Battered Woman Syndrome Not Just About Physical Abuse

one reason to hold on

*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.

Categories: abuse, child abuse, lesbian, life lessons, love, self-help | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Battered Woman Syndrome Not Just About Physical Abuse

  1. very well written Jesse i was actually in an abusive relationship for over 10 years and i still believe to this day if my ex could find me she would kill me LITERALLY ……………she was an expert markman in the military and she told me many times i will kill you and it will look like an accident. thankfully i have been out of that for over 10 years and actually have a wonderful loving wife now and she knows all that i have been thru with it. hope that Jo is able to find her way free also…..

  2. JOMO

    Jesse, I can so relate to your own story – I didn’t hang on for 7 years, it was only 7 months. It felt like a lifetime in Hell. The Jeckyl-Hyde character switches, the tantrums and rages, accusations, suspicions, controlling and isolating behaviour. I was not to go out and socialise becauseI’d do this in ‘gay places’ where I might get tempted by other women, or other women might come onto me.

    She fantasised that when I worked back at work it was because there was someone there with me, a co-worker. She demanded to see pictures of my workplace, photographs of the people I work with. It went on and on. She sent crazy text messages accusing me of having an affair with “ur bitch at work”. When I arrived back at my apartment late at night after spending every evening with her util late she fantasised that I had someone with me, or I was online flirting with other women. If I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour, so I could get enough sleep to work properly the next day, it was because I was going out to see someone.

    At first I though I could reassure her, that in time she would see that I was loyal and had no intention of being disloyal or playing around. But nothing I said or did made any difference.

    The rages and brain snaps were spectacular, she was like someone posessed. She started hitting me, punching me, slapping me. One night she scratched my face, digging a fingernail deep into the flesh on my cheek – it didnt stop bleeding for an hour or more. To my enduring shame, I once slapped her face after enduring hours of her screaming abuse and accusations at me. It was the only act of violence I have committed in my adult life and I am very distressed that it ever ocurred. I do know that you can be driven to it. The whole situation was totally untenable. I knew then I had to get out – but the next day she was apparently remorseful, wanting to try again, promising change, promising she would seek help. That didn’t happen. That act gave her even more abusive power over me – she could physically, violently abuse me and I would have to take it.

    I finally sought the advice of someone I knew had been in a relationship with her, who revealed that they had been in the same situation for several months. I suddenly felt empowered to put an end to it when I learned I was not the only one but one in a long line of short term relationships where she had subjected her partner to ongoing emotional abuse. At least two of her ex-partners have committed suicide.

    I did give it one last try – the deal-breaker for me was being ‘allowed’ to see my friends and family, particularly my adult daughter. No way – she flew into a rage and went into another brain snap. I knew that I never wanted to see her or hear from her again.

    I heaved a huge sigh of relief. It was over – and almost two months down the track I’m trying to get my shattered mind together. It is getting better, slowly. I just wish I’d got out sooner, had known that I could walk away.

    I’m wiser now – I will NEVER let another person abuse me.

    For those whose who are stuck n abusive relationships – I pray for power for you – the simple power to say ‘enough’ and walk away. Anything is better than that. Seek help. Accept it when it’s offered. Don’t stay in the prison of abuse that has been constructed around you.

    • Your words strike a chord with me. Yes, indeed. I know what you went through. I am a kind soul and very mellow. Even I was finally tormented into rages. I never hit her. I punched the wall…threw a cell phone…I shoved her and that made me feel sick inside. I realized I was becoming something other than me. Abuse changes us but we do not have to let it win. I am a survivor of it. It made me very wise.

  3. Reading this blog brings me close to tears today, what courageous women you are.
    I can’t imagine how hard these times have been for you all as I have never been in an abusive relationship of this kind.
    You are all so brave and I am so glad you all got out, I hope and pray that Jo gets to this stage very soon. xx

  4. I wanted to show some comments that are coming from my Facebook pages as well:

    Katherine – I think you don’t realize the abuse till after your gone. You get into a life that you think is “normal”. Abuse be it physical or emotional is NOT normal… but you are beaten down to where you “believe” you can’t survive outside of the environment you are in. Only when you seek counseling years later and are told you have PTSD from your emotionally abusive ex do you realize all the crap you’ve been in.
    20 hours ago · Unlike · 6

    Sheila – Well it’s like this if you have never been in an abusive relationship you just don’t know!
    20 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 5

    Jane – It can take years to realize that a relationship is abusive,abuse can be mental as well as physical. It can take years to realise that a relationship is abusive,abuse can be mental as well as physical. It can then take years to get to a point where you feel able to leave and if children are involved you feel guilt at breaking up a family.
    I left 2 years ago with the clothes I was wearing , this was my 3rd time at leaving but this time I stayed away. I was put into a women’s refuge , as I didn’t go back my husband beat me up as a last resort to take back control it didn’t work. I now have my own place and slowly re-building my self esteem. This was a difficult time for me but was the best thing I ever did for myself and my kids. Anyone can be abused
    18 hours ago · Unlike · 3

