Impact on the Victim

 

Words, or the conditions, such as “no self-confidence”, “low self-esteem”, “stress”, “anxiety”, “depression” have featured a great deal in the public eye in relation to mental health and the NHS, costs to the economy in absences at work, and public expenditure, and in much political posturing. In society we can be readily shocked when we see people in severe distress, when they are physically attacked, maimed or injured, and yet the psychological trauma that may result is on the whole longer lasting, has a potentially greater negative impact on the victim and generally does not receive the same reactions; mainly because the suffering is silent. Throughout our lives we all, at some time, might encounter, or be affected by, such conditions. In many circumstances such conditions can potentially be more debilitating and devastating than a physical injury.

When these conditions are a direct result of coercive control at the hands of a perpetrator then it is important to recognise that these conditions are the psychological bruises, scars and broken bones inflicted by the relentless abuses of a perpetrator upon a victim. Remember, the victim can become a victim at any stage in their life and can come from all walks of life.

If any victim is to be supported and assisted in escaping, recovering or repairing any damage it is important to understand how they become a victim and the impact the abuse has on them.

As the Case Study in the Introduction shows the psychological impact from suffering the abuses during the relationship might be harder felt after the victim has escaped as they try to rebuild their life having had their psychological tools and resources stripped or destroyed by the perpetrator.

Someone living in a coercively controlling relationship or having escaped such a relationship will potentially be severely impacted. The impact on the victim of coercive control can be separated in two categories: psychological and physical/practical.

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCE.

Loss Of Self-Confidence And Low Self-Esteem

Self-confidence and self-esteem can define every human being. What we say, what we do, how we think and how we feel can all depend on how much we believe in ourselves and our self-worth. These can be nurtured and affected from the early years of our childhood and can determine who we become both in terms of negative and positive impact.   

 

For a perpetrator this is where it begins. Taking a persons self-confidence and self-esteem will impact everything he/she thinks and does; it strips them of their identity and liberty. This is a slow torture of the mind and should be considered as such.

A human being – male, female or child – suffering the abuses of coercive control will be unaware that slowly their self-esteem and confidence are being destroyed with a repeated pattern of criticisms, humiliations and intimidation.

The victim will be unaware because the perpetrator is a master of manipulation. Sometimes by using direct words by criticising how they look, cook, clean, work, think etc., or other manipulative behaviours and actions which lead the victim to believe that anything that goes wrong, or is not right, is their fault. Because these criticisms and insults are repeated, and the victim is desperate to make the relationship work, the victim eventually begins to believe it and slowly the self-confidence begins to disappear and the self-esteem or self-worth becomes pointless, and the victim has entered the world of emotional and physical slavery making compromises and changes just to survive.

In an effort to show their commitment to saving the relationship the victim continuously changes their behaviour that the perpetrator disapproves of. However, the perpetrator is relentless in their pursuit of control and whenever they see the victim show positivity, hope or sense of purpose through their change in behaviour they will move the goal posts and continue their criticisms to take all that away again leaving the victim to believe that they cannot do anything right and that they are useless.

The victims general empathy will be constantly under attack by the perpetrator. To control this the perpetrator will emotionally manipulate the victims empathy by breaking down in front of them in tears, apologising repeatedly for their behaviour, asking for forgiveness, promising to change. This can give the victim the hope they have been looking for and therefore continue with the relationship and not realise that they have been further manipulated; the carrot and stick approach.

Any positive feelings and thoughts the victim shares, or even tries to hold on to, will be controlled by the perpetrator. With the victim’s self-confidence and self-esteem destroyed the victim is left with feelings of guilt, doubt and constant fear of always upsetting their partner. If the perpetrator feels they cannot control the victim by their emotional manipulations then they could resort to intimidating actions and creating an atmosphere of fear where the victim fears the perpetrator may become physical. Normally, the mere threat of violence is enough to control the victim, however if there is any dissention by the victim of any kind or it looks like the victim is not under their control then physical violence is likely to be used. In some cases the abuse may begin with the physical. This would be followed by further manipulations to make it seem that the violence was provoked by the victim or with further meaningless apologies. As the victim becomes controlled emotionally and left with little self-confidence and self-esteem they are likely to concede and apologise themselves or accept the perpetrators reason for violence and thereby making their behaviour acceptable within this toxic relationship.

AS YOU BEGIN TO REGAIN YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SELF-ESTEEM YOU WILL GET THROUGH IT.  

Anxiety And Depression

Whilst still in the relationship, having their self-esteem and confidence relentlessly under attack and living in fear on a daily basis, the victim could continuously suffer from anxiety attacks and depression.

Whilst these conditions can exist while the victim remains in the relationship they do not end once they have escaped. Within the relationship the perpetrator will certainly provide a form of security for the victim; a roof over their head, intimacy, children, a meagre allowance. Although this would be entirely on the perpetrators terms it nevertheless represents the only security the victim has. After leaving the relationship the anxiety and depression could be much worse not only because of the lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem, fear, doubt, guilt that the perpetrator has caused but after leaving the victim is likely to still have those feelings but now without the security. Despite having escaped and outside the relationship the victim with all those debilitating feelings and no security is likely to find it difficult to do anything on a daily basis making those feelings even worse in some circumstances. Anxiety will enshroud every thought and decision, and the depression could get worse with now having to endure the loneliness. This could be a more dangerous time where the victim can feel that survival is not only more difficult, as they enter a new territory away from the perpetrator, but also because they might feel there is no reason to survive anymore as all those negative feelings begin to prey on their loneliness and hopelessness.

