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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Impact of domestic violence and abuse on women’s mental health

It is now generally recognised that experiencing domestic violence and abuse is associated with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. These issues can make the abusive situation even worse, as the partner or ex-partner may make use a mental health diagnosis (for example, telling someone that they’re ‘mad’). It can also be difficult for health professionals to see beyond the mental health issues and to recognise that an abusive relationship may be at the heart of the problems. It is, therefore, important that professionals recognise the wider impacts for those living in an abusive relationship, and are able to offer the appropriate support. 

Most of the women we interviewed suffered from anxiety and depression at some stage. Many had been on medication to treat depression, and a few had been ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act*. Many women were concerned that a diagnosis of mental health issues could be used by their partner against them in child residency and contact proceedings. This meant that they were reluctant to talk to their GPs (see ‘Getting help from doctors and other health professionals for domestic violence and abuse’) although when they did, some at least were given appropriate support. We also heard positive stories, with women such as Tina describing how much better she feels now that she is no longer in an abusive relationship.
 

After years of abuse and numerous suicide attempts Tina now feels ‘brilliant’ and has not attempted suicide for over a year.

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Age at interview: 50
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And is there anything you feel you’ve learnt from this whole experience? 

Oh I’ve learned a lot.

Yeah.

A helluva lot, believe me I’ve learned a lot. 

Yeah.

I’ve learnt a helluva lot. You never ever trust anyone. And that, that’s it. Even if the right one comes along you still won’t trust them.

No. 

And I’m being honest with you, you rather be on your own.

Hmm, yeah, sure.

And like I said to you I lived with my sister when I was sixteen. I met him when I was sixteen, I was with him the whole of the time then. For thirty years. 

Oh.

Didn’t know what it was like to live on my own.

No.

And now, I’ve done it. 

And what’s it like? 

Brilliant. 

Good.

Brilliant, I wouldn’t go back on it. I wouldn’t go back. Honestly. I would never ever, ever, ever go back. I’ve got my own little car - got no tracker on it. I’ve got my own little front door I can walk in. I can do what I want, I can have who I want in my house. If I want my friends in there I can have them in there. I can go out if I want to go out, I can go out. 

Yeah.

There’s nobody telling me that I can’t do what I want.

Yeah.

And I love it. Go bed when I want. I can watch TV when I want. It’s lovely. I love it and it just seems really weird because you go and you put the TV on and you think oh my God, sometimes, like, isn’t this lovely? You don’t have to answer to anyone or, do you want to watch this channel? You just sit there and watch it. You don’t, you don’t worry about things. Or, getting up to like make yourself a coffee and, and you’ve got no problems…

Yeah, yeah. 

…with it and it’s lovely. It is lovely. It is.

Yeah.

It’s like no rowing. Nobody looking at you funny and because your friends is in there, it’s just you do what you want.

Yeah.

And it’s brilliant. I love it. 

Yeah.

Now…

Good. 

…I really do.
Depression and anxiety

Some women described how the depression and anxiety they experienced carried on after leaving the relationship. Sometimes, they were not always sure at first what was wrong with them. Penny, described herself as feeling:

‘So crap I kept bursting into tears. …And not sleeping, waking up at three o’clock with scrambled egg brain. And I was just a wreck really. I just, yeah, I was bursting into tears all the time.’

Even after leaving the relationship, women described experiencing panic attacks, had flashbacks or nightmares, self-harmed, and suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. This could make it difficult to socialise or trust other people. As Penny explained, she felt angry with her ex-partner because he had ‘made [her] less trusting of people. More wary. Because he just took [her] in.’ (See also ‘Coercive Controlling Behaviour’, ‘Life after violence and abuse: ongoing harassment’ and ‘Emotional-pychological abuse and impact on self-esteem’.)
 

Sarah explained that the impacts of abuse stay with you, and that she still sometimes suffers with depression despite being in a new, good relationship.

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Age at interview: 32
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Do you think you're still experiencing impacts from that abusive relationship as your life goes on?

Yeah I think it stays with you your whole life. I can't imagine it going away. I try and think of the benefits, you know, I know what to look out for in other people and I can then now help people with it. But the ongoing, I guess I do suffer a little bit with anxiety sometimes and I have small bouts of depression every now and again. I just kind of for short periods I'll just slump and I'm usually able to pick myself back up again. I mean I'm lucky I'm married to the best person I know and he's very understanding because I think I struggle to show any vulnerability. 

Right. 

Because when I was with the ex if I did show any vulnerability it was just used against me every time. 

Oh. 

So it would even again be like well yeah that's because it's your fault, that's because you're stupid, or you know it was always just used, used against me all the time. 

Right. 

Or if, if I said anything in confidence then it would be used against me, it could be that he'd tell someone you know. It was always just put downs as well. So I do struggle with that a little bit but, not as much, not anywhere near as much as I used to. It doesn't sort of harm my marriage, it’s just I'm lucky that my husband is so understanding. Because he knows all about this... 
Irina also described her feelings of depression. She talked about her childhood dreams of being happily married, but the reality was that she was miserable and hoped her husband would go away:

‘You know, I was raised in love, and care, and respect. And I just, I couldn’t understand just lying and crying in bed, just, why, why someone can treat me like that. ...[As] a little girl I felt I’m going to have a husband, and I will be happy and we will have children and I will work and I will be perfect wife and he will be perfect husband, and everything will be nice. And suddenly I realised that my childhood dream stayed there and I’m in a dark, darkness, just crying, depressed all the time, waiting for him to go on business trips.’

