Defining Domestic Abuse for the Health of Future Generations

by Stacey Womack, Executive Director of Abuse Recovery Ministry & ServicesNotSatire

“He’s never hit me or been physical. It only happened once.”

Most people so narrowly define domestic violence and abuse that they decide what they are experiencing isn’t abuse at all. It doesn’t help that society tends to view it the same way.

It’s a challenging topic indeed. Abuse Recovery Ministry & Services (ARMS) has been working with victims and survivors of domestic violence for over twenty years, and we can tell you with resounding confidence that physical abuse, while dangerous, scary, and illegal, is not the form of abuse those we serve say is the worst. Emotional abuse has the most difficult and longest lasting effects, with verbal abuse a close second.

Domestic abuse isn’t about any one particular behavior. It is a pattern of behaviors used to gain and maintain power and control in an intimate relationship. It is never a one-time event, and it always includes multiple forms of abuse. In fact, you never experience physical abuse without experiencing other forms first. Forms of domestic abuse include: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, property, financial, spiritual, and animal. Many abusers never escalate to stereotypical types of physical abuse if they can control their partners through other ways.

Physical abuse isn’t just about physical harm. It can include posturing to intimidate or blocking a door. Verbal abuse isn’t just yelling, swearing, and name calling. It includes more subtle things like the silent treatment to punish, sarcasm, or being critical. Sexual abuse isn’t just about rape, although this happens often in intimate partner violence, but it also includes sexual putdowns and pouting to get their way. Emotional abuse leaves a person feeling confused. They begin to question their own sanity. They lose sight of who they are and their value in God. ARMS has several resources on our website including a list of types of abuse and an evaluation to determine the health of a relationship.

Domestic abuse is a learned behavior that is passed on from one generation to the next. Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or domestic violence as children are almost four times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.

Men and women have shared with us how they vowed they would never repeat the abusive behaviors they grew up with (the abuse or the acceptance of it), yet when conflicts arise, they find themselves reverting back to what they know. This is normal, but it is essential to equip those in abusive relationships to recognize the abuse, admit that it was wrong and hurtful, and seek help. This is how cycles of abuse end.

Parents are the number one influencers on a child’s life. Even if only one parent is willing to get help out of domestic abuse, it can become a catalyst for change for an entire family. Children cannot bring change to their home environments, but their parents can. Through the courage of their parents, the next generation can learn a healthier way to be in relationships move forward in life.

For practical tools to serve clients who are potential victims of domestic violence, check out Stacey Womack's new recorded webinar, What You Need to Know About Domestic Abuse, Click here to order.