Healing the Trauma of Violence

By: Lorraine Iverson

Most of us have become a bit blasé about violence. At least that’s how it appears by ratings and sales for television shows and movies. Violence is the added bit of spice in a drama. Actually it’s the entire premise for many plots. I admit, I loved Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. I’ve watched all the Godfathers and mob movies too many times to count. Love that stuff. But it’s very different when you witness violence up close and personal. Unfortunately that happened to me recently and it shook me to my core. Luckily I was not the victim but it took place in my home so it was personal.

My husband, Doug and I were out of town, visiting our kids for a few days. We always get a house sitter, not for the house really but for the cat. Gus (the cat) has some routines that cannot be interrupted. I’m not sure if that’s Gus’ edict or Doug’s. It’s a toss up as to who is more neurotic. We have a new alarm system for our house that includes cameras at the front door and back door. We gave our cat/house sitter a full training course on the system before we left. So the first night of our trip our alarm goes off. Not unexpected with a new user. We are assured by her that everything is ok and that she accidentally triggered it. Once we are convinced of her and Gus’ safety, we show my son and his wife how the video cameras work. As we are watching the video the image of a large man comes down the stairs dragging our sitter by the arms and legs and then throwing her against the wall. 

You can imagine the horror we are all feeling having witnessed this. We immediately assume that this person has broken in the house and is holding her hostage. My heart is pounding in my throat, I’m shaking all over. We call the police in our city, our neighbors, the alarm company, anyone we can find to rescue her. The police come - many police - God bless them. They have a helicopter overhead in case he tries to run and dogs to sniff him out. We are watching all of this take place in our home, 475 miles away, over the high tech video on our cell phones. It is the creepiest, most surreal feeling I have ever experienced. 

Over the course of the next hour we figure out that the video we witnessed was from before the alarm went off. Her being thrown against the door is actually what set off the alarm. We begin to put pieces together and realize that our sitter had brought this man into our house. She wasn’t being held hostage, she was protecting him. 

But the police do finally find him, hiding on our roof and take him off to jail in handcuffs. Our sitter was not being attacked by an intruder but by someone she knew and trusted. Which is still frightening.

I won’t bore you with all the details that have since emerged. What I really want to focus on here is the reaction we all had to seeing this violence in our personal space and the after-effects of it on my husband and me. 

After everything was settled and shut down at home, we all went to bed. But no one slept. We all had the same experience of seeing the video replayed again and again in our heads. The “what-ifs” would not stop popping into our consciousness. The following morning, after almost no sleep, Doug and I felt like we had PTSD. I started to talk about what we needed to do and I suddenly burst into tears, sobbing like I had experienced a deep personal tragedy. He took an early flight home to make sure everything was really ok and that Gus wasn’t too traumatized. The effects of this incident have lasted for days. We have cleaned the entire house, changed the locks and alarm codes and even had the place smudged to get out any negative energy. It feels like home again. But the trauma lingers. This made me think about people who do experience the trauma first hand - the real victims. And although our sitter had lied to us about much of the chain of events and we will not be employing her in the future, I do consider her the real victim in this incident. And from her behavior I don’t believe that this is the first time it has happened to her. I suggested a local organization, Center for Community Solutions, whose sole purpose is to help domestic violence victims. I don’t know if she will reach out to them or anyone for help but I hope that she does. Although I’ve never been a D.V. victim the horror of watching it was devastating. How much worse it must be to actually experience this first hand. And what can we do as women to protect ourselves? 

Much has been written about this subject and I’m certainly no expert but what I know is that no man has ever dared raised a hand to me. Why is that? Is it just because I’m a strong, self-reliant woman?  Are they afraid I’ll beat the crap out of them? Do I just pick better men? This is not my first husband or my first rodeo by any means. I’ve had many relationships in my life. Some have not ended well but none have ended in violence or had violence in any part of our time together. I believe that there is an attraction between violent men and fragile women. They seem to find each other and they often stay together. To my bad-ass, self-righteous self this is just a matter of weakness. But I know it is so much more complex to these women. These are women who have such a great need to be loved, they will endure abuse because it feels like love to them. Maybe their mothers were abused. Maybe it just sort of crept into the relationship through struggles with money, alcohol or other stresses of life. And they think they will be able to fix it if they just hang in.

For many years I was on the board of directors for Dress for Success San Diego. We served low income women who were working to get into the job market and raise their family’s standards of living. Many of these women were DV survivors. Many had grabbed their kids and left with the clothes on their backs. How did they find the courage to make their escape? These were not all financially struggling women but most were. If you have some resources, it’s a little easier to leave. Without resources it’s an even harder decision to make.

How do we teach our sons and grandsons to be gentle with the women in their lives, if they grow up with so much violence in entertainment, gaming, and in some cases, in their own families? How do we teach our granddaughters that it is never ok for a man/boy to hit you? First and foremost, as it is with all teachings, we must lead by example. Never allow anyone violent to be in your home. Limit the amount of violence that children see on TV and participate in when playing video games. Remember to treat our children with respect and gentleness. If they grow up getting smacked, they may come to believe that it is ok to use that as a response to something they don’t like. 

The United States is the most gun-happy, violent country in the world. We don’t go around beheading our religious enemies, but per capita, we kill more people than any other “civilized” country. So why are we surprised to find so much violence in the home? I am overwhelmed with the job I see ahead - to become a loving, respectful society where violence is not a solution to a problem. But it starts with me and it starts with you. Maybe start by just not flipping off the guy on the freeway - one step at time, one day at a time. God help us.

Image Source

For more Relationship Tips, click here.


Rain Iverson has traveled many paths and is always recreating herself. As a business woman, she co-founded and managed a technology public relations firm and one of the first computer conferencing software companies. She has served on non-profit boards, retired at 50 to become an artist and then 10 years later came out of retirement to become CFO of her son's company. Rain is the matriarch of a large, blended family with a great husband, children, grandchildren and lots of extended/blended family members.