«Синдром выжившего»: почему растет уровень агрессии в условиях войны?

«VIolence is a symptom, a signal, and a factr,» — psychologist Larysa Voloshyna. How to recognize violence, not become a victim, and what to do if violence had already been applied to you?


Татьяна Трощинская,

Ирина Славинская


Лариса Волошина

«Синдром выжившего»: почему растет уровень агрессии в условиях войны?

«If you are being requested to suppress something in you in order to preserve contact with your near once, then you are being forced»: we talk to psychologist Larysa Voloshyna about violence at home, at the frontline and in the rear.

Tetyana Troshchyska: There is a lot of violence around. Combat action made this issue topical. However, violence was there before that: in families, in the streets. And we are becoming used to it.

Larysa Voloshyna: There is a lot of aggression and violence in our society. Aggression is a reaction to frustration, to bans, to destruction. Here’s a simple example: I want to say something, they shut my mouth, so I become angry. Sooner or later such frustration breaks out with shouting, with aggression. We live within the limits of numerous bans, sometimes authoritarian and not founded on reality. All this is expressed in splashes of violence.

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Tetyana Troshchyska: Does the experience of living in a totalitarian state also influence the perception of violence?

Larysa Voloshyna: I faced the fact that practically every client of mine comes to the situation about aggression, violence against their family («natal trauma»). People remember the deadly famine, purges, imprisonments, murder of their near ones. They react as if this were happening to themselves.  

Iryna Slavinska: Are these cases linked to episodes of violence in their own families?

Larysa Voloshyna: No doubt. A trauma which was not worked upon causes for a child, a person who were brought up in a family where there were violence and aggression causes «victim behavior», an inclination to get into situations threatening for this perdson. Society thinks that victimity is «she put on a short skirt, paimted her lips and drew attention from young men».

Victimity is inability of a person to stop aggression at distant approaches. A yung girl puts on a short skirt, she met a young man: everything is wonderful. But she sees that he behaves aggressively. Maybe not towards her but towards others: raises his voice, etc. But what does she do? «But he loves me, he’s not like this with me,» she a;llows a potential aggressor into her life without sensing danger for herself. Later this may transform into violence towards her, towards a child.

This may be not even physical violence but moral, emotionsl

Tetyana Troshchyska: How can you recognize it? And what will happen if it is not recognized in time?

Larysa Voloshyna: A sign of every violence is when your feelings are not important for a person beside you. You either insist on what is important for you: then you face aggression. Or you suppress your feelings within you. If they demand from you to suppress something within you but you try to preserve relations with your near ones, then you are being forced.

We should not tolerate violence. If you want your child to grow up a free person capable of producing a rebuff they shoulkd understand that nobody will be able to invade his psyche, hit them. The barrier that we can raise before the perpetrator of violence is care about people who can rebuff. There is a reason why a person displays aggression. Our task is to inmstall strict limits. Maybe, courses on anger management. This is an issue of court system which should assign such courses. We need psychologists at schools, penitentiary and law-enforsement services have the right to allow or not allow to work people inclined towards violence.

Tetyana Troshchyska: What is anger?

Larysa Voloshyna: Anger is a fundamental feeling. Same as love or sorrow. The question is different: how do you reflect anger? It can be reflected in a socially acceptable form: «I won’t talk to you. We’ll take a break and discuss this issue.» We have to teach each other that our grievances and lack of understanding can be reflected in a socially acceptable form.

Iryna Slavinska: But for many people a socially acceptable form is hitting someone’s mug.

Larysa Voloshyna: Society often says that a real man does not sue. He should go and hit someone’s mug: such is a stereotype. A real woman tolerates. For the sake of children, for the sake of something. These are terrible stereotypes harming us. As a result, we bring up people for whom violence is acceptable. The problem is not in my child displaying this violence. The problem is that they might reconcile themselves with it.

Tetyana Troshchyska: I suggest that we ;isten to a piece from a correspondent from Dnipropetrovsk Region. This is a family story, and such stories are important: they often contain moments characteristic of many families.  

