Blain Nelson's
Abuse Pages

Perhaps you have an abuse problem

Lots of people do. Abuse is not simply a male problem, or a white male problem, or a poor person problem, or an alcohol/drug user problem. Abuse is an equal opportunity problem. Nobody is demographically immune from abusing or being abused. Anybody can abuse someone they care about, and many, many do. Men do. Women do. Wealthy people do. Poor people do. White folks do. Folks of color do. Able-bodied folks do. People with disabilities do. Big people do. Little people do. Medium-sized people do. Republicans do. Democrats do. Libertarians, Reform Party folks, Socialist Workers, Green Party folks, vulgar (and less-than-vulgar) Marxists do, and even Pat Paulson supporters do too. Therapists do. The mentally ill do. Police and criminals do. Loud people do. Quiet people do. Heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals do. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, and even Mormons do, no matter how devout or spiritual they do or don't appear to be. Computer users do. Nice people do. Somebody you know (and probably like) does. Maybe your spouse/partner does. Maybe you do. I did. My experience might sound like yours, or perhaps my wife's will, or maybe you will relate better to other people's experiences with abuse.

Many abusers and abuse victims do not realize that they are, in fact, in an abusive situation. For a million and one reasons (more or less) people hide the abuse they see from themselves by rationalizing, minimizing, and justifying it so that it isn't abuse, it's something else. This is called Denial, and it's based in lies we tell ourselves. Through these lies we distort reality as we perceive it, we redefine the meaning of what we do, and we adjust what we consider to be right and wrong, in an escalating fashion. Ultimately, any act, no matter how hideous, can be carried out once we have developed the necessary level of denial.

Rather than simply pondering the rather nebulous question of "Am I or am I not in an abusive relationship?" it is often helpful to look at some specific questions that can bring the abuse to light more subtly by getting past the minimizing, rationalizing, and justifying.

* Try these for starters:

  1. Are you afraid of your partner?
  2. Do you sometimes feel like you have to walk on pins and needles to keep your partner from getting angry?
  3. Has your partner ever hit, slapped, choked or pushed you?
  4. Has your partner ever pulled your hair?
  5. Do you ever feel like you deserve to be punished?
  6. Do you ever feel like you've done something wrong but you just can't figure out what it is?
  7. Have you lost all respect or love for your partner?
  8. Is your partner very good to you most of the time -- sometimes downright wonderful, but every once in a while very cruel or scary?
  9. Does your partner drive you crazy or make you feel like you're going crazy?
  10. Do you find yourself sometimes thinking of ways of killing your partner?
  11. Have you believed that your partner would kill you?
  12. Have you been told by your partner that he or she would kill you?
  13. Has your partner threatened or attempted to commit suicide?
  14. Have you thought that suicide would be a good thing for you because everybody would be better off without you or if you'd never been born?
  15. Were you abused as a child?
  16. Are there significant periods of time in your life that you can't remember?
  17. Have you ever done harmful things to yourself like cutting yourself, agreeing to do things you don't like, engaging in reckless or dangerous behavior, etc. because you felt like you should be punished when things have gone badly?
  18. Have you been forced by your partner to do something you didn't want to do?
  19. Have you lost all or most of your friends since you've been with your partner?
  20. Have you put up with something that made you really uncomfortable, or something that you really knew was wrong, because you love your partner?
  21. Do you feel isolated, like there's nowhere to turn for help, and that no one would believe you anyway?
  22. Have you lost a job because of your partner?
  23. Do you have to look back more than a month or two to find anything loving your partner has done for you?
  24. Have you ever "frozen" when your partner gave you "the look"?
  25. Do you feel emotionally numb?
  26. Do you feel like your partner never really listens to you or understands you?
  27. Do you feel like you have to say that you're doing okay even when you really aren't?
  28. Have you ever left your partner or had your partner leave because of how you were treated, but later returned or allowed your partner to return after promises that it would "all be different."
  29. Have you ever pulled back from a relationship with a friend or family member because they voiced concern about how your partner treats you?
  30. Are you afraid to tell anybody about what's going on in your life because you don't want your partner to get in trouble or go to jail?
  31. Have you ever had sex shortly after a violent episode?
  32. Have you ever been in a relationship where you could have answered yes to these questions, but right now you're past all that?
  33. Are you certain that you're not being abused because:
    • you fight back?
    • you've never been hit?
    • you've never been hit with a closed fist?
    • you've never had to go to the hospital?
    • you've never had a broken bone?
    • you've seen what "real" abuse is like, and it's worse than this?
    • you deserve what you get?
    • you give as good as you get?
    • nobody ever treated you this well before?
    • you're not like "those" people that abuse happens to?
    • you're:
      • male?
      • educated?
      • wealthy?
      • white?
      • religious?
      • strong?
  34. Do you feel that you are better or smarter than people who are abused?
  35. Are you certain that abuse is going to stop because:
    • you're going to love your partner so much that he or she will stop abusing you?
    • your partner has so much potential, and is going to change?
    • your partner is so nice to you when other people are around? or
    • your partner comes from a difficult background and is getting better all the time (or is going to start getting better really soon now)?
  36. Are you afraid to ask for help because you're afraid that:
    • no one will understand?
    • people will say that you're:
      • overly sensitive?
      • whining?
      • immature?
      • making it up?
      • trying to get attention?
      • crazy?
      • trying to get out of your responsibilities?
      • unfaithful?
      • lying?
      • a wimp?
      • homosexual?
      • a man/woman hater?
    • you deserve to be treated like that?
    • you haven't been treated badly enough yet?
    • everyone you know will find out how much of a failure you really are?
    • you don't want to tear your relationship or marriage or family apart?
  37. Do you find yourself agreeing with or giving in to your partner when you don't really agree?
  38. Do you know, deep in your heart-of-hearts, that you're abused and just don't know what to do about it?

