Domestic violence is a situation where the victim lives in a state of constant fear and threats to her (or his) life. Not only does it lead to erosion of self-esteem, and helplessness domestic violence induces a state of constant stress and fear.    

What is stress?

Chronic fear leads to chronic state of stress.  There are three kinds of stress.  “Good stress” refers to the experience of rising to a challenge, taking a risk and feeling rewarded by an often positive outcome. For example sitting for a driving test and passing the test.

“Tolerable stress” refers to those situations where bad things happen, but the individual with healthy brain structure is able to cope, often with the support of family, friends and other individuals. It also helps to have personal adaptive characteristics that promote resilience, for example optimism, hopefulness and a desire to help others.  A good way to understand tolerable stress is imagine yourself sitting for a university entrance test and failing the test, but with the support of instructors, hope and family support one can pass the exam the next time and feel rewarded.

“Toxic stress” refers to the situation in which bad things happen to an individual, where the stress is chronic and the body reacts strongly, and the person has  limited social supports.  Family domestic violence is one such situation. If the social support from the in-laws is poor, as well as poor support from the husband, and parents are far away in another country then that will affect the body and brain adversely.         

Also if there is already low self-esteem in the person then the degree of stress they will feel will be more severe and the duration of body’s reactions will be stronger and may leave greater damage to the body and the brain.   

Family Domestic Violence stress upsets the chemical and physiological equilibrium of the body.  There are many ways to manage such a stress. Right emotional and mental health support is essential for a period of 1-2 years.

Take control over your life

One of the most important things in life is to feel in control of one’s own life. For example work- by working in some form of employment, or voluntary work or study you not only receive financial independence but it also gives a sense of self-esteem and networking. Employment also brings social support and work means one has to make decisions. That is good for self-esteem.      

The state of mind that the victims of domestic violence can get into is one of learned helplessness. In other  words the woman who was not helpless before finding herself into a situation of domestic violence where there is  chronic emotional or physical or sexual abuse, fear, put downs, humiliations, she starts to powerless, trapped,  helpless and hopeless. This situation can happen to anyone including animals.  In a series of   important experiments  conducted on dogs  it was  shown how  trauma given to dogs, for example  by applying  repeated, unpredictable   low grade  electric current for no good reason can give rise to a state of  helplessness in a dog. He becomes  fearful and shows signs of depression. He looks downcast, just sits there immobile, refuses to eat and loses weight. 

We recently conducted a research study comparing two groups of victims of domestic violence –one who stayed with the perpetrator (who was abusive) and the other group who left their perpetrator and found new control over their life- by work, study, or learning new skill. The latter group did much better in terms of getting rid of their suicidal thoughts. They were still suffering from depression but to a much lesser degree than the other group. 

Healing and recovery phase

There are many ways to heal the stressed brain during recovery and rehabilitation phase. One must take proper medical treatments and right kind of therapy-especially trauma based therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy, and right supportive therapy.   

Prayer and meditation is another way of healing your brain and reducing stress levels. It supports the medications and therapy. 

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation and prayer chanting is still used common in many religious practices. Modern research has shown that meditation is well used for relaxation and stress reduction.

During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.

What is Meditation?

Focused attention. Focusing your attention is generally one of the most important elements of meditation. Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind from the many distractions that cause stress and worry. You can focus your attention on such things as a specific object, an image, a mantra, or even your breathing.

Relaxed breathing. This technique involves deep, even-paced breathing using the diaphragm muscle to expand your lungs. The purpose is to slow your breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing so that you breathe more efficiently.

Yoga a Sanskrit word meaning union of mind and body is a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises to promote a more flexible body and a calm mind. As you move through poses that require balance and concentration, you become engrossed in the moment, leads to mindfulness away from negative thoughts.   

Benefits of meditation

Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health.

When you meditate, you are able to clear away the negative thoughts that have built up during periods of stress inducing situations such as domestic violence, emotional abuse and fear. 

The emotional benefits of meditation can include: Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations, increasing self-awareness, focusing on the present, building skills to manage your stress.  The most important aspect is letting your thoughts pass through your mind without judgment.

Some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as: Anxiety, Depression, Sleep problems, chronic pain, and Tension headaches.

Meditation is not a replacement for traditional medical treatment. But it may be a useful addition to your other treatment. You must speak to your doctor about it because sometimes meditation can make some mental conditions worse

Constant preoccupation with negative thoughts damages the brain structure and upsets the neurochemical balance in the brain. Thus mindfulness and focussing on the present gives the brain a chance to remove itself from constant fear, and negative self-critical thoughts.   

Chanting prayers, love and gratitude for a higher being, repeating a mantra, reading a sacred text book and reflecting on its meaning are useful ways to get away from negative stressful thoughts, enjoy the positive emotion of love and being cared for. This give your brain a chance to repair and heal itself and reduce stress chemicals in your body and brain.