Women such as Catherine found that the impact on their mental health left them feeling exhausted (see also Emotional-pychological abuse and impact on self-esteem’)
 

Catherine described feeling exhausted all the time whilst in her relationship, and then after leaving, realising that it was because of the abuse she was suffering (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 46
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How did his behaviour kind of affect you and impact on you when you were together? What was the biggest impact?

I think it just made me depressed, I think, actually, to be honest, because I had loads of blood tests and stuff at the doctors because I’d kept going in saying, “Oh, God, I’m just so exhausted, I can’t do anything, blah blah blah,” and she kept going, you know ... you know, “Are you feeling depressed?” and all the rest of it and I was like, “No, no no,” because I think I felt normal because it had been happening so slowly. 

Yeah. 

And I think it wasn’t until afterwards that I suddenly thought actually I bloody was, for years, just depressed in mood and depressed in, you know, behaviour and my personality and I think I just subjugated everything about myself that he didn’t like ... 

Yeah. 

... for the sake of the relationship. 
Getting help for mental health issues

Sooner or later, most of the women who experienced mental health issues approached their GP for help. Some felt that the GP really knew what to do for them. Melanie believed that because of the way she presented herself – always neat and tidy – that her GP did not know how to help her. Like other women, she also was scared of taking medication for depression or of being ‘labelled’ depressed – but eventually realised that she needed additional help in order to deal with the aftermath of being in an abusive relationship.
 

Melanie presented a positive image of herself by ‘putting on a mask’ whilst in an abusive relationship, which may have confused professionals.

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Age at interview: 42
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I found that I’ve, that, when I did go to the doctor when I was beaten up by my first partner when I came back to England, I went to the doctor’s then, because obviously a had a, my hand got bitten then and I don’t think the doctor knew how to help me. Because I do come across as a woman that’s very well-together, if that makes sense.

Out, if you’re looking at outer appearance it’s hard to explain what going on internally and if I didn’t know how to explain that I don’t think I would be able to get any help.

So despite all the terrible things that you’ve described to me that happened, you always felt able to present in a positive way like you say, you look up - together?

Yeah. Yeah, that’s one thing my mum’s taught me. You, no matter what’s going on behind closed doors, you put your clothes on and you put that mask on and you walk with your head held high. And that’s what I’ve done for most of my life, even when I’m in turmoil internally. I walk with my head held high, even if I’m screaming in, inside. Yeah.

And has that strategy been a good one for you?

I think it’s kept me here. Somehow. It’s kept me here somehow because I know that there’s a fight inside, I know there’s a fight, that I do have this fight [fire alarm]. 

I’m hoping that’s just a test.

OK.

I think if it’s real it’ll go on.

OK.

So we’ll assume it’s just a test [laughs]

OK. But I think if I’d looked a certain way, I think they would have understood it a bit more.

They, being?

Professionals. If I’d came in to the doctor as, while I didn’t feel like combing my hair and I didn’t comb my hair and I didn’t want to change my clothes and I didn’t change my clothes, I think they would understand it. But because I would do these things. Even if I didn’t have a shower I would still present myself in a way that probably was a bit confusing to professionals.
 

Mandy, depressed and unable to sleep was offered counselling and medication by her GP who also wrote the phone no. for Women’s Aid on the prescription.

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Age at interview: 37
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I think I realised that I had serious problem in the sort of September/October last year. I thought I was depressed, I wasn’t sleeping. I was having a hard time at work as well. I went to see my GP and she prescribed me antidepressants and signed me off for two weeks. She also put me forward for counselling because I said I, I felt like I was depressed and I was really struggling at work, it was having a negative impact on me. And I think it was the counsellor that first sort of flipped the switch in my head, and I thought, “Oh my God, she’s actually right”, and suddenly everything made sense. It wasn’t me that was depressed, it was him, and because of it he was making me miserable. As soon as I actually ended it, I felt free. 

So when, when did you go to see your GP, in the…

It was, it was in the October, because I was…

…Right. 

…still signed off for two weeks, last week of October, first week of November. 

So after it all?

Well, while I was, yeah, I think, I was on my first week when he attacked me. 

So, did you, what did you tell your GP? Did you discuss it like, what had been going on in your relationship with him or…?

Yeah…I can’t even remember, I know I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t think I was coming out of there with antidepressants, I thought I was coming out sleeping pills. I hadn’t slept properly for weeks. I was irritable. I was tearful. I was stressing, and I mentioned I was under-performing at work, and I probably said that I was snapping at him…

Did you say how he’d been to you?

I must have done, because on the prescription she gave me the phone number for Women’s Aid.

Right.

I can’t rem-, I honestly can’t remember, as I say … 

…She wrote it on there.

She wrote it on there, and told me what she’d done and I remember taking, taking these antidepressants and, everything just went a little bit soft-focus. I remember, they gave me an incredibly dry mouth, no amount of water could, could help with that and, I didn’t stay on them long. I think I maybe did three weeks…

Yeah.

…and I just felt so rubbish on them. It, but it took weeks for the dry mouth to go away. 
Partners using mental health as a means of abuse

Several women described ways in which partners used mental health issues as a form of abuse. Both Lindsay and Min, following manipulation and false allegations by their partners, were ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act*.
 

Lindsay was abused for years by her ex-husband who claimed that she was ‘mentally unbalanced’. Eventually, because of his lies and manipulation, she thought she had lost her mind, and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

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Age at interview: 35
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Then I finally got put in touch with someone through the rape, somebody, somebody gave me something to do with the rape thing, like a counsellor. And one of the ladies there was a specialist solicitor that could get you unlawful behaviour, cruel behaviour and, you know, get your marriage dissolved.

Yeah.

