Post Traumatic Growth: Thriving and Finding Meaning After Trauma

post traumatic growth

We have all heard the phrase,  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” 

As survivors of domestic violence, this saying can be hard to grasp. It can leave you wounded, with both visible and invisible scars. It can sometimes be hard to imagine you will ever recover from the trauma you faced, let alone come back stronger. 

However, as much as it doesn’t feel like growth is occurring, data states otherwise. Studies show that about 71% of interpersonal violence survivors experience some type of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) [1]. Thousands of survivors have learned not just to survive but to thrive. They have used the pain inflicted by their trauma as an avenue to find new meaning in their life. 

From Trauma to Opportunity

In short, PTG is a positive transformation that occurs in the life of many survivors of intense trauma. 

People who experience PTG do not merely bypass the negative consequences of trauma. Instead, the emotional battle is what challenges survivors to reevaluate their perception of life. This new perception works as a catalyst for positive growth [1]

In other words, the aftermath of trauma can change your mindset (in a good way). It can alter the lens through which you view the world. It is like a photographer who adjusts their lens and angle to see the most powerful possible shot. People experiencing PTG choose to react to their trauma in a way that allows them to see the best in their situation. 

According to the Post Traumatic Growth Inventory, people typically experience PTG in one or more of the following ways. 

  • A new, enhanced appreciation for life.
  • Improved social relationships and an increase in positive emotions derived from the relationships.
  • An openness to new possibilities/opportunities in life.
  • An increase in mental resilience and personal strength.
  • Spiritual connection.

The Journey of Post Traumatic Growth

There is no timeline for coping, healing, or growth. Every survivor’s experience is different, and that’s okay. PTG usually occurs naturally, and unfortunately, not everyone experiences it. 

However, there are five evidence-based ways to help facilitate growth:

Education

Growth after trauma requires some serious self-reflection. You may not be the same person you were before the trauma, and you have to face the reality of determining your new identity. Also, many of your perceptions about life have likely changed. 

The first thing to facilitate growth is to acknowledge these changes and understand that your situation will require you to view your circumstances in a new, positive way. You need to try to change your mindset while at the same time, allow compassion for yourself and your trauma. 

Disclosure

Talking about trauma can feel like a release. It can also help you make sense and find meaning in the trauma. There are many different ways you can talk through and process your trauma. You can try counseling, venting with family/friends, joining a support group, sharing your story on a blog/domestic abuse network, or starting a journal. You could even record yourself or talk to yourself in an empty room.

Service

Helping others has profound benefits for your mental health and healing. To add, it can give you a sense of self-worth, accomplishment, and gratitude. It can also aid in finding meaning in your trauma. 

Consider doing service directly with causes associated with the trauma you went through—such as being a domestic violence advocate or starting a blog about your grief and growth.

Emotional Regulation

Regulating the intense emotions you feel after a traumatic event can be difficult; but, trying to experience PTG when surrounded by negative emotions is impossible. You should refrain from dwelling on your negative emotions– try your best to frame things positively. Instead of focusing on your situation’s negatives, consider what you have gained through your experience– perspective, a fresh start, an opportunity to learn and grow.

Another practice that can assist with emotional regulation is breathing, mediation, and acknowledging/observing emotions while you are experiencing them. 

Narrative Development

You are solely in charge of deciding what your story will be and what your trauma means. It is an individual choice to focus on the negatives and talk about everything you lost from the abuse or grief. You can also acknowledge those losses while choosing to focus on the positive things you learned from the trauma and the growth you experienced. 

Lessons from a Broken Cup

@9231458 via Twenty20

The Japanese have a tradition called kintsugi, which means “golden repair.” It is the ancient art of putting broken pottery dishes back together using gold [4] causing the pottery to be more beautiful and worthy than before it suffered the break. 

Likewise, you can use the trauma you endured as a way to recreate yourself in a beautiful, strong way. You can experience post-traumatic growth.

Viewing the World Through a New Lens

“Thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else.” 

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix

It’s essential to recognize that you are not defined or controlled by your traumas. 

Unfortunately, no one can take away the trauma or pain you endured, but you can choose how to react to what the world has handed you. It is up to you to change your mindset and decide to frame your life experiences positively. 

Remember, broken things can transform into something even more beautiful. And you–survivors and angel families— can thrive after trauma. 


A Note From The Author:

Let this serve as an inspiration. None of this is to say that the abuse you experienced or the loved one you lost to an abusive relationship ended up being a blessing in disguise. Anyone who experiences post-traumatic growth realizes the cost. Most likely, most would happily give up all the growth if they could change the truth of their trauma. 

