Lost in the headlines about the presidential election and the stock market meltdown is the fact that October is the month dedicated to controlling domestic violence. The irony is that the financial shock waves are likely to increase the prevalence of abuse. The economic turmoil will undoubtedly lead to greater fears, pressure and anxiety within families facing financial collapse – and, in many cases, that stress will lead to battering.
The Centers for Disease Control believes that 10% of the population is affected by domestic abuse, although it is estimated that only one-third of these cases are actually reported. It is the most common cause of injury for women ages 15 to 44 who suffer physical as well as emotional injury, such as depression, anxiety and social isolation.
Why do women remain in abusive relationships? Frequently, the reason is fear – they have been brainwashed by the perpetrator – convinced that they are helpless and cannot cope alone. Or they’re afraid that the abusive partner will harm them or their children if they attempt to leave. Another justification is the victims’ incorrect belief that the responsibility is theirs, that they have caused the abuse or that it is up to them to stay in order to keep the family together. Finally, because of a variety of psychological issues and complicated family dynamics, the defense mechanism of denial can remain strong. Domestic abuse victims often refuse to see themselves as battered and don’t accept the fact that the perpetrator will continue the abusive behavior.
If you are afraid of your partner’s anger and how he/she treats you, your children or elders under your care, your first responsibility is to protect yourself and loved ones from harm. Resolve to begin the tough process of freeing yourself. You may feel trapped and so deeply entrenched in the dysfunctional relationship that it seems you will never break away. You can make a start by taking the following steps:
1. Insist that your partner participate in individual therapy as well as relationship counseling with you. The individual therapy should focus on areas such as anger management, cognitive behavioral change, insight, skill building, communication, stress reduction and control strategies.
2. Get help from friends and family members. Talk with them about your concerns and let them know what you need from them. Educate yourself and them about domestic violence. Tell them how to recognize that you or others may be in immediate danger and devise code words to inform them if you need help.
3. Prepare to take care of yourself – emotionally, financially and physically. Find a therapist who will help you develop self-confidence and the life skills you may need to go solo. Take charge of your personal finances, open your own bank account, find a job if you are not already employed.
4. Have an exit strategy and plan what to do if and when you leave the relationship. Investigate available community resources and learn about shelters in your area. Have copies of documents you may need as well as extra clothes and cash; leave them with a friend or neighbor so you can retrieve them later.
5. Immediately let someone in authority know about the abuse, if it occurs. Have the phone number of the local police station available – and you can always call 911. If the violence is directed to your children or the elderly, know how to contact the agencies dealing with child welfare and elder abuse.
As we move through these difficult financial times, the stresses we all face will be great. Emotions are likely to be close to the surface as uncertainty about the state of our economy continues. Be aware of any potential for domestic abuse in your family and pledge to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the painful trauma caused by such violence.
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