DOMESTIC ABUSE IS INCREASING AT AN ALARMING RATE
I had so many different ideas for a blog this week, from How To Prepare Yourself For The “Big” Release After Lockdown, What We Have Learned About Ourselves and What We Will Be Using In Our Life Down The Road or even Me-Time and Why It’s Important, but this topic keeps coming back to me and even though I would have loved to keep this week’s blog happy and uplifting, it is a reality that not everyone are safe during lockdown. I believe that this is my way of asking you to use your compassion and spirit to embrace those trapped in the horrific cycle of abuse and extend a helping hand that they can grasp onto. For some people, home is not always a safe place to be and it is especially a dangerous time for victims of domestic abuse during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I designed a poster a while ago and thought that it would be appropriate to feature it in this blog (please refer to the What is/What if/When to page on this website). It gives a short description of some of the different types of abuse and some of the warning signs that we can look out for. I know that it is in general difficult to see the warning signs, but due to the lockdown it becomes more difficult to see the physical signs, like those bruises that gets hidden away so professionally or the broken spirit that gets masked behind a very well-rehearsed smile, but there are other signs that you can listen out for that might just be that important life-line that the abused person would need.
Abuse victims often suffer from low self-esteem. They start doubting their own self-worth. Many struggle with low body-image and they stop liking themselves. They start to doubt their abilities of making good choices and wondering if other people will like and respect them. They often lose their sense of independence and feel alienated and alone. Often there are signs of a decline in concentration and being able to solve problems. Will you be able to spot these in a family member or friend? Unless you really know that person, you might not give much notice to these changes.
We have to be careful though, not to jump to conclusions and start accusing people of abusing others. We must know our limits, are we going to make the situation better or worse and can we really protect the abused parties and not put them in the path of more devastating harm? We cannot force the abused victim to do anything that they do not want to do. We are not in control of their lives. They are the masters of their own lives and all we can do is support them and introduce them to options that they may not be aware of. It will not serve them in any good way if we try to guilt them into doing what we think they should do; the decision and action needs to come from them. By empowering and supporting the abused you allow them to assert themselves. They realise that they have the strength, determination, and self-love to do something to help free themselves from the abuse, thereby increasing their self-esteem. It is here where the Victim becomes a Survivor and at the end of the day, that is exactly what we want.
Because movement to the outside of the home environment is restricted currently, the interactions between the victim and the offender are more prominent and continuous. The slightest irritation or misstep can cause devastating consequences for the abused victim and that stress is tremendous. Arguments about money, personal-space, dirty dishes, bad habits or even little actions like not making the bed properly could put a new wave of violence, abuse and hurt into action. The length and severity of the abuse might vary depending on the triggering circumstances. Think of it this way, the abused are already experiencing high levels of stress since they are consciously or unconsciously in a fear state. Their ability to develop healthy relationships becomes a challenge because they most likely struggle with closeness and intimacy. They are probably experiencing a feeling of being out of control of their own lives and losing a sense of themself. The stress of wanting to be perfect all the time or eventually believing that they cannot do anything right or deserve any basic pleasures eats away at their self-esteem. They start believing that what they want does not count and the ambition of trying something to help themselves diminishes. And then we are not even talking about the fear of being stigmatised or fearing their own feelings and the full extent of their own pain and rage. The abused victim might disassociate themselves from themself by disconnecting emotionally or starting to feel robot-like, like an object and not like a human being. They might start practicing self-harm behaviours like exhibiting eating disorders, practicing self-mutilating behaviour or even abusing substances.
As you can see, the effects on abused victims are devastating and if I had it my way, nobody would ever feel this way ever again. Unfortunately, in reality, things and life doesn’t work that way.
So, what causes the abuser of doing this to somebody else? It comes down to their needs and what motivates them to get those needs met. They have a need; they see what must be done to get that need met and establish a goal. After that they take action. Here they believe that their need has been met or that the necessary consequences of their actions will get their needs met. It might sound simple, but as previously mentioned, not everything is that simple because their motivations and emotions plays a big role here. The controlling behaviour of the abuser is designed to make the abused dependent on them by isolating them from support, depriving them of independence and regulating and controlling their everyday behaviour. I’m not going to go into detail here, because as soon as I get started, then you must prepare yourself for a very loooooong read.
Remember that the situations of abused victims differ and the support and information that gets offered to them varies. Now, you might have a friend or loved-one who you suspect is being abused. What do you do? I’ll get to that shortly, but first share the list of contact numbers with your friends and family and keep it saved somewhere should you ever need to use it.
This is the first step and although it might seem “not-that-important”, it may protect or save somebody’s life.
Because you do not want to escalate the abuse, stop yourself from approaching the abuser. This could put you at risk and escalate the risk of the abused victim. If you do feel that the person’s safety is in immediate danger, call the police or the correct helpline immediately. The call centre personnel are trained to ask the correct questions. They will be able to make the most accurate assessment to ensure that they take the appropriate action.
If you do get the chance of speaking to the abused victim (or friend/loved one) that you are suspecting of being abused, ask general questions about how things are going at home. This shows the victim that somebody cares, and that little gesture of outreach can make a big difference for the victim who feels isolated and alone. Remember, the abused victim does not have much privacy and that your conversation might be on speakerphone and not in privacy as you might hope for. The text messages are also not a safe domain for communicating. The abuser might have free access to the victim’s phone and therefore nothing is private.
If you do suspect that the abused victim cannot talk because your conversation is being listened to, try to communicate a “safe-word” or “safe-sentence” that you mention at the end of your conversation. It could be “Let me know about those blue-bells (flowers) when you get a chance” (meaning that your friend/loved-one can communicate freely); or “Can you arrange to get the banana-bread delivered to me as soon as possible?” (meaning that your friend/loved-one needs help now). Communicate this clearly but avoid saying that it is a “safe-sentence”.
Important to remember is NOT to blame the abused victim. Listen to them when they reach out to you and try to understand what they are going through. Stay calm and show compassion. You can give them credit for their strength because it takes strength and determination to take someone into their confidence and talk about their experience. Try not to push for too much detail, the story is the abused victim’s story and it needs to flow at their own pace.
With your help, the communities supporting one another, the country supporting the victims and prosecuting the abusers, we can all become part of the movement of changing abuse victims into SURVIVORS.
As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following really touched my heart and goes out to all the abused victims who will turn into survivors through their own strength and your love and support. The first one is from Hanna Gadsby saying “To be rendered powerless doesn’t destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength.”, and this one from Michelle Rosenthall who said “Trauma creates change you DON’T choose. Healing is about creating change you DO choose.”. I also came across this poem, unfortunately the author is unknown:
I have been victimized.
I was in a fight that was
not a fair fight.
I did not ask for the fight.
There is no shame in losing
I have reached the stage of
survivor and am no longer a slave of victim status.
I look back with sadness
rather than hate.
I look forward with hope
rather than despair.
I may never forget, but I need
not constantly remember.
I was a victim,
I am a survivor.”
I could not have put it better myself. Be vigilant, be there for others and show love.
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As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video Calls, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible. I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time. Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health as we face these challenging times.
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