Not everyone experiences growth after trauma, and that’s okay. It does not mean you are not a survivor, and it does not mean you will not thrive.

The growth you experience does not make your suffering any less valid.

References

  1. Elderton, A., Berry, A., & Chan, C. (2017). A Systematic Review of Posttraumatic Growth in Survivors of Interpersonal Violence in Adulthood. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 18(2), 223-236. doi:10.2307/26638176
  2. Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 9(3), 455–471. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02103658
  3. Tedeschi, R. G. (2020). Growth after trauma. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/07/growth-after-trauma#:~:text=Although%20posttraumatic%20growth%20often%20happens,%2C%20narrative%20development%2C%20and%20service.
  4. Mantovani, A. (2019). Kintsugi and the art of repair: life is what makes us. Medium. https://medium.com/@andreamantovani/kintsugi-and-the-art-of-repair-life-is-what-makes-us-b4af13a39921
  5. Rowling, J. K. (2014). Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix. Bloomsbury Childrens Books.

Re-Learning to Love Yourself After Abuse

re-learning to love yourself

How do you find your way back to yourself when another person has stripped you of your confidence, made you question your intuition, and jaded your sense of “good” in the world? How do you re-learn to love yourself when there is a haunting voice that says you are unworthy of love?

You were made to believe you are crazy. You were taught to put their needs before yours. You learned to keep the peace at any cost.  And that cost was usually your own well-being.

Domestic violence isn’t merely bruises and broken bones. It isn’t only fabricated stories created to ease the humiliation of being in a relationship we never thought we’d find ourselves in. Often the web of violence is interwoven in the psyche of the victim. It is methodically and relentlessly chipping away at the very structures that each of us relies on to maintain a sense of identity. Intimate partner abuse is a tricky beast, wrought with nasty side effects that can linger for a lifetime.

So, how does one find safety, love, and trust again after abuse?

Journey to Self- Love

The answer is found in the journey back to Self. The journey applies to those of you who once knew who you were and fell prey to the dark side of human control. It applies to those of you who have never felt a strong connection with yourself. After living in a mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically violent environment with an abuser, the path to internal peace will include the same stepping stones. 

These healing stones are not always linear, meaning there is no order or even progression. Each stone will come along differently for each of us, and they will continually invite us to heal more deeply, understand ourselves more fully, and reconcile all the missing pieces of our souls over time. Don’t be surprised if some stones seem to be on repeat at times while others aren’t as prevalent–this is how the soul heals itself–in its own time. The important thing is to look for opportunities in each of these areas. 

The Stones of Healing

Self-Study

Self-study is the commitment not to distract yourself with shame-spirals, fixing other people’s problems, or pretending you’re doing better than you are. Learning yourself includes identifying your emotions, needs, triggers, desires, old patterns, and boundaries. The more you know about yourself, the less you’ll allow other people to tell you who you are.

May I remind you: Know yourself the best. Love yourself the most.

Self-Love

Here is where you build the connection to your truth, bond with yourself, and learn how to show up and nurture yourself. Most of us have been told this is selfish, and we should sacrifice and give to others first.

May I remind you: You are worthy of taking the time to learn and to love yourself well.

Self-Compassion

In this stone where you learn and remember how to be kind to yourself, forgiving the times you sacrificed your own well-being for another, and practicing speaking kindly to yourself when you struggle to feel you are doing it “right.”

May I remind you: You are enough, just as you are in this moment.

Self-Awareness

This is understanding that no matter how the path unfolds, I alone am responsible for paying attention to myself and making sure I am following through with my commitments to myself, speaking what is true for me, and doing whatever it takes to create safety for myself. 

May I remind you: This “work” is ongoing, deeply rewarding, and completely empowering.

Being Self-Focused

Notice the path to loving yourself is entirely self-focused. You have the power to recreate, rebuild, reestablish whatever kind of life you dream of. No matter what anyone else has done to tear you apart, break you open, and leave you for dead, you still hold the key to your soul journey. You can honor your loss with your tears as you weep over what has been stolen from you. You can embrace the sacred privilege of being the only one who will ever be able to collect the scattered pieces of your soul that were always meant to be an enchanted mosaic. You were made to be a self-healer.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Sometimes people and life can be unnecessarily dark and inhumane. But as humans, we each carry an unprecedented ability to reconcile loss, recover from pain, and recreate our dreams. For every piece of you that feels broken today, there is an entire toolbox of skills and tools ready to be learned and used to help you rebuild a life you love and feel safe in. Life will never be what you imagined it would be before you became acquainted with domestic violence. Still, if you can give yourself time and patience as you begin to walk through these healing stones, you’ll find there is more than you ever thought imaginable right within your reach. 