So I got in touch with that lady and that’s when me divorce proceedings started, four week after I got married. It took me three years to get rid of him. Wouldn’t sign the divorce papers, no. No one seemed to think that he had done anything, that he had done anything wrong to me, because it was all mental and, you know, well, internal physical. Then I got an injunction out against him where he wasn’t allowed to come within so many feet. He, he ran my and my eldest daughter’s car off the road, he wasn’t allowed to come within so many feet of us. So he’d stand across the other side of the road. Ring the police: “He’s not doing nothing.”

So he was just there watching you?

Wasn’t doing, in their eyes he wasn’t doing nothing wrong. Then he started to say that I was mentally unbalanced, I was sort of like stalking him, I was obsessed with him and if I was to ring the police again they’d have me for, I think it was wasting police time, some form of charge.

Yeah.

So my faith in the police and everything, I’d gone right within myself. He was also having an affair with my sister, my youngest sister.

When did you learn about that?

When I got, I ended up getting sectioned under the Mental Health Act, because I really did think that I’d lost my mind. But it wasn’t, it was they were doing things together, leaving things, just making me question everything and anything in my life, everybody, to the point of I even questioned my daughter, like was she in on it? So I got sectioned under the Mental Health Act. And my sister came, my sister came and she had a big scar down her face. He’d started to do it to her. They were having an affair and he’d started to do it to her.
 

Min spent a night in a mental health ward without her baby and was ‘sectioned’, following a false allegation of child abuse made by her husband (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 47
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Two hours later I had a knock on the door and it was the police. I actually thought he was dead. The first thing I said was, “Oh my God, is my husband dead?” And they said, “No, we’d like you to come in for questioning [sniffs].” And I’m like, “What?” I said, “OK, OK what about?” And they said, “Well we can’t tell you here. We’ll tell you at the police station. But could you come now please?” So my baby was in a [blows nose] child seat because he was all ready to go to the landlord’s to pay the debt, he was all good to go to sleep. So I said, “I just need to get the baby.” They took me down to the police station. I was in a room with my baby for seven hours. They kept saying all they would say to me was, “We’re taking a statement from your husband. When we’ve finished taking the statement we’ll take a statement from you.” They kept me there for seven hours.

Then at about – in the evening, I think five or six – I was panicking, my older child needed picking up from school. They said that that was being taken care of. At the time I didn’t realise what that was. I thought a friend or the father was picking him up. I had no idea what was going on [sniffs]. And then what happened was at about, I think, between 5.00 and 7.00 pm I heard voices outside the interview room, the room I was in. I the door opened, there was a woman there and there was a police officer. The woman looked at me, she looked me up and down and they closed the door and they talked. I didn’t hear what they were saying. And then the door opened again and the police officer said, “We’re going to take your baby to the hospital and to be examined.” And I thought, “I’m going with them.”

Of course, I was breastfeeding, he was seven weeks old. So I stood up. They, they took the baby in the little car seat and I stood up to go with them and the policeman had his hand there and went ‘woomph’ and pushed me in the chair and said, “You’re staying here [sniffs].” And [voice falters] they took my baby [sobs]. And I went crazy. I was hysterical. I was screaming, “Where’s my baby? I need to be with my baby. I need to be with my baby [sniffs]. Why can’t I go with my baby?” I had no idea what was going on because they still hadn’t told me. All they’d told me was, “We’re taking a statement.” Then [blows nose] that woman was there, and the police. So my baby had gone. I was absolutely hysterical.

And then they sectioned me.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Many women had been diagnosed with PTSD after leaving their relationships and were dealing with all the symptoms that can cause. Women suffering from PTSD needed specialist help (see ‘Getting help from doctors and other health professionals for domestic violence and abuse’).
 

Kate described the strain of dealing with child contact issues and being diagnosed with PTSD because of having lived in fear.

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Age at interview: 44
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And I think the last most difficult bit is that I can’t seem to get past it. I’m two, two years on from leaving and I don’t feel like I have at all got to grips with my own life or who I am or that I’ve moved on. We have been going through court for nearly two years to sort out access and contact, which is supervised. I don’t feel free of what has happened. Still dealing with the emotional fallout from my children and from myself and there’s not really an end in sight yet. 

And I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from, simply from having been living in a state of fear for so long. It’s not, it’s not classic post-traumatic stress from like a major incident like a car crash or something or a mugging or but I don’t function well. I, when I’m out in public I worry I’m going to see him. I worry that, well, I’ll bump into him with the children. I worry about what I would say, what I would do, that he would judge what I was doing. And there’s part of me that knows that it is fully, fully that it’s irrational but it doesn’t stop.

So those thoughts when you’re out and about, are they continuous?

Yes, it’s because I know what he’s, I still know what he would be thinking about what I’m doing. And I don’t know how you turn that off. You know, I lived my whole life worrying about what he was doing, what he would think about the choices I was making. And even now, two years out, if I go to Sainsbury’s, if I go out in public, if I go to a coffee shop, if I go shopping, it’s like in the back of my mind always, it’s, “Well he would think this about this. He would judge it this way. He would say this. He would think that.” And I don’t know how you turn that off.

So it’s an ongoing voice in the back of your mind?

Yeah.
 

After a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chloe was advised by her Support worker not to begin therapy until she was more ‘stable’ and had a fixed place to live (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 32
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You mentioned when we spoke on the phone that you had PTSD diagnosed, when did that come about?

It’s fairly recent actually. It’s not, I mean I was struggling with anxiety and, well, what was labelled as anxiety and depression which turned out to be PTSD really. It was just kind of waiting for all the symptoms to pop up and just…

What help are you getting with that?

…at first I was not able to have any counselling or anything over this period because I – what they said to me was, “You need to be stable, you need to be safe to open up,” and I wasn’t, I was couch surfing.