[Package: «He fought for peace but brought war to his family»: wife of a demobilized]

Maryna, a resident of Kamyanske, is the wife of a demobilized soldier. More than anything else, she was waiting for the return of her beloved husband from the frontline. However, she encountered beatings and abuse.

«Our idyll lasted for merely several days after his return. Because as soon as he stopped feeling euphoria from our meeting he displayed his new features at once… First, Ihor began to drink. A bit of this every day. Second, he talked to me only about horrors of war. I do understand that everything that he had seen and lived through is terrible, But he was insistant in accusing me of not understanding him.»

The demobilized soldier did not limit himself to accusation. It is not known whether for visibility but he started to cruelly beat uo and torture his wife. He always found pretexts… Almost every day.

«Do you know what were the pretexts in order to hit me? Here’s an exasmple: he made dumplings, some 30 pieces, I ate two and said I did not want any more. No appetite! The rest of them was put on my head, and I was beaten, The table broken, chairs too…»

In his «former», «pre-war» life, Ihor had never offended his beloved wife even with a crooked word. And now, bruises on her body became a norm for the woman. Her acquaintances began to notice this but she kept silent. Why? She says because she loved him. She realized that Ihor had post-traumatic stress disorder. She was placating herself. Say, he treated her so cruelly not on purpose but in reality loved her… However, it was impossible to tolerate the pain. So she tried to come back from work in time to find her husband already asleep, Maryna recalls:

«I was driving around the city, doing circles in order not to come back home,,, And if I came from work earlier, I would quickly do household chores and linger on the balxony until he fell asleep! Sometimes at midnight, sometimes at 2 am… So this was how I lived.»

In all the other situations Ihor’s behavior was normal, same as before, without as little as a shadow of aggression: in his communication with acquaintances and friends, at work. But this was outside their flat. Maryna continued to silently tolerate abuse while Ihor gradually lost sense of reality during act of home violence. The woman lived through several brain concussions. And that last time the husband was so angered that he almost broke her spine… Later, though, he knelt and asked for forgivance.

+He said he loved me, that war is to blame for everything. I could not listen to this… I was in urgent need of psychological help, of emotional support. I was ashamed to phone my friends; I called the hotline, the center for psychologacal aid.»  

This may seem strange but talking to a psychologist after the stress was so efficient that on that same day, while her husband was at work, Maryna had taken her things away, in a secret manner. Then. she acted more than resolutely: she moved to another city. She changed her phone number… At present, she lives in a rented flat. She says that later she will divorce Ihor through a court. Howecer, now Maryna’s fear is meeting her husband…

«So far, I cannot see or hear him. Up to panic. One of these days, I saw a guy at a supoermarket, who resembled Ihor… I went shivering… My phone fell out of my hand. Praise God this turned out not him. I must attend the psychologist for a long time in the future in order to restore myself. But can you restore yourself and begin to trust after what had happened? A serious harm to my health… This is how war ruins families», the wife of a demobilized soldier summed up.

Tetyana Troshchynska: Please comment on what we have heard: why the wife, and whether rehabilitation is possible?

Larysa Voloshyna: We heard that such a behaviour happened after the husband’s return. They have been explaining for a long time by this being war. However, it does not become less painful because of this. The question is not what a person is led by when using violence but in what I am experiencing: whether I want to do this or not.

This is a classical moment: she said that she is panically afraid, she’s in shock. This is what victims of family violence experience when they are coming out of the situation: they are panically afraid of meeting those who use violence on them. However, when they do meet, the probability of restoring relationship is high.

In order to cope with their feelings, a person would rather care about others.

Iryna Slavinska: The heroine said that she is ashamed of phoning her friends. Why?

Larysa Voloshyna: The feeling of shame is always external. Shame means destruction of self-respect. To complain is to lose self-respect. And this is her personal story. The feeling of guilt emerges within. You have to always draw a divide here. The feeling of guilt: I blame myself; the feeling of shame: someone is blaming me. Then you have to ask: who is blaming you, in relation to whom are you ashamed?

