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Domestic Violence Survivors: Thinking of Suicide?

It’s not uncommon during or after abuse to think suicide is your only way out. How to turn off those negative voices and find hope for the future

By Stephanie Thurrott

 

Information shared in this piece may be triggering to some. If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can reach out 24/7 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for support from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, please consider calling 911.

 

There’s a strong link between domestic violence and suicide. So, if you’re a domestic violence survivor, you may sometimes have suicidal thoughts. The Partnership Against Domestic Violence reports that women who are exposed to violence can have a risk of suicide up to 17 times higher than women who aren’t exposed to violence. (There’s not enough research to identify the risk for men.) And according to the American Psychological Association, domestic violence survivors are twice as likely to attempt suicide more than once compared to people who don’t experience this type of violence.

 

Several different factors can play into increased risk for suicide if you’re a domestic violence survivor:

You may feel the only way to get out of an abusive relationship is to end your life. “One big difference [in domestic violence survivors] is that people feel so helpless and hopeless and stuck,” says Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., professor and chief psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and past president of the American Psychological Association.

 

You may be experiencing low self-esteem. Emotional abuse is often part of intimate partner violence. Your partner may degrade and belittle you and tell you you’re useless. They may even say, “I wish you were dead,” or tell you to kill yourself. “Intimate partner violence and domestic violence really negatively impact people’s sense of themselves or their sense that their life has meaning and purpose,” says Dr. Kaslow.

 

You may be isolated. Social support helps protect people from thinking about suicide and attempting suicide. “If a perpetrator keeps you from having contact with your family, friends, religious community or work community, then you don’t get the benefits of that social support,” says Dr. Kaslow.

 

You may also feel like you must protect your partner, so you don’t tell your family and friends how much you’re struggling. You might have people you can turn to for support in other areas of your life. “But you don’t have support about what you most need,” adds Dr. Kaslow.

 

You may feel helpless. If your partner wields power and control over you, you can feel helpless. And that helplessness can lead to hopelessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

 

You may be getting negative messages from your partner. Your partner may say you are crazy or stupid or aren’t treating them nicely. They may bring up things they did in the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship to deny other behaviors. These messages may lead you to question reality, wonder what’s wrong with you, and ask yourself why you can’t handle your situation better. “It unsettles people’s sense of themselves,” says Dr. Kaslow.

 

When It’s Time to Get Help

 

Separating from an abusive partner may help reduce your risk of suicide and domestic violence. But it might not be possible for you to leave. If this is the case, you can still take steps to reduce or eliminate thoughts of suicide. “First of all, you need to appreciate that it’s really, really hard,” Dr. Kaslow said. “You have to do whatever you can to take care of yourself.”

 

Reaching out to a professional counselor, if possible, is important. If you’re unable to leave your house without being interrogated, you may want to try an online therapy option. You can also always reach out to the trained counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, via chat or phone at 800-273-8255 or 988 (available in some areas now and across the US on July 16, 2022), when your mind begins to go to a place of suicide.

 

In addition, one of these tactics may help you turn off those negative voices inside you.

 

  • Find ways to give yourself a sense of meaning and power. “Having a sense of purpose can make a big difference,” Dr. Kaslow said. That could be taking care of your children, working, or finding a way to contribute to your community.
  • Turn to any support you can find. Even if you only have a few minutes when your partner leaves, try to connect with someone who can help you. A friend, family member, coworker, or advocate at a local helpline.
  • Have safety plans in place. Along with a safety plan for domestic violence, Dr. Kaslow recommends having a safety plan for suicidal thoughts where you outline warning signs, coping strategies, and people and places you can turn to for help.
  • Make your environment safe. Remove guns, knives, and extra pills from your home so you’re less likely to be able to act on suicidal thoughts if you have them.
  • Steer clear of alcohol and drugs. It’s tempting to self-medicate to cope with abuse, but alcohol and drugs make the cycle of violence worse.
  • Articulate your reasons for living. It can be helpful to state what those reasons are clear. You might want to write down your top reason for living or make a list. It can be as simple as living for your pet curled up at your feet or living because you still want to see the ocean.

Suicide is Permanent, But the Pain Isn’t

 

Having someone tell you, “But you have so much to live for” might sound meaningless when you feel like you’re at the bottom of a deep well and the pain is overwhelming. A type of tunnel vision can lead a person contemplating suicide to only see one solution in front of them—a life of pain or ending the pain, when, there are other options. Things can get better, even though it may not feel that way.

 

It may help to think of your emotions like a storm. Storms are moving, constantly. They pass by and though they may come again, they don’t stay still in one place. One house is not rained on for all of eternity. A tornado will eventually dissipate.

 

 

You may also want to remind yourself that just as you have the power to make a permanent choice like suicide, you also have the power to change your circumstances, even just one small step at a time. As author Nicky Gumbel wrote, “Just because you are struggling does not mean you are failing.

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