Healing from Past Intimate Partner Violence

at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Healing from Past Intimate Partner Violence
In Grand Rapids, MI and West Michigan At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, MI

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate Partner Violence (aka Domestic Violence), happens when a current or former partner or spouse hurts, scares, or tries to control you. WHO (World Health Organization) defines it as “behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviors.”.

Therefore, intimate partner violence can include various types of maladaptive behaviors, including physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse, each of which has the same purpose: to gain power over the other person in a relationship and control them. 

According to the CDC, about 41% of women and 25% of men in the United States have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. This is about 1 in 3 women worldwide who have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lives. This usually leads to severe consequences, such as PTSD symptoms, physical injuries, fear, cognitive impairment, and missing at least one day of work. The CDC statistics also show that about 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.

Signs of Intimate Partner Violence

It’s not easy to recognize that your partner is abusing you, especially if they do it subtly or manipulate situations to make you doubt your perceptions.

Intimate partner violence can take many forms, ranging from physical to emotional, financial, or psychological.

Here are some specific signs that might indicate that you’re a victim of intimate partner violence:

  • Sudden outbursts of anger or aggression that seem disproportionate to the situation;
  • Constant criticism or attempts to make you feel worthless or wrong;
  • Isolation from friends, family, and activities you once enjoyed;
  • Monitoring your movements, including who you see, where you go, and what you do, sometimes even through digital means like GPS or social media;
  • Control over finances (this can also be expressed in lack knowledge of household finance);
  • Threats or intimidation, which may involve harming you, themselves, your loved ones, or even pets;
  • Physical violence, which doesn’t always have to result in injury to be considered abuse;
  • Sexual coercion or assault, including pressure to engage in sexual activities;
  • Blaming you for their actions;
  • Jealousy to the point of accusing you of being unfaithful without cause.

The Effects of Intimate Partner Abuse on Mental Health

Intimate partner abuse can have a lasting impact on mental health. Studies show that victims of such abuse face a higher risk of developing psychological issues and mental health disorders. For example, research in this area from 2012 through 2019 revealed that experiences of violence and abuse escalate the risk of worsening the symptoms of menopause in women, and increase the risk of diabetes, and risk-taking behaviors, such as drug abuse (Stubbs & Szoeke, 2021).

Other than worsening physical health, IPV significantly affects the mental well-being of survivors as well. A 2022 study shows that the psychological subtype of IPV (coercive control and emotional/verbal abuse) is strongly associated with the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety (Dokkedahl et al., 2021). Interestingly, the study suggests that psychological violence negatively affects male mental health too. But unfortunately, the stigma surrounding male victimization and societal expectations about masculinity makes it hard for male victims to seek help.

These are some of the most common effects of intimate partner violence on mental health:

  • Increased risk of PTSD – Survivors often relive the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Depression – IPV can lead to long periods of sadness and a loss of interest in life.
  • Anxiety – Constant fear of abuse can lead to generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and stress-related disorders.
  • Substance abuse – To cope, some survivors misuse alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication.
  • Eating disorders – IPV can also contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food, including binge eating or not eating at all.
  • Suicidal thoughts – The psychological impact of IPV can lead some victims to consider or attempt suicide in severe cases.
  • Trust issues – Abuse by a partner can make it hard to trust others in the future.
  • Low self-esteem – Emotional or verbal abuse can greatly reduce a survivor’s self-confidence and make them experience guilt or self-blame (Karakurt et al., 2014).

How to Heal from Past Intimate Partner Violence

Healing from intimate partner violence (IPV) requires time and support. However, a study by Carman and Kay-Lambkin (2022) shows that recovery is possible, as many women report significant progress over time. Specifically, this research shows that women who left their abusive partners for more than 10 years felt fully recovered. But to start healing, first, it’s important to identify and address the traumatic impact of the violence on your mental health and develop specific strategies to deal with it.

These are a few strategies that might help people who have a history of intimate partner violence:

  • Build a support network – Surround yourself with friends, family, or people who understand you. You can also consider joining support groups for survivors of IPV.
  • Practice self-care – Prioritize activities that support your physical, mental, and emotional health. It can be either exercise, meditation, pursuing hobbies, or self-care. These activities will help you rebuild your sense of self-worth and empower yourself (Kristahn, 2022).
  • Educate yourself – Learning about the dynamics of IPV and recognizing that the abuse was not your fault is also empowering. Identifying potential signs of abuse can help you notice red flags in future relationships and build healthier connections.
  • Seek professional support – The most effective way to heal from past intimate partner violence is to seek professional support. Therapists who specialize in trauma can provide a safe environment for you to process your experiences and work through the trauma.

EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an interactive psychotherapy technique that helps individuals process and integrate traumatic memories. The process of EMDR therapy involves recalling distressing events while receiving bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements, to reduce the trauma’s emotional impact. Therefore, this treatment is especially helpful for individuals who are dealing with past traumatic memories, including intimate partner violence.

According to Schwartz et al. (2021), EMDR therapy improved the assertiveness, self-control, functionality, and self-acceptance of survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence.

Trauma-Informed Counseling

Past intimate partner violence is usually perceived as a traumatic experience and therefore, Trauma-Informed counseling is one of the most effective treatment approaches for individuals who have faced domestic abuse or any type of partner violence in the past.

Trauma-informed counselors at Health for Life Counseling specialize in empirically proven clinical therapies that effectively treat trauma and PTSD symptoms. Research shows that trauma- and violence-informed care has significant potential to improve outcomes for survivors of IPV (e.g., Wathen & Mantler, 2022; Anyikwa, 2016).

ACT Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals accept their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting them or feeling guilty for them. It is particularly effective for those healing from intimate partner violence, as it focuses on accepting the difficult emotions associated with past trauma while committing to positive changes.

ACT encourages mindfulness, which helps violence survivors detach from negative thoughts and develop a greater sense of present-moment awareness.

Get Professional Help to Heal from Partner Violence

If you’re looking for professional guidance or support to heal from past intimate partner violence, you should know that licensed therapists at Health for Life Counseling are willing to provide compassionate, personalized treatment.

Our team specializes in various therapeutic approaches, including EMDR therapy, ACT therapy, and other trauma-focused treatments designed to help you process and overcome intimate partner violence. We offer flexible options for therapy, with both online and in-person sessions available at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI.

To ease the financial burden, we accept various insurance plans, including United Healthcare, Priority Health, Aetna, Meritain Health, and more. Check out our insurance options and take the first step towards recovery.

Therapists For Healing from Past Intimate Partner Violence

Shanna Beebe

A non-judgemental space for deep healing from trauma, abuse, and relationship wounds.

Kelly Benzin

Therapy from an Intersectional Systems and Holistic Lens

Anna Utter

EMDR, DBT Skills, and Trauma-Informed Therapy for Adults and Teens

Brittani Decess

Counseling through a trauma-informed, inclusive, and equitable lens for individuals, relationships, and families.

Kori Crask

Trauma-Informed Counseling and EMDR Therapy for long-term healing

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