“It’s a long healing process that changes someone forever,” Jill stated as she sat looking at me as we began the interview. Her face spoke volumes of sadness and concern as she reminisced about the events that occurred one year ago with her daughter. Her daughter was a victim to domestic abuse and teen dating violence. Jill watched her daughter battle it alone, as she led a double life her mother knew nothing about. The distraught mother had sat through courtrooms and depositions as she discovered the torment due to the physical and psychological abuse her daughter endured for nearly three years of her young life. But, Jill is not alone.
Every nine seconds in the U.S, a woman is assaulted or beaten by a romantic partner. This astonishing statistic means that 1 in 3 women have been a victim to domestic violence. Generally when people hear of domestic abuse, horrific images sweep our mind from the media like Ray Rice beating his wife in the elevator, or Eminem’s highly publicized abusive relationship with his ex-wife. However, domestic abuse goes deeper than the physical which is why it can be so difficult to tell when someone is in an abusive relationship.
“Had I known the signs and behavior, I feel I would’ve been able to protect her,” Jill explains.
People forget about the psychological abuse that often times leads to the physical abuse. Some may ask why a woman would decide to stay with a man that would ever lay his hands on her. What goes unnoticed are the facts about psychological abuse, where one can find the answer for why she stays- and why mental abuse will affect a woman for the rest of her life.
“I couldn’t understand how someone could affect another so much. I also don’t understand how it was all happening, and I was oblivious to it.”
The mother disclosed that her daughter often told her that the physical violence she endured was terrifying, but bruises and the pain would only last momentarily. The psychological abuse she experienced for nearly three years would stick with her for a lifetime. The abuse eventually lead to her being diagnosed with depression and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). She also went through many years of therapy to help her cope with the abuses.
While you may not know the signs, the behavior and steps of abuse is very predictable. Psychological abuse is very manipulative and strategic. They act in a way to make their partner feel fearful, and dependant on the abuser. They start to control the victim. Control who they see, who they talk to, and where they are. They deliberately hurt their partner, demean their self confidence and self worth, causing them to feel dependant on their abuser. Once someone feels dependent on their abuser, they will keep going back. This creates one of the most toxic and hard to break cycles. Like an addiction, they often want to stop going back, want to get help, but fear and dependency control their lives.
“Their relationship was very on and off… I just thought it was normal for high school relationships to be that way. I didn’t realize why it was so inconsistent.” Her mother claimed confidently. However, because abusers follow the same textbook steps, it can be easily determined why Jill’s daughter’s relationship was so inconsistent.
First, the abuser will do what he/she does best: Abuse. Following the abuse, they will feel guilty, apologize profusely, and act as if they are truly sorry for what they have done. Next, they switch and start making excuses for their actions, often demeaning the victim in the process. “If you weren’t such a slut I wouldn’t have gotten so angry and I wouldn’t have to hit you or say things that make you cry.” After, they proceed with normal behavior, and the fantasy begins. They often say they will change, things will get better, they won’t hurt you anymore. After, something triggers them to abuse again, usually from setting up their partner for abuse. They will make up any excuse to abuse again, lashing out at the slightest things. This cycle remains true for victims of both physical and psychological abuse.
“I remember her saying that he’d lock her in his car, and wouldn’t let her get out. Then, he’d just start yelling at her. Telling her she was worthless, and that no one would put up with her like he does. That he deserved so much better.”
Recounted Jill from her daughter’s deposition. She wiped a tear away, as she tried to imagine what her daughter must have felt during these times.
“We would be out at dinner, and she’d get quiet, and frantically text. Or when we were home, she would lock herself in her room. She would never tell me what was going on, she was very closed off.”
After a period of time when a victim is being beaten down day in and day out, eventually, she starts to believe what she’s being told. She believes she is crazy, when in fact, the abuser is the one who is not mentally sound. They will often accuse the victim of being unfaithful, when they are the ones who are not faithful. They say so many demeaning things so consistently, the victim begins to believe they are crazy, stupid, and worthless. Our minds are driven by what we think of the world around us, and what we think of ourselves. Depression is the outcome when a victim’s world is the abuse he or she lives through and their self worth is broken down to almost nothing. This leaves a shadow of a person who is broken, alone, and silently screaming for help.
“I knew she was depressed after the court dates. She wouldn’t talk to me, she lost so much weight because she wasn’t eating. She wasn’t my daughter. She was a broken shell of my daughter.” Jill spoke softly, uncomfortably remembering what her daughter used to be like after the abuse. Soon after, Jill took her daughter to a psychiatrist where she was diagnosed with depression and PTSD at the age of 17.
A huge factor in diagnosing someone with PTSD are symptoms that include flashbacks, nightmares, lashing out in anger, avoiding talking about the event, and avoiding thinking about the event. Her daughter displayed all of these symptoms. “In her appointment she discussed having flashbacks and nightmares. Feeling empty, and numb. She described sitting in a classroom and not retaining any information because her mind was blank.”
When asked what bothered her the most, Jill paused, took a deep breath in as if to hold back tears. “What broke my heart the most and made me feel so helpless was the day my daughter said to me, ‘I know why people commit suicide. It’s not always because people don’t feel loved, because I know I’m loved. If I were to do that, it would be because I can’t get away from my own mind.”
While her daughter is doing much better now, and is protected by a restraining order, she still battles every day with the psychological abuse she suffered through.
“She refuses to get close to anyone, especially guys. She has gotten better at talking about it, and discussing what happened to her. We will be walking and she’ll tell me something he used to do to her. The smallest things trigger a memory in her, however, a lot of what happened, she has blocked out due to her PTSD.”
Seven out of ten women who experience psychological abuse display symptoms of PTSD and depression. 95% of physical abusers also psychologically abuse their partner. While no form of abuse should ever be tolerated, it is important to understand the symptoms, and the affect this type of abuse has on a woman.
“I think through all of this, I know my daughter is strong, and she has come a long way. She still has a ways to go, but she doesn’t let it define her. She carries it in the back of her head, but she knows she is more than a statistic, and much more than a victim of domestic violence. I also want to help mothers be aware of the symptoms, and the ways they can help. In the end, we are our daughters’ protection.”