Social Welfare, Dip H & CS, CERT IV WTA, VOC Post Grad FDR *** Names, places and insignificant minor details changed to protect confidentiality *** Domestic Violence IS REAL.
I have been carving out a career in the Social Services since 1992. I started with Direct Care (disabilities; child and frail & aged support) before a TAFE-based Diploma in Human and Community Services jetted me right into the heart of client and case management & program development.
Working with women & children and families, often in crisis or in various states of upset, dysfunction or displacement.
I kept on working and studying in the Social Sciences…. and each and every paid or field placement position I have EVER taken up in the Social Welfare sector has touched on Domestic Violence, in some form or another. I have found DV to be INSIDIOUS in nature.
But, there IS and CAN BE life after DV… IN THE BEGINNING… “RAHAEL” I had several telephone conversations with
***Rahael to determine if it was appropriate for her and her husband to proceed with a joint therapeutic process following a change in their personal circumstances.
Rahael was in a heightened, loud, ‘messy’ and acopic state: She cried repeatedly, even bordering on hysterical at times, could appear paranoid and sometimes did not quite make sense.
Rahael SCREAMED mid-way through the conversation that ‘no one can stop this monster. No one. I am alone. All alone. And NO ONE can help me’. Rahael felt helpless and isolated, raw and so very much alone.
She was VERY angry & filled to the brim with doubt and terror. She begged to be rescued. Rahael had just left her husband after what she described as ‘twenty years of psychological hell’.
Rahael had just started her journey…. and her husband, so sure of his control over her, refused to even admit or believe that she had left him and that they were now officially separated. OK.
Let’s face some hard facts here…. considering the on-going trauma that some are faced with, it would be completely understandable if someone leaving an abusive or Domestic Violence (DV) situation experienced one, some or all of the following:- Low self esteem, anxiety, self – doubt, vulnerability, and/or concerns or feeling bleak or uncertain about the future;
Real or perceived limited fiscal or lifestyle options, especially if they had been formerly suppressed or isolated by a controlling ex; Suffering the effects of trauma as manifested as on-going and/or situational fear and anxiety; Flashbacks and nightmares; and/or guilt blame and shame, grief and depression.
Staying on alert as they withdraw from the effects of constant adrenalin saturation (often known as fight or flight mode); Disturbed sleep patterns; Anger ranging from irritability through to rage; Sadness, loss and grief; Repeated thoughts about the abuse.
Over the next few months, I spoke with Rahael intermittently. Each time I spoke with her there were positive difference in her language, state of mind and situation. Rahael had sought counselling and legal advice from a specialist DV service in her area. They gave her the support and guidance she needed to VALIDATE her experiences. She no longer felt out of control.
She had been approved for emergency funds from Centrelink; had secured stable and affordable accommodation; she changed her job and had started saving to hire a private lawyer to secure full custody of her girls. All steady, positive steps forward.
She had gained inner and physical strength by the time her husband had realised she was not returning. Rahael then believed, ‘he is using the kids to get at me, emotionally and mentally, so I’ll buckle and come back home to him’.
She then regressed again back into a state of frenzied panic before returning to her counsellor to help buffer the emotional impact.
GRIEF AND LOSS… Domestic Violence victims can GRIEVE and mourn what could have been (ie. “I didn’t want to leave - I really think he/she could have changed”) or what did unravel and happen (ie. “I’m lucky to be alive”).
This includes berating the ‘lost’ time spent hoping for change within the relationship and not leaving earlier OR even having left in the first place (ie “What have I done - no one will believe me!).
These powerful feelings and concerns can also be amplified if the effects of the children witnessing Domestic Violence - including emotional abuse - start to emerge following the initial separation.
Victims of DV may lack trust, feel jumpy and not yet quite safe. It can take TIME to ‘unpack’ these experiences.
But its not always all negative: former DV victims can feel a SURGE of freedom. They can start to consider the changes they can make and what it is like to exist without violence, intimidation, control and suppression. They can start to determine their OWN pathway.
STARTING THE HEALING PROCESS, STEP BY STEP, DAY BY DAY… “CODY” Cody had cried as she talked about leaving a twenty five year relationship with someone she described as a ‘narcissistic psychopath’. She said he felt compelled to control her appearance -
Cody recalled she’d spent years looking & feeling dowdy - and intimidate her in such subtle ways she knew them to be cruel & menacing but outsiders could easily miss.
This man was quietly nasty! Despite her husband doing everything he could to make things difficult, Cody had still gone to TAFE a few years prior to the separation.
With the support of the TAFE staff and some new-found friends, she had found a casual job in the hospitality industry following her graduation. She had recently been promoted and her workplace were incredibly supportive.
Cody was completely and utterly TERRIFIED of her ex partner but, I clearly recall how she GLOWED when describing her new blouse and the newly acquired makeup she was wearing.