Loving yourself after abuse means allowing yourself to dance across–to and fro, weaving in and out of–the four Stones of Healing (self-study, self-love, self-compassion, self-awareness)… for the rest of your life.

Survivors in the Grey-Area: Intersecting Identities, Vulnerabilities, and Inequalities

The characteristics of our identities are multi-faceted. They are based on our race, class, gender, sexuality, faith, nationality, and many other factors. But these aspects don’t just stack up on top of each other to create the layered people we all are. Instead, they interact, intersect and collide. This places us in a grey area, where we don’t feel 100% like any one of our identities. The ways in which our multiple identities interact can also potentiate discrimination associated with each of them. However, the Law doesn’t fully address the complex issues of the victims and survivors who live in this grey-area.

Intersectionality = Grey-Area

Before 1964, General Motors did not hire black women. In the early 1970s, a recession that brought about seniority-based layoffs hit. The firm laid off all black women hired after 1964. Five black women sued General Motors, claiming that its policies were targeted solely at black women. In the DeGraffenreid v. General Motors 1976 case, Judge Harris Wangelin ruled against the plaintiffs. This was done by arguing that black women shouldn’t be deemed a separate legal class. What he failed to realize was that these women were under a double bind that required special attention. The layoffs did not seem prejudiced against black men or against white women. However, it was prejudiced towards those at the intersection of race and gender who suffered from the firm’s policies.  

In 1989, black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality.” She describes it as a unique framework for understanding how different forms of disadvantage associated with each of our identities sometimes compound themselves (Crenshaw 1991). In the previous example, the General Motors workers’ disadvantage of being black ganged up with their disadvantage of being a woman in the 1970s.

Grey-Area in Domestic Violence

Crenshaw further pointed out that mainstream feminist and anti-racist institutions resisted publishing socio-demographic statistics about victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. They feared authorities would use these statistics to portray DV as a minority crime, reinforce negative racial stereotypes, and ultimately cut off their financial support. Collins (2017) furthered this claim, arguing that mainstream feminist research tends to focus on domestic violence against white women whereas racial scholarship usually looks into public violence against black men (such as police brutality). Mainstream research thus somewhat overlooked domestic violence against black women, pushing black female victims to the backdrop of the social debate on intimate partner violence.  

Types of Intersectionality Within Domestic Violence and Survivors

So, how can we use the framework of intersectionality to better help survivors of domestic violence? Ultimately, intersectionality is a tool that allows us to pinpoint why victims are treated differently. It also helps us identify the ways in which laws need to change to accommodate survivors whose intersecting identities push them to the margins of existing DV legislation. 

Immigration status

Migrants are often at high risk of domestic violence (Morash et al. 2009). In addition, being an immigrant is usually a racialized identity, which adds another layer of complexity to the experiences of migrant survivors. One of the particular vulnerabilities associated with migrants’ identity, especially for illegal immigrants, is their legitimate reluctance to report their abuse for fear of deportation, which national citizens don’t face. 

An officer described how the police handled the case of a migrant survivor in the UK as follows: 

The police came round and found her [the survivor] unconscious on the floor and found him strangling her … he was arrested… she disappeared. … only through going back through their records [were we] able to find a phone number (Day and Gill, 2020).

In the end, the police referred the victims to immigration services: 

we’d have to refer that to the Border Agency, but we’d also refer that in the context of how we’ve come across them… we’d have to do a Nacro check and things like that on the suspect, and similarly if we think the victims are here illegally.

(Day and Gill, 2020)

This account highlights the dangers of our failure to acknowledge the intersecting vulnerabilities migrant survivors face, particularly illegal ones. Whereas we might not, abusers who are not migrants themselves most certainly do, and they will use the cruel ways in which the criminal system treats migrant survivors against them. 

Pregnancy and Class

Pregnant working women may suffer employment discrimination and see their wages or career progression hindered as a consequence; worse, they are at a higher risk of being fired. Women in low-paid or precarious jobs may not have access to even basic maternity employment rights (James 2012), sometimes having to rely on their abusive partners for financial support. Intersectionality is at play in the lives of pregnant working survivors because their limited financial resources interlock with their vulnerability as new mums. What are their intersecting vulnerabilities? As a woman, a new mother, and someone who might struggle financially to escape their abuser, pregnant working survivors need and deserve to see their compounding vulnerabilities recognized by employers, legislators, shelters, helplines, and other resources. They deserve their situation to be seen through the lens of intersectionality.

