What is Domestic Violence/Abuse

Domestic violence is prevalent in every community, and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior as part of a much larger, systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death.

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, can come in many different forms. At the root of all forms of abuse, however, is the need for the abusive partner to keep power and control over the victim.

We hope that reading about all of the different forms of abuse will help you to recognize some abusive behaviors that you may not have considered to be abusive. 

Domestic violence is about one person getting and keeping power and control over another person in an intimate relationship. It is a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation and emotional, sexual, economic, or other forms of abuse to control and change the behavior of the other partner. The abusive person might be your current or former spouse, live-in lover, dating partner, or some other person with whom you have a relationship.

Here are some examples of the different forms of abuse: 

PHYSICAL ABUSE: Physical abuse in a relationship often starts gradually, such as with a push or a slap, and then becomes progressively worse over time. Physical abuse basically involves a person using physical force against you, which causes, or could cause, you harm. Grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hitting, hair pulling, biting, etc.; denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.

SEXUAL ABUSE: Sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, and sexual exploitation are all too common in abusive relationships. However, oftentimes, these forms of abuse are the least talked-about. Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact without consent, e.g., marital rape; forcing sex after physical beating; attacks on sexual parts of the body or treating another in a sexually demeaning manner; forcing the victim to perform sexual acts on another person, perform sexual acts via the Internet, or forcing the victim to pose for sexually explicit photographs against his/her will.

ECONOMIC / FINANCIAL ABUSE: Financial abuse is one form of domestic abuse. Withholding money, stealing money, and restricting the use of finances. Making or attempting to make a person financially dependent, e.g., maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment. 

EMOTIONAL ABUSE: Undermining a person’s sense of self-worth, e.g., constant criticism, belittling one’s abilities, name calling, damaging a partner’s relationship with the children. An abuser may also use his/her or your HIV-positive status or sexual orientation as a means to control you. For example, an abuser may threaten to reveal your HIV status or your sexual identity.

PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: Causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to himself/herself, you, your family member, or your children; destruction of pets and property; stalking you or cyberstalking you, playing “mind games” to make you doubt your sanity (gaslighting); forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work; humiliating you; and demeaning you.

Even when there is no physical violence, abusive language can be very damaging to you and your children. Emotional and psychological abuse are include mostly non-physical behaviors that the abuser uses to control, isolate, or frighten you. Often, the abuser uses it to break down your self-esteem and self-worth in order to create a psychological dependency on him/her.

Emotional and psychological abuse are hard forms of abuse to recognize because the abuse is spread throughout your everyday interactions. Unlike physical abuse, there are often no isolated incidents or clear physical evidence to reference.

SEXUAL COERCION AND REPRODUCTIVE CONTROL: Reproductive abuse is when a person tries to control your reproductive choices in order to control your life. Reproductive abuse is also often called “reproductive coercion.” Coercion is when a person tries to persuade someone to do something by using force or threats. When a partner sabotages your birth control efforts by demanding unprotected sex, lying about “pulling out,” hiding or destroying birth control (i.e., flushing pills down the toilet or poking a hole in a condom), preventing you from getting an abortion or forcing you to get an abortion. 

LITIGATION ABUSE: Once someone separates from an abusive spouse/partner, the abuser may try to keep power and control over the victim by misusing the court system against the victim. For example, filing repeated petitions or motions, requesting many adjournments, appealing the judge’s orders without a legal basis to do so, or taking other actions that make the victim repeatedly come to court. Sometimes this type of behavior is called “litigation abuse.”

Unfortunately, litigation abuse is challenging to deal with because it is hard to limit someone’s right to file in court. If you are facing litigation abuse, you may want to try proving to the judge that the cases the abuser keeps bringing are not based on a good reason (without merit) and are filed instead to harass you. 

CULTURAL AND IDENTITY ABUSE: Threatening to “out” your sexual orientation or gender identity, your participation in S & M or polyamory, your HIV status, your immigration status, or any other personal information to family, friends, co-workers, landlords, law enforcement, etc. Using your race, class, age, immigration status, religion, size, physical ability, language, and/or ethnicity against you in some way. 

STALKING: Stalking is a term used to define a type of harassment. It refers to persistent and unwanted attention directed at or towards a victim by another person that makes the victim feel pestered and harassed and causes alarm or distress or fear that violence might be used. Stalking often continues for a long period of time, making the victim constantly anxious and afraid.
Social media and the internet can be used for stalking and harassment. This is known as ‘cyber-stalking’ or online threats and this form of harassment can also cause alarm and distress. Stalking involves a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear. It can be carried out in a number of ways, many of which involve technology and online spaces. 

