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new-partner

Help for the New Partner of a Survivor

new-partnerIf your current partner is a survivor of domestic violence, you may be wondering how you can offer support while building a healthy relationship with them. It is possible to have a healthy relationship after a domestic violence situation, but it is a process and there are some things to keep in mind.

Due to previous abuse (whether it was physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or financial), it’s very likely that your partner will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to some degree. PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a traumatic event or series of events that a person experiences or witnesses. Symptoms may include flashbacks and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about their experience. For abuse survivors, it may be very difficult to feel “normal” even after an abusive relationship has ended, as their bodies and minds may continue to relive their past experiences despite new circumstances. Being mindful of this can help you be sensitive to their past trauma while understanding that the trauma is not about or because of you.

Here are a few suggestions for what you can do to help your partner:

Communicate. Your partner may not want to discuss the details of their past relationship with you, and that’s okay. At this time, it’s helpful for you to be willing to learn your partner’s triggers and what makes your partner feel safe or unsafe. Your partner may not be able to articulate these things right away, but encourage them to communicate openly with you, and remind them that you are there for them. Being clear about boundaries in the relationship can help your partner feel more secure as your relationship progresses and they continue healing.

Encourage personal wellness. Self-care and personal wellness are important for everyone, but particularly for someone who is healing from an abusive relationship. Encourage your partner to create a personal wellness plan and practice self-care regularly. Make time to do these things yourself, too; taking care of yourself is not only good for you, it will help you to stay strong and emotionally present for your partner. Wellness plans can include each of you working with your own counselor, activities that you enjoy doing together and separately, and/or reading books that offer healing advice. We strongly recommend finding counseling or support groups specifically for survivors of domestic violence and PTSD; not only can your partner find support through these avenues, but they may help you to better understand what your partner is going through. If you need assistance finding local resources, advocates at The Hotline can help!

Build support systems. A support system is a network of people – family members, friends, counselors, coworkers, coaches, etc. – that you trust and can turn to when you need emotional support. It can be very helpful for both you and your partner to build your own support systems so that you don’t have to rely solely on each other for support, which can be exhausting and detrimental to the relationship.

We do want to emphasize that even though your partner needs your support, PTSD is not an excuse for your partner to be abusive toward YOU. You deserve to feel safe and be treated with respect, as does your partner, and if at any point the relationship is not meeting your needs or is making you uncomfortable, it’s okay to take a step back and give yourself some space. Remember that while you might love your partner and want to help them, it’s not your responsibility to “fix” them. By the same token, it’s important to be willing to honor your partner’s request for space as well. Respecting your partner’s rights to have control over their part in the new relationship may be one of the most healing things that you can provide, even if it means that the relationship does not move forward at that point.

Our advocates are here 24/7 if you have questions or need more guidance. We can also provide referrals to local resources like counselors or support groups. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7am-2am CT everyday.

Additional Resources:

  • This article further discusses PTSD and reconnecting after domestic violence
  • Helping Her Get Free by Susan Brewster is a great book for family and friends of someone in an abusive relationship, but it’s also a useful read for someone who is in a new relationship with a partner who has experienced abuse
minimizing-abuse

Blame Shifting and Minimizing: There’s no EXCUSE for Abuse

minimizing-abuse

Why do we make excuses? You tell a friend that you’re busy with something else because you’d rather just put your feet up and watch the game. You tell yourself that eating that pint of ice cream was fine because you went running the day before so that cancels it out.

To some extent, everyone makes excuses.

When it comes to people making justifications about their unhealthy actions, it can be difficult to see through these excuses or recognize them for what they are.

Why do we want to believe the excuses a partner makes when they’re treating us badly? Sometimes the justifications sound really good. Especially when we’re looking for something — anything — to help make sense of how the person we care for is acting toward us. It’s normal to want to rationalize what’s going on, because abuse is pretty irrational.

Abusive partners are also skilled at coercion and manipulation. They use excuses to make you feel like what’s happening is your fault.

Let’s take a look at common excuses that abusive partners use and talk about why these, like all “reasons,” aren’t justification for violent and hurtful behavior.


  • “I was drunk/I was using drugs.”

Substance abuse isn’t an excuse for abuse. There are people who drink and use drugs and don’t choose to abuse their partners. Ask yourself: how does your partner act when they’re drunk around their friends? How do they treat you when they’re sober?

A statistics teacher would tell you, “Correlation does not imply causation.” Just because two things happen together (like drinking and violence), it does not mean that one causes the other.

  • “I control you because I care about you.”

Acting jealous, controlling or possessive is not a way to show someone you care. 