Gender

The intersection of gender with other identities fosters discrimination against not only female survivors but also men.  

On the one hand, by-standers and the criminal system sometimes use male survivor’s gender to belittle their pain, directly or indirectly telling them to “man-up”. On the other hand, this appeal to toxic masculinity may headbutt survivors’ identity as someone who thinks it’s morally wrong to harass or strike back. Here also, the concept of intersectionality can help us understand why male survivors are usually not afforded sufficient recognition, as noted by a DV advocate:

I’ve got a male client… he’s a straight man in a relationship with a woman; she’s harassed him a lot. When the case didn’t go to charge, because … there wasn’t enough evidence, the police officer in the case said to the victim, ‘Taking my police officer’s hat off, this is because you’re a man’ .

(Day and Gill, 2020)

Moving Forward

As a survivor and/or advocate, you can use the framework of intersectionality to better understand the inequalities that DV victims who are very different from you face on a daily basis. Ask yourself: How can this victim’s identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) put them at a higher risk of discrimination? Does current legislation honor the struggles that this victim faces? For example, should victims who are illegal immigrants face arrest or deportation given their vulnerabilities as an immigrant and a DV victim?

Your thoughts on these questions can advance current debates on how DV legislation should change to accommodate the intersecting identities of more survivors and victims. Your voice can help press for more awareness and better laws.

References

[1] Collins, P. (2017), ‘“On Violence, Intersectionality and Transversal Politics,” Ethnic and Racial Studies’, Taylor & Francis, 40: 1460–73.

[2] Crenshaw,  K. (1991), ‘Stanford Law Review Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’, Stanford Law Review, 43: 1241–99.

[3] Day, A. S., & Gill, A. K. (2020). Applying intersectionality to partnerships between women’s organizations and the criminal justice system in relation to domestic violence. The British Journal of Criminology, 60(4), 830-850.

[4] James, S. (2012), Sex, Race and Class—The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952– 2011. The Merlin Press.

[5] Morash, M., Erez, E., Adelman, M. and Gregory, C. (2009), ‘Intersections of Immigration and Domestic Violence’, Feminist Criminology, 4: 32–56.

Advocating for Teens in a Domestic Violence Relationship

advocating-for-teens

Our relationship started as a happy one. He was charming, a track star, and showered me with attention. We were teens and high school sweethearts, and I thought we would stay that way forever.

I still remember the first time he was violent towards me. We were arguing, and he pushed me into a snowbank. I got up, and we continued walking as if nothing happened. Things only escalated from there. 

It was my first relationship. I thought I was in love. I didn’t know love wasn’t supposed to hurt. It was hard to leave– despite the abuse, my feelings for this boy were strong, although misconstrued. I stayed in the relationship for the first year of college before I was able to break free.

Being young and confused, I didn’t know what love was supposed to feel like or look like. I thought abusive relationships affected isolated adults stuck in unhappy marriages, not valedictorians with plans to attend college. It would honestly be a long time before I could look back on the relationship and see it for what it was– toxic, abusive, and far from love. 

I’m still healing from this abusive relationship that began when I was 16. I’m still trying to understand my emotions and learn what a healthy relationship is seven years later. 

Teen Dating Violence Survivor

What is Teen Dating Violence (TDV)? 

Teen dating violence, also known as dating violence, is abuse between two people in an intimate relationship between the ages of 13-19 [1]

Dating violence does not have to be physical abuse; it can include [2]:

  • Physical violence—  intentional acts of physical violence, like shoving, kicking, hitting, grabbing, choking, restraining. 
  • Sexual Violence— forcing or attempting to engage in a sexual act, such as intercourse, touching, or sexting without receiving consent.
  • Psychological aggression (verbal/emotional)— tactics used to harm the victim emotionally. This can include name-calling, isolating the victim from family and friends, attempting to control the victim, and manipulation. 
  • Stalking— a pattern of unwanted attention that causes, or would reasonably cause, the victim fear

This is not an exhaustive list. Any time a person is intentionally causing harm to their intimate partner, it can be considered abuse. No one should feel afraid in their relationship or fear their intimate partner– that is NOT normal. 

How common is TDV? 