While stalking/cyberstalking can be committed by someone you don’t know, it is most often a crime perpetrated by someone with whom you are familiar.

HARASSMENT: Harassment refers to a person acting in a manner that causes a person to fear harm. Harm refers to any mental, psychological, physical or economic harm. A victim may become ill, both mentally and physically, due to the harassment. Harassing conduct can lead to increased stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression, poor concentration and can affect self-confidence and self-respect. Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. The conduct is such that it violates the dignity of the complainant or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 

The devastating consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.

Different Types of Domestic Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any intentional or unwanted contact with you or any act or threatened act of physical violence towards a person.


This is the type of abuse that many people think of when they hear the word abuse. Examples of physical abuse include:

·         Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.

·         Throwing something at person such as a phone, book, shoe or keys.

·         Pulling your hair or grabbing your clothes.

·         Pushing, shoving or pulling you.

·         Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or any other weapon.

·         Smacking your bottom without your permission or consent.

·         Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.

·         Grabbing your face to make you look at them.

·         Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.

·         Refusing medical care and/or controlling medication.

·         Coercing a person into substance abuse. 

Sexual Abuse

While sexual abuse can be a form of physical abuse, we put it in a category by itself because it can include both physical and non-physical components. It can involve rape or other forced sexual acts.


Unwanted sexual attention from a person who knows or ought to reasonably know that such attention is unwelcome. Any conduct that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the sexual integrity of a person.


Sexual abuse is not about sex. It is about power.


Unwelcome sexual attention from a person who knows or ought to reasonably know that such attention is unwelcome.


Explicit or implicit behavior, suggestions, messages or remarks of a sexual nature that have been the effect of offending, intimidating, humiliating a person.


An abusive partner might also use sex as a means to judge their partner and assign a value – in other words, criticizing or saying that someone isn’t good enough at sex, OR that sex is the only thing they’re good for.


Examples of sexual assault and abuse include:

·         Unwanted kissing or touching. 

·         Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.

·         Rape or attempted rape.

·         Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.

·         Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STI's)

·         Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed ”yes” or  “no”.

·         Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.

·         Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.

·         Using sexual insults towards someone. 

Emotional, Verbal and Psychological Abuse

Emotional, Verbal and Psychological abuse happens when one partner, through a series of actions or words, wears away at the other’s sense of mental well-being and health. It often involves making the victim doubt their own sanity.


This type of abuse may not cause physical damage, but it does cause emotional pain and scarring. It can also lead to physical violence if the relationship continues on an unhealthy path.

Sometimes verbal abuse is so bad that a victim can start actually start believing what their abuser says. They start to feel stupid, ugly or worthless.


Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse is a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards a person, including insults, ridicule, name calling and repeated threats to cause emotional pain and the repeated exhibition of obsessiveness or jealousy which is such as to constitute a serious invasion of the victim’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security. 


Emotional abuse can cause a victim to lose confidence, lowers their self-esteem and as a result the victim may start to blame themselves for the abusive behavior.


The repeated exhibition of obsessiveness or jealousy which is such as to constitute a serious invasion of the persons privacy, liberty, integrity or security. 


The emotional scars of abuse can often take longer to heal than that of physical abuse.



There are many behaviors that qualify as emotional, verbal or psychological abuse, including:

·         Degrading and insulting a victim such as calling them names.

·         Yelling and screaming.

·         Intentionally embarrassing a person in public by shaming or humiliating them.

·         Intimidating a person:

o   Uttering or conveying a threat, or causing a person to receive a threat, which induces fear.

o   Using force, coercion or a threat, aggressively dominate, or intimidate a person by means of stalking, harassing or outright threatening a person either:

§  In-person

§  Electronically

§  Digitally

§  Telephonically

§  Through a third party

·         Harassing a person by means of engaging in a pattern of conduct that induces fear of harm to a person including:

o   Repeatedly watching, or loitering outside of or near the building or place where the complainant resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be

o   Repeatedly making contact or inducing another person to make contact to the person, whether or not conversation ensues. Contac by means of:

§  Telephone calls

§  Letters

§  Telegrams

§  Packages / unwanted gifts

§  Facsmiles

§  Electronic mail

§  Text

·         Preventing a person from seeing or talking with friends and family.

·         Telling a person what to do and wear.

·         Damaging a person’s property when they are angry, such as throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.

·         Using online communities or cellphones to control, intimidate or humiliate a person.

·         Blaming the victim for their abusive or unhealthy behaviour.

·         Accusing a partner of cheating and often being jealous of other relationships.

