This is a personal perspective from a Yellowbrick patient on Intimate Partner Violence as a young adult.
A recent Journal of Health and Social Behavior (JHSB) study found that, while both parties involved in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) suffered psychologically, women experienced more symptoms. This might point to a more pronounced effect that victimization has on mental health, as women make of the majority of the victims of domestic violence (about 85% according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
This is not to say that men cannot suffer IPV by a woman, but is it more often the case that when men experience IPV, the perpetrator is another man. So, the fact that women seem to display more depressive symptoms when involved in IPV may be connected to the fact that they are much more likely to be a victim. This is to say, high depressive symptoms may be more of a victim problem than a women problem.
It is worth mentioning, as well, that the only facts we have about IPV come from people who have come forward, and it has been widely acknowledged that this problem is underreported. While I am not an expert and certainly can draw no conclusions, I think this could mean one of two things; a) the people who do report are those whose symptoms became so unnamable that they had to seek professional help and disclose the IPV, or b) those who do step forward are not as crippled and stigmatized, so the most devastated by IPV go undocumented and unstudied. Or, maybe it’s somewhere in between. Like I said, I’m no expert.
While I cannot speak for my former partner, I can say from my own experience with IPV, that this makes sense to me. Being in a relationship with IPV means being torn aggressively in opposite directions. On one hand, you love and care about your partner and crave closeness, and on the other, they are frightening, hurtful, and dangerous. But then, they are kind again and you feel so much better. Someone once told me that you don’t break a person by just beating them down. You do it by building them up and tearing them down over and over again. That’s the cycle. Over and over again until you just implode.
It is also isolating. When you are injured, physically and emotionally, and you are trying to cover bruises and scrape candlewax out of your hair, there is a great need to hide. IPV is such a complex emotional experience and people often respond to it with “stop making excuses for him,” or the ever-present, trite “you just need to leave him.” Because to them, it’s that simple. You are then face-to-face with the reality that people who have not experienced IPV cannot put themselves in your shoes. They don’t understand and maybe they can’t. For me, that got internalized and turned into a spiral of shame, hurt, and confusion that festered, on the inside, but on the outside, I was silenced.
Opening Up to Parents and Seeking Help
Emerging adulthood is also a unique time to experience IPV because you are independent in some ways but also often dependent on your parents in other ways. This presents a unique bind. When I did tell my mother, someone I needed to be understanding and on my side, just a tiny bit about what was going on, she was critical and commanded me to leave him. It was hurtful too, that even my own mother was condemning me and my partner. That when I came to her, literally crying for my mom, I was met with no comfort, only judgment. This was a time when my life was changing so fast; I was trying to stand on my own two feet but was cut off at the knees and the last person I was trying to reach out to let me down. So I started drowning.
The After-Effects of IPV
Part of the problem around depression and IPV might also be the way it is portrayed in the media. There seems to be a lack of real role models who demonstrate and speak out about what IPV is really like. While perpetrators are not often shown, victims are never portrayed in any way that seems realistic. Often it’s just a one or two episode thing where the violence happens, they get pulled out of it, then they’re back to their old selves, happy as a clam. I even once saw a show where the victim said it was the best thing that ever happened to her because it made her stronger. That all it takes to get over IPV is to “stop feeling sorry for yourself and take control of your life.” To me, this feels like the equivalent of telling a depressed person to “stop being sad” as if that is all there is to it and you’re cured! But it doesn’t work like that. Movies and TV shows may want to portray a strong survivor but they are doing this at the cost of all the people who have gone through IPV. To be totally fine and accepting of this behavior is not a healthy response to that kind of trauma. IPV is not something you get over in a matter of days; it is a long, difficult process that cannot be captured in a 22-minute episode.
Commentary by Yellowbrick Clinical Director, Group Programs, Robbie Bogard, LCSW:
Recovery from the damaging effects of IPV is a process over time that is unique to each individual as it happens in their own personal context. Regardless of individual history, one of the most powerful ways to heal the damaging effects of IPV is for young adults to engage in group therapy with others who have experienced it. IPV disconnects victims from others and from themselves. In a group setting, connections with others who have had similar experiences, and reconnection with lost parts of oneself, addresses the shame and isolation that is the cornerstone of the cycle of abuse.
By reducing both the stigma and disconnection individuals can sort through the distortion of self-blame that is often present and begin to identify their complex emotions and direct their feelings where they belong. They can begin to build compassion for themselves, identify what made them vulnerable to IPV as well as recognize what was and was not in their control. Building back damage to self-esteem, clarifying boundaries and creating a support system all promote emotional healing and reduce vulnerability to repeating damaging relational patterns in the future. Yellowbrick’s Trauma Recovery Program has separate groups for men and women to support IPV survivors in their healing process.