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Survival From Domestic Violence:
Stories of Hope and Healing

Description | Reviews | Video Clip

Dealing with Domestic Abuse: Lessons from Kathy

By Dr. Angelea Panos

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Kathy was a smart, logical and practical woman. At 27, she already owned her own home, car and successful floral business. She was awe-struck the moment she saw Kirk. He was handsome and very charming. He came into her store to buy two dozen roses for his girl-friend. “It must have been quite a fight,” Kathy joked. Little did she know how true her words were. Kirk smiled, but said nothing. However, he came back a couple of days later for more flowers. Kathy asked him how it had worked out.

“We broke up.” he stated. “I am here to get some flowers for my mother who is in the hospital.” Nearly every day he came in and bought flowers, and their conversations grew longer. After a couple of weeks Kirk asked her out.

Their relationship moved very fast. Just a month later, they were engaged and four months later they were married. Kathy was extremely happy and looked forward to sharing her life with Kirk and starting a family. They never fought and life seemed sweet and peaceful with Kirk. Kathy had a “pleaser” personality and loved to make Kirk happy.

The first time Kathy saw Kirk’s temper was when an elderly lady cut him off in traffic. Kirk nearly wrecked the car trying to pass the elderly woman and cut her off in revenge. Kathy screamed. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She never had seen this side of Kirk and it frightened her. He seemed completely out of control. “Stop this,” she pleaded as he floored the gas pedal in the car. He didn’t stop and ultimately ran the elderly lady off the road. Kathy was in shock. She did not say anything to him.

Kathy was distant and quiet long after they arrived home. Kirk was upset at her reaction. He began an emotional tirade of put-downs, insults and criticisms of her. After an hour or so, things had settled down and they were getting along again. Kathy brushed it off as an isolated incident.

Kathy and Kirk had decided to start their family immediately and Kathy got pregnant right away. She was thrilled. Kirk seemed stressed. He had been having trouble getting along with a coworker and had received a written warning at his work. Sometimes Kathy noticed he would lose control when talking about work and he would punch holes in their walls. One day when Kathy was on the phone with her mother, Kirk started making rude remarks to her. Kathy was so embarrassed she got off the phone.

“You yak to your damn family too much!” Kirk complained. So Kathy tried to not make calls when he was around. She noticed that whenever she had visits or phone calls with others, he would complain. She began turning down invitations to social and family events. After a few months, she noticed she was not getting invitations anymore. She rationalized that he was really stressed about his job and the pregnancy. She forgave him and vowed to herself to try to keep things calmer at home.

Her pregnancy was going smoothly, but their relationship was getting rockier. After repeatedly losing his temper at work, Kirk lost his job. He began to help Kathy at the floral shop. Unfortunately, his temper with the customers had really hurt business. He could be charming, but he seemed to lose his patience easily. He began calling her demeaning names.

One day while she was in the back of the store trying to finish an arrangement, she heard him yelling and pounding his fists. She ran to the front of the store to see what was wrong. The customer had just stormed out. She asked Kirk what happened and he turned on her saying ugly, vicious things. She told him to stop and in response, he hit her. She tried to defend herself, but he dragged her and locked her in the cooler with the flowers.

After about twenty minutes he came and let her out. Kathy was still fearful and did not say anything to him. She could not believe what she was going through. She felt confused. Kathy told him that she was going to stay with her parents for a couple of days and let things calm down. Kirk became furious and threatened her that if she did he would kill himself. He took a picture of her parents and smashed it to pieces. Kirk had a way of twisting his behavior around and making her feel like it was all her fault.

Kathy felt guilty about the pain she was causing him. She consoled him by promising she would stay, but she wanted him to promise that they could seek counseling. He agreed. Kathy had noticed that after a fight, he seemed to be extra sweet to her. He would promise her to never hurt her again. He denied his behavior was as out of control as it seemed to Kathy. She felt crazy, because he would deny the perceptions she had of his behavior. She began losing the ability to trust in her own perceptions. He controlled her through her own doubts and need to blame herself.