·         Stalking by repeatedly following, pursuing, or accosting a person by means of:

o   Watching, following or harassing a person

o    Making a person feel afraid or unsafe.

o   Show up at the home or place of work unannounced or uninvited.

o   Sending unwanted text messages, letters, emails and telephone calls.

o   Leaving or giving unwanted gifts, such as flowers or chocolates.

o   Constantly calling, not speaking and/or hanging up.

o   Using social network sites and technology to track a person.

o   Spreading rumours about a person either online or by word of mouth.

o   Calling your employer, colleagues, employees or family members.

o   Using resources to investigate a person such as creating fake social media accounts to monitor a person.

·         Threatening to commit suicide to keep a person in the relationship.

·         Threatening to harm a person, their animals or people they care about.

·         Using gaslighting techniques to confuse or manipulate a person.

·         Making a person feel guilty or immature when they don’t consent to sexual activity.

·         Threatening to expose a person’s secrets.

·         Starting rumors about a person.

·         Threatening to have a person’s child taken away. 

Economic and Financial Abuse

The unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which a person is entitled to under law or which a person requires out of necessity, including household necessities, mortgage bond payments, or payments in respect of rent of the shared residence and/or the unreasonable disposal of household effects or other property in which a person has interest.


This form of abuse is about power and control, an abuser will use any means necessary to maintain that control, and often that includes finances and sometimes causing a person to lose their job resulting in a victim needing to be financially dependent on their abuser.


Whether it be controlling all of the budgeting in the household and not letting the victim have access to their own bank accounts or spending money, or opening credit cards and running up debts in the survivors name, or simply not letting the survivor have a job and earn their own money. This type of abuse is often a big reason why a person is unable to leave an abusive relationship.


The following are examples of financial and economic abuse:

·         Inflicting physical harm or injury that would prevent the person from attending work.

·         Harassing a person at their workplace.

·         Harassing co-workers, employees or managers at the workplace of a person and jeopardising their job.

·         Controlling financial assets and income

·         Putting a person on an allowance and closely monitoring how they spend it. 

·         Damaging a person’s credit score.

·         Withholding shared banking accounts information from a person.

·         Forbidding a person to work or limit the hours they can work.

·         Preventing a person from going to work, for example withholding car keys or transport.

·         Using or maxing out a person’s credit card without permission.

·         Withholding money for food, rent, medicine or clothing.

·         Giving a person gifts and/or paying for things like dinner and expecting a favour or something in return.

·         Using money in any way to hold power over a person. 

Digital and Technological Abuse

This form of abuse includes the use of technology to monitor, control, bully, harass, intimidate and stalk a person. 


An abuser can use technology to do or say anything to make a person feel bad, lower their self-esteem and install fear in them while completely disregarding a person’s right to privacy.


Examples of Digital and Technological Abuse:

·         Hacking, or attempting to hack, into a person’s:

o   Email,

o   Website,

o   Computer/Laptop

o   Phone

o   Any personal accounts.

·         Tracking, or attempting to track, a person’s cell phone to monitor their location, phone calls and messages.

·         Monitoring interactions via social media.

·         Demanding to know a person’s passwords.

·         Tells a person who they can or can’t be friends with on Facebook or any other social media site.

·         Sends a person negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.

·         Using sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, to keep constant tabs on a person.

·         Naming or shaming a person in a status update.

·         Sending a person unwanted, explicit pictures and/or demands them from a person.

·         Pressures a person to send explicit video or sexts.

·         Steals or insists on being given a person’s passwords.

·         Constantly texts or calls person to make them feel as though they cannot be separated from their phone in fear for being punished.

·         Going through a person’s phone frequently, checking up on pictures, texts and outgoing or incoming calls.

·         Using any kind of technology, such as spyware or GPS in a car or on a phone to monitor a person. 

Cultural / Identity / Immigration Abuse

Cultural abuse happens when abusers use aspects of a persons particular cultural identity to inflict suffering, or as a means of control. Not letting a person observe the dietary, dress customs or religious beliefs or using racial slurs. 

There are specific tactics of abuse that may be used against a person including:

·         Destroying immigration papers or permits

·         Restricting a person from practicing their beliefs

·         Threatening to hurt a person’s chances of citizenship

·         Threatening to have a person deported 

Know what steps you can take

Get in contact with the National Gender Based Violence Command Centre

The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) operates under The Department of Social Development. The Centre operates a National, 24hr/7days-a-week Call Centre facility. The facility employs social workers who are responsible for call-taking and call referrals. 

Emergency: 0800 428 428

Send a “please call me: *120*7867#

SMS 'help' to 31531 for persons with disabilities 

The Centre is able to refer calls directly to SAPS (10111) and field Social Workers who respond to victims of GBV.

