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Valentine’s Day sucks for a lot of people. No matter how brands modify marketing strategies to be inclusive as possible of all relationship statuses and orientations, it still feels a lot like a holiday reserved for couples, who then feel obligated to show affection in grandiose ways. But what about the many people who’ve suffered abuse from a partner rather than love and tenderness? No amount of flowers and chocolate, whether from a loving new partner or bought for oneself, can make up for that.
Partner violence is far from uncommon. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in three women and one in four men in the United States has experienced some form of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Additionally, 48.4 percent of women and 48.8 percent of men have faced psychologically aggressive behavior from an intimate partner. It’s prevalent across all communities, regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, or religion (though studies suggest that LGBTQ folks face it at higher rates than others). And even after a victim escapes an abusive relationship, the physical and psychological effects can last a lifetime.
”I always have this feeling of deep sadness on Valentine’s Day that I just can’t shake off,” Mirela, a survivor of domestic abuse, tells Allure. “I had a really hard time allowing other people to get close to me, as I was afraid I will get hurt again.”
“V-Day made me feel even more worthless than I already did,” Kate, another survivor, says. For some survivors of domestic or dating violence, Valentine’s Day imposes a painful sense of responsibility to show love and affection. On February 14th, they often feel more alone, depressed, and vulnerable than they do all year — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.
Survival Doesn’t Mean Freedom From Pain
No matter what specific abuse a person experiences in a relationship or how long the abuse has lasted, it often leaves its mark on survivors in a multitude of ways. According to statistics collected by the NCADV, women who’ve been abused are more susceptible to STIs and other prolonged reproductive health effects. On the psychological and emotional side, survivors can develop neurological disorders, chronic pain, generalized anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They also tend to be at a higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and/or drugs.
Living with PTSD means you’re prone to being thrown back into traumatic moments, which can disrupt your life. “When one is triggered, one is brought back in time, meaning it feels as if one is reliving the trauma in the here and now,” Silvia M. Dutchevici, a LCSW, psychotherapist, and founder of Critical Therapy Center, tells Allure. “When triggered, psychologically, the survivor is unable to distinguish that this is a memory.”
Holidays that revolve around love can be particularly painful because aggressors often cite affection as a reason for abusing their partners. “Regardless of whether or not this is how the violence is justified, the fact that the violence occurs between people who are romantically linked means that any ‘holiday’ or event that revolves around love and expressions of love can be upsetting/triggering to the abused person,” Christine Selby, an associate professor of psychology at Husson University, explains.
The gift giving encouraged around Valentine’s Day can also be tricky for survivors, Selby says, because “flowers, chocolate, or jewelry are [often] offered to the person who has been abused as a way of ‘apologizing’ for the abuse.”
What Valentine’s Day Is Like When Your Partner Is Your Abuser