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The Enduring Impact of Abuse on Mental Health

Mental health is a broad term that covers a number of illnesses ranging from insomnia, anxiety, and depression to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are significant links between domestic violence and a variety of mental health issues for victims, abusers, and witnesses alike. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to explore these connections, what they mean, and how they may impact the way domestic violence is regarded and resisted.


The Link Between Mental Health and Abuse

Two thirds of women who receive mental health services have experienced domestic violence, compared with about one third of the general population (WHO). In a review of 41 studies,PLoS ONEfound that there is a higher risk of experiencing partner violence among women with depressive disorders (2.7 times greater), anxiety disorders (4 times greater), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (7 times greater) than women without mental disorders. In addition, the likelihood of having suicidal thoughts was 3.5 times greater for women who had experienced abuse than those who had not. In some of the reviewed studies, people (especially women) across all mental health diagnostic categories, including psychoses, had a higher prevalence of experiencing domestic violence. This overall correlation between mental illnesses and abuse stems from two factors: 1) domestic violence can cause mental health issues, and 2) those with preexisting mental health issues are more likely to be targets for abusers (Conversation).


Effects of Abuse on Mental Health

There are many different ways domestic violence can impact victims’ mental health. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a frequent consequence of abuse (RTOR). Victims and survivors experience(d) traumatic and frightening events, usually repeatedly, which increases stress, anxiety, and depression and may cause lasting mental anguish for years, even after leaving an abuser. Eating disorders, insomnia or disruption in sleep patterns, restlessness in daily life, and the inability to achieve much due to fatigue are other common ways abuse can take a toll on mental health (LivingWell). Abusers often limit or remove their victims’ agency in life, restricting what they can do and say, who they can see, and making life choices for them. This loss of agency can be very damaging, not only in victims’ control over themselves, but also in their sense of self-esteem, worth, and confidence. They often feel hopeless and “shut down” (HCBH). Emotional abuse, in particular, degrades self-esteem, and victims are prone to depression, anxiety, developing phobias, substance abuse, and self-harm (LivingWell).

Ripple Effects

Domestic violence can have lasting mental health effects that can make it difficult for victims and survivors to stay in school, hold a job, manage their own affairs, and/or have healthy and meaningful relationships. Trauma can cause acute and lasting changes in physiology, arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory (HCBH). Some form of financial abuse occurs in 99% of abusive relationships (Forbes) and can lead to enduring economic issues for victims and survivors throughout their entire lives. Stress over a lack of resources, ruined credit, lost jobs, and other effects of financial abuse and/or the inability to support themselves and their children properly can cause anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.


Long-term mental health issues can also have chronic physical consequences that may not appear for years. The body has a natural stress response, which includes raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol and a reduction in functioning for nonessential systems in a flight-or-fight situation. Continual activation of this response creates an overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that can disrupt almost all bodily processes and lead to health issues such as digestive problems, weight gain, headaches, muscle tension/pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke (Mayo). The mental health impacts of abuse percolate through all aspects of victims’ lives in ways that may not be immediately apparent.

Mental Health is Neither a Cause Nor an Excuse for Abuse

It is often cited that people with diagnosed mental health illnesses are more likely to be violent than those without. While some studies have found this to be true, others have found no significant increase. According to a study by the Battered Women’s Justice Project, abusers are no more likely to have mental health issues than the general public (Domestic Shelters). The overall number of abusers with mental health problems is low, and certainly lower than the number of victims with mental health problems. There is also a strong connection between domestic violence and substance abuse, with an increased incidence of violence when mental health and substance abuse issues co-occur (Lancet). Alcohol and drugs do not make a person abusive, though they may lower inhibitions and self-control in a way that instigates or intensifies their abusive tendencies. Whatever research one uses, correlation is not causation. “Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness,” explains Nancy Erickson, an attorney and consultant on domestic violence legal issues (Domestic Shelters).


Believing mental health issues are the cause of abuse may compel some victims to think the abuse will stop if their abusers get help for their mental illness. However, according to Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, “In my 30 years in the field, I’ve never seen significant lasting improvement from an abuser going to psychotherapy. If anything, things have gotten worse. He’s learned new ways to get inside the woman’s head, or new excuses.” Abusers may use their mental illness as a manipulation and deflection tactic. It is not their fault, they declare, it is just the illness making them do these terrible things. Though as Bancroft explains, “No disorder makes you call your partner demeaning and degrading names. They [the abuser] still have choices.”


Mental Health Effects of Witnessing Abuse

Children and adults who are exposed to intimate partner violence are more likely to develop a range of mental health problems, develop suicidal ideation, and attempt suicide. Other forms of abuse or neglect are also more likely for children exposed to domestic violence, and they are at greater risk of experiencing abuse as adults. Early exposure to abuse (including in utero!) causes stress and trauma, which can lead to increased risk of mental health problems and neurodevelopmental impairments (Lancet). Children who live in a household where one parent is abusing the other can experience a state of perpetual anxiety. This may cause them to revert to typical habits of younger children (thumb sucking, bed wetting, etc.), develop anti-social traits, and/or struggle with guilt and feel they are to blame for the abuse they witness.