Teen dating violence affects millions of US teenagers each year. While TDV, like most violent crime types, disproportionately affects females, anyone can be a victim of TDV [2]

  • One in three people will experience some type of intimate partner abuse before they reach adulthood [3].
  • According to a CDC survey, 1 in 11 females and 1 in 15 males under 18 reported experiencing physical dating violence in the last year [2].
  • One in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high schoolers report having experienced sexual violence in the last year from an intimate partner [2]
  • LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for TDV victimization. Forty-three percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing physical dating violence compared to 29% of heterosexual youth [4]
  • Transgender youth, predominantly female, report the highest levels of TDV, with 89% of transgender youth reporting physical dating violence and 59% reporting emotional abuse [4].

The Impact on Teens

TDV, just like domestic violence, is ruthless, and the road to recovery is often long and uphill. This is why it is an issue that should not be minimized and, instead, should be taken as seriously as intimate partner violence in adults. As seen in the survivor story above, it can affect survivors long after leaving the abusive relationship. And for some victims of TDV, the consequences can affect every aspect of their teen years. 

Victims/survivors of TDV are more likely to:

  • Miss or receive low grades in classes due to feeling unsafe [5]
  • Become pregnant or contract an STD [5]
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking, drugs, or disordered eating [2]
  • Attempt or commit suicide [5]
  • Have lowered self-esteem [5]
  • Continue a pattern of abusive relationships [2]
  • Face mental health issues, like depression and anxiety [2]
  • Have trouble maintaining independence and establishing a personal identity in adulthood [5]

Advocating For Your Teen

Teenage years are meant for the giddy feeling of butterflies in the stomach. Many teens are experiencing their first relationship and learning what it means to be “in love.” Young relationships can set a precedent for their future relationships and their perception of what love is. 

That is why one of the most effective ways of preventing teen dating violence is showing your teen or teens in your life what a healthy relationship should look and feel like while also opening up the discussion about what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

Characteristics of a healthy relationship:

  • Respect. Both partners should like their feelings and wishes are valued and understood by their partner.
  • Individual Identities. Both partners should have lives outside of the relationship. This includes spending time with friends, engaging in hobbies, and pursuing their interests. Partners should maintain, or even grow, their self-esteem when in the relationship. 
  • Openness and Trust. Both partners should feel comfortable being honest with each other and have trust in each other. 
  • Good Communication. Each partner should communicate with the other freely, without fear, and without getting hostile. Intimate partners should not ever resort to violence or name-calling when disagreeing and work together to solve problems. 

Characteristics of an unhealthy relationship:

  • Controlling behavior/Jealousy. One partner attempts to exploit the other partner. This can mean keeping him/her from seeing family members and friends, dictating what he/she wears and does, and making the majority of choices for the relationship.
  • Hostility/Intimidation. An intimate partner using intimidation or hostility to manipulate the other member of the relationship. 
  • Dependence (Trauma Bond). When an intimate partner feels as if he/she cannot live without the other partner. They feel entirely reliant on their partner and cannot imagine life without them. 
  • Any type of violence. Intimate partners intentionally hurting or attempting to harm each other in any way. This can include physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse. 

**For information about what a healthy teenage relationship should look like, check out Dating Matters— a prevention model put forth by the CDC for educational use by individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods.

Receiving Help for Teens in an Abusive Relationship

For teenagers facing the dangerous reality of being in a toxic or abusive relationship, know you are not alone, and there are resources to help you reach the pathway of healing. 

First of all, we encourage you to break your silence. Speak up to a peer, teacher, parent, law enforcement officer, or anyone else you trust. You can contact our helpline at 1-855-287-1777 or share your story

You can also contact organizations within the community:

Find a Safe Place— you can enter your zip code and find a safe place near you. 

The National Dating Abuse Helpline 1.866.331.9474 is similar to the Hotline and specializes in assisting teens and young adults. 

National Center for Victims of Crime 1-800-FYI-CALL– serves victims of crime and assists them in finding proper counseling services. 

Break the Cycle— for more information about teen dating violence and how to break the cycle. 

Remember: Everyone deserves a loving and healthy relationship. No matter what your age is.

References

  1. Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. (n.d.). What is teen dating violence TDV. https://www.mocadsv.org/What-is-Teen-Dating-Violence-TDV/
  2. CDC. (2020, Jan 27). Preventing teen dating violence. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teendatingviolence/fastfact.html
  3. Love is Respect. (n.d.) Teen dating violence awareness month. https://www.loveisrespect.org/get-involved/tdvam/
  4. Teen Dating Violence. (2020, Oct 28). Studies show LGBT youth face higher risk of dating violence. https://www.teendvmonth.org/studies-show-lgbt-youth-face-higher-risk-of-dating-violence/
  5. Youth.gov. (n.d.) Consequences. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/consequences

The Dangerous Reality of Stalking

Stalking

We’ve all done it. We’ve met a cute guy or girl at a party and know nothing about this person except their name. A quick Facebook search of their name leads to thousands of results. 

