The HBO series and best-selling thriller, Big Little Lies, wraps up modern kindergarten parents into an enthralling who-dun-it. Liane Moriarty’s storyline has captured people’s attention, but it has also led to an important social discussion about domestic violence.
(Small spoilers ahead!)
Celeste White appears to have it all, and everyone knows it. All the other kindergarten mothers are jealous of her beauty, money, education, home, children, and husband. In fact, Celeste’s husband maintains a perfectly curated Facebook page documenting their perfect life. However, one part of his relationship with Celeste is well hidden: he physically abuses her.
Celeste loves her husband, but she hates the violence. Like many victims of domestic violence, she feels conflicting emotions and wonders, “I don’t know why I stay. I don’t know why I deserve this. I don’t know why you do this, why we do this, why this keeps happening.”
Big Little Lies has portrayed a hidden reality that too many people face. About 8 percent of men and 25 percent of women have a partner who harms them physically, emotionally, and/or sexually. Leaving violent relationships is much harder than it may seem. People regularly need the support of a counselor to leave and heal from domestic violence.
If your relationship is violent, know that Thriveworks Reston has counselors who understand how to help their clients find safety and heal. We are ready to help and support victims of domestic violence.
Long-Term and Short-Term Harm
After escaping her violent relationship, one woman described what she and many others face with domestic violence, “He would be alternately kind and then fly off the handle for no reason. I always lived in fear of his temper. It was very stressful.”
The ever-present anxiety this woman describes is a common problem victims face. If violence happens, even one time, the threat of violence is ever-present. People’s brains naturally respond to threats by releasing stress hormones that send them into fight-or-flight mode. When released in small, occasional amounts, these hormones save people’s lives, but if they are released constantly because the threat is constant, they have long-term, negative health effects.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris expounds upon how the fight-or-flight system is “wonderful if you’re in a forest and there’s a bear, but the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night, and this system is activated over and over and over again, and it goes from being adaptive, or life-saving, to maladaptive, or health-damaging.”
Domestic violence, therefore, harms victims in the short-term with injures from the violence. However, there are also long-term health problems that victims face because they live with the threat—and stress—of violence.
The Cycle of Domestic Violence
Almost every violent relationship follows a similar pattern. In some relationships, the pattern takes moments to cycle through. In others, it can take years to cycle through. Each repetition is usually more harmful than the last. This recurrent, escalating cycles rarely ends without substantial intervention, even though violent partners almost always promise, “that was the last time.”
The Honeymoon Phase: To a large degree, what makes leaving a violent relationship so difficult is that there are usually peaceful and even happy times. Victims often genuinely love their partner; they just hate the way they are treated. The violent partner may cry and apologize and promise, but this period of quiet only precedes the storm.
The Tension Building Phase: The violent partner inevitably introduces tension back into the relationship, requiring more and more appeasement. Many victims feel as if they are walking on egg shells during this phase, and they may give into outrageous demands from their partner, shield their partner from stress, or do anything in their power to try and prevent the violence.
The Abusive Phase: Violence is always a choice. The abuse may be sexual, physical, and/or emotional violence. Violent partners almost always point to a flaw in a victim as the reason for the harm, but domestic abuse is always a choice. Violent partners are always responsible for their own actions.
Leaving the Cycle and Healing from Domestic Violence
As you read through the cycle of domestic violence, did you recognize any phases in your relationship? If you are living in a violent relationship, know that the therapists at Thriveworks Reston are here to help. We get the war zone you live with and understand the risks you face. Our therapists have guided many people to safety and healing.
We offer client-centered care from the moment you dial our number. A person will answer you call and make your appointment. We offer convenient, after-hour appointments, and our first-time clients usually see their counselor within a day. We also accept many insurance plans.
If your partner harms you, know that you are not to blame and that help is available. Call Thriveworks Reston, VA today.