Pandemic and Abusive Relationships

COVID19 is impacting all of us differently. Many currently find themselves in a situation where staying home is the healthy decision – for themselves and the general public. This admirable decision may not always feel healthy.​​ I find this especially true for those among us who have been, or currently are, victims within abusive relationships.

In an abusive relationship, the abused do not have the same amount of autonomy, or control over their own lives, as they would in a more loving environment.

One might feel trapped in an abusive relation. It is common for abusers to limit the amount of people a victim can interact with, place restrictions of what person can and cannot eat, and control the amount of time they can spend away from their abuser. Often times, the abuser’s well-being becomes the victim’s responsibility. Everything is for the abuser. This is not healthy for the victim. Governments around the globe, led by top health specialists, are currently enacting regulations that limit our freedom. There is so much outside of our control, we may start to feel our sovereignty is being taken from us. How eerily familiar this must feel to those who have had their autonomy stripped, those of us who have been locked in our abusers apartment for hours while we wait for them to return home and harm us.

Despite cognitively understanding the difference between abuse and COVID19, it can be very difficult to convince ourselves that what we are doing is safe. The amygdala is the part of the brain that alerts us of danger (National Health Services Lanarkshire, 2015).

Through experiences, our amygdala learns what danger is – may it be the sound of a car quickly speeding toward us, or the feeling of someone wrapping their arms around us and whispering, “I need you.”​​

Often times, abusers will mask their control as love. “Don’t go outside, it’s so cold and you’re coat isn’t warm enough… I don’t want you to freeze!” “I love spending time with you, please stay here with me instead of going out for a walk.” When love is used as a weapon, genuine affection and health regulations can feel invasive. There was once a time when we believed our abusers control was care, and we have done extensive work on ourselves to understand that it was selfishness, and acknowledge that we are worthy of making our own decisions. It’s only logical for our emotional brains to wonder if we will look back on these COVID19 health regulations and feel foolish for abiding them. However, there is an important distinction… My abuser’s regulations were not created to help me. COVID19 regulations were created to help me.

I’ve found a simple art directive about control helpful to me during this delicate time. In this directive, I identify what I have control over and what I do not.

  1. First, I draw what I do not have control over. It could be a general feeling (ex: uncertainty, guilt, frustration) or specific stressors. As you can see, I chose to symbolize multiple things. I’ve drawn the border between Canada and the USA, other people’s opinions of me, among other uncontrollable external and internal factors.

  2. Next, I contained that which I do not have control over. I placed a boundary between my stressors and the rest of the page. It could be a thick black line, or perhaps a dotted trail of crayon bits. Draw whatever feels right to you. I drew a scribble to represent barbwire.​​

  3. Finally, between my boundary and the edge of the paper, I wrote that which I do have control over. If words do not come to mind, illustrations are always welcome. Writing these words provided me with a sense of clarity and comfort. I wonder what it will give you.

What I like about this directive is that I get to contain what I do not have control over. What I do have control over is free to float around the page, while what I do not have control over is trapped in the boundaries I placed them in. It feels good to have power over that which I cannot control, power over how it can impact my autonomy.

If you or someone you love is currently co-quarantining with an abusive partner, Battered Women’s Support Services is here to help you form a safety plan. Crisis Line (Toll Free): 1-855-687-1868

For more information on how trauma impacts the brain, please watch this 8 minute video: [National Health Services Lanarkshire]. (2015, September 21). Trauma and the brain

[Video File]. Retrieved from

From Brynne xo

Image credit:

Photo by _Mxsh_ on Unsplash

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

#newnormal #covid19 #abuse #abusive #support #counselling

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