PTSD is also common in children who witness abuse, even if they are not direct victims, which can cause nightmares, anger, irritability, difficulty concentrating, headaches, and stomach pains, among other things. Teenagers may exhibit more aggressive behavior, skip school, engage in risky sexual activities, dabble with drugs and alcohol, and get in trouble with the law. Longer term, children who grew up witnessing abuse are more prone to depression as adults and may develop conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (VeryWell).


A Need for Research, Attention, and Change

More research and education are required on the connections between mental health and domestic violence in order to better treat abuse victims and survivors with mental illnesses. A study in theNational Library of Medicinefound that “little consideration” was given to the role of domestic violence in precipitating or exacerbating mental illnesses and that mental health services often fail to adequately address violence experiences by their users. TheWHOreports that many survivors who sought services found them unhelpful, harmful, or even retraumatizing. “Rather than strict categories and diagnoses,” suggests Claudia García-Moreno, WHO Unit Head of Addressing Needs of Vulnerable Populations in Sexual and Reproductive Health, “We need an approach that recognizes survivors’ experiences of violence and puts their needs front and center in research, policy and services.”


The Lancet Psychiatry Commission on Intimate Partner Violence and Mental Health concluded that mental health systems and providers can make a critical difference in survivors’ healing process if conducted with trauma-informed approaches focused on the intersection of abuse and mental health and coproduced with survivors. Trauma-informed care encompasses the complete picture of a patient’s life, past and present. Instead of concentrating on “what’s wrong with you?”, this approach asks, “what happened to you?” in order to provide more effective healing services. Health practitioners need to not only treat the symptoms with medication, but also provide or refer patients for counselling and/or community support in making changes in their lives that will positively affect their mental health.


Why is it so hard to change? The hidden costs of behaviour change

Sometimes, we might have a behaviour that we want to change, but never quite manage to actually do it. It could be that you have never taken actual action, have tried repeatedly but keep ‘relapsing’ or that you manage to change for a while but it doesn’t stick.

You might have a habit of people-pleasing, or struggle to give yourself a rest from working too hard. Maybe you find that you don’t reply to your correspondence in a timely fashion, or repeatedly don’t do a particular task Or it may be something bigger; smoking, over or under eating, or drinking too much.

If so, read on.

The Good

It can be easy to focus simply on how good it will feel when we do finally get around to doing that thing, how free we will feel, how light. How competent. How clean. How much time or money we might have. How we will feel better.

Now, I’m not saying that all of those things will not be true. If you smoke and you want to give up, for example, there will likely be a myriad of benefits when you finally do; you’ll feel healthier, your lungs will start to recover, you’ll reduce your chance of getting a number of cancers, your clothes won’t smell, you won’t have to plan your day around smoking, you’ll be able to go out for dinner without sneaking off to have a sneaky fag (or wanting to). And so on.

In fact, it is important to know these things. Being able to imagine them gives you a powerful incentive to change.

List these. Hang onto them. REMEMBER them.

The Costs of Change


However, chances are, there will also be a hidden cost to giving up that you might not have spent so much time considering. If this is the case, it might help to look at the following too:

  • What might I lose if I give this up / do this thing / don’t do this thing?
  • What will I need to face if I do change?

Make a list: it might be that all your friends smoke, and you’ll miss their company. Or that you’ll miss the break and the silence in the noise of socialising, the opportunity to dip out for a moment and collect yourself. It might be that you smoke to curb your appetite, and you’ll need to face your hunger, or you’re frightened you’ll put on weight.

List them all. Every one.

Make a plan


So now you know what you’re frightened of, avoiding, or worrying about. You can make a plan, or sit with the grief of whatever it is you’re losing.

You might find that you don’t smoke with your friends, but that you find other ways of connecting with them, over coffee or dinner. You might find you need to factor in time out into your socialising, if you’re an introvert, or that you need to find another way to de-stress. You might need to enlist specialist support around your fear of putting on weight.

Some questions to ask yourself in this stage are:

  • What skills might I need to learn in order to get where I want to be?
  • What support might I need to enlist?
  • Are there other changes that I can make that will make it easier to achieve my goal?
  • Can I break it down into ‘mini’ goals?

It’s fine to fail


This might seem a funny thing to say, but I mean it. Sometimes, we can’t quite know what we are avoiding until we actually stop the thing we want to stop.

So you don’t need to give up, or beat yourself up for not doing it this time. You can use it to learn more about what you’re struggling with, and adjust accordingly. It can take repeated attempts to change, particularly if it’s something really big or difficult.

