Guest Post by Nora Hood, threedaily.org
Most people don’t consider domestic violence the same as domestic terrorism.
But when you think about it, an act of terror in your home from an abusive partner is the epitome of domestic terrorism.
In its simplest explanation, domestic terrorism is an attack on human rights, and the rights of the victim to feel safe and secure in their own home. People who suffer from domestic terrorism are caught in an ongoing cycle of violence and misery, and usually feel alone and helpless. But there is a way out, and through the support of close friends, family, and therapy, someone who has suffered through domestic terrorism can reclaim their life.
When someone you love has the courage to leave a physically abusive relationship, you need to be available to provide them with love and support. While the abuse may have ended, the trauma still remains, and your loved one needs to heal and work through their depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Two of the best things you can do is be patient as your loved one takes the time they need to heal physically and emotionally, and offer support and encouragement as they pull their life back together.
- Don’t Allow Them to Become Isolated
Survivors of domestic violence have emotional scars that last long after the physical signs of abuse fade. Your loved one may have been humiliated, called names, belittled, and controlled to the point that they have little to no self-esteem left. They may have struggled to keep a job or stay in contact with loved ones because of the abusive partner. Your friend will need help understanding that it’s important to feel like their true self again, which includes spending time with family and friends they may have been forbidden to contact while in the abusive relationship.
It’s especially important for you to help your friend avoid isolation after surviving domestic abuse. If your friend starts spending more time alone, they are at a higher risk for depression or suicide. Help your friend build personal relationships with other friends and family members to protect them from further isolation.
Social connections will provide the support your friend needs to start recovering so they can have the confidence and courage to take steps to go out with friends, go back to work or get a better job, and experience more freedom and independence.
In fact, reconnecting with people and building a support system is critical during the first few days and weeks after leaving an abusive relationship. You need to reach out to your loved one and let them know that you’re available to help in any way you can. Be trustworthy and allow your friend to depend on you for whatever they need while they get back on their feet. Listen without passing judgment and support your friend emotionally. Then, encourage your friend to start therapy or join a support group so they can begin to heal and improve their mental health.
- Encourage Your Friend to Get a Therapy Dog Trained to Help with Depression and Other Mental Health Issues
Dog owners know the value of having a pet that loves them unconditionally. They also know that playing with their dog and petting it helps them feel more at ease and relieves stress after a hard day. But, there’s more to it than just how pet owners feel. Research shows that service and therapy dogs effectively treat depression and anxiety and improve overall health.
Simply petting a familiar, friendly dog lowers a person’s blood pressure, slows the heart rate, regulates breathing, and relaxes muscle tension. Other studies show that people who pet dogs have lower amounts of stress hormones. Interestingly, the positive mental health benefits of interacting with a dog work more quickly than drugs taken to reduce stress: sometimes people experience physical and mental health benefits from having contact with a dog in as few as five minutes.
That’s why so many people who live with PTSD, who are domestic abuse survivors, and who live with anxiety and depression are turning to therapy dogs for comfort and companionship. Dogs specifically trained to help people combat anxiety, stress, and depression assist people every day by helping them take responsibility for their well-being, offering unconditional love, recognizing the signs of a panic attack, and helping them stay socially connected.
If you think that your loved one could benefit from the mental health boosts provided by a therapy dog, encourage them to talk to a therapist or primary care provider to start the process of finding a dog. Organizations around the country train the dogs and help domestic abuse survivors find a canine companion that is right for them.
Another option is to reach out to a local government’s human services office for more information. Several counties in Pennsylvania, for example, provide canine-assisted court services and therapy dogs through various crisis centers for victims.
- Focus on Your Loved One’s Strengths, Skills, and Passions
Sometimes, it’s difficult to know what to say to a domestic abuse survivor because you’re so afraid to say the wrong thing. It helps if you focus on your friend’s strengths and skills because you can offer the positive reinforcement they need to hear so to start believing they are deserving of love and respect and rebuilding their self-esteem.
Giving your friend the emotional support they need is one of the best things you can do, so help your friend assess their strengths and skills and rediscover their passions. If your friend is a tremendous baker, help them get back in the kitchen so they can focus on baking and reigniting their passion. If your friend loves to hike, hit the trails together so they can relieve stress through exercise; spending time in nature also is a proven way to reduce stress and improve mental health.
By focusing on your loved one’s strengths, skills, and passions, you help them find solutions. Your friend will stop feeling helpless and having false beliefs about their low self-worth. And your friend will realize they can survive on their own and that the blame for the abuse rests on the abusive partner alone. This will also help your friend feel better about themselves and lower their chances of entering into another abusive relationship.
It’s not easy to help a loved one heal after leaving an abusive relationship. Focusing on their emotional well-being and improving their mental health are two of the best things you can do to help them through the healing process. Be sure you help your friend resist isolation encourage your friend to get a therapy dog to help with depression and other mental health issues, and focus on your friend’s strengths, skills, and passions.
Between your love and support and the emotional support your friend receives from a therapy dog and through therapist or support group sessions, they will be less likely to seek isolation and more likely to evade the grasp of depression and anxiety. In time, your friend will want to go back to work, spend time with friends, buy clothes they want to wear, find a new home, and create the life that they want to live.
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