Get a Protection Order

How to obtain a Protection Order

Step 1: Gather information and documentation

* Take note of all the occurrences of domestic violence committed against you or your children on paper. Be clear with dates and times.
* Get your evidence together, this includes any voice or video recordings of threats/abuse, photos of cuts, scratches, bruises, injuries and any property or item damaged due to the violence, screenshots of messages, screenshots of calls, emails, messages, Affidavits, police reports, doctors reports, any report relating to your abuse. Anything and everything that has lead you to need protection. Print copies of everything so you have it on hand.
* Obtain all the relevant details of the person whom you want to be protected against, including his/her home and work addresses, telephone numbers and identity number.
* Ensure you have your identity document.

Step 2: Seek assistance

Go to the Police Station nearest to your home. Any member of the SAPS must assist you in every way necessary, including:
* giving you information about your rights;
* explaining the contents of the notice that sets out your rights. This explanation must include the remedies that you have in terms of the Domestic Violence Act and your right to lay a criminal charge, if the act committed has an element of violence;
* finding a safe place for you to stay or helping you make arrangements to find a place; and
* getting you medical treatment if required.

The following persons can apply for an interim protection order with your written consent, unless you are a minor, a mentally retarded person, unconscious or if the court is satisfied that you are unable to give the required consent:
* counsellors
* health workers
* police officers
* social workers
* teachers

Step 3: Apply for the interim protection order

Go to the nearest Family court within your district. Every magistrate’s court or High Court is a domestic violence court. To obtain the interim protection order, you need to go to the magistrate’s court in the area where you live or in which the respondent lives or where the abuse took place. Your application for the order will be made by way of a written statement (affidavit), outlining:
* the facts on which the application is based;
* the nature of the order; and
* the name of the police station where you are likely to report any breach of the order.

Where the application is brought on your behalf by another person, the affidavit must state:
* the grounds on which they have a material interest in your wellbeing;
* their occupation and the capacity in which they bring the application;
* your written consent, except in cases as outlined above.

Once at the court, the following steps will be taken:

1. You fill in an application form for a protection order and write out a statement (affidavit) about the abuse.
2. You make a sworn statement to the clerk that what you have written is true and you sign the application form.
3. The clerk signs and stamps your application form, opens a file for you and puts your papers into your file.
4. The clerk gives your file to the magistrate who reads through your application. The magistrate can either: dismiss your application if there is no evidence that domestic violence is taking place; or grant an interim (temporary) protection order in your favour, to be finalised on a date provided by the court where the respondent will have a chance to give his/her side of the story; or postpone the matter without granting an interim protection order and provide a date when the respondent will get a chance to give his/her side of the story.

Step 4: Serve the interim protection order

If the magistrate grants you an interim protection order, the following will happen:
1. The clerk notifies you of the return date, when you will need to go back to court, and gives you a case number.
2. The magistrate then issues a notice to appear in court and the respondent is informed that an application for an interim protection order was granted and that he/she must appear on the return date to give his/her side of the story.
3. The clerk files the original application and interim protection order forms into your file and hands you three copies. Two of the copies are for the sheriff or the police, depending on who will serve the interim protection order on the respondent. The clerk will also give you a return of service form to take to the police or sheriff.
4. You get the police or sheriff to serve the interim protection order. Please note that when the police serve the order it is done at no charge, however, when the sheriff serves the order, you will have to pay.
5. The police or sheriff visits the address that you have put on your form and serves a copy of the interim protection order on the respondent. It is crucial that the respondent is informed personally of the application and return date.
6. The police or sheriff fills in the return of service form and you are required to return it to the court when the interim protection order has been served on the respondent.

It is important to note that an interim protection order has no force until it is served on the respondent. Once the interim protection order is granted and served on the respondent, you will be able to have the respondent arrested if he/she disobeys it. Breaching any of the conditions set out in the order can result in the respondent receiving either a fine or a prison sentence, or both.
When the court grants an interim protection order, it simultaneously issues a warrant of arrest against the respondent. The warrant of arrest is suspended subject to compliance with any condition, prohibition or obligation in terms of the interim protection order.

Step 5: Make the order final

If the respondent does not appear in court on the day of the hearing, the protection order will be made final. If the respondent does appear, the court will hear evidence from you, the respondent and any other witnesses that may have been called. The court will then consider all the evidence put before it in order to make a decision.

In terms of the Domestic Violence Act, these proceedings are held in private. The only people that may be present are the parties involved, their legal representatives, anyone who has brought an application on your behalf, witnesses and the officers of court. You may also bring three people to provide you with support. The court has the power to exclude anyone from the proceedings. The Act also prohibits the publication of any information that may directly or indirectly reveal the identity of any party to the proceedings. When the magistrate has heard all the evidence, he/she will decide whether or not to issue the protection order.

You have rights! Take all the steps to protect yourself!

The importance of evidence

Why is evidence so important?

