The most common excuse that is heard at Abuse Hotlines is that it was caused by the partner’s mental illness. A lot of mental illnesses do induce unusual or violent behavior in victims, for example, Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar disorder , Narcissistic personality, Antisocial personality and even PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). However, nothing in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM 5) states that even serious mental illnesses like these are the sole cause of domestic abuse. They may increase the risk of abusive behaviour but they are NOT the cause of abuse.
There is no denying that mental illnesses do affect the patient’s life in all aspects from personal to professional. However, the most affected part is indeed the personal relationships rather than the professional ones and that is not entirely because of the mental illness itself.
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Abusive behavior and mental illness are separate entities
Abusive behaviors are mostly common at home with one’s intimate partner rather than outside. In fact, many times the perpetrator may even appear normal in front of their friends or co-workers and even other family members. The partner may appear to have a fake personality in front of others that may appear friendly or even kind. However when both the victim and the abuser are alone, they may show a completely different side of themselves.
While it may appear as if they have mental issues that make them act in such a way, do remember that a person who is able to control themselves in front of others and solely isolate their victims is very much conscious of his or her actions. In fact, they may even tell the victim things like “Nobody will believe you”, “Who are you going to tell”, “How are you going to prove it”.
Isolating and victimization
This act of isolating the victims and making them think that they can not be saved is not done because of mental illness. If it really was a mental illness then it should equally impact everyone and not just one or two people in private. What’s actually messed up are their “values” and “upbringing” rather than their mental health. Do know that a mentally ill person with violent tendencies will react equally to violence evoking stimuli. Let it be their family members, friends or even coworkers. They do not calculate consequences. A person with bad values on the other hand is more likely to be calculative and will only attack a victim that is physically or mentally weaker compared to him. This often implies his wife and his children, considering most cases of domestic violence are carried out by male perpetrators that view women as inferior. In case of female perpetrators they may carry out mental abuse or physical abuse only if they consider their partner inferior and easily manipulated.
In cases of individuals that are solely abusive to their partners with a history of mental illness, the two behaviors may often coincide. However, there are also many people with mental health issues that are still in healthy relationships and quite supportive of their partners. This means that even if the two behaviors may appear to be coinciding, they are not necessarily caused by each other. If your partner does have abusive behavior and a history of mental illness at the same time, then both of these issues need to be dealt with separately. A person with real mental issues may even consider getting themselves treated in order to improve their relationship. However, a person who may hurt you and refuses to seek treatment is a complete red flag with no desire to change for you and you must escape from such a person right away! You may think that your love and care can ultimately change your partner’s behavior but remember that mental illnesses can be addressed, problems with values and nature cannot.
How to differentiate
If you really want to be able to differentiate between whether your partner has violent outbursts due to mental problems or if they are like that by nature or values, here are a few questions that you need to answer for yourself
- Does your partner act the same way with others? Do they scream at or hit their friends, coworkers and other acquaintances or family members?
- Does your partner behave the same way in any other social gathering or space compared to how they act when they are alone with you?
- Is your partner manipulative and make threats that make you seem like you’re isolated and nobody would come to your rescue?
- How does your partner react with others when met with any situation of disagreement? Do they threaten them as well?
- Does your partner find others inferior or make verbally tearing comments at others as well?
- Is your partner willing to get help or try to genuinely change themselves for you?
In case most of your questions are answered with a no, then your partner is most likely to be abusive and it has nothing to do with their mental illness itself. In case your answer is yes to these all then your partner is abusive and has a mental illness too. In such a situation some of their abusive tendencies may be correlated to their mental illness but they may also separately have behavioral issues as well. In such cases it is necessary to get them help for both mental illness and for abuse issues separately.
Mental illness is never an excuse for abuse
Even if your partner does have mental illness paired with some abusive values, mental illness should never be an excuse to fend for abuse and neither should anyone tolerate it.Remember, abuse is always a choice! It is carried out to exert and maintain power and control over a partner. Abuse is always carried out upon someone that the perpetrator considers as inferior. They are not likely to hit or yell at anyone that they may consider superior or more powerful. Nobody goes about hitting their bosses everyday because they can’t control their anger. It is always either a wife or a child that they may consider inferior to themselves.
