?
Do you sometimes feel trapped in the relationship?
Does your partner refuse to share household and family responsibilities?
What can you do about it

Realise that emotional abuse is a serious problem, and can be as bad or worse than physical abuse.
Emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse. Take the issue your own safety and the safety of your children (if any) seriously.
Know that you are not to blame for your partner’s abusive behaviour and that no one ever deserves to be abused.
Find people to talk to, who can support you. Consider going for counselling. If possible, convince your spouse to go as well. Take the help of your near and dear ones.
Know that you have the right to make your own decisions, in your own time, and that dealing with any type of abuse may take time.
Trust yourself and your own perceptions. Believe in your strengths.
Remember that you are not alone and help is available.
Getting your self-esteem back on track is a priority. Often, we allow people into our lives who treat us as we expect to be treated. If we are willing to tolerate negative treatment from others, it’s quite possible we treat ourselves the same way.

What sorts of things do you say to yourself? Do thoughts such as “I am no good” or “I never do anything right” dominate your thought process? Learning to love and care for yourself increases self-esteem and makes it more likely you will have healthy relationships.

Part I: Are you being physically abused?
Part III: Are you being financially abused?

Are you being physically abused?

Marriage has an almost immediate association with ‘happily ever after’ in our minds. A wedding is assumed to immediately bring changes for the better. Unfortunately, reality is different. Many marriages are full of abuse — physical, emotional, and financial.

In this, the first part of a three-part series, we take a look at physical abuse: what prompts it, what feeds it, and how to cope.

Three common problems in a marriage
It could happen to anyone

One of the common misconceptions is that educated, well-off families are free of domestic violence. “Physical abuse has no educational, economic, racial, gender, or religious boundaries,” says psychologist Dr Vandana Mathur.

“It [physical abuse] takes place in families from all walks of life. Either men or women can be the victim,” she adds. It might be hard to imagine, but whether a woman is a housewife or an engineer, and whether her husband is a chartered accountant or a labourer, has no direct relationship with abuse.

Psyche of an abuser

The dynamics of spousal abuse are complex. “There are many theories about violence leading to abuse and assault: hormonal or chemical imbalance, frustration, short temper, lack of self-control, childhood trauma, genetic and/ or physiological abnormality, etc,” says Dr Mathur.

The psyche of an abuser is complicated. Beneath the brutality there may be insecurity, self-doubt, anger and resentment towards others, unhappiness with life, jealousy, perhaps a mental illness.

Some cases are ‘learned responses’. The male abuser may have been raised in a violent environment, where he was abused himself or saw his mother abused. If a woman is violent with her husband, she may have a history of violent acts against others.

“In men, it is sometimes related to male chauvinism — perceiving that men are superior and the boss, while women should obey,” says Dr Mathur.

“Many of these violent men internally feel their women are more capable and smarter. They may experience powerlessness, vulnerability, dependency and low self-esteem. As a result, they may put their spouse down in an effort to exercise control and dominate her,” she adds.

Not just the men

Women too can sometimes be the perpetrators of domestic violence. Some women may have the same fears and weaknesses as men and may be in a situation where they can physically abuse their partner. “My best friend’s wife has been physically aggressive with him a few times when she has lost her temper,” reveals Rakesh Kumar, 29, a software engineer.

But most psychologists say women are much less abusive than men.

“Men eventually cause more physical damage than women. There is a great difference between a female slap to the cheek and a hard male blow to the face, which causes damage. A slap expresses hurt feelings, but a blow demonstrates raw, destructive and intimidating aggression,” says Dr Mathur.

How the vicious cycle of abuse begins

The initial steps toward severe abuse may involve psychological aggression — yelling, threatening, swearing, putting the other person down, insulting, etc.

“Sometimes, the abuser doesn’t even realise s/ he is being abusive,” says Geeta Singh (name changed), 27, a teacher who was a victim of abuse in her first marriage and managed to get out of the relationship in time.

Once this progresses into mild physical aggression, it frequently escalates into very severe forms of physical aggression. The victim may be traumatised and cruelly dominated to the extent s/ he feels helpless and worthless.

“The abused becomes so unable to confront the abuser that s/ he cannot walk out either. In fact, the most dangerous time is when s/he is trying to walk out,” Singh adds.

The pattern

There are three different phases in marital abuse.

1. Conflict and tension:
Every time a small negative incident occurs, tension in the relationship increases. This tension, eventually, brings on the next phase. Usually, the first phase lasts for long periods of time.

