Do you hurt the people you care about?Do You Use Abuse?
Violence is a choice.
There are no excuses and no one else to blame for you being abusive.
How do I know?
- Do you find yourself often yelling at your loved ones or putting them down?
- Do find yourself constantly apologising for your behaviour?
- Do you find it hard to express your feelings and then end up exploding?
- Do you make all the decisions in your relationship?
- Has your partner or ex-partner told you that you treat them badly?
How can I change?
Every one of us has the capacity to hurt others. We also have the capacity NOT to hurt others, to manage our feelings, to change our behaviours, to prevent further harm and to heal.
If someone has told you that you have been abusive or violent, or if you have come to realise it yourself, here are some tips for how you can start to change your abusive behaviours and help the ones you love.
1. Listen to your ex/partner
There is a difference between hearing and listening.
- Not getting defensive
- Not making excuses
- Not making it about you
- Don’t down-play your actions by saying ‘it wasn’t that bad’
- Don’t make excuses
Imagine a time when someone close to you has said that you have acted abusively or violently. Try to think objectively about how you reacted at the time: Did you feel like you were being attacked? Did you interrupt? Did you raise your voice? Did you give them an excuse for why you acted abusively or violently?
Now imagine what it could have looked like if, instead of reacting immediately, you really took time to listen to what they said, you tried to see it from their perspective, and took on their feedback? How do you think that situation could have turned out differently?
2. Take responsibility
Taking responsibility means that you are responsible for your own actions. You have the ability to control your own actions in any given situation, however hard this may seem at the time.
You may say that there are reasons why you acted the way you did. But a reason is not an excuse. Some common reasons people give for hurting the ones they love include:
- It happened to me when I was younger or in a past relationship
- They did X to me first
- They deliberately push my buttons
- When I get angry I lose control
- I don’t know how to be in a relationship
Although these might be compelling reasons for abuse, they are NEVER excuses. They may help us get to the root causes of our actions, they may help us to understand our behaviours better, but they do not excuse it.
3. Take the lead from the person/people you have hurt
It is likely that through hurting the person or people you care about you have actually taken away some of their autonomy and their power and crossed their boundaries. This is the time to give these things back to them. Let them express their needs and respect their boundaries (to do this you may need to re-read point 1 about listening).
If you are still in contact with the person you hurt, try asking them:
- How much contact, if any, would you want with me?
- What do you need right now?
- Is there anything that you want me to do?
- What would you like me to do if we are in a social situation together?
- How do you feel right now talking to me?
Be aware that they may not have the answer to these questions, or that answer may change, and they have a right to change these answers.
If this person has already ended contact with you, then you need to respect the boundaries they have put in place. They have done this to protect themselves, even if you can’t see this.
4. Being accountable
It is understandable why people deny their abusive actions: It takes a lot of courage to take responsibility and hold yourself accountable for the hurt that you have caused others.
There are some risks being accountable: You could lose friendships; lose money, assets or your house; and you will feel both guilt and shame. This process will not be a pleasant one. But when you weigh up the costs and benefits, you will most likely find that you will have more to gain from being accountable:
- Life for those you love will be better
- Your relationships will be more fulfilling
- You can be a role model for your children, friends and community
- You won’t be haunted by feelings of shame or self-loathing
- You can avoid the justice system: Police, courts and corrections.
There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.
People who have been abusive should feel guilty – guilty for the specific acts of abuse they are responsible for. Shame however can become a part of someone’s identity. If abuse has become a part of your identity then you may think that you can never change. If however you think you are a good person who has done hurtful, abusive things, than it is easier for you to see the possibility of change.
5. Don’t expect forgiveness
Don’t expect forgiveness from anyone and don’t expect things to ‘go back to normal’.
If you are wanting to change to get forgiveness than again you are using coercive tactics. A part of being accountable is continuously being self-reflective, constantly check your motives for action.
It takes courage to be accountable and to make the decision to change and to heal.
But by deciding to be accountable, to change and to be a better person than you will discover incredible new possibilities: There is good in everyone; anyone is capable of change; and you are braver than you know.
Get professional help
It’s extremely important that you get professional help.
A professional can help you understand the root causes of your behaviour and give you techniques to manage your emotions and change your actions.
Whether it is one-on-one counselling or a behaviour change program, it is important to get help from people who remain objective.
If you identify as male and you use violence then there are more support options available to you. No To Violence is a good place to start contact: 1300 766 491
24 hours – Tasmania, New South Wales
8am-9pm Monday-Friday – All other states
9am-6pm Saturday-Sunday – All other states
If you identify as female and you use violence then there are far less support options available to you. Your best bet is contacting a private counsellor or ACON:
Sydney: (02) 9206 2000
Newcastle: (02) 4962 7700
Lismore: (02) 6622 1555
Freecall: 1800 063 060
In 2018 ACON in partnership with Relationships Australia NSW will be running LGBTIQ specific support groups for people who use violence: