This is Part 4 in a four-part series about domestic abuse.
Finding yourself in an abusive relationship isn’t something that happens overnight, say experts, but instead is a slow progression.
Jerra Fraser is a counsellor at Klinic Community Health and she says abusive relationships are complicated and embroiled in control and manipulation.
“Really, what we’re talking about is any kind of psychological, physical, sexual, financial, social or any of that kind of abuse can all be an emotionally abusive experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to include an element of touch or physical harm,” she said.
“Some of the things at the core of it may be feeling controlled, feeling one person’s needs are being met, feeling fearful or walking on eggshells for their own safety and comfort and feeling they can’t express themselves.”
The cycle of abuse is hard to get out of, says Fraser, because the relationship isn’t typically all bad all the time.
“Often these relationships aren’t 100 per cent bad behavior the whole time. It’s also sprinkled in with feelings of nostalgia, feelings of safety and feelings of when times were feeling a lot different, perhaps the beginning of the relationship it felt quite different and this evolved over time,” she said.
“People also have hope that things may change. And we know that leaving any relationship can feel complicated.”
If people choose to leave a relationship involving domestic violence, they can find shelter at Willow Place says interim executive director Marcie Wood.
“It’s a tremendous problem in Winnipeg or in the province of Manitoba,” she said.
“It’s important to know that it doesn’t just happen in certain social circles or certain classes of our society. It happens across our city in every pocket and every area. And it isn’t talked about to the extent we would like it to be. It’s one of those issues people know about and are aware of but they don’t delve too deep into what it means.”
Every year 800 women and children use their shelter and an extra up to 400 people access their additional services such as counselling.
Willow Place says these are some red flags that you may be in an abusive relationship:
- Makes me feel afraid
- Is possessive
- Is always “checking up” on me
- Is sexually demanding
- Teases, bullies and puts me down
- Gets violent, loses temper quickly
- Tries to control me
- Keeps me from seeing my friends and family
- Makes all the decisions
- Hits me
- Takes my money and other things
- Always blames me
- Threatens to leave if I don’t do what I’m told
Of those aspects of a relationship, Wood says the aspects of psychological abuse haunt victims the most.
“Those don’t leave physical bruises but they leave internal bruises that affect a person’s self-esteem, self-worth and can affect their mental health and their ability to cope,” she said.
“Women that we provide service to often identify that as the most difficult type of abuse for them to recover from. The bruises heal over time and they fade and you forget but the emotional impact is far greater and far more difficult for them to recover from and it takes a lot more work.”
Wood says if you know someone who may be in this type of relationship it’s important to have patience for them. She says on average a person leaves seven to nine times before they permanently leave.
“Listen to what they have to say. Be respectful of what they’re ready to talk about and not ready to talk about. Not judge them. In these situations the victim isn’t always able to see or ready to and sometimes it takes time and it’s important that people give them that space and time to be able to come to their own conclusions,” she said.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship you can seek resources and support.