2. Abuse: This phase is usually set off by a particular event or set of circumstances, which are rarely the same and are mostly unpredictable. It leaves the abused person physically and emotionally shattered.

Initially, there is shock and disbelief. More often than not, the abused chooses to forgive the abuser, remains silent and doesn’t expose him/ her, although the sense of helplessness and feeling of hatred may increase.

3. Guilt and regret: This is when the abuser seems to be to be overcome with remorse, working hard to make up for what s/ he has done with apparent acts of kindness and promises to never abuse again. “The spouse, in most cases a woman, usually welcomes this phase because she desperately wants to believe that her husband is sincere and wants things to be okay,” says Singh. This phase may last a day or a few months. Eventually, however, the tensions begin to mount again and the cycle repeats itself.

Understanding the silence

Outsiders wonder: Why do they remain together? Why doesn’t s/ he leave?

Complex dynamics — which can only be speculated upon — keep an abusive couple together. There may be emotional bonds, fears, guilt, children to care for, financial problems, and an underlying hope that things will improve.

Many women are afraid to report the abuse for fear of a backlash. “She is afraid of losing everything she considers dear — her husband, her children, her home, her financial support [in some cases], her family reputation, and her emotional and physical well-being, to name a few,” says Singh.

“Most abused women have a need to be loved and keep hoping to get this love — hence they tolerate the abuse,” says Nishi Tripathi, 28, whose friend Malini (name changed), a housewife, suffered abuse for three years until her husband finally agreed to undergo counselling. “At the same time, they feel wronged, hurt, and angry,” she adds.

If it happens to you

The most important thing you need to do is be strong. Deal with the situation rationally. Do not tolerate suffering and humiliation. Learn to be self-sufficient and confident.

These important steps can help you avoid and deal with marital abuse:

1. See the signs: Psychological or verbal aggression should be considered an early warning sign that physical abuse is around the corner. Take verbal assaults and fits of rage very seriously.

2. Don’t take the blame: Don’t take responsibility for the abuse being inflicted upon you. Don’t assume it will get better if you ignore the problem or work harder to pacify your spouse. Try your best to move away from the situation.

3. Break the silence: Tell your parents, an elder, or your close friend and take their help.

4: Get to a safe place: “If there exists immediate danger to your life, go to a friend or family member’s house where you can safely call for help,” advises Nishi. In most cases, it is wise to report the abuse to the police.

5: Try counselling: Try to get your spouse to agree to it when s/ he is in the guilty phase. Your spouse may be suffering from a mental illness and treatment may help. Try to convince your spouse or talk to his/ her close ones for help.

If you are the abuser

There are various self-control responses — called stress inoculation techniques — the abuser can practise.

“They block the decisions to take frustrations personally and help you to think of the situation differently, thus helping to avoid getting sucked into the whirlpool of rage,” says Dr Mathur. For example, when encountering a serious, scary issue, think: I should calm down, I can handle this rationally. When wanting to retaliate in an intensely destructive way, think: I’m not going to lower myself to this level. Is there a solution to this?

The bottom line

No form of abuse is acceptable, no matter what the excuses may be. No person should ever become physically aggressive, including physical threats, with another person — and certainly not a loved one. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, don’t accept it at any cost — take proactive measures so you can live your life with the dignity and respect you deserve.

Money problems in your marriage?

Mutual sharing is essential in a marriage. Though every family has their own way of handling finances, it’s an area where there should be complete transparency and honesty between the two partners.

Unfortunately, money is sometimes used as a means of controlling one’s partner. This is known as financial abuse. It is a form of domestic violence where an abuser uses money as a means to gain power and dominance over his/ her victim.

“Financial abuse is very often accompanied by other forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse, physical abuse and/ or denial of rights. The abuser uses fear and intimidation to bully his victim; he may actually even use or threaten to use physical violence,” says psychologist Dr Vandana Mathur.

What constitutes financial abuse

Consider the following hypothetical scenario — a husband persuades his working wife to open a joint account. Within a few months, the wife discovers that a considerable amount of money has been withdrawn (because it is a joint account, either party can withdraw money from the account). When she confronts her husband about it, he says he needed the money to pay off some debts. What’s wrong in this scenario is that it was done without the wife’s knowledge.

