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Addressing feelings of helplessness in an abusive relationship

Unfortunately, domestic violence cases are not uncommon. About 15% of all violent crimes involve intimate partners, and nearly one in four women will experience severe physical harm from an intimate partner.

In addition to threatening an individual’s physical safety, an abusive partner can leave a lasting psychological impact on victims as well as any children of the relationship. One of the most detrimental effects of abuse can be a feeling of overwhelming helplessness. These feelings can often keep victims from leaving the abusive cycle.

Common consequences of abuse

It is common for victims of an abusive relationship to feel powerless in their situation. Many even start to internalize the abuse and blame themselves for it. These feelings are so common, that medical professionals have categorized these common behaviors as symptoms of a specific condition called Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS).

BWS is a subcategory of PTSD. Symptoms of the disorder include:

  • Taking blame for the abuser’s actions
  • Having an irrational fear that their abuser is omnipresent
  • Fearing for their safety but also fearing seeking help
  • Exhibiting depressive behaviors such as reduced social engagement

Why does BWS develop

BWS develops as a result of the cycle of an abusive relationship. Abusive partners go through a cycle of romancing the victim, creating tension, acting abusive, expressing remorse and then lulling the victim back to a sense of safety. This cycle causes victims to be worried about setting their partner off and to make excuses for their partners’ behaviors.

Seek help

Breaking the cycle of an abusive relationship can be difficult. In addition to abusers inducing feelings of guilt in the victim, they can often be overly controlling. If you’ve been abused, you should know that you’ve done nothing wrong, and while it may seem overwhelming and frightening, you do have options for getting out of the situation.

Talking about the problems in your relationship is often the first step to validating your experience and helping you recover. You can talk to trusted friends and family, a therapist or reach out to a domestic violence hotline.

The most important thing during this process is maintaining safety. In many cases, you may be unable to talk about these problems without upsetting your abuser. This means you may have to physically leave to start recovering.

If you decide to leave, you should devise a plan to safely get away from your partner. Do not hesitate to contact law enforcement for assistance if you are in danger.

Legal considerations for leaving

If you are married to your abusive partner and are planning to leave, there are some legal aspects that you should be aware of. Leaving the house before a divorce is finalized can often cause penalties with child custody and possession of the home. However, the courts make exceptions for situations involving violence and abuse, but you may need to contact the court once you’ve left the house.

If you fear for your safety, get away as quickly and as safely as possible. However, once you are safe, you may want to contact a lawyer to help you identify your next steps so you aren’t penalized for seeking safety.

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The Law Offices of C. Lee Hewitt
39510 Paseo Padre Pkwy
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Fremont, CA 94538

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