Are you listening?
Moving on from an abusive relationship — whether physical or emotional, is not as easy as simply ending the relationship and although physical damage may heal over time, the lasting impact on an abuse victim’s psyche can [and often does] have long-term and debilitating effects.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV),
“Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death.”
“The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and truly last a lifetime.”
Sadly, most victims do not realize they remain a victim even after ending the abusive relationship and this victimhood can last years, decades or even a lifetime left unacknowledged and unchecked.
One in three women are in or have been in an abusive relationship, and that eye-opening statistic doesn’t even include all of the men and children who are also “stuck” in the path of abuse.
Domestic violence has no age, race or religion. It touches every family, every city, every state and even every country. Unbelievably, some countries still have zero laws in place to acknowledge and protect female victims of domestic violence.
But, Why Does it Cause Such Lasting Damage?
It’s all about power, YOUR power and the psychological effects of having given it away without question.
I recently had a conversation with someone very close to me; a woman who married her high school sweetheart — a man, who even as a teenager was already emotionally abusive and controlling. Blinded by love, she didn’t recognize the signs no matter what any of her friends or family tried to point out.
Unfortunately, each successive year brought more abuse, more control and more demeaning behavior to this woman I love so much and eventually she — like most victims, became little more than a body on auto-pilot, mirroring the movements around her all the while knowingly and unknowingly making excuses for being a victim.
It’s like a “functioning alcoholic”, except at some point the victim stops functioning properly.
For her, the pounds [100+] piled on and anxiety became as oppressive as her abuser until life became little more than a blur of nervous frustration, pain and fear.
Is There Ever an Excuse?
“Domestic violence may start when one partner feels the need to control and dominate the other. Abusers may feel this need to control their partner because of low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions, or when they feel inferior to the other partner in education and socioeconomic background. Some men with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control women, and that women aren’t equal to men.”
But, for those who have fallen into the hands of abuse and stay, there is a mind-set that few understand. Unless you too have experienced similar circumstances, it is easy to judge and/or even disentangle from someone who is being abused and choosing to stay in the abusive relationship.
After all, they have chosen to stay so why should we care, right?
Abusers use many methods of controlling their victims and some of those methods are not so obvious. In fact, those un-obvious things are usually the very ones friends and family members never understand when trying to be supportive and offering help.
Methods of domestic abuse include, but are not limited to some one who…
Those are just some of the many signs and because they are so personal in nature many women [men and children] are unable to connect the dots before it is too late.
It can be frustrating to say the least!
How can someone still love or have any positive feelings for the one who abused them? Why do so many keep going back for more?
Being the victim of domestic violence and/or psychological abuse strips one of control — whether real or imagined; which by the way is the point of the abuser. This is why so many cases go unreported by abuse victims.
One can leave a bad situation, but still be intrinsically bound and controlled; usually without the victim’s knowledge that this is taking place. When this happens, the victim’s thoughts, feelings and emotions remain out of control.
The old saying [and song], “There’s a Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is truth. Think about it…
How many people — right now, are in your life that you don’t necessarily, “like”, but you do in fact, “love”?
It’s a common dynamic that is a part of most people’s lives, but when you add abuse to the picture, that same dynamic takes on a life [and death] of its own by feeding life into the means of control while killing off or burying everything that is “strong” within a victim; the same victim who had been unconsciously handing over her control day after day, reinforcing the power [read control] the abuser has over them.
Taking Back the Power
In the conversation I keep referencing, I pointed out that the emotional roller coaster she was on since leaving — and then divorcing, her abuser was normal and that in order to heal and move forward, she needed to understand that she was still giving him power over her by way of her emotions and second guessing herself and her decision to leave.
In other words, the victim typically blames themselves…
Sadly, the fact is, the answer to all of those questions is, “no”.
By absorbing blame, victims continue to leave the power in their abuser’s hands.
Who Has the Power Now? YOU Do!
Allowing yourself to accept that you did nothing wrong — that you could not have changed the abuser or the circumstance of the abuse, is the first step. Ironically, acceptance then leads to self-deprecating guilt, i.e. questioning how you could have been so, “dumb”, “stupid”, “weak” or a number of other negative adjectives when in fact, you [the victim] are none of those things.
It’s a vicious cycle, but you can get out of it. You can take the power back, because it is YOU that possess it…you just have to realize it and forgive yourself for being human; for loving someone, for believing and yes for hoping.
And, when you do?
That’s when you know you are truly no longer a victim and for the first time you will be able to move forward with a healthy mind and a much happier heart.
*NOTE: If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship or struggling with the after effects of leaving, there is help, like the Family Assistance Center in my area. There are resources in every community; from shelter and legal help to classes and a support, but YOU need to take the first step.