The damaging effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) often continue long after the abusive relationship is over, yet few resources exist to help victims move on to form new, healthy relationships, according to a new study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

“Once a victim leaves an abusive relationship, we have to begin addressing the issues that stem from having been in that relationship,” said Dr. Noelle St. Vil, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work. “You can carry the scars from IPV for a long time, and those scars can create barriers to forming new relationships.”

IPV is a subtype of domestic violence. While domestic violence can include violence occurring among any individuals living in a single household, IPV is within an intimate relationship. Essentially, it is one partner trying to gain power and control over another partner. IPV can involve many types of violent behavior, including physical, verbal, emotional and financial.

Nearly one in three women in the United States has experienced IPV, and one in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner.

St. Vil looked at IPV from the perspective of betrayal trauma theory, a concept that explores what happens when we are betrayed by people we had believed would protect us. She also wanted to know how the long-term consequences of IPV should be addressed.

“We often use betrayal trauma theory to describe children who have experienced child abuse,” said St. Vil. “But the same betrayal occurs with IPV: a partner who you trust, can be vulnerable with, who should be building you up, is in fact inflicting abuse. It’s a betrayal of what’s supposed to be a trusting relationship.”

Most help and support is centered on keeping women safe in a relationship or providing them with the means to get out of an abusive relationship. But after the fact, how does one move forward? And what does that look like?

St. Vil interviewed nine survivors of IPV and found the following four barriers they have to entering new relationships:

  • vulnerability/fear: survivors of IPV often set up an emotional wall, hesitant to begin new relationships. Some victims said they entered into a physical relationship, but avoided becoming emotionally attached.
  • relationship expectations: some women in the study opened themselves emotionally, but expected even what appeared to be a healthy relationship to deteriorate into violence.
  • shame/low self-esteem: IPV survivors expressed how low self-esteem sabotaged new relationships. Part of gaining power and control in violent relationships involves breaking down self-esteem. When things aren’t going well in new relationships, victims often return to the feelings experienced during IPV, asking, “Why would anyone love me?”
  • communication issues: victims often struggle to understand and explain to new partners what they experienced during IPV and its effects on their current behavior. Women who were unable to communicate their experiences felt disconnected from their new relationships.

“This is a starting point,” said St. Vil. “We’re trying to understand the depth of the issue and can use the data from this research for a potentially larger study. The effects don’t end once a woman is out of the relationship. We need to understand that and know there’s more work to be done.”

Source: University at Buffalo