Domestic violence should not happen to anybody. But unfortunately, it is a reality suffered by millions of women – and men, too – in the United States and around the world. Even when a woman escapes from domestic violence, it doesn’t mean she’s free. Recovery takes time, and she must go through cycles of healing with the appropriate therapy.
Domestic violence is not just about physical abuse but mental and emotional abuse too, and these are perhaps the most difficult from which to recover.
But healing is possible. It happened to me and I found the way to live my life again.
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The frightening consequences of domestic violence
Many abused women do not see themselves as victims. I didn’t either. I was a “giver” and I tried to keep my partner happy at any cost. I fed the “monster” and I felt guilty when he got angry. I thought I was not doing a good enough job as his partner. I was sick.
Like me, many women escape from domestic violence but still feel guilty about the situation. They believe they were the trigger for this violence, and that they could have somehow prevented it. They often think of domestic violence as just physical violence and don’t consider the psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse that goes along with it.
Domestic violence is about one person in a relationship controlling the other by using an abusive behavior. Even when a victim has broken up with her abuser, the guilt, fears and insecurities she learned from that violence will remain in her mind and spirit for a long time. Even women whose abusers have died are still imprisoned by their ruined self-esteem, and the sense of worthlessness that their abuser made them believe was reality.
And even when a woman gets physical distance from an abuser, that doesn’t mean she’s still not under that person’s control. Threats on the phone, by email or texts, driving by her house – these are all ways of undermining the victim’s confidence. They are the mental torture that continue to deplete the energy of a battered woman even after she’s left the scene of the abuse.
“It was my fault”
The emotional abuse that goes hand-in-hand with domestic violence is perhaps even more devastating than physical abuse because most victims will blame themselves. It is easy to blame someone who is openly hitting you, but when the abuse is subtle and emotional – like your ex saying you are a bad mom and worthless – after a while, you really do start to believe it’s your fault.
Emotional abuse normalizes this sense of worthlessness in the victim. The abuser shuts out any possibility for the victim to see and understand that normal, healthy relationships are not like hers, and she starts to believe that her situation is normal, just like in every household.
The post-violence trauma
“Trastorno del estrés postraumático en mujeres víctimas de violencia” from the Psychology Department of the Universidad Complutense (Madrid, Spain) examined the consequences of domestic violence on the health of victims, and exposed the following conclusions:
- The health consequences can persist long after the abuse has stopped.
- The more severe is the abuse, the greater the impact on the physical and mental health of the victim.
- The impact over time of different types of abuse and multiple episodes of violence appears to be cumulative.
The experience of domestic violence causes different psychological effects on the victims. It is estimated that 60 percent of battered women have moderate to severe psychological problems, including anxiety, sadness, loss of self-esteem, diminished sexual appetite, permanent fatigue, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative states, attempted suicide, eating disorders, alcoholism and drug addiction.
DEVELOPING A SAFETY PLAN TO LEAVE YOUR ABUSER
Recovering and healing is possible
The victim’s trauma depends on her subjective emotional experience. The more frightened and helpless she felt, the more likely she is to be traumatized. And the extent of the damage has nothing to do with the socio-cultural status of the victim.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Language and Philosophy, I’m bilingual and a writer… But still, I didn’t realize that something was very wrong with my relationships.
I overcame my trauma. I did it slowly, and my healing process has not ended. In my case, the appropriate therapy was to force myself to confront life by myself.
I decided to live alone and be self-sufficient, so as to know and learn that I could do it – that I was good at it and that I was worthy.
Of course there is a second ingredient in my recipe for recovery. That is the love of my friends and family even when they are miles away.
I had to learn again how to trust people who say they love or like me, without feeling that they are mocking me. It was scary, but I could learn to live my life again with a brighter outlook.
I know it hurts; I know it’s very difficult to accept. But if you are being abused, you have to get out and you have to seek help recovering.
It’s never too late to rediscover the joy of living and the possibility of a healthy, non-abusive relationship.
GETTING HELP AND GETTING OUT