The traumatic impact of intimate partner abuse.
A survivor of intimate partner abuse (IPA) experiences serious confusion on two fronts: inability to know help is needed and inability to identify the right help.
First, coercive tactics of abuse not only cause anxiety and create self-doubt but are hard to identify in the relational interaction. Second, the traumatic impact of IPA is known to cause cognitive confusion further inhibiting the ability to recognize and report their abuse. For the survivor of IPA to get back to a presence of self and agency, both abuse and its traumatic impact need to be identified and addressed in the healing process.
All Abuse Is Psychological
Intimate partner abuse refers to behavior within a relationship targeted by one to achieve power and control over the other by causing physical, sexual or psychological harm. Whether it results in physical harm, it is psychological in nature.
Abuse can be verbal and usually will result in emotional harm. Abuse includes tactics such as isolation, gaslighting, degradation, humiliation, and threats. Often these tactics are embedded in a partner’s behavior making them hard to see and, when cycled with positive attentive behaviors, makes the experience all the more confusing.
A 2018 study examining the resilience in women who experience domestic violence–psychological, physical, sexual, and other forms of violence–concluded that all types of abuse or violence are in essence psychological and the consequences of every type are psychological too (Konstantinos, et al).
Traumatic Impact of IPA
Trauma can be defined as a unique individual experience that results from an event, a series of events, or a set of ongoing circumstances experienced as physically or emotionally harmful, or even life-threatening that will have a lasting adverse impact on the individual’s functioning. When one is emotionally overwhelmed by abuse, one is not able to remain present or have a coherent understanding of what is taking place. One may not tolerate the feelings or comprehend the horror (Saakvitne, et al 2000).
The growing field of trauma-informed treatment lends important knowledge and tools to address the neurobiological source of trauma–emotions and somatic (body) experiences–for the survivor. For the most part, the traumatic narrative of abuse is less important to the survivor’s recovery than addressing the neurobiological symptoms in order to heal.