Q. More than 40 years ago I was in an abusive relationship. Very few people are aware of the circumstances because I was embarrassed and ashamed of what was happening to me. Eventually I was able to move on with my life, met and married a wonderful man. The problem is I have occasional nightmares and wake in the middle of the night terrified. When I see something on T.V. about abuse or violence it triggers intense emotions in me. My retirement years should be better than this. After all this time why can’t I just put this behind me?
A. Every once in a while someone sends a question that I wish didn’t have to be answered. This is one of those. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports on the average nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in this country, the statistics are overwhelming. The victims are left with scars which aren’t always the kind that are visible. Survivors may go on with their lives but this does not mean they are able to obliterate the experience from their memory.
There are numerous repercussions from being in an abusive relationship. When someone hears the words post-traumatic stress disorder they most likely immediately think of someone who has served in a war zone. This is understandable in light of the extensive media coverage on this subject and the vast number of service men and women who are impacted by the disabling effects. Victims of domestic abuse can also suffer from the same infliction. One scholarly article describes the “unseen consequences” of the abuse, rather than the obvious physical damage. They can experience depression, anxiety, insecurity and experience an overwhelming sense of fear that could occur immediately or years later. Flashbacks and nightmares are rather common as well. It can be a long road for individuals to view themselves as survivors rather than victims.
The road to a healthy recovery can rarely be accomplished without the help of others. Meeting with a psychotherapist who specializes in domestic abuse and attending support groups are both advised. In your case it appears you have hidden your past from most people. Remember you have no reason to be cloaked in shame. In addition to professional intervention it could be very helpful to find one person you truly trust and a safe venue to talk with when you are having a tough day.
One last point that we don’t want to overlook, while domestic abuse happens to women more frequently, men can also be victims of domestic abuse.
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Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.