Robin Saffir, Licensed Professional Counselor

The Coronavirus pandemic impacts individuals in a multitude of ways. Some of us feel relieved not to have to change out of sweatpants for important business meetings. Others feel confined and anxious about what is to come in the near and distant future. For many, we feel a bit of both, but our response to the pandemic elicits anxiety to some degree. Whether we are feeling isolated and alone or in need of space from our family/partner, there is a level of intensity everyone is experiencing.

This increase of intensity and anxiety, combined with a decrease of resources and time outside the home, has experts “convinced we are on the precipice of a domestic violence crisis”. There is concern that adults and children in unsafe living situations are now trapped in their homes with violent family members. The shelter-in-place order provides abusive individuals with an increase in power, and survivors of intimate, verbal and physical abuse with fewer coping and survival resources. Under typical circumstances, it may be puzzling if an individual is absent from work, school, or social obligations, or seemingly cuts off ties from the external world. However, within this pandemic, isolation and physical hiding can easily go unnoticed. For many who live in abusive homes, being connected to others and physically seen in their environment provides an element of safety as well as an opportunity to inform another of their mistreatment.

Additionally, an increase in unemployment rates and anticipated job losses are also expected to increase domestic violence. Unemployment further limits the social, financial and support networks survivors of domestic violence are able to access. Moreover, the increased stress associated with the loss of a job can intensify the volatility of someone who lacks emotion regulation, stress management, and appropriate coping techniques. In other words, those who respond with inappropriate and violent anger may be triggered more often and more intensely.

Survivors of domestic violence are regularly faced with the challenging, often seemingly impossible, decision of whether to stay in their relationship or to leave. There are often financial, social, and emotional factors that weigh heavily on someone who lives with someone who is volatile and abusive. Now, there are added dangers and deterrents faced by those who need or want to leave during a pandemic, as shelters now pose potential health risks. But there are still online and phone hotline resources available. Drugstore can also be a resource for survivors as reported by CNN.

Another powerful resource, perhaps one of the most impactful resources, is social support and connection. In times of upset, fear, anxiety, and isolation, feeling, experiencing and seeing what support and love is available to us can be tremendously powerful. For survivors of abuse, this support can be not only moving but protective and empowering. So, in a time that can be very much about “me and mine”, check in on those around you. Reach out to anyone you suspect may be in an unsafe or unideal living situation. Moreover, connect with anyone who you sense may be struggling in any regard; kindness and connection is more powerful than we even know. I’ll bet you can recall a time that a small act of care or consideration made by an acquaintance had a large impact on your wellbeing. It might’ve been such a simple extension of kindness that the other person wouldn’t even remember it. But you do. So send a text to that coworker or call that old friend and check-in; it may be more needed and appreciated than you’ll ever know.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, please consult the following resources:
https://www.thehotline.org/help/
https://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=31886 (State of Illinois)
https://ncadv.org/resources