6 June 2024

We all have our own definition of love. For some, love means caring, kindness, trust, honesty, respect and commitment. For others, it’s about being the best of friends. To many, love is about being patient, communicating and, yes, arguing too. But there is one thing, according to an expert, that certainly doesn’t belong to love and relationships and that’s abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual.

“Love is not abuse. It shouldn’t hurt. No one has the right to abuse you. And you shouldn’t tolerate any form of abuse even though you are told by the abuser that he or she is doing that because they love you,” said Dr Apichat Jariyavilas, a psychiatrist and a spokesperson for the Department of Mental Health, Ministry of Public Health.

Domestic abuse is often disguised as or confused with love, he noted.

“Abuse is abuse. It doesn’t involve love. And it’s not part of a healthy relationship. A lot of couples in the world have a healthy relationship without abuse and violence,” he said, explaining that victims of abuse choose to stay in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Fear tends to be one of the biggest factors.

“Some are afraid to lose their partners or not to be loved.  Many feel insecure about being alone, about not being in a relationship,” Dr Apichat said.

Estimates published by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence.

Worldwide, almost one-third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partners.

Violence against women increased to record levels around the world during the lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The United Nations called the situation a “shadow pandemic” in a 2021 report about domestic violence in 13 nations in Africa, Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Some of the risk factors for domestic violence were cited as economic stress because of income loss due to unemployment and the loss of an ability to have breathing spaces for people in risky relationships, while the ability to get help was limited during a lockdown.

Dealing with an abusive situation

If you are in an abusive relationship, Dr Apichat suggests staying calm and educating yourselves about abuse.

“Tell yourself that abusive behavior is unhealthy in relationships. It’s never acceptable. Learn how to love yourself again and focus on your safety,” he said, adding that some people love others but forget to love themselves.

He stresses that domestic abuse is not limited to physical. It can happen in many different ways. It can also be psychological, through both verbal and non-verbal communication that leaves no visible evidence but has negative effects on the victims, causing them to experience fear and loss of freedom in their lives.

“When it comes to abuse, most people think of physical abuse like hitting, punching and beating that leaves marks and scars. Just because there is no injury doesn’t mean there is no abuse,” he said.

Verbal abuse is one of the most common forms. And some people are verbally abused on a regular basis without even recognizing it’s happening.

“This can be yelling at, screaming or using words to bully, insult and intimidate. Abusers may also make fun of you in front of your family or friends or compare you to others,” he said.

Coercive and controlling behaviors are abusive too, he noted.

“It’s doing things like monitoring your social media accounts or tracking your mobile phone, not allowing you to see your friends or family, taking control of your life – where you can go, who you can see and what you can wear,” Dr Apichat said.

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Getting the support you need

It’s important to seek help as early as possible if you are experiencing domestic violence, the psychiatrist noted.

“Try to keep your emotions calm. Talk to someone you trust whether it’s a family member or a friend about what’s happening to you,” he said.

He also suggests calling 1323, the Department of Mental Health’s Psychiatric and Mental Illness Helpline which operates around the clock if you realize you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

“Don’t wait for an emergency situation or getting sick to find help. It’s important that you find help and that it makes you feel supported,” he said.

If things have escalated and you feel physically unsafe, he suggests trying to reach out to a loved one and even calling police.

“Never respond violence with violence. Violence is not the answer,” he said.

Dr Apichat advises a friend or a family member who is dealing with an abusive relationship to offer a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear and be supportive when the victims have decided to tell their stories of abuse.

“Your job as a support is to actively listen to them and encourage them to express their feelings. Leave your opinions at the door. Try to keep your conversation friendly, not preachy. You may not know what exactly happened in the relationship. If you think the situation is difficult to handle, encourage the victim to seek professional help,” he said.

For individuals who behave abusively and feel remorse for what they just did and are ashamed of their behaviors, the expert advises that they work on finding the trigger that causes them to hurt others and trying to cope with it, noting that some people with abusive behaviors have chronic stress and substance use and abuse problems.

He warns people not to hit the ‘like’ button or share a story of abuse on social media but report the abusive content to platform administrators in order to show your support for no more domestic violence.

Boundaries are key to healthy relationships

Dr Apichat suggested couples set boundaries, particularly physical and emotional, at the start of a romantic relationship in order to prevent an unpleasant experience later on.

“Abusive behaviors are often repeated. Setting clear boundaries is about protecting yourself. You should do it in the first place to avoid hurt and misunderstanding later on. By doing this, you can protect your physical and mental well-being and say no to things or situations that could make you miserable.” he said.

By Veena Thoopkrajae