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Abuse Part 2: Taking a closer look

— By 22 January 2014

Trigger Warning: If you have experiences with transphobia, abuse, domestic violence, self-harm, suicide, sexual assault or rape, you may find parts of this article very difficult to read or particularly upsetting.

This is part 2 of a series of resources on the topic of abuse. You can also read Abuse Part 1: What is abuse?


In a healthy relationship you should feel safe and respected. Your opinion and voice should be just as important as your partner’s, and you should be free to speak your mind and do what you like.

If you don’t feel respected, safe, or free to do or say what you want in your relationship, or you feel like your opinion or voice doesn’t count as much as your partner’s, you might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. A relationship can be abusive when one person has most of the power and control over another.

Everyone has the right to be physically and emotionally safe in their relationships. This goes for all relationships you have with people, not just romantic ones.

Part 1 of this series is all about defining what abuse is and the many different forms it can take. If you haven’t read What is abuse? Then you should do so before continuing.

What’s in this article
This article covers a couple of different abusive patterns – the cycle of abuse and gaslighting – as well as a wide-ranging list of specific instances that may be considered abusive. Following this is a discussion of the unique ways same-sex attracted and/or sex and/or gender diverse (SSASGD) people may experience abuse.

The following is a guide to help you think about how your partner treats you, and if your relationship is healthy. It may also be useful to use this guide to think about relationships you have with other people, such as family members, friends, and people from school or work.

However, this article is not a diagnostic tool. It gives examples of things that can happen in an abusive relationship, but should not be used to determine if a relationship is abusive.

If at any point you feel like you need more information or wish to seek help, you can scroll to the bottom of this article for a comprehensive list of resources.

The cycle of abuse
One way to think about whether you are in abusive relationship is to learn about the cycle of abuse. If the following describes your relationship, you may be an unhealthy or abusive relationship. However, not every abusive relationship may follow this cycle, so it’s important you check out all the sections of this article before reflecting on your relationship.

The cycle of abuse works in three repeating phases: seduction, tension, abuse. Each of these phases can go on for a long period of time.

The seduction phase: A relationship usually forms during this phase. Everything is wonderful, both partners are happy to be in a relationship with each other. The relationship will be at its most enjoyable or romantic in this phase. There may be little to no abuse at this phase, since it is the ‘hook’ an abusive person uses to make a person interested or keep them around. No one would be with an abusive partner if it weren’t for this phase. Most abusive relationships start off this way, no one wants to be in an abusive relationship.

The tension phase: The couple may start getting into small arguments, with the abuser often getting annoyed or frustrated with their partner. Even if the abused partner tries really hard not to do anything to upset the other, an abuser will usually find things to be upset about. This tension builds up and eventually leads to the next phase.

The abusive phase: This usually starts when one specific incident leads to an outburst of anger, resulting in the abuser either physically, verbally, emotionally or sexually attacking their partner.

The cycle: Finally, the phases cycle through and start again. The abuser defaults back to the seduction phase to make up for their behaviour. They will apologise, give gifts, or be very romantic. They may still blame the abused person for the explosion, but they will still try very hard to be nice and regain the sympathy and trust of the other person.

But as always, it’s not long until the small fights and the big explosions start again. Remember, there may be times when the abusive partner treats the other person really well, but those sweet times are actually part of the abuse. Without them, they wouldn’t be able to make a person stick around for so long, so that they can continue abusing them.

Not everyone in an abusive relationship will experience this cycle, however. But if you are experiencing a cycle similar to the one described above, you may be in an unhealthy relationship.

Gaslighting is a form of abuse, which may or may not be present in an abusive relationship. If the following sounds familiar, you may want to reflect on how healthy your relationship is.

What it is: Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse that leaves the victim doubting their own memory, perception and/or sanity. It can also take the form of discrediting a victim, so that others think they are mentally ill or delusional. It is the name for that feeling you get that something is terribly wrong with your relationship but you just cannot express what it is, even to yourself.

Origins of the term: Gaslighting takes it’s name from the 1938 play, and subsequent films, called Gas Light. In the play a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by changing small things around the house, such as dimming the gas lights, and then insisting that she is mistaken or misremembering when she points out these changes.

What it looks like: Gaslighting most often takes the form of an abuser denying or lying about having done or said certain things. This often includes denying being abusive all together. It can also take the form of being dismissive whenever you try and bring these issues up. For example, saying “I never say that, go back and read through all our messages, you’re making things up” when you complain that they frequently say something that they mostly say in person. Similarly, gaslighting usually includes the abuser frequently dismissing and invalidating the opinions and emotions of their victim. “You’re being irrational”, “why are you getting so emotional?”, “you’re just being hormonal”, “well if you’re going to get angry like that I’m not going to keep talking to you” are some examples of this.

