For thousands of women all over the world the concept of domestic abuse is a part of their daily lives. But while many unaffected people in society presume that the only danger a woman (or child) is in is during a physical or sexual attack, the reality is that women who live with an abusive partner are on the alert for an attack every waking moment of every single day.

Of course most abusive relationships start off fairly simply. A partner gets out of control once in a while; possibly when drunk or doing drugs; hits his lady around, or breaks the furniture and windows; sobers up; says sorry and all is right until next time. But that “easy phase” does not last long.

Research on why women stay with their abusive partners shows that after about three complete cycles of the “ easy phase” they start to become hypervigilent and this problem increases along with the length of time they are in that abusive relationship. This is why many psychologists believe that women who have been in long-term domestic violence relationships start to exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): an issue until recently thought only to affect returning soldiers who had been fighting in war conditions.

The woman is constantly on alert; she has to be. She watches for changes in mood (which can occur very quickly), triggers that could set her partner off on another rampage and ways to placate him in the hopes that the violence can be averted.

Joanne sits drinking a cup of tea in a local Women’s Refuge office. She can laugh about her life now but two years before life hadn’t been good, or safe. She said, “It got so bad (with my partner) I couldn’t even go to the bathroom on my own – I couldn’t get peace even if I locked the toilet door. He would pound on the door; telling me to hurry up; accusing me of making sneaky phone calls in the bathroom – like I even had access to a cell phone.”

This lack of space and constant harassment is common to many domestic abuse situations and can be physically and mentally debilitating to the woman. She can’t get any time to herself. She is often cut off from friends or other family members. There is often no respite from the constant stress of being on alert all the time and this can cause serious mental and physical health problems as the body is not designed to be on stress alert every minute of every day.

The ease with which most of us live our daily lives, often without thought or fears about our personal safety, is a concept that is alien to the battered woman. We pick out our clothes to wear each day; we do our hair the way we like it; we talk to who we want when we want and we can go to the bathroom in peace and quiet. So as you are using your bathroom today spare a thought for the battered woman who would do anything for five minutes peace to herself and yet who is paralysed in fear of getting help from the likes of you and me.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Oliver is an author who spent ten years as a battered woman. She now spends her time with her third (loving) husband and writes books and articles designed to help women who are also survivors. Her book Invisible Bars: Why Women Won't Leave was written to help raise awareness about the complexity of the relationships impacted by an abusive partner. She is also the author of the Letters to a Battered Woman series which are short books written to help women rebuild their lives after escaping abuse.