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Domestic Violence Isn’t Always Physical.

Domestic violence, outside of the obvious signs of physical abuse such as pushing, grabbing, and hitting can be subtle, and both genders are at risk.

When I talk about non-physical domestic violence and abuse, I’m not speaking of the occasional fight, or ups and downs of any normal relationship. I’m talking about patterns over time. Controlling behaviors, shaming, refusing to listen, talking over you, blaming, emotional abuse, yelling, lying, neglecting, stalking, inappropriate sexual pressure, intimidation and psychological manipulation are all examples of abuse.

Those that had upside-down childhoods where they were forced to “parent” a parent or had healthy boundaries ignored, are most at risk for this type of relationship. Children who were yelled at one moment and then showered with apologies and loving behaviors the next become confused and often times miss the signs of abuse in adult relationships. Children that were blamed, made wrong, ignored, put down, or abused physically are at high risk for adult domestic abuse.

When your childhood is filled with emotional ups and downs; it’s easy as an adult to equate this type of behavior with love. As a child you can’t leave your parent so you either try to “fix” them, or you make excuses for them and take the blame.


If you, like so many, had this type of childhood, here are the signs to watch for in your intimate relationships:

– Being extra attentive to another person’s needs vs. your own healthy boundaries. Over time, if you’re in an abusive relationship (or grew up in an abusive household), you learn to walk on egg shells so you don’t upset your partner. Chances are you did this with a parent and unconsciously do this with friends and co-workers. Keeping quiet, not speaking your mind, not wanting to rock the boat, justifying bad behaviors as “oh, i must be overreacting” are all signs that you’re not listening to your inner voice. Anytime you’re in indecision about whether or not you should be upset about something you’re ignoring your inner voice.

– Another sign is that you no longer get together with friends as often as you once did, since you are always trying to repair an argument or get over a recent dramatic event within your relationship. Missing social events or spending the weekend fighting instead of having fun together can be a sign that you’re in a bad relationship. You may start to feel isolated as your partner demands most of your time. You may even hear yourself justifying your partner’s behaviors and making excuses for them. As time passes, victims lose their self esteem and start to question and blame themselves for all of the problems within the relationship.

– Often domestic violence victims start to cower in other areas of their life, backing down from any sort of conflict. Rather than speaking your truth, you keep quiet to keep the peace. Perhaps it is a habit from your relationship, or maybe you’re just too tired to speak up after so much conflict at home. Asserting your needs and desires begins to feel like a battle zone and it becomes easier to just accommodate instead of worrying it will erupt into a tense situation.

– If you grew up in an emotionally disruptive household you may not be able to really identify what you’re feeling or what you need and want. Children that live with volatile parents learn to put the parent first and caretake. If children aren’t taught good boundaries, they are taught to think outside of their own needs and grow up ignoring these needs.

– Do you put yourself in dangerous situations such as aggressive driving by your partner yet stay quiet so you don’t set them off into a violent rage?

– Are you exhausted most of the time? Are you starting to have a hard time making decisions for yourself and find your thinking cloudy? Do you question yourself and your needs more than you trust your own knowledge?

– Do you find yourself having sex when you don’t want it on a regular basis to just keep the peace? Any time you find yourself doing what you really don’t want to do just to keep the peace is a sign that you are giving your power away.

– Do you find yourself breaking up and then getting back together, often forgiving bad behaviors, giving them another chance and believing empty promises that never come true?


Many domestic violence victims want to believe that their partners have changed, want to believe that there can be a fresh start and hope that their love can overcome all obstacles. When children from violent childhoods can’t escape the angry parent, they learn to justify bad behaviors, blame themselves and then hope unrealistically that the parent can and will change. This cycle becomes learned and unconscious.

True love is a give and take scenario. Sure at times you may do things you don’t really want to do for your partner’s sake but you know in your heart when this is occurring on a regular basis.

Real love between two healthy people respects boundaries, shares the burden of blame when things go wrong, and works to find a way to work things out without verbal abuse or rage.

The good news is that once you get it, really get it; you look backwards and forwards with such clarity that you never miss the signs again. You vibrate at a different frequency and clarity moves back through your past and into your future. You recognize the signs you ignored and see the patterns you participated in…. Ah-ha moments realizing what you’ve endured, where you came from, how these habits formed, and how you will be treated in the future come frequently and with crystal clarity.

You are stronger and smarter and able to lend a hand to those around you that may be in this situation. One by one we wake up, say no, and walk away forever.

Photo from David Castillo Dominici

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26 Responses to “Domestic Violence Isn’t Always Physical.”

  1. Camilla November 6, 2011 at 11:19 AM #

    Why am I smiling?
    Because, today I got it!
    Watch me run:)

  2. wanda July 9, 2011 at 1:45 PM #

    I think I have been living in emotional abuse. My husband has his own checking acct, and I don’t have a clue as what is in there.Also he wants all my child care money, which I don’t always give him but he gets mad & won’t talk to me. He used to tell me how dumb I was but I did tell him in front of one of our kids to not ever talk to me that way again, and he has not, but he makes his displeasure known in other ways. It’s very sutble but I know what he is doing. He does all the grocery shopping, and won’t buy fresh produce. He does coupons, etc. It’s getting harder & harder to ignore these signs. What to do? We have been married 35 yrs.

