One in three women worldwide experience Domestic Abuse at some point in their lives; I am one of them. There are many terms to describe what we experience: Gender Based Violence (GBV); Domestic Violence (DV); Wife Battering; Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG); I’ve opted to use the term Domestic Abuse because it covers many of the behaviours women, and men, experience. Firstly, domestic describes the running of the home, or family relations, and is synonymous with private; private or intimate relationships are the grounds for this abuse.
I use ‘abuse’ instead of violence because it covers physical violence, sexual abuse, financial abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, power and controlling behaviour, isolation, and spiritual abuse. Some victims experience some of these behaviours, many experience all of them. Women and men experience abuse differently. For one thing, men are more likely to murder their partners than women are, and women generally have full responsibility for the care of children. With that in mind, my focus in this piece will be on women.
By using our imagination, if not our first or second-hand knowledge, we can recognise the extent of the abuses women experience and can begin to understand the impact of this on their lives: the layers of control, the fear, and the feelings of powerlessness. We live with constantly shifting ground, with rules changing according to the whim of our partners, even when life seems relaxed on the surface we can never let our guard down, and if we challenge our partner’s behaviour, it is frequently denied, and we are told we are wrong, mad, and stupid.
I have written about Sarah’s experience of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, Jamie, in my book WITNESS. My focus in writing the book was to give people an understanding of the dynamics of an abusive relationship, what laid the ground for being caught in such a relationship, and what makes women stay. Part of Sarah’s story, fundamental to her life, is the part played by religious tradition, religious teaching, and a genuine search for her own understanding of God. At the end of each chapter I have written a healing meditation, appropriate to the events in that chapter, and Sarah addresses God as Mother.
Leaving an abusive relationship is very different from taking the decision to divorce. It includes all the practical and legal activities, but is fraught with further danger. Leaving is the point at which women are most likely to be murdered. Her abuser will not give up his power and control easily. In England and Wales, two women per week are murdered by a partner or ex partner. Reclaiming ourselves from domestic abuse is an essential part of recovery, it can seem a long, slow process, but reclaiming who we are is important work.
Women who have experienced domestic abuse can find it difficult to believe their own experience, so learning to trust ourselves again is so important. Trusting ourselves is the beginning of having the life that we want for ourselves and our children, and places our abuser (even when we still must deal with him) further and further in the distance. Trusting ourselves is an essential part of exploring our spiritual selves and developing our own beliefs. For me, this spiritual aspect was, and continues to be, the bedrock of my recovery; the understanding that loving myself soon became an integral part of my spiritual life – how could I receive God’s love if I did not receive love from myself? Self-care became important.
Our lives before leaving our abusive partner revolved around keeping him from exploding – we took responsibility for preventing his bad behaviour. After leaving, we concentrated on our basic needs – house, furniture, food, work; when these things are in place, we need to give time to caring for ourselves. Here is an illustration with helpful suggestion:
I explore self-care further in this blog post.
For those of us who belong to Faith Communities, we often feel alienated from them. The beliefs we have been raised with (about which Katie M. Deaver has been writing here on FAR) may not have served us well, but our spiritual lives remain important. I felt fortunate when one of my closest friends introduced me to Mindfulness Practice, a Buddhist practice that helps us stay in the here and now and offers guidance for times of difficulty. I could use these practices without abandoning my tradition. On the journey toward recovering ourselves, finding what resonates with us from our family tradition is important. The most helpful guidance I can share is this: if it is life giving keep it, if it is life draining, loose it, and if teachings from other traditions give us life, follow those teaching too. We will find others who share our outlook, even if, for some, continuing with church, temple, mosque or synagogue feels impossible.
For all of us, whether we have experienced domestic abuse, know someone who has, or are simply concerned about how prevalent it is in our world, taking a stand against it is the only way forward for us as human beings. Many of us rail against war, but until we have peace in our homes, there will be no peace in the world. Finding our way to recovery is as essential as finding a cure for cancer. With mindfulness and compassion, we can make this possible.
Kitty Nolan lives on the east coast of Scotland, and campaigns for a safer world for women and girls, campaigning against Gender Based Violence for almost two decades. She was part of Scottish Women’s Aid Faith Groups Forum from 2010 to 2012. She has moved away from her family tradition of Roman Catholicism, but maintains her connection to the teachings of Jesus. Her current spiritual practice is the Buddhist Mindfulness Practice, and regular spiritual direction. Her book WITNESS was published in November 2016. She has a background in education and social work, and she is first and foremost a mother to her daughter and son.