First and foremost having evidence is essential when you need to either open a case against an abuser or defend yourself and/or claims.

You will need evidence for:

- Your lawyer.

- To open a case.

- To file for protection.

- In the event of an investigation either either by law enforcement or for custody negotiations or legal enforcement.

What is considered evidence?



No matter how insignificant it might seem at the time, it might be a build up to something bigger.

How to collect evidence:

Keeping records of everything by:

- Taking photos of every mark or bruise as a result from physical abuse.

- Taking photos of anything damaged or broken as a result of physical intimidation or abuse.

- Recording calls and interactions with the abuser.

- Screenshots of calls and messages.

- Exports of conversations.

- Keeping a diary of all conversations, events and incidents.

- Keeping and printing all correspondence in case your device is either hacked or crashes.

- Documenting the OB number from police every time you need to either call for assistance or report anything to them.

- Making an affidavit after an event or incident where you, for whatever reason, did not call the police or report it to them.

By keeping evidence of everything you have the opportunity to use it when you need it.

Being prepared gives you peace of mind.

What to do if you are being harassed, intimidated or threatened by an “unknown” number?

- Log a query with your service provider for record purposes.

- Print out all screenshots of the calls. Note the date and time of all the calls as well as your number on your correspondence.

- Go to your nearest Police Station.

- Open a case of harassment/intimidation.

- The police will give you a reference number.

- Give the reference to your service provider for record purposes.

- The police will apply for a Section 205.

- Service provider will release the number and record of the calls to the police.

- The police are able to trace the location and therefore the identity of the caller.

- File for a protection order at your nearest Family Court.

Abusers who make use of digital platforms to harass and intimidate victims think they’re invisible and this empowers them.

Abusers think they are invisible... They are not!

Abusers think they are powerful... They are not!

You have rights!

You have a voice!

You have the power to stop them!

Click here to get info on how to apply for a Protection Order
Gender-Based Violence SA Government Resources Guide

Why do people abuse?

About abusers

Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. 

Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and they may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. 

They often believe that their own feelings and needs should be the priority in their relationships, so they use abusive tactics to dismantle equality and make their partners feel less valuable and deserving of respect in the relationship.

No matter why it happens, abuse is not okay and it’s never justified.Abuse is a learned behaviour. 

Sometimes people see it in their own families. Other times they learn it from friends or popular culture. However, abuse is a choice, and it’s not one that anyone has to make. 

Many people who experience or witness abuse growing up decide not to use those negative and hurtful ways of behaving in their own relationships. 

While outside forces such as drug or alcohol addiction can sometimes escalate abuse, it’s most important to recognize that these issues do not cause abuse.

Anyone can be abusive and anyone can be the victim of abuse. 

It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background. 

Please note that this article is not intended to explain, justify, or rationalize abuse. Nor is it designed to gain empathy or sympathy for the abuser. Abuse is wrong all the time in all circumstances. Rather the intent is to shed light on a question that plagues the abused, to gain understanding that all people do not have the same perspective of right and wrong, and to move the healing process further for those who have been damaged.  

Here are some facts you should know:

  • Usually, abuse takes place behind closed doors. 
  • Abusers deny their actions. 
  • Abusers blame the victim. 
  • Violence is preceded by verbal abuse. 
  • Abuse damages your self-esteem. 
  • The abuser needs to be right and in control. 
  • The abuser is possessive and may try to isolate their partner from friends and family. 
  • The abuser is hypersensitive and may react with rage. 
  •  A gun in the house increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.  
  • Two-thirds of domestic violence perpetrators have been drinking alcohol.    

Personality Traits of an abuser

They often have the following personality profile:

  • Insecure. 
  • Needy with unrealistic expectations of a relationship. 
  • Distrustful. 
  • Often jealous. 
  • Verbally abusive. 
  • Needs to be right and in control. 
  • Possessive; may try to isolate their partner from friends and family. 
  • Hypersensitive and reacts aggressively. 
  • Has a history of aggression. 
  • Is cruel to animals or children. 
  • Blames their behaviour on others. 
  • Suffers from untreated mental health problems including depression or suicidal behaviour.

Deeper look into what makes an abuser

They have a disorder. 

A small number of the population is anti-social personality disorder (sociopath or psychopath) and sadistic. These disorders gain pleasure from seeing others in pain and even more pleasure when they are the ones inflicting the agony. For them, abuse is a means to an end. They abuse others to gain personal pleasure.

They were abused. 

Some abusers act out their dysfunctional behaviour on others because it was done to them. In a subconscious effort to resolve their own abuse, they do the same to another person. This type of abusive behaviour is identical, meaning it matches almost exactly to their childhood experience.

