When love goes bad: the mental harm of domestic abuse

One in eight people will suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime. This is one woman’s story.

Imagine feeling helpless, like nothing you do is good enough. Constantly scared that the littlest thing may cause a situation which soon spirals out of control and you’re the one that ends up hurt. Made to feel like you are nothing, fear and dominates your life.

Most people think of domestic abuse as purely physical - but mental abuse can hurt just as much. Photo: Elisabeth Moore

This is the reality of living with domestic violence, and with one in four women experiencing violence at the hands of someone they love, the chances are that someone you know will become a victim.

The organisation Woman’s Aid deal with all type of domestic violence. A report released in 2004 showed that 45% women and 26% of men have experienced at least one incident of inter-personal violence in their lifetime.

Women are more likely than men to be victims of multiple incidents of abuse and sexual violence, with 32% of women who have experienced domestic violence doing so more than four separate times.

The escalation of physical violence has risen so much that on average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former lover. Take the recent story of mother-of-two, Joy Small, who was abused multiple times by her husband Aram Aziz. Reports from friends say how she was so scared she kept a hammer under her pillow.
Her husband later killed both Joy and their two children before taking his own life. This is just one story that highlights the dangers victims of abusive relationships face everyday.

The term “domestic violence” is often perceived as meaning solely physical violence, however, the term encapsulates emotional abuse, psychological, sexual or financial violence; any situation where the main aim of one person is to gain control and an upper hand against their partner or spouse.

This is something Linda knows all too well after she thought she’d married the man of her dreams: “I was 23-years-old when I married David. We met when I was just 18-years-old.

“When I look back now I feel I was too young to get married. We bought our first house together when I was 19, so from that young age I already had a 25-year debt of a mortgage,” she says.

Linda knows firsthand the terror that victims of domestic violence experience everyday. Having married at such a young age, she began to realise that her husband’s short temper would cause him to snap.

“At first he was always ok towards me, but soon he would use verbal abuse, like name calling and putting me down. I felt like I could do nothing right in his eyes. The emotional abuse can be just as bad as the physical, if not worse, as it leaves no visible scars, but it’s something that stays with you forever,” Linda recalls.

As the abuse continued, the strain on Linda was destructive, a repetitive system which ended in further abuse. What started as emotional abuse slowly escalated into physical violence.

“He never needed an excuse to hit me; I would just be there to lash out at. Whenever he used physical abuse, I would lie to people about where my bruises or black eye had come from.

I can only guess that he knew I wouldn’t tell anyone that it was him. He knew I was too weak and too scared of him. I just kept quiet, that way I was avoiding yet another beating,” she says.

Linda knows how hard it can be to contemplate leaving an abusive relationship. Having tried to leave once, but she was turned away by an emergency housing scheme, who told her that she would be making herself and children voluntarily homeless, she decided to follow her own path: “I stayed with him for 25 years, and the abuse never ended. After years of realizing things were never going to get any better and most of all realizing that I am worth better, I decided to file for divorce.

“I knew I had spent the last 25 years of my life weak and scared, but now I had to be strong for once, and do this. Of course he threatened to kill me if I went through with it, but for some reason his threats were now making me stronger; I was determined to get him out of my life.”

With no other means of escape and her abusive ex-husband sending her death threats, Linda was forced to flee the country. However, regardless of everything she went through, she remains positive, stronger and has found a partner who doesn’t use violence.

“After the divorce I spent the next four years single, and loved it. I have now met someone who I must say is the complete opposite to my ex. He would never dream of hitting a woman. He has never so much as raised his voice to me never mind his fist.”

Linda made it away from her abusive partner, however, there are thousands that still face violence everyday at the hands of a “loved one”, she believes that getting away from her past was the best thing she ever did and encourages others to do to the same before it escalates out of control: “If anyone who reads this is going through a similar situation, please, just get out, it may not seem it at the moment, but believe me, it will be the best thing you ever did,” she pleads.

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