Silent Torture: Removing the Veil off the Psychological Violence Against Women
As I reflect on my own life, stories from female friends and family, coaching anecdotes, and recent news, I’m finding an unfortunate but common trend: survivors of psychological violence. This type of violence is different from other types because it does not leave physical marks; however, it leaves scars that wounds one’s mental psyche far beyond the bruise of a physical scar. Psychological violence results from exposure to abusive behaviors such as gaslighting, psychological trauma, racism, sexism, name-calling, emotional withholding, verbal insults, and manipulation. Constant exposure to these behaviors lead to anxiety, diminished self-esteem, mental exhaustion, depression, ptsd, and other traumatic stress disorders. We also see the physical impacts from lack of sleep, increased sleepiness, excessive weight gain/loss, hair loss, acne, loss of energy, and mental fatigue.
Many of us suffer in silence, afraid to share our daily experiences of psychological abuse at work, home, and in intimate relationships. Perceived and real concerns of “not being believed” or seen as “being too emotional” is enough to muzzle any woman to stay quiet in the midst of her slow demise into silent torture. Power dynamics and loyalties complicate these nuanced relationships thus making it difficult to publicly name her aggressor that may be her supervisor, coworker, lover, friend, or family member. The nuance stems from shock on 3 levels: 1) shock that it is actually happening, 2) shock that this person is the perpetrator, and 3) shock/frustration at yourself that you didn’t stop it.
If/when she recovers from the shock, she embarks on a process of forgiving herself (which some of us never get pass this step). Then accepts reality for reality, she is a survivor of psychological violence. From there, she attempts to do one of four things: stay silent, name the behaviors to her aggressor with hopes of changed behavior, limit contact, or end contact. The decision on which route to take causes extreme mental fatigue and trauma due to the power dynamics and nuances of the relationships. No matter the decision, she knows that she needs support — emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Especially in cases where the ability to end the relationship is more complicated due to finances, familial or relational bonding, career jeopardy, physical abuse, and reputation backlash. All throughout, she feels immense shame and the continual residual shock of “how did I get here?” In a best case scenario, she connects with a therapist to guide her on the healing, forgiveness, and self-recovery journey. I could spend pages upon pages elaborating on her anguish but for the sake of our human attention span, I’ll wrap it up.
Survivors: If you’ve experienced psychological violence, you are not at fault. You are not alone. I stand with you. You also have countless other female survivors standing with you. No job, opportunity, or relationship is worth your mental health and self-worth. I repeat, you are not to blame and you can rebound. Working with a therapist can help you understand how you got to where you are and how to regain normalcy in your life. If you need support, I’m happy to partner with you on the journey and connect you with a therapist. I’m taking a stance to end the silence and to break this silent killer of women.
Friends/Family: If someone tells you that they’ve experienced psychological violence, listen to their story, don’t make them seem “irrational,” and encourage them to get support from a therapist. It took an immense amount of courage for them to tell you what happened. Some may say, what if she is lying? Very few (and I mean few) women will make up this type of abuse (as with ppl who experience racism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression). Don’t ask her why she didn’t tell you earlier or why she didn’t leave. No shaming. Be a listening ear and support for her fragile state — affirm her courage. Get her help.
Bystanders: If you hear “your” people talking about behaviors they’ve done towards women/others that mimic: gaslighting, inflicting psychological trauma, racism, sexism, name-calling, emotional withholding, verbal insults, and manipulation, tactfully confront them. Seek to learn what prompted the behavior and share the detrimental effects. Encourage them to get therapy to deal with their need to hurt others. Hurt people, hurt people and I don’t believe most people wake up and decide to become perpetrators. I believe they may have been survivors of the same violence they inflict on others. Help them break the cycle, don’t be a bystander.
Perpetrators: If you read this and realized that you are a perpetrator of psychological violence, get help. Your world is not over. You’ve read the detrimental impacts of your abuse and the choice is yours. Continue to ruin your life and the lives of others, or get help. I pray you choose the latter. The first step to redemption is to admit you have a problem and get help. It will be hard yet well worth it. I’m also open to connecting you with a therapist to end the cycle of violence.
To write this and post it, required moving past fear and doubt thinking. I trusted that God wouldn’t put this burden on my heart without the coverage to publish it. I pray this helps lift the veil and shame off this evil that is silently killing many of our mothers, sisters, lovers, friends, co-workers, and family members.
With love and solidarity,
Dr. Annice E. Fisher
(repost from November 16, 2019, The BEE FREE Woman Blog)