Understanding Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is an issue that affects a huge number of people and that is far from rare. One in every four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, and it’s not just women who can be victims either with the phenomenon affecting men, homosexual relationships, parent/child relationships and the elderly as well. Two women die every week as a result of domestic abuse, while a man dies once every 17 days.

Despite this though, it still remains a topic that is largely ‘under the radar’. It is uncomfortable for us to talk about, and difficult to understand, and so often it gets swept under the carpet. This is the worst thing that we can do, and the reason that so many victims continue to suffer. Here we will look at some of the facts regarding domestic abuse, and some of the issues that make it such a delicate and difficult subject. With better understanding and awareness, hopefully we can start to see fewer cases.

What Is Domestic Abuse?

Before we continue it’s important to define what is meant by domestic abuse. Abuse is a broad term that can come in a variety of different forms – including controlling, blaming, financial destitution, threatening, coercing, addicting, undermining, injuring, stalking, insulting and more. In most scenarios more than one of these forms of abuse will be present with the abuser being physically, emotionally and verbally abusive in ways that are both overt and subtle.

This is partly what makes the issue so difficult to control and prevent – in many cases what the abuser is doing is not ‘illegal’ as such, and the gradual increase in abusive behaviour makes it difficult to identify when the line has been crossed. In short though, if you suspect that you could be in an abusive relationship then it’s imperative to get out as soon as possible.

Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?

When you speak to someone about domestic abuse, often they will fail to understand why a victim doesn’t just ‘leave’ the relationship instead of ‘allowing’ it to carry on. This view fails to take into account the complex psychological issues that are involved, or the difficult situations the victims are often put in.


The most obvious reason that many women (and men) stay in abusive relationships is fear. This might mean fear for their own lives should they leave, or it could mean fear for their families. Often an abuser will threaten to kill the victim – or even themselves – should they try to leave and this is a real and justified fear when you consider just how many deaths do occur.

Fear can also take other forms too. In many cases the individual will be fearful of the unknown, and that all leaving a partner could entail. It may mean becoming financially independent for the first time, or it may mean getting into a much worse situation.


A psychological phenomenon that’s very relevant here is one called ‘learned helplessness’. This term original coined in the book ‘Battered Women’ which dealt with this issue, but has since been studied in research settings. Here classical conditioning teaches the individual to become almost ‘accepting’ of their situation (evolutionary psychologists may suggest that this is a form of self-preservation) and to stop trying to seek a solution. With their self-esteem crushed, and their trust in others destroyed, a victim may very well feel that their situation is ‘hopeless’ and that there is no way for them to escape.

Culture and Society

In some cases the expectations of a person’s culture and society can make it difficult for them to leave their relationships. A Catholic for instance might not agree with divorce, while parents who don’t know what is going on might try and convince a victim to stay with their partner. With other commitments and responsibilities such as work or even children, it can seem almost impossible to leave in some cases.

Love and Emotional Manipulation

Finally the victim may still have feelings for their partner despite their actions toward them and this can make them very confused when it comes to leaving. The use of violence and manipulation will usually be a gradual thing meaning that the victim will often hope that things will ‘go back to the way they were’. In many cases the victim will even blame themselves for the outbursts which is something that many abusers will take advantage of – breaking down and crying or promising never to do it again.

Abusers will also often blame alcoholism, stress or other factors on their behaviour to make it seem as though it’s ‘not really them’ which further gives the victim reason to hope that they’ll see sense. In reality though there is no excuse for abusive behaviour and if it has occurred once then it will almost always occur again. The only way to break the cycle is for the victim to end the relationship and for the abuser to get help.

The Cycle of Abuse

Key to understanding domestic abuse is the ‘cycle of abuse’ which is:

Build-Up, Explosion, Honeymoon

In other words there will be a gradual build-up of tension over time, followed by an explosive release of anger on the part of the abuser (at which point they may beat the victim or abuse them verbally) and then finally a ‘honeymoon’ period when things will seem to be normal again for a while. This cycle can take place over minutes, days, months or even years but is always present and once it has started it will always continue unless something breaks the cycle. Generally the honeymoon period will tend to become shorter and shorter with time and may almost disappear entirely eventually.

Often victims describe the feeling as ‘walking on egg shells’ and feel like anything they say or do might lead to an outburst. Thus they will often try to avoid doing anything that could potentially upset their abuser and cater to their every whim – but no attempt to appease them will ever be enough. In truth it is not the victim that causes the cycle, but rather the abuser: they get a sense of empowerment from exerting themselves over their victim which they can find almost ‘addictive’ (often this stems from a low self-esteem). In short, the victim doesn’t cause the behaviour and so there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Recognizing this is the first step that a victim can take to seeking help.

The Solution

Obviously there is no easy solution in cases of domestic abuse, but there are things we can do as a society to combat it and reduce prevalence. Talking about the problem for one is an important way to combat the feelings of isolation often felt by victims, and to let them know it’s okay to ask for help. It’s important for friends, family, police and counsellors to listen to the victims without judging or accusing and to explain to them what their options are. We need to find ways to reduce the fear that they have of leaving and to make sure that they stop blaming the environment or themselves for their abuser’s behaviour and instead start seeing them as sick and destructive individuals who need help.

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Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics.

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