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NC9 Special Assignment: The Cycle of Abuse

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POSTED: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 10:24am

UPDATED: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 1:05pm

The damage of domestic abuse, begins in the earliest stages of life. 

"Hearing the sounds, hearing their mother scream, hearing the violence is very traumatizing just because they're not physically hit, in some ways it's worse," said Nancy Rhodes, M.D. 

But observation or experience of abuse aren't the only factors. Child development specialist Eunice Martinez said a nurturing childhood environment shapes a child's psychological and emotional development. A child who is loved and nurtured develops trust and security. Absence of that make a child insecure, and incapable of trust or healthy bonds.

Trust and bonding are linked feel good hormones produced in the brain. Proper development goes all the way back to pre-birth, as explained by Dr. Michael Escamilla

"It starts in utero, it's very early, that's when synapses are forming. neurons are beginning to connect in certain ways."

Neurons, or nerve cells, send electrical impulses from cell to cell, and are responsible for sending these feel good hormones through the brain.

Even inside the womb, a child can be neurologically affected in the face of stress and violence. After birth, the effects can be detrimental.

"Children who are exposed are likely to be victims themselves or aggressors because that patter of violence is instilled in life," said Stephanie Karr, director of the Center Against Family Violence.   

Psychotherapist Sylvia Casabianca says women may even learn to link abuse with love in mind.

But not all victims or aggressors had a violent past.

Take Suki Burciaga, whose first encounter with violence happened as a teen.

"I was wearing some jeans he didn't like,so he laughed at me, why are you wearing that. who do you want to impress so he slapped me across the face..I was in shock," Burciaga said. 

"Trauma has those effects," Dr. Rhodes said.  "They shut down, they freeze.. sort of like a rabbit, or a deer.. they just stop, and don't know what to do."

Suki's boyfriend then followed a common cycle of domestic abuse.

"He called me and apologized," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm never going to hurt you again, I love you.. I believed him." 

Experts say the building of tension and anger between the couple eventually leads to an incident, or argument. 

"Then there's the crisis phase," Dr. Rhodes explained. "She is hurt, crying..he then starts to apologize, beg and then there's the honeymoon phase."

During the honeymoon phase, there's a release of the feel-good hormones, but it doesn't last long. 

"This repeats over and over and over, and what it does, it's kind of a reinforcement loop," said Dr. Rhodes. 

This repeat behavior wires both the victim and the aggressor's brains, so it becomes very hard to change because the body and brain are trained to react in a certain way.

Mrs. Casabianca says a victim of repeated abuse likely suffers from mental disturbances such as depression, and symptoms include hopelessness, lack of motivation and inertia.

A patient will also lose their sense of identity and self esteem. In the brain, it's a depletion of the feel-good hormones.

The woman's brain fails to function normally, making it difficult for her to leave, or seek help.

"In depression, you're slowed down, you're not making good decisions," said Dr. Escamilla. 

But a solution is not always easy to come by for a victim.

"One of the tools that aggressors use very effectively is isolation," said Karr."Gradually over time, they isolate them from family, friends, they pull natural support systems away."

Sometimes its an issue of financial dependence, or even the fear of independence.In these cases, children who grew up insecure and anxious (possibly due to exposure to abuse, or neglect) are subject to abandonment fears. In the brain, it's the excessive release of stress hormones. According to Family and Marriage therapist Linda Graham.

In many cases, these aggressors, in abusing their partner, are expressing their own fears of abandonment, and do whatever it takes to make them stay.

But each nightmare of mental or physical abuse. Has different circumstances.

The important thing is to get help, and regain your sense of self and safety.

Statistics show that it takes an average of eight attempts to leave, but it is not impossible.

"What we feel is that each time they come back, they're stronger," Karr said. "We have a 24-hour crisis hope line for both domestic violence and sexual assault, and that number is 593-7300 anyone can call, 24-7 ask for help, get information, talk to someone."

Upon getting treatment and help, the brain is capable of regaining healthy response. 

"Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness," Karr said.


For help, call the Center Against Family Violence at (915) 593-7300.

Comments News Comments

BOY - There's sure of this going on. I suppose it's very hard for victims to make a decision to change their lives and leave the abusive situation. The agresser has already molded his victim into thinking there is no way out, no solution even when there's help somewhere from their families, agencies, friends, any number of things she can reach out for !! It becomes an impossible feat. Besides the fact that the agreeser is always on the look out for anything or anybody who might open her eyes.

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