To the rest of the world, she looked like the perfect woman - a confident fitness entrepreneur with two adorable children and a loving husband.

But behind closed doors, Danni Price was slowly drowning in a toxic environment that seemed impossible to escape. The Brisbane mother and personal trainer now understands she was a victim of an insidious form of domestic violence, a kind society barely recognises.

"It was three or four years ago now that I left my husband," the 38-year-old tells "He would often put me down, saying, 'You're not good enough, you're not going to be able to do that.' He would use degrading words ... He was very emotionally and mentally abusive towards me, telling me I wouldn't be able to achieve anything.
"He'd even be jealous of me doing work."

While those around Danni saw her as a successful businesswoman who would never stay with an abusive partner, she says leaving her ex when her self-esteem was in tatters was the biggest challenge of her life.


"It's the bruises you don't see when it's emotional and mental," she says. "You believe you're not worth anything, you're a worthless person, not good enough for anyone or anything. You get into a mindset that if you leave, no one's going to believe you. You're constantly told everything happening is your fault ... It's guilt and a way of manipulating how you feel."

Danni's story is painfully familiar for staff who work in family support services in Australia. Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, tells emotional and mental abuse by a loved one are even more common than physical abuse, and the scars can take far longer to heal.

"When we talk about domestic violence, we think about patterns of power and control," she says. "Many victims say it was never physical violence - it's much more difficult to understand where that comes from and recover from it.

"In the past, we looked at domestic violence and thought broken bones, certainly psychological abuse is more prevalent and occurs in almost all cases. It's important to see the whole range of behaviour that constitutes abuse in a relationship."

Psychological abuse takes various forms, from "gaslighting", in which a victim is told they are misunderstanding how something happened; to preventing access to children or harming pets; to stopping the victim from seeing friends or going to work, cutting them off from networks that might offer safety.

"That's economic abuse and psychological abuse too," explains Ms Baulch. "It's wearing away at someone's self-esteem and judgment.

"Many women have said to me, 'I healed from the bruises, the physical wounds, relatively quickly, but the psychological stuff - the bullying, teasing, being called names, having someone make fun of your body - wears away at you.' It's hard to recover from. If it happens in the guise of a loving relationship ... that's really hard to step outside."

One in three Australian women has experienced domestic violence. Ms Baulch and others working in support services say society needs long-term change that starts with education, and showing children woman are valued. We also need to stop asking why women do not leave.

There are many reasons someone may stay or return to a relationship: low self-worth, fear or financial and childcare issues, according to the experts. Some abusers threaten they will have children removed from the mother in the family court. Younger women are often particularly at risk because abusers convince them that this is how relationships work. Gay victims may also be threated with being "outed" to family and colleagues.

Domestic violence services are now shifting their focus to the perpetrators of abuse and changing their behaviour rather than forcing survivors to uproot their lives and flee.

Danni says it was only her children, Tahlia, 8, and Jordan, 4, who gave her the strength to find a way out of the cycle. She began trying to eat well, exercise and improve her mental health for their sake, even taking them to work with her to make maintaining her job easier. Eventually, she summoned the confidence to leave.

"I did a lot of internal work on myself, fuelling my body with the right food, exercise, building strength within myself," she says. "It was important to me that my kids were brought up in a positive environment, I didn't want them to think it was normal arguing and fighting like that."

Danni took part in a bodybuilding competition. She studied psychotherapy techniques and decided to incorporate what she was learning into her company, My Fit Tribe.

The mum and businesswoman says she continues to work on her weakened self-esteem, simultaneously developing her personal training into a holistic program to help women who may also be struggling in myriad parts of their lives.

She holds bootcamps with babysitters that are hugely popular with mothers, one-on-one personal training sessions and small classes on nutrition and mindset support. Her business has 100 clients in Brisbane and she is planning to expand nationwide, as well as creating a wellness app to help women all over the world.

Danni is open with her clients about what she went through, and the battle for self-worth that she still fights. She says her ex-husband has begun to turn himself around, and recently acknowledged that "he did wrong" told her he is proud of how she's raised their children.

"I wanted to create something with no judgment," she says. "You have your breakdowns and everyone's there to support you. I want to empower women to find their worth. That grew as I found the strength in myself, when I had the belief in myself to do it.

"Through the loneliness, fear and self-doubt, I needed so badly to find a tribe of like-minded women to help me regain control of my world ... So I built one."


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


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