Why ‘hidden harm’?

We thought that it might be useful to explain why we have chosen to think about violence, abuse and harmful behaviour towards carer as a hidden type of harm.  There are four main reasons:


  1. It may be difficult for people who are not in the caring/ family relationship to see what is going on because they do not visit or live in the homes in which caring and family life take place. Many of the intimate aspects of carrying out physical and personal care are private and take place between two people.  Similarly, providing emotional and psychological support can be an invisible type of care.  It is hard for people to see or to recognise the impact it takes to be emotionally available and supportive of someone else.  When violence and abuse are taking place in these relationships and areas of caring it may be hard for other people to see and to understand.  In addition, what is acceptable and appropriate in one relationship is likely to be different in another.  This relates to both caring and harmful behaviour.
  1. There is limited awareness and recognition of the problem of harmful behaviour towards carers. It is not widely talked about or understood. In many ways, family violence remains an uncomfortable and difficult topic for many people to bring up or to recognise.  As a result, people affected may feel unsure or reluctant to raise the issue because they are worried about being judged, not understood or ignored.  People may in fact feel it is important to be careful not to talk about it and to find ways of coping with the problem alone.
  1. Violence and abuse cannot always be seen. Verbal and physical violence can be deeply harmful types of behaviour.  However, there is often an emotional and psychological dimension to violence and abuse. Examples of this could be people feeling threatened, intimidated or frightened of their family members.  They may also feel like they are not valued or treated with respect and dignity. Taken together, these types of abuse can affect how people think and feel about themselves.  It can also cause people to feel powerless and without control in their home and intimate relationships.  This can have a significant and negative effect on people’s physical and mental health as well as their safety.
  1. It is difficult to see how patterns of behaviour develop over time. People may be affected differently if they experience long-term abuse and harm as compared to one-off outbursts or hurtful acts.  Similarly, it is difficult to pin down how unpredictable behaviour can be experienced as frightening and harmful regardless of the intentions of the person carrying it out.  These issues can also keep the full extent of harmful behaviour difficult to see.

Taken together, these issues increase the likelihood that violence and abusive behaviour towards carers can be difficult to see, to understand and to talk about.  We want to put the issue of hidden harm at the centre of the project.  We think that it is important to identify how and why this problem is hidden in order to work out ways to address it and to bring it under a new light.  This is with the aim of affected families being better seen and heard.