Gaslighting can be one of the most harmful and subtle forms of abuse because it is the sum of many minor incidents. This subtlety and the resulting self-doubt can also make it very difficult for the victim to realise they’re being gaslit and to seek help.

Things to look out for
The following is a guide to help you think about how your partner treats you, and if your relationship is healthy. It may also be useful to use this guide to think about relationships you have with other people, such as family members, friends, and people from school or work.

The list includes examples of several types of abuse: mainly physical, emotional and sexual. Someone who is being abused may only experience one type of abuse, or multiple types, and they will most likely not experience everything on this list.

This list may also be helpful to those who are concerned about a friend. But remember, you might not always see outwards signs of abuse, such as bruises or scars. If someone is staying in an abusive relationship, this is not because they are ‘weak’ or want the abuse, it’s either because they might not be aware that this treatment is abnormal or unhealthy, or because their partner has manipulated them into staying. No one is to blame for their own abuse.

If you experience any of the following, you might want to have a think about your relationship, and whether you feel safe, respected and free, and are treated as an equal. It might be helpful to keep a tally of questions you answer yes to. Remember, you are the only person who can define if you are in an abusive relationship or not.

Does your partner or anyone else:
• Make you feel pressured to do things you don’t want to do, especially sexual things?
• Constantly accuse you of flirting with other people or cheating?
• Ridicule your beliefs, religion, race, class, gender or sexuality?
• Push, slap, punch or otherwise hurt you, even if it was only one time?
• Get jealous easily or often?
• Insist that you go everywhere with them?
• Dismiss your opinion or dismiss you when you complain or bring up an issue?
• Control your access to money or how you spend it?
• Disregard your needs when you’re sick or injured?
• Physically restrain you, ie. by locking you in the house or room, blocking your exit, or restricting your access to your keys?
• Threaten to commit suicide if you leave them?
• Constantly check up on you or ask you where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing?
• Threaten to ‘out’ you to friends, family or at school?
• Minimize or deny being abusive?
• Control how you dress?
• Keep going when you change your mind during sex?
• Deny having said or done things and call you crazy or delusional when you’re certain that they are lying?
• Stop you from doing things like getting a job or going to school or uni?
• Send messages from your phone or profile to other people, without your permission or knowledge, pretending to be you? Or send you mean messages pretending to be someone else?
• Control who you can spend time with, including friends, family or people of a certain gender?
• Ridicule your masculinity or femininity?
• Use drugs or alcohol to excuse their behavior?
• Insist they have full access to your phone, e-mail and/or profile passwords or read your messages without your permission?
• Call you names or insult you?
• Force you to have sex with other people?
• Tell people you suffer from mental illness falsely or without your permission?
• Yell at you when you make minor mistakes or accidents?
• Interfere with your medicine or your medical or reproductive choices?
• Touch you sexually without your permission or when you are unconscious, sleeping or drunk?
• Frequently lie to you?
• Get angry when you pay too much attention to something or someone else?
• Make your take drugs, drink or smoke when you don’t want to?
• Refuse to have sex with you unless you don’t use protection or contraception?
• Hit, throw, break or steal things when angry?
• Blame you for things you have no control over?

Does your partner or anyone else ever make you feel:
• Worthless?
• Ugly?
• Crazy?
• Unintelligent?
• Afraid?
• Used?
• Inferior?
• Very passive during sexual activities?
• Isolated from friends and family?
• Like you have to be careful what you say around them?
• Like you can no longer function on your own or be independent?
• Like it’s your fault when they get upset?
• Like you will never be able to leave the relationship?
• Like you agree with them when they put you down or insult you?
• Like you have to say yes to sexual things?
• Like they’re the only person who cares about you?
• Like it’s your fault when they push, slap, punch or hurt you?
• Like you can’t disagree with them?
• Like you owe them sex?
• Like you are responsible for their abusive behavior?

Do your friends or family:
• Express concern for your safety?
• Tell you that you deserve a better partner?
• Feel like your partner is stopping you from seeing them?
• Say that your partner is controlling, violent or manipulative?
• Ask you if your partner caused your bruises or scars?
• Say that your partner is abusive?

Are you:
• Finding yourself making excuses for your partner?
• Hiding things that may upset your partner, such as phone numbers, texts, pictures, e-mails, messages or wall posts?
• ‘Zoning out’ during sex?
• Feeling disconnected from everyone except your partner?
• Often having to try and calm your partner down?
• Self-harming, acting unusually recklessly, or abusing alcohol or drugs as a way of coping with your relationship?
• Scared to be yourself around your partner?
• Sacrificing important relationships, school-work or goals for your relationship?
• The only person who likes your partner, or often defending your relationship to people who care about you?
• Afraid of your partner?
• Clinging to the happy times or often thinking about how the relationship used to be, instead of how it is now?
• Unusually stressed, depressed or anxious?
• Avoiding topics, people or other things because you don’t want your partner to get angry?
• Often flinching when your partner is angry?
• More often feeling sad, frustrated, upset or confused about sex than feeling positive or happy?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you might want to spend some time reflecting on your relationship and whether it is healthy and safe. Your relationship may contain some of the examples in this guide and not be abusive.

