It's very common for people experiencing domestic abuse to be pulled away from loved ones as a means of control for the abuser. By isolating their partner, abusers hope that the survivor will become more dependent on them and less likely to attempt escape, seek help, or even recognize that what they are experiencing is not normal.
What does this isolation look like? What impact does it have on survivors? How can they heal and start to form connections again?
What Does Isolation Look Like?
Abusers often use a variety of tactics to isolate victims from their support systems in order to gain control and wield power over them. Here are some common ways abusers may attempt to isolate their victims:
- Restricting access to outside communication or cutting it off completely, such as preventing the victim from using phones, computers, or other forms of communication with family and friends
- Controlling the victim's finances so they cannot get help without the abuser's permission
- Forcing alienation from family and friends by making negative comments about people in the victim's life or forbidding them from seeing certain people
- Discouraging activities that allow for time away from the abuser, such as hobbies, social events, religious services, etc.
- Gaslighting and lying - convincing victims that what they know is wrong or untrue and manipulating them into believing false things
- Intimidation through threats of violence if the victim does not comply with demands
- Threatening self-harm if the victim does not do what is asked of them – this can be used to manipulate emotions like guilt or fear into submission
- Moving far away or keeping someone in one place all day so they cannot have contact with anyone else who could provide help or support
Sometimes, the isolation isn't a direct result of the abuser. In some cases, the survivor will choose to pull away from family and friends on their own. Family and friends who have not experienced abuse don't always know how to handle a loved one who is struggling with a partner that abuses them.
It can be frustrating for family and friends to see a survivor go back to or defend an abuser. They may not understand or may not be able to see through how the abuser performs in public. As a result, those relationships that are so important for the survivor's mental health can start to deteriorate and disappear.
The Impact of Isolation
One of the biggest impacts of isolation is that because they have lost connection with friends and family, survivors become dependent on the abuser for survival. If the only person that the survivor thinks they have in their life is the abuser, it makes it much more difficult to get out of the relationship.
Isolation also has a serious impact on mental health. Research has shown that it is associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as increased risk of suicide among vulnerable individuals.
It can also lead to difficulties forming or maintaining relationships due to fear, shame, or lack of trust in others. People who are isolated may be less likely to seek help for their issues due to feelings of stigma or judgement from those around them.
No one should ever feel alone or isolated because of domestic abuse. If you are in a situation where you are being abused, it is important to know that there is help available and that you can rebuild lost connections.
To get help for yourself or a loved one experiencing abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org, by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text “START” to 88788.
You can also find a domestic violence shelter near you by clicking here.