Who was saying this to you?

The [Domestic Violence and Abuse agency] workers or?

It was, it was [Domestic Violence and Abuse agency] workers and anyone else I’d been referred to for therapy, [local charity] I think was one.

Yeah, yeah I’ve heard of them.

They were all saying the same thing, “We can’t open it, it’s Pandora’s box, you know, until you’ve got – you know, you’re too unstable basically to do this.”

Right.

Which was agony, because the box was already open. But they were right, because I was being triggered left, right and centre from not having a stable home. so I’ve been here three months, and we’ve just started opening that and I’ve had a few therapy sessions.

Right.

It’s kind of like finding the right therapy as well because…

Of course yeah.

…at the moment the therapy I’m having is for domestic violence.

Right.

It’s looking at, it’s also looking in the direction of self-harm and eating basically. Because I now have a very weird thing to do with eating: the extremes of eating healthy and, you know, eating the things that are [unclear] make you space out and go away. And it’s only the beginning of that so…

Right yeah, and that’s from someone with a speciality in domestic violence counselling, yeah?

Hmm so really I need the PTSD person. They cost about £95 a session.

This other counselling, are you having to pay for that or is it available?

That’s also through [Domestic Violence and Abuse agency]. So I can only be referred for that once I’ve finished what I’m doing. I can’t do two at the same time.

OK.

So yeah, I’m actually pretty scared at the moment where I’m thinking this is not quite the right counselling, but I don’t really know what I need [laughs], you know, enough to just keep following and hopefully come to the right people.
Suffering from PTSD, in itself, can be a frightening experience as Sue described.
 

Sue described imagining things and going to her GP because she was worried that she was ‘losing’ her mind.

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Age at interview: 52
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Anyway, I don’t even know how I came about it, but, my doctor, GP said I’ve got post-traumatic stress disorder…

Yes.

…because I couldn’t sleep, I was off work for about eight months, I didn’t know, I thought I was schizophrenic actually because I didn’t know, if I’d put things onto Facebook or if I’d sent a, I kept thinking I’ve sent e-mails to my boss telling her to fuck off and stuff like that and, bizarre things that I didn’t know, it was almost like I didn’t know what day or time it was, what day it was I was very out of it, because I wasn’t sleeping, and then going to work and… anyway, I went because I thought, I was losing my mind really.

Yes.

But she said it’s this post-traumatic stress thing, because I’d had nightmares as well, and I thought…

Right.

…and even now, I still think, sometimes I think he’s in the bedroom, because he’d like creep around  the bottom of the bed to frighten me.
Flashbacks and nightmares

Another symptom of PTSD that women talked about was suffering from flashbacks and nightmares, which in some cases continued for years after leaving the abusive relationship. Anna, for example, vividly described having flashbacks of her ex-partner trying to suffocate her.
 

Anna was glad to be getting counselling as she was suffering from flashbacks and kept re-living the trauma of the abuse. She needed help to re-build her life.

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Age at interview: 47
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Yeah, It reopens the one, those, you get those periods of it all reopening, it’s hard to get through that because it’s, it’s you re, re-live it. You re, re-live the fear, you re-live the anxiety, the nightmares.

Yeah.

It’s a daily whole consumption thing. It’s hard.

So it’s still something you’re having to live with, this …

It’s something I still live with today. I mean, I’m hoping now with the counselling and it’s 20 weeks counselling …

20 weeks.

… so, and I am taking it all on board, everything. So, one of the handouts was about a memory box, and create that, so I’ve done that. And I’ve got an old box of photos and I’ve gone through them and I’ve actually got, because all around my house is photos of my children everywhere. And now I’ve actually got, on top of a chest of drawers that I go past everyday I’ve photos from the past that represent good memories.

OK. 

Because I have to remind myself there are good memories from the past.

Yeah.

They might not involve him but I, there was a life before him …

Yeah.

… and there could be a life after him. 

It’s kind of keeping those, those …

Yeah.

… those up there. And it sounds like the abuse has sort of had a great effect on, on how you think and feel about yourself.

Yeah, that’s still an ongoing…

Ongoing.

…process.
 

Yasmin talked about the mental ‘scars’ which have stayed with her and affected her confidence and self-esteem.

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Age at interview: 32
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How are you … are you alright in yourself?

I’m fine. The thing is … you know, every time you … have that so many scars in your memory …

Yes. Yes.

… even though they are only … you know, scars …

Yes.

… they don’t hurt you, but when you look at the scar the whole story will run out in your mind, oh I got this because of that, that always there.

The whole story runs out, yeah. Yeah.

That’s always hard. Sometimes you kind of say, ‘Oh how stupid I was.’ Sometimes you say, well … if you should … that time I go for hug. That every time you think differently.

Mm, yeah, yeah.

You can’t always blame yourself, ‘Oh how stupid’, or how weak I was. Every time you look at that scar it’s … with the time, with the confidence, with the self-esteem, every time your mind tell you a different story.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah I understand what you mean, yeah. 

So yeah, if I see … when I’m sleeping, because my daughter, she notice a few times … Daddy used to drive Mummy from one bed … if I used to sleep with her ...

Right.

… a few nights to be able to be safe.

Yes.

But he, either pick me up to take to other room, or either drag me.

Yes.

Either way. So … now they don’t have to see that anymore.

Mm. Good. 

I don’t have to sleep with him to get my children … McDonald’s.

Yes. Good.

So yes there are lots of positive things, but scars are there.

Right. Of course they are, yes.

So I think with the mood swings, with … your confidence and self-esteem level, every time you tell different to yourself because of this happened.

Yes. Do you think it’s had any lasting effect on your actual health?