When to get professional help


You don’t have to be at rock bottom to seek help. It is valid to reach out for support if you’re finding something tricky, or you’d like a professional opinion. Or indeed, it is fine to go the self-help route if that’s what appeals.

However, if you find whatever you’re struggling with is causing you serious unhappiness, distress or worry or is escalating badly, it is worth considering getting some more specialised help. Particularly if it is beginning to get in the way of you living your life; going to work, having close relationships with families and friends, etc.

There are lots of brilliant resources out there; therapists and the like, groups, charities, internet forums… seek out what meets your needs practically, emotionally and financially. It’s fine for this to change as your needs do too.

Take care, and good luck.


Why your boundaries are not welcome in an abusive relationship

Women in (or after) abusive relationships are frequently told ‘you have no boundaries’, ‘you need better boundaries’. This ignores the simple truth; that your boundaries are not welcome in an abusive relationship. 

People who abuse others don’t want to hear that they are at fault. They make you believe that it’s your fault they hurt you. Or that you’re over-sensitive, a nag, or too critical. Or a few really sadistic abusers will actually enjoy causing you pain. Either way, the abuser wants to treat you exactly how they want to treat you. They don’t want to be challenged.

So, you either fight, or submit, or a circling combination of the two. This is a normal response to living in a dysfunctional or even dangerous system. It is a trauma adaptation. You are normal.

In this article, I explore what happens to your boundaries in an abusive relationship, and things you can do that will help you heal.


  • We are habitually treated in ways that hurt or harm us. We are violated. We are repeatedly controlled, criticized, undermined, ridiculed, demeaned, humiliated, or verbally, physically or sexually assaulted.

These are all boundary ‘violations’. They hurt. We hurt. It is painful to have a boundary that is repeatedly violated.

  • We are then silenced and blamed when we challenge how we are being treated.

The abuser has created an environment where it is not possible or permissible for us to protest about how we are treated. We are blamed for any painful feelings that we might have in response to their abuse, and then systemically silenced.

This can look like: punishment, name calling, violence, stonewalling, justification, excuses, turning the responsibility back on us, blaming or suggesting that we have done the same / something just as bad / are not so perfect ourselves. It can be dangerous to express our hurt or anger at how we are treated, or even to show it. Conversely some abusers enjoy causing pain, and so we might shut down our hurt in order to deprive them of this satisfaction.

Nothing we do ever seems to have an impact. Whether we say something, say nothing, try and keep the peace, we are told this is ‘wrong’. We cannot ‘win’, whatever we do. Because the only way for the relationship to change is for the abuser to cease their relentless campaign of coercive control.

Turning the blame on us actually helps them to stay in control. If we are always looking inwards, then we are always off balance, busy searching for the solution to their treatment of us inside ourselves. (It may or may not be a conscious strategy on their part, but that doesn’t diminish the impact on us.)

  • We lose touch with our own boundaries and feelings, and we turn the anger on ourselves.

We might become numb to the abuse, believing that it doesn’t matter, or that we deserve it anyway. We might stop noticing it, or minimise the impact it has on us. We might start to hate ourselves for hurting.

Horrifyingly, we start policing ourselves. The abuser has trained us well.




Because you have had to shut down in order to survive, it will be important to begin listening to yourself. Your inner wisdom is right there, in your body. You. You matter. Your voice, yourself, your feelings; they matter.

  1. Start to listen to your feelings. Practice checking into your body: are you scared, angry, disappointed, sad? Where do you feel it? Can you allow it to be, just as it is, just for a moment?
  2. What choice would you make, if you were free to?
  3. Watch what the abuser does to disempower you. How do they hook you into feeling guilty, ashamed, like you’re doing something wrong rather than the target of abusive, shaming or controlling behaviour?
  4. How can you support yourself in the moment. Sometimes a mantra can help; ‘It’s okay to feel hurt/angry’, ‘I hear you’, ‘I love you’.
  5. How can you diminish the power of their words in the moment. A mantra can help with this too; ‘It’s just a tactic’ (to control me), ‘they’re wrong’, ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’, ‘I’m not the problem’, or whatever helps you feel steadier in yourself.
  6. Practice working out what you think, rather than allowing the story to be defined by the other. Allow yourself the space for your own opinions.
  7. Find ways to be around people who do listen to you. This is immensely important. We ‘take in’ how we are treated. This will make an enormous difference to your experience of yourself.

If you’re finding it hard to get in touch with yourself, feel intensely self-critical, or find yourself overwhelmed, dissociative or it feels too big or frightening, stop, take a breath and allow yourself to do something comforting. It’s fine not to press through. The trick is to find a way to feel without becoming too overwhelmed. If you are struggling, becoming repeatedly overwhelmed or having shame or panic attacks, you might want to seek professional help to support you in your journey of reconnection.



Firstly, do be thoughtful about becoming more assertive in a relationship that is, or your fear may become, physically or sexually abusive. It can be very unsafe to challenge a dangerous perpetrator, so please do seek specialist help if you are at all worried.