Tetyana Troshchynska: Can there be rehabilitation?

Larysa Voloshyna: She had lost fundamental trust. Her husband was a man whom she trusted. The first thing happening to a victim of violence is destruction of their boundaries. They do not always understand then where they are to blame and where other people or circumstances should be blamed. When a person’s boundaries are pressed in, the feeling of trust is lost. A person is not sure of their ability to protect themselves. It is possible for her to rehabilitate. It is necessary to undergo therapy for this, to build the destroyed self, to assemble the defragmented personality, to work this out within herself. Trust in someone is trust in yourself, in your own strength and in your capability of defending yourself emotionally. 

Iryna Slavinska: The woman in the package had secret;y left her husband after her first talk to as psychologist. But her husband remains in the state of post-traumatic syndrome.

Larysa Voloshyna: He is a grown-up person. Understanding that war was the reason he has to assume responsibility for what is happening to him. There is a notion, «favorite trauma». Eric Burn called this «a wooden leg»: I am such a person because this happened to me. You have to assume responsibility. There is also a moment that violence is a crime of power.

Tetyana Troshchynska: Power over someone?

Larysa Voloshyna: Agressors indulge in their power over victims. Until a person manages to control themselves and recognize that they have a problem, nobody else is capable of helping them. If one person changes behavior, then another is made to change it as well/ The young girl said she loved and pitied him. She made the right choice however: she «evacuated».

Tetyana Troshchynska: A wish to live with the perpetrator of violence because children need a father: what can be said here?

Larysa Voloshyna: Mother becomes an abetter in violence towards a child. For a little child it is mum who is their shield, not dad. Children are made to assume responsibility for what is happening. They see, hear and understant everything. And they become the ones to blame: mim is tolerating this for my sake. This is too big a burden for a little child. And this is a social aspect: how do you leave with a child? There are crisis centers for this. This system is not developed with us.

Iryna Slavinska: Recently I read a lecture for women leaders from district centers of Ukrainian regions. One of them said that her friend was beaten by her husband. An after the lecture attendee advised her to leave her husband, she dared to do so. Now she blames her colleague for leaving: no money, no father for her children.

Larysa Voloshyna: It is characteristic of victims to shift rersponsibility from themselves to circumstances, husband, war, friend, someone’s advice. This is the issue of responsibility. However, the victim has responsibility of their own to themselves and to children. Aggressor also has responsibility of their own.

Iryna Slavinska: Evidently, where there are threats to safety. the situation with human rights is ecer worse. Heorhy Tuka spoke at a conference dedicated, in particular, to sexual violence in war circumstances. He said that not a single sex vrime against women was recorded in the ATO zone. To which extent proximity to the frontline can influence the level of violence in the society?

Larysa Voloshyna: It is clear that where weapons are the legal field is destroyed. A very strong dissonance of the power of a person with arms. Power is an aphrodisiac. Women and children become the most vulnerable to manifestations of someone else’s power. I think there is noone to record such cases.

Tetyana Troshchynska: What should be understood about why the aggressive mode of behavior is transferred from combat action to home?

Larysa Voloshyna: We have to do with «survivor syndrome». A veteran finds themselves in a situation when there survival, on the one hand, depends om themselves. On the other hand, they are faced with circumstances which they cannot control. Another issue: a veteran is a survivor but they have seen deaths of their comrades. The sense of guilt provokes hightened feeling of injustice, of impossibuility of a compromise, as seems to them. Violence is a symptom, a signal, and a fact. And if violence is displayed towards you, you should not tolerate this. If a person who displays violence understands that something is wrong with them, they can use support and solve this problem with a specialist.

Iryna Slavinska: It is here that the problem of stigmatization of the need to consult psychologist is: it is hard to decide to do this.

Larysa Voloshyna: Yes. The 20-step system of support has wonderfully performed with American veteran organizations. Veterans support each other, there is a working psychologist. Group support is very important.

Tetyana Troshchynska: We suggest listening to the conversation of our correspondent from Kharkiv, Svitlana Hurenko, with Yevhen Kaplin who has been working in the ATO zone for more than two years and is the coordinator of the Humanitarian Mission. More than once within this time he had heard about violence towards women.

