the previous track, we discussed the six Building Blocks in the Pyramid of Self-Hate.
The building blocks were: scapegoating, building a wall, unrealistic relationship
expectations, selflessness, self-vindictive criticism, and second guessing.
This track will focus on the Personal Terrorisms inflicted upon many
As you know, a common pattern in batterers is to isolate
their partners from activities and people. As a result, the battered woman begins
to depend on the abuser to define her self-esteem. As you know, the more she turns
to her controlling partner for support, the more her self-esteem is diminished. I have found that battered women are often victims of terrorism by
the things that they fear the most.
Amanda, a 22-year-old graduate student, has been punched and slapped in the face by her boyfriend, Jason, for several
months. When she came into my office she sobbed, "For the past few months,
I have been living in a personal hell. But I always give into Jason's begging
and apologies after he explodes and don't leave." Amanda was so terrorized
by Jason that she would wake up two or three times in the night fearing that he
was standing over her with his fist clenched and arm cocked ready to hit her.
Amanda often described her stomach as being so tightly tied into knots that
she would often throw up after eating. I validated Amanda's situation by stating,
"I admire your strength for dealing with all you're dealing with." To
further validate Amanda, I felt it would be beneficial to provide her with some
labeling terminology. Thus, unconscious reactions become conscious and can be
dealt with. I told her it sounds like she was involved in sort of a "Personal
7 Ways Battered
Women Inflict Personal Terrorism or Trauma on Themselves
I told Amanda I have found there are seven ways battered
women inflict Personal Terrorism on themselves. As you listen to these seven methods
of Personal Terrorism, reflect on your battered client and the ways in which these
methods have materialized for her:
1. Loss of Femininity.
I find that battered women often personally terrorize themselves fearing that
they have lost their femininity. This fear of loss of femininity appeared soon
after Jason's beatings began. As Amanda's personal terrorism grew, she began to
constantly worry about her makeup, hairstyles, and clothing. She thought that
if she looked just right for Jason, things would go back to normal and the beatings
would stop. This is just one way that Amanda took the blame off of Jason for the
beatings and put it on herself. Not only was Amanda being beaten physically, Amanda
terrorized herself psychologically. She couldn't look at herself in the mirror
without feeling inept and worthless.
you found, like I, that many battered women personally terrorize themselves by
complaining of illnesses that have no physical basis? When Amanda first came to
see me, she was convinced that she had the flu. After several medical examinations,
it was concluded that she was in perfect health. Amanda also complained of hearing loss after Jason gave her a crashing blow to her left temple. However, after a
hearing exam, no loss of hearing was detected.
Amanda was using medical problems to explain her feelings of despondency and depression. This caused Amanda
to not only worry about the next beating from Jason, but to fret over every medical
symptom she might have. Thus, her terror over her medical symptoms caused yet
another fear in her life.
As you know, many
battered women have nightmares that play out their fears about the horrible beatings
they endure. Amanda had continuous nightmares about Jason burying her alive. She
would wake up in a panic as dirt was being poured over her face and Jason's image
began to recede. This caused Amanda to not only be beaten and humiliated during
the day, but to be personally terrorized during the night.
Thoughts and Ghoulish Fantasies.
I have found, as I'm sure you have, that
many battered women replay and elaborate in their minds, the horrific beatings
that they endure. Amanda had images of Jason walking into the house, slamming
her head on the counter, and pulling her outside by her hair to humiliate her
in front of the whole neighborhood for not being good enough for him. While these
fantasized episodes had never really happened, many similar to them had. Amanda's
ghoulish fantasy was a very real possibility, and caused her to personally terrorize
herself on a daily/hourly basis.
As you know,
many battered women suffer from insomnia. Amanda, as mentioned earlier, would
frequently wake up in a panic, imagining Jason standing over her with his fist cocked ready to strike. This lack of sleep caused Amanda tremendous stress. Amanda's
stress coupled with lack of sleep often caused her to slack off on daily tasks.
As a result, she would have to suffer Jason's severe consequences.