But, wait, this person is from your area and has mutual friends.

Looking at the thumbnail picture, you recognize the person you met at the party. You found him/her! Now you know this person’s last name. You know where they went to high school, their birthday, where this person works, and all of their connections. 

Looking up a potential suitor on social media is a relatively harmless form of “stalking.” In fact, many people use it to background check a person before they risk meeting them for a date. Once you find who you were looking for and determine they are a safe bet for a date, you playfully brag to your friends about what an “expert stalker” you are. 


Truth About Stalking

However, stalking is not a playful matter. It is a dangerous reality for over 6 million people in the United States who are stalked each year. Three out of 10 victims report emotional or psychological harm, and 81% of women stalked by a current or former partner were physically assaulted [1, 2]. Although statistics show that women are more likely to be stalked than men, this crime can affect anyone. Six percent of men will be stalked in their lifetime [6]. Currently, there is a lack of research dealing with stalking and LGBTQ+ communities. Still, one study found that 15% of LGBTQ+ study participants had experienced stalking [7].

In some cases, stalking has even led to murder; this statement is especially true when dealing with men and their intimate, female ex-partner. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first, while 85% of women who survived murder attempts were stalked.” Even more shocking is that 54% of women stalking victims reported the stalking to law enforcement before being murdered by their stalkers [1]

What is Stalking?

Stalking is usually defined as intimidating or threatening, repeated behavior. It is a type of obsessive harassment that could reasonably cause fear in the stalked person and may or may not lead to assault or murder [3].

Acts of stalking often start small, like sending numerous direct messages to the victim’s social media sites, but can quickly escalate into in-person surveillance of the victim, among other things. 

If you believe you are being stalked or are curious to know signs to look out for, here are some methods stalkers may utilize:

  • Making unwanted phone calls to your home or work
  • Sending unwanted texts, direct messages, or emails continuously with no response
  • Seemingly knowing your schedule or where you will be without any legitimate reason. 
  • Frequent appearances in places you are, like work or school, when they have never been there before stalking or have no reason to be there.
  • Stealing or asking for your property 
  • Sending unwanted gifts 
  • Driving or walking around places you frequent
  • Becoming friends with people you associate with
  • Researching you on social media or public records
  • Asking around about you to people in your social circle
  • Taking pictures or videos of you or collecting photos of you off your social accounts
  • Talking about you to others as if you are friends or intimate partners even though you aren’t
  • Attempting to gain access to your private accounts
  • Attempting to gain access to your residence, car, or other private places

What does a stalker look like?

While mainstream movies and TV shows often depict a stalker as strange and a loner with a false sense of reality, that is not always the case. A stalker could be anyone– the charming football player with lots of friends, an ex-girlfriend who can’t seem to let go, the guy you met at the party last week. 

There are no prerequisites for stalking behavior. Some characteristics that many stalkers share, according to onelove, include:

  • Gets jealous easily
  • Narcissistic behavior
  • Compulsive
  • Falls intensely “in-love” overnight 
  • Lacks accountability for actions
  • Values having control over situations and people
  • Often views themselves as a victim
  • Can be socially awkward
  • Refuses to take “no” as an answer
  • Deceptive
  • Unpredictable–switches back and forth between love and rage
  • Hard time recognizing the difference between fantasy and reality
  • Sense of entitlement and hard time accepting rejection

What are the Types of Stalkers?

Stalkers broadly fall into one of two categories:

1) Simple obsession– This is the most common type of stalker. Stalkers in this category knew their victim personally, often intimately, before engaging in stalking [4]. Usually, the simple obsession stalker is an ex-partner who refuses to let go of the relationship. They attempt to exert power over the victim and boost their own self-esteem through stalking behavior.

2) Love obsession– This type of stalker has a false sense of reality. They do not know their victim personally; the victim could be a complete stranger or someone they have met casually. The stalker develops an obsession, often feeling “in love” with their victim. This type of stalking is commonly associated with celebrity victims [4].

Stalkers can also be classified into 5 different stalker types. Knowing the kind of stalker you are dealing with can aid in what kind of intervention you should choose. 

