If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they can direct you to a location near where you live where you can get help. 800.799.SAFE (7233)
Mira Vanjari, Director of Programs at the Center for Hope and Safety, a shelter for domestic violence based in NJ, talks about the pervasiveness of psychological abuse in domestic violence cases. She explains the warning signs of psychological abuse and how to look out for red-flag behavior.
- Psychological abuse doesn’t leave visible bruises, but it is a prevalent form of domestic violence.
- Psychological abuse begins subtly and then intensifies as the abuser gains more power and control.
- Every relationship is different, but if you feel a pervasive feeling that doesn’t sit right, take that as a sign something is wrong
- Support is never rushed and it is always anonymous. Domestic Violence organizations work with you to come up with a safe exit plan that is not overwhelming.
OUR GUEST – MIRA VANJARI, CENTER FOR HOPE & SAFETY
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
T.H.: Today, we’d like to welcome Mira Vanjari, the director of the program at the Center for Hope and Safety in northern New Jersey to our podcast.
Jessica: Thanks for being here.
Mira: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Jessica: The purpose of having you here today is to talk about the importance of domestic violence, which particularly now within the confines of the existing pandemic, we know is even riskier and more problematic than other times in the past. One of the things that we really wanted to start off asking you about is for people at home listening, who are trying to maybe determine whether or not their own circumstances would fall into the realm of where it’s time for them to be looking for help, and time for them to be reaching out, what would you say to that woman listening, that are the things that she needs to be looking for around her home? What are the signs that are the indicators you’re going to be speaking to her right now and saying to her, if this is happening to you, call us?
Mira: The most pervasive sign and honestly, the beginning of it just escalating is the psychological abuse.
Once somebody, your partner, starts to discount, invalidate, or simply deny your thoughts and your feelings that is number one. Number one, the gaslighting that’s been thrown around a lot these days, but it is really pervasive, and it kind of creeps in very slowly. But it is so damaging because you start to question, your perceptions, your reality, your reality of an experience. I would say that right there, and forget about what we see as a common sign of domestic violence, which is the physicality of it all, right?
Jessica: Right. That aside, what are the more subtle signs that someone listening is going to say, that happens to me?
Mira: Yeah. Because one survivor once said the psychological abuse doesn’t have bruises.
Jessica: That’s right.
Mira: So that’s there.
Jessica: How does someone determine, without minimizing, the severity of what it is like to be in a relationship where your partner is trying to exert this type of psychological control over you? How would you help someone to understand whether the circumstances that they’re living in are, look, you come home, you’ve had a long, frustrating day, you’re just being pissy with your partner, and yeah, they may be discounting something that you’re saying, but I don’t know that it’s at the level at which someone needs to be reaching out for help. I guess unless it’s a pervasive pattern on a daily basis. But if it’s not, how do you know even in the beginning what those initial signs are where you need to wake up and say, is this what’s going on?
Mira: And see, that’s the paradox. That’s the paradox because when it’s one time here and there, you’re right, that somebody may be having a bad day. The partner snapped at you, right? Then it becomes a pattern and the apologies don’t hold weight because it’s too repetitive. At the end of the day, you look around and you are not feeling okay with the relationship. I think that it’s hard to say one day you will wake up and say, this is terrible, and I’m unhappy, and I’m not valued. If anything, I’m just un-powered. I think that’s how it goes.
There is no distinct sign, but what survivors share with us is there is a pivotal moment where it’s something small. They know something that they feel and somebody tells them no, no, no, no, it’s not you. ‘It didn’t happen. It’s not my fault. Oh, why do I need to apologize? Please, you’re exaggerating. You’re overreacting.’
T.H.: Is it a gut check for yourself like if you just check your gut, and you keep checking it, and it’s still giving you the same holy shit kind of feeling? We want this podcast to go out to everyone nationwide. I know that every circumstance, every relationship, every human is different. You’ve talked about the pervasive feeling that everyone experiences to some degree.
How do you even get the strength to say I’m going to call a hotline? How do you even connect those two pieces?