Even if your relationship is emotionally rather than physically/sexually abusive, it is likely that the abuse will escalate if you find more of a voice. This isn’t a reason not to do it, but it is important to be prepared for some push back.

If setting boundaries is likely to put you at risk, you might practice ‘small rebellions’. Create pockets in your life – safely, privately – where you are completely in charge. Practice making decisions yourself, trusting yourself, do the things that you are not ‘allowed’ to do safely out of sight of your abusive relationship.

Always, always prioritise your physical safety. You might find that you want to practice your boundary setting skills outside your abusive relationship.



  • Play around with boundaries in your imagination for a little while, think about what you might like to say, how you might say it and how that might feel.
  • Plan what you may need to increase your skill at setting boundaries: read books about boundaries, look for people who deal skillfully with other and see what they do. Try on their way of relating, see how it fits.
  • When you’re ready, start with the easy relationships, the ones that feel safest. Work on this, and increase your levels of difficulty slowly. Even if you need to start by saying ‘no’ in the supermarket, every boundary is a win.
  • Or, start with what hurts most. Sometimes we need to start at the point of most pain in order to feel our way back to the subtler pains. You’ll know best where you need to start.
  • When it doesn’t work out how you wanted it to, evaluate what went wrong, learn what you need to learn and move on.
  • Celebrate your achievements! It takes enormous courage to change old patterns, particularly ones developed in such difficult situations. You are doing amazingly just to engage in the process.

Setting boundaries with people who do not listen can be infuriating, saddening and crazy-making, so it is fine to find this challenging and also to reach out for support if you need it.

Remember that people who use abusive tactics will tend to respond defensively, so don’t judge your boundary by their reaction. They will try every trick they have to dismiss you and your feelings, and are unlikely to concede the point (and will probably punish you afterwards anyway) but what matters is how you feel about yourself.

Again, your safety is paramount, and so please, please keep yourself safe as you first priority. It is completely valid not to speak up if speaking up puts you in danger, or you or your children will be punished for it. Complying is a completely valid response, and an important one to have in your toolbox.



You don’t need to be overwhelmed to seek therapy; it is completely okay to seek support just because you want support. That said, if you are finding that trauma is resurfacing in a way that doesn’t feel manageable, or that you’re finding your feelings big and overwhelming, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a specialist.

Sometimes it helps just to have another set of eyes on the task. It can be hard to change patterns, particularly those that are trauma related (they can have a lot of emotional ‘charge’ to them). A therapist will: be in your corner, know (hopefully) some of the right questions to ask, be non-judgemental as you grapple with your inner experience, help you sort through what it actually is you feel, and help you develop yourself to meet the particular challenges that you face.


Getting ever closer to our authentic selves is a lifelong journey for most of us. Even situations that don’t go the way that you wanted them to will teach you a lot, about yourself and the other.

There will be missteps, and ‘mistakes’, but there will be life in all it’s messy gloriousness too. You can be in your own corner. Your own best friend. Decide for yourself what you think, and feel.

You’re recovering the most valuable thing; your relationship with yourself.

Good luck, and take care.


If you’d like to speak to someone, call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free on 0808 2000 247 and they will be able to direct you to resources in your local area.


The First Time He Laid His Hands On Me

Why do we have repressed memories? According to Sigmund Freud, the brain forgets or blocks the memory as a protective mechanism when certain experiences become too traumatic. For me, it was the only way to function in daily life. I recently found that these blocked memories were coming back to me. I didn’t understand why, since I am at a point in my life where I’m starting to heal. I know I’m not the best writer—my abuser let me know, loud and clear—but I have found that writing has been a great outlet for me to heal from these terrible memories that have crawled back to my life.

As I mentioned earlier, the abuse started with heated verbal arguments. I’ve never spoken to anyone about these incidents in detail. I figured all marriages weren’t perfect… at least that’s what I heard all the time from friends and family.

It was March 2015. We were barely married a year and a half. I scored this gig working art department for the TV show, The Bachelorette. I was stoked because I felt my college education was finally being put to use. It was a rough week at work. One night, a few work friends and I decided to grab some drinks after work. I invited my abuser to meet us there. After a few drinks and a few shots, I noticed he was being a little loud and being mean to me. That was our cue to go home. I had to go to work early the next day, so I went straight to bed. He stayed up for about 30 more minutes playing video games. I don’t remember exactly the time of the night it happened, but I felt him get up. I didn’t bother to look up because I knew he was headed to the bathroom. I heard what sounded like the noise of water and, shortly after, a faint smell. It was urine. I sat up and saw that he was peeing… on my luggage. I’d left it right by our closet, which was on the way to the bathroom. I yelled out his name. He looked at me before focusing his attention on urinating on my luggage. He went back to bed and slept. Like nothing happened. I was furious. I was upset. I grabbed my phone and started recording. I was about a minute into my recording when, all of a sudden, he grabs my phone and punches my left eye twice. My phone was now broken; I couldn’t call for help. I ran to my neighbor‘s house and knocked. They let me in and let me use their phone.

