Disclaimer: This article aims to spread awareness of some of the common disorders resulting from an abusive traumatic event. The symptoms written here, although, may have a chance to be experienced by the reader, should still need a proper diagnosis from a mental health practitioner. Some of the sections of this writing may incur triggers and flashbacks. Reader discretion is required.
In lieu of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I have come to look back at some of the experiences of people that I have encountered upon doing my case studies. Apart from being declared on the statistics of people who have suffered under the iron fists of their spouses in an abusive household, these people did not just tell their stories of survival of abuse under their partners to whom they swore to be with for the rest of their lifetime. The common misconception of many is that once you have experienced any physical detriment inside a relationship, then that is a sign enough for you to get out of it. However, there are intimated aspects inside the experience that buries down the courage to voice out of something that encompasses what they deserve at all. In fact, one of the lesser acknowledged outcomes of domestic violence is translated to the acquisition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is often believed to only occur on a soldier who is returning half their weight after a mission. What many fail to realize is that PTSD can encompass being a survivor of a war; it is more of a disorder that one experiences, too, after a first-hand experience of domestic violence. That being said, domestic violence is often an under-recognized cause of PTSD.
During my case studies, I get to encounter people who have just gotten out of an abusive relationship. Some continue to drift away from their household where the perpetrator is, but there are also clients who come to relapse and would back out of the session with the aim to “try harder” in saving their clearly dying relationship. What I would always tell these people is that relationships do have their specific ups and downs, but abuse is never one of those. These clients, some are already diagnosed with PTSD as a psychiatric disorder occurred after continuous abuse that have resulted in overlapping mental health conditions. However, some were still showing symptoms, but if we were to base it on the diagnostic criteria of PTSD, specifically, under the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its fifth edition (DSM-V), wherein if a person manifests at least 2-3 symptoms of the disorder, then they can be diagnosed, properly, with a psychiatric disorder.
As abuse often takes place behind closed doors, it can be easy to be overlooked. An abuse can take in many forms, ranging from physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, extreme financial control that leads to neglect, or psychological actions or threats that means to harm or influence another. It is also important to take note that abuse in the form of domestic violence can happen at any age and may affect people of all sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, sexes, and also in various socioeconomic backgrounds. Going back to my experience in doing clinical interviews with various domestic violence victims, these abuse victims may experience a wide range of physical and mental health symptoms, as resulting from domestic abuse trauma, such as depression, suicidal tendencies, panic attacks, substance abuse disorders, and sexual and reproductive health issues.
Some might be curious, “Does being in an abusive relationship equate to acquisition of PTSD?”, but it is likely that such domestic violence survivors may already have its underlying symptoms,
which are just left undiagnosed. Being undiagnosed, it may be caused by their reluctance to seek professional help because of the inability to speak for themselves after idealizing that their abusive partner could only be that one person who can ever “care” for them. Second, seeking professional help may also be a big challenge for someone who is going through financial limitations when inside an abusive relationship. With such limitations, this may also leave them without their own decision to enroll themselves in therapy. This is also driven with utmost fear after they have experienced one or two major life-threatening events, leaving them to be vulnerable and helpless towards the situation. Aside from therapies, victims and survivors may also rely on some of their trusted family members and even friends to whom they can confide to and may intervene to save them from further danger.
Most of the clients that I dealt with during our discussion were all shaking as I asked them to retell some of the most significant occurrences that happened to them in the span of the abuse. It is important to take note that in experiencing a traumatic event, a person or a client may have recurring nightmares of the abuse, which leads to affecting their daily activities in total. This may also lead the person or client to revoke from their usual hobbies and would find it more difficult to socialize with other people. Aside from that, a person in the posttraumatic stress disorder spectrum may also seem themselves tied down to their abuser, thinking that it would be difficult to yet again find someone who can be willing to take care of them or even top what they have experienced from the prior transformation of their loved one before they became their abuser.