  • “You got in my face/made me mad/got me wound up on purpose, and I had no other choice. I can’t control it.”

Stress and anger issues don’t cause abusive behavior. An abusive partner’s actions are always a choice that they make. Ask yourself: how does your partner react when they are angry with other people? Would they fly off the handle at their boss? Chances are probably not, because they know they can’t get away with that behavior around others.

  • I have mental health issues or a personality disorder — ex. I’m bipolar, I have PTSD.”

There are people have these mental health issues and don’t act abusive toward their partners. If an abusive partner is dealing with mental health problems, have they been diagnosed with them? Additionally, mental health issues can be managed in certain ways, like with medication.

  • “I grew up in a violent home where I experienced or witnessed abuse”

There are a lot of people who grow up in violent homes who choose not to abuse their partners. Many choose this because of how they grew up — they know how it felt to live in that situation and they want healthier relationships for their partner and their family.


Do you find yourself making these excuses for how you act toward your partner? Or, on the other hand, do any of these excuses sound similar to what you’ve heard your partner tell you when they’re treating you badly?

Being able to recognize excuses for what they are — blames, minimizations, denials — can be a step toward realizing that abuse is never the fault of the person on the receiving end. Remember: partners who are abusive always have a choice about their words and actions.

We’re here to talk: 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

cora

I See DV As An Important Public Health Issue

This is our final How I See DV (#SeeDV) post to wrap up our 2013 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign. We are so grateful to everyone who participated and supported our efforts in October.

Today’s How I See DV perspective is written by Cora Harrington, the founder and chief editor of The Lingerie Addict. The Lingerie Addict is a fashion blog dedicated to lingerie, and has been featured on the websites for CNN, Vogue Italia, Forbes, and Time. Cora is a former domestic violence advocate, sexual assault crisis line worker, and family advocate for victims of violent crime. She currently lives and works in Seattle, WA.

coraIn the last few decades, issues affecting health, and, in particular, women’s health, have taken center stage. From Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October to American Heart Month in February, people are talking more and more about ways to get healthy and stay healthy. That’s a wonderful thing, and I’m glad these conversations are happening. But there’s still one issue that is all too often ignored in the discussion about health…and that’s domestic violence.

While anyone of any gender can be affected by intimate partner violence, 85% of domestic violence victims are women, and 1 out of 3 women in the United States will experience domestic in her lifetime. For African American women and Native American women, those percentages are shockingly higher; almost 50% of Native American women have been beaten, raped, or stalked by their partners, and intimate partner homicide is one of the leading causes of death for African American women aged 15 to 35.

More women require medical attention for domestic violence than for rape, muggings, and accidents combined, and domestic violence during pregnancy is the #1 cause of maternal mortality (maternal deaths) in America. Imagine. If we had these kinds of numbers for any other disease – heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes – people would be protesting in the streets demanding an immediate solution. But since the issue is intimate partner violence (a “personal matter” or a “domestic dispute”), the response, all too often, is just more silence.

I’m not a medical professional or a first responder, so I don’t see domestic violence on the “front lines,” so to speak. Nor am I a Domestic Violence Advocate (though I used to be). So if you’re someone like me reading this, who has a job that has nothing to do with intimate partner violence or sexual assault or the healthcare field, how is thinking of domestic violence as a public health issue possibly relevant to you?

Because a public health perspective helps to give a framework for both understanding DV and for talking with and being supportive of survivors of DV.

Sometimes, when a victim of domestic violence attempts to confide in a friend, that friend is less than supportive.  Often, victims of domestic violence are asked why they don’t “just leave,” and have to cope with people implying that enjoy or even like the violence because they’re still in the relationship. However, those kinds of statements would be unthinkable for any other health issue.

No one would ask a cancer patient if she liked having cancer because she needed time to explore treatment options, make a treatment plan, or because she chose to reject one treatment in favor of another. No one would tell a PTSD survivor that he enjoyed having PTSD because he took awhile to find a therapist, tried multiple therapists, or even stopped and started therapy more than once. No one would tell a stroke survivor that she must have enjoyed having a stroke because she was concerned about her physical limitations or because she had financial worries. So why are these assumptions okay for survivors of domestic violence, many of whom have been physically and verbally battered into physical and emotional injuries? They’re not.

I’m not saying survivors of domestic violence are sick or unwell. Nor am I encouraging others to adopt a patronizing attitude towards them. I just think it’s worth thinking of other ways to frame this problem…and its solutions. After all, you probably know someone who’s dealing with domestic violence right now.

