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Life after domestic abuse


The mental and emotional scars of past abuse can significantly influence a survivor’s future

Mental Matters
Jannah Walshe

Domestic abuse is hard enough. Leaving it behind can be even harder. But what about the years that follow? What happens then?
Thankfully, there are lots of supports available to help someone experiencing domestic abuse, and to help them to get out of that situation when they are ready to do so. But imagine you have done all that, you have done all the hard work, and you are still feeling the after effects. Would you know what to do then for yourself?

The aftermath
Firstly, what is domestic abuse? It is a pattern of coercive/threatening, controlling behaviour used by one person over another within a close or intimate relationship.
Domestic abuse includes physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and/or financial abuse. In most cases, women are the victims of domestic violence and male partners (husbands, boyfriends or exs) the perpetrators. However, domestic violence can also occur between family members, between same sex couples and between female perpetrators and male victims.
Even if a survivor is successful in escaping from a violent relationship, the scars of past abuse can significantly influence their future. Being abused by someone who should be trustworthy and nurturing has a huge impact on the victim of that abuse.
Depression is by far the most-common symptom of domestic violence, both in the short and long term.
The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that many victims feel has a deeply undermining effect on their mental and emotional wellbeing.
The list of common mental and emotional effects of domestic violence is long and varied. It includes depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and a questioning of your sense of self, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or attempts, alcohol and drug abuse, feeling worthless, hopelessness, apprehensiveness, feeling discouraged about the future, changes in sleeping and eating habits, difficulty trusting again, communication challenges, questioning and doubting spiritual faith, feeling unmotivated, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts.
What you can do
Will the effects of abuse ever go away? They can, if you make a conscious effort to address them. Talk to someone about it. Much like when you spoke up about the abuse and it helped to end it, it’s the same for abuse side effects.
The more you talk about it, the quicker it will get better.
Find a good therapist, support group or domestic violence organisation. Get support. Educate yourself on what you are going through. Knowledge helps it all feel less scary and more manageable. Self-defence or fitness classes can help build up confidence.
It may feel like a slow process, but it is possible for the abuse and its lingering side effects to become less and less a part of your life until you reach the point where you rarely even think about it.

Don’t be alone
If you are being or have been affected by domestic abuse, there are several places to which you can turn.
Mayo Women’s Support Services (MWSS) is the lead agency in the county providing a range of supports for women and children living with domestic violence. Supports at MWSS include crisis accommodation, supports for children who have experienced domestic violence, an  outreach service in 12 locations throughout the county, accompaniment and advocacy, and educational workshops for students and young adults. The service can be contacted at mwss@eircom.net or 094 9025409, 094 9027519 or 087 6569672, or visit www.mwss.ie.
Amen is a dedicated support service for male victims of domestic abuse in Ireland, providing crisis intervention, helpline support and face-to-face supports to victims. It promotes the empowerment, dignity and equality of male victims. Amen also provide safety planning, emotional help, advocacy and practical support with housing, education and health and assistance to access appropriate benefits. For more information, contact Amen on 0818 222240 or 046 9023718, or visit www.amen.ie.
Too Into You (www.toointoyou.ie) is an online service that offers information for younger women. Here, a teen or young adult can find out about the signs of dating abuse, take the relationship health check and look at the ways they and their friends can stay safe online. There is also an accessible quiz designed to help someone determine whether their relationship is healthy.

Useful contacts
Contacts (in Mayo where possible) for other organisations that offer supports relevant to domestic abuse victims include Mayo Rape Crisis Centre, freephone 1800 234900, www.mayorapecrisiscentre.ie; Legal Aid, Castlebar, 094 9024334, or the Legal Aid Board, www.legalaidboard.ie; MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service), 0761 07 2670 (south Mayo) or 0761 07 2660 (north Mayo), www.mabs.ie; The Family Centre, Castlebar, 094 9025900, www.thefamilycentre.com; Waterside House, Galway, a 24-hour refuge, 091 565985; Safe Ireland, www.safeireland.ie; the Citizens Information Centre www.citizensinformation.ie.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at info@jannahwalshe.ie or 085 1372528.