  3. Melanie May 27, 2011 at 5:00 PM #

    If you haven’t seen Telling Amy’s Story, please go to and watch the trailer. This film, produced by Penn State Public Broadcasting, tells the story of Amy Homan McGee–a woman who was killed by her husband in 2001. The film and the website help others to know what to do and how we all may be able to help others who are in domestic violence situations. No matter what, you are not alone.

    • tamara June 2, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

      Thank you Melanie. I broke up with him after he broke into my home. Right now he’s facing 3-4 felony charges, domestic violence and harassment. Finally this man will be stopped. I’m not the first to experience him. I appreciate the note.. xo

  4. *K* May 4, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

    Thank you! I know I am a latecomer, but linked over to this from elephant and needed to read it. I was in an abusive relationship (mentally and emotionally – he never hit me, which as you point out makes it really easy to justify staying) for eight years and only realized the signs after a few severe, health/stress-related “wake up calls” forced me into action. I started taking note of when I felt exhausted/run down, and slowly started to realize that I had married someone quite a bit older than me when I was way too young to recognize his controlling/angry/manipulative tendencies. As I became an adult, with my own career, life and personality that was separate from his and beyond his control, his behavior got more angry and more invasive – reading my emails, logging into my social networking accounts, waking me up in the middle of the night to interrogate me about my actions (I was never unfaithful and never even considered it, actually, but he just could not trust me it seemed) etc. etc. I did some research and realized I was in quite a situation, and in fact I had made many of the choices that resulted in my being there! Of course I grew up in a chaotic home. Of course I was well-versed in walking on eggshells and keeping the peace. Of course I put others’ needs above my own on a regular basis. And like you pointed out, I am a smart, successful, well-educated woman! Who would have thought?! My situation ultimately resulted in divorce after my repeated attempts to talk about his behavior (and mine) and get us both into counseling were adamantly rejected. It sucked but I am a happier person now…and I hope he is too. Thank you for writing this. I have often questioned…why didn’t any of my friends tell me? Why didn’t any of my friends/family members warn me that his behavior was “off?” And I have finally decided that this form of abuse is just so subtle, so unnoticeable except to the person experiencing it, that many people just don’t know it’s even happening. We need to be more aware of this, in society, as a whole.

    • tamara June 2, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

      So glad you read this. Aghh, we go through so much until we learn don’t we? much love to you.

    • Sha August 2, 2013 at 6:01 PM #

      Probably why no one told you is that you probably wouldn’t have listened. I know from experience. Many told me but I just made excuses for him. But much happier now then ever.

      • tamara August 2, 2013 at 6:20 PM #

        I do not understand your comment.

  5. Ingrid May 3, 2011 at 4:50 AM #

    Hi Tamara
    I came accross your article via elephant journal. What you have described is what I went through with my father and what I am going through now with my partner, I have experienced everything that you talk about here. Somehow I ended up in a situation I tried so hard to avoid.
    I’ll bookmark your article so I can read it when I need to remember to stand up for myself.
    Yesterday while I was driving I saw a double rainbow for the first time ever and as I scrolled to the bottom of this article, a photo of a double rainbow….. I’m sure that must mean something good :)

  6. Heather Bray March 24, 2011 at 6:56 PM #

    Your words truly touched something in me. I felt like you were talking directly to me, and it is hard to hear the words and accept the truth. I came from a dysfunctional home- and as you said, I find myself justifying actions I know I don’t deserve. I came across your blog through elephantjournal- maybe this was why.
    much thanks and many blessings.

    • tamara March 30, 2011 at 8:47 PM #

      Big sigh of relief that you read it Heather and resonated with it. Thank you for sharing. Whenever I write something personal I really hope someone else benefits from my mistakes.

  7. Barb December 23, 2010 at 9:48 AM #

    “You are stronger and smarter and able to lend a hand to those around you that may be in this situation. One by one we wake up, say no, and walk away forever. Finally we find ourselves walking toward freedom and real love, hell…we find ourselves running toward it!”

    What an awesome statement. I’m there. My kids and I endured my long term extremely abusive relationship. Now, my girls are, two of them anyway, are repeating it. I can see as you said “crystal clear.” I hope and pray that one day, they will as well. I lent a hand and have been rejected. I guess we all need to find our own way but I sure do wish they would have learned something from what they saw in our home and MY recovery from it. Thanks.

    • tamara December 23, 2010 at 10:23 PM #

      Thank you Barb. I didn’t get many responses on this post~here or on facebook and I silently wondered if it was “off”. Thank you so much for letting me know it made a difference. That is what I hoped when I wrote it. Also so happy to know that you had the strength, courage and insight to leave. Many blessings to you. Your girls were given a good example of a strong woman. xo

  8. JJ October 16, 2010 at 10:05 AM #

    I love the line “You vibrate at a different frequency and clarity moves back through your past and into your future”…thus, despite how difficult our childhood was, and many people blame their parents and past for what happens now, transformation is always possible. Great piece!

    • tamara October 22, 2010 at 11:15 AM #


  9. Christopher Spiewak October 5, 2010 at 11:51 PM #

    Tamara, this is incredibly well written!  It touches on so many items that people in abusive relationships (even the most educated & articulate people) are too often unaware they are effecting or enabling. Of course no one is perfect but increasing ones awareness of many of the red flags you’ve described would help anyone decrease their role in enabling an unhealthy relationship to continue. 

    • tamara October 5, 2010 at 11:56 PM #

      thank you christopher…
      hard lesson to learn!

  10. tamara October 22, 2010 at 11:16 AM #

    thank you so much for the retweet. i need to get savvy on twitter, but I do know the value of the retweets!


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