38-year-old Catherine* came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) for help separating from a long-term physically and verbally abusive relationship. Like many clients who seek services at the DVSC, Catherine described her boyfriend as very controlling through most of the relationship, with occasional escalations to physical violence. Recently when talk of separating was broached, her boyfriend vandalized her property, harassed her workplace with malicious calls, threatened suicide, or promised to kill her if she ever took legal action against him—in effect punishing Catherine for any attempt to separate from him.
Understandably, Catherine initially presented as very anxious, felt discouraged in pursuing any of the various legal options available to her, and felt hopeless about her situation ever changing. Instead of focusing on “taking action” (which Catherine made clear she was not ready to do), her DVSC counselor first focused on understanding her very long-standing anxious thinking style, especially as it related to her sense of self and her own capacities in life.
Over a few months, Catherine came to feel less anxious and more empowered, which led to her taking several actions against her abusive boyfriend that rendered him unable to contact her without very serious legal and professional consequences for him. Feeling safer and less anxious, Catherine has since turned her attention in counseling to understanding some of her longstanding ways of relating to others, especially in intimate partner relationships, and has become especially interested in the impact some of her early childhood experiences have had on her ways of relating.
Through counseling, Catherine has been able to achieve a much higher degree of freedom in her life and has cultivated a renewed feeling of hope about her future.
*Name has been changed.