Chance are, you know someone who has been in an abusive relationship, is currently in an abusive relationship or you have experienced it yourself, as a child, as a teenager or as an adult.
The latest statistics in Australia point to approximately one in three people being affected by Domestic Violence and these are only the reported cases or what is uncovered by surveys or hospital and medical attendance.
I think it’s safe to say that the real figures go much, much higher.
As a therapist who works with women and men who have experienced domestic violence, I know how deeply it scars the soul.
Domestic violence strips away any self confidence and self esteem. Constant exposure to domestic violence and all that it entails creates feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, depression, self hatred, anger, shame, and an almost unshakable belief that at some level, there is something very wrong with you.
Maybe you were born with something missing that made you unlovable. Maybe you did something to provoke or deserve the behavior.
Maybe you were too loud or too defiant or too stupid or too slow or too ugly or too fat or too weak.
Maybe you don’t even know what it is that you did but you MUST have done something because that’s not how normal relationships, normal families are supposed to be.
One of the questions I get asked all the time as a therapist when the subject of domestic violence or abusive relationships come up is “Why doesn’t she leave”?
Here are just a few of the reasons why it may not be that simple. I have used “he” but as domestic violence happens to men as well as women, please substitute “she” if it applies to you.
‘Whatever happened, it was YOUR fault! You are the person with the problem, I don’t have a problem at all. If you could just be smarter or sexier or if you didn’t make me so angry, then everything would be all right. Maybe I don’t want to be with you. I stop wanting to have sex with you and withhold my affection but never explain why because you know, it must be something you did. You are getting too fat, or you should just shut up and not talk so much. No one else would want you, look at you. You are crazy, I don’t know how I put up with you. I don’t talk to you or explain how I feel, I just go quiet or get angry and withdraw and let you try to work it out. You shouldn’t provoke me, you know what I’m like. No one will ever love you like I do.” Emotional abuse.
“I scream and swear at you loudly and I don’t care who hears me. Maybe initially it was only in private but now, it can be anywhere at any time. In front of your friends, in front of your family, in front of the kids. I tell you how stupid you are or how fat you are or how ugly you are. How useless you are at everything. The more you cry, the nastier I get. Nothing is off limits, every weakness, every secret you have shared with me from your past is all brought up and thrown back in your face just to hurt you, just to bring you down and keep you down. I don’t care where we are and who is around, when you upset me, you WILL know it!” Verbal abuse.
“Why do you want to spend so much time with your friends? What are you talking about with them, do you talk about us? I don’t want you saying anything about us to your friends or family, that’s private. Who were you talking to today? Your family doesn’t like me, they are always trying to come between us. We need to go somewhere where we can live our own lives without your family always being in my face. Why do you want to see your friends, aren’t I enough for you? Don’t you love me? I only want to be with you, I don’t need anyone else. Where did you get those ideas, have you been talking to your stupid friends again? You know they don’t love you like I do, they are just jealous that your with me now. You don’t need them, they are just using you, I am the only one you can really trust.” Social Abuse (isolation/control)
“I do what I want with MY money. I have to have what I want and I don’t care how much it costs. You can just get another loan. No woman of mine needs to work, I want you at home with the kids. I worked hard for this so I will spend what I want. You should be grateful, look at how hard I work for you. What did you buy this week? What did you do with the money I gave you? You don’t need access to the accounts, let me worry about that. I will look after you, don’t you trust me? What will people think if my wife has to work?” Economic Abuse
“Go ahead, tell them, no one will believe you anyway, they all know what a liar you are. Everyone knows your an unfit Mother, if you leave you will never see the kids again. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to your stupid little dog would you? I wouldn’t need to break your things if you didn’t make me so angry. Maybe I should have a talk with your boss and tell him what your really like. No I don’t have your car keys, why, where do you want to go? You are crazy, it’s all in your head, you need to be locked up. No on else would ever put up with living with you. If you leave me, I will find you and I will kill you. You will never get away from me.” Psychological Abuse
“The first time he hit me, he cried and said how sorry he was and that he would never do it again. He said it was because he was so stressed at work and I should just leave him alone. Sometimes he hits me when he’s angry but sometimes, it just comes out of nowhere. Living with him is like walking on eggshells, I never know what is going to set him off. I tell the people at work that I fell over or walked into a door. I wear long sleeves and turtle necks to hide the bruises. He chokes me until I almost pass out. Sometimes he just pushes me against the wall and holds his fist to my face until he gets what he wants. He hit me so hard I lost the baby and I had to tell everyone I miscarried. One day I think he is actually going to lose control and kill me.” Physical Abuse.
“I feel so ashamed of what he makes me to do sexually. He told me I have to keep him satisfied or he will go somewhere else for it. He won’t let me use the pill. I am afraid to say no to him because he just won’t listen. I just shut up and let him do it now, it’s easier that way. He says I like it rough but I don’t. He says it’s not rape if we are married and its my duty to have sex with him. He calls me horrible names and I feel degraded and used. I stay up late and hope he will fall asleep before I get into bed. Sometimes I wake up with him on top of me, having sex with me. He puts his hands over my mouth so I wont wake the kids.” Sexual Abuse.
Why doesn’t she leave?
- She feels helpless, afraid and has come to believe that it is somehow her fault.
- She is worried about what people will think and how ashamed she would be for her friends and family to know how bad it is.
- She thinks she let it happen.
- She thinks she should be stronger.
- She thinks that if she only changes enough, if she finds the right words, if she makes him happy it will all be ok.
- She tells herself that it’s not really that bad.
- She feels like she has no one to help her.
- She thinks maybe she is crazy just like he said.
- She thinks that he has a problem and that she is the only one who can help him.
- She thinks that if she loves him enough he will change.
- She thinks he will kill her if she leaves.
- She thinks she will never be free of him.
- She feels completely powerless to change the situation.
Many of the women and men caught in abusive relationships can’t believe it has happened to them.
The victims of domestic violence and abusive relationships exist in all social classes from cleaners to corporate high flyers.
In order to survive, they have to watch the abuser constantly to try to predict his behavior, to try to placate him, to try to cover up, to try to stay safe.
They often feel that they are living double lives, confident and assertive at work, terrified and helpless at home.
How do you start to break the cycle?
You need to start telling the truth.
You need to get help and support from everyone you know.
You need to admit to what is really going on.
You need to try to keep yourself as safe as you can while you do this.
You need a good therapist to help you find your way back to yourself and heal the damage.
Here is a wonderful talk by Crazy Love author, Leslie Morgan-Steiner who tells what her experience of an abusive relationship was like and how she reclaimed her life.
Do you know someone this post could help? Please share it to raise awareness of the complex issues of domestic abuse and abusive relationships.