With a domestic violence victim or survivor, some of the symptoms of PTSD may overlap with other mental health conditions. However, some of its symptoms are normally defined by three overarching categories such those of:
1) Avoidance in any trigger of the traumatic event – The abused may avoid running into anything that could remind them of what has happened during an inflicted violence during the intimate relationship or a situation. This encompasses people, places, intrusive thoughts, or events.
2) Blaming oneself – Although some of the details of one’s story of abuse may be clear about being a pure victim, a PTSD patient may blame themselves with what has happened to them. This contains thinking that they could have done something better that would have saved them from the abuse. Another is that they may have thoughts that if only they stay a little longer with their abuser, then the perpetrator may still change and lead everything to go back to the way it was.
3) Arousal and reactivity – The patient may feel sudden inexplicable anger, outbursts, difficulty being reached emotionally, feeling numb, trouble sleeping, and startling easily.
4) Reliving the event – This may result in the patient or the victim being confronted by the emotional trauma of the event suddenly and without an obvious reason, resulting in
emotional outbursts, chills, heart palpitations, extreme anxiety and other symptoms.
It is also important to note that if the trauma is left untreated, then it may result in a variety of long-term mental health effects. This may be limited or not limited to anger management issues in the long run, severe depression and intense loneliness, as well as inflicting the same hurt to people they soon date or meet along the way. Aside from the aforementioned effects, the trauma being left untreated may also increase the likelihood of the victim to develop life-threatening
conditions in biological aspects such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and substance abuse disorders.
Looking more into my previous and actual clients in the practicum that came out of an abusive relationship, the thematic and coded results in their world is that after the abuse, they tend to feel nauseated after the intrusive memories of the traumatic experience, which leaves them to be overwhelmed. More into that, most of the domestic violence victims that I have encountered
were either unresponsive to their family members and friends who are reaching out to them, to help them get away from their abuser or to completely seek professional help. With that being
said, such victims are currently experiencing trauma bonding or the act of being more inclined to stay with their abuser as they were manipulated to think that they are destined to just be with the abuser for the rest of their lifetime.
However, it is wrong. Such domestic violence victims, after shedding light into the situation, are more blessed thereafter to receive a greater support system, should they allow it to do so. The
abuser’s main goal is to leave their victim inside their shadow, telling them to completely lose their friends or even be in touch with their own families. This is because of the abuser’s intent for them to be idealized by their victims, to make them feel cared for in a minute, then physically hit them after. Because of the tiptoeing from care to abuse, this leaves the abused to come back for more. Telling to themselves that the abuser may not be as bad as they think, for their abuser
always sees to themselves that they should care about the victim from time-to-time. Sometimes, each time after the abuse.
For the same victims who have come to shed light after the abusive events, treatment may be harder than usual if they are still in the same house or in contact with the abuser. When they seek mental help, their designated mental health professional will devise a suitable treatment plan to
address the specific symptoms, but it will be unlikely helpful if they still rely on the thought that their abuser may still change. This leads us to conclude that victims who feel trapped in their
relationships or are hesitant to seek treatment due to ongoing threats of violence may find it increasingly difficult to receive or benefit from proper treatment.
Even amidst the misconception that a traumatic stress event induced by domestic violence may not be treated, actually seeking for support in families and friends may help to reprocess the trauma in effective ways. One major goal of the abuser is to keep their victim to themselves, that is why in the process of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing by a mental health practitioner may help to address the memories that cause the residual trauma.
Remembering the trauma in a way that no longer haunts the victim may take much work. As a result, in following the step to break free from the abuse, the victim may come out stronger and a stable person. Trauma doesn’t have to define them.
Breaking the chains of being in a domestically violent relationship could be harder for someone who has been with their abuser for years, but if they choose to continue being with their abuser, the worst case scenario is they may end up in pure demise, much more than physically hurt itself.
If you know anyone going through domestic violence or if you have experienced the situation and have lived some of the mentioned symptoms, you may seek professional help from the following:
Women’s Care Center, Inc. 09209677852 / 85144104
Philippine Commission on Women (PCW)