Anxiety & Abuse

By Demelza Desforges - MIN Ambassador, 23rd May 2023.

You may remember that last months blog we discussed Stress during stress awareness month. 

May is the host of Mental Health Awareness Week, and so this month we will discuss anxiety and how post separation abuse can be a prominent cause.

Coercive Control, Post-Separation Abuse and Trauma are all linked and can have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of survivors. The experience of Abuse, whether it is emotional, sexual, physical, or financial, can create an environment of fear, control, and unpredictability. Here are some of the ways these vulnerabilities lead to anxiety. 

Constant Fear and Intimidation

Following separation, an abusive ex-partner may use various tactics to maintain control. Violation of boundaries, invasion of privacy, threats, harassment, stalking, anything to intimidate and instil fear. Abusers will use threatening behaviour and manipulation tactics to keep the victim on edge, never knowing when the next incident or outburst might occur. Perpetrators may try to monitor the whereabouts of their victims. They will manipulate and coerce children, often asking them to spy on the safe parent and will twist any information obtained against their victims. These behaviours are designed to undermine and damage the mother-child relationships and to restrict freedoms. Living in an environment of coercive control creates anxiety and a state of hyper-vigilence in victims as they live in constant fear of escalation and further harm. 

Isolation and Dependency

Abusive ex-partners may continue to isolate survivors from support networks, including friends, family, colleagues and professionals who could help. They may use monitoring of communication as ways to restrict social activities. They create dependence for financial or emotional support. They carry out smear campaigns designed to assassinate the victim’s character and reputation. This could involve spreading vicious rumours:  telling school that the mother is on drugs, telling friends and family that she has committed adultery. Or it could mean lying to the victim’s work about the mother’s health. Sometimes perpetrators pretend to do this with fake concern, which makes untrained minds unaware of the abusive situation. The ensuing isolation and lack of support can lead to feelings of loneliness and helplessness as the victim is no longer sure who to turn to for support. This creates an increased reliance on the abuser and dependency, further contributing to anxiety. 

Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

Perpetrators often engage in name-calling and projection. They will go to great lengths to get what they want with no care about who they harm along the way. Gaslighting is another common tactic used in coercive control. The abuser manipulates the victim’s perception of reality, making them doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. These harmful behaviours lead to confusion as victims’ question their own sanity and lose trust in themselves and others. The resulting vulnerabilities increase anxiety.

Trauma and PTSD

Coercive control is a traumatic experience that has long-lasting effects on a person’s mental health. Survivors may experience and display symptoms of trauma including intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional reactivity, and physical symptoms too such as widespread pain.  Post-separation abuse can reawaken and exacerbate trauma experienced during the abusive relationship. Survivors may have a history of experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, which can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The trauma from the past, combined with the ongoing abuse, can intensify anxiety and make it challenging for survivors to heal and move forward.

Self-esteem and Confidence

Constant criticism, blame and degradation can lead to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. As a result survivors may experience heightened anxiety in social situations or struggle with a lack of belief in their abilities, further impacting overall well-being. Some survivors develop anxiety disorders, such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or  Panic Disorder as a direct result of the abuse. 

Co-parenting Challenges

When there are children involved, the abuse is exacerbated and continues for much longer. The perpetrator will use the children as weapons. They will interfere with routines and custody arrangements to harass the survivor. Concerns about the safety and well-being of the children can intensify anxieties and make it challenging to be able to feel safe and secure even though the relationship with the perpetrator is over. 

Legal and Financial Concerns

Post-separation abuse often involves navigating legal processes, such as obtaining a restraining order, pursuing custody arrangements, or addressing property and financial matters. These legal proceedings are emotionally draining, time-consuming and financially burdensome. The uncertainties associated with these battles contribute to anxiety and overwhelm the survivor.

As you can see,  post-separation abuse heavily affects the daily lives of mums and children who experience coercive control from the perpetrator. 

Holistic support is required to overcome  post-separation abuse and helps to develop coping strategies and self-care tips to manage anxiety symptoms. This could include mindfulness, breathing techniques, offering counselling and advice as well as offering a non-judgemental and understanding space. Mums and children affected by coercive control need to set boundaries and must practise self-compassion. What is happening is not their fault. It is important to speak out and to seek professional help. Mums In Need is here and can help build support networks by providing the right kind of support to help. Survivors are not defined by their experiences, they are resilient. Recovery and healing is possible with time, support and self-care. 

This information should not be considered substitution from professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control, post-separation abuse  or mental health concerns, please reach out to local support such as Mums In Needyour GP or local helplines for assistance.