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Common questions — and answers — about domestic violence

By The Health News Team | October 27, 2023
Woman holding her hands over her face while looking out the window

Relationships play a vital role in supporting good mental health. Researchers have found that having high-quality relationships can help prevent stress and depression. However, unhealthy relationships can have the opposite effect and may even damage a person’s mental health.

Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, occurs when someone in a relationship engages in a pattern of behavior to gain or maintain power and control over their partner.

Shanette Smith, LMFT, lead clinical program developer at Sharp Mesa Vista, says there are common misconceptions about domestic violence. She shares what those are, what might lead to abuse in relationships, and how someone in an abusive relationship can get support.

Your top questions, answered

What don’t people understand about domestic violence?

Some of the most damaging misconceptions about domestic violence include the idea that domestic violence is unusual. In fact, domestic violence is a common occurrence, accounting for 15% of violent crimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Additionally, many believe domestic violence only happens to low-income or uneducated women. However, domestic violence can occur in every walk of life.

A person’s socioeconomic status and level of education do not cause domestic violence. The same is true for a person’s sex, gender identity, race, religion or sexual orientation. But having limited financial resources and a lack of education can play a role in how and when someone decides to leave an abusive relationship.

And finally, when it comes to domestic violence, many people assume it is only physical in nature. But domestic violence often does not start out physically.

Domestic violence will likely begin with verbal or emotional abuse, or efforts to isolate the other person. Domestic violence can also be financial, sexual or psychological in nature. Often, someone experiencing domestic violence will experience more than one form of abuse.

What are signs of a toxic relationship that could escalate to domestic violence?

Signs of a toxic relationship can be subtle. Because of this, they may easily be dismissed. However, common signs to watch for include:

  • Threatening

  • Name-calling

  • Isolating the partner from others

  • Manipulating, such as gaslighting, which is when one person makes the other question their perception of reality or memory by lying, denying or trivializing

  • Terrorizing

  • Blaming

  • Injuring

  • Coercing

How can someone safely leave an abusive relationship?

It can be difficult to leave any relationship. A relationship where domestic violence is present brings about its own set of challenges. However, there are several ways your loved ones and others can assist you. When possible, seek support from loved ones, such as family or friends, and research — or ask an ally to research — available community resources.

It can also be useful to have a safety plan that includes a “go bag.” This can include items such as clothes, cash, a phone and any important legal documents, as well as information on places to stay and emergency phone numbers. Those leaving a domestic violence relationship are also encouraged to change their phone numbers, alter any routine daily activities, and notify their employer or school of the situation for added security.

How can someone in a toxic or abusive relationship find support?

Recognizing the signs of domestic violence is the first step. Once you know the relationship is not healthy, you can devise an emotionally and physically safe way to leave.

When possible, it’s important to remain in contact with loved ones or other trustworthy people who can offer support. And anyone in a violent relationship can seek help and support through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. Another resource to consider is individual therapy. Sharp Mesa Vista also offers various mental health services.

“Remember that help is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Smith says. “Sometimes, asking for help can be the biggest challenge, but I wish for anyone experiencing domestic violence to know you are worthy of receiving help and living a healthy life.”

Learn more about mental health services at Sharp; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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