Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Stephanie

Age at interview: 39

Brief outline: Stephanie is now free of her second emotionally abusive relationship but still suffers from nightmares and stress and describes herself as ‘cynical’ and less trusting of men. Stephanie met both partners in the workplace. She did not live with either partner. The first relationship lasted six years and the second one only a few months, her previous experience enabling her to recognise the developing abuse sooner.

Background: Stephanie is a 39 year old professional single white British woman, living by herself in a privately rented home. She works full time as a finance manager for a large organisation and does not have children.

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Aged 28, Stephanie left a long-term relationship, living with her partner in the house they owned together, when she met a man at work; a new relationship that she felt was ‘just meant to be’. However, he was ‘very abusive from the beginning’, calling her names, blaming her for his mood swings and, once, physically attacking her in a night club. His friends tended to ‘normalise’ and laugh about the abusive behaviour, which made Stephanie think she was ‘over-reacting’.

The relationship had frequent break-ups and reunions, when Stephanie felt they managed to talk honestly, before the abusive patterns of behaviour began again. Following one break-up, Stephanie moved to a different city for a new job but their relationship re-started. Stephanie felt encouraged when her partner showed remorse for his behaviour, he sought help through his GP and attended cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions. However he continued to lie about his whereabouts, his friendships with other women, and to blame her for everything. After one particular night of his ‘rants’ she ended their relationship, threatening to call the police.

Six years later, Stephanie’s second partner was initially sympathetic to her previous experience of abuse, which drew her towards him until, months later, he blamed their break-up on this previous abuse, suggesting it was her fault and that she needed psychological help. 

This partner had kept a liaison going with his previous girlfriend and then engaged in ‘gas-lighting’, causing her to question her own sanity by denying events or conversations that had taken place.

Stephanie feels this relationship has impacted on her professional life, she constantly fears encountering her second ex through work, and she is also upset that, when they split up, most of their mutual friends ‘sided with him’.

Although Stephanie feels that most people ‘don’t particularly understand, one friend suggested she was experiencing abuse. Stephanie made an internet search and was shocked to find her experiences described, but she also felt ‘validated’. She joined an internet forum, which has been a major source of support.

When the second relationship ended, Stephanie was depressed, under-weight and, at times, suicidal. Her self-esteem was ‘ground down’ by the abuse, she suffered from panic attacks, she self-harmed, and still has frequent nightmares. Following a short course of counselling via her workplace, she received help from private counselling, feeling unable to wait many months for NHS counselling offered through her GP. She feels that GPs need training to recognise the signs of abuse and that relationship education should be improved at school so that children do not learn to ‘normalise’ abusive behaviour.

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