It does kind of make you drained. There are a few days when I feel ‘Oh gosh, I can’t do anything.’
 

After having been in two abusive relationships, Stephanie found that she ‘almost conflated’ the two partners and still had nightmares about the abuse.

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Age at interview: 39
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Would you say you’re still experiencing impacts from the domestic abuse that you’ve had in…

Yes.

…these two relationships? 

I am, yeah.

What, what way would you say?

Nightmares. Still having nightmares about it. I’ve almost conflated the two people now. Like I said they looked very similar, they bought their clothes from the same clothes shop. It’s almost, it was almost, it was almost funny when I first… I went round to the most recent person’s apartment, saw all his clothes, saw the labels and I was just shocked [laughs] and this is going to sound very silly, but they even used the same facial moisturizer. 

[Laughs]

And men don’t often use facial moisturizer, but these two used it and they both smoked and they, they looked very similar. And yeah so I, I happened to see my the recent ex’s photograph the other day I feel quite, quite betrayed actually because we’ve got mutual friends who knew exactly what happened but have sided with him over me. Well I’m not so sided, but it’s they’ve not judged his behaviour in any way and they’re still friendly with him which I find quite difficult. And I happened to see his picture the other day on social media and that was it. Just had nightmares for the next few nights. And that happens occasionally. 
Hypervigilance and panic attacks 

Some women described being ‘hypervigilant’ (constantly on edge for any signs of danger) and many also suffered from panic attacks and found it hard to relax. Mandy said:

‘I was always looking over my shoulder. I always lock the car door as soon as I get in. I always keep my front door locked.’
 

Melanie described feeling as if her head was ‘mush’ at times and being hypervigilant in listening out for doors opening in case her ex was trying to come in.

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Age at interview: 42
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I can tell you what the impact it’s had on me.

Yes, yeah.

I’ve been drinking for many years. I’m now not drinking. Because I’m dealing with it now. Psychologically, my head is just a mush a lot of times. One day I’m fine a few days ago I was just a complete mess. I didn’t know whether I was going or coming. I mean, I can do the mum role because that, I do that with my eyes closed. And they are my world. So I can do the mum role. Sometimes not being able to shower, to eat, to sleep. Feeling numb. Knots in my stomach. Being hypervigilant. Listening to doors going. I’m hearing it and I, and I’m already thinking, “Is there somebody coming in?” There’s just so many things. I, I had agoraphobia, wasn’t able to leave the house at some stages. I was taking medication, as in medication, I was taking co-codamol tablets but I was given those by my ex- at that point, he was supplying me with them and keeping me numb as well as the drink. I smoked weed as well. But that was him as well. The, you know, these are the things that kind of kept me in my place, kept me quite reserved. Repressed. I financially didn’t know how to pay my bills, so I’m learning how to do that.
Lindsay described tying strings to doors so she could see if anyone had tried to get into her home.
 

Lindsay described how her life had been ‘wrecked’ by her ex-partner. She had constant anxiety, PTSD, and had to monitor her house in case anyone tried to break in.

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Age at interview: 35
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He just changed my life, just totally changed my life. Don’t really go out anymore, suffer with postnatal depression. I have panic attacks, don’t trust anybody. Just don’t no, just wrecked my life.

So what’s been the biggest impact?

My child, me eldest daughter had to leave and go and live somewhere else with her dad. And me youngest daughter got taken off me and put into foster care.

As a result of his behaviour?

Yeah, because the police wouldn’t help us, even though we reported him to the police and the local authority. It was too late, they decided to intervene when it was far too late.

Just thinking back, so those few weeks when you were together, just thinking about that time specifically, what impact did that abuse have on you at that time, in that short-term? How did it affect you, who you were, what you were thinking, what you were doing?

Broke my spirit. I had me own business, used to be a holistic therapist, couldn’t do that. He was coming in and harassing my clients so I had to give my business up. I was isolated, didn’t trust anybody. I tried to commit suicide. Just I can’t like a prisoner. It wasn’t, it wasn’t like me, it was like I was a prisoner of war, it really was. It was a strain. There was sexual gratification if and when he chose to come round to me house, ringing the police, the police were saying, “We can’t do anything,” because we was married and he owned the things to the house. No financial support because everything was in his name. Hmm strange it was. Still makes me anxious now, I’m still.

Yeah, so you’ve got post-traumatic stress?

Yeah still have that. 

It’s still with you now?

Yeah still.

And when was that diagnosed?

Don’t really know. Two, 15, I’ve had that for - my eldest daughter’s eleven about a year after my eldest daughter was born, through – my youngest daughter, through rape, continuously raping me, other things as well but. Yeah, still get treated for that. Still have night terrors, still put a string on me doors and hairs on me doors to see if anybody’s been in while I’ve been out. hmm.

So lots of ongoing impacts as a result of

Yeah.

What he did to you and to your family as well?

I don’t walk about much on me own, because I get very, very anxious, very paranoid, because he’s just come out of jail. Hmm he’s, at the moment he’s not long been out of jail so it’s all like stirring it back up, back up for me, even though the police say, “Oh, he can’t come near you, he’s got different orders against him,” he had all them last time. So my house is all CCTV.
For a while after leaving, Ella said she had to be accompanied when she went shopping because she had panic attacks.
 

Ella explained that she no longer trusts men and sleeps with windows and doors open because otherwise she feels trapped (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 27
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What effect has it had on you really, as a person, on your life?

Trust, I don’t trust men at all. Even now, after all these years, if I [deep breath] go on a date or things like that, I already feel like I have to be ten steps ahead. Like I just, I lose all, I’ve lost all trust in men.

Right.

