How victims are affected by abuse
This article is meant as a complement/supplement to The
effects of abuse, also in this section.
Repeated abuse has long lasting pernicious and
traumatic effects such as panic
attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, flashbacks (intrusive
memories), suicidal ideation, and
psychosomatic symptoms. The victims experience shame, depression, anxiety,
embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, abandonment, and an enhanced sense of
In "Stalking - An Overview of the Problem" (Can J Psychiatry 1998;43:473?476),
authors Karen M Abrams and Gail Erlick Robinson write:
Initially, there is often much denial by the victim. Over time,
however, the stress begins to erode the victim's life and psychological
brutalization results. Sometimes the victim develops an almost
fatal resolve that, inevitably, one day she will be murdered.
Victims, unable to live a normal life, describe feeling stripped
of self-worth and dignity. Personal control and resources, psychosocial
development, social support, premorbid personality traits, and
the severity of the stress may all influence how the victim
experiences and responds to it
Victims stalked by ex-lovers may experience
additional guilt and lowered self-esteem for perceived poor judgement in
their relationship choices. Many victims become isolated and deprived of
support when employers or friends withdraw after
also being subjected to harassment or are cut off by the victim in order
to protect them. Other tangible consequences include financial losses from
quitting jobs, moving, and buying expensive security equipment in an attempt
to gain privacy. Changing homes and jobs results in both material losses
and loss of self-respect.
Surprisingly, verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse (see
Types of abuse, also in this section) have the same
effects as the physical variety (Psychology
Today, September/October 2000 issue, p.24). Abuse of
all kinds also interferes with the victim's ability to work. Abrams
and Robinson wrote this (in "Occupational Effects of Stalking", Can J
… (B)eing stalked by a
former partner may affect a victim's ability to work in 3 ways.
First, the stalking behaviours often interfere directly with
the ability to get to work (for example, flattening tires or
other methods of preventing leaving the home). Second, the workplace
may become an unsafe location if the offender decides to appear.
Third, the mental health effects of such trauma may result in
forgetfulness, fatigue, lowered concentration, and disorganization.
These factors may lead to the loss of employment, with accompanying
loss of income, security, and status.
Still, it is hard to generalize. Victims are not a uniform lot. In some
cultures, abuse is commonplace and accepted as a legitimate mode of
communication, a sign of love and caring, and a boost to the abuser's
self-image. In such circumstances, the victim is likely to adopt the norms
of society and avoid serious trauma.
Deliberate, cold-blooded, and premeditated torture has worse and
longer-lasting effects than abuse meted out by the abuser in rage and loss
of self-control. (Consider bride
burning in India as an example.) The existence of a loving and
accepting social support network is another mitigating factor. Finally,
the ability to express negative emotions safely and to cope with them
constructively is crucial to healing.
Typically, by the time the abuse reaches critical and all-pervasive
proportions, the abuser had already, spider-like, isolated his victim
from family, friends, and colleagues. She is catapulted into a netherland,
setting where reality itself dissolves into a continuing nightmare.
When she emerges on the other end of this wormhole, the abused woman
(or, more rarely, man) feels helpless, self-doubting, worthless, stupid,
and a guilty failure for having botched her relationship and "abandoned" her
"family". In an effort to regain perspective and avoid embarrassment,
the victim denies the abuse or minimizes it.
No wonder that survivors of abuse tend to be
clinically depressed, neglect their
health and personal appearance, and succumb to boredom, rage, and impatience.
Many end up abusing prescription drugs
or otherwise behaving recklessly.
Some victims even develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
See The effects of abuse for more information
on how family/domestic violence impacts victims.