International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women

Women Survivors of Violence: Psychological Aspects

As a mental health professional providing psychological help, I find that though there is pronounced violence against women in India. A culture of silence exists. Often women come to see me with complaints of unhappy marriage, chronic depression and intense anxiety and only in the course of intensive therapy they share that they have suffered massive violence. Quite a few of them initially feel that it is not a big deal. This is so because our culture idealizes women who tolerate suffering. Since early childhood they are encouraged to sacrifice their needs and desires and be subservient to men and elderly women. As our work progresses they realize that there is immense pain and helpless rage associated with having suffered violence. These suppressed feelings lead to multiple psychological and medical problems. They also recognize that their inability to take a stand against violence perpetuates further violence.

Types of violence

Violence against women in India is both explicit and implicit and includes following:

Neglecting their physical and psychological needs and pressurizing them to do the same.
Acts of physical violence such as slapping, hitting and battering.
Acts of sexual violence including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, marital rape, trafficking and forced prostitution.
Verbal and emotional abuse including critical comments and threats to control their behavior.
Minimizing their role and work.

Effects of Violence:

The woman feels helpless and scared, her self-confidence starts eroding and she becomes dependent.
Minor everyday stressors which she can otherwise handle are perceived as disasters.
Intense negative emotions are generated and the person may indulge in various self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors.
The person may feel guilty and blame herself for the violence.
The ability to trust other people is lost.
The person’s functioning at work and home diminishes, she may withdraw into herself and lose interest in life.
Symptoms of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are common.

Healing the effects of violence is not easy. It is often an uncomfortable and yet necessary journey. All the negative emotions associated with the traumatic experience need to be acknowledged, experienced and worked upon often with a psychologist or trained mental health professional. Running away from these feelings, denying or minimizing leads to long-term adverse consequences. Most importantly, the inability to take a stand against violence needs to be understood and worked through.

Author: Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi.

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