They abuse because it was done to them. However, in this case the victim is the opposite. For instance, a boy who is sexually abused by a man might grow up to sexually abuse girls as evidence that they are not homosexual. The reverse can be true as well.

They watched something. 

With the advances in technology comes additional exposure at a young age to glorified abuse. Some movies, songs, TV shows, and videos minimize abuse by making fun of it or making it seem normal. A typical example is verbally attacking on another person by name calling or belittling.

They have anger issues. 

Uncontrolled and unmanaged rage frequently produces abusive behaviour. The source of this anger varies but it is usually tied to a traumatic event. Unresolved trauma sparks anger when triggered by a person, circumstance or place. Because this anger comes out of nowhere, it that much harder to control and manifests abusively.

They grew up with an addict. 

An addict blames others for the reason they engage in their destructive behaviour. While the victims are often forced to remain silent and acceptant of their behaviour. The end result is a lot of pent up anger and abusive behaviour. As an adult, the victim subconsciously seeks out others to blame for their actions.

They have control issues. 

Some people like to be in charge. In an effort to gain or remain in control of others, they utilize inefficient means of dominance such as bullying or intimidation. While forced control can be quickly executed, it does not have lasting qualities. True leadership is void of abusive techniques.

They don’t understand boundaries. 

Abusive people tend to lack the understanding of where they end and another person begins. They see their spouse/child/friend as an extension of themselves and therefore that person is not entitled to have any boundaries. The lack of distance means a person is subject to whatever the abuser decides.

They are afraid. 

People who do and say things out of fear tend to use their emotions as justification for why another person needs to do what is demanded. It is as if the fear is so important or powerful that nothing else matters except what is needed to subdue it.

They lack empathy. 

It is far easier to abuse others when there is no empathy for how the victim might feel. Some types of head trauma, personality disorders, and environmental traumas can cause a person to lack the ability to express empathy.

They have a personality disorder. 

Just because a person has a personality disorder does not mean that they will be abusive. However, the lack of an accurate perception of reality greatly contributes to abusive behaviour. If a person is unable to see their behaviour as abusive, then they will keep doing it.

They are exhausted. 

When a person reaches the end of rope, it is not uncommon for them to lash out at whoever is conveniently close. Think of it as a mental breakdown where all the things stuffed inside come pouring out usually in a destructive rather than constructive manner.

They are defensive. 

Defense mechanisms such as denial, projection, regression, and suppression are utilized when a person is backed into a corner. Instead of taking space, they come out swinging and retaliate in an abusive manner.  An abusive person may have some or all of these qualities depending on the circumstances. 

Remember, this is not about justifying their behaviour; rather it is about helping victims to understand why a person might be abusive.

Cycle of Violence

A build-up of tension. 

The attack. 

Remorse and apology.  

A honeymoon period of loving gestures.   

Sometimes, the threat of violence is all the abuser needs to control you, like a terrorist. The best time to abort violence is in the build-up stage. Some victims will even provoke an attack to get it over with, because their anxiety and fear is so great. 

After an attack, abusers say how sorry they are and promise never to repeat it, but without counselling to treat the underlying causes of the abuse repeat itself. 

Do not believe their promises. 

Why victims stay

There are many reasons why victims stay in a relationship, the dominant reason is dependency: Control by the abuser, shame about the abuse, and the dysfunctional nature of the relationship lowers the victim's self-esteem and confidence and often causes the victim to withdraw from friends and family, creating even more fear and dependency on the abuser. 

The abuse itself is experienced as an emotional rejection with the threat of being abandoned. This triggers feelings of shame and fears of both more abuse and abandonment in the victim, which are then relieved during the honeymoon phase. 

Then victims hope the abuser will change. After all, there are good times between episodes of abuse. 

There are reasons why the person loves or once loved the abuser, and often children are involved.

Abusers can have a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. He is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love him and make excuses for him. You may not see that the whole person is the problem. 

If you’ve had a painful relationship with a parent growing up, you can confuse love and pain. 

Victims also stay for the following reasons:


Nowhere else to live.

No outside emotional support.

Childcare concerns.

Taking the blame for the abuse.

Denying, minimizing, and rationalizing the abuse.

Low self-esteem and confidence.

They love the abuser. 

If you’re a victim of abuse, you feel ashamed. You’ve been humiliated and your self-esteem and confidence have been undermined. 

You hide the abuse from people close to you, often to protect the reputation of the abuser and because of your own shame. 

An abuser uses tactics to isolate you from friends and loved ones by criticizing them and making remarks designed to force you take sides. 

You’re either for them or against them. If the abuser feels slighted, then you have to take his or her side, or you’re befriending the enemy. 

This is designed to increase control over you and your dependence upon him or her. 

