Domestic Abuse

I’d like to discuss risk factors and effects of partner abuse, and how being able to recognize these factors can help victims escape their abuse or prevent it from happening.┬áThe National Coalition Against Domestic Violence stated that, “on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.” That is equal to more than ten million women and men in one year. This epidemic is particularly toxic and can quickly escalate to fatal violence to not just the intimate partners, but also the other people around them, from bystanders to family members and friends to law enforcement, or anyone who tries to intervene (NCADV).

Domestic abuse encompasses a vast range of types of abuse, such as physical, sexual, and emotional, among others. Domestic violence is usually not an isolated incident, nor is it sudden or unexpected; many cases of physical domestic abuse start with gradual, minor incidents to frequent, severe, and destructive ones, often paired with months or years of emotional and psychological trauma. This simultaneous abuse can explain why, according to NCADV, “72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.”

Intimate partner violence can be defined as a pattern of purposeful, coercive behavior that may include physical injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive social isolation, stalking, deprivation, or intimidation and threats. It is aimed at establishing control of one partner over the other.

There are several factors that may increase an individual’s chances of victimization:

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Oxytocin: The Bonding Hormone

Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus and is released by the posterior pituitary gland. There are many different situations that trigger the release of oxytocin.

  • Oxytocin is most notably stimulated during childbirth and breastfeeding, and facilitates maternal bonding.
  • Medically, oxytocin can be used to help start or continue labor, control bleeding after giving birth, and can also be used to help in milk secretion in breastfeeding as well as induce abortion (National Library of Medicine).
  • It is also released during orgasm in both males and females, and during hugging, touching, and cuddling.

It facilitates social bonding between people, and is shown to lower stress and increase relaxation. People with higher levels of oxytocin in their systems are more willing to trust, and are more likely to be generous and empathetic. Oxytocin is essential, especially during the early years of our lives, in order to pave way for healthy relationships as an adult.

“It’s like a hormone of attachment, you might say,” said Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a clinical psychologist and former assistant clinical psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “It creates feelings of calm and closeness” (Live Science). Oxytocin is often dubbed the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone” for this reason. When people touch or embrace each other by hugging and cuddling, or when other social bonding is occurring, oxytocin is rapidly being produced, which in turn lowers stress levels and helps establish a sense of security and affection between two people. This is also what promotes and strengthens a bond between mother and child. It seems to solidify relationships and promote attachment among people; for example, it may encourage fidelity between two monogamous partners.

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