A woman with her back towards the camera.
Abusers often focus on isolating their victims and during a lockdown like this, a victim's interactions with others is even more limited. Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Mental Health

Life in Lockdown With Abusive Families

‘Living with them reminds me of my childhood trauma.’

For many who’ve grown up in toxic households where they have experienced abuse, returning home or being forced to stay indoors for long periods is often not a pleasant affair. With the coronavirus pandemic raging across the world, educational institutions and workplaces have moved online, forcing many people to spend an indefinite interval of time at home cooped up with their abusers.  

A native of Kerala, 25-year-old Anita (name changed to protect privacy) grew up deeply entrenched in a patriarchal culture with a family that strived to control her life constantly. “They’ve been physically violent before. I’ve had to deal with emotional and verbal abuse at their hands,” she told Re:Set. 

Last year, she moved away from home to pursue her master’s degree, but her time away was cut short when many colleges across India were directed to close on March 16th to contain the spread of the coronavirus. She desperately tried to explore other avenues, but because she is financially dependent on her parents, she was forced to return to Kerala. 

The past two weeks have not been easy for her, especially because there are several aspects of her life that she is unable to disclose to her family. “I am queer, I am in therapy, I use a menstrual cup, I have a boyfriend,” she commented, noting that her parents would react negatively to most of these. “Living with them reminds me of my childhood trauma. It’s triggering to be back home, it makes me feel like I don’t belong in my house,” Anita reflected. Being in therapy has helped, she stated, adding that she has learned ways to cope with her family’s behaviour and reduce how much it affects her mentally. Despite everything, Anita hopes to use this time with her family to fix their relationship.

“My brain always seems like it’s working overtime.”

With an experience of working with cases of domestic violence, Hyderabad-based psychologist Rahul Ghosh commented that a pandemic like this is an extraordinary situation that can cause people to constantly feel on edge. He said that being regularly bombarded with the news can amp up one’s feelings of anxiousness, and there are also other fears, like that of losing your livelihood, that people may experience. In addition to this, existing in an abusive environment can be all the more challenging, Ghosh told Re:Set. Explaining how hiding parts of one’s identity like sexual orientation adds to those worries, he said, “Now that they’re living with their family on a day-to-day basis, it’s normal for them to feel anxious or obsessive about [whether] they’re doing enough to conceal that [part of themselves].” 

Spending this lockdown with their abusive parents has only strengthened 21-year-old Parth Rahatekar’s resolve to leave home and build a life for themself. “My anxiety is always subjected to its worst stressors and triggers [while at home] so it’s pretty much in shambles without any safe space, the Pune-based student told Re:Set. In the past, they have been subjected to violent abuse by their father who has anger management and alcohol dependency issues. As a queer person, Rahatekar is taunted by their mother who engages in body shaming and homophobia. “I am not openly queer when I’m at home. [They] also do not align with my political beliefs, all of which often trigger my anxiety. My brain always seems like it’s working overtime,” commented Rahatekar, who added that they are scared to openly disagree with their family so as to minimize the possibility of any violence. 

Parth Rahatekar smiles while sitting next to a potted plant

Being in lockdown with his family for nearly two weeks has only strengthened Parth Rahatekar’s resolve to leave home and build a better life. Photo courtesy: Parth Rahatekar

Countries like the U.K. and France have also noted a dramatic rise in domestic violence linked to the coronavirus outbreak. Ghosh remarked that it can feel especially suffocating for those in difficult situations at times like these when the whole community is being directed to stay indoors. He said that in many abusive relationships, the abuser focuses on isolating the victim and making them feel unloved. In a situation like a lockdown where the victim’s interactions with others are even more limited, they are more likely to feel helpless. One may also experience feelings of anger and angst. Ghosh emphasized that for people experiencing abuse, having a friend that they can trust is key to being able to navigate the situation. In case the situation escalates, this person can essentially help provide a way out for the survivor. 

“I normally go out with friends, or for a walk when things escalate during conflict but, I can’t do that anymore.”

The lockdown for 27-year-old Ramita (name changed to protect privacy) means being forced to manage her work remotely alongside household chores, while the same expectations are not extended to her brother. The Mumbai-based content creator’s family is emotionally abusive and has been physically violent towards her in the past. Her father is also in complete control of her finances and documents, with access to all the money she earns which makes it difficult for her to look for a way out. 

Being in quarantine makes Ramita feel like she has lost even the little control she had over her life. “Being with them all day is just a whole different kind of stress. I normally go out with friends, or for a walk when things escalate during conflict, but I can’t do that anymore,” Ramita told Re:Set. She has been in therapy to deal with anxiety, PTSD and depressive episodes, but not having access to her safe spaces due to the lockdown has made it difficult for her to maneuver through her mental health challenges.

But, she has not lost hope, with a strong resolve she remarked, “If anything, this self-isolation has made me more determined to leave home the minute I get control of my finances. 

[Editor’s note: If you find yourself in a situation where you are facing violence, please contact 1091 for help in India.]

Also read: Mental Health Support for Students During the Coronavirus Outbreak Needs Attention


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Life in Lockdown With Abusive Families