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When Home is a "War Zone": Intimate Partner Violence

Over the years I have women coming in for support with statements like "I don't know why I am so anxious all the time!" or "I cannot relax, always jumpy and constantly checking on my daughter a hundred times a night" or "I feel so unworthy and helpless, such a failure!" or "My partner says I need to get myself sorted out cause I have mental health issues" or "I just feel so depressed, so hopeless". On further questioning around family dynamics, family roles, and a multitude of other contextual issues it becomes clear that the person may in fact be experiencing post traumatic stress traits.

Sometimes the women explain I have been to my doctor or a psychiatrist and have a diagnosis for depression, post-traumatic stress traits, anxiety disorder, ADHD or obsessive-compulsive traits among other labels. Sometimes the couple come in for counselling and the dynamic between them is clearly demonstrated in the session. For example the woman may appear vacant, voiceless and somewhat anxious. She may seem to second guess her answers to questions or keep looking over to her partner for approval as she speaks. Alternatively her partner may simply answer any questions on her behalf, or speak over her while she suddenly retreats into the foreground. Often when one inquires as to what the presenting couple issues are the husband may describe scenarios that all equate the problem to solely the woman's mental health or something that she is responsible in a vacuum for. For example a couple recently visited my practice and when I inquired about the reason for seeking therapy, the husband shared how his wife's family and friends were not a "good influence on her", and therefore she needs to remove all contact for their relationship to thrive. On further sessions it became openly clear that he was in fact attempting to isolate his wife from her family and friends as a form of power and control. Other forms of control included his micro-managing her schedule during the day. She would go shopping and he would be texting her similar type texts such as, "don't be long in the store, you have things to do at home". Of course these tactics were never in isolation and always contextual for a label of "intimate partner violence".

However most of the women living in this dynamic were truly living on "autopilot" and were simply struggling to get through their days; almost as if akin to a soldier avoiding landmines in the middle of a war zone. There is no space, time or opportunity to process this routine existence that has become normalized, and to make sense of the underlying dynamic, but rather they "soldier on". However the long term affects are usually extreme anxiety, panic attacks, post traumatic stress related issues or a depression; therefore they mistakenly become labelled "the problem" not only by their partner, but ultimately by the doctors, the community and the wider system as having mental health challenges in a vacuum.

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