The cops showed up at my neighbor’s house shortly after. I told them what happened, except the part about him punching me. My eyes were puffy from the crying, so the black eye was not noticeable, yet. I also knew that if I told them the truth, they would take him away. I was living in San Antonio, and my family was three hours away. I would be alone, and that scared me. I was scared of what my family would think. The cops took his testimony, and of course, it didn’t make sense. They asked me if I want to press charges, and I said no. I told them to tell him to spend the night elsewhere because I needed to go to work the next day. My abuser respected my wishes and spent the night somewhere else. I couldn‘t sleep; I kept crying and crying. I didn‘t come from a broken home. My parents are happily married. How could this happen to me? Why?

A few hours later, I woke up and started getting ready for work. My left eye was puffy, and the skin had started to darken. No matter how much how much color-correcting makeup I applied, it was still extremely noticeable. My phone screen was beyond shattered, but I managed to text a co-worker that I was going to be late. I showed up an hour later. Thankfully, no one noticed. I was so relieved to find out that I had to paint some props for the rose ceremony outside. My co-worker walked by and saw me with sunglasses on. He texted me asking if I’m okay. I said yes. Thirty minutes later or so, he showed up with a Redbull. The rest of the day went okay. I tried not to think about it. I was so self-conscious about the possibility that other people knew. How could they not? One eye was visibly smaller than the other one, and I was wearing tons of makeup on the black eye.

Then HE texted me. My abuser. My stomach turned queasy. He was apologetic and asked if he could come home. He said he missed me and the dogs. I told him no. What I went through was degrading and humiliating. I did not deserve this. I finally forgave him days later. I missed him, needed him. He came back to the house like nothing happened. I thought he would change, but little did I know, it was the beginning of the physical violence stage.

I have found that healing from trauma happens in stages. One day, you’re happy as can be and all about self-love. The next day, you just want to be in bed and sleep. It’s completely normal. When these old feelings or memories come back, it’s often a sign that you’re healing. It just means that some deep, inner part of you finally feels safe and stable enough to address the leftover emotional fallout that’s been patiently waiting for years. Your new task is to sit with those emotions and let them have their say. Therapy, writing, going to the gym, and spending time with my family have helped me out a lot. Even so, I hope that by writing this down, I can help someone else, while also unburdening myself of this toxic past.


How I Left My Abusive Relationship

Earlier this year, I loaded up my car with my clothes, important documents, and the dogs. It took me three nights and four days. Leaving is not easy. According to the Houston Women’s Center, it takes a victim/survivor seven to nine times before permanently leaving the relationship. Only the survivor knows when this is the most dangerous time for them to leave. My tragic night was described in my previous post, but even I didn’t leave right away – I was scared. Scared of telling my family. Scared of not having a safety plan. Scared that I was 1500 miles away from home. I was scared.



When I finally decided to leave my abuser earlier this year, I felt more alone than ever. The few friends that knew about the situation over the years had told me repeatedly to leave him. They even picked me up from the house (back when I lived in San Antonio) a few times to get away from the situation. I know they were frustrated with me beyond measure. They will never understand why I couldn’t leave. When that horrible night happened last year, I was living in Los Angeles and the rest of my family was in Texas. I finally came clean with my parents. It was hard but I’m glad I reached out to them. They were able to help me to the best of their ability to get me back to Texas. My heart knew I needed my family more than ever and was not in the right head space.



I know it’s easier said than done. Believe me, I have been there many times. I tried to leave my marriage so many times and he would always end up apologizing and I would believe him. If you sense you are in danger, leave. You can always go back later to get your belongings with a civil standby. Contact your local authorities. Let them know you are in danger and you don’t feel safe.



  • Contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. (800)799-7233. They also have a chat option on their website. When I called them, they were able to provide useful resources and help me establish my own safety plan.
  • Make copies of your car and house keys.
  • Establish a codeword with your friends and family in case of an emergency.
  • Have important documents available: marriage license, bank account information, your drivers license, a copy of your partner’s drivers license, social security numbers, pet records, insurance policies, and important phone numbers.
  • Always have hidden money. I can’t emphasize this enough. My abusive partner ended cutting me off financially and I had no savings. I had to borrow money from friends and family to get me and my three dogs back to Texas.
  • Small bag of clothing. Leave them with a friend, in your garage, or your car. Some place where you can get up and go.
  • Let your family and friends know about your whereabouts. I highly suggest this app that you can download from the Apple Store called “Find My Friends”. My family was able to track where I was when I decided to make the trek back from Los Angeles back to Texas.

