Intimate Partner Violence and Emotional Health

Woman clasping hand to chest and looking toward distance.

How strong emotional health can protect against domestic violence.

This month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I started last week’s blog with emotional health because addressing our own emotional health and emotional needs is crucial in having healthy relationships. Knowing ourselves and understanding emotional health can assist us in:

  • Assessing our emotional health.
  • Navigating open discussions about emotional health.
  • Deciphering what and who is or is not emotionally healthy for us.
  • Maintaining healthy relationships.

Cultivating emotional health could be a key protective factor in not entering abusive relationships. However, please note, there is no guarantee that we will not encounter unhealthy relationships as we become healthier. After all, just because we are healthier does not mean others will be too. Let me repeat, emotional health does not guarantee the absence of unhealthy or abusive relationships in our lives. Because realistically, sometimes despite being emotionally healthy, we meet people who “sweep us off our feet” but are very detrimental to our well-being.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence falls under the umbrella of domestic violence. Intimate partner violence is emotional, physical, financial, reproductive, digital, or sexual coercion or abuse by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner. Intimate partner violence can be disguised in charm, sweet or kind words and gestures, protectiveness, attentiveness, the monopoly of our time, and the push to change us or make us “better.” Even if we know what true love is and have experienced it, it is easy to fall prey to an abusive partner because sometimes Intimate partner violence is subtle and it starts subtly.

Oftentimes, initially, our partners are everything we ever hoped and wished for. We become so love struck that our rose-colored glasses are so tightly fitted to our faces that it is nearly impossible to recognize the slow progression of manipulation, power, control, and mistreatment that we experience over time. The initial delicate complexity and clever intricacies of an abusive person can be hard to detect. Before we know it, our self-love, care, acceptance, and confidence (if we had any of these to begin with) are gone. Our personalities are stifled, our voices are silenced, we’re convinced that everything we do is wrong–because there’s no winning with our loved one–we make excuses for them and we neglect ourselves so that we can focus solely on their needs and happiness. Before we know it, we do not know who we are, who our partner is, and how we got here.

The person that we trusted, had grown attached to, and found safety in is no longer safe. That individual is mean, disrespectful, and irrationally moody, irritable and unpredictable. Feelings of helplessness and abandonment haunt us and if we have been isolated (which we often are) then loneliness is also a dark cloud that constantly hovers over us. Sometimes we recognize these feelings of heaviness and that something is not quite right but we ignore them until the abuse/violence reaches the peak of its intensity.

You are not alone.

If any of this resonates with you, you are not alone. This is actually more common than you think. Please do not beat yourself up. You loved someone, and you really want(ed) it to work—this is normal. But while the steps into an abusive relationship are common, the violence is never acceptable.

Sadly, domestic violence survivors are sometimes blamed for their abusive relationships. Here is something that I encourage those who victim-blame to consider and do:

we need to teach our daughters the difference between a man who flatters her and a man who compliments her, a man who spends money on her and a man who invests in her, a man who views her as property and a man who views her properly, a man who lusts after her and a man who loves her, a man who believes he is God's gift to women and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man... and then teach our sons to be that kind of man.

The fact of the matter is there are a number of people who are unhealthy for no fault of their own. Often we are not taught how to be healthy because our parents did not and still do not know what emotional health is or looks like. Our childhood experiences tend to dictate our thoughts and behaviors. As children, we mirror what we see and internalize a great deal. Furthermore, our mental framework naturally organizes, simplifies, interprets, and makes sense of our environment before we even have language to explain and understand what is going on.

The problem begins when our interpretations are inaccurate. Then we learn to survive and operate from the erroneous and unhealthy thinking that follows us into adulthood. Sadly, the “cards we are dealt” from our youth do not always lead us on the path to emotional health and healthy relationships.

Again, please do not be hard on yourself if you have been or are in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. Fortunately, just because we have not been healthy in the past, does not mean we have to remain unhealthy. The exciting news is we have the capacity to grow into healthier people. As adults, we have the opportunity to end cycles of violence by becoming emotionally healthy and learning how to recognize what is or is not emotionally healthy for us. We will start next week with diving deeper into self-awareness by identifying the depression, anxiety, and trauma that is a byproduct of intimate partner violence. We will also address seeking help and developing healthy coping strategies in upcoming weeks. I hope you stick with me on our journey to healing and awakened hearts!

Further resources

What I have described above is only a small piece of what happens when a relationship takes an abusive and unhealthy turn. For more details about signs of intimate partner violence and what it looks like, please visit the following websites:

1) http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/

2) https://ncadv.org/do-you-think-youre-being-abused.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1. You can also visit the following websites if you need help and/or your safety is at risk:

1) https://www.domesticshelters.org/ann-arbor-mi-domestic-violence-help (if you live in Washtenaw County).

Additional resources:

1) http://www.thehotline.org/

2) https://ncadv.org/get-help

3) call the 24/7 hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Korisma Grant

Korisma Grant, LLMSW