Sources:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/domesticviolence/domesticviolencec.cfm
http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html
http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-domesticdating-violence
http://www.nhcadsv.org/uploads/WOC_domestic-violence.pdf
http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/22/2818051/women-color-domestic-violence/

blog-posters-vandahlen

How I See DV: Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen

Today’s How I See DV perspective comes from Barbara Van Dahlen, named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Dr. Van Dahlen is the founder and president of Give an Hour. A licensed clinical psychologist who has been practicing in the Washington, D.C., area for over 20 years, she received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Maryland in 1991. We’re excited to have her share her voice during our DVAM campaign.

blog-posters-vandahlen

Please help us understand what post traumatic stress is and how it differs from post traumatic stress disorder?

When a human being is traumatized, whether it’s due to combat, physical violence, natural disaster or something else, there are certain reactions that we expect people to have. Many of those are the symptoms that are now captured in the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress.

So if I’m in a car accident, we would expect that for quite some time I might be more jumpy, hyper-vigilant when pulling out of my driveway, I might have flashbacks of what happened, I might have bad dreams, I might get depressed…  so all of these reactions are what we expect for the situation that I’m in following my accident. It only becomes a disorder if it doesn’t get resolved, if I don’t heal, if I don’t receive the support I need to address all of my understandable reactions and symptoms  associated with this trauma.

What are some misconceptions around post-traumatic stress in the military and domestic violence?

Most people assume that PTS looks the same for everyone – many think of the Rambo version of PTS. That’s not the typical reaction at all. People who have experienced trauma, whether its due to combat or another event, can experience trauma differently from other folks who may have experienced the exact same event.

You might have two people who were in the same firefight — one person might become withdrawn and depressed, the other might become very anxious, agitated. A third person in the same fight might show no indication of stress – no interference  with their functioning. People assume that PTS looks similar and in fact, the manifestation of PTS really varies. In addition it exists on a continuum. What it looks like today is not what it necessarily looked like six months ago and not what it will look like in six months.

Another misconception is that most soldiers/service members come home with PTS. That is not true either. Depending on the studies you look at — 18%, 20%, high is 35% depending on what we are assessing or measuring. Not everyone comes back with PTS.

Even if someone has PTS that doesn’t mean that they’re an ineffective partner, parent, employee, student. Many people function with the aftermath of trauma. There are some people with severe and possibly disabling PTS – but that’s not the case all of the time.

Also, domestic violence is not a symptom of PTS. That’s really important. PTS, especially when it’s very severe, might, in some people, make them more likely to be violent towards a partner if they’re already agitated and aggressive, if they’re not sleeping or if there’s substance abuse. PTS can be one unfortunate risk factor that may make violence more likely.

It depends on who the person is with PTS. We all carry around our predispositions, our tendencies, our personalities, our view of the world. And that will be compounded or affected by PTS. If someone was already a fairly controlling person, or tended to be hot-tempered but wasn’t ever violent before… if they become distressed and aggressive as a result of trauma, they may be more likely to engage in domestic violence.

Returning servicemen and women may experience PTS and exhibit violent behaviors when they didn’t before they left for duty. What do couples in this situation need to know?

PTS for both the person experiencing it and their partner can be very unnerving and scary because the person who has PTS may not know when a trigger may elicit a reaction, anxiety or aggression. So both partners need to come to understand what PTS is going to look like in themselves or their loved one. It doesn’t mean that the person cant be a good partner. It’s like being diagnosed with diabetes — if you don’t recognize what that means, if you don’t take it seriously, you can get yourself in serious trouble.

If the spouse/ partner reacts angrily to the PTS, because they’re hurt and miss the person they love and they’re angry that the person is having trouble sleeping, doesn’t seem to be the same, etc., it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. The partner’s reaction can exacerbate a difficult and potentially volatile situation. It’s the same for the person experiencing PTS. I’ve heard soliders say that they learned to be aware of what triggered them and their  reactions. They can also learn how to be more careful with their spouses – learn to be understanding of the feeling their spouses may have that are in reaction to the PTS.  Couples can learn together – to decrease the risk of violence. But they have to work on it.

It’s important to take PTS seriously because under the wrong combination of circumstances, that can really lead to a very dangerous and very upsetting situation … especially if you add alcohol to one or both of the partners. A fight or anger that would normally dissipate with them going off to their own corners, may turn into something far more violent than it ever would have before.

And just because we can understand how/why the violence occurred, that doesn’t mean that we can – or ever should – tolerate it.

What are some behaviors that a person who experienced trauma might exhibit?