I wrote down a detailed itenarary down to the pit stops and dog-friendly hotels I planned to stay at. I stopped in Phoenix, El Paso, San Antonio and finally Houston. I drove for eight hours each day with a pit stop in between. When I would get to my pit stop/gas station, I would leave the car on with the AC on blast, run inside the gas station to relieve myself, go back to my car, turn my car off, leash up my dogs, let them out so they can relieve themselves, load the dogs back inside, and top off my gas tank. I would then grab a bite to eat somewhere nearby and continue my journey. I would perform the same process when I would check-in at a hotel. Traveling with three dogs alone was rough, anything could of happened to me, the car and/or the dogs. Not once did my abuser check on me and those actions reaffirmed he did not care about me or the dogs. “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

Accept what is happening is real, rather than what might have been or was. It’s something I’m currently working on with therapy and self-care. Only your partner can stop the abuse. Only your partner can make the choice not to abuse others anymore. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.


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Survivor Resources That Helped Me

When I first got back to Texas earlier this year, I felt so defeated for many reasons. I’d been living on my own for seven years. It was humiliating to ask friends and family for help because I’ve always been the spunky, go-getter type of girl. My family didn’t even recognize who I had become, and they looked at me different. I get it. I was so negative and depressed. For a week straight, I went out with friends and binge drank every single night. It wasn’t hard to find a spot to party. After all, it is Houston. Although I was back home with friends and family, partying and pretending, I was silently crying for help. I became so accustomed to being part of a package that I didn’t even know who I was anymore. That scared me.

After that week passed, it was time to get help. I didn’t know where to start. I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline to inquire about therapy. Group therapy, one-on-one… it didn’t matter. Any help was better than nothing. NDVH referred me to the Houston Women’s Center for therapy. I called the Women’s Center, and they were able to schedule me an intake session a week later. The day came, and I met my therapist. We went through a bunch of paperwork, she asked me questions and what not. I was disappointed to find out that that there was a waiting list for the one-on-one therapy. She was able to refer me to Family Houston for one-on-one therapy and Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA) for free legal help.

I called Family Houston that same day. This friendly lady helped me over the phone, asked a few questions and asked about my income status. I was relieved to find out that their therapy session rates were on a sliding scale based on income, which worked out for me because I was not working at the time. I don’t know why I waited so long to go to therapy. I remember begging my abuser to go to couple’s therapy. He would say yes after we made up but would go back to his normal ways as if nothing happened. Either way, I now love going to therapy, and there is nothing to be ashamed about in going.


AVDA was a little complicated to deal with—not in a bad way. Everyone was so nice and helpful, from the operator to the receptionist on site to the attorney. It was just A LOT of information to digest. The assigned paralegal emailed me before our first meeting, informing me about what to bring: abuser’s picture, social security card, vehicle and license plate information, place of work, etc. That part was easy. The hard part was to sit down, get all the photos, and write down a detailed log to the best of my ability. It was six years of abuse that I had to recollect and relive. Over the years, I had logged down dates and a brief description of incidents whenever a violent episode would occur. And by “violent,” I mean “physical.” I did not write down every single time abuse took place because I felt silly when I did. I was scared that my abuser would find out I was doing this. I also felt guilty that I didn’t have faith in my marriage. Meeting with my attorney went well. Not even a week later, I get a call that the ex parte (temporary protective order) was granted, and the court date for my protective order had been set. Long story short, I got the protective order granted!!!


I can’t leave out the biggest lifesaver of all: The Victim Compensation Board. Did you know all the 50 states have one? Although each state is administered independently, most programs have similar eligibility requirements and offer comparable benefits. I found this amazing resource online right before I left Los Angeles. I do have to warn you, it does take a long time. I was granted an emergency cash fund based on the police reports and the overall situation I was in. Six months later, I got reimbursed for my relocation expenses. Imagine how long it would of taken if I wasn’t granted the emergency cash fund! No matter the wait time, I was grateful for the assistance.

I’m not gonna lie, it was overwhelming at first. There’s so much paperwork and information to take in and process. A lot of it felt like a slap to the face. How did I not see all of these red flags? Why did I let the emotional, verbal, financial, and physical abuse go on as long as it did? I can’t keep beating myself about the would have, could have, should have. Through this process of getting help, I have re-discovered that you need patience and a good attitude. I know it’s easier said than done. If one can survive the abuse, one can survive the recovery. Don’t give up!





Domestic Violence: Common Myths and Facts

Domestic violence is a destructive crime that creates life-altering damage for everyone involved. In order for our community to have a better understanding of the issue of domestic violence, we have to start by separating fact from fiction. Below, are a few common myths about domestic violence.

Myth #1:
Domestic violence is a private family matter.
Domestic violence is a crime—a crime as serious as any other. It is against the law. By failing to speak out against domestic violence, we condone it. We minimize it. We give violent people social permission to continue their abuse.

Myth #2:
Domestic violence is only physical.