I feel, when I go to sleep, I have to sleep with all the doors open. The front door’s got to be locked, but I don’t like being enclosed in a bedroom, have to sleep with the doors open, my living room door, my bedroom door open. I need, I don’t like feeling trapped.

Right.

I was suffering with a lot of panic attacks after this had happened. I couldn’t go out shopping on my own; I used to have to go food shopping with my mum or a friend. Sometimes I’d get to the till and have such a bad panic attack I’d almost have to walk out.

Have you had any medical help with panic attacks or?

Yeah, I was going to the doctor’s a lot, but they, they sent me on a stress course, that was it. And I did have some counselling with the, with the doctor’s surgery, but I think you only have so many. I think I was allowed six sessions, it was something like that, and then that’s when they sent me on a stress, stress course then.

Was the counselling helpful at the time or ?

Yes, yeah it was, but I just wish it lasted longer.

Yeah. What about the stress course, was that helpful or?

It was, it was, but it wasn’t, when I went to the stress course it was how to deal with stress, and it seemed more like in the workplace and stress.

Oh right yeah.

Things like that. It’s not, it wasn’t about the abuse. I feel the most helpful was Women’s Aid.
Feeling like you’re going ‘crazy’

Many of the women described doubting their sanity at times. Shaina said: I felt like I was going crazy. …Because he made me believe I was crazy.’ 

Kanya described having medication and counselling but realised the only way to feel better was to get away from her partner.
 

Kanya described how her husband would make her feel ‘crazy’, and how she felt upset all the time.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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And when you started getting ill with the psoriasis and everything and you went to the doctor…

Yeah.

…did you talk about what was happening at home at all to him?

Yes.

Was that helpful to tell your doctor what was going on or?

Doctor sent me to see people about [size?], something to talk.

Yes.

Yeah, and I’ve been there like every week to talk. And I got some, I take some pills, because I start to become like become kind of give up about everything, I’m so upset about everything, so I just feel really down that time. I just feel like I couldn’t, I couldn’t handle everything. So doctor gave me to that, to help me there. 

Was that helpful, talking to that person?

I didn’t feel it’s helpful at all. I just feel like everything stuck in my head. Even I tell people, but still, not really go anywhere. I still deal with situation, I deal at home and it’s, “What’s the point?” And I just, I have said to doctor like, “I just want to have somewhere to live, like far away from him.”

And just have easy life, you know, just have normal life without him. Because he’s the one he’s just put everything in my head, he’s kind of made me crazy all the time. And doctor said to me like they have no power to do anything like that anyway. So, but they have write some letter to the housing benefit like, you know, I need some help, I need some. But when they read that they said, “Oh, the psoriasis is nothing wrong, so you, you OK. If still married you still can stay in that house.” You know, they just come back to me like, “You have right to live there.” And then when I went to the police, the police said to me like, “Yeah, you have right to live there, but you don’t want to live like that, it’s make you crazy.” Then police said like, “You need to get some help. You need to go some, somewhere else, because this is make you crazy.”
A few of the women used the term ‘gas-lighting’ to refer to their experiences of abuse. This is a term used to describe a technique of psychological manipulation that makes the person doubt their own sanity*.
 

Min explained how her partner would ‘gas-light’ her – making her think she was mentally ill – by moving things around (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 47
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Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about, you said there was abuse in that relationship, perhaps you could tell me a little bit about the nature of the abuse in that relationship?

He used to, my mother’s Thai, and he used to accuse, say things like my mother must have been a prostitute, I probably don’t know who my father was, she probably doesn’t know, she must have slept around.

I used to get really angry. I used to throw things at him. He used – my sister is schizophrenic and she’s been in and out of mental institutions since she was 14 and – excuse me [blows nose] – she – he used to sort of say schizophrenia was catching, he probably thought I, he thought I had it. And he used to, you know, he used to really gas-light me. I was terrified of being diagnosed with a mental illness. I was absolutely terrified, because I’ve seen what happened to my sister. She’d had electric shock therapy, you know, and we’d visited her in hospital. And I was absolutely terrified it would have happened to me. And he used to do things, like leave things in a certain place and then they wouldn’t be there, to make me think I was going crazy. And at the time I didn’t really understand how he worked.
 

Stephanie experienced ‘gas-lighting’ from her partner, who lied and tried to manipulate her, and who told her that she had ‘psychological problems’.

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Age at interview: 39
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And when you were in a relationship with this person what would you say the nature of the abuse was? Perhaps you can tell me about how it built up and how it developed and so on. 

It was, it was emotional abuse and he didn’t behave very well. He was actually living with somebody and we I wouldn’t have an affair with him. We both fell for each other in work, but I said, “Well, I’m here if you want me, but you have to, you know, I’m not going to have an affair”.

So he left his girlfriend eventually, but kept going back and forth between us and, and there was a lot of lying, a lot of manipulation a lot of sort of gas lighting where they say they told you something, but they clearly they know that they haven’t. A lot of blame, I think I reacted fairly normally to some very unpleasant situations but because I told him about this previous relationship that I’d had perhaps I’ve reacted a little bit worse than somebody else would have done. And then in the end when he decided he wanted to go back to his ex-girlfriend he blamed the breakdown of the relationship on the fact that I well, he said I needed psychological help. 

Which and I’d only reacted badly because he’d done things like ignored me with, with the silent treatment. So after building me up and saying he wanted all these things and then just completely switched off and then said, “No, it’s because you need psychological help and that’s why the relationship’s not worked out and I’m going back to my ex-girlfriend”. Who eventually, who wouldn’t have him back actually, but yeah, so. 

So how did that all leave you feeling?

Suicidal. Really. 

Really? Gosh.

