By Dana Morningstar
The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.”
Domestic violence does not only include married couples; it can be any harm inflicted on a member of a household or family by another member of the same household or family.
Example: Martha’s mother has been verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to her and her two brothers since they were small children. However, Martha is the one who bears the brunt of her abuse. Anytime Martha shows any individuality that doesn’t line up with her mother’s view of her, her mother verbally and emotionally undermines her, by saying her goals or plans are wrong, stupid, or complete fantasy, and that she’ll never achieve them.
Example: When John’s father left his mother for another woman, John’s mother, Eve, began referring to John as the man of the house, even though he was only seven. Eve would pressure John to sleep in the same bed as her and cuddle and listen to her vent whenever she had a problem. As John got older, Eve guilted him out of having friends or dating by telling him that she was scared he would run off and not come back home, too—and that she didn’t know what she would do without him. John felt bad for his mother and didn’t want her to feel anxious like that, and over time, he ended up sacrificing all of his friendships and plans to go to college so he could take care of his mother.
Example: Paul was controlling, demanding, and temperamental. His wife Sharron and two children walked on eggshells around him. He would periodically explode and launch into verbally abusive tirades, cussing at them and calling them names. Periodically, his temper would escalate to where he began shoving his wife or his oldest son around the house. Neither Sharron nor his son viewed what was happening as abusive, since they weren’t being hit. It wasn’t until Sharron began seeing a therapist for anxiety that she learned that she was, in fact, in an abusive relationship.
Example: Serena’s mother would discipline her children by either whipping them with a belt until they couldn’t sit down, or she would lock them in the closet with the light off until she decided they’d had enough. She continually told them that she did this because she loved them and just wanted them to behave.
Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”