Being in lockdown with someone can reveal toxic, abusive behaviours — here's how to stay safe
- Cases of domestic violence are increasing all over the world during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Being stuck indoors together can reveal toxic dynamics that were previously ignored.
- Abusers put on a charming front when out in public and are their true selves behind closed doors.
- Victims are trapped behind those doors for longer than ever before, in close quarters with their abuser, which can be extremely dangerous.
- Here's how you can stay safe if you're starting to feel uneasy in your relationship, and the steps you can take to escape once and for all.
- For mores stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Domestic violence cases are on the rise all over the world during lockdown from the coronavirus, with some police departments seeing "double-digit percentage jumps" in the number of calls received.
It is a particularly dangerous time for victims because they have nowhere to escape to. They can't go to a friend's house while their partner cools off, or spend most of the day at work, so they are trapped with their abuser while isolated from the rest of the world.
Psychologist Perpetua Neo, who works with women who are recovering from abusive relationships, told Insider this is a time where toxic dynamics might reveal themselves more clearly.
Abusers wear a mask in public to appear charming and likeable, she said. It's only behind closed doors the mask tends to slip. This will only happen more and more while living in such close quarters.
"They can only use up a certain amount of energy before they have to melt down and be their real self," she said. "So being home all the time, the more contact they have with their victim. And the more they see their victim the more they up the ante."
If you start feeling like you're seeing your partner for who they really are, there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself.
1. Reach out to your friends and family
Thanks to a whole relationship of gaslighting, victims will tend to blame themselves for every argument. They've been conditioned through love bombing, intermittent reinforcement, and devaluation to believe the abuser is always right. They walk on eggshells and bend over backwards to appease their partner, but it's never enough.
They will quite possibly have already been isolated from their friends and family, way before the word "lockdown" was even mentioned. Abusers are masters at twisting narratives to make sure their victim cuts everyone else out from their lives so they can have complete control.
Even if you feel like you have nowhere to turn, there will always be people who care about you, Neo said. If you're starting to suspect your partner is being abusive and hurting you, this is not the time to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Reaching out will be the best thing you ever do.
"Explain very simply that you have been with a person and you've been really confused," she said. "Say you're sorry you've not been a good friend, and you'd like to reach out again."
You may be surprised by how many people were just waiting for you to speak up.
"People inherently have a sense of justice and kindness," Neo said.
2. Switch to war mode
Abusers are at war with their victims from the first moment they meet. They're just playing a tactical game where they pretend to be someone else at first. Their goal is to conquer and destroy everything they see as enviable and good in their partner to feel strong and superior.
Neo said victims see everything from a caretaking, over-nurturing perspective, especially if they are empaths. Every time their partner hurts them, they make excuses and explain it away. They focus on the good times and work tirelessly to try and get them back.
The sad truth is, no matter how much energy they put into the relationship, it will never work. Their abusive partner is not and never will be on their team because they are working towards two completely different goals: harmony vs chaos.
"You need to switch over to the sense you are at war," Neo said. "Switch to strategist, because your abuser is there to hurt you. If you are going there with a nurturing mode, you are going to lose. So you need to switch your mindset to: 'I am not going to feel bad, these are my rights, and I can take care of myself.'"
3. Make a safety plan
Do you know the emergency number to call if you need it? Do you have money stashed away? Do you have somewhere safe in your house you can hide? Do you have a bag packed? These are all questions you should start asking and preparing for.
It's also really important you don't let the abuser find out what you're doing, because they will completely sabotage your plans. Not only will they make it even harder for you to plan your escape next time, but they might also spread lies about you and further isolate you from everyone else.
During lockdown, it can be easy to tell yourself it's irresponsible to go out. But in reality, this is just another excuse not to leave, Neo said. If there is ever a time to look out for yourself first, it's right now, because you might be in more danger than you ever realised.
4. Think of your future self
On average, it takes seven times for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. There are so many internal battles happening, and abusers are incredibly gifted at apologising and promising they will change.
If you are struggling with what the consequences of leaving might be, Neo said you should focus on your future self.
"What does your future self look like? Is your future self free? Are your kids free? Do you want your kids growing up to become a psychopath or a victim of a psychopath?" she said. "So that's a powerful thing that gets a lot of people to move forward. Hold onto that image and help it help you."
Are they toxic or just stressed?
It's an incredibly stressful time right now, which can cause some ugly behaviours in even the least toxic person. So it's important to recognise a falling out or inappropriate spike of rage is probably not grounds for worry.
On the other hand, there is no way to really know a person until you spend a lot of time with them, and being stuck inside with an abuser will mean they show their true colours sooner rather than later.
"If you are seeing all these behaviours consistently and this person is lying to you, gaslighting you, or even having fun manipulating you, and telling you you're just crazy and sensitive, that is a very big red flag," Neo said. "So if that's the case then this pandemic is a good way to actually help you open your eyes quicker. "
Most importantly, listen to your gut. If something feels off, you're on high alert all the time, and you feel like you can never do anything right, chances are someone is messing with your reality. And you probably don't have to look far to see who it is.
"What we're having is a false experiment in living, and if that reveals something bad about that person then be very careful," said Neo. "Just because you're advised to stay at home, doesn't mean you can't run away. And chances are there will be someone you can connect with, who can give you shelter. Because you really don't want to be the next statistic."
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