In counseling, Kirk made light of his behavior and the abuse. He tried to charm the therapist, and Kathy had difficulty stating her needs and expectations. When she asked if next time she could talk to the therapist alone, Kirk refused to go back. Kathy felt trapped.

Things would go smooth for awhile and Kathy would forget about the abuse. She developed a kind of nostalgic thinking about their relationship that did not include the abuse. She lost the ability to see their relationship as a whole reality. When she would think about all the sweet things, she felt so good about their future. Since that line of thinking was more comfortable, that is what she would focus on. She purposely would try to forget all the name-calling, insults, and physical violence.

When Kathy was seven months pregnant, Kirk convinced her to let him take over the business and the finances. Kathy was relieved, because her ankles had become very swollen from standing and arranging flowers. She decided to just work part-time and they would hire some help.

What began as something that Kathy thought was protective and helpful, became Kirk’s way to control everything she did. He controlled who she talked to and everywhere she went. She had no financial resources available to her. Although her trust in him had been damaged, she still wanted to believe he had her best interests at heart. After all she believed she loved him and that he loved her, and she thought that was all that was needed in a relationship.

Kathy began feeling sick one day. She called her mother for advice and just then Kirk came home for lunch. Finding her talking to her mother and no lunch ready for him, he became enraged. He jerked the phone away from her and threw it across the room. He pushed her with enough force that she flew across the room and her fell hard on her stomach against a wooden end table. She immediately began screaming in pain. At first her screaming caused him to become more enraged, he hit her several times, telling her to “shut-up.” He suddenly realized that she was in great distress and calmed down. He went to call 911, but realized he had disabled their only phone. He assisted her to their car and began to drive her to the hospital. Kathy passed out on the way.

Kirk drove to the emergency room of the hospital. Even the best medical care could not save the baby. Kathy was extremely distraught and very ill. Her uterus had ruptured from the fall and then became infected. Despite high doses of antibiotics, Kathy was dying and she knew it. She wondered if she would be courageous enough to tell someone the truth about what had happened. What if she didn’t die and she had to live with him she thought? Her fear nearly over-powered her. Luckily, she found a strength within herself and felt the need to end the secrecy and let someone know the truth about their relationship. The hospital social worker listened to the whole story. She promised Kathy that she did not have to go back to the relationship. She could start over and find a healthy, happy relationship. The social worker told Kathy that according to the American Medical Association's Diagnostic and Treatment Guidelines on Domestic Violence, battered women may account for 22% to 35% of women seeking care for any reason in emergency departments and 23% of pregnant women seeking pre-natal care. (June, 1992). Forty percent of assaults on women by their male partners begin during the first pregnancy; pregnant women are at twice the risk of battery. (Martins, et al., 1992). Alarming as the statistics are for domestic violence, the social worker pointed out there are many more cases that go unreported.

Unfortunately, Kathy did not survive. The infection took over her body and she passed away a few days later. The social worker reported Kathy’s story to the police, but no action was taken against him.

*Names changed to protect identity


Kathy’s tragic story delineates the classic signs and symptoms of a physically abusive relationship. First, it is not always apparent from the start, but once the relationship does turn violent there is an unwillingness to acknowledge the seriousness of the abuse. There is a disconnect between the reality of the situation and a nostalgic kind of recollection that we call “euphoric recall.” This is the mind’s way to split reality into two separate entities, positive and negative. It allows the wife who has just been beaten to sit and eat dinner pleasantly with their spouse. However, without the ability to see reality as a whole, good judgement and decision making can not occur. It is only when a victim of domestic violence can write a log of all the abuse and see the whole picture in front of her in black and white that she can make good decisions.

Coping Strategy #1: Keep a journal in a safe place where your abuser will not find it. Write down all the ways that you are being abused. Financial control, emotional put-downs, isolation, threats, control, and any physical violence or threats to you, pets, property or someone you love.

Kathy quickly lost her support system and thus did not have anyone to help guide her through her troubled relationship. Victims of domestic violence need to rebuild a support system.

Coping Strategy #2: Build a support system, get a therapist, and go to a support group. Tell at least 2-3 people the honest story about what is happening in your relationship.

