Impact of Domestic Abuse on Mental Health

Due to technical issues, our discussion with Shiksha Bhatia on the impact of domestic abuse on mental health did not save. Given the sensitivity of the conversation, Aara Health is publishing a blog on the subject in order to help people understand the predicament they or someone they know might face and how to deal with it. Aara Health will post a list of people to reach out to in case any abuse victims are reading this and would like to reach out to someone. 

Domestic abuse is an incredibly nuanced and complicated topic. This article by no means covers all aspects of the important topic. This article only serves to begin a discussion on domestic abuse and increase awareness about this matter

Shiksha Bhatia is the founder of Be Mindful India, a holistic, positive, and non-judgmental mental health center advocating mental and emotional well being by providing individualistic solutions to their clients’ unique needs. She is an experienced psychologist with a Masters  in Psychotherapy and Counselling. She has worked with clients on anxiety, depression, aggression, stress management, and more. 

During the Instagram Live, Shiksha and Aara Health discussed domestic abuse’s impact on mental health. Before reading on, we would like to acknowledge that this is a very sensitive topic and that some people watching this live may be triggered, so please consider your mental well being while reading  this because that is and should be everyone’s number one priority. 

Aara Health and Shiksha began their conversation by first understanding what domestic abuse means and the types of domestic abuse one may be subjected to. This question is important because it sets a base for understanding one’s own experience and distinguishing between what may be considered normal  versus what is truly unacceptable. 

Domestic abuse is when an individual is subjected to consistent and extreme forms of emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse. Forms of abuse may be coupled together. For example, the abuser may be emotionally and physically abusive at the same time. Frequently, people  do not realize that there are so many forms of domestic abuse because sexual and physical abuse are spoken about more often  and punished more harshly. 

Emotional abuse can be extremely detrimental to the recipient’s mental health and well being. Their abuser may employ a variety of emotionally manipulative and distressing tactics to control them, belittle them, or isolate them from their friends and family. Their psychological abuses leave the victims with low self esteem and confidence, which sometimes stops them from seeking help. In most cases, what could be considered normal human emotion – such as being slightly jealous of your partner receiving attention from another person, or your partner giving attention to another person – is taken to the extreme. In an abusive relationship, the abuser might not only express jealousy but also follow up that expression of emotion by threatening them, shattering their confidence, preventing them from going outside to see other people, or degrading them verbally (these are only possible examples of abuse). ,. 

It is important to note that as humans, we all experience emotions on a spectrum. That spectrum may make it hard for us to distinguish between what is and what is not abusive. Understanding where the boundaries lie is critical. Furthermore, combating domestic abuse will have to begin by changing some of our cultural attitudes. For instance, financial abuse is widely accepted in India because dowry and strict financial checks are ingrained in our society’s attitude and behaviour towards women. While laws are now slowly preventing such practices, it is paramount that we combat and prevent such abuse at the socio-cultural level too. 

Understanding that there are several types of abusive relationships is only the first step. We need to also be able to identify the  red flags early on in a relationship, in order to seek help as soon as possible. These red flags may occur in many ways – for instance, recognizing what qualifies as extreme emotions, noting how frequently these emotions reach such extreme levels, and being aware of the behaviours that follow these expressions of extreme emotion are only some ways of identifying red flags early on. Actions such as humiliating someone publicly or privately, constantly belittling them, questioning their every action and making them feel unworthy, restricting finances as a form of control, emotionally blackmailing and manipulating them are all forms of abuse which serve as red flags too.

It is difficult when an external party recognizes that abuse is taking place in their friend or relative’s relationship. It is even more difficult for that third party to broach the topic with the person being abused without making them feel judged or making them feel at risk. This is something Shiksha and Aara Health covered in depth because, as humans, we are so prone to giving our opinion or advice in situations. In circumstances that involve abuse, it often best to assume the survivor knows that what they are experiencing is harmful and wrong. The deeper question will always be – how can they exit that situation? This is not always something a family member or friend can address alone, and will likely require professional help. Still, it is important to never make the survivor feel ashamed or judged. All a friend or relative can do is offer an empathetic shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen.  Giving a survivor unsolicited advice may result in them withdrawing, or may magnify their trauma. Therefore, it is always advisable for the friend or relative to seek professional help themselves before speaking to, or trying to help a survivor. 

If you do find yourself in a situation where you are talking to an abuse survivor, talk to them with care and compassion. Show them that they can lean on you for support and that when they are ready to openly discuss things, you will listen to them without passing judgment or giving an opinion. Of course, if you have experienced something similar, share what you faced with them but acknowledge that no two people’s experiences are identical and that you are disclosing things to help build closeness and show support. 

Both men and women experience abuse.This point is often overlooked or ignored when we discuss domestic abuse survivors. However it is important to understand that women almost always experience different forms of domestic abuse in a higher capacity and for a longer period of time It is often extremely difficult for men to speak about the abuse they are experiencing because of how social norms in India equate stoicness and silence with masculinity. Treat male survivors as you would female survivors. Listen to them with care and compassion. Show your support and help them navigate their situation so that they can find a way out. Possibly even encourage them to seek out therapy. 

Therapy and professional mental health care is incredibly important to the process of healing. There are many different forms of therapy that could prove helpful to survivors. Everything from talk therapy to alternative forms of therapy such as art, dance, music or drama therapy, could help with the process of healing. Since each circumstance is different, individual survivors may choose different avenues through which to express themselves. While therapy may not be something everyone can afford, people do need a support system to start their recovery. Leaning on others,reaching out to various NGOs and hotlines, talking about experiences, and understanding the pain that was inflicted on them will help break a cycle of pain.

It is important to note that hurt people hurt people. Abuse survivors sometimes go on to abuse others, be it their partners, children, staff or friends. In order to break the cycle, the potential for the cycle to develop in the first place must be acknowledged, and must be addressed through targeted professional mental health care. 

In India, data shows that women are predominantly the victims of domestic abuse due to the societal inequality between genders. In order to combat this behaviour, it is critical to educate both men and women about broader issues of equality, kindness, good-touch and bad-touch from a young age so the signs and forms of abuse are identified early. Furthermore, both men and women must learn to identify abusive patterns early on, the types of abuse that exist, and the ways in which one may become the abuser. While witnessing abuse at home may normalize it for a lot of people, and those people may subsequently abuse their partners, colleagues, or friends, we can counter that cycle with education by constantly reinforcing what should and should not be done or said. 

And finally, for anyone reading this who has experienced any form of abuse, you are not a victim. You are a survivor. Please always remember that and be kind to yourself. 

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