Understanding Power and Power and Control:
Many people think of abuse as an anger management problem – it is not. Abuse is any attempt to gain power or control over another person using emotional, physical or sexual tactics. Power and Control are at the center of an abusive relationship. Abuse is when there is a pattern of one person trying to gain power and/or control over another – trying to gain power and control over how that other person thinks, feels, acts, sees themselves and the world around them. The abuser is always the person responsible for the abuse.
One of the most recognizable forms of abuse is physical as physical violence may leave marks and people can more easily identify and see its impacts. Physical violence is more ‘in your face’.
Physical abuse may include being hit, beaten, pushed and shoved, burned, slapped, spit on, choked, kicked, bitten. A weapon can be used but may not be. Physical abuse may also include physical neglect by withholding food or medication, being physically handled in a rough manner, holding someone against their will or not looking after their personal or medical care needs. Part of physical abuse can include feeling physically intimidated, including the destruction of property around you.
There are many ways of having power and control over someone and they may be less easy to recognize as they may start out as or be more subtle. Instead of using physical abuse or sexual violence, many abusers may use verbal, financial, spiritual, psychological or emotional forms of power and control over the other person. These forms of abuse may not be as visible, but they can be even more devastating in their impacts. Some of these forms of power and control are shown below. They are abuse and often lead to physical violence.
Emotional or psychological abuse may include name calling, put downs, constant yelling, screaming, mind games, the silent treatment, insults, threats, humiliation or criticism, excessive jealousy or suspiciousness, threatening or harassing a woman or her support system, threatening or hurting pets, isolating a woman from her support system, depriving a woman of love and affection, or destroying property. Emotional and verbal abuse uses words and/or actions to tell a woman who she is and that she is not good enough. For some women, emotional abuse can be more damaging than physical violence and can take much longer to heal from. Emotional abuse can lead to mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion.
Sexual abuse is any unwanted, unsafe, degrading or offensive sexual activity. It includes rape (sexual assault) but also encompasses unwanted sexual touching, sexual harassment, pressuring for sex or sexual exploitation. Sexual abuse may include controlling reproductive choices and dismissing or degrading a women’s sexual identity. Many women have been taught the message that no means no. There are times that a woman will consent to sexual acts where yes does not mean yes. This is called submission. When someone agrees to complete a sexual act in order to be safe or through exhaustion from constant pressure, that act of sex is not an act of consent, but one of submission. It can be just as damaging to a woman’s sense of self as any other sexually abuse. Sexual abuse can be shaming and many women do not recognize it as a crime, especially when in a relationship.
Economic or financial abuse may include any action that takes away a woman’s right to be or to become financially independent or have control or input into financial decisions. This may include preventing a woman from working or keeping a job, controlling her employment choices, exploiting her financially, destroying her credit rating, expecting sexual acts in return for money, and limiting her ability to attend and/or complete school.
Sexism happens when a woman is told and treated as though she is less because she is a woman. This stems from the belief system that men are superior to women and is used to maintain power and control in a relationship by defining roles, rules, expectations and value within the relationship based on gender. This belief is often reinforced by messages given by our culture and society.
Spiritual abuse may include preventing a woman from participating in spiritual or religious practices, demeaning her beliefs, or using spiritual beliefs to justify how the abuser treats her or to have control over her. All forms of abuse serve to impact on a woman’s spiritual and emotional health and well-being.
Using Children happens when a child is used as a means to have power and/or control in a relationship.
This may include threatening to take away a woman’s children if woman leaves the relationship, hurting or threatening to hurt the children, using the children after the woman has left the relationship to “spy” on Mom or communicate with her, or not paying child support, belittling Mom as a parent.
Denying, Minimizing and Blaming works to make a woman believe that she is responsible for the violence perpetrated against her. This may include when an abuser denies the abuse or makes it seem as if it was not as serious as the victims says it is; when a woman is told that she is responsible for or deserves the abuse; when the abuser does not take responsibility for their actions; or when a woman’s strengths and skills are used against her. This form of abuse works to have the woman believe that the abuse is her fault. It can also lead to a sense of helplessness for no matter what a woman does, she is wrong and to blame for her experience of abuse.
Isolation and Extreme Jealousy happens when a woman is no longer able to stay connected to her support system, such as family, friends, or employment, or to even feel free and comfortable to associate with the people around her. This may include controlling who she sees, where she goes and what she does; alienating her from friends and family; accusing her of cheating; or moving her to a community where she knows no one or is far away from supports. This form of abuse serves to keep the abuser’s home base stable and impacts on the abused person’s ability to seek help for the abuse that is happening to them.
Intimidation and Threat happens when words, gestures or actions are used to make a woman fearful for her safety, both emotionally and/or physically. This may include outright threats to hurt, throwing objects or destroying property, punching walls, threatening to commit suicide. This form of abuse can create anxiety and despair for a woman.
No form of abuse stands alone. They are interconnected. You cannot be physically abused without feeling the emotional impacts. Someone threatening to take your money is both a form of financial abuse, and intimidation and threats. Someone calling you names in front of your family so you are too embarrassed to spend time around them is isolation and emotional/verbal abuse.
No form of abuse is worse than another. They all work to hurt who we believe we are, who we are and how we express this in our lives.
If you are a victim of abuse or think you may be, please call the shelter at 705-476-2429. Staff are available 24 hours a day, every day of the week to talk.