As I was reading the news, I came across a press release regarding a female judge in FL who sentenced a domestic violence victim to 3 days of jail for not presenting herself to court as ordered. I watched the video about what happened that day and was beyond upset for the lack of understanding of this judge of the psychological effects of abuse which can get to the point of paralyzing someone and, yes, not being emotionally strong to be present for a hearing. Many times we can hurt others in ways we cannot begin to imagine, without intending to, simply because we do not know or understand.
Domestic violence goes beyond the physical pain and scars we might see. Eventually our body heals. There might be marks left in our bodies that might heal and eventually stop hurting physically with time. The scars they leave, the ones you cannot see, are the ones that take much longer and much intentional work to heal. Domestic violence leaves wounds invisible to naked eyes, yet visible to those who know and understand.
Many times we cannot understand why an abused individual would continue in a relationship or why they would fail to press charges or present themselves to testify in court. Many times we judge this behavior as weak and we simply would like that person to snap out of it and find the courage to leave. First, we need to understand what is happening inside of a person who lives in a domestic violence situation. Only then we are able to help them. Pushing them, judging them, and being abusive with our power does not help them, it repeats the victim-perpetrator cycle they are in and adds another slash to the existing wound.
Here are some things to think about when we are dealing with someone experiencing domestic violence:
1. Domestic violence can be psychological, physical, and/or sexual. Most of the domestic violence cases we will hear about in the news and that go to court are cases where physical and/or sexual abuse are present. This is because it is difficult to prove emotional/psychological abuse. Emotional abuse does not imply physical abuse. However, physical and/or sexual abuse involves emotional and psychological abuse.
2. A person who is being physically or sexually assaulted is in a state of intense fear for their lives. Their lives are being threatened. Their bodies react to such a threat with an extreme survival response which is paralyzing or they could simply submit to the abuse. They have gone beyond the fight or flight possible response to threat because they are completely helpless and vulnerable. They are in a state of shock.
3. Going through situations of intense fear leaves the brain scared. Our brain helps us adapt by anticipating according to experiences. When we are threatened, our brain stays in an alert mode which implies intense reactions of stress. As this situation persists, we enter states of intense anxiety and fear.
4. Perpetrators are experts in manipulation. They play the game of good and bad cop, leaving the victim confused and hoping that it will not repeat itself. This hope keeps victims in the relationship.
5. Manipulation leaves the victim feeling scared, guilty, and very ashamed. Victims of domestic violence do not tell until it is sometimes too late. They feel alone and trapped in a life they cannot let anyone see.
6. We might ask ourselves why? Well, there is probably a reason why we sometimes end in an abusive relationship. Many times it has to do with past relationships and profound feelings that we are not important enough, that our feelings do not count, that we do not count. These beliefs are usually formed in early years of our lives and have been shaped by experiences of past relationships.
As professionals working and dealing with domestic violence, as friends or family members of someone suffering from domestic violence, we have to realize the impact we have on other’s lives. How our decisions, our words, and our actions affect others, particularly those who feel vulnerable. We need to be responsible of our position of authority and measure every word that comes out of us.
7. What a person needs is loving support they need to feel not judged, understood, validated, and loved to begin to restore their lives. They already have enough self judgement; they do not need more coming from outside. They already feel bad about themselves; they do not need for you to remind them how bad of a person they are. They need to feel that there is someone who can protect them. That their feelings do count. That their voice does count. They need to know that they can heal and change their lives. They need to know that there is hope,. They can end the cycle of abuse. They have the power to do that. Their past experiences have shaped how they feel about themselves and they have unconsciously chosen a certain type of relationship. They can learn more about themselves and change their future. They do not have to be determined by their past. They are valuable individuals and have more control over their lives than what they think.