According to the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, the definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and psychological abuse, as well as stalking and cyberstalking are some of the types of abuse that are included in the definition of domestic violence.

Myth #3:
Domestic violence only happens to certain people and genders.


Domestic violence does not discriminate against sex, race, class, age, sexual orientation, or education levels.

Myth #4:
Victims provoke their partner’s violence.
The person abusing others is responsible for their own actions. There is NOTHING a victim does to instigate or warrant the abuse. Abusers routinely tell victims that something in the victim’s behavior caused and/or justified the abuse. Those are excuses, not explanations, and they are invalid.

Myth #5:
Victims often exaggerate the level of abuse. If it’s really that bad, they would leave.
Most victims downplay the situation because of fear, self-blame, or shame. It’s a very complex situation. Many victims do attempt to leave the relationship, only to run into barriers such as being stalked by their abusers, lack of police protection, not having the financial means to stay independent of their abusers, and many more that make leaving and staying away seemingly impossible.

Myth #6:
They seem too kind/normal. It must have been a one-time, isolated incident.
As abusing someone is a conscious choice, abusers are able to stop their abusive behavior when it benefits them. For example, when the police show up. Do not assume that the abuse is not happening just because the abuse does not look obvious to you.

Do any of the above facts about domestic violence apply to your circumstances? Ask an attorney or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to see what can be done. If you have any confusion or questions about how the law can address your domestic violence concerns, speak to a family attorney located near you.


How Writing Helped Me Survive

It’s hard to admit that I am a survivor. The assumptions that we have about who has survived abuse, along with the denial that it could ever be me or perhaps you, it sometimes feels impossible to believe even after going through it. Through sharing our stories, especially during these times of living through a pandemic and surviving domestic violence, I have learned that our own words can help us heal.

My abuser was my friend for almost a decade. He was so close that he knew most of the hardships I went through. When I lost a job years ago, he let me know about a different one. I trusted him. He would constantly tell me how much he admired me, my work, and especially my poetry/writing. He had seen me share my poetry. He had read what I wrote. All those things changed when I entered a dating relationship with him and soon after agreed to move in with him. I now look at my body in the mirror and can still remember where the marks once were. I wake up thankful every day now that I am a survivor and through all of these experiences I remain thankful that I didn’t lose myself, I didn’t lose my son, and I didn’t lose the will to write.


I have learned more than once that abusers will attack that which we love most first. Writing has helped me through challenges throughout my whole life and helped me cultivate beauty when conditions seem hard for it to exist. Writing is one thing I love to do aside from spending time with my son/family, and my work as an educator. Much of my inspiration for writing comes from fellow Chicana feminist writer Gloria Anzaldua. Anzaldua wrote in an essay “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers”, “Why am I compelled to write? Because writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in writing compensates for what the real world does not give me…I write to record what others erase when I speak to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you.”

For survivors to write, to speak, to use words and have them honored is something I don’t take for granted. There are times before, during, and after surviving that I realize how powerful it is to record what abusers have attempted to erase. We are often abused into believing not just that our lives have no worth, but when I see where it begins, it starts with words. Words that put us down. Words that attempt to shame us. Words from abusers that call us things other than our names. Words that lie. Words that question our reality. Words that threaten. Words before they hurt or try to kill us. I too often see when I read stories of women killed by DV how they aren’t left the chance to have their last words and how it’s a friend or family member speaking for them. I have stayed up at night wondering what would they say? I have stayed up wondering what my last words may have been and where would my family and friends find them?


I began to walk and hike this year to assist my body in getting healthy and healing from the trauma, but also because I am a writer that often writes in my head first before putting it on paper. I thought about all the memorial walks that are done in this country. I then thought about how this mountain I love near my hometown would be the perfect place for the people I love to do a memorial walk for me. As I slowly climbed to the top, I thought about how they could raise money for the local DV organization that assisted me or maybe a scholarship for my son. I wondered what they would say as they wore purple ribbons while holding lights walking this same path I was on? More than wondering what they would say though, I wonder what people would do to truly end DV? I realize that is not an easy question to answer, but as long as I can still write and have breath in my body, I will do my part to do the work to help answer it. When I made it to the top of the mountain that day, I then thought how amazing it was that I am here, that you are here, how we are here, and how all of us survivors have refused to remain silent.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, Irene Sanchez, Ph.D. is a Xicana mother, educator, poet, and writer. A VONA alum and Pink Door Writers Retreat alum, Irene is an award winning poet/writer, and teacher. Author of the blog “Xicana Ph.D.”, her work has also appeared in CNN, HuffPost, Public Radio International, Zocalo Public Square, Inside Higher Ed and more. She has been featured by multiple public radio outlets including KPCC, KPFK, NPR Latino USA, and ProPublica. 


When I Broke the Silence

It took me many years to muster up the courage to tell the people in my life what my husband was doing to me.

