Emily* is in her 40s and has been involved in a number of relationships where she has engaged in abusive behaviour, she talks about the roots of the problem and the help she is receiving:
“I witnessed it (DA) between my parents as a child. I was physically abused and shown that hitting is the way to deal with feelings of anger, pain, shame, guilt & fear. As I got older and had my own relationships I would often cause physical damage to my partner, and myself, with the police being called and me being arrested on a number of occasions.
Throughout my twenties I didn’t see my behaviour as unusual, or a problem. But in my thirties I began to feel shame and guilt and began to engage with anger management courses. Now in my mid-forties I am paying for 1:1 therapy sessions to get to the root of the problem.
My friends did try to step in, although they were only really aware of the damage I caused myself as my partners would never speak out about the violence towards them, so that secret was kept safe. When I heard the term ‘domestic abuse’ in relation to my behaviour I initially felt surprised and ashamed but quickly went into the victim role myself, blaming partners.
My advice to anyone who is a perpetrator in domestic violence is to realise that the feelings of mistrust, fear, jealousy and rejection are progressive and escalate over time. It always gets worse and can’t be controlled by will power alone. You need professional help. I tried generic counselling and anger management, did courses on mindfulness and found faith, and while useful they didn’t change my behaviour. I was a qualified care professional but still used aggression in relationships.
I have since worked with a specialist programme and am in therapy looking at childhood trauma. I’m not in a relationship at the moment, so it’s hard to tell whether the work I’ve done has put a stop to the behaviour, or if I was in a relationship the triggers would be there again.
John* is in his late 20s, and has been verbally, emotionally and physically abusive to partners. He talks about his experiences:
The pattern of abuse in my relationships started back when I was 17, with my first serious girlfriend. Looking back, I was very insecure and this showed itself through jealously and spiteful behaviour. I was able to justify it to myself by saying she ‘deserved it’ because I’d heard rumours that she’d been unfaithful. In my last relationship it escalated to physical abuse, and I scared myself.
When I heard the term ‘domestic abuse’ to describe what had been happening I felt sick. I still do now. I think it will haunt me forever. I witnessed my father being physically abusive towards my mother, and I didn’t want to be the same as him, yet here I am with the same label.
My partner and I would hide it from friends and family. I was ashamed, and she was ashamed and fearful. I witnessed the same with mum and dad, the public face of happy families contrasted with the nightly occurrence of my siblings and I hiding under the duvet whilst listening to shouting and pots and pans being thrown down stairs. Then silence. It was never talked about afterwards.
It would have been difficult for family or friends to have spotted any signs as I wasn’t overtly abusive in public, unless I was drunk or on drugs. However, I was highly strung at times, and would be “snappy” with friends and family. My drug and alcohol use also escalated over the years. My mother did question me a couple of times, as she had been in an abusive relationship and possibly noticed similar behaviours. Eventually I shut out all my friends and family, as I didn’t want to talk about it, or even recognise my behaviour as abusive. I was ashamed, but wouldn’t admit it to anyone.
The prison sentence I received for the last incident was actually the best thing that could have happened. I made several changes whilst inside, including stopping my drug and alcohol use and looking at my behaviours in and out of relationships. I also started to gain some insight into the effects of domestic abuse on my children.
Addressing the past has been a key thing for me, exposing the root cause of controlling behaviours. For me, not being able to let go of something was a warning sign. Secondly, be aware that unless you do address it early on, the chances are high of the abuse escalating in seriousness, or frequency.
*Names have been changed.
Stories courtesy of RSVP