“Financial abuse generally occurs when there is greed or a need on the part of the abuser — for example, he is under financial pressure, there is an opportunity (the abuser has access to funds or property), and/ or there exists a false sense of entitlement (“I deserve it”; “I am owed”),” says Dr Mathur.

Forms of financial abuse
Financial abuse can take many forms. Money becomes a tool by which the abuser can control the victim, ensuring his/ her financial dependence on the abuser.

“An abuser may deny his or her partner money. One way this is done is by forbidding the partner to be employed. This makes the non-working partner dependent upon the abuser for money. Some financially abused women have to beg their partner for everyday necessities such as food and/ or children’s expenses. If an abuser does allow his/ her spouse to work, the spouse may be required to hand over his/ her paycheck each month to the abuser,” says Dr Mathur.

Financial abuse includes withholding money from the victim or controlling money very tightly. The victim is not allowed to have any of his/ her own money and has to account for every rupee given. There may be theft of money or possessions, use of a credit card without permission, and forging of signatures on cheques or other documents.

Often, an abuser gives the spouse insufficient funds for meeting his/ her needs; this amount too, has to be accounted for in detail. Or, he/ she may refuse to share equally in financial expenses. They may give a small amount as their share and expect their partner to manage. They may chide their partner to lower expenses, but refuse to take on the responsibility of doing so.

Many financial abusers will put all of the family bills on their spouse’s name. Moreover, the abuser will not permit his/ her spouse to see bank records, bills or credit records. Often, financial abusers are not good with money and end up destroying the credit of their spouse.

“My wife used to keep withdrawing money from my account in large amounts. Initially, she said it was for house purchases. Later, when it continued and I decided to investigate, I came to know she had been giving all the money to her brother, who is unemployed, without my knowledge,” laments Vijay Malhotra (name changed), 28, a software engineer in an IT firm in Delhi.

Financial abuse also occurs when an abuser forces his/ her spouse to sell personal belongings or property. Theft, fraud, forgery, extortion and the wrongful use of a Power of Attorney are other forms of financial abuse. Such exploitation may occur without the victim’s knowledge.

Cases in point

Geeta Singh (name changed), 27, a teacher who was a victim of abuse in her first marriage, says, “I was not allowed to spend money the way I wanted. My ex tried to force me to sell my property and sign a Power of Attorney. Some of my belongings were missing too.”

Vijay’s plight was no less difficult. “I discovered unusual activity in my joint bank accounts. Several withdrawals, of large amounts of money, took place in a short time. These included ATM withdrawals. There were numerous unpaid bills, such as overdue rent, utilities and taxes. Moreover, cheques were bouncing when there should have been adequate resources.”

Some financial abusers refuse to work, putting the burden on their partners to keep the household running. However, the money earned by the working victim is mishandled and squandered by the abuser. “My assistant’s husband is unemployed and an alcoholic. She tells me that whenever, she goes home, he asks her for money to sustain his habit. If she doesn’t give it to him, he physically abuses her,” says Anjali Singh, 27, a manager with a finance company in Delhi.

Geeta adds, “My bank officials told me that, when they called my house, my ex-husband told them I was not around and hence unavailable to speak to them. He tried to gain control of the account.”

Anjali provides another example, “I know a couple where the wife, though from a well-to-do business family, was not very well educated. Her husband got her to sign a Power of Attorney even though she was unable to comprehend the financial implications. She signed the papers without knowing what they were about. Ultimately, most of her assets were transferred to his name, without her even having an inkling of what happened.”

What you can do about it

Be aware of your family’s assets. Know where important documents like passbooks, chequebooks, investment certificates, financial statements, birth certificates, and passports (both yours and that of your family members) are kept.
Become financially independent. Know your rights.
Don’t sign any document unless you are sure exactly what that document says and what you are agreeing to.
Try to arrive at an arrangement where chances of your exploitation are less. For example, you can maintain a separate account for your personal use. A separate joint account can be maintained for family expenses. This way, if financial abuse does occur, the extent of damage will at least be limited and you will not go bankrupt.
Find people to talk to, who can support you. Consider going for counselling. If possible, convince your spouse to go as well. Take the help of your near and dear ones.
Realise that, though financial abuse is a serious problem, but you are not to be blamed for your partner’s behaviour.

Remember, you have the right to make your own financial decisions, in your own time.

Finally, don’t give up — dealing with any type of abuse takes time. Once you are aware of it and start taking remedial measures, a solution will soon be in sight.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

January 30, 2007 at 10:34 am

Posted in Psychology

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