by Jacob Meyer, LSW, LAC
Domestic violence is an incredibly complex and all too common occurrence in our world. Although “violence” is in the name, domestic violence and abuse includes far more than physical and sexual abuse, and often consists of emotional, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse, and far more. In this article, we will focus on physical violence resulting in traumatic brain injuries, which occur far too often in these environments. The physical violence that occurs is an escalation of aggression typically experienced after the pathological attachment has taken root, with themes of isolation, doubt in a sense of reality, and escalation in boundary violations. These relationships very often fall into a cycle of abuse consisting of three phases: mounting tension, an acute incident of domestic violence, and a period of re-engagement (or the “honeymoon” or “hook” phase). This dynamic will progressively get worse over time with aggressive acts becoming more severe and normalized, with the survivor suffering from more psychological and physical harm. The further the dynamic goes the harder it is for the survivor to get out, due to many factors including safety concerns, financial concerns, and the “hook” that happens in the third phase of the cycle of abuse, just to name a few. As this progresses, the more intense the violence gets, and further complications arise if a traumatic brain injury is suffered.
At Integrated Health Systems I work with patients who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries and domestic violence. As awareness of domestic violence and the harm it creates enters more into the public consciousness, there is still lag in the understanding of the effect of traumatic brain injuries and their impact on mental health. When traumatic brain injuries are suffered in incidents of domestic violence, it can create a negative synergy that further disrupts the survivor’s ability to escape. The recovery period from traumatic brain injury complicates a person’s emotional regulation, thought clarity, balance, and fatigue levels. The mental health impacts of a traumatic brain injury bring out consistent symptoms of anxiety and depression based upon the severity of the injury. So we have a person that is under extreme relational trauma who is also experiencing the physical trauma of a traumatic brain injury. Things have gone from bad to worse, making it more and more difficult to leave the dynamic.
It’s important to discuss some of these special considerations, to help educate further on why domestic violence survivors stay in these environments, often making multiple attempts to fully disconnect. Human beings are interdependent creatures that need and seek attachments to survive. At the decision point of leaving, a person is confronted with leaving a dysfunctional attachment for no attachment at all. A person who is already experiencing a pronounced fight-or-flight survival response will typically stay in order to maintain their current level of functioning. Adding a traumatic brain injury that also complicates the person’s ability to function and work, we can see that this puts the person to a less and less likely place to have the ability to leave. When we are in survival mode for a long period of time, our body and mind typically will cling to any sense of normalcy, rather than facing the threat of the unknown. A dysfunctional system is typically interpreted as better than no system at all. Adding in the layer of traumatic brain injuries allows us to see how it further complicates a dysfunctional environment.
Domestic violence continues to be a significant and debilitating issue within our culture. Traumatic brain injuries suffered in these relationships can further impair someone’s ability to disconnect and find safety in their life. If you, a loved one, or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, please contact a local shelter for support – even if it feels like there is no way out, these resources can provide safe and practical options for moving forward.
Jacob Meyer, LSW, LAC, is experienced in working with patients who are experiencing chronic pain, chronic illnesses, TBIs, autoimmune issues, anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, perfectionism, and relational dysfunction. Jacob is passionate about helping his patients become stronger through the therapeutic process and understands that issues present in ways that are unique to every individual. Jacob works to help you find your way through what you are going through and onto a path that you want to take.