Escaping domestic violence

    - Jia Youchun

Lian Xiang and Niu Meng are both forty years old; they have been married for twenty years already, having lived in the village Leiguzhen since the beginning of their union. When Lian Xiang came to see me, she was accompanied by her husband.

They stepped inside our counseling room in Leigu workstation (part of the health center) one after the other. When I saw Lian Xiang’s sorrowful expressions, I knew right away that she had been living in pain.

After the opening of the health center in 2009, Leigu workstation has already established a permanent counseling service. Many locals have started to come to us to seek for advice. Our counseling room is only about 5-6 square meters. In this tiny room, other than the chair placed in front of the counselor’s desk, there is only enough room to accommodate four other chairs, lined up tightly next to each other by the door.

Upon entering the room, the wife decided to sit in the chair by the desk, directly facing me. And strangely enough, the husband chose the chair furthest away from me and closest to the door. He looked like he was ready to escape at any moment. Every detail of his body language signaled rejection: blindly staring at the ceiling, his had his legs tilted and arms folded across the chest. Every so often, he turned around to see what was going on outside of the door, beyond the confinement of my office.

My intuition told me that they had some serious issues in their relationship.

Lianxing spoke first, "I went to the clinic to get medication; I have a weak stomach, can’t eat much and frequently feel like throwing up. I feel really nauseous, as if standing in the middle of a gigantic earthquake."

"How long have you been going through this? Have you ever gone to the hospital for a checkup?" I asked, with much concern.

"It’s been at least several months. I think I’ve already taken over a thousand yuans worth of medication; nothing has changed."

"How long have you not been able to sleep?"

"Over a year."

"For that long! How are you not able to sleep? Is it because you have a hard time falling asleep or you just wake up extremely early. Are you easily awakened?"

"I go to bed around midnight every evening, but halfway through the night, I would wake up, and would not longer be able to fall back asleep. I feel horrible in the morning. Sometimes, I get the feeling that I am being punished for my sin. My health is really not good right now and I have not been in a good mood in awhile. If it were not for my two daughters, Dr. Jia, I really wouldn’t want to keep on living." Lianxiang’s eyes turned red, about to cry but short of tears.

"What makes you not want to live anymore?" I decided to find out more.

Lianxiang glared at her husband grudgingly, and told me "Dr. Jia, our family actually did not lose that much during the earthquake. No one died, and although the house collapsed, we still were able to retrieve most of our belongings. But after the earthquake, my husband changed. His temper became unrecognizable. He drinks, hits people and sleeps with other women. Last week, when I told him to stop acting so foolishly and irresponsibly, he proceeded to punching me。"

I did see bruises on Lianxiang’s arms and legs.

I administered a depression test to Lianxiang, and found that she had very severe depression.

Her condition required immediate medication. I advised her to first start the medication at the psychiatrist’s and then supplement that with necessary psychological therapy. During later therapy sessions, I found out that she has gone through domestic violence carried out by her husband for at least the past ten years. He has had a history of hitting her which only intensified after the earthquake. In addition to giving her depression-targeted therapies, I also wanted to counsel her on domestic violence, with the hope that she can regain herself and rebuild her self-confidence so that she can escape from the shadow of domestic violence.

Due to my sensitiveness to domestic violence cases and my concern for Lianxiang’s condition, I have grown extremely interested in the family story that she told me. I cannot deny that Lianxiang’s distorted understanding of domestic violence and inadequate response behavior constituted the intensification of her domestic violence.

Lianxiang thought it was normal that her husband hit her. She married over from another village and gave birth to a girl, so she naturally felt inferior. Plus her husband was drunk and so she reasoned that hitting people while inebriated is forgivable. It is exactly because she holds these notions and opinions that she never really thought about resisting or fighting back. Not only that but her silence tacitly authorized this domestic violence and normalized it. I contested her irrational belief of natural inferiority and make her understand that she should not be made to be the victim. I tried to make her understand that she’s a victim of domestic violence and not someone who is addicted to being a masochist.

Two months later, after numerous counseling sessions, Lianxiang decided to start a new life.

Lianxiang was an unfortunate woman: marriage brought to her deep wounds and long medical treatment. It is fortunate that she started to be more self-aware and made necessary re-adjustments in her life.

I used cognitive behavioral therapy in counseling Lianxiang. Through asking questions, I guided her onto rational thinking and made her realize the irrationality of her 20 year tolerance of domestic abuse. I also used confrontational methodology to debate her irrational beliefs, which pushed her to see the truth and face reality, and make decisions for herself, leaving domestic violence and starting a new life.

If one loses oneself, that’s because truth is not understood.

Truth allows us to be free!

(The simplified Chinese version was originally published in《社區心理康復專刊》, 9 November 2009, Issue No.3, reproduced with permission.)

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