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Domestic violence: a pre-pandemic issue 

2 years ago

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By Ashera Ambawatte Intimate-partner violence (IPV) is one of the many unfortunate subjects that has captured the limelight during this pandemic. What was often documented as an act particularly targeting women, it is now being reported as being experienced by men having experienced the exact same thing. The only difference is less exposure due to gender stereotypes, which is ironic, considering that men themselves are considered as the wrongdoers. However, this article is not intended to expose such gender inequalities. Due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the various lockdowns have forced men and women to increasingly be subjected to this type of harassment, and with it, the scarring effects on one’s mental health, resulting in elevated levels of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Circumstances where the victim is subjected to instances that include gaslighting and manipulation are highly likely in these situations as well, and understanding the difference between an ownership and a partnership is very important. While this topic is currently gaining more attention online, we tend to forget that this prevailed way before the pandemic even began, and sharing one’s opinion on the subject’s pre-pandemic environment wouldn’t harm anyone and could hopefully benefit at least one person. For the purpose of this article however, the particular group in focus will be females.  As society generally interprets it, domestic violence is often seen as affecting women, in this case, being subjected to physical and sexual abuse; however, the trauma that is buried deep beneath the surface, in fact, belongs to the area of mental health.  Currently, living in a time where gender equality is steadily progressing further and rape culture is more prominent within the society, this sensitive subject should be addressed more openly and often. If so, then it would encourage other women to come forward as well. Currently, most women are gaining the confidence they need to reach out and share their experiences but most are still scared and/or opposed to that ideal. They find it quite hard to be vulnerable and open to others as trust is something that was lost during that time of their lives. Women often do not want to show any signs of weakness or mental instability as their partner would use this factor as means of abuse. Interviews between women who have gone through domestic abuse which were carried out by research psychologists showed that their partner used a technique known as ‘gaslighting’ which is a term used to describe a type of psychological manipulation that makes women question their actions and often their sanity.  Personally, I believe gaslighting to be one of the most cowardly acts portrayed by a manipulative person in a relationship. The way in which the victim’s ego and dignity is undermined to the point where their perception of reality itself is altered is shocking. Of course, the effects of gaslighting are rarely seen and understood by the victim initially. While it cannot be blamed on the victim for not seeing these signs of manipulation in the first place, understanding these initial signals in depth can benefit anyone in an abusive relationship. When in a relationship, a woman (in this instance) begins to trust their partner in the hopes that their partner cares for them with the best intentions; therefore, they start to believe that the good in their partner outweighs the bad, forming this bubble that portrays the best qualities of them. This is exactly why the effects of gaslighting are rarely understood, as their partner is glorified and that ‘bubble’ that they have formed can be never broken, which is the perfect position for the manipulator to strike. For example, if a wife tells her husband that he is dodging the responsibilities around the house and rarely attending to the needs of their child, and the husband’s only response is refusing to acknowledge any of it, he is gaslighting her. These rose coloured glasses that the victims develop for their partner, prevent them from actually seeing what is right there in front of them – manipulation at its finest. Believing actions instead of words and understanding a situation as it is, will do us all some good in our lives.  In many cases, women who have been in this situation, often find themselves more susceptible to repressing their feelings and as a result, get severely depressed. They often become submissive to their partner, and in turn, suffer from PTSD which is a common mental health disorder in domestically abused women. Even though there are many other mental health disorders pertaining to this subject, PTSD and depression are increasingly common within these individuals.  Depression in these cases is a silent killer. It is a known risk factor associated with this subject, especially when investigating the effects on a woman after a period of childbirth, better known as postpartum depression. Pregnancy and the immediate period after birth is said to be the most crucial time in which a woman is in need of a trusting and confiding partner as they are more emotionally dependent and physically vulnerable during the postnatal period. The question to focus on is whether domestic violence during pregnancy constitutes a risk factor for the manifestation of postnatal depression, and research has shown that, more often than not, women’s health is significantly influenced by this exact risk factor.  The main problem is that, according to a culture where in some cases women are not taught how to stand up for themselves and to engage in relationships in which your partner is equal to them, and rather, they are told to “find a partner with a stable job and salary to support their family” while disregarding the emotional connection between the two individuals entirely, more often than not, especially in rural areas where the customs are still prevalent, women and young girls succumb to family pressure in finding a partner who is approved by her family and one who possesses the basic familial needs of a man, all the while totally ignoring the connection between the two. This is often the main reason for women in rural areas to be at risk of becoming victims of domestic violence and/or rape.  When compared to men, women are known to be more emotionally sensitive and intelligent. It is biologically proven that women possess a larger limbic system which controls emotions and is situated in the temporal lobe of the brain. While men are portrayed to be a strong and powerful gender that conceals most of what they feel, women are visualised as creatures of habit when it comes to expressing their emotions in excess. And that is exactly why they tend to refrain from communicating most of it, in order to avoid being labelled. Therefore, they become accommodating to the opposite sex and their patterns of dominant behaviour. Some men tend to carry immense amounts of unexpressed emotions within them, making it hard to keep it locked up for too long, thereby turning their repressed emotions into large projections of anger often towards their spouse, eventually resulting in physically and emotionally scarring after effects.  Succumbing to the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol does not come as a shock when understanding the coping mechanisms adopted by IPV victims. Women often describe consuming alcohol and drugs as a “crutch” towards their repressed emotions. Many studies have found that women who have been abused by an intimate partner are more likely to use or be dependent on drugs rather than women who have not been subject to IP abuse, which is a fairly obvious assumption one might have already guessed. In some cases, females are given substantial amounts of alcohol and drugs on a daily basis by their partner as a way of ‘keeping them in their place’, and they eventually give into the recurring pattern resulting in addiction, which affects not only herself but the safety of those around her as well.  Domestic violence against women is a global public health and social concern, where several factors in mutual action contribute to the prevailing victimisation of women. Emotional profiling and personality traits, not only of the abuser but of the victim’s, are key factors in understanding the dynamics of this type of abuse. It is crucial to understand the difference between one who has been subject to IPV and one who has not, through body language and in the overall way in which a woman carries herself in public. Even though most of these traits are hard to uncover, it is important to be there for anyone you suspect is going through a hard time, particularly during an instant such as this. By understanding and familiarising oneself with the risk factors of domestic violence, we can mitigate the number of women (and men) who endure this type of abuse by a substantial amount. By educating young adults and adolescents about this subject, women in particular would be very selective in choosing a partner while learning the importance of independence and that “settling is never an option”.    (The writer is an undergraduate student in the field of psychology, a poet, creative writer, artist, and an editor of a youth-based social media awareness initiative)

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