Incompetent

This stalker is usually socially awkward and intellectually lacking. This stalker picks strangers or acquaintances as their victims and believes that they can convince the victim to date or hook up with them. An incompetent stalker, as the name suggests, does not always realize their stalking is unwanted or causing distress. 

Rejected

This person was either rejected by a potential date or recently went through a breakup with the victim. They use stalking as a form of staying close to their victim in hopes of reconciliation or revenge. 

Resentful

This person holds the belief that they have been mistreated. They usually have a mental illness and narcissistic characteristics. They use stalking as a way to gain power over their victim and get revenge for the “mistreatment.”

Predatory

This person is likely sex-obsessed. They often have a history of sexual misconduct. They are stalking as a way to “prep” for their eventual sexual attack.

Intimacy-Seeking

This person typically has a false sense of reality, believing that their victim will fall in love with them or is already in love with them. This is the most common type of celebrity stalker.

What can I do?

By taking the time to read this article, you educate yourself about what stalking behavior is and the different types of stalkers. This allows you to remain vigilant and alert to these behaviors in your own life. You will be more likely to recognize if you are being stalked and determine possible explanations for the stalking. 

If you believe you are a victim, here are some tips:

  • Make it clear to your stalker that their contact is unwanted. Avoid all future contact with the stalker.
  • Document everything– emails, phone calls, text messages, any sort of contact with the stalker. 
  • Inform people close to you about your stalker, including a description and a name, if you know it.
  • Protect your privacy by making sure your social media accounts are private. Turn off your location services on mobile apps. Ensure you lock your car and house doors.
  • Alternate routes. Try to switch things up to predict where you will be at what time.
  • Consider contacting the police and getting a protective order against your stalker.
  • As always, if you feel like you are in danger, call 9-1-1.

More resources for victims of stalking:

  • National Center for Victims of Crime provides more resources and information about stalking for victims and practitioners. 
  • VictimConnect Resource Center: A referral helpline (in the form of a call line, live chat, or online website resources) that informs victims of a crime of their rights and options. 
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: A 24/7 hotline for victims of domestic abuse, including stalking. They offer resources and information, such as a stalking safety plan
  • WomensLaw provides advice on the legal aspect of stalking. This includes finding the stalking laws for your state and where to look for information about a restraining order. This website is for any victim of stalking, not just women. 

References

  1. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2017, Jan 30). Quick guide to stalking: 16 important statistics, and what you can do about it. https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/quick-guide-to-stalking-16-important-statistics-and-what-you-can-do-about-it
  2. Manner, C. (2020). Inside the mind of a stalker. Onelove. https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/inside-the-mind-of-a-stalker/
  3. Dana. (2020). Stalking safety planning. National Domestic Violence Hotline. https://www.thehotline.org/resources/stalking-safety-planning/
  4. Judicial Education Center. (2021). Categories of stalking. http://jec.unm.edu/education/online-training/stalking-tutorial/categories-of-stalking
  5. Knoll, J., & Resnick, P. J. (2007). Stalking intervention: Know the 5 stalker types, safety strategies for victims. Current Psychiatry, 6 (5), 31-38. https://cdn.mdedge.com/files/s3fs-public/Document/September-2017/0605CP_Article2.pdf
  6. Safe Horizon. (2020). Stalking statistics and facts. https://www.safehorizon.org/get-informed/stalking-statistics-facts/#definition/
  7.   Langenderfer-Magruder, L., Walls, N. E., Whitfield, D. L., Kattari, S. K., & Ramos, D. (2020). Stalking Victimization in LGBTQ Adults: A Brief Report. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 35(5–6), 1442–1453. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517696871

Navigating the COVID Holiday Season as a DV Survivor

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” or is it? The holidays are often thought of as a magical time, filled with family get-togethers, time off work, and the joy of giving and receiving gifts.

Despite the jolly perks, this time of the year can also be very tense  due to the financial strain of gifts, the pressure to entertain, conversations with relatives you may not get along with, and an increased level of alcohol consumption. 

Unfortunately, for many survivors of domestic violence (DV), the holidays can be more than just stressful– they can be dangerous. And when social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic is added to the mix, they can even be deadly.

Does Domestic Violence Increase During the Holidays?

When conducting a quick google search about whether or not DV increases during the holiday season, I was surprised to find many sources stating that it did not. After all, holidays are a stressful time of the year– according to one Harvard study, 62% of respondents reported their level of stress as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holiday season [3]. And, not surprisingly, stress, or trauma, is a significant risk factor for increasing instances of DV [1]

So, if the holidays are strained, and stress contributes to an increase in violence, why are calls to hotlines and DV related police reports down during this season [4]? The answer: statistics do not always tell the whole story.