    Judy – Jesse, everone has a story. I was married for almost ten years and my ex abused me….he was a gambler and I had to almost tie my son down so he wouldn’t sell him in order to get money to gamble with. He got frustrated one night because he had lost playing pool and we had no more money….he grabbed my arms and pushed me into a wall. And guess what? ONE TIME…..My Father never hit me, and I’d be damned if anyone on the face of this earth was going to hit me. That was the very last moment I saw/talked to him. That was back in 1981 and I walked……walked into my career and into a much happier life. No one deserves to be abused!!!
    19 hours ago · Edited · Like · 3

    Mindy – No one will Ever understand it Until they have been there n felt what they felt…its Not just physical abuse that hurts u sometimes thee emotional abuse is just as bad…
    17 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 3

    Gina – Bruises heal… the mental and emotional scars are there forever…
    17 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 2

    Teresa -Its a control thing. The abuser makes u feel as though you cant make it without them. That your world will crumble. Thats how they control partly. Well after my divorce I made it with 3 kids alone. He had to remarry a woman with money cuz HE couldnt do it alone. I bought a house 1 month after my divorce he didnt. And i didnt make it rich through the divorce either. I just knew i had 2 choices. Sink or swim. If i sank my kids went with me. I was never in a million yrs gonna let my kids sink. You have to be a stubborn person and not give up. SHE CAN DO IT
    14 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 2

    Jesse MacGregor-Jones

    Battered Woman Syndrome Not Just About Physical Abuse
    The Psychological Damage Is Often The Worst Many women are the victims of abuse….
    See More
    14 hours ago · Like · Remove Preview

    Teresa – I pray she listens to you. You really dont know how wrong a situation is til youre out of it
    14 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1

    Kelly -I stayed for 20 years of a progressively abusive relationship – not hitting, “just” words . . . Starts “light” and worsens over time, so that you just know something isn’t right, but are so beaten down you don’t trust yourself. Also the myth that “if it isn’t hitting it isn’t really abuse” . . . so I had no one to support or understand me. I was in a very conservative/evangelical church and HE was never questioned – I was told to do better, fix more . . . and at one point told I could not continue counseling with them because HE decided I couldn’t . . . And because I was in the “church” I did my best to stay and work things out because marriage is “supposed to be forever” . . . It was only AFTER I got out that I knew how awful it was, that I am not alone, and that there is HELP OUT THERE!! You do NOT have to stay if your partner is habitually “mean” and you did NOTHING TO DESERVE that kind of treatment!! For an abuser, the other person can never be good enough – that is part of the abuse. Now, I also see the horrors inflicted on my children, especially my daughters, and it has been a long healing process . . . I have been out 7 years . . .
    13 hours ago · Like · 2

    Jesse MacGregor-Jones I’m glad you are out Kelly!!
    13 hours ago · Like · 1

    Lisa – ok the lowdown, although it is hard for ppl who have never been in an abusive relationship to understand. After so long in the relationship, u get brainwashed so to speak, u believe u can’t make it without the abuser and they intentionally lower ur self esteem, u believe u are worthless and can’t make it on ur own, and u also feel sorry for the abuser thinking they will never make it without u either, it all a bunch of phsycological stuff but true and unless u experience it firsthand u will not understand… can take years of therapy to convince some abuse to leave the abuser, why do I know this, i was in an abusive relationship for 14 whole years looking back i could kick myself for wasting that long with him, but i just kept thinking he loved me and would change..i never saw what was happening to me until i did finally get out but i had to build myself up to leaving, that was one of the hardest things i ever did…I finally knew that if i didn’t leave i was gonna die, if not at his hands then at the hands of myself, for i became so depressed that i thought of suicide everyday to escape him. i have been told i have ptsd from this and that i need to counsel for the rest of my life to get over it….
    9 hours ago · Like · 1

  5. Max

    I’m a new reader, and wanted some clarification. Is Jo the name of your new sweetie? It sounds like you’re talking about her.

    • Yes. In seeing what has happened to her, I’ve gotten involved in talking to many women who go through the same. I’m shocked and horrified to find it to be rare that a woman has NOT suffered some form of abuse. It’s sickening and I get a LOT of flack from people who so not understand the psychological aspects of it…why they stay. Everyone (especially men) seem to think it is as simple as leaving. It is really starting to irk me badly.

  6. Max

    Thanks, Jesse. I appreciate you taking time to elaborate. I hope that Jo heals from her abuse. Fortunately, she has supportive friends like you. I can also understand, why it would be challenging to have an intimate relationship with her now.

  7. Renee

    I’m still laying in bed this morning all bruised up from my girlfriend hitting me last night. She said I drove her to it. If I don’t agree with her or things don’t go exactly her way, she goes crazy on me – mentally and physically. I keep going back. God, give me the strength get through today and stay away from her.

    • You should remember that you are never alone. I do not know what resources are in your area but you can call the domestic abuse hotline they can help you…even if only to listen…1-800-799-7233. You are never alone.

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