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Effects of Domestic Violence on Mental Health
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the last section, we discussed Illusions.
Now let's look at the demand for competition
and how Pains and Pluses Journaling was helpful to Molly.
Molly, a 21-year-old
college student, struggled with her own expectations of perfection in her relationship
with Shawn. Molly and Shawn started dating in High School when she was 15 and
have been dating ever since. When Molly first came into my office, she would say
things to me like, "My relationship is the greatest! Shawn is the best! Everything
about this is absolutely right, nothing could possibly be any better."
you can see, Molly was using superlatives to polarize issues and create a perfect
reality. The five years of abuse made her crave an ideal world with an ideal relationship.
In her ideal world, Shawn would make her feel special and safe. All this polarization
contributed to the creation of Molly's Perfect Self, which, as you know, is contradictory
to the self-esteem of a battered woman.
♦ 3-Step Exercise: Pluses and Pains Journal
you tried a "Pluses and Pains Journal" with your perfectionist client
who has been battered? Here is how it worked with Molly.
1. One column is
labeled "The Pluses of Perfectionism;" the other column was labeled,"The Pains of Perfectionism." After putting items on both sides,
Molly told me which side was better for her and why.
2. Under the "Pluses"
side, Molly listed "preserving the way people thought of her" and "to
feel good about what she does."
3. Under the "Pains" side, Molly listed
"not being able to live up to the ideals she set for herself" and "having
people see through the facade she was maintaining."
After analyzing the list,
Molly was able to see how the Perfect Self she created was destroying her self-confidence
and self-esteem. Have you found, like I, that many battered women destroy
their real selves by placing such perfectionist standards on themselves? Molly's own demands of a Perfect Self also created the second demand many
battered women often face, which is Competition.
♦ Competition with Self
Regarding Molly's competition
with herself, Molly's Perfect Self was someone whom she was in constant competition
with and would never be able to live up to. Because she wanted to have, as she
put it, "The greatest relationship with Shawn", Molly was constantly
in competition with her own personal idealized standards. She even burst out in
sobs in one session, stating, "It's like a race that I have to win, but couldn't.
Not being able to be absolutely right all the time makes me feel absolutely wrong most of the time!" Thus, Molly's Perfect Self largely contributed to her
feelings of failure, as with many battered women.
♦ Competition with Others
However, as you
know, in addition to being in competition with themselves and their own idealized
standards, battered women may feel in constant competition with others. For example,
Becky, aged 26, felt in competition with her neighbors, her husband David's business
associates' wives, David's family members, and many other women that came across
her path. Have you found, like I, that this competition with others oftentimes
makes friendships very difficult for the battered woman. Their feelings of competition
even make friendship with oneself impossible.
Becky had been married to David for 3 years and had a two-year-old daughter, Mariah. David had been abusing
Becky in small ways for years. Becky stated, "The worst was when he threw
a cup of steaming hot coffee at me because I hadn't put enough sugar in it."
When she first came into my office, Becky suffered from constantly comparing herself
to her friends and competing. She stated, "I visited my neighbor one afternoon
and saw that her laundry was scattered all over the couch, not folded. I smiled
inside and thought to myself, My house never looks that way. I always fold
the laundry as soon as it's dry. David never has to see it."
level of competition was harmful for Becky. Her standards and expectations of
always being better were nearly impossible to maintain with a normally active
two-year-old in the house. She stated, "I will always make sure I look just
right whenever I leave the house, even if I'm just going to the grocery. I want
to make sure I look as good as all the other mothers and I don't ever want David
to feel ashamed of me."
♦ Goal Setting Exercise
With Becky, I found a Goal Setting Exercise helped to make her demands of competition and perfection more realistic. At the
end of the session, Becky would write down a realistic goal that she would like
to achieve for herself. For example, Becky's goal the first week was not to worry
how she looked every second of every day.
The following week, Becky returned to
my office, stating, "It felt like a thousand-pound weight had just been lifted
off my shoulders. After applying my makeup in the morning and styling my hair,
I didn't stop at a mirror again until I washed my face before bed each night."
If she was unable to meet a goal, Becky and I would discuss possible events that
had kept her from achieving the goal, as well as what she could do differently
to make that goal more attainable in the future.
Since David had been
court-ordered into anger management, his physical abuse became less of an issue.
Thus, the building up of Becky's self-esteem through the tearing down of her competitive
self-made super structure became a treatment focus.
In this section, we have
discussed the excessively unrealistic demands of perfectionism discussed in the
previous section and competition that battered women often place on themselves and
receive from others. In addition, we discussed "Pains and Pluses Journaling."
This journaling assisted the battered client by providing insights into how the
imposition of a Perfect Self can destroy her self-confidence as well as self-esteem.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Goodman, L. A., Fauci, J. E., Sullivan, C. M., DiGiovanni, C. D., & Wilson, J. M. (2016). Domestic violence survivors’ empowerment and mental health: Exploring the role of the alliance with advocates. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 86(3), 286–296.
Lloyd, M., Ramon, S., Vakalopoulou, A., Videmšek, P., Meffan, C., Roszczynska-Michta, J., & Rollè, L. (2017). Women’s experiences of domestic violence and mental health: Findings from a European empowerment project. Psychology of Violence, 7(3), 478–487.
Spencer, C., Mallory, A. B., Cafferky, B. M., Kimmes, J. G., Beck, A. R., & Stith, S. M. (2019). Mental health factors and intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Violence, 9(1), 1–17.
How is a Pains and Pluses Journal beneficial to a battered woman? To
select and enter your answer go to .