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  • Kimberly Valenta

To Feel Something

Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence & Suicide

By: Kimberly Valenta

September is Suicide Awareness Month. It is recognized nationally, and was made to break the stigma about suicide and speak about what may be taboo in day to day life.

We recognize that this is a sensitive subject for anyone to reflect on. We only wish to raise awareness about what victims of domestic violence experience.
Based on a study done by the CDC, Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and it was responsible for more than 47,500 deaths in 2019, which is about one death every 11 minutes.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also noted; the number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.4 million attempted suicide.

Studies show that survivors of domestic violence, including dating violence, have higher-than-average rates of suicidal thoughts, with as many as 23 percent of survivors having attempted suicide compared to 3 percent among those who have not experienced domestic violence.

In this blog article we are going to show the correlation between the effects of intimate partner violence and suicide rates in the United States.

How does this relate to domestic violence?

Intimate partner violence is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological harm upon a current or former partner or spouse. We find that in domestic violence relationships that there is a perpetrator who is trying to gain control over another person’s life. Examples of this include:

  • Controlling the household’s finances (takes their money, gives out allowance,

  • Emotional abuse ( gaslighting, put downs, playing mind games)

  • Isolation (Limits outside interaction, decides who they can see & where they go, prevents them from getting a job)

  • Jealousy

  • Threatening (Threatens to report them to welfare, CPS, or immigration)

  • Coercion (Supplying drugs or alcohol, promises of marriage no real action)

  • Intimidation (destroying their property, physical assault, sexual assault, display of weapons)

It should be mentioned that perpetrators of domestic violence may also threaten suicide. This has been identified as a manipulation tactic to get their partner to feel guilt and discourage their partners from leaving or break-up.

Being a victim of domestic violence is a traumatic experience where they may be feeling a number of different emotional reactions such as:
  • Loss of self-esteem

  • Concerns about their safety

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Depression

  • Confusion

  • Guilt

Exposure to repeated physical, psychological, or other abuse may cause victims to experience depression, psychological distress, PTSD, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder and more. Victims of intimate partner violence sometimes become apathetic about themselves and indifferent toward living, perhaps to the point of considering or inflicting harm upon themselves.

Why do Victims of Intimate Partner Violence and DV Engage in Self-harm or Suicidity?

A paper by Dr. Jenina Fisher outlines that persons that have been through abuse may see their bodies as a vehicle of tension and has no other real value.
In intimate partner violence, as mentioned above, there is a perpetrator that exudes their control over their partner. There are a number of different ways for this control to be displayed in their relationship, but at the end of the day the perpetrator is making their partner reliant on them and them alone.
Victims in intimate partner violence relationships will feel that they cannot connect with others (or are not allowed to), so they rely on their own resources to process their trauma.

This is where we see coping strategies as a way to seek relief from their trauma:
● Use of drugs or alcohol
● Ineffectively using their prescription medications
● Self-starvation
● Binging & purging
● Self-injuring behaviors (cutting, scratching, blood-letting)
● High-risk behaviors (speeding, being in dangerous areas, ways to induce an adrenaline response)
● Suicidity or creating suicide plans

These coping strategies may or may not lead to an attempted suicide. It is the adrenaline rush of engaging in these activities and regaining a sense of control over themselves that

What is the Difference Between Self-harm & Actively Planning Suicide?

As discussed previously, self-harm is done when a person feels a disconnect with their body. Their body becomes an object of tension and does not have value.

Self-harm in this way is a coping strategy and a way to gain control over one’s own body and exude some sort of control over themselves.

As discussed in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin titled Intimate Partner Violence: A Pathway to Suicide, “Moderate suicidal ideation may arise as individuals continue to experience both psychological pain and hopelessness.

The progression to stronger suicidal ideation results from further loss of connectedness with other people, social roles, interests, and sense of meaning in life, as well as a continued feeling of burdensomeness.”

The Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide, proposes two prerequisites for a potentially fatal attempt:
  1. A strong desire to die

  2. The capability for lethal self-harm

Warning Signs to Look Out For:

  • Feeling like a burden

  • Being isolated

  • Increased anxiety

  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

  • Increased substance use

  • Looking for a way to access lethal means; weapons, medication etc.

  • Increased anger or rage

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Expressing hopelessness

  • Talking or posting about wanting to die

  • Making plans for suicide

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Listen

  • Create connections from friends, family, and community support

  • Identify and support people at risk

  • Keep them safe.

  • Help them connect with service providers

How Defy Can Assist:

The great thing at Defy is that we have a number of different services to help survivors.
  • Assistance filing restraining orders with an advocate

  • Connecting survivors with lega