Many women struggle every day to navigate domestic violence. Some make it to the other side, but what does that look like?
For relationship abuse survivors like myself, surviving means rebuilding our identities. As sad as this may seem, it’s completely normal for many survivors. Here are four unspoken ways that domestic violence can change survivors, so you can help them heal.
Domestic violence may cause social anxiety.
Domestic violence survivors quickly learn that interacting with their abuser makes violence more likely to occur. Those interactions connect people with violence, especially if the violence is a result of the survivor interacting with people other than the abuser.
Whether the abuse lasts for days, months, or years, the mistrust of people can still exist after the abuser is out of the picture. Women may panic around other people, even their loved ones.
Anxiety is a real, lasting effect of domestic violence, especially in social situations. Studies have shown that women who experience domestic violence are four times more likely to develop acute anxiety than those who don’t.
Survivors typically experience PTSD symptoms.
Some people believe that PTSD is only a legitimate diagnosis if you’ve been to war, but that’s so far from the truth. I still deal with PTSD symptoms nearly every day, even though I left my abusive situation years ago.
I sometimes have dreams about or vivid flashbacks of my abuser. These flashbacks led to other PTSD symptoms, like insomnia, anger, physical pain, and irritation. Domestic abuse survivors are more likely to experience depression.
One of the most damaging psychological aspects of domestic violence is that abusers gaslight survivors into believing that they caused or deserved the violence they received. Abusers will lie and link the survivor’s behavior to anything, like not being kind enough or good enough.
One of the biggest personal changes I experienced during and after my domestic violence experience was the onset of depression. My depression began when my abuser isolated me from my friends and family. He continued to do so long after he left my life.
Domestic abuse survivors often believe they can’t be fixed, which can cause them to spiral into even deeper depression or suicidal thoughts. Symptoms of depression can include loss of appetite, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts.
I knew that my heart needed to heal from my depression, so I started going to therapy. Therapy can help other abuse survivors with their depression symptoms as well.
Victims often feel stuck even after escaping their abuser.
All of my symptoms led back to one emotion: feeling stuck. I thought that my emotions and symptoms were permanent, even though that wasn’t the case.
It’s so easy for victims of domestic violence to get used to their symptoms and accept them as part of who they are, even though they’re not. There are resources and strategies out there to help you get back your sense of self and your confidence. Finding a therapist or reaching out to your employer could help you begin healing, especially if your workplace offers paid time off or financial assistance for your mental health appointments.
Although you may feel stuck in the aftermath of your abuse or unable to see a brighter future, I promise you that your symptoms are not your identity. Your true spirit still resides in you, and it will show itself as your recovery progresses. Even though I still deal with the effects of my abuse, I am so glad that I built a new life without my abuser. I promise, no matter how dark it feels now, you can, too.
If you feel like you are in relationship danger, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website for more information on how to get help.