Depression symptoms:

A continuous low mood is just one possible symptom of depression. Left untreated, symptoms of clinical or major depression may get worse and last longer. Recognising the symptoms of depression is often the biggest hurdle in seeking medical advice and to the diagnosis and treatment of depression.

Symptoms of depression may include the following:

  1. Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.

  2. Fatigue and decreased energy.

  3. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness

  4. Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism.

  5. Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping.

  6. Irritability, restlessness.

  7. Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex.

  8. Overeating or appetite loss.

  9. Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better even with treatment.

  10. Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings.

  11. Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Depression can cause physical symptoms, too. These include:

  1. Headaches. These are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may become worse if you're depressed.

  2. Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may get worse if you become depressed.

  3. Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse.

  4. Chest pain. Obviously, it's very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart problems. But chest pain is also associated with depression.

  5. Digestive problems. You might feel queasy or nauseous. You might have diarrhoea or become chronically constipated.

  6. Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.

  7. Sleeping problems. Many people with depression can't sleep well anymore. They wake up too early or can't fall asleep when they go to bed. Others sleep much more than normal.

  8. Change in appetite or weight. Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods - like carbohydrates - and put on weight.

  9. Dizziness or light-headedness.

Feelings of Loss

On escaping the environment of coercive control the victim might encounter feelings of loss. This can be a feeling of loss for the relationship that they had hoped for and strived for or if there are children involved any separation from them that might ensue; the latter is especially and more commonly the case where the male is the victim. From loving, caring, feeding, bathing, doing the school and after school activity-runs to not seeing them at all or for short periods at a time will cause an unbearable pain no different to the feelings of losing someone you love.

In the grieving process there are five stages that you can expect to go through; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If you Google “stages of loss/grief” there are many websites which will give you a basic insight into this very natural process which the victim might be going through. YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS.

Considering the victims lack of confidence and low self-esteem and that the circumstance might still be ongoing it can be difficult to clearly understand which stage they are going through. Sometimes they might find themselves stalled in one stage or regressing back into another. This is where therapy or CBT/mindfulness becomes so important.

Like grief the victim never truly gets over it. The emotional scars and bruises will remain as random incidents trigger anxieties, depression and trust issues in any future relationships.  HOWEVER, LIKE GRIEF LIFE DOES GET EASIER AND THE PAIN WILL LESSEN.

 

FEAR

Coercive Control and the impact it has upon the victim has been likened to the Stochholm Syndrome; “an emotional attachment to a captor formed by a hostage as a result of continuous stress, dependence, and a need to cooperate for survival”, according to www.dictionary.com . When comparing coercive control to the Stockholm Syndrome it is important to consider the long term impact of this on the victim and therefore attempt to identify the key emotion/emotions and the subsequent behaviours which are created or manufactured to help the victim survive their ordeal. In terms of the longer term impact what needs to be considered is how certain emotions will continue to affect the victims day-to-day thinking, feeling and actions after they have escaped the situation. Remembering that for every victim the impact will vary depending on the individual; who they were before the relationship, how long the abuse continued for; and the intensity of the abuse endured.

 

CASE STUDY:

