Domestic Violence & Intimate Partner Abuse
To prevent domestic abuse, a good understanding is needed of why it happens, how it can be prevented and the practical interventions that are available to counter such acts.
What Does Domestic Violence Refer To?
Domestic violence refers to systemic behavior that aims to perpetuate control over one or more partners in an intimate relationship. This is done through intimidation, physical abuse, battery, and sexual abuse. Psychological abuse and emotional manipulation are also part of the tools used by the perpetrator. This kind of abuse can typically be spouse-on-spouse, parent-on-child, or child-on-parent in cases where the elderly are involved.
Abuse usually starts verbally, with harsh words, name-calling, aggressive threats, and language, etc. Emotional abuse usually comes after the verbal abuse; in this case, the perpetrator could manipulate conversations to make the victim feel bad about themselves. They could also ignore the victim’s needs and emotions, reject them or refuse them intimacy, intentionally place the victim in danger, or withhold helpful guidance. Typically, the victim usually chooses to ignore all the warning signs.
Physical abuse is the next phase of this continuum in which the abuse escalates to grievous bodily harm through restraining, beating, biting, rape, strangulation, and using weapons with grievous intent. Often, women are the most abused demographic in domestic abuse cases. This is mostly because a majority of women are untrained in physical defense, and even if they are, they’re usually significantly weaker physiologically.
What Are the Theories Behind Domestic Abuse?
Biography, personality, substance abuse, mental illness or injury, and poor self-control are just some of the psychological causes of domestic abuse. However, these don’t account for the full range of psycho-social issues that give rise to this behavior.
Other theories which aim to explain the diversity of domestic violence include:
- Social Learning Theories
Emphasize how violence is learned from others, repeated, and continued if there is positive reinforcement of it. For example, a child from a violent home or one who was physically abused has a much higher likelihood of turning into a perpetrator or a victim later. Likewise, a woman with an abuse history is more likely to get into another abusive relationship.
- Structural Learning Theories
Stress the role of socially generated inequalities and disadvantages, creating environments where stress, frustration, anger, and violence erupt much easier. These could involve unemployment, inadequate financial resources, poverty, and debt, etc.
- Situational Theories
Stressors such as drugs and alcohol contribute to incidents of domestic violence. For example, research has shown that almost half of victims who report domestic abuse cases claim that the perpetrator was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Feminist Theories
Feminist theories emphasize the particularly gendered nature of domestic violence, with statistics reporting that at least one in every four women have/will suffer due to domestic violence. Most perpetrators of domestic violence are men, and most victims are women. The patriarchal system of a family or society contributes to motives for the legitimization of violence against women.
How to Handle Cases of Abuse
Domestic abuse can affect or involve anyone from any race, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. However, statistically speaking, women are more likely to become victims of domestic abuse. An estimated 800,000 men each year in the US also report cases of domestic violence by an intimate partner each year. Most victims of domestic violence are usually hesitant to report such behavior hoping that the perpetrator will change their ways.
Granted, there are many different situations where leaving may be a difficult option in the opinion of the abused. Some victims may even be in denial that they are being abused. If this is a person close to you such as a family member, the first step is to make them understand that their physical or mental health is at risk.
Even if the victim isn’t willing to leave the abuser yet, their recognition of the problem and validation of the situation are important first steps to overcoming domestic abuse. It is critical to have a safety plan especially in the event of an emergency or a crisis. For example, a close family member can share secret code words with the victim in case they find themselves under duress.
Some victims feel helpless in different situations, especially when they feel like their lives or the lives of those that depend on them are at risk. This is a difficult situation because it means the therapist or authorities have to come to the victim instead of the other way around. A professional can counsel the victim on a safety plan if a domestic situation does escalate.
Cutting off Contact
In domestic violence situations, the perpetrator always tries to exert control over the victim’s behavior through a variety of methods of abuse. These methods such as physical and verbal abuse can only be effective over the victim when there is no distance between them and the perpetrator. If this physical space is increased by the victim leaving, a good amount of power and leverage is taken away from the abuser.
Since either the victim or the abuser will try to make contact, the victim must be counseled to try and restrain themselves from talking to their abuser. This may require support from close friends and family who may be, for example, willing to accommodate the victim.