Mira: Well, that is certainly a difficult step. It’s not easy, right? And yet, we are truly a phone call away. Something else I want to point out is calling us doesn’t mean you leave the relationship that day, or the next day, which is actually sometimes far more overwhelming than to seek help at times, because it’s like if I sought help, would that mean that I need to physically leave this relationship immediately? Would it mean that my partner would get in trouble? Also, what about the children? That’s the beauty, where you can get help in ways that you’re ready for. If it’s just to call and say, hey, these things are happening, and I don’t feel right. Sometimes all you need is validation. We have had survivors working with us in that way that they have taken weeks, months, even years to actually exit the relationship. Support doesn’t mean leaving immediately, as long as physically, or the danger level doesn’t go to the point of somebody really getting hurt.
T.H.: Well, I would imagine it’s also important to have your community or someone to go to, to be a sounding board for you, but not in a threatening way. Their confidence level must be so buried that they’re going to question their own decisions. To really find someone you can trust is probably also really scary, right?
Mira: Right, absolutely. In fact, what happens in these violent relationships emotionally, psychologically, or physically, is there is a sense of isolation, and then you throw in COVID. Absolutely. Everything is not natural, right? Because you could have been sitting at work in the cafeteria and somebody says, hey, are you okay with what’s going on? You might just have that natural opportunity to see that you can trust somebody, and now COVID has taken that away. So now, it’s very deliberate when you reach out to somebody. If you have somebody that you can trust and know that they won’t pressure you either way to stay or to leave. I think that’s when sometimes people clam up because it’s really painful to have to talk about it. Then the other thing with our hotline is if they call, it is anonymous. You can still get the support and get some resources. We might say, ‘Are you here? How can we help? Do you want to just talk to somebody?’ The upside with COVID is you can have sessions with our case managers on the phone if you go out to walk the dog for a 15-minute check-in. Just check-in, you have that.
Jessica: Let me ask you because you are the director of the programs there. Presumably, to some extent, the work that you do, which is amazing, and the work that’s done at battered women’s shelters and domestic violence shelters across the country are probably somewhat similar and aligned with what the programs are.
What would you say for you guys are the most critical programs? You may have a variety, but if you were to choose two that these are the ones that are the most impactful for these women and families that come through the center, what would those be?
Mira: I am going to have to say our shelter because once you are truly fleeing, and you have literally nowhere to go, I have to say the shelter. I would say the second one in the long term that ends up being really empowering and helpful to the clients as well is our legal program. I know you asked me about two, but I have to put in another one and it is our Economic Empowerment Team. The reason for that is sometimes even when you do that gut check as you said, and you know this is not right, survivors tell us they literally don’t have money to do anything because that control has been taken away from them. They have not worked because employment was not ever an option and they were always in there or with COVID, they may have lost those things. COVID really does throw that wrench in and it actually makes our survivors out there and victims out there really even more vulnerable.
Jessica: Tell us about why the legal program is such a pivotal program for your survivors?
Mira: At the end of the day, it’s about the community, and the community includes our legal system coming together and protecting the most vulnerable. The legal program provides that advocacy, that empowerment, and representation, legal representation to get that restraining order and to get that order of protection. If there are children involved, that’s another variable that keeps a lot of the spouses or partners in relationships that are really harmful to them and the children. All of a sudden, now they have an advocate who has their back and is working through the legal system and appropriately using the legal system to get some justice.
Jessica: Right. There’s still so much more to be able to talk about, but we’re out of time. I do want to thank you so much for bringing this information to not just the exEXPERTS community but the community at large. I know this is a cause that’s really close to T.H.’s heart. We’re so happy to be able to be working with you guys and partnering with you to bring awareness to everyone. I just want to say for everyone listening, the national hotline for domestic abuse is on the exEXPERTS website. We have that right there for you. But for anyone listening, if you want to write it down, it is 800-799-7233. Mira, I believe that from one of the other times we’d spoken with someone on your team if someone’s in the local New York area or the Bergen County area and wants to reach out to you, I believe the email is email@example.com. That would be great for anyone who wants to be able to help in any kind of way. Really just thank you so much for bringing all of this to us. For anyone listening, if you know anyone in your life that this could help, please share. This is vitally important information. We want to be able to spread the word as far and wide as possible. You can also subscribe to the exEXPERTS podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts or follow us on social media. We’re at exEXPERTS on Instagram, and Facebook, and YouTube. Thanks for listening.
Mira: Thank you.
Goodbye: For everyone out there listening, if you know anyone at all who would benefit from what we talked about today please share this episode and everything exExperts. Be sure and click to subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and please follow us on social media @exEXPERTS Divorce etc… on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and our website at www.exexperts.com. Thanks for listening!