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How EMDR Can Help Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse

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Domestic violence and intimate partner abuse is a serious topic that doesn’t generate enough conversation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, equating to more than ten million men and women. The estimates delve more in-depth and show than a quarter of women, and one in nine men will experience severe partner physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking that leads to fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or injury.

Domestic violence is an epidemic that can happen to men or women at any time, but women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most likely to be abused by an intimate partner. A staggering 25 percent of women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence, including burning, strangulation, or beatings by an intimate partner in their lifetime. On an average day, domestic violence hotlines receive 20,000 calls. 

Domestic victimization leads to higher depression rates and suicidal tendencies, and only 34 percent of victims will receive medical care for their injuries. Nearly 72 percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner, while 94 percent of the victims are female. Between 2003 and 2008, 142 women were murdered at work.

The figures are startling, and despite the conversation that does exist around intimate partner abuse, it’s still not a topic that generates enough attention. Overcoming the crippling depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress stemming from domestic violence is not always easy. The physical and mental impact may lead to a life of struggle if not adequately treated. Fortunately, therapies such as EMDR can help victims of intimate partner abuse regain their confidence and identity.

Physical & Mental Impact of Intimate Partner Abuse

The impact of intimate partner abuse can last a lifetime if not treated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women abused by their partners are at greater risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases because of forced intercourse or prolonged exposure to stress. Unfortunately, domestic violence is correlated with severe depression, which may lead to suicide. 

Mental, physical, and sexual health effects are linked with intimate partner violence. Some of these include teen pregnancies, pregnancy, stillbirths, miscarriage, nutritional deficiency, abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal issues, intrauterine hemorrhage, chronic pain, neurological disorders, anxiety, and hypertension. Domestic violence victims are also at much greater risk of developing substance use disorders (SUDs). 

If you’re experiencing mental, physical, or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or reach out to their live chat that is always available. It is free and confidential. Please reach out for help to remove yourself from an abusive relationship and get on the road to recovery today.

How to Get Out of An Abusive Relationship

We understand that it’s not simple to leave an abusive relationship. Your intimate partner may have control over you, and you may be isolated from friends, family or have no control over the finances. You might be in fear of being hurt physically if you leave and how your partner might react. Here are some things you must keep in mind if you are being abused:

  • Do not blame yourself for the mistreatment.
  • You deserve respect.
  • You are not the cause of the abusive behavior.
  • You deserve happiness and stability.
  • You are not alone – there are people willing to help you.

If you’ve reached the point of leaving, but you’re scared and think the relationship can be saved, keep the following in mind:

  • The abuse will continue to happen without change. Abusers have profound psychological and emotional issues, and change will not happen fast. Change can only occur when the abuser takes responsibility for their behavior and seeks professional treatment. 
  • You may feel that you can help your abuser, but you’re enabling their behavior by staying and allowing repeated abuse. 
  • Your partner may have told you that this is the last time, and they promise they’ll stop. They might go as far as begging for your forgiveness and promise to change, but words are empty. Most of them quickly return to their abusing behavior once they’re no longer concerned that you’ll leave.
  • Even if your partner is going through counseling for their issue, it’s not a telltale sign that they’ll change. A lot of abusers who go through treatment will continue harming their partner. You must make your decision based on who they are today and not who you hope they become. 
  • You may be fearful of the unknown and what might occur if you leave. Don’t let fear keep you in a dangerous situation. 

Getting Help When You Leave Your Intimate Partner

When you follow through with your decision to leave an intimate partner of abuse, you may wonder what your next steps might be. While it’s not impossible, leading a normal life after you’ve left an abusive relationship won’t be easy without treatment. One such therapy that has shown promise is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Can it help lessen the effects that domestic violence survivors have endured?

EMDR was created to lessen the anguish caused by emotional trauma, including other types of disorders. Desensitizing a person exposed to violence will help them because they’re less likely to react to a specific memory emotionally. Reprocessing will help the survivor see their emotional memory in a new light, and it won’t cause the same stress it may have in the past. 

The Goal of EMDR and Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse

This therapy’s primary goal is to help the survivor go from fear and terror to a neutral feeling so that the memory has less of an impact on their psyche. The objective is not to eradicate the memory in its entirety; instead, it’s designed to decrease the emotional pain attached to it. The goal is to retrain your mind and how it processes the distressing event differently. Before a survivor goes through EMDR, their minds are often stuck on replay, which causes more distress over a period of time.

The emotions are painful, and the memories associated with the event will often be revisited. It will affect how the survivor of intimate partner abuse will respond to traumatic events in the future. When using this therapy for PTSD, domestic violence survivors can change their stressful memories into learning experiences, causing their memory to lose its power.

If you’ve been the victim of domestic partner abuse and you’re struggling with the effects, it may be time to consider alternatives. You deserve to lead a life where these memories become distant and lose their power over you. The way to do this is by finding therapists who specialize in cognitive-behavioral therapies like EMDR. You had the ability to get out of an abusive relationship; now it’s time to take the next step.

Sources

U.S. DOJ (April 2014) Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012. from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ndv0312.pdf

CDC (2010) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf

WHO (N.D.) Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women. from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85239/9789241564625_eng.pdf;jsessionid=33F7A7EA5B55C92409740A7A18A0EE2E?sequence=1

National Domestic Violence Hotline (October 2020) from https://www.thehotline.org/

NCBI (August 2013) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279297/

NCBI (Winter 2014) The Role of EMDR Therapy in Medicine. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951033/

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