SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the show Maid in case you haven’t watched yet but plan to without wanting to know what happens!
TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic violence
Aptly released on the first day of October, the start of Domestic Violence Awareness month, Maid is a limited series on Netflix based on Stephanie Land’s memoir about her escape from abusive relationships. The main character on the show, Alex, learns to support herself and her daughter by cleaning houses as a professional maid. Her story of relentless heartbreak and recovery shows how the cycle of abuse continues through generations of a family until someone decides to heal to prevent passing down the dysfunctional patterns to their children.
As a former DV (domestic violence) shelter volunteer, a few things struck me while watching this show. I appreciated the realistic depiction of the process of leaving an abusive relationship. It’s not as simple as recognizing the abusive patterns, leaving, and moving on with life. There is often a cycle of the survivor attempting to leave but returning to the abuser at least a couple times. Denial and minimization are incredibly powerful tools some survivors will utilize to cope with their circumstances, although prohibitive to the healing process.
Recognizing the abuse can be tricky. Abuse doesn’t always start out as hitting or punching. Mental or emotional abuse commonly precedes physical abuse. As the character Danielle in the show stated, “Before they bite, they bark.” Intimidation and entrapment are abuse tactics that are commonly dismissed and excused as “passion.” Isolation can happen slowly and methodically so that by the time someone outside of the relationship may be able to see the warning signs, the abuser already has power and control over their victim.
Domestic violence does not go away or get better on its own. Improving abusive relationships requires the person hurting their partner to truly take a look at the abusive patterns and make changes within themself. Without healthy boundaries and coping skills, the patterns of abuse in a relationship are highly likely to continue. In the show, Sean was able to recognize how his own experience of abuse was impacting his relationships, and he was able to start working on his recovery both as a victim and an abuser. That thoughtful piece of the show brought an optimistic end to the relationship Alex and Sean had as partners in order to renew it again as coparents.
A strong support system is crucial in the recovery process after ending an abusive relationship. The way that Maid portrayed the DV shelter felt fitting to me, although not all shelters can offer full apartments to survivors like in the show. The safety and confidentiality protections were spot on. The show highlights that the healing process takes time, and in many cases it can take several years after the relationship ends to be able to “move on.”
The therapeutic support and support groups are incredible resources at the DV shelters. Although housing at the shelters is temporary, the connection to support systems and resources continues well after leaving the shelters. Meeting other people who are in similar situations can help to heal the wounds from isolation. Learning to feel safe again being your best self is a grueling feat. It is always easier with an army of supporters at your side.
If ever needed, here are some helpful resources:
Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter (LAWS) (24 Hour Phone: 703-777-6552)
Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) 24-hour hotline: 703-360-7273
An Thai, MS, LMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our Sterling, VA office and virtually to those located in the State of Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with An!