“Leaving isn’t a one-off event, it’s a journey.”
66 percent of all women with depression have experienced abuse in the home.
Whether the abuse is physical or emotional, the vast majority of women with mental illnesses like depression have encountered gender based violence, often leaving them with anxiety issues or PTSD.
Moving forward from an abusive relationship, or recognising that you might be in one, can take time.
The process can be emotionally straining with many women often left with trusts issues, as well as mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
It’s important to note that these feelings are valid and common for those who have experience of abuse.
Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin says that when a woman enters a new relationship after an abusive one, it’s not unusual to feel uneasy about trusting someone again.
“Sometimes, that wariness is thrown back at them,” she says. “We’d hear of women getting into new relationships after abusive ones and the new person soaks up all their anxiety and throws it back.”
Martin says that it’s important to recognise what is being felt and where it’s coming from.
“You should be able to feel confident in a new relationship without having to reveal all,” she says. “If you’re invested in something and you want it to work, you work at your own pace. You don’t always have to explain yourself.”
Although many women are able to leave abusive relationships, many others aren’t.
It’s not uncommon for some women to reject that anything is wrong. While this may be frustrating for a friend or family member on the outside, it’s often a question of ‘when’, not ‘if.’
“Denial can be a very powerful emotion,” Martin says. “It might not be convenient for anybody else, but she needs understanding and she needs patience.”
Martin explains that many women in abusive relationships live in hope that things will get better or that their partner will change.
The need to fix relationships is often engrained from a very young age and often, many women start to see a fault in themselves – where there is none.
“Women invest a lot in relationships, it’s very much a gendered thing” she says. “Growing up, the responsibility is loaded onto girls and not boys. That burden is problematic.”
“Some women think ‘If I just see it through it’ll get better.’ They believe that if their love is powerful enough he’ll change. It’s only a matter of time before they realise that they’ve loved him all they can, and that he’ll only change when he decides to.”
However, this denial doesn’t mean that the support of friends and family isn’t helpful – or entirely necessary.
Friendship is a key tactic for women in abusive relationships. Meeting for coffee outside the home, going for dinner, and even attending doctors appointments together can be crucial.
This attention is especially important if a woman leaves an abusive relationship – and then returns to it. As Martin puts it, “leaving isn’t a one-off event, it’s a journey.”
“There are stories of abusive partners eroding friendships and we’re more aware of that now,” she says.
“As a friend, you need to understand that she’s not here at the moment. And although that might seem obvious to you, and it can be really frustrating, that’s the reality.
“The support needs to be there when she leaves, but also if she goes back. Sometimes, domestic abuse can be a pattern, it’s a process. She needs to know you’re there for her whatever stage she’s at.”
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article you can contact Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that support cannot be provided via email.
November is Mental Health Month on Her, where we’ll be talking to you and the experts about some of the common – and the not so common – disorders and conditions affecting women in Ireland today.
You can follow the rest of our Mental Health Month series here.
Want to get in touch? Email me at Jade@her.ie.