Here’s the problem. Most people believe that once you remove yourself from an abusive situation, everything will be fine. After all, it’s all downhill from there, right? Wrong. Even after ending the relationship, people who have experienced abuse at the hands of a partner can suffer from PTSD, a lifelong illness that never goes away. PTSD affects you for the rest of your life. And it’s not just for soldiers anymore.
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Here’s a slice of criteria from the DSM-IV explaining the causes of PTSD:
“(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others (2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.”
PTSD causes physical damage to the brain. It’s literally a stress fracture. The stress imposed upon the brain resulting from the traumatic event causes damage to the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory as well as in the handling of stress. As a result of this damage, people suffer from memory loss, flashbacks, and delayed comprehension. But that’s not where it ends. Other chronic symptoms of PTSD include insomnia, vivid nightmares, intense psychological distress at exposure to situations or objects that resemble any aspect of the event, depression, detachment from others, feelings of impending doom or imminent death, irritability, outbursts of rage, difficulty concentrating and exaggerated startle response. Typically, people experience all or most of these symptoms for most of the rest of their lives.
Some people need just one event to trigger PTSD. One of my close friends was slammed against the wall, punched in the eye and helplessly cornered when she smashed his glasses against his face in self-defense. He threatened to kill her and she hit him with a nearby coffee mug. She managed to get away and call the police, but it was too late. She was already destined to re-experience this trauma repeatedly, day after day, for years to come. She currently has difficulty leaving the house, interacting with an intimate partner, and dealing with crowds. Her awareness has been heightened to a state of hypervigilance as a result of the damage to her brain.
Unfortunately, deliberate acts of domestic violence that occur repeatedly (or a domestic situation that causes prolonged fear on the part of the victim, as in a constant fear of your partner’s reactions) will create a more severe condition than would an attack from a stranger. Not to mention, the closer you are emotionally to your assailant, the more severe your condition will be. Experiencing trauma at the hands of someone you formerly trusted or someone you currently love causes deeper injury and produces harsher symptoms as a result.
If you are involved with an abusive partner, you might think that “good guys” don’t exist. You might think that no one really has a good relationship. You might think that relationship equality is something out of a television sitcom; something that doesn’t exist in real life. I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. There are billions of men out there who will treat you respectfully every single day. There are billions of men out there who will love you for exactly who you are, whatever flaws you may think you have. There are billions of men out there who will sweep you off your feet and romance your socks off. (And women.) YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER BE AFRAID OF YOUR PARTNER, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. But if you are, consider the risks. The result may be more than you can deal with for the rest of your life. Just think it over.
Image from MediManage.com