Yup, yup, yup. I was not in a good place nine months ago. 
Self-harming

Another impact on mental health was described by several of the women who felt so low that at times they self-harmed, or, in some cases, made suicide attempts.
 

Kanya became suicidal when she realised there was no escape from her partner, who kept the child benefit, when she lost her job.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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He just talked to me like a animal.

Yeah.

Just swearing every word he just say, he swear in everything. So I just and I said to him like, “I’m going to move out. I don’t want to.” And he said, “You can move out, do whatever you want.” I have separated from him about three months before, but I have, I have nothing. So even the kid’s benefit he always take everything, I never have that.

Right, so you didn’t have your own money?

No, I don’t have anything. I only work and then got that money. If I don’t work I don’t have money. He don’t really give anything.

So you separated for three months, but then you went back again?

Yeah, because I find really hard. I had nowhere to live so I had to ask my boss in restaurant like to stay you know, really like garage or something they keep for staff, and then I just got bed in there. And then I bring the kids to stay with me and then I said like, “I need somewhere to live. I don’t want to live with you anymore. So I need some of the benefit and then I will go, help to get somewhere to stay, just me and the kids.” And he don’t want to give me anything. He said, “You can take the kids. You can go.”

Right.

And then he just said like and that time he just stay in the house on his own, drinking, don’t care about anything. But he don’t, he won’t give me for the transfer the benefit or anything. Just tried to give me a hard life and, and thinking like, “Let’s see,” and he always said like, “You don’t know anything about England so you’re not English people, you don’t know. You think you know better. No one can help you,” and blah, blah. And he said like, “I can send you back to Thailand any time I want.” And I was just like, “Well, it’s really difficult for me.” I’ve been to ask help and everything but they’re just like, “We’re sorry, we can’t do anything.”

Who did you ask for help from?

I’ve been to the housing and benefit.

Yes.

And they said, “Everything works by paper. You need to get the kid’s benefit and then, you know, or maybe you have to be homeless,” and blah, blah. And really, really difficult that time, because I have to cope with work and cope with the kids and cope with somewhere to live.

Yes, yes.

So I’d been like that for a year and it was making me so ill, and I’d just like even become more and more. And then I start to feel like I don’t want to live anymore, so I tried to kill myself twice, so that. And then after that I feel, because the kids around here and then I just I can’t again. But that time I just feel like, “That’s it, only way I can deal with this, die, that’s it.”

Yes, yeah I can understand that. So the three months you were just living by the restaurant?

Yeah.

Then you had to go back really because

Yeah, I had nowhere to go.
Others, such as Stephanie explained that they wanted to ‘hurt’ themselves. 

‘…I feel quite ashamed about this actually, I did self-harm a couple of times as well, I have a scar on my wrist where I went at myself with a pair of scissors because I was just so upset with myself …for being in that situation and I wanted to hurt myself for it.’
 

Jacqui described cutting her arms with razors in order to release some of the emotional pain she was feeling, and finally approaching her GP for help.

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Age at interview: 59
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We’ve touched on some of this already, but if we could just explore in a little more detail in terms of the impact of domestic abuse, when you were in that relationship how did it impact on you emotionally and psychologically?

Emotionally and psychologically I became very depressed, extremely depressed. I used to self-harm. I used to cut my arms with razors because I just had so much pain inside of me and it was the only, only thing I could do to release any of the pain. And I ended up going to see the doctor and getting antidepressants. And that was just then another rod for him to beat me with to say that I was going mad as well. So that was the ever decreasing cycle going on there.

I was just so isolated. At work I was telling people fibs about bruises. And it was afterwards I actually found out that my colleagues had suspected something, but it was always the elephant in the room.

Right.

And nobody felt they could actually ask me outright. I told lies. When he broke my ribs I told people at work that I’d been hanging curtains and I’d slipped and broken my ribs on the windowsill. So I was ashamed. I was ashamed.
Anna also described self-harming ‘to get some of the pain out. …I would pull my hair out. Just, just to take some pain.’


Whereas some women used more obvious means to hurt themselves, others used alcohol and drugs as a way to escape the abuse they were experiencing.
 

Jane said she had needed a ‘crutch, just to get [her] through the day’ that led her to drink alcohol and take prescribed medication in excess.

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Age at interview: 46
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Because, you know, they [health professionals] could never quite understand as to why I suffered so badly from the, the pain I was suffering and how I was getting through so, so many tablets and everything suddenly sort of like started to make sense. But like the impact of that health-wise is I still now have to take a pill sometimes when I feel stressed.

Right.

It’s, it’s something that doesn’t go away. It’s now a lot, lot, lot better than what it was, because I was doing that all the time. But I still get that moment, I suppose it’s like a, a smoker having to give up cigarettes or an alcoholic having to give up alcohol, you still get those moments when you feel that you need that, that crutch, just to get you through the day.

Yeah, so that again was control. So, you know, we was out cutting the grass, was going to have a, roast dinner, the neighbour was out down the bottom and she offered me a glass of wine, had a glass of wine, then had another glass of wine. I offered to go and help to cut their grass, which he wasn’t very happy with, but I still did. And of course then whilst I was round there I helped myself to another glass and another glass, because it was freedom for those, those few, you know, minutes, it was actually that I, I had something that I could control rather than him control it. And I could have that alcohol because that would blot, you know, you know, blot out everything that was going on, would blot out his nagging and his getting upset and all this, that and the other because, you know, I didn’t care. At that point I was I was drunk. I didn’t care. So then later on of course this led to a massive argument. My daughter was born at the time, she was quite young, she was clinging onto me. Massive argument, I shut the door and he broke it down with his foot rather than use the key. He had a key in his hand, he could have opened the door but, no, he didn’t. He was so cross that he actually kicked the door and he kicked the front door in, you know. all the time saying, “I just want to talk to you, I just want to talk to you,” but at the same time I knew that he wanted to have a moan at me and a nag at me for what I’d done and, you know, to make me think that I was the bad person that, you know, just having a bit of fun or just having, you know, just having a few drinks was wrong.
 