“Look”, she said, “I chose to wear COLOURS! I am pretty!”. RECONCILING THE PAST WITH THE PRESENT: MOVING FORWARD…
To recover from domestic violence, the following steps are recommended in re-establishing identity and commence a healing process: Cease blaming yourself for what has happened - adopt, practice and exercise confidence in present and future choices;
Cease isolating yourself - connect with people and services in order to establish a friendship and professional support network; Cease denying and minimising feelings - Learn how to understand and express yourself, possibly with professional qualified assistance; No longer identify yourself as a victim - take control of your life.
Set goals. Group support can be beneficial. Kickstart that HOPE!; Jam up the that cycle of abuse - get yourself and any kids involved in debriefing counselling to help to start to heal the psychological wounds and to learn more healthy ways to function in the world.
Join the dots and discover the pathway to healthy relationships. Recovery from Domestic Violence is a step-by-step process & a journey no one should take alone.
The first step toward evolving into a proud Survivor is taken when you ask for help (see below for some national sources of information).
There IS life, hope, fun, laughter, support, security and safety - and even LOVE - after leaving a violent or abusive relationship.
If you feel you can, PLEASE share your stories in the IM forum to help our sista’s face their fears and find the courage to move away from abusive, destructive relationships when they feel ready.
ONE MORE CHANCE?…. “BENNIE” After completing my Human and Community Services Diploma, I commenced a full time position supporting the needs of children in a Domestic Violence refuge whilst I studied on an external, part time basis for the first of my Bachelor degree’s in the Social Sciences.
Following that I was a support worker for women and children experiencing homelessness as often occurring as a result of domestic violence.
Throughout the next decade taking up various Government and Community-based positions, I continued to attend in-house training and seminars to remain up to date with Domestic Violence legislation, support techniques and associated issues.
The context tended to be DV as a feminist issue and the focus placed on the ‘Victims’ of Domestic Violence (usually female). Fast forward to 2010 and I had earnt an on-the-job Vocational Post Graduate Certificate in Family Dispute Resolution.
When not actually mediating, I ran groups preparing people for mediation and was also later invited to co facilitate a men’s group addressing the aggressive tendencies of the members.
This was a departure for me as up until now, Domestic Violence perpetrators had remained faceless, somewhat extreme and ‘evil’ entities that had wreaked great havoc and threatened the lives of my clients. Through this group I met “Bennie” and many men just like him. Rough ‘n’ ready Bennie. He’d been exposed to violence as a child.
To him it had been normal. Whilst mostly successful in his chosen trade, he was slovenly at home (at best) and both constantly berated his partner and occasionally used her as his punching bag to vent his frustrations (at worst). He loved his kids but was regularly neglectful or insensitive towards them.
He had recently physically attacked his eldest child to ‘save face’ in front of friends and family during a peak in alcohol soaked violence.
He was given chance after chance after chance before he finally found himself squarely on his own. He was now a ‘liability’ and the police were closing in as his behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic and violent. Bennie was exceptionally and consistently remorseful during every group meeting.
He openly admitted he ‘had stuffed up BIG time’ and outlined the steps he had taken to address his behaviour. He BEGGED the other participants to heed early warning signs and get help now to address their anger and aggression. He had gingerly started to build tentative ties with his children, who were either scared of him or very angry and distrustful of his motives. The kids’ Mum was wary.
She had always hoped he could and would change but was undecided about possible reconciliation. Bennie and the many other participants in the men’s group added an extra, valuable dimension to my Domestic Violence knowledge and general Social Work practice.
Their stories reminded me that not EVERY perpetrator of abuse was a raging or seething, unstoppable pyscho-pathic monster.
Members of this men’s group, however, were specially selected and they did not typically fall into the category of anti-social personality discorders, of which I suspect the partners of the women mentioned above may have fitted. Perpetrators of violence CAN change. Some do. It can happen.
There are groups and programs that exist throughout Australia that can assist to exact such changes. Should DV victims ,therefore, at least CONSIDER reconciliation with their abusive ex partner? Mmmmm…. Personally, I would CAUTION any person considering such a reconciliation to address your own recovery first before entertaining any thoughts of going back.
Current research from America suggests that mandatory (ie court ordered) LONG-term, group support tends to be more effective as a means of establishing permanent change in Domestic Violence Perpetrators.
Ultimately, the perpetrators alone MUST be willing and then able to take FULL responsibility for their actions, values and beliefs & learn to implement new ways to cope with stress and anger and aggressive impulses.
Basically, the perpetrators must be doing all the work and not leaning on anyone as a crutch lest they move back into their old, abusive ways. Relapses back into old ways of thinking and acting violently CAN also occur during the change process.
Like the recovery process, changing abusive behaviours takes TIME - usually a loooong time - so any consideration towards reconciliation with an abusive ex partner should ideally be very slow and tentative with the focus placed firmly on the safety and security of all concerned.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1800 200 526 Facebook Pages: Domestic Violence Australia Australia says NO to the Domestic Violence Websites: