The effects of abuse
Physical abuse can result in injuries, some of which can lead
to long-term health complications. Physical abuse is nearly always
accompanied by some form of emotional abuse—emotional abuse
beyond the emotional abusive nature of the assault itself. As
a matter of fact, abuse may be predominantly psychological or
emotional in nature. A woman's reactions to abuse may be apparent
right away, or they may continue long after the abuse has stopped.
Her reactions are largely shaped by other individuals' responses
to her allegations and disclosures of abuse.
What's already known about the effects of abuse on heterosexual
women allows us to better anticipate and understand the effects it
will have on a lesbian abused by her partner.
We also need to bear
in mind that homophobia and internalized oppression may add to the
In many cases, it's difficult to separate the emotional damage
resulting from abuse from other harmful effects of abuse. Common
effects of abuse on women, whether heterosexual or lesbian, include:
Most women who are abused believed the abuse is somehow their fault.
They believe they are to blame for the abuse, that they caused it,
and that they can somehow stop it. Many believe abuse is a sign of
having failed to make the relationship work.
Physical signs and symptoms
Women who are abused often experience anxiety, tension, low energy,
change in appetite and physical aches and pains such as headahces.
These symptoms are not necessarily directly caused by physical
Often, women who are abused feel ashamed of what's happened. Shame
very often prevents them from confiding in others and from disclosing
the details of their abuse to legal authorities and medical personnel.
Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
In nearly all cases of abuse, women report feelings of intense worthlessness
and inadequacy. These feelings, although a result of abuse, transcend to
other areas of a victim's life, affecting her sense of self-worth and
her ability to manage her day-to-day life. While this affects all women,
regardless of sexual orientation, lesbians may have a harder time coping:
they may already have a negative self-image — the result of
internalizing the social messages that degrade and reject lesbianism. Such
feelings of sheer worthlessness and helplessness often prevent women from
seeking help or from telling others about their experience. In the case
of lesbians, some victims believe that because of their sexual orientation,
they somehow deserve abuse and do not deserve help. These feelings may
be especially intense in lesbians of other ethnic groups and among lesbians
suffering a physical or developmental disability.
Women who are abused frequently experience difficulty in expressing anger
related to their abuse. Some may turn this anger toward themseves. In
some cases, this can lead women to hurt themselves (i.e. burning and
Many women fear their abuser will repeat his or her abusive behavior.
Victims fear future incidents of abuse.
Isolation from others
Women who are abused may withdraw from social activities, friends, or family.
They may choose to no longer participate in racial, ethnic, religious,
or community activities. This isolation may be the result of threats and
manipulation by her abuser or from a desire to keep the abusive nature
of her relationship secret. It may also be the result of shame.
Fear of being dismissed by others
Unfortunately, after telling others of their abuse, some women have
experienced ridicule. Their abuse was minimized, condoned, or excused.
This very often leaves women feeling alone, without immediate resources
and support, and believing they are inherently flawed.
Self-regulation and hyper-vigilance
As an attempt to prevent further abuse, some women may restrict or
modify their words or actions.
Avoiding social situations
If a woman has left an abusive relationship, she may avoid activities and
social situations that might bring her into contact with her former
abusive partner. She may also avoid situations in which there are
likely to be mutual friends who are unsupportive or neutral.