Even if You’ve Never Heard of Psychological Physical Violence, You May Have Experienced It

Even if You’ve Never Heard of Psychological Physical Violence, You May Have Experienced It September 2, 2022

Psychological physical violence is a terrorizing type of abuse, especially when it happens within what should be the safety of your own home. Although it’s a term you may not be familiar with since it’s one I coined myself, the tactics may sound familiar to you.

Punching holes in walls is domestic abuse
(Daniel Tafjord/Unsplash)

It’s not uncommon for physical violence in intimate relationships to be defined as an act causing the victim physical injury. Hitting, punching, strangling, threatening with a weapon, or anything that leaves physical wounds is obvious violence. If those things aren’t present, then it’s assumed there’s no physical violence in your relationship.

However, there’s more to physical violence that that. Physical violence can also be psychological in nature — anything that terrifies a victim enough to wonder if she’s going to be beaten, or raped, or shot. Psychological physical violence is another form of abusive control, and a very effective one at that.

One of the most common questions I get asked by my readers goes something like this: “When he gets mad he punches holes in walls, but is that really abuse? I’m afraid things will get worse, am I being oversensitive?”

Yes! And No!

Yes, punching holes in walls is abusive. The same goes for violently slamming doors, breaking objects or hurling them across the room, and other actions designed to terrorize and intimate a partner in order to control them and their actions.

And noyou’re not being oversensitive at all. You’re being attentive.

It’s not uncommon for abusive personalities use psychological physical violence in order to force a partner into terrified submission. Using this type of non-contact violence has a lot of advantages for the abuser, so it’s often preferred over actually battering her — at least initially. As an abusive relationship continues, year after  year, abuse tends to escalate. An abuser who “only” punched holes in walls or slammed doors could, after years or even decades of this behavior, suddenly turn physically violent toward her.

One woman bravely recounted her story to me, telling me that she felt safe from physical battering because her husband would take his fierce anger out on inanimate objects, but never her. Then, a full 30 years after their wedding vows, it happened. She was beaten. Severely.

That story, sadly true and sadly not unique, should serve as a warning for us all.

Punching holes in walls or breaking objects — often her most precious possessions — allow the abuser to physically attack his victim without risking arrest or legal trouble should she decide to press charges. It also helps him avoid the shame of actually laying a hand on his spouse, or having to deal with the physical wounds he created.

“I was just blowing off steam … All guys do this when they’re upset … It’s normal.”

If you’ve been told these things, you’ve been told a lie.

Punching holes in windows is not merely blowing off steam, it's domestic violence.
(Emily Campbell/Unsplash)

A further advantage this psychological yet physical method of domestic violence holds for the perpetrator is that it’s highly effective in sending a strong, clear message — all without having to say a word.

“I’m capable of violence. I’m much stronger than you, and I can seriously hurt you if I want.”

If you’re on the receiving end of this extremely manipulative form of abuse, chances are you’re full of confusion and doubt. You’re terrorized constantly, wondering when the next attack will be, and each incident sends you deeper into a spiral of fear.

It’s excruciating to have to live in this environment for days, let alone years or decades. The result of extended exposure to domestic abuse often manifests itself as severe anxiety, including full-on anxiety or panic attacks. PTSD becomes an uncomfortable reality, causing you to jump and spin with every sharp noise or warning sign.

Even little things can be triggers, and triggers are unpredictable, which further exacerbates the trauma response within your body. Every sharp, loud, or unexpected noise makes you jump, with your heart rate taking an upward tilt. You may clench your body in fear, tremble uncontrollably, or manifest some other stress response. Sometimes you feel as if you’re living life in a haze, because nothing seems quite real any longer.

Listen to your body, especially when it comes to physical violence within the home. Your body knows. It’s sending you a message for a reason. Be vigilant and alert (1 Peter 5:8)

If a person is full of enough rage and animosity that he feels the need to display his authority by punching things, throwing things, or any other such behavior, physical violence directed toward you could be lurking around the corner.

Be aware. Get help. Find a reliable and trustworthy support system.

Abuse of any kind nearly always accelerates the more the abuse cycle spins. The periods between “calm” or “honeymoon” stage of the cycle and the  “tension building” or “explosion” stage tend to grow shorter as time goes on. Being forewarned is being forearmed.

If you’re experiencing this type of psychological physical violence, take precautions. It’s a definite red flag that next time, the target may not be a wall. It may be your face.

Even if he’s never hit you before, if you’re afraid he’ll act physically against you, take that as your intuition and listen closely. Even a slight spark of anxiety, which you would rather dismiss away as “too sensitive,” needs to be heeded. Your intuition is a gift from God. He created you this way. He speaks to you in that “still small Voice” within (1 Kings 19:12), urging you to pay attention.

Your intuition is the Voice of the Holy Spirit, guiding and protecting you. Listen closely!

Jesis said, let not your heart be troubled.
(Photo by Jonathan Dick, OSFS on Unsplash)

“God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)

Find Help:

The DV Hotline (800-799-7233)

Domestic Shelters: find local help

Create Soul Space: The Catholic’s Guide to Domestic Abuse

Create Soul Space, A Catholic's Guide to Domestic Abuse

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