Seeking Therapy Support
Many victims of domestic abuse usually experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and emotional scarring due to their experiences. A healthy support mechanism for the victim is important, and this includes everything from the local therapy office to close friends and family that help the victim to not isolate themselves.
Group counseling is a great approach for connecting victims of domestic abuse with others like themselves. Mental health professionals guiding these processes can encourage and help victims transition to independence by providing a positive perspective based on other success stories from the group.
What Methods Are Used in Therapy for Victims of Domestic Abuse?
Through psychotherapy or talk therapy, a professional can tell the nuances of individual relationships. A qualified professional will at this stage try to form a relationship with the victim in which they can open up in a comfortable space. The therapist will want to know more about the victim’s family background, previous relationships, any other cases of abuse, etc.
For victims with severe trauma and emotional dents, the therapist’s main objective will be to get them to a place of healing and self-love again. It is possible for those suffering from depression and anxiety to have medication prescribed for them. Psychiatric evaluations may also be done by another professional to adjudge the level of trauma.
Is It Imperative That a Therapist Is Hired for a Victim?
Domestic violence can take a huge toll on the physical, mental, and psychological well-being of the victim. The victim can fall into negative life cycles of falling back into abusive relationships, depression, substance abuse disorders, self-harm practices, eating disorders, and other harmful behaviors.
A professional counselor or therapist is always recommended for long-term victims of domestic abuse and those feeling that they can’t cope anymore with the after-effects. The negative behaviors are always best addressed by a therapist who has dealt with such cases before and who can provide helpful, practical advice in such instances.
What Qualities Should a Therapist Have?
The most important qualities that should be looked for in a therapist are experience and professionalism. An expert should have a good history of dealing with abuse in families and relationships. They should be available for any emergencies that may arise.
A well-trained therapist will be able to make collective psychological assessments, especially where it seems the abuse has a long-term effect on the victim’s psyche. Finding such a counselor requires asking for referrals within the community, checking local domestic violence emergency directories, or checking online therapy directories such as Talkspace or TherapyTribe.
What If Children Are a Relationship Dynamic?
Statistically, over 275 million children worldwide are exposed to domestic violence, with over 30% of homes with children likely to experience some form of domestic abuse. Where leaving is the last resort for a victim, children may be caught up in a custody battle between the parents.
A formal custody evaluation should be carried out during the separation process. Here, experts will interview all the parties in the relationship and will assess how each parent typically relates to the child or children. Additionally, a court may also involve mediators to evaluate the parent-child relationship and make the best decision with regards to the kids. For example, this could cover areas such as where the kids will live and how their needs will be taken care of.
Finding Yourself Again | Take Care of Your Health
An abusive relationship can take a heavy toll on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the abused person. While mental health therapy and family counseling play important roles in getting the victim back to a steady place, physical health shouldn’t be forgotten. Depression, anxiety, and stress can impact one’s sleeping habits, eating habits, and blood pressure.
One of the ways to deal with this is for the victim to enter into a physical regimen. In this regard, the physical regimen deals with exercise, diet, meditation, sleep, and other self-care practices. Food should be kept well-balanced and nutrient-rich, with foods containing omega-3 being highly recommended (these are natural mood boosters). Drugs and alcohol should be avoided, especially when the victim is still processing a separation, trauma, or other psychological stressors.
With exercise routines such as yoga, walking, and cycling, natural mood-elevating chemicals in the body such as endorphins and serotonin are released. With a good mood and positive outlook on life, a victim may even make themselves available to new relationship prospects.
Don’t Be Afraid to Address Your Fears
Healing from the effects of abuse often takes significant time and effort on the part of the victim. Additionally, many victims are unable to move on due to strong attachments to past relationships. These are often fueled by psychological issues such as low self-esteem. A good therapist will be able to show the victim what a healthy relationship looks like, i.e. mutual respect, honesty, trust, and respecting boundaries.
A professional counselor will also be able to show the victim things in their psyche that makes them predisposed to such relationships and how it’s possible to move past these issues. Ultimately, the goal of domestic abuse therapy will be for the victim to get a new lease on life through the right emotional, mental, and physical care. It is also to ensure that situational abuse won’t happen again.
For more information on how to get domestic abuse help or therapy, or for more helpful resources on this subject, check out our other blogs on PrimeTherapist.