Never believe in the phrase “I couldn’t control my anger” especially if their anger is well controlled by someone who is stronger than them.
You deserve better
Even if your partner really is abusive due to any mental illness, you still don’t have to bear it. Either get them treatment and ask them to put effort in improvement or leave them. It is never easy to leave your partner especially when it comes to abuse victims because they are often terrorized or maybe even hopeful that their partner may change but never ever wait for that time. Do remember that a person who really values you would put visible effort into change not a lousy “I lost control”. Moreover, you do not owe anyone to be their anchor or therapy centre. There are enough professionals in that field and ultimately you deserve better.
How to help a victim of domestic abuse
In case you suspect or know that someone may be a victim of domestic abuse, never leave them on their own. If they really could help themselves, they wouldn’t be in such a situation. Domestic violence victims are always trapped, either physically or mentally. Don’t let your fears of intervention stop you from reaching out. You could really be saving a life just by not ignoring it.
Domestic violence victims are often isolated and in a state of fear. In fact, even if you reach out to them, sometimes they will push you back. This type of mistrust out of fear is completely normal. Even if they appear to be more than okay with this kind of abuse, they’re not. It is more likely that they have either internalized this abuse or they are suffering from a mental condition themselves. In case you are not sure how to help, it is always better to seek assistance for trained advocates and contact National Domestic Violence Hotline
Here are a few other things that you can do to win their trust and convince them over getting out of an abusive relationship.
- Make sure that you give them time. Many times, victims may not be ready to trust you or they may be afraid of their perpetrator. In such cases you need to give them time and enough reason to trust you. Also make sure that you don’t alarm their perpetrator in doing as they are more likely to further instill fear in them and drain all your efforts.
- Think about what you want to say to them. Don’t just randomly dive into situations or ask insensitive questions that may spook them out. Take it slow and do not force them to open up with you. It doesn’t work like that!
- Even listening to them without any judgement can be a huge contribution. Victims do not need your investigation as to what they might be doing wrong. Never do such a low action! Victims are never the cause of their abuse, the perpetrators are. Never try to teach a victim what they are doing wrong or justify the abuser. Listen patiently and understand what the victim needs from you. Victim blaming is the worst thing you can ever do to a victim and it certainly makes you an accomplice with the abuser as well.
- Believe the victim when they tell you about their abuse. Don’t go with things like ‘I don’t think this person is like that” or “maybe you’re misunderstanding” or the fact that you haven’t seen the abuser act in that. Many victims back away due to the fear of not being believed as their abuser may often show a different personality to outsiders. Remember even if someone is lying about their abuse (the chances of which are extremely low in real statistics) it is better to support a liar than an abuser.
- Validate the feelings of the victims. Make sure they are supported and often told that they don’t deserve this. Understand their guilt, anger and fear and make them realize that this is not their fault. Many times victims might not understand their own situation and may get accustomed to the violence or have mental conditions themselves. It is necessary that you understand the situation of the victims and act accordingly.
- Understand why the victims may stay. Pay attention to their feelings, whether it is out of fear or fake promises, family pressure, staying for children, lack of resources or anything else. Figure it out first and help the victims find the proper methods to overcome such problems so they can free themselves.
- Offer victims support. Especially female victims that may lack resources may need additional support. Even if you cannot personally offer those resources you can always reach out to relevant authorities that may be able to offer help.
- Make a safety plan for the victims that ensures that the violence will not occur again. This may include keeping safety code words or safe places that they can go to in case of emergency. Carefully plan all your steps and make sure that you know when to call the police.
While mental illness may coincide with abusive traits, it is not necessarily the cause of abuse. Abuse is caused by lack of proper morals and values rather than mental illnesses. If you know someone or suspect that someone may be going through abuse, make sure to reach out to the authorities in time and hire a domestic abuse lawyer like Orange County Domestic Violence Lawyer in order to deal with such a case effectively. Remember your one action of care can actually save someone’s life.