There are many possibilities for why there is a mismatch between what we expect (an increase in violence) and what the numbers show (no increase/possible decrease). 

Call numbers are low. But why?

Because the holidays are supposed to be a happy time, full of hope, some victims may feel they need to “act the part.” Or, abusers could similarly use that sense of hope, believing they may be able to change their behavior. As Michelle Kaminsky, chief of a Domestic Violence Bureau, puts it, “I don’t know what the numbers mean. It could be that people aren’t reporting, and in fact, violence is going on. It could be that people are on their best behavior during the holidays. It’s really hard to say [5].”

Another possibility is that victims may have a difficult time contacting help via the police or a DV hotline when their partner is off work and home for the holidays. 

At least for some impacted by DV, the holidays are a dangerous, anxiety-inducing time. One survivor of DV, Charlotte Kneer, stated her experiences with the holiday season, “It’s the hardest time of year. The violence is so much more poignant. Everyone ran around to make sure [her abuser] didn’t get upset. They were hyper-vigilant to whether he was going to lose it [6].”

Jessica, another survivor of DV, remembers how her abuser manipulated her into avoiding her family around the holidays, keeping her isolated. Since escaping abuse, she is appreciative of being free to see her loved ones, “I will never let someone dictate when I can and can’t see [my family] again.”

In the end, it’s very hard to know, for sure, whether or not violence increases during the holidays. However, there is one thing we can recognize: no matter what statistics show, the holidays (with added tension, more time at home, and increased use of alcohol) definitely creates a strong recipe for abuse triggers. 

COVID-19 and DV

As discussed, the holidays themselves produce ample amounts of anxiety. However, 2020 has taken things to a whole new level. 

We are facing a worldwide pandemic, COVID-19. Talk about stress! A study found that 53% of adults in the US reported the pandemic as causing them to worry, which has been linked to an increase in DV [7]

Here, the statistics align a little more closely to what we expect than what we saw with the holidays. Globally, DV rates have soared since the start of the pandemic. Women in Lebanon reported a 54% increase in violence and DV rose 30% in France [2]. This upward trend is consistent across most of the world. 

Yet, there are still untold stories within the statistics. Similar to DV calls decreasing during the holidays, the US hasn’t seen a verifiable increase in rates during the pandemic, and some areas have actually seen a decrease  [2].

But, advocates urge us not to fall for any illusions, explaining that the decrease in rates is likely due to the difficult access to resources and reporting opportunities caused by shutdowns. To add, the rate of murder-suicides (defined as a male partner killing a female and then himself) has increased. Referred to by some as a “pandemic within a pandemic,” DV is certainly increasing due to COVID-19 [2].

A Dangerous Mix

The combination of stress and social isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic and the holidays is a dangerous mix for DV survivors. 

This year, there will be thousands of DV victims who are unable to find comfort in visiting their family members as an escape from their violent partner. There will be abused mothers who refuse to call for help because they want their children to have a merry Christmas. There will be parents grieving the loss of their child to an abusive relationship. And for many families affected by DV, it will be the hardest time of their year. 

If this resonates with you, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or one of the BTSADV advocates. This season is difficult enough to navigate for those without battle scars, so we hope that you reach out and let us help you carry that additional suffering. 

For assistance setting up a DV safety plan for the holidays, or anytime, visit KSAT.com.

For more information about COVID-19 and DV, see guidelines and advice set forth from the CDC

References

  1. Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. http://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse
  2. Cagle, T. (2020). Domestic violence statistics are surging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nautilus. https://coronavirus.nautil.us/domestic-violence-statistics/
  3. Edwards, S. (2020). Holiday stress and the brain. Harvard Medical School. https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain/holiday-stress-and-brain
  4. Violence Free Colorado. (2020). Does domestic violence increase during the holidays? https://www.violencefreecolorado.org/2014/12/faq-dv-during-the-holidays/
  5. Gwynne, K. (2015, January 2). Does domestic violence actually rise during the holidays? Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/kwpjwv/does-domestic-violence-actually-rise-during-the-holidays-1201
  6. Oppenheim, M. (2015, December 22). “It’s the hardest time of the year”: why domestic violence spikes over Christmas. Newstatesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/welfare/2015/12/it-s-hardest-time-year-why-domestic-violence-spikes-over-christmas
  7. Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., Cox, C., Garfield, R., Hamel, L., Munana, C., Chidambaram, P.(2020). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/