There are many ways a person might show that they are processing trauma, especially if they are a victim of domestic violence. Their self-esteem may deteriorate. You can see that both in what they say – they say negative comments about themselves, negative perceptions of themselves – and also how they take care of themselves or don’t. Their self-care will start to be affected, falter, fail. They’re not dressing the way they used to, with care. They’re not working out, they’re not eating healthy. Or maybe there’s substance abuse. So anything that is a self-care clue that somebody is suffering, we can often see those in people we care about and notice them.

We all go through ups and downs in our lives, but if you see people who don’t seem like themselves for extended periods of time, several days or weeks, it may be a reaction to trauma.

What are some myths around mental health and domestic violence?

One myth about mental health is that someone with mental illness is having mental illness makes you more likely to be violent. In fact, having a mental illness makes you more likely to be the victim of violence.

People with severe mental health issues, maybe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are more likely to be the victim of domestic violence because they are often less able to take care of themselves, they are more vulnerable, their thinking is not always as clear.

In addition, mental health issues place a person at risk in other ways. Someone who is severely depressed may be less likely to step out of or seek help to get out of a domestic abuse situation. They may get more entrenched, and feel like “I’m worthless” because low self-esteem is part of the depression, so they see abuse as confirmation of how they feel. Or if someone has severe depression and is prone to being abusive, they might be more likely to become violent because of their mental health issue.

Those conditions — depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse — they don’t create domestic violence, or victims. They’re just risk factors on both sides .

About Our Contributor

Concerned about the mental health implications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Van Dahlen founded Give an Hour in 2005 to enlist mental health professionals to provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones, and their communities. Currently, the network has nearly 7,000 providers, who have collectively given over $9.4 million worth of services. 

Dr. Van Dahlen, a featured speaker at the October 2012 TEDxMidAtlantic “Be Fearless” event, has joined numerous panels, conferences, and hearings on issues facing veterans and has participated in discussions at the Pentagon, Veterans Administration, White House, and Congress. She has become a notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families and a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans, and their families. Working with other nonprofit leaders, Dr. Van Dahlen developed the Community Blueprint Network, a national initiative and online tool to assist communities in more effectively and strategically supporting veterans and military families. 

Dr. Van Dahlen and Give an Hour have received numerous awards, including selection as one of the five winners of the White House’s Joining Forces Community Challenge, sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.

mental health awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental illness affects 1 in 4 or nearly 60 million Americans every year.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to discuss mental health and to work to end the shame and stigma that often comes with these illnesses.

When people think about mental illness in relation to domestic violence, it’s generally believed that individuals living with mental illnesses are the ones committing the acts of violence. However, the connection more commonly runs the other way, with large percentages of those who suffer from mental illnesses becoming, or having been, the victims of domestic violence.

Mental health issues can arise as a result of intimate partner violence. On average, more than half of women seen in mental health settings are being or have been abused by an intimate partner. Recent studies of women who experienced abuse found that up to 84% suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 77% suffered from depression, and 75% suffered from anxiety.

Domestic violence victims with mental health issues also face many barriers, such as discrimination and stigmatization by the police, the legal system, health facilities and more.

Join us in taking time this month to educate yourself about mental illness and the stigma that often accompanies it. It is our hope that changing attitudes surrounding mental illness will allow those that suffer to be able to get the help and support they deserve.

What Can You Do?

Find your local National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) affiliate and NAMI state organization here.

Pay attention to your own mental health. If you feel like you may be suffering from a mental health condition, talk to someone you know and trust. Consult your health care provider or call 1-800-622-HELP to find treatment services nearby.

Help change the stigma associated with mental illness by learning more and showing compassion for those who are struggling with mental health issues.

Look for small ways to incorporate mental health awareness into your everyday life, whether this is listening actively to someone sharing how they’re feeling with you, or avoiding terminology that diminishes mental health problems (like “crazy”).

Further Resources and Reading

“Domestic Violence and Mental Illness: ‘I Have Honestly Never Felt So Alone in My Life’” by Faridah Newman

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK(8255)

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

Domestic violence is an extremely traumatizing experience and the emotional scars associated with this abuse can often outlast the physical impact.

Domestic violence survivors are at a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or  stress-related mental health conditions. Survivors can have upsetting memories or flashbacks, fear or a sense of danger that they cannot overcome. They may feel numb or disconnected from the rest of the world (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health). Learning to cope with residual emotional pain and fears is essential to healing.

Breaking the isolation of domestic violence by seeking counseling and support from friends and family can help survivors to move forward. Counseling sessions provide a safe and confidential environment for survivors to express their feelings, thoughts and fears. Counselors are nonjudgmental third-party advisors who listen and can help survivors work through the things that they are experiencing.

