Experts: Warning signs of domestic abuse often ignored

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on March 7, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 8 at 2:21 PM

They don't come from a certain neighborhood. They don't look, talk, or walk the same way. They don't really stand out, but they lash out.

"You're afraid of your life," explained Aida Mitchell. "You're shaking. You're hurt and then you are loved. You are really confused."

Through five years of marriage, Mitchell said she was shoved, hit, dragged, and threatened. Looking back, there were early red flags that she either didn't see or chose not to see.

"Everything moved fast, really fast," she said of the beginning of their relationship. "We started having trouble on our honeymoon."

Executive Director of Genesis Women's Shelter Jan Langbein said a fast-moving relationship may be a sign of trouble to come. She's heard the stories and seen the pattern.

"They are very romantic," she said. "'He swept me off my feet.' 'Even though my friends, family, coworkers didn't like him, I felt like he was my knight in shining armor.'"

She said abusers often pressure a woman to get too serious too soon. And after a commitment, they often begin to control.

That's another warning sign.

"I wanted to use the cell phone, 'No, who you calling?'" Langbein said.

She said abusive men often control try to control phone calls, texts, e-mails, and money.

"It can start off very simple," Langbein said. "'Hey, bring home all the receipts for purchases you made today.' [Then progress to] 'Where is that $1.50 that's not accounted for?'"

One of the biggest red flags Mitchell remembered appeared at a fast food restaurant.

"As I'm looking at what I wanted to order, he placed the order of what he wanted and ordered me one thing off the menu, and I was like, 'That's not what I want,'" she said. "And he was like, 'Well that's what you're going to eat.'"

She said he would remind her he had power and control over everything. And she began to feel like she was nobody.

Experts also say abusers often control their victims' self worth, by talking down to them, belittling what's important to them, and telling them their opinions and values don't matter.

And in some cases, abusers demand perfection in odd, obsessive ways.

"If I don't lay out the silverware just right, and it's a problem in my home, that's a problem. If I don't have the towels folded exactly right, and he may have his own reason why he wants them folded a certain way, but I shouldn't be afraid if I don't get it exactly right," Langbein said. "So many women think with this whole list of what he wants and needs. That, 'If I cried less, smiled more, if dinner was on time, and I didn't wear this suit, if the kids were quiet and there was cold beer in the icebox, then it would be okay. But what we know is, there is nothing a victim can do to change that person's behavior."

Mitchell learned that. And she began to stand up.

"Then the control became abusive and aggressive," she said. And then she says her ex began to isolate her -- another warning sign, according to experts.

"It was like, 'I hide all of your clothes so you can't go to work, and I throw away your makeup so you don't have to look pretty when you go out of the house, and I broke your cell phone so you don't have communication with others," Mitchell recalled.

Langbein added, "It can be isolation from friends or family. Controlling not only what I do and what I wear, but where I go, who I see, who I can be around, how much time I can spend. You give these small pieces away, and you wake up one day and realize, 'I don't know who I am anymore.'"

Mitchell woke up, felt it, and finally left. The successful businesswoman with a master's degree, began living in a shelter. She got divorced, and got counseling. So did her ex. He's now involved with their daughter.

He's different. She is, too.

"When I was going through my situation, I remember my family telling me, 'We thought you were smart. What is happening to you? Why can't you get out?'" Mitchell said. "And I couldn't answer that question myself. 'I don't know. I love him.'"

But love isn't supposed to hurt. And there are often signs warning that it will.

For more information or help on how to get out of an abusive relationship, visit this link.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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