Steps You Can Take:

It’s essential to build outside resources and talk about what’s going on in your relationship. 

A professional is the best person, because you can build your self-esteem and learn how to help yourself without feeling judged or rushed into taking action. If you can’t afford private individual therapy, find a low-fee clinical in your city, learn all you can from books and online resources, join online forums, and find a support group at a local battered women’s shelter. 

Do this even if it means keeping a secret. You’re entitled to your privacy. 

And be sure to contact us to see how we can help you! info@silentrights.co.za

How to Recognize the Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse

More about Mental and Emotional Abuse

You probably know many of the more obvious signs of mental and emotional abuse. But when you’re in the midst of it, it can be easy to miss the persistent undercurrent of abusive behaviour. 

Psychological abuse involves a person’s attempts to frighten, control, or isolate you. It’s in the abuser’s words and actions, as well as their persistence in these behaviours.

The abuser could be your spouse or other romantic partner. They could be your business partner, parent, or a caretaker. 

 No matter who it is, you don’t deserve it and it’s not your fault. Continue reading to learn more, including how to recognize it and what you can do next.

Humiliation, negating, criticizing

These tactics are meant to undermine your self-esteem. The abuse is harsh and unrelenting in matters big and small.

Here are some examples:


They’ll blatantly call you “stupid,” “a loser,” or words too awful to repeat here.

 Derogatory “pet names.” 

This is just more name-calling in not-so-subtle disguise. “My little knuckle dragger” or “My chubby pumpkin” aren’t terms of endearment.  

Character assassination. 

This usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on. Basically, they say you’re not a good person. 


Yelling, screaming, and swearing are meant to intimidate and make you feel small and inconsequential. It might be accompanied by fist-pounding or throwing things. 


“Aw, sweetie, I know you try, but this is just beyond your understanding.” 

Public embarrassment. 

They pick fights, expose your secrets, or make fun of your shortcomings in public.


You tell them about something that’s important to you and they say it’s nothing. Body language like eye-rolling, smirking, headshaking, and sighing help convey the same message.


The jokes might have a grain of truth to them or be a complete fabrication. Either way, they make you look foolish.


Often just a dig in disguise. When you object, they claim to have been teasing and tell you to stop taking everything so seriously. 

Insults of your appearance.

They tell you, just before you go out, that your hair is ugly or your outfit is clownish. 

Belittling your accomplishments. 

Your abuser might tell you that your achievements mean nothing, or they may even claim responsibility for your success. 

Put-downs of your interests. 

They might tell you that your hobby is a childish waste of time or you’re out of your league when you play sports. Really, it’s that they’d rather you not participate in activities without them.  

Pushing your buttons. 

Once your abuser knows about something that annoys you, they’ll bring it up or do it every chance they get.

Control and shame

Trying to make you feel ashamed of your inadequacies is just another path to power.

Tools of the shame and control game include: 


Telling you they’ll take the kids and disappear, or saying “There’s no telling what I might do.”  

Monitoring your whereabouts. 

They want to know where you are all the time and insist that you respond to calls or texts immediately. They might show up just to see if you’re where you’re supposed to be. 

Digital spying. 

They might check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log. They might even demand your passwords. 

Unilateral decision-making. 

They might close a joint bank account, cancel your doctor’s appointment, or speak with your boss without asking. 

Financial control. 

They might keep bank accounts in their name only and make you ask for money. You might be expected to account for every penny you spend.  


Belaboring your errors with long monologues makes it clear they think you’re beneath them.  

Direct orders. 

From “Get my dinner on the table now” to “Stop taking the pill,” orders are expected to be followed despite your plans to the contrary. 


You were told to cancel that outing with your friend or put the car in the garage, but didn’t, so now you have to put up with a red-faced tirade about how uncooperative you are. 

Treating you like a child. 

They tell you what to wear, what and how much to eat, or which friends you can see. 

Feigned helplessness. 

They may say they don’t know how to do something. Sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself than to explain it. They know this and take advantage of it. 


They’ll explode with rage out of nowhere, suddenly shower you with affection, or become dark and moody at the drop of a hat to keep you walking on eggshells.  

They walk out. 

In a social situation, stomping out of the room leaves you holding the bag. At home, it’s a tool to keep the problem unresolved. 

Using others. 

Abusers may tell you that “everybody” thinks you’re crazy or “they all say” you’re wrong.

Accusing, blaming, and denial

This behaviour comes from an abuser’s insecurities. 

They want to create a hierarchy in which they’re at the top and you’re at the bottom.

Here are some examples:


They accuse you of flirting or cheating on them.  

Turning the tables. 

They say you cause their rage and control issues by being such a pain. 

Denying something you know is true. 

