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Physical and Emotional Safety Planning During a Pandemic

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By Jessica M. Corvo

If you cannot go outside, then go inside.” – Unknown

Many people are able to leverage the pandemic as an opportunity to examine life choices and habits. For victims and survivors domestic violence, this is a very scary and potentially dangerous time. Safety planning under normal circumstances can be tricky; safety planning during a pandemic will require extra consideration. 

This article is focused on ways victims and survivors of domestic violence can protect themselves. The suggestions are based on the assumption that leaving is not an option. The pandemic is challenging all aspects of safety. We start by offering ways to encourage mental clarity and emotional processing, then we offer a simple safety plan. Our intention is to help victims and survivors move through this pandemic as safely as possible.  

Mental Clarity

As we embrace another week of being “Safe at Home,” victims of domestic violence are not actually safe. Being confined in a house with an abuser can be dangerous and victims have an additional layer of mental stress placed on them. To protect your mental health, try your best to reframe the situation. For example, each time I heard, “Safe at Home,” I was instantly overwhelmed and started to shut down. To help, I reframed the situation from “Safe at Home” to “Social Isolating.” Then after a few weeks, I reframed again to “Reflective Living.” The process of reframing is a very powerful way to calm the mind. My current frame, “Reflective Living,” promotes an increase in consciousness. Do your best to be aware of how you are framing the situation.  

Another way for victims and survivors to protect their mental wellness is by understanding that different realities co-exist. Everyone is experiencing the pandemic, but everyone is experiencing the pandemic differently. When talking with abusers, remember the powerful nuances between different realities. Psychological warfare means abusers will do everything in their power to torment their victims. Abuse can come in the form of false information, high-risk behavior or triangulation, and all ways to regain control. Victims can stay calm by reminding themselves multiple realities can co-exist. In other words, observe what the abuser is saying but do not accept it as your reality. Tell yourself that the reality of the abuser is their reality, not your reality. It seems simple, but this is much easier said than done. To successfully implement this nuance, it is best to be in a balanced state, as opposed to emotional.  

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller 

Emotional Processing

Each person has a complex brain. Each complex brain is controlled by our emotions. When we are exposed to chronic stress, the brain starts to shut down. This shut down is commonly referred to as “survival mode.” Long term effects of survival mode can be devastating. Victims can prolong the onset of survival mode to a certain extent. Isolation makes phoning a friend or engaging in a distraction very difficult. Three suggestions to bring ourselves back into the present moment could include:

  • Cold water: Put your hands under cold water for a few minutes,
  • Deep breathing: Place a hand on your heart and take deep breaths,
  • Movement: Stretch or do a workout. (a workout can be washing the floor and adding squats or push-ups as you clean different rooms).

Each of these actions can help ground you and help you focus in on the moment.

It can also help to remember that you are NOT alone. This is not an easy time and millions of domestic violence survivors are struggling around the world. These suggestions can help pause the situation long enough to identify what is safe and what is not. 

The Safety Plan

Once you have mental clarity and emotional control, evaluate your surroundings and develop a safety plan with these three key steps in mind:

  1. Weapons: Identify all weapons or potential weapons in the house. If there are firearms, are they in a locked box? Where are the knives? Power tools? Long chords? Be aware of anything that can be used to cause you harm. 
  2. Escape: Where are the exits in relation to the ‘weapons?’ How close are the neighbors? If you were to run out at this exact moment, how long would it take before someone could help you? 
  3. Community: Is anyone aware you are being abused? Are you in regular communication with anyone? Can you identify people able to help you? Be careful who you trust while also make sure someone will notice if you went missing. 

During this pandemic, many shelters are closed and survivors have no option but to stay home with their abusers. Creating a safety plan can soften overwhelming feelings and help you keep holding on until you are able to get out. I’m a survivor of gun violence and creating a safety plan was extremely useful for five years. Yes, safety plans help victims successfully escape. Safety plans are also a powerful tool to mentally and emotionally practice leaving an abuser. The goal is to protect yourself. 

If abusive behavior is escalating, we strongly urge you to reach out to a local safe home. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a chat option on their website where you can connect to support systems to learn about local resources and help develop a safety plan without needing to speak on the phone. 

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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