Physical abuse is mental too

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The psychological impact that domestic violence has on its victims can have long-term and short-term effects, and can play a role in a victim’s decision to seek assistance.

“All the different types of abuse . . . go back to power and control,” said Sheryl Leah Zoldan, the director of Queens Criminal and Supreme Court Programs for Safe Horizon. “It’s always about power and control.”

Dr. Sandra Kaplan, the Director of the Division of Trauma Psychiatry at North Shore University Hospital-Zucker Hillside Hospital, said that difference in dependence can lead to abuse.

“It’s often if there’s a power disparity between the two partners, with one being less independent than the other,” Kaplan said. “There’s a situation that arises where there’s a great deal of dominance of one of the partners over the other.”

Isolation and restrictions on socialization are often associated with domestic violence, Kaplan said.

“It decreases their [the victim’s] self-confidence,” Kaplan said. “It often leads to depression, a sense of feeling hopeless and helpless and worthless.”

These factors, Kaplan said, can lead to a person staying in a relationship. She also noted that the victim tends to “love the person who’s the domineering partner.”

Safe Horizon social worker Nadine Bosson said the short-term and long-term effects of abuse can vary for each individual victim. In the short-term, she said the person may have low self-esteem, fear, self-blame, shame and embarrassment.

Long-term effects that Bosson said may be present include low self-esteem, difficulty finding healthy relationships, repeating the cycle by getting involved with another person similar to the abuser or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Bosson also said that, while some victims are immobilized by the abuse, others will instead feel mobilized by it.

“The mobility is really our chance to reach out to her and be here for victims that reach out for help,” Bosson said.

Kaplan said it can also be difficult for a person to leave the relationship if they can’t work, don’t have housing, are financially dependent or don’t have the resources to be independent.

Bosson said that there can be fear in seeking help and that victims might feel embarrassment or shame about it. Feeling that no one will believe them or understand them can also prevent victims from getting help, Bosson said.

The turning point when a victim decides to get assistance also depends on the individual, Bosson said. She said that at times it can be when the abuse escalates to a physical event, when they get to a point where they feel they can no longer tolerate the abuse or when they are no longer able to justify the abuser’s actions. Also seeing a physical mark and having visual recognition of the abuse can impact a victim’s decision to get help.

When a victim finally does leave the relationship, Kaplan said that it is often when the children are hit. She noted that in 50 percent of cases there is a co-occurrence between domestic violence and child abuse.

Bosson also said that seeing children involved in the violence or having them witness it can be a deciding factor. Zoldan said that she has heard many victims say that it was one thing when they were being abused but seeing their child hurt was a turning point.

Victims might also leave when they feel they have options, Kaplan said. This includes having social and financial support. Bosson said that recognizing there is help out that can influence some victims to make a change.

Being encouraged by the community, friends and family can also make a difference, Bosson said.

Once a victim has sought out help, Bosson said it is up to them if counseling is something that will they need.

“Women who receive counseling, help and have good support systems tend to have a better ability to heal, cope with the violence and make healthier choices moving forward,” Bosson said.

Kaplan said that it can be important for the victim and their children to have support and go through counseling since there might be a change in family structure that can be difficult to deal with.

Editor’s note: Dr. Sandra Kaplan was interviewed for this series on May 13. She passed away at the end of July.