Why We Need To Talk About Domestic Violence

We don’t talk about domestic violence (DV) much, although people are abused more often than you might think. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the United States alone more than 10 million people each year experience intimate partner violence. That’s 20 people per minute each day. Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced extreme psychological aggression by an intimate partner at some point in their life. And according to the Global Study on Homicide, in 2012 an intimate partner or family member killed half of the women who were murdered worldwide.

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Sadly, we don’t hold domestic violence to the same standards as other forms of violence. In fact, the media rarely names intimate partner violence when reporting on it. When you pick up a newspaper or watch the news on television about an abuser killing their partner, it’s called homicide, murder or labeled a murder-suicide. The reporters rarely talk about the ongoing abuse and intimidation. In most cases of domestic homicide, there’s a long history of violence leading up to the killing. Media stories rarely discuss that.

We don’t want to hear about domestic violence

For a recent episode of the Woman Worriers podcast, I spoke with Rachel Louise Snyder about her book No Visible Bruises: What we don’t know about domestic violence is killing us. In a subsequent episode, I shared my own story of being in an emotionally abusive relationship. What struck me while I was preparing for and recording those two shows is that people shy away from talking about or wanting to hear about domestic violence.

When I shared with colleagues and friends how excited I was about getting an interview with a nationally and internationally recognized journalist, they were very excited—until I told them the topic of the podcast was domestic violence. And the numbers prove my point. The downloads for my shows on DV are lower than any others.

When one in three women and one in four men are being injured by their partners, you’d think we’d have a lot more interest and motivation in learning about stopping or preventing the problem.

Why we’re silent—and what we say instead

There are many reasons for not talking about DV if you’re you’re in an abusive relationship. Not talking about it keeps you safer.  But why as a society aren’t we saying, “This is a problem that needs addressing”? Why do we shy away from naming it when it’s happening all around us?

I sat long and hard considering these questions, because I’m a survivor of an emotionally abusive relationship and I rarely talk about it. I find that at times I still feel ashamed to talk about a relationship that happened over 30 years ago! The shame can’t all be in my head. The shame also comes from the messages received from family, friends and our culture’s views of domestic abuse.

“It’s not our business.” “It’s a relationship issue.” “It’s a private matter.” “If she wanted to leave, she would.” Unfortunately all of these statements paint the victim as the problem or they ignore the fact that there is a victim.

Understanding why people stay in abusive relationships

When I was struggling in the emotionally abusive relationship in college, I could see the disappointment in others’ eyes that I was still in it. I could feel their judgment around me not leaving. I felt the shame of that judgment and my own confusion about why I would stay when he was so terrible to me.

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But I’ve learned from personal and professional experience that emotional and physical abuse usually happens over a long period of time. It slowly diminishes your feelings of self-worth, your confidence and your mental health. You’re vulnerable and abusers often leave you feeling alone and isolated. They make you believe that no one would love you like they do.

And you do feel loved, but those moments come farther apart and less often. They’re paired with gaslighting— the art of making you feel crazy and questioning reality— so you’re left off balance and you can no longer trust yourself or others.

Being in an emotionally and physically violent relationship can impact your mental and physical health, leading to medical bills, lost wages, lost jobs and long-term mental health struggles. The economic impact alone is concern enough for us to be doing more to prevent domestic violence.  According to the Women’s Institute for Women’s Policy Research the healthcare costs for women who experienced abuse were 42% higher than for women who were not abused. The overall costs to society in the U.S.— including healthcare and productivity losses— was estimated at 9.3 billion dollars.

Let’s start the conversation

It’s time to get domestic violence out of the darkness and into the light. The #MeToo movement went a long way toward helping victims and survivors of sexual assault feel heard and for our society to say sexual assault isn’t OK. So let’s start talking about domestic violence.

If we were to champion a movement for DV survivors, what would we call it? #MeToo2? #DVSurvivor #NoMore? #StopTheViolence? #LetsTalkAboutDV? #SupportVictims? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

If you’re struggling with how to support someone you love and care about who might be in an abusive relationship, one of the most helpful things you can do is to let the person know that you’re there for them, no matter what. If you’re concerned about their safety, let them know you care and you’re worried. You can offer to look at DV support and informational websites, including sites that offer a danger assessment.

Offering advice or suggestions about what you think they should or shouldn’t do can leave victims feeling ashamed and less willing to talk the next time they need help. Non-judgmental listening and letting them know you’re there for them if they need or want help can go a long way in supporting those who are struggling.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 .

Uncovering the Roots of Anxiety and Stress

Therapy can be a fascinating process. Some people compare it to peeling an onion. Each layer offers new insights and understanding. Case in point — many of my clients come to me because they want to learn how to manage their stress and anxiety more effectively. As therapy progresses it becomes evident that they’re not just stressed about what’s going on in their lives today. What triggers their anxiety are deeply rooted negative thoughts and feelings they have about themselves. These thoughts often determine the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

Some of the deeply held negative beliefs that my clients have shared in sessions include:

Deeply held beliefs can leave us feeling flawed
  • I am not enough.
  • I don’t matter.
  • I will always disappoint those who care about me.
  • I am unlovable.
  •  I am flawed.
  • If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.
  • I should not be forgiven.

My clients are often surprised to learn that their situation is not unique. I’m not saying that each individual isn’t unique, but I have many clients who hold similar beliefs about themselves, because of their past experiences.

Doing the Deeper Work

Uncovering these beliefs often takes time because they’re unconscious, barely showing themselves when your anxiety starts to ramp up. As our work together progresses, trust begins to grow, and the deeper work begins. Sharing stories and impressions of past experiences in therapy can open the door to recognizing the messages you received growing up. Often, what I call the critical inner voice (or Negative Nelly), originates from experiences we had in those early years.

Because these messages are so painful and difficult to process, they’re often pushed down below the surface and bubble up through negative self-talk. That inner critic’s message can lead to anxious or depressed feelings. Therapy helps by bringing those negative messages to light. You can determine where they stem from, what drives them, and whether they are legitimate.

When Trauma and Emotional Neglect Aren’t Resolved

If you were emotionally, sexually or physically abused in childhood and that trauma wasn’t resolved or validated, it can leave you feeling inadequate or “less than” when you’re struggling. The same can be true if you were told to buck-up, to get over it, never show to when you’re hurt. These events and messages can also lead to being disconnected from your physical and emotional experience in adulthood, which makes it hard to know how you’re feeling. This can leave you uneasy or numb.

Mindfulness and Meditation Can Help

Mindfulness can create awareness of negative thoughts

Mindfulness and meditation can help make you more aware of your negative thoughts and allow you to be more comfortable with your difficult feelings. Finding and practicing self-compassion also plays an important role in letting go of the negative self-talk that comes so easily when we make mistakes, or we embarrass ourselves through our actions or statements. Self-compassion acknowledges that we’re human and often make mistakes and that, although we all suffer, this too will pass. It also creates a space to offer yourself some support and comfort.

Therapy Can Make a Difference

If you’re suffering from trauma-related anxiety or depression, and it feels overwhelming, therapy can help. It’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable sharing with and opening up to. You want someone who you feel will understand, empathize and support you in your journey forward. If you struggle with anxiety or depression that might be related to past trauma, please call me at 410-340-8469 to begin the journey to healing.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Joshua Earle and Ashley Batz for Unsplash.com