This is not a diagnostic tool, this is a list of things that can happen in an abusive relationship. It is very subjective, only you can label your relationship as abusive.

Exiting the relationship or seeking help for any trauma it has caused may be hard, but there is support out there for you. See the bottom of this article for a detailed list of resources.

Abuse of SSASGD people
While anyone can potentially be abused, there is an especially high rate of abuse among same-sex attracted and/or sex and/or gender diverse (SSASGD) people. This includes in romantic relationships as well as between friends, family members and in other types of relationships.

Partner abuse: When it comes to partner abuse, the rate among same-sex attracted (SSA) couples is fairly similar to that among heterosexual couples. Similarly, gender diverse people or people in same-sex relationships may be the victims of transphobia or homophobia from their partners.

Homophobia and transphobia as abuse: SSASGD people may also face transphobic or homophobic abuse from others, such as family or people from school, work or church. This may include threats of ‘outing’ the person, sexual harassment, or any other aspect of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. For young people, the common places to experience this is at school and at home. Bullying is a form of abuse.

Impact: Abuse can be especially harmful for SSASGD young people, as a lot of them experience social isolation, bullying, higher rates of mental illness and suicide, and often find it more difficult to access help. If someone is not ‘out’ about their sexuality or gender identity, this can also make the abuse more severe or harder to seek help for. This is especially true for sex and/or gender diverse (SGD) young people, who often experience these difficulties to a greater degree.

Abuse of SGD people: Some forms of abuse are very specific to SSASGD people. The ones included above and in the Things so look out for list are relatively self-explanatory, but abusive behaviors that specifically affect SGD people may need more explanation. The following are some examples of the unique ways which SGD people may experience abuse.

Dismissing gender identity:This can range from outright denying a person's gender identity to subtly undermining their identity. This may also take the form of ridiculing their femininity or masculinity.

• “You’re more attractive as a boy.”
• “But most girls would kill for tits like yours!”
• “You’re not a real boy unless you have a penis.”
• “You’ll always be [birth name/a girl/a boy] to me.”

Purposefully misgendering: Not using a person’s preferred pronouns or name.

• Persistently using incorrect pronouns even though they have been told not to.
• Saying “heshe” or “it” instead of the persons preferred pronouns.
• Dismissing a person’s distress when they have been misgendered.
• Using a persons old name instead of their chosen name.

Preventing transition:Being unsupportive of a person transitioning, making them feel unsafe to express their gender or actively preventing them from transitioning.

• Being unsupportive of a person's transition choices, such as changing their name or taking hormones.
• Outright not allowing them to change the way they dress, their name or pronouns, or start therapy, hormones or medically transition.
• Withholding access to a person’s medicare card or preventing them from accessing financial assistance.

‘Outing’:As SGD young people often already experience much disadvantage, being ‘outed’ can be particularly damaging, especially if outed to people who are not supportive. However, even outing a person to someone who is supportive can be abusive as it doesn’t allow the person to come out on their own terms.

Not just ignorance: A lot of these forms of abuse are very subtle and highly damaging. It can be very easy for a young SGD person to dismiss many of these behaviors as ignorance, but it is important to remember that you deserve to have your gender identity respected and you should be able to express it free from ridicule and harm, and feel safe and comfortable doing so.

What now?
If anything in this article resonates with you, you may want to have a think about your relationship, or maybe discuss it with a friend, family member, counsellor, or someone you feel safe with and trust.

Remember, you are important and deserve to feel safe and respected.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, are a survivor of abuse or are unsure, check out our resources page for information on where you can seek help.

You can also read part 1 of our series, What is abuse?.


For emergency counselling:

Lifeline - 13 11 14
Switchboard - Melbourne (03) 9663 2939 - Regional Vic & Tas 1800 184 527
Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
Centre Against Sexual Assault - 1800 806 292
1800 RESPECT -1800 737 732
Australian Childhood Foundation - 1800 176 453
Relationships Australia - 1300 364 277


For more information about abuse, check out Scarleteen.
For more information about domestic violence in SSASGD relationships, have a look at Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria’s resource.
For more information about healthy relationships check out Love Good Bad Ugly.

If you think you may have been sexually assaulted, or abused in any way tell a friend or adult you trust, or visit your GP, a counsellor, the Victorian Police (000) and/or your local Centre Against Sexual Assault.

You can also message Minus18’s youth worker Loren or ask a question on the forums.

Click here for more information about legal definitions of consent, or here for a basic run-down of what consent is.

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