Heads up: When you decide to tell, beware. You may not get the reactions from people you expect or hope for. Some people will surprise you, both in a good way and in a bad way.

When I decided to tell my family what he was doing to me I was met with all kinds of reactions and responses, none of which was helpful to me. It quite honestly left me stunned. It’s not like they didn’t believe me, it was more that they didn’t react at all. I kept waiting for the outrage but it never came. My mother told me to “stay out of his way when he gets like that”. My father told me that he couldn’t “swing it right now” when I asked if I could stay at his house for a couple of weeks because I thought my husband was going to kill me. My siblings didn’t do anything either.

I knew I was on my own.

Not going to lie, it knocked me off my feet for a bit and I almost gave up trying to leave. At the time I resolved to the fact that my husband would kill me one day.

Then after one particularly vile episode of my husband’s anger, I reached out to professionals. I called a domestic violence hotline-The number that was posted on a flyer at my doctor’s office. And it changed my life.

I should note that my friends didn’t help me either when I told them. It’s not like I was asking anyone for money or a home or anything other than emotional support and validation that I didn’t deserve this violence.

In fact, no one told me that until I spoke to counselors at my local domestic violence program. Sure, that’s their job but every single time I interacted with anyone there, I was treated with the utmost kindness, compassion, dignity and respect. Even after they learned in detail about the horrible things my husband did to me, in their eyes, I still deserved respect.

The counselors at the DV program were true life saving superheroes for me. If I needed someone to talk to one of them was available 24/7. One of the best things I did for my healing was to take part in a support group for survivors of domestic violence. For me, this was one of the greatest aides in healing. Speaking with other women who understood exactly what I was going through was critically important. I learned so many things from these beautiful women. The group consisted of women with varying backgrounds, experiences, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic status.


The single most important thing that I took away from the group was that we had something major in common. I bet you are thinking that I mean that we were abused. Nope. The thing we all had in common is our huge capacity to love. Unfortunately we were all exploited by the person/people who were supposed to love us back. In that group we gave each other the gift of love, compassion, and respect that we all deserved.

Not everyone in the real world thinks like that however. Go forward in caution when you decide to tell, however still press forward, no matter what. It might take great courage but you HAVE to move in the direction toward safety. If the first person you tell doesn’t help you, tell someone else. Keep telling people until you find someone who will support you in your journey to safety. A great place to start is a Domestic Violence Program.

I cannot stress this enough: You are lovable. You are valuable. You are worthy. You deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and dignity. And you most certainly do not have to live in fear any longer.

Colleen L is a retired special needs teacher and lifelong advocate for children. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Master’s Degrees in Psychology and Special Education. Her therapy is being out in nature walking endless miles on beautiful trails.


Do’s and Don’ts: What Not Say to a Domestic Violence Survivor

Do you have a friend or a family member who was in an abusive situation, but you don’t know the best things to say to offer your support? For domestic violence survivors like me, the journey to heal and recover is a daily struggle. I’ll share with you some things that have been said to me that have negatively impacted my journey. Here are some unhelpful comments AND better alternatives.


1) Don’t say: Why didn’t you just leave?

For many outside of the situation, it’s hard to understand why someone would stay in an abusive relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline explains that some people who are abused don’t understand how a healthy relationship is supposed to function, or they worry that their safety could be threatened if they leave. Instead, say this: I’m glad you’re safe now that you’re out of that situation.


2) Don’t say: Can’t you just move on?

Many times, domestic violence survivors deal with trauma and PTSD long after the abusive relationship is over. You want them to feel safe talking to you. Saying this will make them feel guilty as well as diminish and depreciate the grieving process your friend is experiencing and the time they need to healthily get through it. Instead, say this: Are you open to asking for professional help?


3) Don’t say: He/She was always so nice to me.

My abuser was very charismatic and charming. He knew how to make himself look good in front of others. Taking an attitude of disbelief towards someone who has been abused is not helpful. If you’re not equipped to help him/her, make a referral to someone who can. Instead, say this: I know it’s complicated. This does not change how I feel about you.


4) Don’t say: There are two sides to every story.


Survivors often fear people won’t believe them when they finally reveal the truth about their abusive situation. Suggesting to your friend that they may have caused the violence or that their abuser may have a reason for their abusive behavior can be harmful to their recovery. Many of them already blame themselves for the situation. Instead, say this: You didn’t deserve what happened to you, and it’s not your fault.


5 ) Don’t say: What did you do to make them hit you?

Questions like this shift the blame on to the survivor. Abuse or violence of any kind is never the victim’s fault. Responsibility always lies with the abuser and with them, alone. Instead, without judging, confirm to him/her that their situation is/was dangerous, and you are concerned for her safety.

Before you judge a survivor for staying, try to empathize with the victim. There is no correct, easy way to handle abuse. Every situation is different. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 for advice and assistance if you are unsure how to help. Whatever you do, DO NOT send someone who is in danger back home!