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How to spot signs of an abusive relationship

Domestic violence or abuse refers to a pattern of behaviours used by one person to gain or impose power and control over another.

Domestic violence is often understood as physical violence, usually meted out by a husband against his wife. Domestic violence or abuse refers to a pattern of behaviours used by one person to gain or impose power and control over another.

The trauma of domestic violence has severe negative consequences on the victim’s physical and emotional health and well-being.

The longer a couple has been together, the harder it may be for a woman to escape the abuse as she may become more and more dependent on her abusive partner, more and more isolated from her own family and social circles and less and less able to raise children by herself.

Women who find themselves trapped in abusive relationships often say that they would not have dreamed that their partner could ever intentionally hurt them. Yet there are a few key warning signs to look out for, before becoming deeply entangled in a relationship with a new partner:

  1. Isolation: Abusers tends to try to hide their abusive ways which includes making sure that their victim does not engage with people she knows and can trust as they may encourage her to take action against the abuse. This is often done through manipulation and convincing the victim that those closest to them do not care about them. If a new partner is quick to be angered or annoyed by the people in your life or does not encourage you to spend time with people you care about, this may be a sign they could become abusive.
  2. Love bombing: An abuser is looking for a vessel to take advantage of, thus they are quick to latch on to people and can be quite intense with their affections. They do this so that they can gain control over you faster than if they were to take things more gradually. An abuser might profess their love on a whim, bombard you with gifts and unrealistic promises and work to found your relationship on an unattainable ideal. This is not to say that gifts and romance cannot be perfectly healthy displays of affection but if you notice the relationship is moving too quickly for your comfort,, consider it a red flag.
  3. Controlling behaviourEverything on this list in some way falls into the category of controlling behaviour. Control is the abuser’s motivation, they may tell you what to wear, who to speak to, or even physically assault you to maintain power in a situation. Abusers can even go to the extent of making their victims feel guilty by accusing them of being unfaithful and undermining their contributions to keep them by their side. If you find that someone you are dating is unable to compromise, demanding and aggressive when they do not get what they want, know that this behaviour is a major red flag that you may be dealing with someone abusive. 
  4. Verbal abuse: Abusers often have low self-esteem and can only feel empowered by inflicting the same sense of dread living within them onto others. Abusers will use bullying and verbal abuse to bring down their victims so that they do not feel they can do better than them. They may attack your body image, make discouraging comments about your intellect or your profession, undermine your achievements and make jokes about things you are passionate about. Not all verbal abuse is direct as they may also use passive aggression to insult you. If someone you are seeing or are in a relationship with tends to speak with little to no regard for your feelings, often insults you and makes cruel jokes at your expense, this in itself is a form of abuse and should not be tolerated.
  5. Blames others: Not all abusers are self-aware and many believe that they function the way they do to prevent pain or abandonment. Thus an abuser will rarely take accountability for their actions, particularly if those actions are abusive. The abuser may display emotional immaturity or hypersensitivity when confronted about their actions, they may believe they are the victim themselves. If you are seeing someone who never seems to take responsibility for anything or if you find yourself constantly apologizing and having to take the high road during arguments, you may be dealing with an abusive personality.
  6. Doesn’t respect your property or boundaries: An abuser does not want you to have your own life and privacy and will thus cross your boundaries in subtle and extreme ways to assert their dominance in your life. They may go through your phone or emails, disrespect your physical boundaries, make inappropriate comments about you in public, break or damage your personal belongings out of revenge, spread information or images you shared with them in secret or hurt you physically. If someone you are seeing displays any of these behaviours or others you consider to be boundary crossing, this is a form of abuse.

Do something NOW

  • If you identify a number of these warning signs in your current relationship, consider carefully whether or not to continue with the relationship; seek out the input of trusted friends or
  • Keep a few essential items and a safe escape plan (e.g., identification documents, phone, money, medicines, and clothes) available, and a list of telephone numbers in case of an emergency including the child helpline.
  • Seek online or in-person counselling on 0784650657 or
  • Talk to a legal officer from FIDA Uganda on the toll-free line 0800111511 or WhatsApp on 0776987044.
  • Remember: there will never be an easier or better time to leave an abusive relationship than now. The longer you stay, the harder it becomes to leave.

By Anna Thakkar (In-house counselor FIDA Uganda) & Shahinaz Sabeel (Programs Volunteer FIDA Uganda)

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