Speaking with a trauma specialist can help survivors to deal with their remaining anxiety and find ways to relieve that stress. These specialists can help to process traumatic memories or experiences so that it is possible to move on. They can also aid survivors in learning to regulate their strong emotions like fear and anger.

Group counseling can also be beneficial. Attending a group session can allow survivors to connect with others who have been through similar situations. Connecting with these people can reduce the feeling of isolation often created by abusers. Other survivors can also offer advice on how they got through tough situations.

Overcoming a traumatic experience can be scary. It’s important that if you do decide to seek counseling, that you find a well-trained professional or group that you are comfortable with.  Often domestic violence programs offer individual counseling to survivors in their communities.  If that’s not a possibility, ask potential counselors about their experiences and strategies for supporting victims of domestic violence.

Please note: if you are still in an abusive relationship, please keep in mind that we don’t recommend attending couple’s counseling with your abuser. Here’s why.

(Photo by Joe Houghton)

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Sexual Assault

Each year approximately 207,754 sexual assaults occur in the United States (RAINN). However, despite that astounding number, sexual assault is still not widely discussed.

To conclude Sexual Assault Awareness Month, please read this list of 10 things you might not know about sexual assault. Sexual assault is not just rape or attempted rape — it is any unwanted sexual contact or advances, preventing someone or being prevented from using birth control and/or rough or violent sexual behavior. Read the definition from The National Center for Victims of Crime to learn more.

1. One in every 10 sexual assault victims is male (RAINN).

2. Sexual assault occurs as often during the daytime as it does during the night (Stanford Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Prevention & Support).

3. Forty-four percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. Eighty percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 30 (RAINN).

4. Victims of sexual assault are more prone to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, trouble sleeping and anxiety disorders (CDC).

5. Two-thirds of assaults are perpetrated by someone whom the victim knows. Thirty-eight percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim (RAINN).

6. Nearly one in four women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime (National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence).

7. Half of all sexual assaults happen within one mile of the victim’s home (RAINN).

8. Out of every 100 sexual assaults, only 46 get reported to the police. Out of those 46 reports, only 12 will lead to an arrest. Out of those 12 arrests, only nine attackers will be prosecuted.

9. Out of those prosecutions, only five will lead to a felony conviction. Despite those five convictions, only three of the perpetrators spend a single day in jail. That means that 97 attackers walk away unscathed (RAINN).

10. Some good news: the instances of sexual assault have decreased nearly 60 percent since 2000, although they are still staggeringly high (U.S. Department of Justice).

Despite the decrease in frequency over the past decade, sexual assault is still an extremely prevalent and pervasive crime in the United States. Please take a moment today to spread awareness about this critical issue.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Book Review: Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women

The following blog entry is written by Conrad Williams, Advocate for the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

As a Domestic Violence Advocate, I am always searching for new material to help our callers. While browsing though Barnes and Noble one Saturday, I noticed a book I had never seen before called “Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence”, written by Edward S. Kubany, PH.D., and published by New Harbinger ($21.95). While most books focus on red flag warnings and getting out, this book focuses on staying out and moving on with your life.

This book is a very thorough manual for moving forward. Every issue is covered and broken down on a subatomic level to set up a good foundation for understanding: PTSD, Guilt, Anger, Grief and Loss (tangible/symbolic). Every chapter has some kind of exercise to gauge your current status and also your progress. Each chapter builds on the previous one in an orderly fashion like steps in a staircase.

There is so much information in the book that I fear talking about it will give away too much. I can say however that there are a couple of chapters on understanding and letting go of guilt. There are also chapters on handling current and future interactions with former partners, going back, learned powerlessness, overcoming fear, and identifying potential perpetrators.

As an advocate I’ve already recommended this book to survivors that are trying to move forward. When I mention the title to the callers who are trying to deal with moving forward, I can literally hear a sigh of relief. The title alone is a form of validation and a catalyst for taking the next step. I also recommend this book for advocates to help understand their clients and enhance their advocacy.

I also had a chance to interview the main author of the book, Edward S. Kubany, PH.D. Mr. Kubany has an extensive amount of experience working with a variety of trauma survivors: Combat Veterans, Natural Disasters, and Battered Women. His inspiration to work with battered women started with a woman that he met while teaching a class on PTSD. This particular woman worked with battered women and referred some of her clients to him.

He was approached by New Harbinger to write a book due to an article written about his form of therapy. Co Author Mari A. McCaig, MSCP is a friend and peer that has a strong background working with crime victims, and Janet R. Laconsay, MA was a Practicum Student at the time of the project.