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Have you ever wondered if you’re a victim of physical violence within your own home, but you’re not quite sure? Or perhaps you haven’t wondered at all, because the threats have been so hidden that you haven’t recognized them. After all, he’s never hit you …

Even for those enduring physical abuse, the tactics aren’t always obvious. This may seem like a silly thing to say—after all, physical violence is always obvious, isn’t it? There will be an outright attack that results in bruises or scratches, broken bones or finger marks, perhaps even blood. Maybe an ambulance will have to be called, or the police. And there will be physical pain, of course, mingling and swirling with all the emotional pain …

However, there’s more to physical violence than overt attacks on the body. Intimate partner violence can be so much more than that—which is why many people who are in physically abusive relationships don’t even realize it.

I’ve already written about physical violence that shows up as slamming doors in a rage, hurling items across the room, and punching holes through windows or walls. These are all forms of psychologically threatening physical abuse—not aimed at the target’s body but aimed at her spirit and mind. It’s an underhanded way of threatening greater levels of harm if she doesn’t comply.

This type of threat is so effective because it allows someone to manipulate and terrorize their target without any feelings of shame, remorse or guilt—because, after all, they haven’t physically touched her in anyway. A frequent excuse for this type of dangerous and controlling behavior is “I was just blowing off steam” or “you triggered me and I just lost it.”

The thing to remember is that someone with abusive tendencies doesn’t lose control—quite the opposite, in fact. What they’re really doing is using physical threats and violence to maintain and even increase their control. Looking at the situation more closely, it’s easy to see just how much in control they are—for example, they stop their behavior if the police are called, suddenly morphing into charming Dr. Jekyll. In other words, they’re able to exhibit self-control when they want to—and they’re able to “lose it” when they want to.

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Remember, no level of abuse is acceptable. Even “minor” events can create lasting emotional scars, and most often indicate greater levels of intensity to come.

“Domestic violence is about the use of force or fear to control and intimidate another person in a relationship. Those who have been abused have lived with someone who has used different means to control their life.”

(Fr. Stephen Dohner, Ph.D., Helping Victims of Domestic Violence)

Some women rarely experience episodes of physical violence, while others suffer from the terror on a more frequent basis—but rarely are these types of threats used daily. If weeks or months go by without any episodes of physical violence, that doesn’t indicate reform or change. Even one incident is extremely dangerous, because it sets up a permanent state of fear within the target, which enables her to be controlled more easily. Being aware of certain patterns that can be seen over time can be an important component to a solid safety plan.

  • Your partner drives recklessly with you and/or your children in the car

  • There are times when you’re not allowed adequate sleep because your spouse keeps you awake—with coercive demands for sex, arguments, threats, household expectations, etc.

  • Your spouse has forced you to receive vaccinations, abortion or sterilization that you haven’t wanted

  • Despite needed medical care, your partner has interfered with your ability to receive it (common excuses may be “it’s too expensive” or “you don’t really need that, you’ll be fine”)

  • The family pet has been mistreated

  • When you try to remove yourself from a volatile or difficult interaction with your spouse, he blocks the door so you can’t leave

  • After locking a door in fear of your safety, your partner tries to pick the lock or break the door down to get at you

  • You’ve been locked in a room by your spouse, unable to escape until he decides to release you

  • Your husband has denied you access to the bathroom or otherwise denied your physical needs

  • Financially you’re kept on a short leash, and sometimes aren’t allowed to buy necessary food, clothing and/or household supplies until he decides to grant you an allowance

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If you’ve been a victim of any of these manipulations, please be aware that none of these behaviors are acceptable, and all indicate the potential for abusive escalation. Even if you haven’t yet experienced any of these tactics, but your gut instinct is telling you that you’re physically unsafe, listen to your intuition.

  • Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org

  • Find a local shelter: https://www.domesticshelters.org

  • Awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse and its impact on families is increasingly being spotlighted within the Catholic church; don’t hesitate to reach out for help within your local spiritual community. In the words of the USCCB, “As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims—men as well as women” (USCCB, “When I Call for Help”).

I love you, Yahweh, my strength

(my Saviour, you rescue me from violence.)

Yahweh is my rock and my bastion,

my deliverer is my God.

I take shelter in Him, my rock,

my shield, my horn of salvation,

my stronghold and my refuge.

From violence you rescue me.

(Ps. 18:1-2)

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