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Understanding the Myths 

Stereotypes and myths create stigma, which makes it even harder for people to summon up their courage to seek support, thereby increasing risk for those living in abusive relationships. These attitudes add to feelings of despair, and isolation often felt by those suffering and are profoundly unfair.

Myth 1: 

Isn’t domestic abuse just all about hitting? Surely being emotionally abused isn’t that bad?

It is common in relationships to experience times when a partners behaviour affects our feelings and emotions, and using such behaviour would be unhealthy. But if a partners behaviour such as undermining you, criticising you, name calling, making you feel guilty, means that you feel like you are  no longer  able to express yourself , if you feel you are having to change your actions to try to reduce this type of behaviour from your partner, then it is abusive. 

People who have been abused in several ways often say that it was the emotional abuse that had the most effect on them. Being undermined continuously, criticised and humiliated can turn someone who was once confident and outgoing into a nervous and anxious person with little self-confidence.

Myth 2:

People choose to stay so it can’t be that bad. Otherwise, they would leave!

People develop relationships and meet partners in lots of different ways and for different reasons, and often abusive behaviours at the start of a relationship can be hard to identify. At the start of a relationship, people are often trying to put their best selves forward, and some behaviours may be mistaken for being romantic in the first stages of a relationship. For example, receiving lots of text messages asking how you are, what are you doing, may feel like the other person is really interested in you, but this behaviour can be an indicator of a partner wanting to maintain knowledge of what you are doing all the time, which can result in isolation and a feeling of increased dependency on a partner. 

Often survivors say they had no idea that they were in an abusive relationship. Besides, a consequence of domestic abuse can be that people’s self-confidence has been so badly knocked that they do not have the confidence or belief they deserve better or that “love” isn’t supposed to be like “this” or that they can leave.

There is no “just” about leaving. Statistically, to escape and flee domestic abuse is the most dangerous time when abusive behaviours often escalate. 

To leave a partner if you live together or have children, or where there is financial dependency can be a barrier to leaving too. Survivors of abuse often say they love their partner, but want the abuse to stop. They may not realise it’s not how a relationship should be and may not know about the help available.

The reasons why someone may not leave an abusive relationship can be complex, due to emotional and practical reasons. The offer of support from specialist services can support people who may want to remain in the relationship, who may want to leave, or who may have left. Reach out or encourage others you know to reach out for specialist support.

Myth 3: 

It always takes 2 to tango; surely sometimes abuse is due to being provoked somehow. 

It is common for relationships to include unhealthy behaviours from time to time, and we are likely to identify some unhealthy behaviours we use ourselves. Using unhealthy behaviours and responses in a relationship can be a factor for increased tensions and can result in arguments. While some of these behaviours may be difficult and take time to change, because that is how we have learnt to deal with certain situations, there is still a choice.  

No one ever deserves to be abused no matter what they have has said or done. The idea that provocation leads to abuse does not universally apply. If someone who uses abusive behaviours in their intimate relationships feels provoked because they disagree with their boss, it is unlikely that they would humiliate them, call them names,  punch them, or sexually abuse them.

Abusers are not out of control and can make a choice to walk away if their partner is upsetting them or feel they are being wound up by a situation. 

Myth 4. 

It can’t be that bad if they are not seeking support?

People experiencing domestic abuse may remain silent for many valid reasons. In the early stages, they often hope that the abuser will change or stop the abuse. When it doesn’t stop, they may remain silent because of fear: of the abuser’s threats to kill, to stalk, to take the children away, to hurt loved ones, to kill pets or to kill themselves. It takes great courage to tell someone if you know you will be at greater risk (often a valid assumption, based on past experience).

They may not know where to go for help; they may be afraid of what the abuser will do if they were to leave or if the abuser were to find them. They may have been told they cannot take the children away from the other parent; they may be under pressure from family or community to stay.

They may falsely believe they deserve the abuse or feel embarrassed or that nobody will care anyway.

Myth 5. 

He/She/They has/have a problem with anger-management.

Most domestic abuse is systematic and not a momentary loss of self-control. Many people feel angry but do not assault another person. Anger is an emotion we all have, however, violence (of any kind) is criminal behaviour. In addition, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse cannot be explained by a ‘loss of temper’. Most abusers who assault their partners do so in the privacy of their own home, not outside in public view, suggesting that assaults are not subject to current emotions or poor impulse control; he/she/they can wait to hit her/him/they when they get home, in a planned way. Some victims are hauled out of bed when they are asleep and beaten.

The abuse is often directed to parts of the body that will not be visible if bruised. If the abuser has enough control to do this, they could use their control to walk away. Assaults often are ‘in cold blood’ with no sign of ‘loss of temper’. An assault may stop immediately if there is an interruption such as a phone call, a ring at the door, or someone walking in.

For some people using abusive behaviours who are willing to recognise and take responsibility for their actions, there are programmes of support that can aid them to start the long process of making changes to their behaviour. This support should be carefully assessed for risk and programmes are not designed to be universally suitable for every person using abusive behaviours.

On the whole, studies show that abuse tends to recur and become more frequent and severe over time and domestic abuse rarely stops without intervention.

Myth 6:

‘It’s just a tiff, domestic abuse is a private matter; we shouldn’t interfere.’

This idea is dangerous as it allows for stigma. This attitude causes people to suffer in silence. It is hard to take the first step to seek support without ‘people’ trivialising the issue or judging, as a mere private tiff.

Domestic abuse almost always is repeated and escalates in severity and frequency over time, and the loss of life due to domestic abuse remains high. Repeated abuse is damaging for the adult experiencing the domestic abuse and any children and young people within the family.

Domestic abuse is purposeful and systematic behaviour that should not be confused with an argument that implies responsibility is two way.

Domestic abuse is not something to be minimised, nor is it just a private matter. Abuse is a crime and a public matter. If we suspect someone is experiencing domestic abuse, we should try and let them know that support is out there. People experiencing domestic abuse very rarely exaggerate; indeed, the majority minimise and under-report the extent of the abuse.

Myth 7. 

‘If my mum/dad had a relationship with a violent person, does this make me more likely to become an abuser or a victim?’

If you are abused as a child, this definitely doesn’t mean that you are going to end up in a violent or abusive relationship yourself. Seeing what their parent went through means, some people know what the effects are first-hand and never want to put anyone else through this. Others may find it difficult to regulate their responses and behaviours or really understand what a healthy relationship is due to their experiences. If you have any worries about this, you may want to talk to a friend, relative, a teacher, and or seek support from a service supporting young people affected by domestic abuse.

Myth 8.

Those who abuse are mentally ill.

Abuse is too common to be explained or excused by mental illness.

The proportion of abusers who are mentally ill is no higher than in society as a whole. Even if it was caused by mental illness, why doesn’t the abuser attack their employer or strangers?

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