If you are a victim of domestic violence, know that you are not alone. More than one-third of women in the United States have experienced physical violence at the hand of their intimate partner. If this is your case, it is vital that you seek help. Safe spaces, called shelters, exist for victims of domestic violence where you can be protected and begin to work through this trauma with an experienced domestic violence counselor. You can find resources to help you leave and get to a safe place by Googling “battered women shelters” for your area. If the situation has escalated such that you feel your life is in immediate danger, call 911.
Getting out of a violent relationship is not easy, but it will be life-saving.
Why is it so difficult to leave your abusive relationship?
Survivors of domestic abuse know that the decision to leave the situation is not easy. They may have felt trapped. They may have been dependent on their spouse for financial support and did not feel that they had enough money to walk away. Some even felt like they were to blame for the violence, that something they did triggered the outbursts in their partner and if they could only stop doing “that,” things would magically become better. (This is often what the abuser will tell the victim.) Some may be afraid of being alone. If you recognize yourself in any of these situations, remember: your safety, and the safety of any children you might have, is of the utmost importance.
You’ve left. What happens next?
- Protect yourself. You need to be in a place like a shelter so that your abuser cannot find you.
- Cancel anything that your abuser might use to trace your movements: credit cards, cell phone bills
- Work with a software expert to analyze your computer to ensure that your abuser has not installed anything on your computer that allows him to spy remotely on you. (Key loggers, spyware, etc.)
- Begin counseling
During your counseling sessions, you will have an opportunity to process the scars of having been in a domestic violence situation. Your counselor has the expertise to help you confront this deeply-rooted trauma. It may be helpful to participate in a support group of people who have been in similar situations and who are now leading calm, peaceful lives without the threat of abuse. This gives you a chance to see that survival is possible, and will also allow for you to make new friends with people who understand what you have gone through. With time and treatment, you will regain your sense of self-worth, security, and freedom.
What happens during a domestic violence counseling session?
The goal of your counseling sessions will be to listen, talk, and come away with useful strategies to gain understanding about your specific situation, and help you work through it. Typically, a counselor will support you as you examine your feelings around self-esteem, depression, anxiety, past trauma, childhood and family history, and relationship issues. They will also provide you with a list of legal and financial resources.
Unwrapping your past
Women who find themselves in abusive relationships need to understand how their past has shaped their sense of self. There is no “typical” personality type that is likely to seek and stay with a violent partner, as these situations are unique and complicated. There are, however, some common traits that victims may share, such as low sense of self-worth or growing up in a family where physical violence was present. In counseling sessions and with your permission, you will be guided through your memories and experiences in a calm and reassuring environment. Your counselor will help you reframe how you might be mistakenly viewing your abusive relationship as “your fault”.
Recognizing that your experience is not normal
Part of your counseling sessions will focus on helping you see that your abusive relationship was not normal. Many victims do not recognize that their situation is abnormal, because they grew up in households where they witnessed violence on a daily basis. It is all they know, and so when they chose a partner with violent tendencies, this mirrored their childhood environment and was seen as a natural situation.
Abuse is not just physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we often picture one partner inflicting physical force on the other. But there exists other equally-damaging forms of abuse. Psychological abuse can take the form of one partner controlling the other, through methods as varied as monitoring your movements by secretly installing a GPS device on your cell phone, breaking into your email, Facebook or other social media platforms, going through your cell phone and reading your text messages or reviewing your call history. This authoritative behavior is a form of abuse. A counselor can work with you to help you understand that this is not a loving, respectful way to act in a relationship and is likely to lead to physical violence.
Verbal abuse is another type of abuse. This can take the form of name-calling, insults, body-shaming, constant belittling and criticism, and lashing out in vulgar language when angry. A counselor will help you see that this is not normal behavior, and help you recognize that you deserve to be in a relationship where respect between partners is the rule, not the exception.
Moving from victim to survivor
The road back from domestic abuse is long. But the discoveries you make about yourself, and the strength you will gain from your counseling sessions, is worth it. You will no longer see yourself as a victim of domestic abuse, but as a survivor of domestic abuse. That feeling, of having re-claimed your life, is worth every moment you spend in treatment.