[Package: «Women in the ATO zone keep silent about violence»: the Humanitarian Mssion coordinator]

Svitlana Hurenko: How often do you hear about violence in relation to women in the zone?

Yevhen Kaplin:  Practically all the time and along the entire frontline. Especially beset with problems is the teritory around the Donetsk Airport. I cannot say that this woman comes the next day and asks for help. No, people mainly is secret until the last moment. They hide it for various reasons, They do not want their neighbors or village know about it. They are scared to talk about this because there is army, the military? And it is not clear how this may end tomorrow.

They are rather closed from strangers, including international observers who come and go, and as people say, «We will have to live with this problem here, on the ground.»

But as our work is built on the fact that we involve in our headquarters local residents ofthese territories, they do tell. They tell about it under different factors. They come with their prob;ems of restoring documents and of giving birth. We are solving secondary prolems but all those problems are linked to the army’s location.

The most wide-spread cases do not fall into classification under Ukrainian law; however they are classified as gender violence according to standards of international law of international organizations.

Then it comes to this: a soldier goes for rotation, most of them have their own families elsewhere, and as a rule women are left behind on their own. So what other negative trend we have? Potentially, these women are future single mothers.

Svitlana Hurenko: Which facts of violence you know of additionally?

Yevhen Kaplin: I will systematize three cases. We speak here of three populated centers right on the contact line.

We had an address from neighbors in Artemivsk District that there is a family where dad is an alcoholic, and mum constantly spends nights in military bukers and sometimes involves her under-age child in this.

We have a similar confirmed information on one of the populated centers in Volnovakha District. Among others, a school headmaster confirmed to us that the mother is a lower-placed staffer at the school. This mother involves her daughter in sex with soldiers for money.

A case like this was in Marynka District. They have been drinking at a mum’s house, both lovals and people in military uniform. And all this happened in view of children. Also, according to the neighbors, for some particular benefit she provided intimate services to soldiers, and her under-age child also suffered there.

Svitlana Hurenko: Are facts known about violence in relation to women?

Yevhen Kaplin: Something like three facts of direct violence if we speak about classification according to Ukrainian legislation. We have heard about such facts also in relation to the territory of Donetsk Airport. Two women had written statements to the law-enforcement bodies about such facts. One case happened something like 2-3 months ago.

The second case happened almost a year ago.There was a primary visit to a hospital by these women. Then they went away for forensics to another region, not Donetsk Region. Statements were issued to law-enforcing bodies in control of the military.

Tetyana Troshchynska: The interview told us about cases linked to survival. However, was it just about this?

Larysa Voloshyna: There is violence towards a child here. This falls under the Ukrainian legislation: presence, trade in children. There is a question to the military here, too. But children should be taken away. It should be understood that this is a noightmare. Resally, women engage in sex for a can of spam. It is impossible to try a woman for this. She is surviving. The question: Why a soldier had not given her this can just for giving it?

When a person is in a trauma they understand that they do not control the situation. He pays with it, so this as if makes them chief and in control of something. And a woman controls her own survival in this way.

Tetyana Troshchynska: Add a bit to this advice from a psychologist.

Larysa Voloshyna: It is very important that the main thing is to survive. I agree with this. There is a stereotype that responsibility is the feeling of guilt. This is not so. Never let gulit substitute for responsibility. For instance, I am responsible for my figure, so I can do without this pastry. Or: why have I gulped it, fat again. These are different things. To assume responsibility means to assume responsibility for the decision I take. In the survival issue, a person realizes any models of behavior. They may do this unaware: there is no time to think there. The question is different: why have I done so? To assume responsibility for what I do and what sort of a person I want to be is a work on yourself.

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This material has been produced with the generous support of the International Medical Corps and JSI Research & Training Institute, INC. through a grant by United States Agency for International Development. The views and opinions expressed herein shall not, in any way whatsoever, be construed to reflect the views or opinions of all the mentioned organizations.