Intimate partner violence (IPV) consists in any act of physical, sexual, emotional or financial violence exerted by one member of the couple in order to achieve total control over their partner.

It is considered one of the most widespread forms of violence against women, and according to Spain’s government, a 14.2% of the female population has suffered physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. It is difficult to ascertain the real percentage of IPV cases, since the fear of retaliation, lack of support and stigma, hope that their partner would change, or lack of knowledge on how to get help, prevent people from reporting it. This is particularly frequent in cases of emotional abuse, where the violence is harder to see or prove.

What are the types of abuse committed during IPV?

We can organize violent behavior in four different categories, depending on the type of abusive act that is used to corner the person into submission.

  • Physical abuse: This type of violent behavior is aimed at inflicting pain, fear and humiliation through the use of punches, kicks, burns, hair pulling, strangulation, shoves, or any other form of physical abuse. Other methods used by the abuser are threatening to kill or hurt with a weapon, destroying household items (punching walls or doors, hurling objects…), forcing to consume substances or alcohol, driving recklessly, abandoning the person in dangerous places to “teach them a lesson”, preventing the person from getting medical assistance, or not allowing the person to leave the house.
  • Sexual violence: Any act consisting on forced sexual interactions, either through the use of direct physical force, threats or manipulation; or any non-consensual degrading sexual act performed during intercourse. Other forms of sexual abuse can be using demeaning sexual remarks in private or public settings; insisting on having sex even when the other person feels tired/sick; including a third party in a sexual interaction without consent; filming or photographing the person in sexual situations without their knowledge, or using the material to threaten and manipulate; or not considering the person’s feelings during sex.
  • Emotional abuse: The use of verbal violence, shame, guilt, disdain, isolation and intimidation to undermine the person’s self-esteem and instil feelings of fear, insecurity and helplessness. This type of violence is the most difficult to prove and detect, but also the most widespread and insidious. The use of insults; the constant criticism or devaluation of the other person’s personality, physical appearance, hobbies, actions or abilities; spying the person’s physical movements or communication with other people; ridiculing the person in public or private settings; using the silent treatment or giving the cold shoulder to punish the person; gaslighting in order to disorient and confuse, make the other person believe they are crazy or minimize the abuse; isolating the person from their family/friends/loved ones by sabotaging relationships or the use of jealousy and distrust; threatening to hurt or kill loved ones, pets or oneself are other examples of psychological violence.
  • Financial abuse: The use of income, savings or money to control and manipulate the person. The abuser will try to create a sense of total financial dependence in their partner through the control of the couple’s monetary resources; stealing from the other person, or using their money without their permission; impeding access to their salary or savings; or impairing the person from getting a job or education.

How can i tell if I am suffering from IPV?

Most of the time, abusive situations are hard to identify or detect; particularly if emotional abuse is playing a main role in the relationship, as it is usually subtle and hard to pinpoint. Another reason why we might not be fully aware it is happening to us, is the abuse always occurs gradually. Small painful acts that are easy to disregard are slowly normalized within the relationship, which eventually allows for more blatant forms of violence to occur unnoticed. Lastly, human beings tend to protect themselves from harmful or harsh realities. The person might minimize or deny the abuse is occurring in order to avoid the pain and shock of being aware the person they might love the most is knowingly tormenting them with the direct intention of subjugating and controling them.

In order to ascertain if we are being victims of any form of abuse or intimate partner violence, we can observe common behaviors of people who have been through this type of violence and compare them to our own. Victims often hide things from their partners in order to avoid an explosive fit of rage; they might avoid expressing a difference in opinion to their partner for fear of being ridiculed; be wary to contradict the other person to avoid a negative or violent reaction; they might have lost the confidence in their decision making, or the sense of control in their own actions and lives; they avoid to talk to or spend time with friends or family members for fear of their partner’s reaction of disapproval, jealousy or anger; accept to have sexual intercourse without wanting to in order to avoid conflict or tension; tolerate invasions of their privacy, such as the access to their devices and communications with other people; find themselves asking their partner’s permission (not opinion) to do things; be in constant fear of making any mistake that might spark their partner’s anger; suffer from feelings of worthlessness; feel unable to make decisions over their own life, the people they see, how they dress, or how they spend time.

Another way to identify if we are being subjected to IPV is identifying the psychological damage that it generates. The impact of sustained abusive behavior by a partner includes the destruction of one’s self-esteem, chronic stress, sleep and eating disturbances, substance or alcohol abuse, social isolation, apathy or depression, abrupt changes in mood, suicidal ideation and hopelessness, headaches or gastrointestinal problems, constant feelings of shame, guilt or insecurity, and the loss of trust in one’s ability to function as an adult.

How can I cope with the psychological impact of abuse?

One of the ways we can recover from the damage suffered in the context of intimate partner violence (after we have ensured our physical and emotional safety) is to receive counseling or support through psychotherapy. The main goal of treatment will processing the emotional trauma in order to understand, accept and leave it behind. However the restoration and bolstering of our self-esteem and self-confidence will also be a cornerstone of treatment; in addition to working on the symptoms derived from the abuse such as anxiety, depression or substance use.

Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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