Everyone has their own tolerance level when it comes to relationships. Some people leave as soon as they hit a rough patch. Some people stay and weather way too many storms. And some know when enough is enough. But what about those who stay a lot longer than their shelf life? Tonight, I want to talk about a semi-sensitive subject of domestic violence. I say “semi-sensitive” because there are some of us who know someone who is or has gotten abused, is an abuser themselves or knows of an abuser, or simply has strong views on the subject.
For starters, when the topic of abuse is brought up, many people assume that there was a physical confrontation. But ‘abuse’ is much more than that. There are four main types of abuse in relationships:
1. Physical- hitting, pushing, slapping, biting, throwing objects
2. Sexual- rape, forcing foreign objects onto/into a non consenting person, underage, exploitation
3. Emotional/mental- intimidation, cause psychological trauma (ex. depression, anxiety), isolation
4. Verbal- insults, constant put-downs (alone and in front of others)/degrading
Most people say “Why doesn’t (s)he just leave them?” Or “They must like getting mistreated.” I was one of those people, and mostly still am, but I learned a little bit about the other side of the story. I had this one class in grad school- I can’t remember the name of it, but I can remember the teacher and the classroom. My professor was also a therapist and she talked off and on about this client she had who was in an abusive marriage. She worked with her for years and became frustrated with the lack of progress the client was making. One day, the client told my teacher that she might as well stay. My teacher couldn’t believe it and neither could the class. She stated that she didn’t want to leave for fear of being killed. She went on to explain that either way, he could kill her- if she stayed, he could beat her to death, or if she left, he could find her and kill her for leaving. So she reasoned that she would rather stay because she learned her husband’s moods and what pushed his buttons, and she tried to prevent whatever she could to keep him happy. For some reason, this concept stayed with me for at least seven years (and counting).
There are other motives as to why victims stay. “Because I still love him”, staying for the children, they attract abusers (each person they date abuses them one way or another), or they have been brainwashed (of course people who get abused don’t know that they’ve been brainwashed, but outsiders know). Self-blame and feelings of loss of control lead most victims to make excuses for their abusers and to stay in this type of relationship.
So if you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, encourage them to seek help, especially if children are involved. Victims have an incredible journey ahead of them by working through the feelings of inadequacy, self-blame, and shame. And most importantly, be supportive and try not to judge. Sometimes it isn’t always a ‘get up and walk out’ type of situation.