Now, how about these questions:

  1. Is your partner afraid of you sometimes?
  2. Are you jealous of your partner?
  3. Do you need to know where your partner is at all times and with whom and doing what?
  4. Are you very protective of your partner?
  5. Do you consider yourself the ruler of your castle?
  6. Do you feel like sometimes you have to put your foot down to straighten things out in your relationship?
  7. Have you ever hit, slapped, choked or pushed your partner?
  8. Do you feel like your partner just couldn't survive without your help?
  9. Do you need to feel needed?
  10. Have you ever said "Don't make me angry!"?
  11. Have you ever threatened your partner?
  12. Have you ever said something that your partner might consider a threat, even if you never really would do it or were just joking?
  13. Have you ever said or thought "If I can't have you, nobody can!"?
  14. Have you found that all of your partners seem to turn into the same (annoying, infuriating) person after a while?
  15. Have you ever had sex shortly after a violent episode?
  16. Have you ever thrown things or hit walls during an argument with your partner?
  17. Do you find yourself "convincing" your partner on a regular basis to do things that he or she would rather not do?
  18. Do you consider it important that things go your way?
  19. Do you think that your partner sometimes deserves to be hit?
  20. Do you think that your partner sometimes wants to be hit?
  21. Have you ever found yourself smiling or laughing when your partner is hurt?
  22. Have you been arrested for violent behavior you've committed because the cops were stupid?
  23. Have you ever gone to jail for violent behavior you've committed because:
    • the judge was an idiot or was out to get you?
    • your attorney was incompetent?
    • overly sensitive people blew your behavior way out of proportion?
  24. Have you ever intentionally harmed or broken something which was important to your partner?
  25. Have you ever been afraid to tell someone about something that happened between you and your partner because you were afraid that they wouldn't understand and that you would be in trouble (maybe even legal trouble)?
  26. Are you sure that you don't have an abuse problem because:
    • you see people around you doing worse all the time?
    • you never meant to hurt anybody?
    • you are a harmless, loveable person?
    • anybody else would treat your partner at least as badly?
    • you think that you are better or smarter than abusers?
    • you love your partner?
    • you never hit your partner?
    • your partner always hits you back/first/more?
    • your friends all tell you that it's okay?
  27. Do you think you have an anger problem?
  28. Do you feel like you're surrounded by people who are less intelligent?
  29. Do you feel like you need to protect your family from meddling outsiders who just don't or won't understand the way things work in your family?
  30. Have you ever seen your partner "tune out" while you were yelling at him or her?
  31. Have you ever seen your partner honestly fear you?
  32. Are you afraid to ask for help in addressing your behavior because:
    • you might lose your job?
    • you might lose your friends?
    • it will be too expensive?
    • you might lose your family?
    • you don't want to be the only one changing?
  33. Have you ever followed your partner when he or she didn't want you to?
  34. Have you ever physically stopped your partner from leaving?
  35. Is it important to you that others, particularly your partner, agree with you?
  36. Would you be completely non-violent and non-threatening "if only...."?
  37. Have you been told by your partner or others that you are:
    • selfish?
    • mean?
    • controlling?
    • critical?
    • stubborn?
    • manipulative?
    • cruel?
    • arrogant?
    • hypocritical?
  38. Do you find yourself answering questions here with "yes, but..."?
  39. Have you ever threatened or attempted to kill yourself or a partner?
  40. Do you know, in your heart-of-hearts, that you have been abusive to your partner, and you just don't know what to do about it or how to stop?

If you found yourself answering "yes" to several of the questions in either of the above lists, even if you think there are good reasons for those "yes" answers, please contact the domestic abuse resources in your community or your local police department and let them know what the questions were that you found yourself answering "yes" to. They can help you determine whether you are in fact in an abusive relationship and let you know what your options are in finding help. Denying that there is a problem or rationalizing away the reasons you found yourself in either or both of the above lists will put you and your family in danger of escalating violence that may lead to death. Ignoring the painful realities of abuse does not make them go away -- it helps them grow more painful and more ugly.

The first step in stopping violence is seeing it and taking responsibility for it. It is not enough to say "I'm sorry, I'll never do it again." If that's as far as it goes, that's nothing more than part of the cycle of abuse -- the "Honeymoon" Phase. You must seek outside help from people who have experience dealing with domestic abuse issues and find a place of support before the abuse will really stop. It may take you several tries to find the kind of support and help you need. Once you've found it, you will be the one doing the work, of course, but that outside involvement gives you a much better chance of successfully breaking the cycle of violence that you're presently involved in. A supportive group situation helps provide social support for change to counter the social pressure to maintain status quo.

Perhaps you find yourself in questions on both lists. This should be no surprise. Many abusive relationships have the abuse running in more than one direction, and most abusers have learned their abuse by experiencing abuse or watching someone else being abused. Your path will be difficult should you choose healing, as the available resources will want you to work on one set of issues or the other, and you may need to be dealing with both sets sometimes. However, if it keeps you and your family safe, it'll be worth the effort.

If you find a friend or family member on those lists, you may be wondering what to do with the knowledge that this person is abusing or being abused. The most important thing you can do is talk about it and not hide it, but there is a bit to learn about to make sure you aren't going to cause more harm than good. Some helpful things to keep in mind would include:

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