by Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist (as featured in the Sowetan Newspaper)

The Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of every 4 South African women are survivors of domestic violence. According to POWA, 1 in every 6 women who die in Gauteng are killed by an intimate partner. Also disturbing is that 3 children per day were being murdered in South Africa (statistics in 2009) of which 74% are children under 5 years old.

When you or someone you love or know is being abused, it can affect every aspect of your life, and tear aware at your very core, especially your self-worth. How much harm is done often depends on the situation and sometimes on how severe the abuse is. Sometimes a seemingly minor thing can trigger a big reaction.

What signs should women look for when it comes to being in a violent or abusive relationship?

NO person should live in fear of the person they love. Abusive behaviour is never acceptable, whether it is coming from a man or a woman. Every human being has the right to be respected, treated with dignity and deserves to feel valued and safe. Recognising and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship are the first step to ending abuse. Abusive behaviour, whether it is physical, psychological, financial or sexual, is used for one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. Your abuser uses fear, guilt, intimidation and shame to break you down and keep you under his or her control. Your perpetrator may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you. An abusive relationship destroys your self-worth, leaves you feeling powerless, helpless and alone, and leads to anxiety, depression and even suicide. If you have answered “yes” to some of these questions below, then you are most likely in an abusive relationship:

  1. Are you afraid of your partner most of the time?
  2. Do you “walk on eggshells” anticipating the next explosive outburst?
  3. Do you feel you worthless and deserving to be hurt and mistreated?
  4. Do you feel powerless, helpless and emotionally “dead”?
  5. Is your partner excessively jealous and possessive over you, making you believe that these intense feelings are acts of love?
  6. Does your partner prohibit you from seeing your friends and family?
  7. Does your partner belittle, humiliate or criticise you?
  8. Does your partner limit your access to finances, movement (mode of transport) and communication to the outside world (telephone, visits etc.)?
  9. Control where you go or what you do and manipulate you in believing that they are “worried” about your whereabouts?
  10. Does your partner threaten to commit suicide should you want to leave?
  11. Does your partner hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you or your loved ones?

If you find yourself being abused, what is the first thing you should do?

It is difficult to make decisions about your relationship when you have been isolated from your family and friends, psychologically broken down, financially controlled, and physically threatened. If you are trying to decide whether to stay or leave your partner, you may be feeling confused and frightened. You may blame yourself for the abuse or feel ashamed because you have stayed for so long. Do not let these feelings immobilise you. The most important thing that matters is your safety. There are things you can do to protect yourself. These safety tips can make the difference between being severely injured or killed and escaping with your life. Be prepared for emergency situations.

  1. Be on alert for signs that your abuser is getting upset and may explode in anger or violence. Come up with several believable reasons you can use to leave the house if you have the feeling you are unsafe;
  2. Know where to go if your abuser attacks or an argument starts. Avoid small, enclosed spaces without exits (such as closets or bathrooms) or rooms with weapons (such as the kitchen). If possible, head for a room with a phone and an outside door or window;
  3. Establish a word or a signal you can use to let your children, family, friends, or colleagues know that you are in danger and the police should be called;
  4. Keep the car fuelled up and hide a spare car key where you can get it quickly. Have emergency cash, clothing, and important phone numbers and documents kept in a safe place, such as at a family member.
  5. Ask a trusted family or friend if you may contact them if you need to be fetched, a place to stay, or help contacting the police. Memorise the numbers of your emergency contacts, place of safety, and domestic violence hotline.
  6. Please Remember:
    1. You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behaviour
    2. You deserve to be treated with respect
    3. You deserve a safe and happy life
    4. You are not alone

How does someone break the cycle of abuse?

Those who perpetuate or continue the cycle of abuse do so because they are out of control and feel they have no other options. Breaking the cycle of abuse shows you those options, giving you the power to break abusive patterns for good and offering a legacy of hope and healing to you, your family and society at large.

  1. Take responsibility for your actions by stopping negative behaviour before it becomes habitual and causes significant harm to your loved ones;
  2. Make time to heal the damage you experienced in your life so that it does not spill over into your current life and relationship;
  3. Change negative attitudes and beliefs that create a victim or abuser mentality;
  4. Learn healthy ways of communicating your needs and resolving conflicts with respect;
  5. Repair damage that has already occurred to your relationships, including those with your children;
  6. Seek out further assistance from a professional such a psychologist.

For more information or to get the help you need, contact PsychMatters Centre on 011-4503576.

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