“For over two and half years after I left the relationship I was stuck in a hell from which there was no escape. My self-confidence and self-esteem were virtually non-existent, I was encountering severe feelings of loss and stuck in depression. Whilst I recognised that these were the psychological injuries sustained as a direct result of the abuse I had endured for fifteen years I found myself having to relive all of it every day as I was fighting to see the kids and trapped in a wholly unsympathetic legal process of divorce; the lack of understanding of coercive control within the entire legal system was inadvertently allowing my partner to continue to have an impact on my daily life. However, as I received one judgement, or decision, after another I began to feel a sense of closure, however small or short-lived. I was still reliving the abuse daily but because of the closure I was less anxious about daily activities and chores, the depression felt it was moving on and the feelings of loss were moving to the next stages. And then something happened. Another person came into my life. Before the abusive relationship I always regarded myself as a positive, creative, principled, loyal, empathic person. And here now was what I felt was my perfect compatible in every way. And yet whenever I was with this person I found that despite their incredible reassurance I could not help but feel an overwhelming anxiety. When I was not with that person there was a battle going on in my head. I was picking flaws in this person. All those incredible qualities this person possessed and shared were now, in my head, coming across as needy, possessive and manipulative. And subsequently this person who I originally felt was beautiful physically and emotionally was now beginning to look unattractive. Something inside was setting off alarm bells. Something was wrong and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and my behaviour around this person became cold and aloof as I was beginning to push this person away. The question lingered, “why am I feeling like this when that other person has not given me any reason to do so; what’s triggering these feelings?” Every day I would put these feelings and thoughts through a cognitive process, weighing up the qualities of this person against what I was feeling. I discovered that there was neither a proportionate or justifiable reason for me to feel what I was feeling and thinking. So, I accepted that this person was my physical, emotional and intellectual compatible and then moved on to understand why was I trying to push this person away. The answer made me aware of the extent of the abuse I had encountered and it’s deeper and longer term impact. I was scared. Pure fear. Not because of anything this person was saying or doing. No. It was the feelings that this person was bringing to life which in the previous relationship had been played with, manipulated and tortured leading me to live in constant daily fear. Not necessarily the fear which comes from the potential physical threat, but similar in intensity. The fear I would feel when I would cook their meal fearing that it will not be good enough; that my cleaning will not be good enough; that my appearance will not be good enough; that my family and friends would not be good enough; that my job, thoughts, ambitions and feelings will not be good enough. I was living in fear every day. The fear was protecting me. It would make me prepare for the next abuse. It would make me think ahead and try to pre-empt my partners moods. The fear was protecting all those thoughts, feelings and belief systems I had which made me who I was before the controlling relationship. Now here was a person who shared those thoughts, feelings and had the same belief systems but I found myself fraught with anxiety, shutting this person out because they were triggering that fear. Now I understood that I could apply a cognitive process to help me realise that this new person did not warrant the thoughts and feelings which had become hard-wired over the fifteen years of abuse to protect myself. I had to re-learn and re-condition my thoughts and feelings. I was always good at learning something new. I could feel that this was going to be difficult. I had to work on my self-confidence and self-esteem whilst being aware that if any feeling or behaviour was out of character I would have to address that feeling or behaviour, recondition my mind and unlearn all that had been imposed upon me. I could feel that this would take a long time but my kids and my happiness was worth the battle.”


 

Memory Loss

In order to survive the daily abuses the victim will block off the memory of past and previous incidents to stop feeling any emotional pain. This will affect their memory when trying to recollect what happened, when it happened and how it happened. 

Paranoia

A victim can quite easily become too self-critical and always fearful of failing in anything they do as they struggle with lack of confidence and self-esteem. Such anxieties, especially if the control is ongoing, can give rise to feelings of paranoia. “Are they looking at me”, “do they think I am crazy”, “what if he/she finds out that I am doing my own thing”, “If I go there will he/she be there”, “if he/she is there they might do this or that”. Doubt and fear could take over the victims life and hinder any recovery or at the very least slow the recovery process. 

 

THE PHYSICAL IMPACT

Isolation

The perpetrators manipulations through criticisms of the victims family, friends, hobbies and interests will aim to isolate the victim from any potential support network so that the victim is almost entirely dependent on the perpetrator.

With constant criticisms of the victims family and friends the perpetrator will make the victim feel that they have to cut off their links with their family and friends. The victim will be made to feel that they made that choice. The victim will be breaking off these links for many reasons; for fear of their partner upsetting anyone or just for an easier life. But to ensure their control over the victim and to hide such abuses their manipulations will extend to outside their home environment. Whenever mixing in the social circles of family, friends and acquaintances the perpetrator will make sure that they are seen as a happy, life-and-soul of the party, strong, solid, secure and a loving home-maker. To further this deception the perpetrator will even go to the lengths of talking to other people about the victim either in a very positive light to show their supportive nature or in a negative light to show themselves as a struggling martyr. 

With this type of isolation, with no self-confidence, low self-esteem, living in constant fear, doubt, never ending-anxiety, and never realising that they have been, or are still, the victims of coercive control could leave the victim to suffer in silence for a very long time with no means of escape. In such cases it is entirely understandable why some victims either consider returning, and indeed do go back, to the relationship which despite its toxicity still provides some security.

Escape

If the victim is able to escape the environment they have been in they will remain impacted by the abuses. It is likely that even when the victim has escaped the victim will continue to be coercively controlled. This can happen by the further manipulations of the perpetrator of the institutions and organisations such as the police, lawyers, welfare services, and courts by making counter-allegations, including alienation from the children. Hence, the victim might continue to live in fear under the shadow of the perpetrator.

Physical Health

Invariably, stress, anxiety and depression can lead to physical conditions or further aggravate existing medical conditions. The more vulnerable the victim is or becomes the greater the likelihood. These could be anything from headaches, migraines, muscular aches and pains, heart conditions, strokes etc. (see Depression Symptoms above).

Sleep Deprivation

Depression, anxiety and living in constant fear can lead to restless and erratic sleeping patterns  and almost certainly will impact the victim. Sleep deprivation can severely impact the victims mental and physical health. A reliance or dependency on various coping mechanisms could result in a desperate attempt to switch the mind off. To do this on a daily basis could be dangerous. It is important that victim speak to their doctor.  

Coping Mechanisms

As another means to emotionally survive the ongoing abuse a victim might rely on coping mechanisms to subdue the pain, anxieties and depression both whilst within the relationship or after they have escaped: drugs, alcohol, over-eating etc. Whilst temporarily these can prove useful ultimately they can lead to addictions and other health problems.

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