"With love can come obsession, extreme protectiveness, and control, which can amount to harassment and abuse."instagram/desdemona1

Content Note: This article includes a detailed discussion of physical, mental and sexual abuse

The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as a feeling of ‘deep affection…manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in [their] presence’, which can be either romantic or platonic. However, love is such a complex topic with so many different features. Love is universal and has so much power over people, both positive and negative. It can bring out the best and the worst in us.

We often see the positives of love such as good friendships and wholesome relationships, but it’s far less common to know about the issues that can be masked as, or even stem from love. Love isn’t always a good thing. With love can come obsession, extreme protectiveness, and control, which can amount to harassment and abuse.

"Experiencing abuse can be a confusing experience. You might be made to feel like they love you and it’s all your fault, but, no matter what, it is not your fault."

There are so many different types of abuse and we don’t talk about it enough. Unfortunately, a lot of people will be victims of abuse and, even though it affects some groups more than others, anyone can experience abuse. The most well-known form of abuse is probably physical abuse. Physical abuse does not just mean hitting, it can involve restraining, throwing objects and so much more. No matter what form it takes, if your partner is physically harming you, it is abuse.

Another type is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse and harassment can be defined as any behaviour of a sexual nature that causes distress. Whether the perpetrator is a stranger or your spouse, if it causes distress, it is abuse. Something intrinsically related to sexual abuse if consent. Consent is mandatory and is not a ‘one-time thing’. Even if you’ve had sex with the same partner 100 times, the 101st time still needs explicit consent. Some consider consent to be a grey area, but it really is not. If the person you are having sexual activities with has not said yes, you do not have consent. If you encouraged or forced someone to say yes, you do not have consent.  If your partner said yes earlier in the day, you still need consent at the time. If you initially got consent, but during your activities your partner asks you to stop, you no longer have consent. Bodily reactions do not indicate consent. You only have consent if your partner says yes and they have the freedom and capacity to make their own decision.

"Abuse can make people feel powerless and that they have no control over their lives. Adding to this will not be helpful."

Emotional and psychological abuse are lesser known and may be harder to detect, both for peers of and for the victim themselves. It can include a pattern of behaviours such as gaslighting, intimidation, and blaming you for the abuse. Coercive control is a form of psychological abuse and it’s when someone tries to make you dependent on them by isolating you, depriving you of your independence, regulating your behaviours and more. It can often overlap with financial abuse, which is when the abusive person assumes total control of your personal finances. Often people subjected to this form of abuse might not realise it’s happening but some common signs are that you find that your partner makes you feel controlled, you feel that you can’t speak your mind, and/or like a hostage in your relationship.

Experiencing abuse can be a confusing experience. You might be made to feel like they love you and it’s all your fault, but, no matter what, it is not your fault. When you are ready for it, there is support available.

If someone you know has experienced or is experiencing abuse, there are some key things you can do:

1. Make it clear that you won’t pass judgement.

Opening up is difficult for most people but it is likely to be amplified in those who have experienced abuse.

2. Remind them it is not their fault.

No one deserves to be abused and the blame is never on the victim.

3. Listen to and support their decisions.

Abuse can make people feel powerless and that they have no control over their lives. Adding to this will not be helpful. As much as you want the person to leave, recognise that leaving an abusive relationship is not straight-forward. Leaving for good may seem an overwhelming prospect.

4. Provide information on how to get help when they are ready.

“When they’re ready” is the most important phrase in this point. There are organisations and helplines that support those who have experienced abuse. Further down the line, you could explore reporting it, but the choice always remains with the victim.

5. Support them as a friend.

Give them space to express their feelings.

6. Look after yourself too.

It is not on you to ‘save’ the person and it can be hard to watch someone you care about be a victim of abuse. Sometimes, the best way to ensure you can support someone else is to take care of yourself too.


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No matter what you may be told, you are only ever responsible for your own actions. If someone else is causing you harm, it is never your fault, you do not deserve it and you are not alone.

Please find below a list of resources and people you may wish to contact for support:

  • NHS Domestic Violence Information:

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/getting-help-for-domestic-violence/

  • University Counselling Centre (and the Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor):

counselling@cam.ac.uk

counselling@cam.ac.uk/sexual-assault-and-harassment-advisor

  • Women’s Aid (for women):

https://www.womensaid.org.uk/

Online chat available Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-12pm and e-mail responses within 5 working days (helpline@womensaid.org.uk)

  • The Survivor’s Handbook:

https://www.womensaid.org.uk/the-survivors-handbook/

  • The National Domestic Abuse Helpline by Refuge (for women):

https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/

Call (0808 2000 247), online chat available Mon-Fri 3pm-6pm, online help form (https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/Contact-us)

  • Men’s Advice Line (for men):

https://mensadviceline.org.uk/

Call (0808 8010 327)  available Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat-Sun 10am-12pm, e-mail (info@mensadviceline.org.uk), and webchat available Wed-Fri 10am-11am and 3pm-4pm

  • ManKind (for men):

Call (01823 334 244) available Mon-Fri 10am-4pm

  • Galop (LGBT+):

http://www.galop.org.uk/

Call (0800 999 5428) available Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Wed-Thurs 10am-8pm, e-mail (advice@galop.org.uk), online chat available Wed-Thurs 5pm-8pm

  • If you think you may be abusive:

https://respectphoneline.org.uk/

Call (0808 8024 040) available Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, online chat available Wed-Fri 10am-11am and 3pm-4pm, and e-mail (info@respectphoneline.org.uk)