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How to spot the signs of domestic abuse

RCN Nurse of the Year Amanda Burston outlines how to recognise some of the early signs of an abusive relationship

Domestic abuse is a complex issue. It infiltrates every sector of society like a disease that has no barriers, and it leaves people increasingly weak and broken. It leaves scars years after the bruises have gone and the broken bones have healed.

Emotionally and psychologically, people may never recover. Often victims are unaware of the subtle changes in their relationship as their abuser builds control, until they feel completely isolated and have lost all their self-confidence.

This is why I feel so strongly about ensuring people – and NHS staff – can spot the early signs of abuse and controlling relationships.

Early signs of an abusive relationship

A victim of domestic abuse may:

  • Feel like they have to ‘walk on eggshells’.
  • Feel totally dependent on their partner.
  • Cut relationships and ties with family and friends.
  • Withdraw from social media platforms and text messaging.
  • Be unable to openly communicate with their partner about worries and concerns
  • Have little or no knowledge of household finance.
  • Become compliant in all situations, regardless of their own opinions, because it’s an easier option.
  • Become their partner’s rescuer.
  • Frequently apologise for everything and anything that is wrong, or upsets people.
  • Have no opinions or involvement in family decisions.
  • Increase their use of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Feel threatened and violently or emotionally abused.
  • Have a partner who threatens to kill themselves or commit self harm.
  • Have been kicked, hit, shoved, scalded, burnt, bitten, had their hair pulled or had things thrown at them by the perpetrator out of jealousy or anger.
  • Doubt themselves and believe the criticism they receive.
  • Accept the sexual demands of their partner, even if they feel uncomfortable or it causes pain.
  • Are worried that they will be exposed as a poor parent and lose contact with their children if they speak out.
  • Feel they are covering up for their partner’s behaviour.

This is a brief list, and it is simply to give people an idea of the warning signs that someone is in an unhealthy relationship. Leaving can be difficult but can be safely done in a structured, supportive programme with the help of friends and family. Help is available from many of the local and national community groups who specialise in domestic abuse programmes.

National Domestic Abuse helpline: 0808 2000 247 open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

About the author

Amanda Burston

Amanda Burston is major trauma co-ordinator in the emergency department at Royal Stoke University Hospital and RCN Nurse of the Year 2015.

Find out about the RCNi Nurse Awards here

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