An abuser will deny that an argument or even an agreement took place. This is called gaslighting. It’s meant to make you question your own memory and sanity. 

Using guilt. 

They might say something like, “You owe me this. Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way. 

Goading then blaming. 

Abusers know just how to upset you. But once the trouble starts, it’s your fault for creating it. 

Denying their abuse. 

When you complain about their attacks, abusers will deny it, seemingly bewildered at the very thought of it. 

Accusing you of abuse. 

They say you’re the one who has anger and control issues and they’re the helpless victim. 


When you want to talk about your hurt feelings, they accuse you of overreacting and making mountains out of molehills. 

Saying you have no sense of humor. 

Abusers make personal jokes about you. If you object, they’ll tell you to lighten up. 

Blaming you for their problems. 

Whatever’s wrong in their life is all your fault. You’re not supportive enough, didn’t do enough, or stuck your nose where it didn’t belong. 

Destroying and denying. 

They might crack your cell phone screen or “lose” your car keys, then deny it.

Emotional neglect and isolation

Abusers tend to place their own emotional needs ahead of yours. 

Many abusers will try to come between you and people who are supportive of you to make you more dependent on them.

They do this by: 

Demanding respect. 

No perceived slight will go unpunished, and you’re expected to defer to them. But it’s a one-way street. 

Shutting down communication. 

They’ll ignore your attempts at conversation in person, by text, or by phone.  

Dehumanizing you. 

They’ll look away when you’re talking or stare at something else when they speak to you. 

Keeping you from socializing. 

Whenever you have plans to go out, they come up with a distraction or beg you not to go.  

Trying to come between you and your family. 

They’ll tell family members that you don’t want to see them or make excuses why you can’t attend family functions. 

Withholding affection. 

They won’t touch you, not even to hold your hand or pat you on the shoulder. They may refuse sexual relations to punish you or to get you to do something. 

Tuning you out. 

They’ll wave you off, change the subject, or just plain ignore you when you want to talk about your relationship. 

Actively working to turn others against you. 

They’ll tell co-workers, friends, and even your family that you’re unstable and prone to hysterics. 

Calling you needy. 

When you’re really down and out and reach out for support, they’ll tell you you’re too needy or the world can’t stop turning for your little problems. 


You’re on the phone or texting and they get in your face to let you know your attention should be on them. 


They see you hurt or crying and do nothing. 

Disputing your feelings. 

Whatever you feel, they’ll say you’re wrong to feel that way or that’s not really what you feel at all.


A co-dependent relationship is when everything you do is in reaction to your abuser’s behaviour. 

And they need you just as much to boost their own self-esteem. You’ve forgotten how to be any other way. 

It’s a vicious circle of unhealthy behaviour.

You might be co-dependent if you: 

Are unhappy in the relationship, but fear alternatives 

Consistently neglect your own needs for the sake of theirs

Ditch friends and side-line your family to please your partner 

Frequently seek out your partner’s approval  

Critique yourself through your abuser’s eyes, ignoring your own instincts  

Make a lot of sacrifices to please the other person, but it’s not reciprocated  

Would rather live in the current state of chaos than be alone 

Bite your tongue and repress your feelings to keep the peace  

Feel responsible and take the blame for something they did 

Defend your abuser when others point out what’s happening 

Try to “rescue” them from themselves  

Feel guilty when you stand up for yourself 

Think you deserve this treatment 

Believe that nobody else could ever want to be with you 

Change your behaviour in response to guilt; your abuser says, “I can’t live without you,” so you stay

What to do?

If you’re being mentally and emotionally abused, trust your instincts. Know that it isn’t right and you don’t have to live this way.

Here’s what you can do:

Accept that the abuse isn’t your responsibility. Don’t try to reason with your abuser. You may want to help, but it’s unlikely they’ll break this pattern of behavior without professional counseling. That’s their responsibility. 

 Disengage and set personal boundaries. Decide that you won’t respond to abuse or get sucked into arguments. Stick to it. Limit exposure to the abuser as much as you can.  

Exit the relationship or circumstance. If possible, cut all ties. Make it clear that it’s over and don’t look back. You might also want to find a therapist who can show you a healthy way to move forward. 

Give yourself time to heal. Reach out to supportive friends and family members. If you’re in school, talk to a teacher or guidance counselor. If you think it will help, find a therapist who can help you in your recovery. 

Leaving the relationship is more complex if you’re married, have children, or have commingled assets. If that’s your situation, seek legal assistance. 

Contact Silent Rights to find out how we can help you get through this and heal. 

If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing any form of abuse we encourage you to reach out to us. 

You have rights.

You have a voice.

You are not alone.


Silent Rights


Facebook: @SilentRightsSA 

WhatsApp: 079 027 9954