*PLEASE take the time to read the comments below. I am adding comments from actual survivors of abuse that are coming from my facebook page in which I asked battered women to sound off and explain what they went through and why they stayed. The comments are heartbreaking but TRUE from REAL women who have BEEN THERE!
The Psychological Damage Is Often The Worst
Many women are the victims of abuse. Often as high as 1 in 2 women have been abused at some point in her life. This abuse doesn’t always have to come from a male partner. The issue is just as high within the lesbian community and this has bothered me for many, many years. I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve been in it. I was in a relationship that was very emotionally damaging for me. It took me 7 years to leave, but not before being in the mental ward twice and attempting suicide twice as well. (Thus my visits to the psych ward)
The abuser typically starts off small. You accept it, forgive them and they take another step. This keeps happening until the next thing you know, you have no life and you walk on eggshells all the time, fully believing that this is a normal life. After a while, you feel so damaged and so defective that you can’t see a way out. You have no idea what anyone would ever want with you and you think that staying is the best thing to do. Being alone feels like an overwhelming black hole that you are sure you’ll die in.
Verbal abuse is often more damaging than physical. Bruises heal and scars fade…but damage done to a soul and the psyche is sometimes never undone. Most often, it requires help from a counselor. I myself, went to 3 years of therapy. I’m glad I did. One day, my therapist announced that I was as well adjusted as could be expected and declared that I was free of her…unless I ever needed her again. I have not. I blog. This has become my therapy. I started blogging to help me come out of my inner emotional chains. I have rarely had a panic attack in the last two years. My writing has helped me. Not all people write though. Some people have other outlets, like riding horses. Whatever it is … seek it out.
Emotional damage in abusive relationships come from things that are a pattern. In talking to many abused women this month, I hear the same things. “I was hit and it scared me in a way that I cannot describe. I was frozen and literally could not make myself leave.” “I was told I was ugly and that I didn’t matter until I believed it.” “As much as I wanted to leave, I believed the death threats.” “The drama was low as long as I was ‘good’ so it was just easier to let it happen to me. It wasn’t until I got out that I began to see how horrible my life really was.” The remarks go on and on and they all resonate with me.
Typical pattern of the abuser is to isolate the victim, bit by bit, until they no longer have friends or a support system. The victim begins lying about things to cover up what is actually happening. This causes issues with friends and family who do not understand that this is classic behavior and the victim cannot help it. The victim rarely thinks of themselves as a victim…this is just their life to them. Everyone on the outside actually knows what is going on and sees them as a victim but rarely will discuss it.
When thinking about leaving, the victim will more often than not begin to feel sorry for the abuser as an excuse to stay. They do not even realize that they are doing it. This is classic Stockholm Syndrome – relating to the perpetrator of the crime/abuser. Understand that to the victim, life on the outside of the abusive relationship is almost more terrifying than staying in the relationship is. The relationship is the only thing that is predictable to them. Everything outside of that is scary. This is classic symptoms of “battered woman syndrome” and many women will stay for years in a relationship that they are clearly unhappy in and not even understand why they do.
They do not realize that they have been slowly manipulated and brainwashed into believing that they somehow like it and deserve it. They “think” they love their abuser, even though they openly admit from time to time that they hate them. Hate and love are two very powerful emotions that the abuser has learned to manipulate the victim with. Typically, they are good at playing the guilt card. Many times they will explain away the physical abuse as love by saying things such as, “I only hit you because I love you so much and I just get so jealous….” The victim is so brainwashed at this point that they believe it – because they WANT to be loved. This begins to be the definition of love to them. This is normal and part of the process. This is why women in these relationships don’t just leave. When anyone says, “They can just leave, can’t they?” It is obvious that they do not understand anything about psychological abuse.
Do They Ever Leave? How?
Most women will leave eventually. It takes them a long time. One woman I recently interviewed stayed with a man for 12 years who beat her repeatedly. One time, he ‘messed my face and back up so bad I had to lay in bed a week and couldn’t move. He wouldn’t dare take me to a hospital for fear of what he did. Then he’d cry and say he was so sorry every time. Fact is, he was never happy and didn’t stop hitting me until one of us was bleeding. THEN he’d wanna cry and be sorry.” I asked her why she stayed. Her response, “The first time he hit me it was square in the nose and I didn’t see it coming. All ’cause it was taking me too long to cook dinner. After that, part of me like died. I was too scared. That man, he put the fear of God into me that day and I just shut down.”
She went on to tell me that she had no friends and if anyone ever came to the house, he’d move them to a new apartment. No one was supposed to know where they lived. He kept her isolated in this way. Her family tried to talk to her and she wouldn’t listen to them. When pushed about this, she explained, “You don’t want your family to know how bad things are. It’s just natural to hide.” How did she finally leave? Her adult son came to see her and happened to come by on a morning after a very bad beating. He drug her from the home, kicking and screaming and told her that if she didn’t come, he’d kill her husband. She never went back to her abuser, though she has seen him once or twice. Fifteen years later and married to someone else, he tried to tell her that he still loved her. She said she walked away as fast as she could from him on the street that day.
What Support Do Battered Women Need?
If a woman is to get out of something that is emotionally and/or physically abusive, she must have a support system. She needs to know that she has somewhere to go but she cannot be pushed. She often has to reach her lowest of low breaking point before she will finally realize that she has to leave. Sadly, 19,000 women each year die because they don’t realize it and get away in time. Yes NINETEEN THOUSAND woman DIE in domestic abuse situations. Most of them didn’t believe the abuser would ever go that far.
There are shelters for abused women and a lot of support groups out there. Most women will never use them. Someone who has anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and other symptoms that are all TYPICAL of being abused emotionally and physically, is not going to go seek out this type of help. To them, this is far too terrifying. Asking them to file for divorce or leave is like asking a goose to lay a golden egg. It nearly takes an act of God. Terror is simply not the word for what these women go through. They cannot be pushed for this reason. If they are, they will simply stay put. To them, it is easier to stay than to look for help.
Counseling is most often a ‘must have’ for any woman leaving an abusive relationship. She’ll need to learn how to adjust to being able to think for herself, make her own decisions and even to have life goals of her own. She will need emotional support, whether with friends or a partner that can be understanding and encouraging. It is a fine line between being supportive and enabling someone though. Be careful that you aren’t used or take for granted. Some women will easily fall into letting you be there for them emotionally while continuing to stay in what is harming them. Set boundaries and keep them. If you truly care, tough love may be the only way you can really help.
For the women who get away, the prognosis is good. Once they realize that it is very possible to start over, be safe and have a life, healing begins. Healing is a long and slow process. Counseling or therapy helps with this. These women have to learn to love themselves all over again. Anyone who attempts to help them and be there for them, will have to have a lot of patience. It helps to have a clean break and move to a new area. Many women go to different states to avoid ever seeing their abuser again. It can take them many years to get over feeling sorry for the their abuser too. Many women blame themselves for the abuse for years. This is why counseling is so essential. Believing that they said or did something that started the attack, whether physical or verbal – they believe that they deserve it somehow. Many abused women even seem ambivalent about their situation, as if they don’t care. This is a form of emotional shock. It keeps them from leaving, but it keeps them from losing their minds too. It is a common symptom of Battered Woman Syndrome. Recognize the signs so you can help.
Physical scars heal and fade. Emotional scars stick the longest and are the hardest to overcome. Where there is support and love, a woman has a hand to reach out for when she is ready. All you can do is be there to offer her that hand when she is ready and tell her that you are there. Never give up on her. She needs you and you might just be the one thing that keeps her holding on.