*Warning: While any form of abuse will absolutely affect your physical body, this post focuses mainly on domestic abuse. The following information may be triggering if you are recovering from abuse, dealing with PTSD resulting from abuse, or are currently experiencing abuse. Please please take care of yourself, which could mean anything from not reading this post to connecting with your mental health professional. There are resources at the end of this post for getting help.*
No woman should ever have to suffer the wrath of her spouse or partner or loved one. I’ve experienced abuse in my own life, from both a family member and an ex-boyfriend. Also, a dear family member was murdered this year in an act of domestic violence. To say I am familiar with the topic is an understatement. Since entering anorexia recovery in 2014, I’ve had to face and heal from the psychological effects of abuse and understand how it affected my physical body and contributed to my eating disorder.
When we talk about domestic abuse, we usually think of the violent, physical assault that leaves obvious marks to the body. Another kind of abuse that is just as devastating because the damage is so insidious and cruelly clever is psychological abuse. This includes both mental and emotional abuse. It’s not nearly as obvious on the outside because there are no bruises, but both the mind and body are experiencing trauma and responding internally.
Psychological abuse is the same as physical abuse except instead of hitting, punching, throwing, or kicking, the abuser wields control using emotions, criticism, insulting words and threats, blame, belittling, tracking, and name calling. Over time, without even realizing it’s happening, you are living in a constant and heightened state of anxiety, low self esteem, doubt, and fear of wrong-doing. Yet you feel “normal.” Especially in the times your abuser is loving and kind. If you’ve ever heard yourself say “He’s great sometimes and even fun when he isn’t mad or upset. So it isn’t always bad,” then there is a good chance you are in a “normalized” abusive relationship.
It’s exhausting and stressful to tend to life, (children, housework, career work, school and school work, social connections, financial responsibilities, volunteering, errands, etc.) while also trying to maintain the expectations of an abuser. Living with an abuser requires constant management and tempering of the environment so as to not upset the abuser OR in reaction to your abuser when he is upset (and likely blaming you for whatever is upsetting him). Constantly walking on eggshells to appease an abuser distracts and disconnects you from your own body and emotions.
Psychological abuse causes a plethora of physical and mental ailments, including but not limited to, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, adrenal fatigue , over/under eating, sleep deprivation, gastrointestinal upset, and depression. You may not understand why you have aches and pains all the time, trouble with your skin (dry skin, acne breakouts, rashes), constant tiredness, weight gain or weight loss, or repeated illness. It’s easy to blame yourself, that maybe you need to eat better, exercise more, go on a diet or a cleanse. What’s really happening, though, is your body is trying to tell you that you’re stressed, there are emotions that need processing, and it needs rest. Taking care of yourself is not an option in an abusive relationship because all your effort is pored into taking care of the abuser and what he expects of you. Depending on how damaged your self-esteem is, you may even feel like you don’t deserve to take care of yourself or you aren’t even worth that precious care.
For the record, and whether you believe me or not, you do deserve self-love and you are worth the investment of time and care.
The first step to getting healthy is not a diet but getting help. It’s easy for people around you to say “Just leave. Why do you stay?” But I know from experience, it’s not that easy. Where are you going to go if your abuser has tabs on you? You can’t do it by yourself. Here are some suggestions to get you moving toward healing:
For immediate help and counsel:
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://ncadv.org/get-help
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (this one has an online chat option): http://www.thehotline.org/help/
Seek counsel from a local domestic abuse therapist.
Seek refuge in a local woman’s shelter.
Reach out to a pastor at a local church.
Your body is talking to you, warning you, and trying to protect you as you endure abuse and the psychological effects it’s having on your mind and heart. Not because you are doing anything wrong, but because someone else is doing wrong to you.