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PTSD Survivors Speak: Healing From Domestic Violence, Part 1

Posted Oct 06 2010 12:28pm

Just this morning here in Florida we lost another woman to the hands of her husband, so it seems incredibly synchronous that today we begin a series of posts in honor of Domestic Violence Month. Actually, both men and men are victims of domestic violence. If you are in an abusive situation, please refer to the resource links at the bottom of this post and get yourself to safety.

How can we help abused women with their healing and with the prevention of further victimization? There have been a domestic abuse, domestic violence lot of improvements over time and these important feminist contributions and achievements need to be brought to public attention because they are very relevant for supporting and encouraging women.

It takes both the aspects of primary prevention by preventing victimhood socialization   and secondary prevention by preventing further abuse and re-victimization. Of course, it’s best if women do not get victimized at all in the first place. But if they already have been victimized, it is essential that this not be continued and cemented and that they get help to get free from victimhood.

Contrary to a child, an adult woman needs no longer be or stay utterly powerless, defenseless and without recourse. She can break free from learned helplessness and she has other possibilities and a potential and options she did not have back then as a kid.

Women need encouragement and support not to let any bullies, abusers and offenders do them in. As Ellen Bass and Laura Davis write:

“Survivors have been programmed to self-destruct. You learned to put yourself down so efficiently that the abusers don’t even to be around any more to do it. They can go off and play golf while you do yourself in. You have been taught to turn anger inward. When you feel so bad that you want to die, there’s anger inside that you need to refocus toward the person or people who hurt you so badly as a child. As you get in touch with that anger, your self-hatred will dissipate. You will want to sustain your life, not destroy it.

All this takes time. In the meantime, don’t kill yourself. Get help. If the first help isn’t helpful, get other help. Don’t give up. When you feel bad enough to want to die, it’s hard to imagine you could ever feel any other way. But you can. And will. Each time you are able to bear the pain of your feelings without hurting yourself, each time you are able to keep safe, to reach out for help, to befriend yourself through the anguish, you have built up a little more of the warrior spirit. You have fought the brainwashing of your abusers and won the battle. You have not let them destroy you.” (Ellen Bass and Laura Davis 1988).

Laura Davis clarifies the following explicitly in The Courage to Heal Workbook:

“I’ve been told that The Courage to Heal has been helpful to people who weren’t sexually abused. Survivors of other kinds of abuse have said: “You know, this book has really helped me come to terms with the emotional abuse I experienced as a child.” or: “This book has really helped me deal with the fact that my dad was an alcoholic.” or: “My mother just died and I found parts of the book very comforting.”

About the exercises in the book, Davis continues, ”There may be moments when you feel inadequate, confused or unable to proceed. That means there’s a flaw in the design of the book, not in you. At other times you may find that your particular set of circumstances or feelings aren’t being named or acknowledged. That’s not because you don’t belong, but because of an oversight on my part. If the specifics of a particular exercise don’t pertain to you, change them. If you were battered but not sexually abused, adapt the material to fit your experience. There is no right or wrong way to do these exercises. They are for you. Feel free to alter them to fit your needs.”
(Laura Davis 1990).

Often abused women have been blamed or partially blamed for the very abuse they had been subjected to. This is very destructive for the survivors and it amounts to secondary victimization and it also serves to intimidate women in general and to make up excuses for offenders. Therefore, deconstructing such assumptions is vital.

In a nutshell: Women ought to be supported in protecting and defending themselves and in leaving their offenders. Despite all the difficulties which may come to pass during and after the separation from offenders, I agree absolutely with the statement Egyptian feminist Nawal El-Saadawi has made that it’s way better to pay the price of freedom rather than the price of bondage. (Readers might want to check out her homepage for the reference and further readings.)

Offenders find themselves drawn to women who somehow convey they might easily get intimidated and have a hard time asserting themselves so that they might be more easily victimized since thus, abusers and bullies might get away with it. Therefore, women need to be strengthened so that they can stick up for themselves. Maintaining boundaries can also help to prevent even further harm and worse and more grievous abuse. 


Next week Cornelia will offer further ideas for recovery, and then tips and tools for building your own internal protection against domestic violence.

Cornelia is happy to have come free from a  patriarchal, authoritarian-conservative and very abusive subculture where there was a lot of domestic violence and victim blaming. A translator and political scientist, she also has professional experience as an office employee. She has a PhD in Improvements in Stopping Violence Against Women and has helped with the elaboration of the new law against domestic violence in Kosovo. Cornelia finds feminist therapy very helpful.

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele .

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