Kanya drank alcohol to deal with her feelings of hate towards her partner. It also helped her to sleep but eventually she decided it was better to get help and talk about her difficulties.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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But I have so much problem stopping my hate. I can’t really tell people. When I start to say and reaction I have it’s kind of opposite, and people start to think like, “She’s crazy.” And I just come back tell myself, “Am I going crazy?” And I start to like I can’t sleep. I have so many problems, you know. And I start to drink alcohol for drink. And then, and then I went to talk with these people and she said like, “How do you sleep?” I said, “I can’t sleep.” So, “What do you do if you can’t sleep?” I said, “I just have some wine.” First I start, it’s very good, one glass of wine make me sleep. And then after this didn’t help, so I got two glasses.

Yeah.

And then after I go for whole bottle. And then after even bottle it didn’t really do anything. And then they said to me like, “Don’t use the alcohol otherwise you will come to addicted.” And then, yeah, I’ve been to talk with people and then I just like, “OK.” And I have to, I think it’s all, everything, you have to remind yourself and try to work out by yourself is the best way. But it’s not easy for anyone, you know, when you’re stuck in that. For me, I lost everything. I lost every moment, every situation I feel lost about everything. I don’t know what I’m doing, what my life’s about, what I’m going to do. And after I’ve been through everything, because I am so ill and then I go back home, I talk with lots of, you know, my family and everything, and after that I just feel like I’ve got my kids, so it doesn’t matter what happened, just I have to be there for my kids. And I start to feel strong because of, thinking like alcohol is not going to help. Whatever you’re doing, things like that is make things worse. It’s not going to make thing work. So I start to thinking like be more sensible to do things and then get some help, talk more with people whoever can.
A few women, including Tina and Min described their partners actually encouraging them to kill themselves.
 

Tina described her son passing on a supply of tablets from her partner and being told to ‘just kill yourself’.

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Age at interview: 50
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So, my son come in he said, “Do us all a favour”. And I said, “What”? He said, “Just kill yourself.” Put the tablets on the bed, he said, “My dad give me them to give to you, there you go”. Chucked them on the bed. 

Gave him what to give you?

Tablets, paracetamol and steroids. And, yeah, it was paracetamol and steroids and Neurofen I think and so I just took the lot.

You did take them? 

150 paracetamols, eighty something steroids and I think it was forty-two Neurofen, yeah so I took them.

How long ago was this?

That was, I don’t know how long has been gone, he’s been gone since 2012. 

Right, a few years.

Yeah, yeah.

So what happened? You’ve taken all those drugs, what happened? 

I took them all and then they got me an ambulance. 

Who got it?

My daughter. Got an ambulance. And I got out there and they let me back home, I seen a psychiatrist and she said, “No, you’re just badly depressed. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just depressed”. So they let me come home, I was let out on Saturday in the morning, he come in and said, “You can’t drive the car down to the field, but you can come now with me to take the kids”. And then he kept saying, “I need a cup of coffee”. Saying, “We’ll drop the kids and go by the lakes and we’ll try to sort it out right”. So I thought, sort it out…

Yeah.

…he’s going to say I’ll leave you alone blah, blah, blah and all that lot. So then and I’m not thinking straight. So I said, yeah, all right, go down to the lakes, he said, “Don’t jump out try and drown yourself mind”. 

Hm. [laughs]

And I made a comment, I was laughing and said, “Hahahaha. I can swim, all right”. Straight away do you know what I mean? So how am I going to drown? You can’t. And that was my comment. Then, he just, oh he was going on and on and on I can’t be with you. I hates you, you’re just trash oh blah, blah, blah trying to drag me back down again. And then we went to the garage up by the lakes and there’s some gas canisters and he said to me, “Don’t go by them and light up a fire”, he said, “And blow yourself up mind”. Just basically trying to tell me, go on do it. Sort of thing. But he wasn’t the way he was saying it. And then, I said, just “I’m going to get out of the car”. He said, “Don’t”. “Just take me back down to the kids”. Well we got down to pick the kids up and he was as nice as pie to me, “Oh do you want a fag”, in front of the kids like and when I got home I got out of the car and I said, “Just, please don’t come near this house again”, I said, “I mean, I don’t want you near it”. He said, “You can’t stop me”. And I walked in the house and I said to, told my daughters “Go to Tesco’s for me and get some, some food” and they went to Tesco’s. I tried to kill myself again. Took a load of tablets again. I took, this time I took a 152 paracetamols. It was, what was it … 152 paracetamols and 89 antibiotics and 92 steroid tablets. 

So, again someone got an ambulance for you did they?

They come home and caught me is when they come back from the shops, they found me. 

Ah.

And got me an ambulance again and he just phoned up and said, “She needs sectioning”, he did, he phoned up and said, “She needs sectioning … she’s mental you just … why can’t you see that she’s crazy. She keeps trying to kill herself and all that lot. She doing it in front of my kids, my kids shouldn’t be in there” and oh it just escalated from there. And the psychiatrist I’m seeing said, “No, she’s not. She’s just badly depressed. Leave her alone and she’ll be fine”.
*
Being 'sectioned' is the term that is often used when someone is detained under the Mental Health Act. The Mental Health Act is the law which can allow someone to be admitted, detained (or kept) and treated in hospital against their wishes.
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