What Is Intimate Relational Abuse?
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.”
—Albert Camus

In Part II of Transcending Abuse & Betrayal, I discuss briefly the characteristics of abuse and betrayal and their effects, the reasons why abuse take place and what is lacking in dysfunctional relationships as a way of creating awareness and knowledge. The journey to healing and transcending the effects of abuse and betrayal can only occur with better awareness and understanding of abuse, ranging from knowledge of its causes to being familiar with the factors that perpetuate abuse and obstruct healing.

Intimate relational abuse, or domestic abuse, as it is commonly referred to, is  characterized by an asymmetrical distribution of power and control between teenagers, adults or family members in an intimate relationship. There is often a pattern of intimidating, threatening or aggressive behavior that is used by one party to control the other’s actions or to cause physical, sexual or psychological harm.

Intimate relational abuse, prevalent in all countries is one of those closed-door subjects that need to be brought to the fore-front as they cut across the boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, education, social class and marital status (WHO, 2011). In Canada alone, over 50% of Canadian women have reported experiencing at least one incident of physical or sexual violence (WAVAW, 2011). Studies on domestic violence show that one woman in every three around the world is abused either physically, sexually or psychologically by an intimate partner, usually male. However, it is important to note that there are heterosexual and homosexual men and boys who are also targets of abuse. Although, most of these cases fall within the emotional or psychological category, there are incidences where men have sustained physical abuse that have warranted hospital emergency care.

According to international studies on violence against women conducted by the World Health Organization in 2011, 20 % of women and up to 10% of men in the world were abused as children. This is alarming as psychological studies indicate that there is a tendency for abused children, who are often products of abusive families, to either accept and submit to abuse as part of their reality or to themselves become abusers in later life, feeding into the cyclical nature of abuse.

Abuse assumes its form in a myriad of ways: through physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or psychological, financial and even spiritual behaviors. Abuse is typically prompted by fear, hostility and anger. Often the targeted is used as a punching bag for the abuser’s frustrations and inability to manage anger and hostility. It is crucial to recognize that anyone can be a victim of abuse, regardless of gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, education, employment, socio-economic or marital status.

As relationships of dominance are often immersed in patriarchal beliefs and attitudes that men have a right to dominate and control women, it is imperative that for us to recognize the characteristics of abuse and not dismiss certain behaviors or attitudes as culturally ‘normal.’ Women who have been subjected to such social and cultural conditioning have, wittingly or unwittingly, perpetuated the cycle of subjugation through their compliance. Some women, although uncomfortable by their partner’s unloving actions, do not perceive or realize that they are in an abusive relationship.

Intimate relational abuse in any form is a violation of trust. It is one of the most devastating forms of betrayal a person can experience because it often takes place within familial and sexual relationships where one expects to feel especially safe and cared for. The betrayed person often feels violated and perceives herself as less than lovable or worthy. Abuse violates human dignity and rights and damages the body, mind and soul.

Most targets of abuse, experience over time, a loss of selfhood, self-worth, self-respect, self-confidence and self-love. More often than not, many are besieged with a gamut of emotions that range from debilitating fear, despair, doubt, insecurity, self-loathing, guilt, anger, resentment, bitterness, sorrow, loss and grief. Many enter into depression; they feel lonely, rejected, isolated, and abandoned.

Unfortunately, adherence to stereotypical cultural, social and religious attitudes, together with fear of stigma, public judgment and of washing dirty linen in public, prevent women of abuse from articulating their experiences and from seeking outside help. By becoming aware of what constitutes abuse and by making conscious choices to empower one’s self as well as by seizing every opportunity to fulfill individual expression and creativity, be it in the private or public arena, women of abuse can move forward to redefine themselves, their experiences and reality and in the process, reclaim their selfhood.

Excerpt from “Transcending Abuse & Betrayal.”
Sasha Samy (C) 2012