Kathy stayed in the relationship hoping it would get better. Abuse is progressive and always get worse over time. Kathy was not aware of community resources and she did not plan for the abuse to occur again. She saw each episode as an isolated incident that she believed (and naively hoped) that it would never occur again.

Coping Strategy #3: Get out of the relationship! If you are not yet strong enough to get out, create a safety plan* (see below), but work on trying to get out!

Kathy was afraid and over time began to doubt her rights to have a safe, healthy and happy relationship.

Coping Strategy #4: Realize that you deserve healthy, happy relationships and abuse is against the law.

Another challenge that Kathy faced is that she gradually gave up more and more of her control over her own life. She even turned her business over to her husband.

Coping Strategy #5: Empower yourself with new skills, knowledge and creativity. Do not give up control over things you can do for yourself.

Domestic abuse is ultimately fatal to the body, mind and spirit. Yet there is reason to hope. Many women have found their way out of violent relationships and have rebuilt their lives. They can find happy, healthy relationships.

Staying in the relationship for the sake of the children is not a good excuse. Witnessing domestic violence is now considered a form of child abuse that is prosecuted in many states.

This article suggests a few things that you can do to begin your healing and recovery process. Do not delay. Call a therapist that is experienced in dealing with domestic violence and begin your new life as soon as possible.



Sometimes there are warning signs before the escalation of violence. This safety plan was written to help you recognize and prevent other incidents of violence. This form should be filled out and copied with a trained professional.

I might recognize an increase in jealousy, controlling or possessive behavior, irritation or yelling. Based upon the past, I will be aware when I observe: (list some examples)


I am responsible for my own reactions, responses and safety. The following behaviors might calm or escalate the situation. Which would work best for me to calm things down (based on what has worked or not worked in the past)?

1. Going to another room________

2. Getting busy with____________

3. Ignore____________________

4. Talking___________________

5. Remaining quiet_____________

6. Other____________________

There are times when no matter what is done, a violent incident will erupt. Steps to stay safe are:

Leave the house and go_______________________________________________________


Call the police and__________________________________________________________

Alert a neighbor in advance to call the police when___________________________________


Things to be aware of and keep in a safe place:

1. Location of all phones and exits in the house.

2. Phone number of the police or domestic violence advocate_______________

3. Domestic violence Hotline 800-537-2238.

4. 911.

5. Safety and care of children.

6. Duplicate set of keys to the car.

7. Hidden emergency money.

8. Copies of important documents and papers like birth certificates, passports and visas.

9. Possible alternate living arrangements.

10. Packed suitcase.

11. Check books, bank books, credit cards, or at least their account numbers.

12. Social security number for yourself, partner and children. Knowing your partner's SS# is vital to the collection of child support and monies.

13. Medication.

A temporary Restraining Order or Protective Order is an option that will offer protection under the law. Ask the police to help you file a Domestic Violence Complaint. You can ask for:

1. The abuser to be removed from your home and prohibited from returning.

2. No phone contact or harassment by the abuser.

3. Custody of the children.

4. Temporary Support.

5. Possession of the residence.

6. Professional counseling at domestic violence center for yourself and abuser.

7. Alcohol/drug rehabilitation for yourself or the abuser.

8. Monetary compensation for out-of-pocket expenses.



Angie Panos, Ph.D. is a therapist that specializes in trauma and grief, she has 20 years of experience in helping survivors. She is a board member of Gift From Within.

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Domestic Violence websites and hot lines on GFW’s links page at

Additional Articles:

Understanding the Victims of Spousal Abuse article by Frank M. Ochberg, M.D.
Peaceful Heart: A Woman's Journey of Healing After Rape - Aimee Jo Martim
Rape Trauma Syndrome: The Journey to Healing Belongs To Everyone - Amy Menna, LMHC, CAP


Other Articles by Dr. Panos:

Anniversary Reactions: A Survivor’s Guide on How to Cope
Dealing with Domestic Abuse: Lessons from Kathy
Don't Make it Worse! Use of Alcohol or Drugs After Trauma
Healing from Shame Associated with Traumatic Events
Helping A Person Who Is Suicidal
Secret Diet Disasters of Trauma Survivors
Suffering in Silence: The Problem of Male Sexual Abuse

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