Intimate Partner Violence and the Mental Health Consequences
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and the mental health consequences
What are the facts?
A woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds, and 20 women are abused by an intimate partner every minute. In England alone, a woman is killed every 3 days as a result of domestic violence. Domestic violence, while often perpetrated by men against women, can and do also occur from women against men. But women are more often than not, on the receiving end of abusive relationships.
Is it rare in Nigeria?
Most certainly not. It is more common than we realize. But it is often hidden away out of shame and embarrassment. Or when people are aware, they simply look away, or counsel patience.
Physical abuse is especially commoner from men to women in an intimate relationship. And it is often more deadly with serious physical and emotional consequences. However, emotional abuse and verbal aggression (humiliating insults and taunts e.t.c.) are commoner from women towards men. But the fraction of these is so small that for the rest of this discourse, I would mean violence from men against women in the context of a relationship, when I talk about IPV. It is by far the commoner and bigger problem
Why do people tolerate domestic violence?
Several reasons, but they usually don’t start the relationship with a slap or violent actions. It often starts with carefully cultivated love and attention; which then progresses to possessive behaviour. And then he becomes controlling and wants to assert his authority on every issue. When she steps out of line or goes against him, he resorts to violence and aggression to ‘punish’ her and assert his power or dominance over her. So, it is usually a slow process over time, and the lady would have become emotionally invested…or married. And truth be told, it is very difficult to break off long standing ties and relationships.
Domestic violence is sustained by a culture of blame and shame
It is common to hear refrains such as: what did you do to provoke him? Did you abuse him? Oh, you pushed him first? So, what were you expecting? He is a man, he has to react and so on. These are all ways by which we blame the victim and reinforce/reward the perpetrator. We need to emphasize that NO PROVOCATION can ever justify domestic violence. We don’t go around the streets fighting and beating everyone who offends us, do we? No level of violence is ever acceptable or ‘normal’ in any relationship. A person who resorts to violence once, is likely to repeat it – unless he/she receives therapy
Why would anyone be a perpetrator?
Some risk factors increase the chances of individuals becoming perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV). These include:
• Growing up in a home where such practices were the norm, or violence was routinely used to settle quarrels. Such a child grows up with the mindset that it is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.
• Poor upbringing: Growing up in homes where they are indulged and pampered and taught that the male child is superior and more valuable than females. And where gender roles perpetuate the impression that household work is beneath a man.
• Low self-esteem: Some individuals suffer from low self-esteem and their dislike for anyone challenging their opinion/views stems from their fragile egos. They may also attempt to use controlling behaviour and exert power over someone else as a way of making themselves feel good.
• Lack of good communication skills: People who are unable to clearly express themselves or their wishes using verbal communication may turn to violence as a means of shutting up a rival (or the spouse) when there is a disagreement. This is possibly why some people offer the lame excuse of a wife’s oratorical superiority as the basis for their resorting to violence.
• Low frustration threshold: Individuals who become frustrated easily, and are unable to handle difficult situations will resort to violence.
• Anger management problems: Persons who do not understand their anger and/or how to handle situations when they become angry may instinctively lash out with violence when they are angry. They then become remorseful afterwards. This is a lack of self-discipline.
• Thinking errors: Some people have thinking (cognitive) errors where they misunderstand and mis-read other people’s intentions and actions (or inactions). More often than not, the mis-interpretation is in a negative manner and results in punitive actions or retaliation for the real or perceived offences.
• Use of alcohol and other drugs: Persons who drink alcohol and take drugs are more likely to misbehave when under the influence of these drugs.
Why do people remain in abusive relationships?
There are many reasons working together to increase the difficulty of walking away from such abusive relationships:
• It is extremely difficult to break off long-standing emotional ties and relationships. It requires courage and social support/encouragement from family and friends.
• Societal shame and culture of discrimination against divorcees, and viewing them as ‘failures’.
• The religious and cultural encouragement to ‘forgive’ and ‘endure’ or ‘pray for victory’ when things deteriorate.
• Poor understanding and acceptance of the place of psychological therapy in helping people with anger management issues and IPV – provided the individual is willing to receive support and work towards overcoming them. Recall that we are all, in one way or the other, ‘damaged goods’? But at the same time, we all have immense potential for so much good, if motivated and harnessed appropriately.
What are the mental health consequences?
Depression is the commonest emotional consequence, resulting in pervasive feelings of sadness, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and feeling tired all of the time. It may also be accompanied by loss of appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, weepy episodes and feelings of worthlessness. In some instances, suicide begins to look like a viable option out of their misery. This emphasizes why we should all stand up to be counted in providing support, and encouragement to help any survivors we know.
Other emotional problems include anxiety and frequent worry; Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – characterized by recurring nightmares, hyper-vigilance and becoming easily startled, avoiding all reminders of the previous experiences e.t.c.
Their self esteem also takes a big hit – becoming insecure and unsure of themselves. They may also become angry and mad at themselves and at the world: How could I have been so stupid? I should have known better. e.t.c.
Others may turn to drugs or seek meaning in spirituality and religious experiences, while becoming resigned to fate. These are not very helpful, because it perpetuates the cycle. And if there are children in the marriage, you are also teaching the children that it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife. Your sons may grow up with the mindset that if your woman talks back at you or questions your actions or inactions, the appropriate response is a slap or a beating. And your daughters seeing how you are quietly taking it will assume that any good wife should also accept such excesses….as they grew up seeing their mother do same. You will then become their reference point
The end game therefore, is that it becomes a generational affair, that your children will also experience (as perpetrators or as victims) and then they also pass the torch unto their own children…..
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
• If you or anyone you know have experienced IPV, seek counseling and therapy from mental health professionals (psychiatrists and clinical psychologists).
• If you are in abusive relationship, end it today. If mediation is going to work, ensure the abuser goes for therapy and is given a report before you consider going back. The truth is, if it happens once, more often than not, it will become a repetitive habit
• Train your children properly: Male children should not be pampered and allowed to play while your girls are cleaning the house and helping in the kitchen. You are raising entitled future men who will consider women inferior and beneath them, while they reign as Lord and Master. Unfortunately, our religious stereotypes erroneously reinforce this type of orientation.
• Religious leaders have a role to play, to identify when to counsel patience and when to draw the line. While not encouraging marriages to break down, if it is clear that one partner is not committed and the life and safety of the other partner is at risk, then please do not hesitate to encourage a separation. Otherwise, you may be called to officiate at the funeral.
• Families and the community should stop the shame and stigma attached to being divorced or unmarried. If it is not working and it is threatening your sanity, your health and indeed, your life, then what is the point?
• As friends, neighbours, colleagues, family members, we should all have zero tolerance for anyone in our circle who perpetrates IPV. There is never an acceptable excuse for it.
Delivered on Doctor ON Air by: Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, a Psychiatrist
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