As you know, battered women like Amanda may also place
unreasonable expectations on themselves. These expectations may even approach
perfectionism. Amanda would sometimes vacuum 2 or 3 times a day. The house was
always spotless in order to avoid Jason's attacks. As mentioned before, Amanda's
perfectionism didn't stop with the house; her appearance was under continuous
scrutiny. She wouldn't leave the house unless her makeup, clothing, and hair were
As you know, some memories are filled
with moments of guilt and anguish for an abused woman. They can even be over incredibly
insignificant matters. I find that battered women often accept the accumulation
of these harmful memories as a normal part of themselves. Amanda has built up
a storehouse of many memories from the months of abuse she has received from Jason.
These memories would haunt her in dreams, thoughts, and during everyday activities.
Amanda felt hopeless to control her own life; she could not escape the past and
would anticipate future beatings that were sure to come. In my sessions with Amanda,
I helped her to see that the memories she allows to haunt her may be sparked by
inner feelings that something is missing in her life.
Missing?" Exercise - 4 Questions
In treating Amanda, I felt it was important to
help her address the real issue which was the abuse from Jason. To help Amanda
address these seven Personal Terrorisms, she did a reassessment of her life by
completing a "What's Missing?" Exercise. Think of an Amanda you might
be treating and how this exercise might help her to resolve some of her own Personal
Amanda completed the following four What's Missing questions:
1) The thing I am really missing in love is
2) The thing I am really missing in work is
3) The thing I am really missing with my family
4) One thing that would really make a difference in my life is
A discussion of these questions helped Amanda to identify and separate
from the personal terrorism she was experiencing by deciding what was worth saving
in her relationship with Jason and what she needed to let go.
have a current client who would benefit by receiving information about the seven
Personal Terrorisms of Loss of Femininity, Hypochondria, Nightmares, Disturbing
Thoughts and Ghoulish Fantasies, Insomnia, Perfectionism, and Memories?
In the next track we will talk about the excessively unrealistic demands of perfectionism
and competition that battered women place on themselves, and the "Pains and
Pluses Journaling" intervention.
- Gaman, A., McAfee, S., Homel, P., & Jacob, T. (Jun 2017). Understanding Patterns of Intimate Partner Abuse in Male-Male, Male-Female, and Female-Female Couples. Psychiatric Quarterly, 88(2), 335-347.
- Michalopoulou, E., Tzamalouka, G., Chrousos, G., & Darviri, C. (Aug 2015). Stress Management and Intimate Partner Violence: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Family Violence, 30(6), 795-802. DOI: 10.1007/s10896-015-9740-8.
- Ørke, E. C., Vatnar, S. K. B., & Bjørkly, S. (Jul 2018). Risk for Revictimization of Intimate Partner Violence by Multiple Partners: A Systematic Review. Journal of Family Violence, 33(5), 325-339.
- Suvak, M. K., Taft, C. T., Goodman, L. A., & Dutton, M. A. (2013). Dimensions of functional social support and depressive symptoms: A longitudinal investigation of women seeking helps for intimate partner violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(3), 455–466.
- Svavarsdóttir, E. K., Orlygsdottir, B., & Gudmundsdottir, B. (Jul 2015). Reaching Out To Women Who Are Victims of Intimate Partner Violence. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 51(3), 190-201. DOI: 10.1111/ppc.12080.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Graham-Bermann, S., Sularz, A. R., & Howell, K. H. (2011). Additional adverse events among women exposed to intimate partner violence: Frequency and impact. Psychology of Violence, 1(2), 136–149.
Jouriles, E. N., & Kamata, A. (2016). Advancing measurement of intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence, 6(2), 347–351.
Spangaro, J. M., Zwi, A. B., & Poulos, R. G. (2011). "Persist. persist.": A qualitative study of women's decisions to disclose and their perceptions of the impact of routine screening for intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence, 1(2), 150–162.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What are seven personal terrorisms experienced by battered women? To
select and enter your answer go to .